Thoughts on The X-Files

I discovered that Netflix has The X-Files available for streaming. Now, say what you will about the truly bizarre later seasons or the movie that came out recently—I still love this show. I suspect that the reason is one pretty much everyone in my generation that grew up with cable in America can agree upon: The X-Files was a show that stuck with you. Usually in the form of horrible, debilitating nightmares if you were a kid. But still, it lingered. There are a lot of things I can trace my deep and enduring love of speculative fiction back to, but I would say that Mulder and Scully (and all of their cases) are a big part of that love.

I remember watching the show when I was young. My father was a fan. I watched it because it was scary, and I was the kind of kid who liked to be terrified. Of course, I didn’t quite remember the content. As I rewatch the first season, there are a few things that strike me, things that explain why this show stuck around for nearly a decade and still had enough love to produce a movie years after it ended. Also things that explain why I always have to smile when I see something related to it; be it merchandise, or discovering that the episodes are available to me again. The theme song alone heard in public will make me giggle with glee.

The best part of this show for me, so far in the rewatch, is the sheer variety of cases and explanations that come up. One would expect from the years of jokes and “THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE” jazz that they would all be about space aliens (admittedly, something that usually makes me groan and wince), but in reality, Mulder’s suspicions of alien activity are usually wrong. Some episodes deal with the truth behind the supernatural/paranormal, some with genetic anomalies, and some with things that are more “normal.” I enjoy that the answer isn’t always the strangest possible explanation, but also that it can be that crazy weirdness. Even the UFO episodes don’t make me wince because they can be so damned tense and creepy; the government is not your friend in the X-Files, and considering that our leads work for the government… Well. It certainly is spooky.

Both explanations, the normal and the bizarre, tend to be presented with equal weight. The show veers between crime drama, “urban fantasy” and strong science fiction with well-managed swerves in content. I never feel too terribly thrown off by the different solutions because of the way the universe of the show is constructed. Literally anything seems possible, even a mundane explanation for something like the Jersey Devil.

“Beyond the Sea” is one of my favorites from the first season because of the work it does with both Mulder and Scully’s characters and how they interact, not to mention the way it handles psychic possibilities. The depth of the concepts of “belief” and “truth” the show likes to explore are fascinating and nuanced. Scully sees something she knows must be true because it proves itself to be so, but Mulder actually doesn’t believe—so she’s at odds with her own system of explanation.

Scully’s character is more interesting to me as I rewatch The X-Files. She’s bright, strong, capable and also a fierce skeptic. She reminds me of grown-up me. As a kid, I identified more with Mulder: spooky, socially awkward, strange himself and convinced of all kinds of strangeness in the world. I still love Mulder, make no mistake, but I have to wonder how much of a role-model I made Scully without thinking about it. Scully isn’t a skeptic to the point of blindness, which is my favorite part of her character and one that I see oversimplified too much. She’s willing to stretch her beliefs when something proves her wrong, but the reason she has so much value as an investigator is that she’s willing to take one stance while Mulder takes the other. In the middle, their ideas can meet.

There’s a tendency with the man+woman detective team to make the woman less valuable, or needing to be rescued constantly, or some other drivel. The first season, at least, of The X-Files seems to show the opposite at work. Without Scully, Mulder’s functionality would be severely reduced. She rescues him several times when he’s gotten himself in far over his head because his survival instincts seem, at best, impaired. (I would argue that Scully has seen enough horror movies to understand that you don’t go rushing into the dark with just a flashlight, etc., or follow the religious fanatics down into the scary cave with minimal hiding cover. Mulder, on the other hand…) He can’t turn off the drive in his brain to find things out for long enough to keep himself safe. Scully, however—her drive is to be rational, careful and competent.

There are some parts of the show that seem goofy now, like the giant blocky cell phones. Or that they have pagers. Or, you know, the hair and clothes. There was that episode about the murderous AI that has some lines about phone-phreaks, etc., that strikes me as very nineties. All the same, I still love the nineties, and it provided us some damned good television.

I look forward to rewatching the rest of the series (up until it gets all weird, I remember hating the last couple of seasons) with different eyes. I still have my geeklove, the part that grins to hear the theme song and adores Spooky Fox Mulder, but I like watching the episodes with a keener appreciation for the storytelling they contain. Some of the episodes are, well, silly in their way. But the partnership between Scully and Mulder (tension without romance, at least at this point) is a high point of SFF drama for me, and definitely was a formative thing for a few generations of fans, myself included.

So. Who else is going to rewatch some X-Files now that it’s readily streamable? (Who else loves that damned theme song?) I could also be persuaded to write a bit more about the show, character analysis, whatnot, if there is some interest. Hint, hint.

After all: The Truth is Out There.


Brit Mandelo is a multi-fandom geek with a special love for comics and queer literature. She can be found on Twitter and Livejournal.

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