It’s been announced that The X-Files will be re-opened once again, with another new season featuring Mulder and Scully set to premiere sometime later this year and run into 2018. While not too much of a surprise given how well received 2016’s “event” mini-series was, the announcement was still something that had many fans breathing a sigh of relief, thankful that season 10’s cliffhanger wouldn’t be the end of the show as a whole.
When viewed as a nostalgic celebration of one of TV’s best pieces of the genre, the last six episodes were very successful. Naturally, they brought back the alien conspiracy, infused with some big corporate skepticism and eugenics for good measure. It was the couple of monster-of-the-week episodes that were the highlight – firm reminders of how strong The X-Files was at balancing different tones and telling a captivating and genuinely chilling story in 40 minutes. For most, seeing David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson back as Mulder and Scully in way over their heads in some cacophonous mystery was all they wanted, and on that the series delivered.
But that strength was also the mini-series’ greatest weakness, revelling too much in the motifs and sensibilities of the show’s first five seasons. The alien invasion angle isn’t necessarily a problem, but the way it’s re-introduced by a right-wing extremist pundit was altogether out-dated, a relic of the ’90s when being a pirate radio personality ranting about conspiracies was something actually edgy and rebellious. Similarly, some of the humor was tactless, with homophobic and transphobic jokes coming across crass and unnecessary. All of this only emboldened the fact that The X-Files‘ heyday was 20 years ago, and that if showrunner Chris Carter and Fox want to bring it back in a way that’s more than just a tribute (as a new 10-episode season would indicate), it’ll need to shake itself up a bit to do so.
Part of what made the original X-Files so bold was that it played on existing paranoias in a contemporary way. It took existing pillars of Americana like small, forgotten towns and alien cover-ups and merged them with broader political scandals like Watergate to create a depiction of pseudo-illuminati American government that was legitimately quite frightening. But the simple fact is audiences have moved on, and a lot of what had a “but what if!?” plausibility to it then just seems absurd, especially when you consider that these new seasons are supposed to be The X-Files updated in real-time.
The modern public worries about privacy issues in the age of social media and how technology is infiltrating our lives, not that we’re being killed off through chemicals in our water. The unscrupulousness of Facebook and Twitter as private entities and the murkiness of who buys, sells, and owns our data are becoming deeper and deeper concerns. A scientology-riff about some disease being put into the water to kill the unfit so we may purge before the aliens come to take the rest of us away is the kind of fringe theory that just cheapens the subversive power of the show.
The X-Files, at its strongest, had a way of merging the far out with the prescient in a way that was both riveting and politicized without ever seeming preachy or like the writers weren’t watching what was actually happening in the world. One episode Mulder and Scully would be investigating a lead on an old government facility, making headway, the next there’d be an unexplained murder by a guy with stretchy limbs or, possibly, an actual real-life gargoyle. The fantasy was used to side-step ever getting too heady or politically-charged, but the show always came back to using what we fear is a genuine reality to explore and create its unreality.
The over-arcing plot of season 10 reads like the manifesto of someone who hasn’t watched or read a legitimate news report in a decade. The grand horror it plays on is too half-baked to have any levity, and the times when it actually manages to be scary are the monster-of-the-week adventures in which hallmark sound design and editing return. It felt closer to a satire of The X-Files than a return of the horror procedural that helped reshape TV as we know it and would be a direct catalyst for shows like Supernatural and Fringe.
Despite having many successors, nothing’s quite managed to recapture the same sinister air that X-Files had when it was on form. It remains unrivaled, and with series like the aforementioned Supernatural as well as Black Mirror and Westworld gaining huge popularity, there’s arguably never been a better time for The X-Files‘ blend of sci-fi, fantasy, horror and detective drama. The same is true politically, with global unrest at widespread “fake news”, massive corporations that control the bulk of our media and information, and growing allegations of conspiracy between major world leaders. There’s a yearning for a real life Mulder and Scully to open the X-files to find out what’s really going on.
So far, the Chris Carter-helmed return has done little more than have our favourite FBI agents chase glorified chemtrails and poorly-veiled digs at religious fanatics. If The X-Files are to stay open this time, they’ll need more captivating answers than “they poisoned our water to prepare us for colonization.”