Horror TV: The X Files (1993-2002)

Well, that’s one of the luxuries of hunting down aliens and genetic mutants. You rarely get to press charges. ( Mulder in “Fire”)


Premise:

FBI Agent Fox Mulder, traumatised by witnessing his younger sister being abducted by aliens when they were children, seeks out cases involving strange or paranormal activity. When he discovers the X-Files, cases that, because of their unusual natures have never been solved, Agent Mulder is assigned to solving these cases, and new ones as they occur. He is partnered with Agent Dana Scully, a medical doctor, who is skeptical of anything that cannot be explained by science. Her job is to try to find logical, scientific reasons for the occurrences in the cases they investigate.

Main Characters:

Fox Mulder (played by David Duchovny): FBI agent, Oxford educated psychologist, believer in aliens and paranormal phenomena, and conspiracy theorist. Referred to behind his back as ‘Spooky’.

Dana Scully (played by Gillian Anderson): doctor, scientist, skeptic and, somewhat paradoxically, a Roman Catholic. Scully gave up a career in medicine to join the FBI, a decision her military father and friends don’t really support. She is initially assigned as Mulder’s partner to debunk his work on the X-Files, but finds herself being drawn in to the strange world Mulder inhabits.

The Cigarette Smoking Man / Cancer Man (played by William B Davis): the leader of a group of men (The Syndicate) who are collaborating with aliens in order to orchestrate the future colonisation of the Earth. Their task is to engineer a human/alien hybrid, but some factions within the group are also trying to secretly develop a vaccine to resist colonisation.

In Season 8, Mulder goes missing and former New York cop Agent John Dogget (Robert Patrick) is brought in to investigate. He ends up assigned as Scully’s new partner. They are later joined by Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), an expert in cults and religious crimes.

Themes:

That the government keeps secrets from its citizens.

That aliens are among us, but humans conspiring with them may pose a greater threat.

That paranormal and supernatural events occur, that can only partially be explained by current science.

Why you should watch it:

The relationship between Mulder and Scully ranges from fascinating, to funny, to downright frustrating. Through the 9 seasons their relationship develops and their roles change but the underlying chemistry is there from the very first episode.

The minor recurring characters tend to steal the show, such as Assistant Director Walter Skinner (Mulder and Scully’s boss at the FBI), and The Lone Gunmen (a trio of nerd conspiracy theorists who are friends with Mulder and help out in obtaining data through ‘alternative’ channels). The Lone Gunmen even got their own spin-off series in 2001.

The ‘monsters of the week’ are varied, unusual and cleverly executed. The show puts new spins on existing paranormal events and creatures but its real strength is in creating a whole host of new ones (for example the now infamous Fluke Man).

Weaknesses:

The underlying story arc of the alien conspiracy, and what happened to Mulder’s sister becomes unbelievably complicated. Some ideas are established that are just never dealt with again. And no government department would ever bear the enormous costs of what Mulder and Scully do and be satisfied with their reports.

Ongoing influence:

The X-Files has had an enormous impact on popular culture – from renewed interest in conspiracy theory themes, to the popularisation and updating of the figure of the paranormal investigator in films and literature. But probably the biggest legacy is the kind of ‘cultural shorthand’ the names Mulder and Scully now evoke, for example phrases such as  ‘it’s aliens Mulder!’ to refer to someone distorting the facts to suit their own beliefs, or ‘don’t Scully me!’ to refer to someone who is annoyingly rational.

Any of you have favourite X-Files moments? Share them with us!

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2 Responses to “Horror TV: The X Files (1993-2002)”

  1. Most definitely the Cocraphages episode about cockroaches from outer space. Favourite lines are-
    “Her name is Bambi?”
    and
    “Are you sure it wasn’t a girly scream?”

    My other favourite episode is about the psychic that can tell there is someone going around killing psychics. There’s a cute bit about how he forsees the death of people and mentions Mulder and autoerotic asphyxiation. I also like the bit where the killer asks the psychic why he kills people.

    • I love “Clive Bruckman’s Final Repose” and the moment where he says to the killer: “don’t you get it? You kill people because you are a homicidal maniac!” just cracks me up every time!

      I’m a bit atypical as an X-Phile since, even though I love Mulder and Scully, I’m also quite a Dogget fan – the bit where he tells Scully (of all people!) that labelling things as ‘paranormal’ is just ‘lazy’ is gold!

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