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Happy Birthday X-Files!

COW Blogs : Kylee Peña's Blog : Happy Birthday X-Files!
It almost snuck by me, but I remembered! Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the premiere of The X-Files. And as a huge fan (I think they used to call us X-Philes) of the show who has recently been working through (almost) every episode from start to finish, I have a couple things to say about this. 

This is the first chronological binge viewing I've completed on this show since I originally began watching -- something that happened pretty late in the series. Sometime in 1999, I picked up the show during season 7 and got hooked after the finale. That summer, FX played a couple episodes a night starting from season 1. By fall, I was fully engaged in not only watching the show, but also talking about every aspect of the show on the Internet. With other self-proclaimed "x-philes". Half cringe, half I ain't even mad.

Besides the phenomenal technical achievements of the show which I'm sure are discussed elsewhere on the internet on this happy birthday week, I have two major takeaways as an impressionable teenager, both of which have become a lot clearer upon this recent binge in adulthood, ten years after the show's series finale (sob).

The first thing: characters are everything, and not just the heroes. Yes, Mulder and Scully went through some fantastic character development (which, by the way, is even more impressively subtle when you view episodes back to back to back, there's some amazing mental breakdown slow burn). But how about Cigarette Smoking Man? How many shows give their nameless villain a whole subplot? An entire episode? It's a long journey to the reward, but these small hints build up to a pretty emotionally complex end to the main mytharc, with a lot of engaging and amusing stand-alones along the way. Even characters we saw once or twice -- the psychological mindgames of "Pusher", or the scary as hell hair and nail fetishist in "Irresistible" were way more captivating than a lot of recurring roles on other shows. 

Interesting and likable (or at least relatable) characters are a difficult lesson to learn as a filmmaker, and even when X-Files was at its worst, it was still a great teacher.

Two: Dana freakin' Scully. Looking back, she was possibly my biggest role model as a teenager (plus I had a lot of Scully-related forum handles) -- and I wasn't alone. At a Comic-Con, Gillian Anderson said she had dozens and dozens of women tell her that they pursued a career in medicine, science, psychology, law enforcement, or another related field because they had grown up watching Scully kick ass every week. In another interview, I saw a lot of women mentioning their path into filmmaking began with Dana Scully. I'm not sure my hair would even be red without Scully.

Scully is complex character with layers and junk. She's a deeply flawed person without being portrayed as weak-willed. She's physically and mentally tough, but she worries about burdening her partner with her concerns and keeps a lot to herself. Early in the series, the show tried to occasionally show that Scully had a romantic life -- but then somebody realized that the audience didn't care, and it got way better. 

It's interesting that the main thing taken away from her after her abduction was her ability to bear children, which made for an interesting dynamic to a character that already overcompensated for her gender as many women are prone to do in a male-oriented field. But she's, at least for 7 seasons, not defined by infertility so much as she is by wanting to find answers, like Mulder. Even when she's the victim, she's not truly helpless (nor is she truly unaffected.) And I think that's kind of rare for women in stories. Plus, infertility is such a trope for female characters anymore, but was anyone addressing such a thing in the early 90s?

I'll admit that Scully in seasons 8 and 9 was kind of crap though. The storyline that had sucked me into the show originally ended up being the weakest link for her character (make babies, protect babies, etc.) But still, we'll always have the ass-kicking Scully in seasons 3 through 5 (including the movie, especially the movie!) And girlfriend could wear them shoulder pads, mhmm.

Also, a majority of X-Files were edited by female editors. I don't really have a further point to make about that, I'm just saying it was a thing I realized upon this binge.

X-Files was awesome. Ya'll should Netflix it if you never watched it before. Great stories, great dialogue, best opening title sequence ever. Yeah, I said it.

Scully: Mulder, it's such a gorgeous day outside. Have you ever entertained the idea of trying to find life on this planet?
Mulder: I've seen the life on this planet Scully, and that is exactly why I am looking elsewhere.

