Revisiting the X-Files, Part 9: Hey, Did You Know the Show’s Ending?

OK, here we are. Having covered the beginning of the show, its creative peak, a season hampered by the need to keep the mytharc static for the movie, the movie itself, two awkward post-movie seasons, and a season which started out trying to convince us that John Doggett was a lead character only to reassure us by the end that he really wasn’t – plus touching on two spinoff shows, one glum and one comedic – we’ve now come to the end of the original run of The X-Files. In the show’s run from 1993 to 2002, it had gone from some obscure cult thing to a massive pop culture juggernaut to a show which, honestly, at the time I was somewhat surprised to learn was still running.

I think it’s fair to say that whilst early X-Files at its best managed to catch lightning in a bottle, said lightning had long since escaped, in part because of goofy creative decisions, in part because first David Duchovny and then Gillian Anderson were just really goddamn tired of it, and in part because the audience were also goddamn tired of it. A loyal following continued to watch – ratings stayed over 10 million viewers an episode right through to season 8 – but discontent had grown over time, especially if you were someone who was actually emotionally invested in the show rather than just having it on because it happened to be on.

Season 8 was challenging enough, what with Duchovny leaving the show but then not really leaving the show. This time around, Duchovny really had left the show, only as we’ll see he hadn’t quite left the show, and Gillian Anderson also didn’t want to be on it full-time any more. A deal was reached whereby Scully’s role in the show would be dialled back and Agent Monica Reyes – a character planted in the previous season just in case this eventuality rose – would step up to be one of the lead X-Files Division agents.

However, whereas Doggett had the first half of season 8 more or less to himself without Mulder upstaging him, Reyes was in the awkward position of being a character to replace a different character who hadn’t actually gone away. In fact, Scully’s closely involved in the investigation more often than not in this season, in a half-in half-out situation even more awkward than Mulder’s. There’s also the small issue that, what with David Duchovny walking again, the show had to deal with the fact that they’d ended season 8 with Mulder and Scully back together and all apparently being right with the world, except that Mulder had been fired from the FBI.

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Why I Won’t Be Fully Chronicling The Lone Gunmen

The Lone Gunmen is the other, less talked-about X-Files spin-off series. Whereas Millennium was originally not supposed to be set in the same universe as The X-Files, but crossed over with it as time went by until eventually it had a backdoor season finale as an X-Files episode, The Lone Gunmen was presented as being part of the same world from the start. As is obvious from the title, the concept of the show was that it would follow the exploits of the Lone Gunmen – Byers (Bruce Harwood), Frohike (Tom Braidwood), and Langly (Dean Haglund), a trio of dorky hackers who put out the underground newspaper The Lone Gunmen airing their various conspiracy theories to the general public.

Having been invented by Glen Morgan and James Wong (who, perhaps, would have made better showrunners for The X-Files than Chris Carter himself, given that they delivered the best episodes of the early seasons), the Gunmen had become beloved features of the show over time, their role largely to be Mulder’s (and, as she warmed to them over time, Scully’s) dorky little friends who sometimes helped out with a bit of info or technical expertise our main agents didn’t have access to.

So popular were they, they ended up getting a couple of Vince Gilligan-penned episodes focused specifically on them, with the story of how they met up with Mulder reprised in Unusual Suspects and Scully getting drawn into one of their investigations in Three of a Kind. With these episodes effectively acting as backdoor pilots, the TV show was cooked up by the four men who by this point made up the core X-Files writing team – Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan, and John Shiban – as a lighter, more comedic show than The X-Files (much as Millennium was a darker and more miserable one), with more of an emphasis on corruption in high places and less on UFOs and paranormal stuff.

The sole season of the show aired in parallel with X-Files season 8. It was a ratings flop, losing around 10 million viewers over the course of its run, a good chunk of whom didn’t bother to stick around after watching the first episode or two, and to be honest you can’t blame ’em.

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Revisiting the X-Files, Part 8: Hey, Did You Know David Duchovny’s (Sort of) Gone?

After a rather muddled sixth season (which itself followed an utter disaster of a movie whose existence had thrown the fifth season out of whack), The X-Files actually offered up a reasonably decent seventh season (if you ignore the utterly risible resolution of the “what happened to Mulder’s sister?” plot) which culminated in Mulder being abducted by aliens and Scully becoming pregnant. This allowed the mytharc to come back to life with two brand new mysteries – “Where’s Mulder?” and “How is babby formed?” – and also deal with the fact that David Duchovny, having become comprehensively tired of the series and wanting to explore other projects, forcing the show to adapt to a brand new Mulder-less format.

