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The X-files

Regular airtime
Director: Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, R.W. Goodwin, Howard Gordon
Creator: Howard Gordon
Cast: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Robert Patrick, Mitch Pileggi, James Pickens Jr.
Regular airtime: Sundays, 9 pm EST

(Fox)

Review [15.May.2002]
Review [1.Jan.1995]
Review [1.Jan.1995]

Dog Is My Co-pilot

After eight years of squishy monsters, labyrinthine conspiracies, and creepy adventures in inner and outer space, the most popular television sci-fi series in recent memory (shut up, trekkies) resorts to the obvious Christian imagery. And really, what options were left, after all of that excruciating ambiguity over the conception of Scully’s (Gillian Anderson) child? Did one of those artificially inseminated ova manage to pull through? Did some mad obstetrician implant a scary hybrid alien-human fetus (in keeping with the generally over-the-top gross-out aesthetic of the entire series)? Did the holy spirit come upon her during one of those long pauses before the mirror while we, the audience, were subjected to a gooey, new-age soundtrack? Or did she and Mulder (David Duchovny) just plain get it on off-screen?


Continuing the season-long obsession with Scully’s pregnancy, the first hypothesis regarding The X-Files eighth season was that Scully’s baby was the product of an alien chip implanted in her body some episodes ago. But by the time the last episode came around, we’re invited to suspect that the child may be the most normal miracle of all: the result of your basic heterosexual intercourse. Perhaps in the “missionary” position?


But I am getting ahead of myself. When we last left our heroes in Part One (tantalizingly named “Essence”), Billy Miles (Zachary Ansley), the alien-abductee-turned-evil-alien-replicant, was tricked into jumping off of a rooftop, at which point he conveniently plummeted into the back of a garbage truck where he was immediately scooped up and unceremoniously smushed. Meanwhile, Agent Reyes (Annabeth Gish) and the very pregnant Scully take off in search of a safe place for her to have her Wunderkind. At the opening of Part Two (called “Existence,” thus cleverly inverting our existential expectations—I know that Being and Nothingness is on your bedside table, as it is on mine), Billy arrives at the morgue in a box looking like “hamburger,” as one of the autopsy specialists puts it. And here comes the nifty special effect of the episode: the doctor picks out a steel vertebra, which spins around wildly (after the lab guys leave, of course), building itself into more and more bones until the whole body is reconstructed and, bingo, we get Billy Miles all over again.


Agent Doggett (Robert Patrick) and Mulder try to figure out how to stop this new alien beastie Billy Miles, and get tangled up with various other FBI agents, who turn out to be somehow involved in the same nefarious plot to repopulate the planet with aliens (what else?). There is the obligatory chase scene in the FBI parking garage, with black cars squealing around and guys in black suits bouncing off of windshields, blood spattering. Ultimately Skinner shoots Krycek (Nicholas Lea), Mulder’s shifty doppelganger half-brother, before Krycek can shoot Mulder. Since Krycek murdered Mulder’s father, we are supposed to take this as some profound settling of accounts. But the story of Mulder, his father, and all the layers of betrayal and deception in between was part of the Star Wars mythological substrata, which is now supplanted by a more predictable and less adventurous Christian allegory that marches inexorably towards the blessed nuclear family.


Cut to Scully, who is busy giving birth in an abandoned building in the town where Agent Doggett was born. I can’t figure out the reason for this detail, except that the writers like everything to be connected, and Doggett has to get into the picture somehow (I am still not convinced that he has filled the David Duchovny gap). Agent Reyes, the “intuitive” grown-up goth-girl, plays midwife to Scully. Inevitably, Billy Miles appears, although we are not surprised that he has traversed time and space after his brief stint as a tin of hamburger. A park ranger nails him with a shotgun full in the chest, which knocks the wind out of him for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, the Christian imagery has been accumulating with alarming speed: note the “manger” setting, complete with a bright “star” that Agent Reyes sees high in the sky. Just as the birth commences, a posse of alien types materialize. Scully shrieks, “Don’t let them take my baby!” Cut to commercial.


In the last scene, Mulder comes to see Scully in her apartment, where he is met by the three lone gunmen, each bearing a gift. Scully is wearing a light blue sweater and holding a terribly cute blue-eyed baby. A veritable Renaissance tableau. I kept looking for evidence of horns or a tail, but the kid was disappointingly ... normal. Which is probably why the scary mob of alien automatons did not take him away. And then Mulder kisses Scully, implying that the baby is theirs, and she knew it all along?


Questions: What happened to the alien plot to repopulate the planet? What about Director Kersh (James Pickens), who is implicated in the conspiracy? Is there a season nine? Well, the answer to the last question is evidently “yes,” with Anderson and Patrick teaming up again.


Despite the fact that Duchovny was hardly there, season eight had a few great moments: the episode in the Boston metro (“T”) with the luminous virus (“Medusa”), or “Three Words,” in which Mulder breaks into the Bureau of Statistics to expose the fact that the latest census data contains evidence of the alien invasion (which is not far from the truth, at least from a “family values” perspective—less than 25% of all households are “normal” nuclear families: two parents with children).


But the series ran into a serious structural flaw this year. In past seasons, episodes were divided between an ongoing conspiracy-paranoia plot involving the government, aliens, and genetic engineering, and the more self-contained paranormal episodes, the ones that Peter Knight, in his Conspiracy Culture: From Kennedy to the X-Files, calls “monster-of-the-week” episodes. Now the former storyline has been replaced by an obsessive focus on the personal relations among Mulder, Doggett, and Scully, driven for a time by Scully’s pregnancy. Since the affective side of human relationships has never been never the show’s strong point, this was a miscalculation on the writers’ part, although they may not have had much choice, given Duchovny’s much-publicized boredom with his role.


The real irony of the finale is that paranoia and conspiracy were always posited as religion’s alter-ego; in the absence of any other cosmic certainty, paranoia offers an explanatory system in which everything is significant (the question was never, “Are you paranoid?,” but rather “Are you paranoid enough?”). Chris Carter slyly turned the tables by choosing a solution that was both the least obvious (no one can really pretend that the show is covert Christian propaganda) and the most obvious. The Joseph-Mary-Jesus triad is symmetrical, familiar to most, and appeals to a divine authority (the question of immaculate conception was always lurking in the Scully’s pregnancy plot). If paranoia is the new religion, why not reverse the equation and use religion to paste over the abyss of paranoia and doubt? I almost admired the retrograde chutzpah of the gesture, the deft application of pastiche (Fredric Jameson would be impressed, but I doubt he watches the show).


Where does Season Eight leave us? Will Mulder be a sensitive, stay-at-home dad while Scully battles the freaks with Doggett? It will take a stroke of genius to sustain the show through another season.

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