Posted by: Kylee Peña on Sep 11, 2013 at 8:12:02 pmComments (8) x-files, filmmaking


Re: Happy Birthday X-Files!
by Mark Suszko
Nobody was a more loyal fan of the show than me at the time. But I had problems with the show similar to how people had problems with " LOST". Truly, the entire arc never quite connected into a whole, and the movie didn't really help. I also enjoyed the spinoff show: "The Lone Gunmen", which had an episode that predicted the airline strike on the Twin Towers, before 9/11. That show had more story potential than even X-files, actually, just didn't get enough time and love to mature it and get it on it's feet.
Re: Happy Birthday X-Files!
by Kylee Peña
I'm sure your memorable episodes are named for characters because those tend to be the ones with the best, most developed characters.

Season 6 used to be my favorite and it still has many of my favorites but I'll definitely agree that the golden years are 1-5. Something changed after the movie and after they moved to LA. The biggest thing I noticed is that the Mulder/Scully relationship in season 6 was much more playful, with the writers clearly toying with fans. But you're right that they threw you in after the relationship was already past a turning point -- remember the cold open to a late season 7 episode "all things" (directed by Gillian Anderson) where Mulder is naked in bed as Scully gets ready for the day. And they never mentioned it again.

The believer/skeptic thing played out even better than I remembered when I watched it this time. They turn it upside down so many times in a few different ways. For most of season 5, it's Mulder who is the skeptic about aliens. I had totally forgotten that.

I'm not sure I agree there's no more than a dozen duds. I guess TRUE duds, maybe. I can name ten off the top of my head. Still, low percentage and a fair point.
C'mon TV, give us more.

twitter: @kyl33t
@Kylee Wall
by Tim Wilson
I definitely remembered the open to All Things, which Gilliam also wrote. A series highlight, no doubt, and a perfect example of the way they handled the relationship. Not that there wasn't a build-up along the way, but their treatment of "the biggest thing" turned out to be not that big a thing. It happened when you weren't looking.

Not that she didn't linger over the shot. LOL

Is the dripping faucet a simile or a metaphor? LOL

I haven't watched the later seasons in particular as recently as you have, so I'll yield on the dud count. But the score across 202 episodes certainly illustrates that neither Friday nights, nor network TV, nor an average of 23 episodes/season equal disposable TV, not even added together.

While not on Friday, Lost also qualifies as a high-percentage TV play that has a few things in common with X-Files. Ironically, the show got wobblier as the seasons got shorter, with ratings reaching a series low in the shortest season! Season 4, 14 episodes...although partially shortened by the writer's strike. Also in fairness, the season as whole earned the second highest Metacritic score of all time, just behind the fifth and final season of The Wire.

Ironically, X-Files producers promised that they'd avoid The Chris Carter Effect, and that was where they stumbled biggest. They unintentionally proved Carter right when he was never particularly anxious about promising a payoff. I think that there's a masters thesis in comparing/contrasting the two shows' approach to mythology....but I still think Lost was a high percentage play for some of the same reasons that X-Files was. Including a cold opening on one of the show's best episodes (LeFleur, season 5), with James and Juliet clearly well into a tender, loving domestic relationship that, in this case, we had no idea was even vaguely anticipated.

Starting to veer off topic (who? ME?), but agreed, as good as X-Files was at the time, more than a few aspects (and episodes) of it get even better when viewed from afar.
@Tim Wilson
by Kylee Peña
Glad you brought up Lost actually. I've been doing some comparing as I watch X-Files because I can't think of another show with such a long slow burn of mythology. It's definitely worth exploring in depth, but a major difference to me so far is the effectiveness of the reveal.

In X-Files, there really wasn't a MAJOR reveal...a lot of smaller ones that built into the story. Then after some stuff goes down and a lot of big players are gone, it kind of pulls a mid-season 24 and goes into another direction entirely, loosely tying things together.

In Lost, every reveal has like 8 more questions (minimum) attached to it. There's hardly ever a sense of resolution. And that ultimately led to...not a whole lot. So the mythology felt like it just kept going and going until it basically just jumped off a cliff.

That's been my feeling anyway. X-Files felt more organic, Lost more about being WTFish. But Lost was more consistent with its mythology in its own way. Then again, I haven't watched Lost (other than select episodes like Walkabout) since it aired.

twitter: @kyl33t
@Kylee Wall
by Tim Wilson
"the [Lost] mythology felt like it just kept going and going until it basically just jumped off a cliff."

