Sunday, April 5, 2015

The X Files - An (Un)explained Phenomenon

"The X-Files is more than just a groundbreaking film and television series - it is an international cultural phenomenon, which has been by turns terrifying, thrilling, thought provoking an oftentimes hilarious. Over and unprecedented nine-year run, Chris Carter and his brilliant staff of writers, directors and producers explored the extreme possibilities of science, religion, and the supernatural - setting a new bar for the sci-fi genre and earning its place as a "pop culture touchstone" (Cinescape) and one of of the "Top 100 Best TV shows of all time" (Time Magazine)." (Hurwitz & Knowles, 2008)
I am sure nobody would have believed what a huge amount of love would rush towards that show, the impact it would have on pop culture, that something like the Scully effect would happen and that people would end up associating the tv show with adjectives like legendary, phenomenal, groundbreaking or outstanding when it first aired on 10 September, 1993. A show that had a darkish look, featuring two FBI Agents, a petite red-haired woman, a scientist and a medical doctor next to a tall, handsome guy who believed in the existence of extraterrestrials set out to find the truth.
I am sure they also did not believe that the show would end up running for 202 episodes, spanning over a period of nine seasons, two feature films and a comic book series (also referred to as 'Season 10'); with a very devoted fan base with its own name - The X-Philes (from the Ancient Greek word philia (φιλία), "love, affection"– due to their intense passion and discussions on the Internet regarding the series and their never-ending love for the show). Or that over the years the show would not be buried in oblivion, but even gain in popularity, and that now in 2015, 22 years after its first release, everyone who only remotely knows The-X Files would be over the moon with the news that the series will have a revival. 
I am pretty sure they did not anticipate this huge wave. But that´s what happened and this is only the short, cut-down version of events. I myself was not there when it happened in the 90s (as a fan that is), I just remember seeing the previews for episodes on tv and marvelling at Scully´s beauty as a kid but I was not allowed to watch it (bad parenting? Lol), but luckily I caught up a few years later and here we are now. 
So, this post is dedicated to all of you out there who haven´t watched the mother of all shows yet, for whatever reasons, or for those who haven´t got round to it yet, but definitely should. Here are some reasons why I love the show, why you should watch it, why I think it is still such an important series and why every girl needs to have Scully as her role model.

Note: I won´t list perfect episodes or must-watch episodes because everyone´s preference is different, also I have read dozens of lists the past few weeks and I never agreed with any of them ("Hey you forgot!" / "Why is that one on there??")

1. The Characters
Let´s start off with the most obvious one, the characters. Characters are always the core of every show, those are the ones we watch, we laugh and cry with, who we might take as role models, as an inspiration. Their personalities, the way they think, how they act, how they deal with situations etc are reasons what always keeps us going when watching a TV show.
In the case of The X-Files, there are the two main characters. Fox (William) Mulder and Dana (Katherine) Scully, two characters who have inspired millions of people all over the world. As fascinating and unique as they were as a duo - and I can assure you, you will never find another duo that can match up with those two - as different were their personalities.
Mulder, a loner, was a 'believer', that his sister was abducted when he was only a child and now he is out on a crusade to find out what happened to her. On that way he has started believing things and has seen things, someone else might have brushed off as "ridiculous". It´s his imperturbable belief why Scully follows him on his mission. Scully is the opposite: a realist, who believes in hard proof, science and is a 'skeptic'. She is always thorough and firm in her beliefs and her approach and is the one who challenges Mulder time and again. The X-Files was probably the first TV show - or one of the first - to switch gender roles and play against stereotype. Mulder and Scully were not only foils of each other and equal in every respect, despite everything they were always grounded, down-to-earth and real. You wish you could know them in real life, and be their friends, which is why the audience could reach out to them.
We see them grow over the series of the show, see how they react and learn from experiences - good and bad, we see how their partnership evolves throughout that time and still they remain the same. At the end of the day they are still Scully and Mulder, the characters you will grow to adore. Like we, they are just human beings, with their faults, who are not perfect but strive to become better, which is another aspect that makes them so likable.

Main characters aside, that show had an amazing cast all over. The supporting cast was just as great. There are so many great characters and all of them were fleshed out and had their own development and story. First and foremost there is Walter Skinner, their boss who I always think of as "Papa Bear". He was an FBI Assistant Director and supervised Mulder and Scully on the X-Files. He grows throughout the series as well - and wonderfully, too. Beginning with a typical unfriendly attitude toward the whole "X-Files" thing, he grows to believe as well and becomes a bit like a father figure to our favorite agents. There is also our favorite villain Cigarette-Smoking Man (CSM) who was bad through and through, lonely, bitter and so evil - though I think, I once saw that he has the shred heart, but only for the fragment of a second.  He was a firm believer too  - sort of the dark version of Mulder. He is a very complex character:
"Cigarette Smoking Man, Smoking Man, Cancer Man, whatever you want to call him (personally I like Cancer Man the best), this guy was clouded in mystery as well as smoke. Whenever I watched an episode, whether it was on television or years later on DVD, I always hoped he would be in it. Aside from Mulder and Scully, he’s the only other X-Files character to appear in the series pilot and finale. Cancer Man was an evil man, but was also one who largely believed everything he did was for the greater good. This never stopped him from being a smug (insert whatever you wish) though. Cancer Man usually remained confident and always on top of the game. (Church, 2013, What Culture)"
None of this would have been possible if the actors' performances hadn't been just so fantastic, that every character was so endearing.