OK, so here’s the thing: Duchovny’s departure didn’t stick. Rather than entirely leaving the series, he was cajoled (perhaps with the aid of Fox driving a dump truck full of cash up to his front door) into sticking around on a guest star basis. In fact, he appears in about half the season, with small appearances depicting his peril in the initial two-part mytharc episodes and then returning to main cast duties in the second half of the season, which coincided with the most dense run of mytharc episodes the series had seen to date. Whilst season 6 and 7 had been light on the mytharc, season 8 is almost wholly consumed by mytharc in its second half, making up for lost time.

Speaking of stuff that almost wholly consumes the show, this season also saw a significant shift on the writing side. I’ve recounted how over time the show’s pool of writers tended to contract, until most of the writing was done by a four-man (emphasis on “man”) team of Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan, and John Shiban, with occasional outside scripts filling out the rest.

Here, John Shiban and Vince Gilligan’s contributions are significantly contracted. Gilligan and, to a lesser extent, Shiban were concurrently working on the Lone Gunmen spin-off series, but then again so were Carter and Spotnitz. For whatever reason, for this season and season 9 (which followed the cancellation of The Lone Gunmen and therefore didn’t have that distraction as an excuse for this), the core X-Files writing team was effectively trimmed back to just Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz, with Gilligan and Shiban’s writing contributions not amounting to much more than anyone else outside the inner circle.

To quantify this, a statistic: in both this season and season 9, over half the episodes of the season have their script credited to Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, or both of them. And of those, only a couple of episodes in season 9 involve Carter or Spotnitz collaborating with others – William had a script by Chris Carter distilling a story concept he’d worked on with Duchonvy and Spotnitz, and Jump the Shark was the last episode credited to the trio of Gilligan, Shiban, and Spotnitz – the last time either Gilligan or Shiban would be given a script credit alongside Spotnitz or Carter. One may worry that this would have the effect of making the pool of ideas and writing talent available to the show even shallower, and narrowing its vision to the Carter-Spotnitz duo’s personal take. Let’s see, shall we?

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Revisiting the X-Files, Part 7: Hey, Did You Know David Duchovny’s (Sort of) Leaving?

Season 6 of The X-Files was, as I recounted in the previous part of this article series, was a season of two halves – starting out as a big goofy mess, but somewhat pulling itself together by the end. Season 7 would find the production team having adapted fully to the relocation to Los Angeles, but also dealing with the fact that David Duchovny was feeling increasingly restless and clearly wasn’t going to be sticking around forever.

This was particularly the case because Duchovny had decided to seriously upset the applecart by suing Fox – the television network, not his own character. See, Duchovny’s contract with Fox included a cut of various royalties, including the proceeds from book deals, reruns and the like. Duchovny felt that, rather than seeking the best and most competitive deal for those rights, Fox had instead just sold them to their affiliates at an unfairly low price. (Note, for instance, how the show switched to Sky – a Fox-owned company – rather than the BBC after season 5, putting an end to my watching of the show because my family didn’t have or want satellite TV in our house and I no longer cared enough about the show to seek out other means of watching it.) By doing that, Duchovny and anyone else whose compensation included royalties on those would end up underpaid.

The lawsuit would also undermine Duchovny’s working relationship with other individuals on the show; most notably, though Chris Carter was not a full-blown co-defendant on the case, Duchovny’s suit did allege that Carter had been paid hush money to keep the arrangement quiet (presumably so as to not damage any contract negotiations which might have been impacted by the knowledge that the rights were going to be handed off for cheap). Fox settled with Duchovny, but it was clear that some bridges were burned there.

This was not the only situation the creative team had to face. Chris Carter’s own contract was up by the end of the season, raising the possibility that the show might get renewed but he might not be onboard. Perhaps as insurance against that policy, the circle of writers was somewhat widened for this season; it has the least Chris Carter script credits of any of the pre-revival seasons, and less Frank Spotnitz scripts than any season since season 3 (Spotnitz would be conspicuously absent from the revival seasons); as we’ll see, this is a trend that’s very much reversed in season 8.

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Revisiting the X-Files, Part 6: Hey, Did You Know We’re Filming In Los Angeles Now?

