The demise of something you once loved brings on a feeling both terrible and grand. Like saying goodbye to a lover from whom you’ve grown estranged, the occasion can seem like fresh air, but it can also remind you of the sudden emptiness that fresh air is filling.
On May 19, millions of X-Files fans will share in this feeling, as the once-groundbreaking series bids farewell. But wait: haven’t we heard the “the X-Files will be closed for good” before? Should we trust the actors and writers, who’ve been telling the world for 9 years to “trust no one,” to bow out as promised? Unbelievably, yes. This time, it’s for good.
Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz, R.W. Goodwin, Howard Gordon
David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, William B. Davis, Mitch Pileggi, Tom Braidwood, Dean Haglund, Bruce Hardwood, Jerry Hardin, Nicholas Lea, Steven Williams, John Neville, Chris Owens, Mimi Rogers, Veronica Cartwright, Peter Donat, Sheila Larkin
Regular airtime: Sundays, 9 pm EST
It’s also for the good, because The X-Files has long been but a pale reflection of the show it once was. People did watch, which is testament to The X-Files’ intelligence and relevance; even a mediocre episode is better than most of the fodder floating around the deep recesses of primetime space. Still, it’s clear to most everyone that the past two seasons should never have happened.
As evidence, consider that The X-Files’ ratings have taken a nosedive since their peak 5 years ago, averaging only 8.7 million views this season and dropping over 40 percent this year in its key demographic (18 to 49-year-olds). There had actually been talk of canceling the show, so it was no surprise when Carter announced his decision to pull the plug. Although The X-Files’ final throes have been difficult to digest, this planned exit is more satisfying than what happened to, say, Twin Peaks, whose hasty departure left storylines hanging and fans outraged.
So, to bring everyone up to speed for the last episode, let’s recall what’s happened over the past few seasons. David Duchovny, the actor who played Special Agent Fox Mulder, left the show after a very public lawsuit over syndication royalties in 2000. As much as Gillian Anderson, playing Agent Scully, tried to keep the series persevering and engrossing, it was a fool’s dream to think The X-Files could continue without its founding hero and seeker.
Season 8’s long-running story arc was the hunt for Mulder, who had seemingly been abducted by aliens. Joining a mysteriously pregnant Scully in her quest was Special Agent John Doggett (Robert Patrick), assigned, as Scully had once been, to discredit the X-Files. Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), a specialist on ritualistic crime, was also introduced about this time, to take over the X-Files after Scully went on maternity leave. Stand-alone episodes and those maintaining the search-for-Mulder story came and went. But something was not quite right. Just as Mulder’s ghost haunted the characters, new and old, Duchovny’s absence affected the series.
As if the addition of thin characters wasn’t bad enough, the story itself became even more convoluted. Mulder’s supposedly dead body was found in a cult’s compound, an alien ship hovering nearby. Three months after Mulder’s funeral, the FBI found the bloated body of another abductee (Billy Miles from the first season). Or, though he looked dead, he wasn’t, which led Deputy Director Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) to make the startling, if rather unbelievable, conclusion that the same might hold true for Mulder. Against all logic, they exhumed him and found that, yes, he certainly was alive, if well on his way toward decomposition.
Of course, all this came of alien experimentation, and Mulder was saved through the very anticlimactic use of some commonplace anti-viral medication. This was hard to swallow, even for a show as premised on the fantastical as The X-Files, and seemed almost as cheap as an “it was all a dream” ending. No longer an FBI agent, Mulder had little protection from the enemies, human and nonhuman, he made over the years. So, he went on the lamb just after the birth of Scully’s baby, whom she named William after Mulder’s father, suggesting that perhaps a more romantic relationship between the two occurred than the audience was allowed to see.
With no Mulder (again), this past season has felt like a lot of dead-horse beating. Scully’s role has been drastically reduced, and Doggett and Reyes simply do not have the chemistry that Mulder and Scully did. Doggett’s role as a straight cop caught up in a whir of paranormality was too conventional, and it was hard to feel much sympathy for him. Reyes, who brought some of Mulder’s belief in the supernatural back to the show, came too late in the show’s run. Reyes might have shaken things up 4 or 5 years ago. Now, she’s adrift with everyone else.
For this last season, Carter promised to wrap up all the loose threads he’s woven and unraveled over the past decade. And so far, he’s done a lot of work toward doing just that. Many hands had their go at The X-Files’ scripting in recent years, resulting in inconsistencies in characters, repetitious stories, and an overall lack of direction. Carter’s direct involvement in these final episodes has brought the show back on track with competent writing. The Lone Gunmen (Tom Braidwood, Dean Haglund, and Bruce Hardwood) were ceremoniously killed off (well, apparently) in the recent episode, “Jump the Shark,” and the mystery of the murder of Doggett’s son—more specifically, the torment that it caused Doggett—was finally resolved in “Release.”
Surely the most highly anticipated series-ending news has been that Mulder will return for the two-hour finale, “The Truth,” which airs 19 May. Maybe this means he will be able to conclude his quest for The Truth. Maybe Mulder and Scully will finally be allowed to ride off into an alien-free sunset to live happily ever after.
With so many mythologies, conspiracies, alien races, and storylines, it seems next to impossible to wrap it all up neatly in a final episode. But isn’t this the point that The X-Files has been making all along? There are no final truths, everything is open-ended, and The Truth is perpetually “out there.” It’s the perfect premise for a franchise looking to continue its mythmaking in the feature film market.