Sunday, January 10, 2016

Riffling Through the X-Files

I was never a fan of The X-Files. I rarely watched any of the episodes during its first run on FOX and had only seen a handful as reruns or on DVD in the intervening years. But with a new season of six episodes scheduled to debut on January 24th, I embarked on an effort to catch up with the series on Netflix late last year. I was aided in my endeavor by this Reddit page: The Essential X-Files, which lists the episodes that are most important for understanding the mythological arc of the show, the one dealing with the alien conspiracy and Fox Mulder’s search for his sister, who had been abducted as a child. The list also features some of the ‘monster of the week’ episodes not related to the mytharc.

It is probable that my lack of interest in The X-Files stems from a certain dislike for Flying Saucer stories. Sure there is a lot of science fiction available that stretches scientific credibility, but none ever did so as much for me as the idea that intelligent aliens would travel vast distances across the universe to flatten crops, mutilate cows and probe rectums. And why are the aliens always naked? Who explores a possibly hostile environment without a protective suit of some sort?

Another factor in my lack of interest in the series came from a general impression of the two main characters and how they interacted with each other. Mulder, the true believer, never seemed much in awe of the fantastic things he was seeing. Scully, the eternal skeptic, never wavered in her stance no matter how much evidence she was presented (at least not until the later seasons). My imagined interaction between these two always played out like this:
*Fantastic SFX UFO hovers in the sky* 

Mulder (deadpan): Look, Scully, a UFO.
Scully (equally deadpan): I’m sure there’s a valid scientific explanation for this, Mulder. 

*UFO flies away*
This perception may not have been entirely fair, although now that I have watched a considerable number of episodes I can’t say that I was that far off on my original assessment.

I did mange to finish The Essential X-Files, watching all the way to the last episode of the ninth season. I found enough of the series entertaining that I was willing to go to the end, even if the last four seasons were rather weak. The series leads, David Duchovny (Mulder) and Gillian Anderson (Scully), did an excellent job portraying their respective characters, as did the supporting cast from The Smoking Man to The Lone Gunmen. I found Scully’s occasional lapses into poetic monologue rather overwrought and laughable, which I assume was not the point. The show did have a good sense of humor, especially in the ‘monster of the week’ episodes, although not enough of one to keep from taking itself too seriously. I can’t say that I was particularly satisfied with the resolutions to the questions about Mulder’s sister, Scully’s cancer, the alien conspiracy, the super soldiers or Scully’s baby. Like Lost it was another series that drew out these long deep storylines only to resolve them in the most trivial way possible. Although my experience with this series does not make me regret missing it the first time around, I’m glad to be prepared for the upcoming season, which I won’t miss.

Yet now I have another beef with this series. I wonder how much it has contributed to the rise of conspiracy theorists and anti-science propaganda. It wasn’t just that the series promoted the idea of being open minded about unexplained phenomena, but that it posited an active conspiracy by governments and the scientific community to distort facts and deceive the populace. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be vigilant about potential conspiracies to deceive the public (Iraq War), just that the series’ may have inspired the people behind the 911 truther movement, various false flag paranoias, the anti-vaccine movement and climate change denial. Of course the rise of the Internet as a resource contributed more to this nonsense than The X-Files, but the series probably provided inspiration for many of the crackpots out there looking to advance their loony version of the truth.

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