Previously in my rewatch of The X-Files, we took in the series’ shaky first season, enjoyed its peak in seasons 2-4, and watched as season 5 spent ages running around in circles so as to not upstage the movie. We are now firmly into the place where my “rewatch” has become a simple “watch”; I didn’t get around to watching the movie when it was first released, and when the show was dropped by the BBC and picked up by Sky in the UK I couldn’t watch season 6 onwards, because we didn’t have satellite TV. (I could have got DVD sets, but I was never motivated to until I picked up the Blu-Ray set of the whole season that started me on this retrospective in the first place.)

Season 6 represents a big shift in the show, and not just because the show is liberated from the need to cater to the movie – the renewal of the show for more seasons by Fox having scuppered the “we’ll do five seasons on TV and then tell the rest of the story through movies” plan. See, David Duchovny had become increasingly tired of the whole X-Files thing – he’d eventually leave at the end of season 7 after declining to renew his contact – and one of the things which was making him sick of the whole deal was the fact that for its first five seasons the show was being filmed up in Vancouver, whereas his wife Téa Leoni (who’d give birth to their first child whilst season 6 was still airing) was working in Los Angeles.

Duchovny decided that if the show was that desperate to keep him on, they may as well make it easier for him, and suggested moving production to Los Angeles; Chris Carter was reluctant, but with Gillian Anderson and Kim Manners (one of the regular episode directors) supporting the move it became a done deal. Gone were the rainy, overcast Vancouver pine forests standing in for a range of US locations; more episodes included bright, sunlit scenery and desert landscape. It was a notable aesthetic shift, though not a wholly inappropriate one; LA’s much nearer Area 51, after all – but I’m getting ahead of myself there.

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Revisiting the X-Files, Part 5.5: Hey, Here’s That Movie We Had Coming Out

Following the end of season 5 of the TV show, the X-Files have been shut down and the FBI has Mulder and Scully working conventional cases (with an apparent intention of then splitting them up for good). When a building containing a FEMA branch office is blown up in Dallas, with Mulder and Scully on the scene, in the aftermath our duo become aware of serious discrepancies in the official story. After Mulder is contacted by Dr. Alvin Kurzweil (Martin Landau), an eccentric conspiracy theorist (and possibly a distributor of child abuse images, or maybe someone who the government uses accusations of such as a means of discrediting), the pair become convinced that the bombing was an attempt to cover evidence of something much stranger. Chasing up this lead will take them on an intercontinental journey that will lead them into the heart of Antarctica – and the centre of the mystery of the black oil.

The X-Files: Fight the Future needed to do something flashy to justify being a full-blown, big-budget movie rather than just another episode of the TV show, and as part of this process the script by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz steers directly into ground which, in their pursuit of a blockbuster spectacle, they fail to treat with the sensitivity that they otherwise managed to in the show.

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Revisiting the X-Files, Part 5: Hey, Did You Know We Have a Movie Coming Out?

So far on my X-Files rewatch we’ve seen the show’s muddled beginnings, cheered it on as it got good, savoured its prime, and tried to enjoy what we could as it gradually began its decline. (We’ve also glanced over at Millennium and gone “nah, can’t be bothered”.)

Now it’s time to look at season 5, produced in parallel with The X-Files: Fight the Future, the first movie. As we’ll see, that’s a circumstance which ended up overshadowing this season somewhat.

I noted how in the previous season the writing team had become somewhat contracted, and that’s exacerbated further this time. The inner circle has now contracted to just Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, John Shiban, and Vince Gilligan – four writers as opposed to seven last season – and once again, there’s much less outside contributions than in earlier seasons, with only three episodes having scripts which weren’t written outright or contributed to by those four people.

The season opens with another Chris Carter two-parter focusing on the mytharc, Redux and Redux II, resolving both the “did Mulder kill himself?” cliffhanger from last season (of course he fucking didn’t) and the “will Scully’s cancer be cured?” (of course it fucking will). The only really exciting aspect of the cliffhanger, really, is “Whose dead body is that in Mulder’s apartment that Scully misidentified as Mulder to cover for him?”, and the answer turns out to be “a generic agent of the Conspiracy we don’t care about”.

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Why I Won’t Be Fully Chronicling Millennium

As part of the process of doing my X-Files watchthrough, I’d been intending to also incorporate a look at Millennium, the darker and edgier show that Chris Carter had been commissioned by Fox to make and which went out alongside the fourth, fifth, and sixth seasons of The X-Files until its cancellation meant that it had to settle for a crossover episode in X-Files season 7 as its series finale. Having snagged Lance Henriksen to play the lead role, Chris Carter was primed to offer up a grimdark vision of Seattle through an aesthetic style heavily influenced by Se7en and morbidly apocalyptic themes.