Agreed. Lindelof still doesn't appear to get that this is why so many people are so resentful that their investment in Lost didn't pay off. It was especially painful because he and Cuse kept promising that it WOULD -- not EVERY question answered(I agree with him that that would have been a mistake) -- but it seemed like he'd quit watching the show, "answering" things -- cough*Jacob*cough -- that had nothing to do with what they'd set up years earlier with no payoff at all.

X-Files did it better, treating almost all of the mysteries as well, that's how it is. At least they didn't explain anything in some ridiculous --cough*midi-chlorians*cough -- way that likewise had nothing to do with anything.
Re: Happy Birthday X-Files!
by Tim Wilson
Clyde Bruckman's Repose. Jose Chung's From Outer Space. Tooms. Some of the greatest episodes of TV, ever.

I especially adored the years that it was on Friday nights, until the beginning of Season 4 (the fourth episode was the first on Sunday night)...but the episode that season that aired after the Super Bowl, Leonard Betts, was another all-time great. I'm not sure why all of the fave episodes I've mentioned here feature the names of characters, but there you go.

"Leonard Betts" was one of 30 episodes written by Vince Gilligan, who of course went on to create Breaking Bad. (This was in fact his first TV writing gig.) Aside from being the series' highest rated episode, and a stunning guest turn from Paul McCrane, this one is notable for being the episode where Scully discovers she has cancer. Hmmm, story set in motion by a main character getting cancer...hmmmm.....

(Great story here about how X-Files also led directly to Homeland, too.)

(Okay, and I'll extend my "golden years" of X-Files to cover the entire Vancouver sojourn, seasons 1-5..albeit plenty of flavor left for the next four as well.)

X-Files was the first show to have a mythology arc that spanned the entire series. Not every episode of course, and hard to believe, but nobody had gone even THIS far before. It's unfortunate that even partial payoff was so long in coming that it gave name to The Chris Carter Effect, but still, an awful lot about the mythology was awfully satisfying.

One of my favorite things about it was how they handled the relationship between Mulder and Scully. There was something incredibly strong between them the moment they met that it made everything that happened later almost inevitable. Instead of wasting their (and our) time with will they-won't they, the steps were so natural that by the time "they did," it mostly seemed like this was just when "we" found out, that "they" had been in that phase of the relationship for quite a while before we as viewers found out. I'm sure I have some facts wrong, but that's how I remember it feeling.

They also inverted the "he's a believer, she's a skeptic" dynamic that actually seemed like a superficial summary. She was the believer in God, and the basic goodness of people, and he was MORE than skeptical about BOTH of those. There's rarely been shows with characters this nuanced.

So I obviously share 100% of your Scully love, Kylee, and loved Gillian Anderson even a little more after her performance at the X-Files Comic-Con panel a few months back.

Maybe my FAVORITE favorite thing is that they never did fewer than 20 episodes, and as many as 25 EVERY SEASON. (Most in the 22-24 range.) I might like some, I might even love some, but I'm never going to fully respect a series that wimps out at 13 or fewer episodes/season. Breaking Bad, The Wire, Sopranos -- I'm lookin' at alla y'all. Sorry man, you're simply not playing in the major leagues until you're playing a full season.

All the more remarkable that X-Files got so many episodes exactly right for so long. TWO HUNDRED AND TWO EPISODES -- as many as The Sopranos, The Wire and Breaking Bad COMBINED -- and probably not a dozen duds.

This truly is one of the all-time greats. Thanks for the birthday memories!

PS. The law requires that I mention that X-Files is ALL OVER tumblr. You can look it up yourself and be overwhelmed, so as a starting point, I'll direct you to "Dana Scully Eating Things", featuring the motto, "The Truth is out there. So are donuts," and the tagline, "Dana Scully keeps it real, eats her snacks, gets shit done."
Re: Blog: Happy Birthday X-Files!
by Mark Suszko
Fluke Man FTW
@Mark Suszko
by Kylee Peña
High fives for Fluke man.

twitter: @kyl33t

Focusing on post-production, from editing and motion graphics to personal experiences and the psychology of being an editor.


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