I wasn’t actively searching for boxsets of The X-Files, but when I saw the first season on sale for four pounds in a charity shop, I couldn’t resist it. According to the handy booklet that comes with these discs, the series debuted on the BBC back in September of 1994, when I was in my mid-teens… and I haven’t seen any of these episodes since then, so (much like Star Trek: TNG) it was a fun 90s nostalgia trip for me. Less fun was the realisation that I’m now several years older than the main characters were when they first met and started investigation paranormal phenomena together! I’ve already got four toes in the grave, and I haven’t even started unravelling a single shady government conspiracy! What am I doing with my life, dammit!
One of the most frustrating things about this show in retrospect, is that the writers seem pathologically averse to ending a story properly, with a definite resolution. Back in the day, a viewer might naively believe that all of these loose ends were adding to the overall mythology of the show, and building to an awesome pay off in the latter seasons and/or spin-off movies… but sadly we now know that this wasn’t the case at all. The writers were just jerking us around, for their own sadistic amusement. I know there are some people who believe that stories should ask more questions than they answer, and that it’s actually very big and brave and clever to “end” a story on an ambiguous beat, because real life is messy and blah, blah, blah. I agree that this can be quite an effective technique, if used sparingly… but when every other episode ends with a metaphorical hand rising from the grave, it starts to get very predictable, and very boring. I’d also argue that there are times in life when you really do need simple, straight-forward answers… like when you’re asking a mechanic if they fixed the brakes in your car. You don’t want them to adopt a philosophical French accent and shrug, “Maybe I did… and maybe I didn’t… who can say…? The universe, it is full of mystery and wonder, no?” Likewise, there are times (in reality and in fiction) when you just want the damn cops to catch the damn killer, and take them out of circulation, dammit! Granted, a few of the stray characters introduced in these episodes return in later seasons (and it was nice to see ‘Eugene Tooms’ get an encore)… but ultimately I know that it’s all a long, winding walk to a disappointing anti-climax. That said, I did enjoy a lot of the individual episodes in this set, and have to hand it to the writers and cast for quickly establishing their central protagonists as the sort of smart, charming and sympathetic characters you could actually root for over the long haul.
You also have to credit them with creating one of the greatest geeky lust icons of all time… ‘FBI Special Agent Dana Scully, M.D.’. Woot! Inspired by Jodie Foster’s portrayal of ‘Clarice Starling’ in the film The Silence of the Lambs, Scully was the down-to-earth, sceptical foil to Fox Mulder’s credulous believer, sent to debunk his crazy theories on the orders of their superiors… though it’s nice to note that they actually have a pretty warm and friendly personal rapport from the outset. Mulder has enough self-awareness to make jokes about his own obsessions and reputation within the Bureau, and Scully laughs right along with him… it’s only when they’re on a case, and specific issues arise over the interpretation of the available evidence, that their personalities clash and conflicts arise. Normally I find the “Sceptic” character in these situations quite annoying, since we-the-audience know that something spooky is afoot, and all that doubting just seems a waste of time… but in this case, I think it’s forgivable because they are Federal Agents, and they do need to be able to justify their actions (and their expenses) to a higher authority.
According to legend, the casting of Gillian Anderson was quite a bone of contention between series creator Chris Carter and the Fox network. Despite the fact she was roughly five years younger than the character she was auditioning for, Carter recalled that Anderson “came in and read the part with a seriousness and intensity that I knew the Scully character had to have… and I knew she was the right person for the part”. In a previous post about the BAFTAs I noted that even when presenting an award at a glitzy back-slapping event, the actress displayed a bone-dry sense of humour, and I think that really comes through in her interpretation of the character, to the benefit of all. Apparently the studio executives had wanted a more glammed up “bombshell” for the part, hoping that this would lead to lots of sexy tension between the leads over the course of the series… and I think it’s a huge credit to Anderson that she managed to make the character such an enduring sex-symbol, without compromising her intelligence, her dignity, or her wardrobe! Sure, there are a few brief underwear shots in some of the early episodes (along with several similar shots of Mulder in silky boxers), but by and large she spends the majority of her screentime hiding her body under boxy suits, talking science, and cutting cadavers open! I’m glad Carter stuck to his guns, and that he was eventually vindicated by all of the plaudits that Anderson won for her work on The X-Files, including an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and two SAG Awards.