As we’ve seen so far in the six-episode renewal of The X-Files, there’s a lot of good stuff happening, but also a fair amount of “Uhh, what?” This isn’t just a product of it being 14 years since the show went off the air and the premises not really translating to this new decade; it’s not far removed from the last few seasons of the original show. Like many things people love, The X-Files became a victim of its own success. It was popular enough to keep going, but it stretched past creator Chris Carter‘s initial plan for the show and didn’t really have anywhere else to go. In this edition of Declassified, I’m going to look at these last few years as they pertain to the conspiracy arc. It’s not pretty.
Carter had long planned on The X-Files being five seasons long. The entire conspiracy arc was leading toward a complete shake-up. The season five episodes “Patient X” and “The Red and the Black” saw several high-ranking members of the Syndicate sacrificing their own to further the search for the vaccine needed for the Black Oil. By the end of the season, the episode fittingly called “The End,” closed the book on a lot of things and left enough loose ends to warrant the big screen outing later that summer. That could have been a great place to end things, but the show was still in a great place both critically and ratings-wise, so more seasons seemed inevitable. This lead to the problems.
Season six had only five conspiracy arc episodes, including the premiere “The Beginning,” a clever riff on the finale. It’s clear that Carter and company didn’t have much to say on the subject anymore. Season five also had only five mythology episodes, with a whole feature film to deal with. The season continued one of the few threads from the the previous year’s, including the lineage of the Cigarette Smoking Man as seen through the character of Agent Jeffrey Spender, an irritatingly by-the-book agent whose mother is an abductee that had some kind of dalliance with the cancer man. “Two Fathers” and its sequel “One Son” sought to eliminate the series’ long-running Syndicate and reestablish a greater threat for the foreseeable future. It didn’t really work as well as it could have.
By the time seasons six and seven came, the “Monster-of-the-Week” episodes were by far the more interesting episodes, and the reason people watched the show (also to see the ever deepening relationship between Mulder and Scully). The mythology, on the other hand, was trying to explain that aliens had been involved in human existence for millennia, even causing some of the mass extinctions throughout Earth’s history. They even went so far as to explain what happened to Mulder’s sister Samantha, whose abduction by (we thought) aliens, was the driving force for Mulder’s near-insane delving into the paranormal. Turns out she just died after being kidnapped as a kid. Oh well. So then why all the subterfuge and cloning stuff that happened in the previous years?
At the end of season seven, Mulder is abducted by aliens in the episode “Requiem,” which brought in many elements from the pilot episode. Many assumed this would be the end of the series, but even this wasn’t. David Duchovny wanted to move on, and would only appear in half the episodes of season eight and only two (the finale) in season 9. Without Mulder, the driving force of the series’ mythology, we’re left to use his disappearance as the catalyst for further events, giving Scully a new partner in Agent John Doggett (Robert Patrick), a no-nonsense sort who doesn’t believe in the X-Files. It puts Scully in the interesting position of being the de facto believer, seeing as she’s seen everything before.
Now, I have no problem at all with Doggett. He’s got a great backstory — his son was killed by a serial killer and that spurred him into action with the Bureau. He also gets to be the suspicious newcomer as the head of the FBI’s taskforce into finding Mulder. But he’s not a bad guy, only put up to the job by the new Assistant Director Alvin Kersh (James Pickens, Jr), who might be the most hated character in the whole of the series. The problem is, he’s not allowed to be more than Mulder’s replacement, despite Patrick’s excellent performance.
There’s a lot to like about season eight, but it’s completely mired in this new mythology. After the initial two-parter, there’s a span of eight episodes of monster-of-the-week investigations. Great. But then eight of the remaining eleven episodes are mythology-driven. It was a 21-episode season, by far the most of any year of the show. We just don’t need that much, but because they have to establish all the new rules and new given circumstances, it got bogged down in its own mythos. Carter himself wrote nine episodes in the season, some written with Frank Spotnitz. Eight of the ten mythology episodes were by him directly, trying to make it all work.
And by time season nine happened… well, what can we say about it? The writing was on the wall. Duchovny was almost totally out by this point, and Gillian Anderson wanted her role reduced, moving her to a teaching position at Quantico’s forensics school and leaving Doggett and his new partner, the psychically-attuned Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) to investigate. She’s perfectly fine as a character, though certainly much more New Age-y than anybody up to this point. But in order to warrant yet another season, they had to up the stakes again, which manifested a Super Soldier program (any show with super soldiers is doomed, I’ve decided).
We also got a whole dumb thing about Scully’s son William, whom we know is Mulder’s though that’s barely explained, and his weird ability to telekenetically move his crib mobile. Duchovny did finally return for the two-part finale “The Truth,” which tried to explain every single thing in the whole world and featured the return of all the major guest actors and supporting characters. They are a decent two episodes, but it again feels like “Welp, we just need to end this” and so everything gets shoved in, in an attempt to tie-up the season’s own arcs. It’s a very uneven season and a somewhat dissatisfying end.
And so, that’s how The X-Files ended, and aside from a wholly unnecessary though nostalgically nice movie in 2008, that could have been the end of it all. Luckily, fandom has resulted in a new six-episode season. The downside is, of course, that while Darin Morgan, Glen Morgan, and James Wong’s episodes have felt very much like classic X-Files, Chris Carter’s have felt like late-stage X-Files. We’ll see how the finale ends up tonight, but I for one am worried.
BUT, we’re not done here. No matter what happens in this week’s episode, I’ll be back next week to talk about the undeniably huge impact of writer Vince Gilligan to the show. He wrote SO MUCH, you guys, and they’re some damn fine episodes. Until then, let me know your thoughts on the latter seasons in the comments below!
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor and a film and TV critic for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter!