Is The Truth Still Out There?
So, the X-Files came back. Having been a mega-fan back in the 90’s, I was super-excited for its return. How could more Mulder and Scully possibly be anything but great news? Well, as it turns out, it was a mixed bag. Overall, I’d say I’m happy it came back and I would like to see the series continue, but I do think some changes are in order. Let’s take a look at the brief, muddled, sometimes glorious, always classic season 10 of The X-Files.
The best aspect of the show’s return was the Monster-of-the-Week episodes. This show was instrumental in popularizing this as a television format. Other shows had done it before, but no one did it better. These were no different. Mulder and Scully had the chance to check out a few little tastes of all the different kinds of cases. There was the inexplicable medical mystery of some really cool mutants, a vengeful supernatural work of art, a spiritual quest to commune with those in limbo between this world and the next, and a downright delightful good old monster story. The last of these was my favorite as I tend to most enjoy my X-Files with a healthy dose of comedy, but I don’t think anyone can argue that these were all fun, watchable episodes of TV.
Mulder and Scully themselves were also in fine form. Anderson and Duchovny slipped back into their roles as if no time had passed. Really, all the returning cast did fine work, but the stars couldn’t help but stand out as the best. Although they were comfortable in their old characters, there was work going on to show that these people have changed and moved on since last we saw them. They hadn’t become new people, but newer versions of the same people. It’s nice to see Scully and Mulder have aged and to see the influence of their experiences on the characters. Not to mention the actors were looking rather well; not exactly as they did in the 90s, but as if time had been kind to them both.
However, the season was not without its flaws. The main problem was the pacing. The abbreviated season meant cramming a lot of story into not a lot of episodes and the result was a little too much to take. The mytharc stories that bookended the season both felt rushed and hyperbolic; too much happening too fast too soon. I understand the network’s decision to produce a shortened season, it’s cheaper to make and involves less risk if it turns out the world hated what they made. 6 episodes are easy to sweep under the rug. However, it would be nearly impossible to tell the overall story of the season that Chris Carter wanted to tell in that time. The result is a rushed mess that may have hurt the show’s chances of coming back for good.
It’s not that I hated the alien DNA conspiracy dealt with in My Struggle and My Struggle II. There were parts of both episodes I liked a lot. I really liked the ideas behind them. But ideas that big need time to develop. Otherwise, you have your heroes using questionable methods to try to communicate with an unconscious terrorist one minute and combatting a worldwide biological extinction-level-event the next minute. It’s too much story for such a short time. Again, I get that Chris Carter had a story he wanted to tell and was only guaranteed this one opportunity to tell it, but the story was not befitting of the opportunity. These two episodes together basically made a whole new X-Files movie except now, without seasons of the show in between to build up to such a dramatic conclusion.
The structure of the season made for extremely weird pacing of the episodes. By packing these all-important moments into the first and last of the six episodes, it made the four in the middle seem silly by comparison. If this global conspiracy were being set in motion in the time between episodes 1 and 6, then what the hell are Mulder and Scully doing dicking around with the were-monster and Band-Aid nose man? It also made a problem of Mulder and Scully’s son. That’s a mystery that needs room to breathe, not to be brought up as some kind of tie-in to every single case they investigate. I want to meet William Mulder, just not in the next 5 minutes because we have to because we might never get another chance to tell his story if we don’t do it right this second.
Another negative side effect of the rushed pace was the writing. It was classic X-Files writing, and that’s kind of the problem. I haven’t had much chance to rewatch the old episodes, but I can tell you that most stuff from the 90s has not aged so well. There are styles and social conventions that were common at that time that are out of use now, but season 10 felt just like old times where the writing style was concerned. I can’t fault the writers for falling back on old tropes. When word comes down from on high that you have one shot to bring back a much-beloved franchise, there isn’t always time to get every aspect right. Sometimes you have to fall back on what worked in your heyday. I think if the writers had more than 6 episodes worth of time to bring these characters to life, they would have had more time to figure out how to blend the old with the new and write dialogue and characters that fit into 2016 better. The same goes for the two new young agents. Both seemed somewhat two-dimensional and forced, as a result of the shortened span of time. If we’d been given more time to get to know these people, and if the actors had been given more time to bring them to life instead of being thrown into the X-Files deep end, I believe we’d have some more believable successors to (eventually) hand the show down to.
It may seem that I didn’t like this season at all, but that’s hardly the case. I’m happy to have any new X-Files at all. It’s just that it didn’t end up being all I hoped it would be, from a critical perspective. I do think there’s enough there to warrant a season 11. If we just give everyone some time and space to settle down, breathe, and figure things out, I believe we’ll have an excellent show on our hands. The rumor I’ve heard is that the show would return with our leads in place and the new agents as support characters, which I think is a fantastic idea. I think both classic agents need an ally who is not each other; their lives are too intertwined for them to lean on each other in the same way they once did. I believe that with this formula and the right amount of creative breathing space, the show could have a renaissance and bring a great old brand of supernatural investigations to a new audience.