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The X-Files

Reviewed by Galen Strickland

I'm not sure why I didn't start watching this series from the beginning. A few years earlier it would have been because of my job as a movie projectionist, which had me working most Friday nights. I'm sure I did see a few episodes from time to time during the first three seasons, but I did watch regularly after it moved to Sundays. I continued into the eighth season at least, but lost interest due to the departure of Duchovny for most of the last two years, plus I wasn't fond of Scully's "magic baby" storyline. I'm not sure why, since Gillian Anderson was, and still is, my favorite actor on the show. Even though Duchovny did get top billing for the episodes in which he appeared, I've followed IMDb's lead in placing Anderson at the top of the cast list, both because of my appreciation for her work, and the fact that she was in every episode but one (due to her giving birth in real life). I recently finished rewatching the entire series, plus both movies, in anticipation of the new mini-series. I'm not sure I would have bothered if not for Gillian. She is not only a beautiful woman, she's a great actress, and it upset me to read she had problems in negotiating a salary equal to Duchovny's for the new episodes. She deserves the same, if not more.

If these Wikipedia pages are correct, it seems I wasn't watching much of anything on Fridays then. I know I did not watch the lead-in The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. in 1993/94 (I have since), nor Mantis in '94, or Strange Luck in the fall of '95, nor any of the other network shows listed there. I did watch Sliders in spring '96, so I probably started watching The X-Files more regularly at that time too.

If and when I rewatch the series again I will likely skip a lot of the episodes, and they won't all be the stand-alone, non-alien conspiracy ones either. I grew tired of the inconsistencies in the alien arc stories, plus how they created even another conspiracy (or two) after the original ran its course. It seemed evident that a lot of Mulder's theories were correct, even though there were many times others tried to convince him that human agents were involved in creating the alien invasion conspiracy as a means of misdirecting his attention away from their real agenda. If they had concentrated on the alien invasion they might have had more success in keeping it consistent, although that would likely have led to a shorter series overall. One element I'm still not clear about is which of the abductions depicted were alien related (Cassandra Spender?) as opposed to those perpetrated by the secret conspiracy committee (Scully?). On the other hand, if they had gone with the stand-alone weird mystery of the week formula, it would probably have been even shorter, although maybe not as short as series creator Chris Carter's admitted inspiration, The Night Stalker. As with a lot of other SF or fantasy shows, the audience needs a surrogate viewpoint character, someone who is an outsider to the other-worldliness of the premise, in order to connect it to the real world. In this case, it would be Dr. Dana Scully, assigned to debunk FBI Agent Fox Mulder's wild speculations concerning the X-Files, but who eventually comes to a different assessment due to various phenomena she can't explain without resorting to paranormal theories.

The cast list in the Overview column is just the bare minimum. There are scores of others whose appearances were crucial to the various story arcs, even if those appearances were few and far between. Mitch Pileggi played FBI Assitant Director Walter Skinner, Mulder and Scully's direct supervisor. He vacillated between being a supporter of their work to a weak sycophant to his superiors, and I'm sure there were times even he didn't know on which side his loyalties lie. For the majority of the series, William B. Davis was referred to as either the "Cigarette Smoking Man" or "Cancer Man," although we eventually learned his real(?) name was CGB Spender. He didn't seem to have an official designation as a member of the FBI, and yet he wielded a tremendous amount of power there, as well as with the conspiracy committee. He was perhaps with the NSA or other intelligence group, and he had a history with Mulder's father, who had been with the State Department. The last three on the list, Harwood, Haglund and Braidwood, were characters created by writing partners Glen Morgan and James Wong. It is possible they were originally intended as minor, non-recurring characters, but they proved popular with both the writers and fans, returning for about thirty-five episodes, as well as being spun-off to their own short-lived (thirteen episodes) series, The Lone Gunmen. The concluding cliffhanger episode of that series was finally resolved in the original show's last season.

