Do We Really Want to Know All That?
So the X-Files are opening the doors of Truth at last, eh? I remain to be convinced, as they've proclaimed the dawn of revelation at least three times before. But even if they're not serious, I must admit that this episode "Two Fathers" was much better thought out and put together than the others, including the movie.
I mean, most of the actions of the conspirators make sense for once! The movie suggested that a cabal of powerful men was working with aliens, the original inhabitants of the Earth, who are coming to reclaim it. (The possibility that they are not coming from outer space at all, but from somewhere on Earth, remains tantalyzingly plausible, and I here publically bet Michelle a dollar that is what will finally be revealed.) The conspirators are creating alien-human hybrids for the aliens; we have seen that the Black Oil turns humans into gestation chambers for aliens, but presumably the hybrids will be able to house the Black Oil in their bodies without dying. The aliens apparently want this, or approve of it, or something; actually, though, this plan may save the human race even if the aliens take over, albeit a somewhat ALTERED human race.
Some of this has the air of an explanation created recently; no one can tell me that Chris Carter had this in mind from Day One. But it fits just about everything, and creates a very interesting dilemma for Mulder and Scully: the only people who know enough to help them fight the aliens are convinced that the aliens cannot be fought, and we'd better make plans to live on an alien-dominated Earth. If Mulder and Scully (and now, Skinner and Spender) want to resist the aliens, they're also up against the most powerful conspiracy the world has ever known!
As on Babylon 5, they face both an alien and a human threat. The trick would be to find a way to turn the Conspiracy against the Aliens, possibly by using Mulder's willingness to look at the unthinkable to find a weapon, a defense or an alternative to the aliens.
There are two reasons we should greet the opening of the game, from "what the hell's going on?" to "how the hell do we save the world?":
1) A lot of those old episodes made no damn sense. I refer to the Black Oil episodes; to the glimpses of alien bio specimens in jars and train cars; to that creepy Alien Bounty Hunter; to the endless series of Samantha clones; and others. Like the technobabble non-solutions presented so often on Star Trek: Voyager, these endings are all maddening cheats: we put characters you care about through hell, but we aren't gonna tell you why or how or what happened next. If they DON'T give us some payoff, then The X-Files is ultimately another Twin Peaks: all hints and no catharsis. And if that happens, I'm going to be pretty steamed.
2) We have seen several good (and many bad) "the unknown is all around us and the world is fundamentally strange" episodes by now. It's been done, and done about as well as it can be done. I'd really like to see the heroes of X-Files move from investigation to active measures, and if they did, I wouldn't miss an episode. I mean, if you think it's not leading anywhere, why NOT miss an episode?
I'll take that dollar bet, Steve, because there's just no doubt anymore on The X-Files that aliens are coming from outer space to menace the earth, just like in every War of the Worlds ripoff from old movie serials to Earth: Final Conflict (which actually has a more plausible and compelling alien arc; if the characters and the writing on The X-Files weren't far superior to that show, I'd recommend a change of loyalties for alien conspiracy fans). The days when The X-Files was about things which are relevant to our real lives and contemporary politics - high school gangs, mistreatment of prisoners, the violence in refugee camps, the medical community's maltreatment of test subjects - are pretty much gone. Virtually all the evils of the world can now be traced to a miniscule cabal of men and their alliance with the Big Bad Aliens who are trying to conquer the world. And that makes it a much less interesting place.
I've said this before and I'll say it again: life would be a lot more comfortable if we really could blame one evil cigarette-smoking individual not only for the assassinations of various world leaders and the manipulation of senators, the F.B.I., the F.D.A., etc., but also for every ethical dilemma facing our technological society from the potential misuse of private medical files to the potential horrors of cloning. Unfortunately such a concept is silly, simplistic, and ultimately not very dramatic. For CSM and his ilk to have succeeded, we have to believe that the vast majority of our leaders are either stupid or corrupt, and the rest of the people of the world even dumber or greedier. Now that we know the cabal's secret - they're in league to make sure their own descendants are part of the slave population of the aliens, rather than being murdered outright - they're far less interesting than they were before. THIS is what they've been fighting for? Good thing there's no evidence that passivity and general dorkiness are in the genes, because these "leaders" would be sure to breed a placid, fearful population which would do the bidding of their alien masters, as have these men with their measly little virus and their surprisingly small-scale plans. The more of the conspiracy we see, the less compelling it is.
I'm not disagreeing that The X-Files has reached a point of no return, where some of the questions have to be answered or they will become hopelessly convoluted to the point of phoniness. The Prisoner worked because had a very short run; a few more weeks of "Who is Number One?" and everyone would have changed the channel in disgust. But interesting as it has been to see threads of plot from seasons ago come together into what looks like a giant web, it's impossible not to think about all the loose ends which have never been tied down, and difficult not to start rolling one's eyes at the irrelevance of it all. For every viewer of The X-Files who believes that humanoid extraterrestrials are menacing the world, I'm sure there are several dozen who don't believe anything alien landed at Roswell and assume what's in Area 51 is a failed nuclear experiment. They're the people who are afraid not of Independence Day coming true, but of Escape From New York or Blade Runner.
For me, The X-Files has always been most interesting when it explores what we as a species do to ourselves, without any outside intervention from aliens. For me the announcement that all the suffering and grief comes from beyond our world is a cheat, much more so than if we never got answers to the questions raised on the series. I don't like the pat confidence with which the writers, like CSM, declare that they can make sense out of everything. I'm really not terribly worried about any of our heroes because I expect the game to be played out among the only people for whom resistance is not futile, namely the rebel aliens; also, I've seen Scully almost-killed too many times to take it seriously now when she's in danger, and now that we've actually seen Skinner die and get resurrected, how can we worry about his mortality ever again? I still like the show, but I feel manipulated. I'd like to read the final pages of this mystery quickly, and move on to something else.
This column was originally written for AnotherUniverse.com.