The Mythology Arc: The Truth is Ranked
The X-Files’ mythology arc is generally seen as a model of what not to do when constructing an ongoing TV narrative. The basic precept of making it up as you go along was followed by far too many subsequent shows, particularly in the SF/fantasy arena, dangling the carrot of an inscrutable mystery. Whether it was Battlestar Galactica or Lost – Damon Lindelof had the cheek to claim the ending was how it was devised from the start; if so, that’s much, much worse – hyped-up shows either didn’t stick the landing or did so rather gracelessly, betraying their fabrication on the fly.
And Carter et al started out so well too, offering slow-burn nuggets and hints, leaving it until the end of the first season before there was even a glimpse of an alien. Unfortunately, various aspects of the arc quickly deteriorated, with the advent of a showy but rather silly – let’s face it – alien bounty hunter, an increasing reliance on the torturous abduction trials and subsequent tribulations of Scully and the apparently evergreen Mulder family legacy. There would be strong individual storylines, but the greater arc of the Syndicate’s machinations never really became all it could be, slinking off rather anticlimactically following the anticlimactic first movie. What happened next, in particular our heroes’ spawn and the retconning return, are perhaps best forgotten, although you can treat yourself to a reminder in the following ranking.
Despite all the detritus, however, the series continued to operate with a diligent degree of predictive programming throughout its run, amid the disclosure/disinformation tactics that, combined with the straight-up ham-fisted plotting, encouraged the position that this was only entirely fanciful make-believe. That may have been partly intentional, but it doesn’t make Chris Carter any kind of mastermind. The series nursed a healthy suspicion over the application of vaccines throughout its run, not least in the plandemic programming of the Season 10 finale. Then, of course, there was the depopulation agenda, the Grey agenda, including abduction and hybrid programmes, black oil and super soldiers. There’s no doubt that, even at its best, the conspiracy arc couldn’t hold a candle to the top-tier standalone episodes, but there are nevertheless saving graces littered throughout the run. Well, perhaps not in seasons 9, 10 and 11…
Trust No 1
(9.6) I wouldn’t necessarily present Season 9 as the worst season of The X-Files, but it hands-down wins the prize for its worst myth-arc showing. Yes, even more hideous than anything the return hacked up. The culprit isn’t the super-soldier plotline that replaced the faltering Syndicate, but rather Scully’s Damien Mk II, William, and her wearisome obsession with the absent Mulder. It would have been better for all concerned had Gillian Anderson left the building at the same time as David Duchovny, rather than hanging on ineffectually, a third wheel required to be rude to everyone, obsess over her magic child and moon after her AWOL love.
Trust No 1 is mostly about the latter, with Mulder promised to be inbound on a train. Why, we even get a long-shot cameo in a quarry. Obviously, Duchovny wasn’t within sniffing distance of a set that season until William and only in front of the camera for the finale, making all of this dramatically inert (audiences aren’t stupid. At least, not that stupid, which is why the bottom fell out of the ratings). Dana sends sickly loved-up emails to Fox while John Locke plots to kill her beau. There are also some 9/11 references, but for the full-gamut predictive programming, you have to wait for next myth-arc story.
(9.10) Following Provenance, this series nadir includes the revelation of a prophecy that, if the saviour of humanity’s (William) father (Fox, I mean CSM – right?) dies, the son (William) will lead the colonists. If that isn’t the most garbage-heavy prophecy ever, well, I don’t know what is. Carter presumably thought they were onto a winner, as it justifies all sorts of attempts on William’s life, depending on – you guessed it – the off-screen status of Mulder, alias Duchovny. Add to the mix an underwhelming cult leader (Denis Forest) who believes the super soldiers he saw in Iraq are angels from heaven, Reyes in church praying for Doggett (don’t worry, he was only pirouetted by a car; it hit his head, so didn’t damage anything), and little William activating the ancient spaceship, and you have a recipe for disaster.
(9.9) Marginally better than the second part that followed (above), by virtue of how curious it is that Scully anticipates War on Terror tactics as she attempts to force a confession from Neal McDonough regarding why he tried to smother little William with a pillow. The reason is, of course, entirely ridiculous (above). Provenance contrives a return to the terrain of one of the more inspired myth-arc plots, the ancient aliens/Chariots of the Gods of Biogenesis via more religiously predictive text found on UFO fragments, all of it connecting (somehow!) to ever-special William. There’s some laughable guff here, not least the Gunmen being entrusted with care of William; it takes all of two minutes to establish what a turkey of an idea that was. Also the first appearance of Alan Dale’s Toothpick Man, for what that’s worth.
(4.23) Oh dear. Demons is really scraping the bottom. On top of which, it barely even merits consideration as a myth-arc episode (you could argue Conduit deserves mention in terms of its onus of investigation, after all). This is all about Mulder getting lost in the K-hole and a made-to-order trepanation so as to locate the truth of his sister (unfortunately for him, Carter hadn’t yet come up with her “remarkable” fate of a few seasons hence). Fox is also arrested for murder, which would probably have been a much more rewarding focus for the episode.
(9.19/20) Expecting a decent end to the series after so much hedge-betting throughout its run – not least the movie, which ought to have done something dramatic; instead it merely established a holding pattern – would have been brazenly foolish, but Carter still might have rustled up something a little more enticing than this.
Let’s fashion a scenario where the myth-arc can be set out in gloriously coherent detail (but Chris, that will only emphasise how silly it is). Let’s bring back CSM (but Chris, no one wants to see him again. Apart from you and William B Davis). Let’s have loads of ghostly cameos (but Chris, they wouldn’t be ghosts if you hadn’t arbitrarily killed them off for cheap and usually undramatic reasons across the run of the show). Duchovny deigns to appear in order to finish things off, and the invasion is confirmed for 2012. CSM is burnt to a crisp, and Mulder and Scully smooch off together. Which is what all the fans wanted all along, right? The Truth is a dud, but by Season 9 myth-arc standards, it at least isn’t too painful. For the most part.