Something else is to be noted here: the amount of guest stars that appeared on the show is nothing but mind boggling: Luke Wilson, Burt Reynolds, Ryan Reynolds, Octavia Spencer, Bryan Cranston, Lily Tomlin, Ed Asner, Michael McKean, Peter Boyle... are only a few of a long list of stars.

2. Playing Against Stereotype: The Case of the Enigmatic Dr. Dana Scully
Let´s stay with characters for a little longer. I know, I just talked about this for a longer time, but I think that this little red-head deserves a spot of her own. What can you say about Dana Scully?
She is the complete opposite of Mulder who is so desperate to believe. She is the dichotomy to him, in looks and personality: 5'3 tall, red hair (her trademark), blue eyes. She is a highly educated medical doctor with an undergraduate degree in physics who grew up as one of the four children of a Navy officer. Unlike Mulder, she is not out to prove that aliens exist, and she is also not driven to find the truth. She is driven by something else: her science. She is a strong investigator in her own right and challenges Mulder again and again. It´s a reverse of tropes; he is the believer she is the skeptic.
She is a strong, independent woman in a world and a profession dominated by men, with a constant presence not only in appearance, but also in demeanor. She is intelligent, rational, courageous and undoubtedly the smartest person in the room. And she is a fighter. She fights for what she believes in and for whom she loves. She stands up for her own rights.

Initially, she is sent to Mulder to debunk his work, to prove that it was not worth keeping the X-Files up. But soon, she has to see for herself that there is more than cold, hard proof. That there might be something true what Mulder is saying. Still, she cannot accept it and keeps on trying to explain it with her beloved science.
She does it all with a certain kind of grace you would only find in Scully. She would kickass and be a badass without being a bitch.
"She carried herself as a highly competent, reliable and loyal woman who rarely caused a scene. She didn’t need to: people trusted in her ability, so they listened without being told to. The cool authority with which Scully ruled her career—and her life—made her the pop culture patron saint of women trying to forge a career in STEM fields." (Abby, 2015, All That Is Interesting)
That was what you could also refer to as "The Scully Effect": the influx of young women to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. She inspired millions of girls that way, and still does. An added bonus of it all is that she is a stunning woman, with this amazing hair.

3. This Show Got Real - The Truth is Out There
The show never shied back to talk about philosophical issues, about religion, death, inbreeding or other controversial topics. There is something in almost every episode. I always get the feeling that they put careful thought in almost every episode and every episode has a theme, where at the end of the day, you are being left with what they presented you and it makes you think, consider, reconsider. What makes someone evil? How far would someone go in order to find the truth? How far would you go to save someone you love? And what is justice? I once read somewhere that you could also compare it to Mythbusters, a question is asked and the episode tries to answer that question, if it is being answered is another thing, but they put the question out there and you are left with it. This may sound terribly strenuous, considering you have over 200 episodes to watch, but it really isn´t. It´s fun and it´s intriguing and the fact that they confront you with almost every topic under the sun makes the show even more lovable.

4. The Mythology
The mythology is the heart and soul of the show. It is one of the reasons why the show is such an everlasting thing. It is a very complicated storyline and quite complex right from the beginning, so if you think you can start the show with watching any random season, think again. It might be confusing at first but as you watch, the story slowly unfolds in front of your eyes if you are careful and also keep watching for details and connect things. Sometimes you will only understand it watching it multiple times, but in the end it is so worth it. It is a very rich story packed with government policies, aliens, family dramas, traumas, abductions etc. You will be confused, yes, and you will also be surprised or even shocked but that´s the beauty of the mythology. If you keep watching, you will get some of your questions answered, but at the same time even more are raised and you just cannot stop watching because you just want to know. And the way the mythology evolves is just beautiful. Of course, there are hiccups of logic (holes) here and there (I only say Antarctica, Philes will know what I mean), but that doesn´t stop the mythology to be as amazing as it is. And I assure you, your perspective on things will be altered, you will have a different view on things afterward.

5. The Monster of the Week episodes
Those episodes are an absolute must for everyone. Often used for character interactions that strengthen the relationship between Mulder and Scully, some of those are standalone episodes who are just so memorable. With those episodes, you will get to know Eugene Tooms and also Donald Pfaster (and I still think he is the creepiest of all monsters, just because he seemed so real), two men you really, really don´t want to meet in real life. Trust me. There are tons of fan favorites: Humbug, Paper Hearts, Drive, Bad Blood, Pusher, Beyond the Sea, Home or Clyde Buckman's Final Respose (which won guest star Peter Boyle an Emmy Award). There are many, many more and everyone has their own personal hit list. So just trust me on this one, you will love them.

