Mulder's Gone, Scully's Pregnant. What Now?
Now that we know for sure The X-Files will be back for an eighth season, I feel less embarrassed about admitting something I've felt for most of the year: I think The X-Files' seventh season was excellent. I know there are lots of people who will disagree with me and with good reason. The mytharc appears to be toppling off its unsteady foundations, the most compelling questions have been discarded; at times even Mulder seems to want to put it behind him and move on. And that's good news, even if it's made for some uneven episodes. This series is at its strongest when it returns to X-Files' quirky, spooky roots, when it balances character interaction with sci-fi drama, and when it keeps its sense of humor.
Sure, there were individual episodes that had rather weak stories, and some gimmicks that didn't quite work, but ask any two fans and you'll probably get different answers about which ones really bothered them. The X-Files' increasingly difficult task of balancing mass-market appeal with the desires of different cult audience groups - the conspiracy fans, the occult fans, the Shippers - means that it's probably impossible to keep everyone happy all the time, and it's impressive that they're still trying. Star Trek Voyager is only reaching for the boys in the audience. Buffy and Angel are also very youth-oriented, which sometimes limits their depth. Xena has writers willing to take big risks - there's subtext galore, plus rewriting of the world's major religions - but it's still perceived as a cult audience show.
Files For Sale
The X-Files is more mainstream and big business, even if product merchandising has dropped off considerably in the months since the movie. Unlike the massive Trek franchise, it only has one series - really, two stars - selling the entire project. I know David Duchovny has come under fire from a lot of people who think his contract demands were arrogant and excessive, but I honestly don't think so. He made many people rich and kept many more employed at Fox. So did Gillian Anderson, but that seems to get questioned less often. She has gotten more critical accolades than Duchovny, yet reportedly makes less money, one of the lamentable consequences of being female in a business still dominated by male executives.
A year ago, following on the theatrical success of the X-Files movie, the series had constructed a mythology almost too complicated to follow. At the end of last season, it nearly bordered on the absurd--suggestions that aliens wrote the Bible and that most Earth science could be found on the side of an extraterrestrial spaceship. This season, the series unexpectedly returned to its roots: Mulder and Scully, working together on weird and sometimes goofy cases, playing off one another's quirky brands of humor. Some of the obsessive concerns of the series, like the fate of Mulder's sister Samantha, vanished like so much smoke. Even some of the heaviest arc episodes - like "Amor Fati," in which Mulder experienced an It's a Wonderful Life-type alternate history in which he failed to do anything to fight the future - worked more at the character level than in terms of advancing the complex plot of the mytharc.
Only five episodes from this season - "The Sixth Extinction," "Amor Fati," "Closure," "En Ami," and "Requiem" - were dominated by mytharc characters, and "Closure" had little to do with possible alien conspiracies. Instead, the year was dominated by perversely humorous stories like "The Goldberg Variation," which centered on dumb luck, and "Je Souhaite," about the dangers of wishing one's life away. Plus, there was a smattering of gimmick episodes like "X-Cops," which gave Mulder and Scully reality television treatment, and "First Person Shooter," which placed the pair in VR fighting a murderous vixen.
In addition, we were treated to many intense relationship moments, from the embrace in "Amor Fati" to the kiss in "Millennium" to the sleepover in "all things" to the public hug in "Requiem." In fact, the personal relationship between the agents received as much screen time as the mytharc. Certainly there are some viewers who don't like this trend, but there are many others who think it's about time. Next season will have to suffer a dearth of such moments, since Mulder won't be around much of the time - and since the show will have only 22 episodes to untangle its loose ends, launch the Lone Gunmen series, and find a way to go out in style without precluding another movie or three.
Mulder Meets God?
This was Mulder's season to become an abductee, a role Scully has occupied for most of The X-Files' run. Though he wasn't actually taken until the finale, aliens had control of his brain from the first episode - or maybe it was Cancer Man controlling him then, but alien biotechnology had to be involved. So it's ironic that he apparently concluded that it doesn't matter whether or not Samantha was abducted by aliens, the event that set him on his life's path. "Closure" was a disappointing episode, with a title that's a misnomer for many fans - it's hard to believe that Mulder could simply let his sister go after all this time, then go back to researching the aliens that he now knows are real.
Is Mulder getting religion? "Millennium" reinforced the nastiness of Armageddon cults, while "Signs and Wonders" illustrated the literally satanic nature of powerful pastors. Yet "Closure" was one of several episodes in which dead people rose to express joy in the hereafter. Perhaps we're not meant to take seriously the end of "Hollywood A.D." when the celluloid ghosts begin to dance, but it's not far from the ghostly images of children in "Sein Und Zeit" and "Closure" who have gone on to a better place.
