Season 5, Episode 20: “The End”
Original Airdate: May 17, 1998
Oh, my friends. There’s a movie a’coming. It’s been there for months, lurking just around the bend, slotted between Season 5 and Season 6. And if you get into your imagination time machine and pretend it’s the spring of 1998, it’s like this: you know it’s there, you’ve known the whole time, but you haven’t had to think about it until right now, until “The End,” a season finale that has the unpretty job of setting up both a major motion picture and the rest of the freaking show.
Tasked with that task, “The End” at first makes like it’s going to be capable of both. The guest star credits are rich with delightful names, and one of the first damn things that happens is Alex Krycek—relegated to Consortium errand boy, presumably thanks to the deal he made with the Well-Manicured Man in “The Red and the Black”—goes to Canada and rousts the Cigarette-Smoking Man from his mountain lair. If the Cigarette-Smoking Man is back, things have got to be on, right? They’ve totally got to be on?
They’re not really on. Tasked with that task, “The End” settles for a usual degree of mytharc simplicity, the whole of its forty-four minute length devoted to introducing, hanging out with, and not much explaining a character named Gibson Praise. Gibson is a kid who can read minds. He’s also a chess prodigy, except not really, because of the mind-reading thing. The Consortium wants him dead, for some reason, and first they send an assassin but the assassin fails—he aims at Gibson, but Gibson moves at the last minute, and the shot fells the kid’s chess opponent. And so, hence, the Cigarette-Smoking Man is dragged out of retirement.
This is absolutely the most delightful part of the episode, the way the Consortium has to let the Cigarette-Smoking Man smirk at them both for being unable to kill him and for being unable to kill Gibson. For his part, the Cigarette-Smoking Man takes the mission not because he really is dying to work for these jerks again, but because he sees it as an opportunity to reconnect with his son, Jeffrey Spender. Well, I say “reconnect,” but what I mean is “manipulate everything so that Spender can succeed in spite of his own pigheadedness.” Also “burn down the X-Files.” But I’m getting ahead.
Spender is assigned to investigate the botched assassination attempt on Gibson, although he initially assumes the case is a successful assassination attempt on the opponent. He’s explicit about not wanting Mulder on the investigation team, but Skinner, suspicious of how it was that Spender even had the case assigned to him, brings Mulder in anyway. Mulder takes one look at the tape of the incident and points out that Spender is wrong about the intended target. This massive dick move is supported by someone else in the room, a pretty lady named Diana Fowley who backs him up and further suggests that Gibson “sensed” the shooter.
Diana Fowley! The least delightful part of the episode, thy name is. Diana Fowley is Mulder’s ex, and was also present when he discovered the X-Files. Surprise! Mulder had a girlfriend once! I know, we are all shocked, and shocked too is Scully, who is forced to go to the Lone Gunmen to get the scoop on all this. Why Fowley doesn’t say anything, who cares, I just met her and whatever. But why Mulder doesn’t explain it, doesn’t even say quickly, “oh yeah no big deal Diana and I go way back,” clearly unnerves Scully. And a Scully unnerved is a Scully super-weird. Is she jealous of Diana? If so, why?
We’ve been through five seasons of Mulder and Scully, five seasons of them relying on each other so hard that a jealousy plot seems a little strange. Diana and Mulder have an ease between them, but so do our agents. When Diana points out that working with a nonbeliever must be difficult, Mulder counters that Scully keeps him honest. The only thing that Scully doesn’t have up on Diana is that she’s never dated him, but if that’s what this is going to be about, that’s what this really needs to be about. Five seasons of Mulder and Scully and in many we already know they love each other. But Scully’s reaction indicates that maybe she doesn’t.
So why does the Consortium want to kill Gibson Praise? Oh who knows. Scully does some tests and finds that the kid has “extraordinary activity” in “An area of the temporal lobe that neuro-physicists are calling the ‘God nodule.’” Mulder is convinced that this means the kid is the “key to everything in The X-Files,” which is a leap on the long side, especially considering it wasn’t too long ago that he was kinda down on the X-Files in general—though if nothing else, “The End” seems to confirm that Mulder’s experience at the end of “The Red and the Black” was enough to boost him back onto the belief train.
Mulder’s leap, though, is not really in service of “The End.” Mulder’s leap is in service of the episode’s ultimate goal: getting us a clean-ish slate in advance of the movie. So there’s a contrivance here, there’s Skinner saying that if Mulder wants to go to the Attorney General to get immunity for the captured assassin—a man Mulder believes will tell him everything he needs to know about Gibson—that the X-Files itself will be put in danger. I guess? I guess maybe? Though you could certainly argue that Mulder and Scully have gone to way greater lengths to find the truth, way more things that would put their department in danger. Compared to faking your death and having your partner lie about it, asking for a suspect’s immunity is pretty vanilla.
But “The End” needs to get to the end, and so it goes. Diana Fowley gets shot while guarding Gibson and Gibson gets swept up by the Consortium. The assassin is killed, a flattened pack of Morley cigarettes is left behind. Mulder accuses Spender of collaborating with the Cigarette-Smoking Man; the Cigarette-Smoking Man tells Spender that he’s his father. Our agents get word that they will likely be re-assigned. And finally, the Cigarette-Smoking Man goes down to the FBI’s basement, takes Samantha’s file, and sets the rest of the X-Files ablaze. “The End” is not very good, but “The End” didn’t need to be good. It needed to be serviceable. The end!