When I was growing up, I hated Sci-Fi. It seems almost incomprehensible to me now, as Sci-Fi pretty much dominates my viewing and reading habits. I think we base our opinions at a young age on the people around us. The people who liked Sci-Fi weren’t the people I hung out with and therefore I hated it by default. This meant I missed out on quite a few things as a kid that I didn’t latch onto until I was a teenager or even a young adult. In some cases, this was probably for the best … Terminator isn’t the most suitable thing for an eight-year-old to watch.
One thing, however, that I do regret missing out on is the X-Files. It was a cultural phenomenon throughout the nineties, is pretty much the apex of the genre, and I’ve barely seen a minute of it. For years, I’ve had the intention of binge watching it but never quite had the impetus to delve into this somewhat daunting undertaking. With the recent announcement of its impending, albeit limited, return to the screen, finally I have that reason. I’m starting from the beginning, the very best place to start, and will make my way through every season and possibly the movies as well, and will hopefully be able to provide not necessarily a review, but some thoughts and feelings on this iconic show, from someone who has never seen it.
My first impressions are unfortunately jaded by the bewilderment of 90’s fashion. Shoulder pads … we learnt nothing from the 80’s, clearly. Although I haven’t seen much, if any, of the show, it’s hard not to be familiar with the elements that made it so successful. They’ve been copied, homage, lampooned and discussed at length but the show’s rather large (and potentially growing – we’ll see how these reviews go) fan base. What impressed me, is that a lot of the elements so oft talked about, where introduced within the very first episode. The tone, the mystery and the interplay between Gillian Anderson’s Scully and David Duchovny’s Mulder are all present from the off. The chemistry between the two leads is evident from their first dialogue exchange and it’s not hard to see why the show found success. The repartee and bickering about the potential of the paranormal really anchored the first episode and I would assume the series, and it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves, if at all, and doesn’t become old hat as the show goes on.
Anderson’s Scully serves as an entry point for the audience, as she’s introduced to Mulder and the so-called X-Files. There’s no time for pretence or drawn out plot points as we’re thrown right in at the deep end. It’s rare to see two character’s relationship defined so clearly and so quickly. The dry wit of Mulder is present throughout and works delightfully in contrast to Scully’s more rigid scepticism. The balance both actors have to achieve for their characters to come off well really can’t be understated. A character always ready to jump to the paranormal when a more rational explanation would suffice could potentially become tiresome and trite, but Duchovny covers his bases with charm, a level of self-deprecation and well-intentioned humour (the Spielberg joke later in the episode serving as a good example) to prevent that from happening.
Scully, on the other hand, is more terse and standoffish, but is also allowed to be vulnerable and the scenes between her and Mulder later in the episode, when she believes to be afflicted with the same phenomenon as those who go missing in our main story mystery, really go a long way in demonstrating this, and help her become a very rounded and believable character. Her debunking of every paranormal theory could also grow grating over the course of the show, especially as the evidence to the contrary appears to be right in front of her face, but if her growth over the course of nine series is anything like the depth and development portrayed in these mere 45 or so minutes, I have faith that won’t be the case.
Speaking of cases, the main mystery on show in this introductory episode is nothing to write home about. Small town settings and kids going missing, with a possible alien abduction thrown into the mix, all make up the elements at work. The Close Encounters influence is clear to see, made even clearer by the aforementioned Spielberg joke. Working in unison with a more horror orientated tone, it sets a unique vibe that I’m not sure I’ve seen replicated in the years since. The mystery itself plays out in a fairly by the numbers fashion, enough to give a taste of what’s to come without serving the whole meal right out of the gate. There were so many other things at play, and building blocks being laid for the series to come, certain things about the main mystery felt superfluous (such as the Medical Examiner and the Detective), and could have perhaps been streamlined to allow things to breathe a little more, but that is a very minor complaint.
Overall, I don’t think you can underestimate the strength of the Pilot episode. The elements that will go on to define the show, at least as I understand it, are all present and tightly worked in. The groundwork is laid for later significance, in particular with the Smoking Man. He is an ominous presence on the periphery in several scenes, despite not uttering a word. The mystery and alien mythology the show will go on to explore is present and I particularly enjoyed the scene between Mulder and Scully set in an Oregon hotel, in which Mulder’s fascination with these paranormal cases is explained – the story of his sister who disappeared without trace. I imagine that wasn’t just a throwaway bit either, and will be explored in great length at some point in the show’s run. The small town setting, the government cover-ups, Raiders of the Lost Ark style, are pieces of a puzzle that just seems to fit together so well. The show is tightly packaged in its first offering. It knows what it is, and what it wants to be, and I look forward to seeing where it goes from here. I do believe I’m in for an interesting journey.
I think it’s fair to say I feel a little bit foolish reviewing something that came out 20 odd years ago and has likely been reviewed and talked to death by fans of the show. It’s even fairer to say I feel foolish for missing out on this show for so long, and that’s after only the first episode. I’m still not entirely sure how I’m going to go about this series. The tentative plan is to finish it before the revival mini-series in January, which gives me five months to watch nine full series and complete the reviews. I doubt I’ll go episode by episode, but rather season by season from here on out, and with any luck, I’ll have some thoughts and feelings as to how things unfold, that haven’t been discussed at length in the past. Stay tuned.
RATING (out of 100): 85, “Exceptional”
D. A. Edwards is a writer and truth seeker at NovaCritic.com. I’m assured it’s out there.