5. The Comedy
Up till now you probably thought The X-Files was a dark and very serious TV show, with no laughs and jokes. And you are right, it is a show full of dark crimes, which are really extreme and intense. But there is also a funny side to the coin. And it was a brilliant idea to introduce comedic episodes once in a while. Let´s put it that way; when the episodes are serious and mind-wrecking, it´s fantastic. But if the episodes are funny, it´s straight out hilarious. Every season has at least one of those episodes. A fan favorite (I am sure 99.9% of all X-Files fans will name this episode as one of their favorites), e.g., is Bad Blood. They have nothing to do with the mythology, they are standalone episodes, but an absolute must-watch. It´s just hilarious to watch your favorite characters bantering like an old married couple, making the best facial expressions and have the best one-liners. And also, it´s just a delight to see those two characters have fun and laugh, when they have so much drama in their lives otherwise. You will end up being able to speak the dialogs along with the episodes. I know, I can almost recite Bad Blood when watching it and that still doesn´t make it less funny. Because " it wasn´t even real cream cheese, it was light cream cheese!"

6. MS Relationship/Romance: Mulder Loves Scully and Scully Loves Mulder
Fun fact:
"The term "shipper" comes from supporting a ship. To ship something means a person wants two characters to get together and/or shows support for two characters already together. The term "ship" came from the X-Files fandom, when fanfics were written about Mulder and Scully. The fans then called themselves shippers. It quickly spread and is now the title a person gives themself if they believe two characters should or will be together." [x]
This is probably the first thing everyone comes in contact with when trying to find out something about the series. And trust me, it´s the most unique and fascinating chemistry of a duo you will ever come across. Besides, I don´t even think that there ever will be a duo like Mulder and Scully with their immense trust in one another (sometimes they even trust the other one more than they trust themselves). It´s not possible. It is probably the strongest and most popular OTP in TV history. I always try to imagine how agonizingly slow it must have been for original Philes who had been there from the beginning, till they finally got a kiss. And I don´t even know if that is true, but considering what I know about the show now (after five years of being a fan) it would not surprise me in the least if it were true. I heard once that when Scully and Mulder finally kissed, it was even a topic for newspapers. Talking about popularity here. Anyway, I got off track here. But explaining what makes MSR so special would take forever. Their relationship really reminds me of a very delicate flower, you just keep staring at, because you are fascinated by it and you don´t want to take your eyes off it. You could write a thesis about it, I am serious. I don´t even feel qualified to, so I went to look for quotes and I think, I found one in a forum:
"They have not two truths but two sides of the same reality. This, for me, has always been the essence of what made Mulder and Scully work so well. [...] Opposites attract but compliments last, and Mulder and Scully are each of these qualities. They are complimentary opposites in that they bring out the best in each other in ways no one else ever could, challenging the other's ways of thinking and, in doing so, encouraging the other to open their mind and look at all perspectives. Yet, when you strip away their opposite viewpoints, they really aren't that different at the core. They're both flawed individuals who are extremely independent and stubborn; they're both single-minded and passionate about what they believe the truth to be (Mulder in the paranormal, Scully in faith and science); they were both workaholics who chose to sacrifice their personal lives to their quest for the truth; and, as you so eloquently pointed out, they've shared similiar experiences with past relationships because of their inability to emotionally let anyone into their world. For Scully, her main defensive mechanism was to focus on her strength, refusing to show the slightest weakness. For Mulder, his main defensive mechanism was dedicating himself so obsessively to the paranormal, thus detaching himself from having to deal with the normal." (source)

7. Music
This one will be short and painless. Who doesn´t know and love The X-Files theme? Mark Snow´s work on the TXF is simply outstanding.  Whether it is the main theme or Scully´s theme or any other piece of the entire soundtrack. It's perfect and it always fits the mood of the show and influences it in a great way.

The show was big, is big and will always be bigger than any other show, mainly because it was the first one in anything. The influence is just too obvious and the love for it is unbroken. And I highly doubt that television would be what it is today, without this TV show. Literally everyone who knows the show, loves it, flails about it and is over the moon with the prospect of a revival (and I think everyone agrees with the Washington Post here: 'The X-Files' revival has a chance of being horrible, but I don't care'). So what your job now is, is to drop everything you are doing and start watching it. What are you waiting for? The Truth is Out There. Grab it.

PS: For film enthusiasts, and fans of Old Hollywood like me, there are a lot of references to the glorious films of the Golden Era of Hollywood. Another reason to watch it

Further Reading:
Knowles, Chris, Hurwitz, Matt, Abrams J.J. & Carter, Chris, 2008: The Complete X-Files. Behind the Series The Myths and the Movies. San Rafel, CA: Insight Editions.


  1. This is real perfection, my first and biggest obsession, thanks for this article!!

    1. Aww, I am glad you liked it! Thanks so much for your reply. This really made my morning :)

  2. Thank you for your fine essay. It is beautifully written, and expresses much that I have felt but never verbalized.