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The New and Not-so-improved ‘X-Files’

As someone who is a new fan of The X-Files, I was excited when I heard they were revamping the series and had released a new season. Shows with such strong followings often manage to come back, new and sometimes improved, and make a nostalgic return.

The X-Files boils down to two people, Agents Mulder and Scully of the FBI, proving that “The Truth is Out There.” The show relies on an incredibly complex and layered mythology built over the course of nine seasons. The right way to approach a new season would have been to build upon all of that mythology and everything that comes with it, including the characters, the plots, and all of Mulder and Scully’s discoveries. Because the new X-Files manages to get characterizations, plots, and other elements of the show right and other parts off the mark, I feel ambivalent about it, especially as someone with such close familiarity with the original series (read: just watched all of it in two months).

unnamed-10The main story-arc depended heavily on ret-conning the entirety of the original mythology under the guise of a government conspiracy, which in all honesty I found somewhat lazy. The first and last episodes of the six-episode tenth season contained almost all of the details of this new plot. In the original seasons, about half of the episodes focused on the story arc and the other half were fun, self-contained episodes about strange creatures from the unknown. This meant the new, self-contained episodes in the middle of the season, which did rely on the formula of the original, were incredibly good. As fans, people knew to expect the cheesy murder at the beginning, the introduction of the case, the exploration by Scully and Mulder, and so on. The episode with the best ratings, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-monster” recieved a “100% Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That particular episode was silly without being stupid and even satirized the original show without being too self-effacing. It’s fair to conclude that by following the expectations of the audience, those stand-alone episodes managed to be great. And, unfortunately, for the same reason, the plot episodes were not.

This is not to say they were all bad. After all, most of the interactions between the main characters were enough to bring out nostalgia and the other part of the formula that made the show so good. The actors David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson have the kind of onscreen chemistry that turns a show from merely okay into an incredible success. The middle four episodes relied on that chemistry and familiar characterizations of Mulder, poking fun and steadfast in his convictions, and Scully, reasonable and optimistic. Even so, the showrunner, Chris Carter, managed to cast some shadows. For one, introducing two new agents, Miller and Einstein, with nearly identical convictions and appearances as Scully and Mulder, especially after failing in Seasons 8 and 9 with Agents Reyes and Doggett, ignores that the main reason people decided to watch was for Mulder and Scully. In addition, the “Mulder and Scully have a child” storyline majorly reined in a lot of the interactions that could have explored the complex friendship-partner-romance beyond their son, William, who was never a true character on the show.

THE X FILES: David Duchovny (L) as Agent Fox Mulder and Gillian Anderson (R) as Agent Dana Scully. ©1998 FOX BROADCASTING COMPANY. CR: Mark Seliger/FOX

Some things just don’t sit well with an audience who had to wait so long for a plot to unfold. The choice to bring back the Smoking Man from the dead seemed pointless and turned him from a villain into a plot point. Also, ending the show on a cliffhanger was misguided, especially as the only thing that could have saved “My Struggle: II” would have been to have Mulder and Scully solve the outbreak story, which, again, seems like a tired trope, with the new momentum from Scully’s discoveries. And yet the episode ends unfinished.

The weirdest thing part of watching the tenth season, especially after blasting through 201 episodes beforehand, was that the new season could not fully convince me that I was watching The X-Files. It felt like a very biased, very new fan had taken the show and written their own, six episode script that FOX made into the tenth season. The takeaway from the semi-failure of this new season for Chris Carter and other showrunners bringing back old shows (talking about you, Gilmore Girls) is that you ought to build on the old magic of the show, not replace it with something new.

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