The X-Files

I wanted to believe.

Every Wednesday night at eight-thirty I would set myself up in the living room. A pillow, a cup of tea, a remote ready to press record. A tingle of butterflies in my stomach. Throughout high school this was a weekly ritual, a defining part of my teenage years. I believed the truth was out there. I was hooked on The X-Files.

Kids over the past few years have grown up with Harry Potter and Twilight. I grew up with The X-Files. At school on Thursday mornings my friends and I would remember the scariest and grossest moments from the previous night’s episode (“Did you see when the cockroach went into his arm? Ew!”). And in my late teens The X-Files was what got me through intensive study periods and exam prep (“just another hour of general math and you can watch one episode”). I was in love with Mulder and I wanted to be Scully. By the time The X-Files finally ended I had grown up. I was eighteen, leaving home for university and adult life.

The X-Files is an American science-fiction drama series that follows two FBI Agents as they investigate cases with supernatural overtones. David Duchovny plays Agent Fox Mulder; a brooding genius haunted by the memory of what he believes was his sister’s abduction by aliens when she was eight years old. Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) is the scientific sceptic, first partnered with Mulder in an attempt by the conspiratorial powers-that-be to ‘debunk’ his work and have him moved off the X-Files cases. Scully, however, quickly comes to trust and respect Mulder, though she still plays the voice of reason, helping Mulder question his wilder ideas.

The series lasted nine seasons (from 1993 to 2002) and included two feature films. Many of the episodes – known by fans as ‘stand alone’ or ‘monster of the week’ episodes – saw the agents investigating isolated cases of bizarre phenomena, from poltergeist activity to a giant mutant fluke worm. Running through the series, however, was also a complicated collection of episodes known as the ‘myth-arc’ that dealt primarily with alien abduction and government cover-ups. As the series progressed the ‘myth-arc’ became more and more complex, eventually revealing a global conspiracy and an imminent alien invasion. A third continuing storyline loosely followed the relationship between the two main characters – a ‘will they/won’t they’ sexual tension. Fierce debates between fans about whether Mulder and Scully should live happily ever after raged across the internet, and though creator Chris Carter promised it would never happen, it inevitably (though somewhat covertly and off camera in the final seasons) did.

Many fans felt that by the time The X-Files ended in 2002 it had lost many of the elements that made it great. David Duchovny had all but left the series, forcing writers to create a storyline based around his absence. Scully had become a convert, resulting in the loss of the sceptic/believer relationship that had given structure and conflict to the previous seasons. Also – after developing a romantic relationship with Mulder and having a baby – Scully became much less empowered and adventurous, characteristics that had endeared her to many fans. The sexual tension was also gone, now that Mulder and Scully’s romantic relationship was out in the open. The series finale served more as a nostalgic look back at the show, rather than a dramatic climax.

Watching The X-Files now (or even seeing the numbers 11:21 on a clock-face: other X-Philes will know what I mean!) is, for me, also an exercise in nostalgia. It is something like looking at action shots from summer holidays when I was a kid:  about to jump into a river, running down a hill, whacking a ball with that cricket bat where the grip kept unwinding from the handle. The X-Files reminds me of a time when I wanted (like Mulder) to believe – in aliens, fluke monsters, and soul mates. It reminds me of a time when I was convinced that the truth was out there, and that I – somewhere in that murky, mysterious future-place called adulthood – would find it. I may not have discovered any alien-government conspiracies, but I’m okay with that. The truths I have found are a little more subtle, but no less important. Including – a few months ago in a sprawling second hand bookshop in Goulburn, New South Wales – The X-Files Video Trivia Game. Ten years after the series finale, a little X-Files surprise still has the power to make my day.

The X-Files was created by Chris Carter, who also wrote many of the episodes along with Vince Gilligan (the creator of Breaking Bad) and other writers. The show was nominated for and won a long list of awards, including 8 Emmys in 1996, when the series was arguably in its heyday.

Lessons of “The X-Files” from Salon.com

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