Even back in the mid-90s, The X-Files opening credits sequence was terrible. It looked like something I could have put together myself on a PC. But it gets a pass because of Mark Snow’s ultra-iconic theme music, easily one of the best (and most recognizable) themes of all time. Nothing could possibly set the spooky, kinda kooky mood of the series better. It’s almost impossible to imagine the series existing without that spaced-out whistle.
After some disappointment at the plot-plot-plotty ploddingness of the conspiracy episodes, I was hoping to find some diamonds in the rough when it came to “Monster of the Week” episodes. On the whole, these were stronger episodes than “E.B.E.” or “Anasazi” on their own merits.
“Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” features an amusing, Emmy-winning turn from Peter Boyle as the title character, a psychic who keeps us guessing about his motivations — and the veracity of what he predicts. I enjoyed his banter with Scully most of all, though the episode also contained more ideas than it knew what to do with, and went for a slapdash climax that left me unfulfilled. It’s a very good episode of television that’s disappointing only because it’s supposed to be great. Many fans would call this the series’ strongest hour — so I was hoping to be floored. I was merely entertained.
I found Season 5’s Rashomon-esque vampire caper “Bad Blood” a tad too goofy to really land with me. (If I’m in the mood for self-referential vampire humor, you know what I’ll be watching.) I did appreciate “The Post-Modern Prometheus” a little more, if only because it goes so totally for broke in a black-and-white, Cher-scored tale of misbegotten motherhood, heavily inspired by 1930’s Frankenstein. It ends, sweetly and very bizarrely, with Mulder and Scully rocking out with a monster at a dive bar Cher concert. As Scully herself might criticize it, it’s “implausible,” but it made me smile. Still, I wrestle with what to make of a show where all the best episodes seem to throw away the show’s continuity and usual aesthetic entirely, and make Mulder and Scully incidental to the proceedings. If the writers are this bored with their own series, what does that say about the show as a whole? It starts to feel like what they really wanted to do was remake The Twilight Zone, which had no continuity at all. Maybe I’d feel the same way after penning dozens of dour conspiracy episodes, but I never did find an episode of The X-Files that hit a home run.
Perhaps the closest was “Home,” Season 4’s controversial horror show, which borrows liberally from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and somehow manages to be almost as gross. This is a nasty piece of work that, again, essentially has nothing to do with Mulder and Scully, and plays out as a mini-movie that ended up being too disturbing to ever air again on primetime network TV. I kind of agree. “Home” is an effective, nauseating little horror movie. I wanted to take a shower by the time the end credits popped up — and double-check that my front door was locked. Kudos, I guess? “Home” does what it sets out to do, and does it perhaps a little too well. It wallows in the grotesque, enough so that I’d think twice before I put it on again. It’s unpleasant, but a very good kind of unpleasant, if you like that sort of thing.I also have to give a shoutout to the Gillian Anderson-directed Season 7 episode “All Things,” which was my favorite episode in terms of character exploration. (Many X-Philes aren’t fans of this one.) It told a story I could connect to and enjoy from start to finish, without needing a whole lot of context from other episodes. And it felt like it was about a real person.
But it also put Mulder and Scully in bed together — inevitable, once 1998’s Fight The Future film sealed the deal for their attraction with a bee-interrupted near-kiss. I’m definitely not a fan of any romantic angle between the agents, preferring their dynamic as coworkers who build an important friendship. The series isn’t interested enough in human relationships to explore this romance in depth, so why not skip it? I owned the X-Files movie on VHS (20th Century Fox Widescreen Collection, baby!), and yet I’d forgotten almost entirely what the story was. (And I think I have again.) It’s two-thirds of a solid conspiracy thriller, with a lame third act that puts Scully in damsel-in-distress mode — totally incapacitating her.
It should have been obvious that the best thing about The X-Files is the push-pull dynamic between Mulder and Scully. So it’s a terrible idea to remove that from the climax of your first feature film. Still, The X-Files reestablishes the interplay between Mulder and Scully for potential newcomers, and the feature film budget goes a long way in selling the scale of a worldwide conspiracy, which the series often struggled with.
In the end, I couldn’t stop comparing The X-Files to Buffy The Vampire Slayer, which also had a mix of season arc mythology and “Monster of the Week” episodes, also felt the burden of a low budget (especially in early seasons) in its epic scale and creature effects, also had one-off episodes that broke the mold for episodic television — and yet, was also groundbreaking in its characters and storytelling, too. Buffy the TV series probably wouldn’t have ever been put on the air if not for the demonstrated success of The X-Files, so I certainly don’t begrudge it, then or now. But TV has taken what The X-Files gave us and run with it, so far that I don’t know how satisfying going back to this source is anymore. The show’s reputation looms large, but the rewatchability factor doesn’t quite hold up for the casual fan. (I was a fan! Honest!) It’s more procedural, more CSI, than I’d remembered. Today’s world could sure use Mulder and Scully to debunk the QAnon conspiracy, but otherwise, I’m not so sure X-Files marks the spot anymore.