Carter kicks things off with Pilot, and decides to confront us from the get-go with an almost comically tawdry strip club where the mysterious Frenchman (Paul Dillon) watches performers cavort in their underwear (but not showing any nipple because this isn’t that much of an adult show) to Rob Zombie and Nine Inch Nails tracks. As the Frenchman enjoys a private show, he hallucinates showers of blood and walls of fire around the performer and mumbles apocalyptic poetry.

What this has to do with, well, anything is not immediately apparent; after the opening titles we’re introduced to a much more sunny, domestic scene, as Frank Black (Lance Henriksen), his wife Catherine (Megan Gallagher), and their adorable little daughter Jordan (Brittany Tiplady) settle in to their brand new home in Seattle, with Frank having stepped down from his job at the FBI. Before he was at the FBI, though, Frank was a local cop in Seattle, and when he sees a news story about a brutal and apparently sexually-motivated murder – that of the stripper we see giving the private dance at the start – he feels an urgent need to stop in with his old colleagues at the homicide division, now led by Frank’s buddy Bob Bletcher (Bill Smitrovich)

After Frank discusses the case with them – and exhibits an uncanny, possibly-paranormal ability to visualise the circumstances of a crime from the killer’s perspective (in a sort of rudimentary, much less artistically interesting version of Will Graham’s visualisations in the Hannibal TV series), Frank mentions his new job: he’s taken up a post at the Millennium Group, a private investigation firm of retired law enforcement personnel, and this sort of case happens to be their forte.

As the slayings continue, Peter Watts (Terry O’Quinn), who’s been assigned by the Millennium Group to act as a sort of mentor to Frank as he finds his footing within the organisation, takes his own look at the case and concurs with Frank’s assessment of the situation – encouraging Frank to continue and promising he’ll have the Group’s full backing on this case. But how does Frank know what he knows, and if the Group is merely a perfectly ordinary private investigation outfit – albeit one with a high calibre of employee – why do they seem to show up like furtive little visitors in the night, rather than having a conventional office?

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Revisiting the X-Files, Part 4: Fourth Into the Unknown

After establishing itself, refining its approach, and hitting what may prove to be its creative peak as a showThe X-Files ruled the pop cultural universe by late 1996. Its fourth season would enjoy its highest overall ratings ever, and Chris Carter was busier than ever. Not only was the main show still going strong, but preparation for the first movie was gearing up – though set after season 5, most of the filming for the movie would take place in the filming gap after season 4 was in the can – but Carter had also been asked to produce a new TV series for Fox. This ended up being Millennium, which would involve a significant number of the X-Files creative team and ultimately end up being integrated into the X-Files universe as a result of character crossovers. (In fact, an episode of season 7 of The X-Files was set aside to give Millennium the series finale that cancellation otherwise denied it.)

Would all these creative directions end up diluting the attention of Chris Carter and his production team, or would they be able to keep up the high standards of season 3? Let’s crack open this case file and find out…

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Revisiting the X-Files, Part 3: The Third Assignment

After experiencing its initial growing pains in season 1 and taking perhaps a little too long to restore the series status quo at the start of season 2, The X-Files found itself snowballing into a serious cultural phenomenon – true must-see TV in perhaps the last era when “must-see TV” was really a thing, before the proliferation of options out there meant that shows had to content themselves with lower ratings overall due to the pie being shared between more content providers and audiences having the freedom to choose the niche pie which really hits the spot for them, rather than having to make do with pie that they aren’t that keen on for want of anything better. (I think my analogy’s gotten away with me: both the audiences and the TV shows are pies and they’re eating each other.)

Season 3, then, had some lofty expectations to meet, as well as a major cliffhanger to resolve, with season 2 ending with the Conspiracy torching a buried train car full of alien bodies which Mulder had discovered in the New Mexico desert – with Mulder inside. Carter-penned season opener The Blessing Way is divided into two halves, one of which has substantially more legs than the other. The lesser half doubles down on the appropriation of Native American spirituality which Anasazi flirted with as Mulder gropes his way back to the land of the living with the aid of a sweat lodge sequence that gives way to some full-blown Carlos Castaneda shit. Whilst giving Mulder a near-death experience to match Scully’s from the start of season 2 makes a great seal of sense, the episode abandons almost all the subtlety and nuance which accompanied her visions in favour of going full blown New Age with Mulder’s – and with some disquietingly Messianic overtones at that.

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