For various reasons — renting Season 1 from Netflix, reviewing the X-Files: Resist or Serve (Amazon) game for SCI-FI.com, working on my Delta Green campaign — I’ve been spending an awful lot of time thinking about the X-Files, and about what went wrong with the series.
At one point in time, the X-Files wasn’t just a television series, it was a way of life — it was the sort of thing that my co-worker Dan and I would discuss at work in between Star Wars jokes and re-writing our Microsoft Word “news to Web” macros for the Pocono Record. It was the sort of thing you made time for every Sunday night, knowing that you’d be dissecting what happened over the course of the next week.
And then somehow, somewhere, that started to change. It became just another television series, and then — worse yet — it became “that television series I used to watch”.
So where did it go wrong? My disillusionment with the series really began with the movie, X-Files: Fight the Future. Why? Because it wasn’t tied directly into the series — I went into that movie fully expecting that the season’s cliffhanger would be resolved on-screen, and that a new cliff-hanger would take its place at the movie’s end.
No such luck. Instead we got a story line that seemed to be independent of what was going on in the series, which would have been ok, but it wasn’t independent enough. A good bug hunt or haunted house story would have been appropriate for the first stand-alone X-Files movie, but instead we got a movie that tied into the series Alien Conspiracy mythos, without actually connecting to what was happening in on the small screen. That was bad — but what was worse was the fact that Scully was abducted by aliens, imprisoned in a starship in Antarctica, rescued by Mulder … and then collapsed face down in the snow, and missed the ship thundering away overhead. It was all a vain attempt to keep Scully a skeptic, and truthfully, by that point in the series she should have been a true believer.
That was the first nail for me. The second was Fox’s idiotic scheduling of the series. After the first few seasons, with the series a hit, Fox decided that it could use the X-Files as its trump card for the November rating sweeps, and as a result, for most of the later seasons the show didn’t start airing until the first week in November. I don’t know about the rest of fandom, but the strategy backfired with me. The X-Files had once been a staple of my TV watching schedule, but when the show was repeatedly delayed until November, I got into the habit of watching other shows or (horror of horrors) not watching television at all. Once you get out of a groove, it’s hard to get back in it, and its all the harder when the quality of the series is declining.
And the quality of the series was declining. In the first six seasons, fans had the sense that Chris Carter knew exactly where he was going with the series, and that eventually, all secrets would be revealed. The problem was, we were right — Carter did have a plan, and that plan ended with Season Six. From that point on, it was clear he was making it up as he went along, shattering the believability of the mythos in the process. It’s clear now that Carter didn’t have any sort of an exit plan for the end of the conspiracy story arc, which is unfortunate, because managed properly, the X-Files could have still been on today.
Then there were The Lone Gunmen. They got their own series, which was funny and intelligent and — naturally — lasted a handful of episodes. That didn’t bother me — I’d have been surprised if it really took off — but what did was that Carter seemed say “hmm, don’t want to watch my series? Fine, I’ll just kill ’em off.” And that’s exactly what he did. This I found unforgivable — the Lone Gunmen were some of my favorite characters from the X-Files, and to have them killed off, never to return to the mythos, bothers me to this day. Of course, this is the X-Files, and who knows if they are really dead, but still, it bothers me all the same.
Finally, we have the resolution of the mystery of Mulder’s sister, which was so ridiculously anti-climatic and so idiotically New Age, that it taints the entire subplot. Mulder spent all that time searching for his sister, made all those sacrifices, and this is the result? Her dead and transformed into some sort of spirit? Pah.
So what would I have done with the X-Files? Imagine if you will, this scenario. Both Mulder and Scully were staples of the series, and rightly so. But with the end of the alien conspiracy, their primary reasons for being with the X-Files were resolved (yes, Mulder’s still searching for his sister, but that didn’t have to be done through the FBI). So let Mulder “retire” from the FBI, and head off to some college to teach profiling or parapsychology, or have him join up with one of the various UFO watch groups. Then have Scully get promoted to some other branch of the FBI, perhaps teaching forensics at the Academy, or supervising a forensic department.
Then bring in two new agents to work on the X-Files, and go old-school with them. Focus on monster hunts, serial killers, and other assorted weirdness. Bring back some old antagonists from earlier seasons, and as you do so, occasionally bring back Mulder and Scully as consultants. Then have these new agents uncover a new conspiracy, perhaps a more mundane, terrestrial one … or perhaps something right out of the pages of Lovecraft.
Now mind you, to some extent, this is what the series did during Seasons 8 and 9, but because the transition was so ad hoc, and because Carter & Co. was so desperate to hold onto Mulder and Scully (no doubt because of urging from Fox higher-ups), the entire effort fell flat.
Of course, that was then, this is now. The series is off the air, and our sole hope for the future lies with movies (and perhaps video games). So what to do now? Well, pretty much what I outlined above. Get Fox out of the bureau and into some non-governmental position that still allows him to investigate paranormal activities. Promote Scully, and then have the two leads from the 9th season take over the X-Files. So far, so good. Then don’t even try to restart the Mythos in many meaningful way; just do a good, focused X-Files episode, in which Mulder calls upon his friends at the FBI to investigate some new case. Because we all want it, have the movie focus primarily on Scully and Mulder, but make sure the new FBI agents get a fair amount of screen time. Sprinkle in a few clues that could lead to a larger conspiracy in subsequent movies, but don’t try and do a “new beginning” story arc — have the clues there if you need them, but don’t end the film with a cliff hanger.
Such a movie would capture everything that was great about the old series, while simultaneously re-working it for a new decade. With any luck, it could lead to additional sequels and the possibility of resurrecting the television series with a new, reinvigorated cast.