A Personal X-Files Retrospective

Oh, The X-Files. The revival certainly brought back all the nostalgic joy. The moment the theme tune echoed from the TV, I was thrown back into all that fangirl love. And lo and behold, I had to write a retrospective of what this show means to me.

I was seven when it started airing in the UK. I managed to watch one episode with my older brothers - Fire. After that, I had to wait until I was twelve to start watching it regularly. It still gave me nightmares. The Stephen King episode sticks in my mind. That damn doll. Aaaaargh!

The show was such a cultural phenomenon, it was always present in the back of my mind, even before I was allowed to watch it. I read magazines and watched TV documentaries about UFOs and supernatural occurrences that definitely owed their existence to The X-Files. I even remember one on the BBC hosted by Gillian Anderson. In its own way The X-Files haunted me until I was finally able to watch it.

I love this show because the characters are amazing, the plots are (mostly) engaging, and the over-arcing plot is ridiculously complex and deliciously tangled. It connects with me as a viewer and as a writer. With every episode that explored some of the central alien conspiracy storyline, we gleaned scant new details only for the cover up to grow ever more insidious. No wonder we X-Files fans are such addicts. We want to know the truth!

The music and sound effects are creepy and perfect for the stories. It's all so broody and heavy. It's part of what makes it so rewatchable for me. Those serious episodes are so intense. The idea of it captures my imagination. I always want to know more about the lives of people involved in the stories. While the deeper social and historical context of the show's plots passed me over when I was younger, it's one of the things I find most interesting now. I know this show is a huge part of why I wrote my dissertations on the Cold War. All that paranoia is fun to delve into. The X-Files took it to a highly entertaining extreme.

Why is this show still so much fun to watch? Why is it still relevant enough to warrant a mini-series so long after its original run ended? It's not just the hilarious 90sness of it all. The themes of government and military conspiracies still feel possible, especially in our age of heightened paranoia and surveillance. Also, the idea that there is so much potential locked away in the scientific mysteries of the universe resonates more than ever, as does the notion that our clueless meddling creates more problems than it solves. We're still afraid of the unknown, and that fear makes for great story potential. In The X-Files, the unknown tends to bite back. Soft Light and Synchrony are two great examples of that. A number of episodes also focus on the idea that creatures from folklore struggle to coexist with us in the modern world. All of these themes come together to create a great show. And I feel like so many other shows since this one have done similar things, it keeps The X-Files relevant.

I also love how the blame for the mind-bending conspiracies is never placed at the feet of a particular political party. Ever notice how Mulder and Scully's boss, Skinner, has a photo of the real world serving President in his office? To me, that suggests each President inherits this behemoth of a conspiracy from their predecessor. Does that mean that each President of the United States is, in fact, a puppet to be used by the ultimate masters of the conspiracy that covers up aliens and alters the lives of Americans on a daily basis? Or are they as blind to it as the rest of us? Ah, well, the show kinda dodges that issue.

It's always the conspiracy stories I find most interesting, and not just the alien related conspiracy episodes. I love the stories that explore how characters deal with the aftermath of being military experiments. Season 2's Sleepless always springs to mind. I love that one.

Even now, I still feel the weight of all those conspiracies, as Mulder and Scully battle at the edges of them to protect people, only for the shadowy government figures to reach into their lives and extract terrible tolls. I love how the show never lost the feeling that if Mulder could just get the right person to talk, he'd know everything. That feeling is there in the mini-series, too. The idea that Mulder thinks he knows it, thinks he's seen it all and deduced all the details, only to discover that, actually, there's still so much he doesn't know. It's why we keep going back. It's such a neat little narrative trick - make the viewers or readers think they know it all, only to reveal there's yet more to it.

But Mulder wouldn't be anything without Scully. She was such an inspiration to me growing up. SHe still is. She's so smart, so strong, so in control of herself. She is a woman in a man's world, and she is going to get stuff done. She stands up for her beliefs and fights Mulder at every turn. I really admired that. She's the right person to balance out Mulder's impulsiveness. And even though she can't always go with him, or follow his mad plans, she always fights to protect him and keep him safe.

Despite their differences, they care for each other so much. If you want to see how to develop an amazing central character dynamic, The X-Files is the place to go. Talk about a slow burn, and as for romance... that word just doesn't cover it. To me, romance implies a conscious awareness of falling in love. With Mulder and Scully, their relationship deepens over time. It's beautiful.

The show also has an amazing selection of 'monster of the week' stories. Eve in season 1 is an all time favourite. I've gone back and watched it so many times over the years. "We just knew." Aaaaah, so creepy! I like to think it's the episode Orphan Black took its inspiration from. And goodness knows Supernatural owes itself to the episodes of The X-Files that feature creatures from folklore.

No other show does funny episodes so brilliantly either. No, not even Supernatural. The show goes to some very dark places, but it still takes the time to acknowledge it's got a wacky premise. Season 5's Bad Blood is my favourite, but there are plenty more to choose from.

The later seasons of the show may not possess the same character driven wonder of the early seasons, but regardless of that, this is one show I know I will always love. I can't wait to see what we're treated to next...

What are your favourite X-Files memories? Did you watch it back in the day, or are you a recent convert?


Popular Posts