To get into other actors who played a major part in various arcs, you'd have to start with Jerry Hardin, introduced as Mulder's informant in the second episode, and thereafter only known by that episode's title, Deep Throat, a reference to Bob Woodward's confidential informant in the Watergate investigation. His function was later assumed by Steven Williams, credited only as Mr. X. Chris Owens appeared in thirteen episodes, originally as "Young Cigarette Smoking Man" in Season Four, later as FBI Agent Jeffrey Spender. We learn he is the son of CGB Spender, and a little later it is revealed he is also [REDACTED]. The series also featured early appearances from actors ranging from Bryan Cranston, Bradley Whitford, Seth Green, Jack Black, Ryan Reynolds and Mark Sheppard. The high profile of the show also attracted quite a few established stars, including John Neville (also in the first movie), Darren McGavin, Bruce Campbell, Lily Tomlin, Ed Asner, Adam Baldwin and Lucy Lawless. Since the first five seasons were filmed in Canada, many of the guest stars would be quite familiar to anyone who's watched much TV the past couple of decades, even if you don't know them by name. That would include Teryl Rothery, Callum Keith Rennie, John Pyper-Ferguson, Mark Pelligrino and Titus Welliver, among many more. Perhaps my two favorite episodes were stand-alones; "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" featured a terrific and poignant performance by the late Peter Boyle, and Lili Taylor was a blind woman with a special gift in "Mind's Eye". In a case of what could be considered a reverse spin-off, Lance Henricksen reprised his role of Frank Black from Carter's Millennium after that show had ended.

Not as successful (in my opinion) were the too frequent comical episodes, which bordered on self-parody. IMDb features viewer ratings on individual episodes, and it surprises me that some I felt were completely ridiculous are highly rated by others. The worst of these (again, just my opinion), was "The Post-Modern Prometheus" from Season Five. It was in black and white, and featured John O'Hurley (Seinfeld's J. Peterman) as a Dr. Frankenstein-like character. It didn't even have the excuse of being a Halloween episode; it was broadcast on Nov. 30. Another that didn't work for me was "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'", with Charles Nelson Reilly as an author who twists Mulder and Scully's story into a preposterous fantasy. Not quite as bad, but still pointless, was "Hollywood A.D.", with Téa Leoni (Duchovny's wife at the time) as an actress (herself) portraying Scully in a movie, with Garry Shandling as Mulder. There are quite a few others, but luckily I've blanked them from my mind already. Michael McKean recurred four times (and once on The Lone Gunmen) as Morris Fletcher, an Area 51 "Man in Black"/con man, and while each of those episodes had their share of comedy, his performance lifted them above others.

The success of the show through its first five seasons led 20th Century Fox to order a feature film, which premiered on June 19, 1998. I think it was well received by most fans, although if figures available at IMDb are correct, it just barely made back its considerable budget. If it was successful in the long run, by both the creator and the studio's estimation, the main reason was because it wisely stuck to the alien conspiracy arc, filling in some of the blanks left from storylines established in the series. All the main actors from the series are featured, along with a few that had barely been established, most notably three from Spender's conspiracy group. John Neville was only ever credited as "Well-Manicured Man", and this film was his final appearance. George Murdock and Don S. Williams were also part of the group, and they continued for a few more series episodes later. Other highlights are Blythe Danner, Armin Mueller-Stahl, and one of my all-time favorites, Martin Landau. Chris Carter must really like Terry O'Quinn, even though his role here is brief. He had already appeared as a different character in a Season Two episode, then came back for another in Season Nine. He also appeared in two other Carter creations, Millennium and Harsh Realm.

As happens with a lot of shows, fans had been wondering whether or not Mulder and Scully would ever become a romantic couple. Thankfully, that was not finalized in the movie, which was best in my opinion. Only those already fans would have cared or felt the necessity, and the movie had to appeal to those who had never watched the series. I think the script and performances were good for the most part, both for fans familiar with the mythology as well as those who weren't. One exception would probably be the inclusion of the Lone Gunmen, obviously only a fan service. Carter is on record as wanting the series to end after Season Five, with the story continuing in theatrical features, but FOX felt it was too lucrative a TV property to abandon that route. Carter was probably right.

Almost all of Season Six were stand-alone episodes, with an alien storyline only coming back in the finale. Then the original conspiracy arc was completed early in Season Seven, and another had to be created to replace it. By that time, Duchovny had already been expressing interest in leaving the show. Everything from Six to the first few episodes of Seven could have been compressed into another movie, but Fox wanted them to continue churning out episodes instead, so stories had to be developed which would allow Duchovny some time off. He continued through Seven, which ended with him being abducted by aliens (or so we're led to believe). It was hard to tell with this show sometimes, with scenes of Mulder on an alien craft possibly only in his head. I don't have anything against either Robert Patrick or Annabeth Gish, in fact I liked them in almost all their episodes in the final two seasons. And it's not like any of those episodes were any weaker than many that came before, but it was easy to see that even Anderson wasn't having a lot of fun, only fulfilling her contractual obligations. It also didn't help that when Duchovny did return for the series finale, the script was weak and the production seemed to suffer from a very limited budget. I'm actually surprised any of them wanted to do another movie after that.

