WHEN THE TRUTH SHOWED UP OUT THERE
Twenty years ago today, September 20, 2013, the truth showed up.
And the truth has been out there ever since.
On that date in 1993, The X-Files made its TV debut on Fox. The series chronicled the efforts of FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder, played by David Duchovny, to prove the existence of extra-terrestrials and, in the process, find his sister who was abducted by aliens when they were both kids. Each episode featured an unsolved case or “x-file” to unravel that either centered on a monster of the week or on something related to the overarching mythology of the series – that a shadow group within the government – headed by the mysterious “Cigarette Smoking Man” – was conspiring to conceal the existence of extra-terrestrials.
Initially, agent Dana Scully, played by Gillian Anderson, a medical doctor by training, was assigned to partner with Mulder mostly for purposes of keeping an eye on him and debunk his crazy theories. Her rational, scientific approach was a counterbalance to Mulder’s impulsive, jump to the paranormal explanation. As time went on, the more she saw, Scully science-based outlook was increasingly at odds with her faith and with all the weirdness she and Mulder saw.
I didn’t watch The X-Files from the beginning. Not many people did. It was a cult hit a long time before it was a mainstream TV event. The first episode I saw was the twenty-third of the twenty-four episodes in the first season. The episode was called “Roland” and the plot involved Mulder and Scully involving the mysterious deaths of scientists at a research facility where the primary suspect is a mentally challenged janitor (“Roland”) who by all appearances would be incapable of carrying out the murders as they happened.
*SPOILER ALERT* After much head-scratching, Mulder and Scully discover that one of the dead scientists was actually Roland’s twin brother and that his body is being cryogenically preserved. They conclude that Roland is being controlled by the brain of the dead scientist. The dead guy is trying to get revenge on the living scientists who stole his work. Mulder and Scully stop Roland from killing one of the scientists and send him to a mental facility, apparently free of his dead twin’s control.
So, I watched this thing. I nodded and thought, “That’s the dumbest thing I ever saw.”
I didn’t watch the show again until maybe the third or fourth season. The show was really big by then and I decided maybe I’d give it another shot. The episode I flipped on was the one where Scully finds out she has cancer and it’s somehow related to a mysterious implant that was removed from her neck and sets off all the bells and whistles on a grocery store checkout scanner. I don’t remember much else about the episode, but I remember this:
I WAS HOOKED.
You couldn’t get DVDs of the show or stream reruns on the Internet at that time. Fortunately, the FX channel was new at the time, it’s primetime lineup consisting mostly of reruns of other network shows and it ran two episodes of the X-Files in primetime, five nights a week. It didn’t take long to get caught up and piece together the elements of the mythology arc.
I don’t know what exactly I saw in this show. I identified with Mulder more than Scully. He was a principled, open-minded loner. And the creatures were cool. And weird. The show could be incredibly moving and incredibly funny.
It was everything I wanted at the time.
Between seasons five and six, when the show was at its peak, it leapt to the big screen in “X-Files: Fight the Future”. I saw the movie with a mixed group of people: a diehard fan like me, a couple casual fans and a couple who barely knew what the show was. Everyone generally enjoyed the film, though my fellow diehard and I were left feeling like, “It was good. I don’t know what I expected, but that wasn’t quite it.” But that didn’t stop us watching the show.
The show finally ended after nine seasons (honestly, at least one season, maybe two seasons, too late). It was expected a series of films would follow, continuing the mythology story. To date, though, only one more film, X-Files: I Want to Believe, has appeared, in 2008. The film was…well, it wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t great, honestly. (Though I’ve since watched it at home on DVD and found it to be very satisfying.) It was widely hoped another film would appear in 2012 to play out the predicted alien colonization of Earth that was to occur that year according to the series’ mythology backstory. That didn’t happen though. The generally poor reviews of “I Want to Believe” scuttled that hope probably.
But here’s to you “X-Files” creator Chris Carter. Good, bad or mediocre, there was not a single episode (Well, maybe “Roland”) or film that made me doubt that what you brought to TV was special, never to be duplicated.