Considering that in previous seasons, Scully explored her Catholic past, it would make sense for Mulder to stop and think about what he really believes in. He has experienced powers well beyond the norm, for which he clearly was singled out - by what? Cancer Man's statement to Covarrubias in the finale that there is no god, just aliens, is not very comforting. Nor is it very clear, for how to we distinguish between gods and creatures with godlike powers who wrote the Bible, the Koran, and every other holy document on Earth?
Scully had a surprising spiritual experience in "all things" (and I don't mean finding Mulder naked in bed). Yet for much of this season, she continued to spout the skeptical rhetoric that's harder to believe and to accept, even coming from a scientist. She has enough empirical proof of the existence of the paranormal that she just sounds silly putting it down. In the final episodes, she seemed to have developed a sense of humor about that, but she's also clearly in pain about the crossroads she's reached--whether to continue her research with Mulder or to look for a life in another direction, as both Mulder and her former lover Waterston suggested she really desired.
On the one hand, we ended the season with a glowing Scully telling Skinner she was pregnant, and we've been led to believe children are something she really wants. On the other hand, marriage-and-kids have been synonymous on this show with hell - this season's "Chimera" joins a long list of dark-suburban-underbelly stories like "Dreamland," "Arcadia," "Home," "Terms of Endearment," etc. After "Emily," in which Scully found and lost a child she never knew she had, I find nothing surprising about the fact that Scully would like to have a normal child with a normal life. On the other hand, Scully has lived nothing approximating a normal life for years now. And she must know that her child would be a target for the conspiracy and possibly the aliens.
Is it possible for Scully to raise a child (regardless of who or what is the father) and stay in her current line of work, knowing the dangers? She was furious with Mulder for his lack of objectivity in "Sein Und Zeit," working on a kidnapping case that reminded him of his sister's loss. How objective can she be, studying aliens who were responsible for her infertility and may very well be responsible for the child she's now carrying? On the one hand, Mulder and Scully are virtually the only people researching the phenomena which have shaped their lives...but on the other hand, that very fact would disqualify them in a lot of research studies.
Fighting the Future
Scully's main agenda for next year is clear: find Mulder. After what he's seen, that has to be Skinner's priority too, whether or not he admits it to the Bureau. Sure, it's interesting to check up on stories about cannibalism at drive-through restaurants or voodoo doctors murdering M.D.s, but how could any of that possibly matter to the agents now?
For much of the past few seasons, since the proof of the aliens in Fight the Future, The X-Files has had to struggle to balance that question with some of its clever story ideas, like the witty idea of twins who strive to annihilate each other like matter and antimatter in "Fight Club" or the dopey vampires bumbling around in "The Pine Bluff Variant." It's going to be even harder without Mulder and his witticisms; I just don't see how Scully could possibly concentrate on things like kids who can pull down lightning or Amish people who regenerate in mud when her partner (and possibly her lover) is missing, and I can't imagine that the X-Files core audience will have much patience for such questions either.
It would be fun to see some of the people Mulder and Scully have helped in the past come forward now. The weatherman from "The Rain King." The Post-Modern Prometheus. The ghosts of the Internet from "Kill Switch." Frank Black. Garry Shandling - OK, maybe not the latter. This series has a perfect opportunity for some gimmick casting and crossovers that would actually make sense. If I were Scully, for instance, I would seek out Sydney Bloom's family from VR.5 for assistance, thus potentially resolving a great Fox mystery that was abandoned years earlier. The X-Files has uncanny skill in casting supporting players, many of whom have earned Emmy nominations in turn - whether it's that they attract really good actors or that average actors shine given the material, I'm not sure.
I do know that Mulder has uncanny chemistry with virtually everyone he works with. Scully's 50-50; sometimes she blossoms, but sometimes she seems to withdraw into herself. Again, this is something I attribute more to how Scully is characterized than to Anderson's acting. Scully seemed to thaw considerably in the latter half of this season - even forgetting the question of whether she and Mulder became lovers - which made for nice interaction with people she might have sneered at in the past.
Reportedly, next season Scully will be getting a new partner to work with. Thematically, I'm not sure that's necessary. I'd rather watch her work with Skinner, and I'm sure many others agree. But, if The X-Files is going to continue beyond the tenure of Duchovny and Anderson, it's necessary to bring in some new agents to work on their cases. Clearly Spender and Fowley won't be taking over again, after all. This could be a terrible mistake that makes us all wish the show had just been cancelled, or it could be what Fox hopes it will be - an infusion of new blood which will give the series new life and new inspiration.
Let's hope that with the Lone Gunmen taking their own peculiar breed of humor and chaos to their own series, The X-Files does not go the way of Star Trek sequels, recycling and diluting what originally made it compelling. Rather, let's hope it works like Angel and Buffy, expanding in several new directions with new characters. There's an awful lot of cosmos to be explored at the human level as well as the extraterrestrial and political planes.
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