Yet the careers of Carter, Anderson and Duchovny were all slow in the years between the end of the series and the second film in 2008, which was subtitled "I Want To Believe", which had long been Mulder's mantra. The only credits Carter had were for four "mythology" documentaries on The X-Files. Anderson was in one well-reviewed BBC mini-series (Bleak House) and one marginally successful film (The Last King of Scotland), along with a few other minor roles. Duchovny had a few minor movies and TV guest appearances, and had just begun the Showtime series Californication. Even though that eventually ran seven seasons, at the time it wasn't clear if it was going to be a hit. I'm sure Carter had been working on a script for a long time, but since almost all of the main story arcs had completed, it was inevitable that this movie was going to be a stand-alone story. It took many illogical plot twists to justify Mulder being asked back into an FBI investigation, but I can't say anything about that or else I'd spoil the end of the series for those who haven't seen it. Suffice it to say that I don't think they should have bothered with this film.

The story revolves around a defrocked priest (Billy Connolly) who claims to have psychic visions. He has led the FBI to a location where they uncover partial remains, a severed arm, which they link to the disappearance of another agent. Mulder is convinced of Father Joe's ability, Scully is once again the skeptic. She has returned to medical practice although it seems she and Mulder are still a couple (or maybe a couple again). At least for a while. It's the kind of story that would have made a fairly decent forty-two minute episode, but it fails to be compelling as a feature film. The weakest part for me was Scully thinking that Mulder was believing the priest as a way of still seeking his abducted sister, which makes no sense at all unless what we learned in the series was wrong. It also didn't help that Mulder and Scully were at odds through most of the film, whereas in the series, and the first film, they were steadfastly loyal to each other. The budget was only about half as much as the first film, plus they were back to shooting in Canada, although it was supposed to be set in West Virginia. Too many night scenes, too much bleak wind and snow, and a depressing story on top of that. [Spoiler]Plus the death of a favored actress. No, not Gillian.[/Spoiler] I'll likely never want to watch it again. I had not seen it until a couple of days ago, so if anything that occurred in it carries over to the new mini-series at least it will be fresh in my mind.

In spite of some comments above that may seem negative, I still like the series overall and recommend it. If you haven't seen the series yet there are several ways you can watch it. It is streaming on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, and has been on all three for quite a while, although there's no guarantee that will last forever. Neither of the movies are streaming free, but you can rent them from Amazon Video. You can either search for listings of all the main alien episodes and watch just those, or all the stand-alones for a different marathon. Or start from the beginning and watch all of them, or at least until you decide the show isn't satisfying you. As I said previously, if I do another rewatch I'll know which ones I'll want to skip. Most of the original and reissued DVD sets seem to be out-of-production, although some are available through Amazon. The originals had bulky fold-out disc cases, the reissues were in 'slim-line' cases. During my search today I found very high prices on some seasons, with lower ones apparently from Canada. They say they are Region 1, but there is French text on the covers. The entire series is now available on Blu-Ray, either for individual seasons (Season One) or the Complete Series. The two movies are available on Blu-Ray in a Combo Pack. If you haven't upgraded to Blu-Ray yet, or just want to save a bit of money, you can get all nine seasons and both movies in a Combo Deal from Amazon. I have no idea how long current prices will hold, they could easily go up soon. I want to stress that just because we'll get a small commission if you purchase through either of those links, you shouldn't buy this series unless you already like it and haven't bought it yet. Otherwise, a subscription to either Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime would be much more reasonable, and they all offer a free trial period.

I'll return to this page after at least a few of the new episodes air, or maybe I'll wait until all six have been broadcast. I will give my impression of them, whether it's positive or negative.


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Chris Carter

Chris Carter
Frank Spotnitz
Kim Manners

Original Series
Sep 10, 1993-May 19, 2002

1-Jun 19, 1998 2-Jul 25, 2008

New Mini-Series
Jan 24-Feb 22, 2016

Gillian Anderson
David Duchovny
Mitch Pileggi
William B. Davis
Nicholas Lea
Robert Patrick
Annabeth Gish
Bruce Harwood
Dean Haglund
Tom Braidwood

Full Credits (series) at IMDb

Amazon availability
See links in article