When The X-Files went off the air in 2002, it left a number of dangling plot threads and unanswered questions – not surprising, given how byzantine the show’s mythology had become as it developed over the course of its nine-year run. Although a planned series of films was supposed to tackle these in the finale’s wake, a legal dispute between creator/showrunner Chris Carter and 20th Century Fox kept X-Files out of theaters for six long years – and by the time that I Want to Believe finally did bow in 2008, it had missed the boat on residual fan interest and was too early to ride the nostalgia train. Those long-promised movies failed to materialize.

It’s eight years later, however, and that nostalgia has certainly kicked in now, building into a wave of ‘90s revivals that Fox has been only too happy to try and tap into. The X-Files, as such, is coming back starting tonight as a six-episode “event series,” reuniting former Special Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) as they return to the FBI fold and reopen their now-long-dormant investigations into the paranormal.

There’s a slight problem, however, and it relates exclusively to the amount of time that has transpired since last audiences saw Mulder and Scully. The entire backbone of the series’ mythology revolved around the colonization of Earth by a race of extraterrestrial beings that were last here millennia ago, when the last ice age drove them off the planet. Working with a secret government body calling itself the Syndicate, the two parties agreed on a colonization date of December 22, 2012 – a deadline that the aliens adhered to even after the Syndicate is destroyed in the show’s sixth season. It is, as you can imagine, an insanely complicated tale, but don’t worry – we explain the whole narrative in easy-to-digest bullet points in our complete guide to The X-Files’ mythology.

mulder scully i want to believe complete guide to x files mythology The X Files: Chris Carter on Answering Lingering Questions

Rather than having this new miniseries be a flashback to some point between 2008 and 2012 – or having it be an alternate-history version of 2016, when humanity is decimated and the colonists have reclaimed the planet – Chris Carter opted instead to have the alien invasion never take place. It’s a bold move, but it led us to wonder: does he still see the world-ending event as the lynchpin of the entire X-Files storyline, or has it now been permanently rendered as an always-far-off backdrop for Mulder and Scully’s stories to be told against?

This is how Carter answered our question:

“I see it as now part and parcel of a conspiracy that has actually mushroomed. It’s not as if we’re saying that what Mulder once believed can be thrown out the window – it’s now that what Mulder once believed is a fraction of what looks like a much larger picture that had been kept from him.”

The mythology that had been so assiduously developed over the course of 201 episodes and two feature films, then, has been reconstituted to reflect the changing reality on the ground, both in terms of the narrative and in terms of our society – Mulder and Scully still need a conspiracy to investigate, and our culture has never been more intruded upon by governmental surveillance or security measures. “The mythology takes a big right-hand turn,” Carter went on to say, revealing that the surface of this new narrative reality will only be scratched by the end of the six-part miniseries (hence the fact that it ends on a giant cliffhanger).

mulder cgb spender complete guide to x files mythology The X Files: Chris Carter on Answering Lingering Questions

If the new extraterrestrial premise is addressed but not fully resolved, what can audiences expect of the other big story beats from near the end of the original series’s run? Specifically, what of a long-lost plot thread that revealed Mulder is believed to literally be a man of prophecy, foretold by various Native American religions that seem to have a genetic memory of the alien colonists’ creation of mankind – and foreknowledge of their eventual, apocalyptic return?

“It’s interesting. You’ve got a heroic quality – he’s the most unlikely hero, but he does have a kind of heroic quality in that sense, and the mythology that developed around him gave him a kind of savior-like quality. That said, I would never label him a savior, but I would label him an agent of change.”

It seems that expounding on the figure of destiny who will be able to single-handedly stop the alien invasion of Earth may not be on the cards any time soon. But, then again, with colonization having been morphed into a larger, perhaps far-more-sinister alien agenda, Mulder’s being “an agent of change” will perhaps equate to the same thing – with a far greater chance of mythological follow-up down the road.

There is, of course, more. Regarding William Scully, Mulder and Scully’s son, who was born as a human-alien hybrid – his was to have been a central role in the impending colonization – Carter first reminds us that Scully chose to give him up for adoption in The X-Files’ final stretch of episodes in order to protect him – even though he had been “cured” of his alien physiology and special abilities – and then confesses that, while the 14-year-old doesn’t appear in the miniseries, his “absent presence” plays an absolutely significant role in episodes two and four, with more possibly to come in the years ahead.

x files lone gunmen 2016 The X Files: Chris Carter on Answering Lingering Questions

Finally, the various teasers and trailers for the “event series” have established that a number of characters who were killed off during the course of The X-Files are somehow mysteriously coming back – most especially the Lone Gunmen (Bruce Harwood, Tom Braidwood, and Dean Haglund), Mulder’s most trusted conspiracy experts and the stars of their own short-lived spinoff series – though how, exactly, remains a mystery. When pressed to provide any more insight on how, specifically, the trio of Byers, Frohike, and Langly will be returning, Carter only had this to say:

“I would only spoil it for you if I told you, but I can tell you that they come back in a way that you will absolutely never expect. If I gave you a hundred guesses right now, you’d never get it.”

It’s a good thing we don’t have to wait much longer to find out.

MORE: 10 Reasons We’re Worried About The X-Files Revival

The X-Files will return tonight on FOX after the AFC Championship Game.

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