Season 9, Episodes 19 and 20: “The Truth”
Original Airdate: May 19, 2002
I have a confession to make: the word “truth” means nothing to me. I mean—no, I mean—it means something. Like, I know what meaning it has. But after nine seasons of The X-Files, “searching for the truth” seems to me an inert concept. Unmasking your villains, exposing conspiracies, these acts have unmistakable value. But once you’ve done those things, what’s next? Shouldn’t uncovering the truth be the beginning of the work, not the end?
And, to be clear, I am not rejecting the premise of this television program. I am maybe rejecting the premise of my own viewing of this television program. I am definitely admitting that I have not always met this show on its own terms, that I have often wanted something from it that it does not want to be. I have wanted a show in which an alien threat was identified and dealt with; the show has wanted to be a show in which an alien threat was identified and revealed to the public. So while I have often accused the show of taking an inactive position, in fact, this may be the position it was always meant to take. After all, Mulder and Scully have never claimed to be saving the world.
All this became ringing-clear to me while watching the series finale, called, of course, “The Truth.” It features the return of Fox Mulder, and the majority of the episode—a seriously, seriously long chunk of time—it is about a trial. Mulder is on trial because Mulder snuck into a government facility in order to learn The Truth, and was caught by Knowle Rohrer, and then fought with Knowle Rohrer, and then killed him. Except Knowle can’t be killed, because he is a Supersoldier, so the trial is actually a weird military tribunal formed entirely to stick it to our agent.
Our agent decides to stand this trial because he believes that the trial is a trial for The Truth, and he is invested in the truth being revealed. Also, our agent is seeing ghosts: Krycek, X. Advising him on his next steps, gruffly encouraging his progress. Mulder asks Skinner to represent him, and Skinner does. Skinner calls witnesses: Scully, Marita, Spender, Gibson Praise (who, bless his huge head, has been hiding Mulder in New Mexico). All witnesses to the conspiracy, and the truth. Throughout their testimony we see clips from previous episodes, illustrating their statements. The tribunal can’t see that, though. The tribunal doesn’t have any nostalgic pangs watching Scully pull an alien fetus out of some dry ice. Which is too bad. It might have helped.
The trial both charmed and frustrated me. While it’s nice to have the old gang back together, it’s a whole lot of time to spend on a summary of the show. Did we watch this long just to have it read back to us? Is this really the way we want to live out our last hours together, as program and program-viewers?
And yet, a trial is a smart choice, because a trial is an active way to present inactive information. It puts something tangible at stake: Mulder’s life. This is critical. Otherwise, we’re just left to root for the truth to be revealed, and what’s the fun in that? We know the truth already. We’ve watched the clips show before it was clips. We saw Scully learn to believe, saw Marita and Spender fall victim, saw Gibson’s life in danger. You don’t need to convince us that there’s a conspiracy. We get it already. We’ve never not believed that the truth was out there.
The trial ends with Mulder being sentenced to death, so Scully & Skinner & Doggett & Reyes break him out of prison, with the late-and-unexpected help of Kersh. Mulder and Scully drive to New Mexico, to a pueblo where an old woman stands guard over a long-haired, not-dead Cigarette-Smoking Man. The Cigarette-Smoking Man is, here, presented as the show’s final and most ultimate villain, the man who has stood so long in front of the truth, and who is now offering it up to Mulder as a final punch to the gut. Because The Truth is that there is going to be an invasion, and the date is set, and there’s nothing to be done. The show’s final joke is that it had to be a show about finding the truth—because beyond the truth, there is nothing but death.
It would all be pretty upsetting, if it weren’t for the final scene, a scene reminding us why and how all of this inactivity can still make for a compelling show. It is, of course, a scene between Mulder and Scully. Sitting in a hotel room, one like all the others, using bold words to talk about truth, and life, and death. They should be at the end, they should be at the bottom, they should be hitting a wall. But they can’t. And they won’t. They are not giving up—whatever that means—because they have each other. They finally, again, have each other. And this is what it is, when things go very wrong. When you find out that you are mortal, and human. You lean towards your loved ones, and you hold them. And that, I think, is the truth.