Although I was going into this as a first-time viewer, I couldn’t help but hold the expectation that my opinions may be somewhat jaded by shows that began airing following the X-Files success. I wanted to look at this, as if I were watching during the 90’s, but although the fashion hasn’t necessarily gotten much better since then, technology and other facets of life have veered so far away from the mind-set of that era, it’s hard to fall in line and view the show through that lens. That being said, my jaded, noughties infested critical eye, still found plenty of enjoyment in my first venture into the X-Files. Here are some of my thoughts;
It’s interesting to see how quickly the bond is formed between the two main characters. There’s certainly a level of comfort between them that is already firmly established following the Pilot, and despite once again falling on opposite sides of the fence in its immediate follow up “Deep Throat”, their partnership remains on solid footing as Scully goes to bat for Mulder in third episode “Squeeze”. The ridiculing Mulder gets and how heavy handed her distaste for it is displayed goes a long way in showing the affection (albeit platonic … at this point) she already has for Mulder, but also the trust and respect for his abilities as an FBI Agent. That respect is fundamental, in my opinion, in preventing Mulder from coming off like a stark raving mad, ufology nut with a penchant for paranoia, and is what makes the show so engaging and watchable.
The Monster-of-the-Week format is sometimes hit or miss, with some ideas and concepts not quite living up to their potential and others that simply feel preposterous, even given the show’s own internal logic (“Space”, I’m looking at you), and can’t even begin to be explained away by psycho, techno or any other type of babble. Despite having an extremely tight and together Pilot episode that seemed to know exactly what it was trying to achieve, it does take a fair while for the show to find its feet and a comfortable rhythm.
This first season sometimes struggles with its mysteries, as it has to find the balance between the supernatural which Mulder can latch onto whilst providing a reasonable and logical scientific out for Scully to present as an alternative theory. Sometimes this is done rather well, such as in the episode “Shadows” and “Ghost in the Machine” were Scully pieces together evidence to implicate a software developer that has created a murderous AI inspired by HAL 9000. Also, the use of Scully’s medical background helps give the supernatural and science fiction aspects a grounding in some reality, no matter how thinly veiled, which aids in understanding her viewpoint. On the other side of the coin, the recurring mentioning of Mulder’s past encounters … close and of the third kind … allow for the opposite to hold true. It’s a tricky high-wire act to master and the first season gets it right more than it gets it wrong. It’ll be interesting to see if this formula will remain throughout the show’s run, and how it will evolve and be tweaked as time goes on.
I actually found that on a number of occasions, the less defined the mystery the stronger the episode was, as was the case with “Squeeze” and the character of Victor Tooms. That, in large part, has to do with the overall tone of the episode and the chillingly creepy portrayal of the character himself. Tooms has a selection of different eccentricities, without assigning an absolute to it, creating an unpredictability I enjoyed. The same cannot be said for “The Jersey Devil” and its titular creature. This first season really shined when episodes came completely out of left field, with “Ice” serving as a good case in point. The isolated Arctic setting and the claustrophobic feeling that permeates through the whole episode are edge of the seat stuff, and it stands out as one of my favourite episodes of the season.
Another one of the standout episodes of the season is “Beyond the Sea”. For the first time, Mulder is cast in the role of sceptic and Scully becomes the so-called believer, although it isn’t without a great deal of hesitation on her part. The death of Scully’s father allows us to explore the character a little more deeply. The Moby Dick motif might have been a little bit on the nose, considering Scully’s father was a Captain, but the use of the titular song was fantastic. Brad Dourif, who portrays a death row prisoner with alleged physic abilities, gives a spectacularly creepy rendition of it to convince Scully of his nature and it works on just about every level. This was the first time Gillian Anderson was really able to stretch her acting muscle and Scully came to life as a character in those exchanges. There was so much at work in “Beyond the Sea” both character wise and thematically, and if I wasn’t yet convinced of seeing this project through to the end, this episode was certainly the closer.
The government paranoia and conspiracy is the central theme of this first season, a reflection on the times, and cuts to the heart of the main mythology episodes, as well as filler (and I use that term very loosely) episodes like “Ghost in the Machine” and “Darkness Falls”. As such, the show is at its strongest when dealing with said conspiracy and the most mysterious and intriguing side characters tend to fall in line. The character of Deep Throat has clear historical basis and inspiration but his motives throughout the first season, up until the final stretch of episodes, remain clouded in mystery. His presence certainly gives credence to Mulder’s ever present paranoia and a number of Season One’s most dramatic moments and episodes are heavily influenced by the character, in particular, the closing moments of “E.B.E”. Jerry Hardin helps give the otherworldly elements credibility and he delivers every word he speaks with such weight and gravity, you can’t help but feel sucked in. My biggest complaint about the character would be that there wasn’t enough of him.
I’ve revisited plenty of 90’s television, and even films, and frankly, a lot of them don’t remotely hold up. It’s true that the X-Files suffers from some of the unavoidable pitfalls of media from that era, including fashion (some of Mulder’s ties are just plain hideous) and the technology on display, but as far as a visual presentation goes, Season One has stood the test of time, more or less. What struck me was how cinematic the show could look at times, despite being over twenty years old. The colour palette the show uses aids in setting a foreboding tone, accompanied by an ominous score and haunting opening theme. Everything works together in concert to create something wholly unique. The X-Files may have been inspired by and in turn inspired a series of television shows and even films in the years since, but it stands alone in bringing all these elements together in such a satisfying package.
There’s no way to sum up my first complete foray into the X-Files. There’s still a lot of show left to get through and discuss. So far, I can’t say I’ve been disappointed. It delivered exactly what I expected it too and I’m looking forward to seeing how it progresses and grows. That being said, it’s certainly not without its drawbacks. It can be quite a heavy show to sit through, and I did have to watch chunks of episodes in multiple sittings. Also, whilst David Duchovny has incredible wit and charm and his interplay with Gillian Anderson is fantastic, there are sometimes episodes that don’t allow for that to come through. When an episode is so dry and earnest, dealing with quite outlandish concepts (“Gender Bender” for example), it doesn’t always click with me, but that’s possibly down to my own personal preference. The Monster-of-week can vary in quality and at times, Mulder can jump to quite irrational explanations. One down, eight to go.
- 1×03 – “Squeeze”
- 1×08 – “Ice”
- 1×10 – “Fallen Angel”
- 1×13 – “Beyond the Sea”
- 1×17 – “E.B.E”
- 1×20 – “Darkness Falls”
- 1×21 – “Tooms”
- 1×24 – “The Erlenmeyer Flask”
Continuity and Questions
- Mulder’s sister Samantha disappeared, believed to be abducted by Aliens when he was 12, and she was 8.
- Will Max return after disappearing in the episode “Fallen Angel”? Also, it was a nice touch that his hat remained in Mulder’s office afterwards.
- Following the events of the finale, who will keep Mulder abreast of the inner chicanery of the government? Will the Lone Gunmen play a more significant role? Will the Smoking Man end up with a tracheotomy before the show reaches season nine?
- How many dead alien foetuses do the government have in that warehouse? I can’t imagine it smells very good in there. Do they keep them next to the Ark of the Covenant, or is that kept in a different section? If this show was taking place now, the big reveal would be that these people work for Amazon.
- Following the events of the finale, the X-Files have been shut down. Where does this leave Mulder and Scully?
- I’m gonna have to take a shot of whisky every time Scully is referred to as a “medical doctor”. There’s a chance my liver won’t live long enough to complete the show.
D. A. Edwards is a writer of NovaCritic.com.