My Struggle IV
(11.10) And so it’s the end of the end, and well… It isn’t so much a question of which is better, My Struggle IV or The Truth, as which is worse. In some respects, The Truth takes the laurels, as it commits the cardinal crime of being quite boring. You couldn’t call My Struggle IV that, exactly, but it certainly gets ticks for being desperately pedestrian in its use of clichés and as unfulfilled as you knew CSM’s quest for William would be.
So yes, as we established, we can’t even blame the Greys for the destruction of humanity; it’s all one guy’s doing (CSM is looking much healthier this season, perhaps because Davis didn’t want the prosthetics again. Being incinerated to the bone and beyond is a cinch to get over, you know). I’m not going to plumb for there being a pertinent reason for this; I suspect it’s just Carter left to his own banal devices (as opposed to, say, concealing Anunnaki and Draco – and future-human Grey – involvement in maintaining a paradigm).
Scully’s still running around saying there’s going to be a contagion, but the Carter who cried wolf did that last season (and that’s precisely what they want you to think), while Mulder is still running around killing people like he’s been hiding Special Forces training all these years. Indeed, I’d hazard he kills more people in this episode than in the entire eight-year stint on the original show. I won’t include CSM in the tally, though, since his demise here is far less convincing than it was in The Truth (if there wasn’t finality there, there never will be).
So yeah, a bullet proof vest and a spot of hypothermia, and CSM will be right as rain; we’re very fortunate Season 12 wasn’t on the table, as you can be sure that would have happened. Along with William, who does survive visibly, despite being shot in the head. Miles Robbins appears to be modelling his performance after Casey Affleck and now has Scanners-esque exploding body skillz. Oh, did I say we find out why CSM so desperately needs William? I didn’t? That’s because we don’t find out. I mean, other than sentimentally wanting his son by his side, I’m guessing.
Just for old time’s sake, Kersh threatens to shut down the X-Files (by this point, you won’t just be having a shot, you’ll have necked the whole bottle of voddie). Ted O’Malley gets barely even a cameo, and Skinner asks “What if it’s not just fake news?” To which Kersh, who formerly did give a shit, actually (The Truth) replies “I’m not going to see panic in the streets”. Oh, and Skinner, like Carter revealing himself as a shameless misogynist, completes the return’s horrifying abuse of Reyes by shooting her in the head. I don’t think we’re supposed to care, because Carter disowned her when audiences didn’t respond warmly. For all his absurd capacity for unearned sentiment, he’s shockingly brutal with regard to supporting characters (excepting his beloved CSM).
To compound his past foolishness, having divested Fox and Dana of their mutual parenthood, arguably some kind of reparation for having gone there in the first place, Carter goes right back to the well and gives Scully a new miracle pregnancy. Will it never end? Fortunately, it has. The return episodes, and especially the Season 11 ones, only edge ahead of the Season 9 ones by “virtue” of being less annoying in their William fixation. As examples of writing, they remain equally pitiful.
My Struggle III
(11.1) Conceptually unforgiveable – you remember that predictive-programming, event-season finale you watched two years ago? That’s right. Didn’t happen – it’s almost as if, once TPTB had fed Chris the sausages they wanted delivered to your door, they told him just to get one with it, and he reverted to the turgid track of all the CSM and William-centric dramatic deadliness he could gorge upon (an alternative take would be that the ultimate failure of the depopulation gambit reflects the ultimate failure of the actual depopulation gambit, but that’s giving the show much, much too much credit).
Consequently, a great deal of nothing happens in My Struggle III, because nothing, it turns out, happened in My Struggle II. Scully’s stricken in hospital – eliciting the all-time-classic clunker of a line “Neurologically-speaking, her brain’s on fire” – and Mulder takes his time coming round to her prophetic vision. She also gets out and about, but then has a car crash, which was kind of dumb. Mulder does a lot of driving too, accompanied by a Philip Marlowe, present-tense voiceover that isn’t nearly as funny as it might have been.
There are some more (ex-) Syndicate members, the very good AC Peterson and not-so-much Barbara Hershey. Chris Owens’ Jeffrey Spender has mysteriously recovered most of his features and Monica Reyes continues to get a savage kicking from Carter, never one to treat his failures with kid gloves. Here, she and CSM attempt to bring Skinner on board. You know what that means, right? Yay, we’re back to the old favourite of Skinner behaving suspiciously and Mulder mistrusting him. We could never get enough of that one, after all.
What there is of replacement plot is simply that Scully has seen what’s coming (“My visions are from William”); she’s essentially being treated to alternate timelines. The retconning of the show’s alien invasion is stated outright in all its inglorious mediocrity. “The aliens are not coming” Mulder is told. Why ever would this be? Cue Greta: they have “no interest in a warming planet with vanishing resources”. That’s about as lame as one can get, so par for the course and sure, why not?
Mr Y (Peterson) claims his faction are up for the colonisation of space (evidently with NASA’s backing, then), while the global mastermind out to cull the world is… CSM. Yep. Just CSM. This is Dr Evil levels of stupidity; it’s abjectly silly, even if you’re willing to see CSM as a metaphor for the Elite. Why does he want this? Something about self-extermination being inevitable, and he’s just moving up the schedule, to achieve “The beauty of a planet returned to its savage state”. So why doesn’t he just get on with it? “CSM can’t act without William.” Well, in that case, I’m sure it will be revealed exactly why this is, and the answer will be supremely satisfying.
Of course, the episode’s main claim to infamy is that it retcons William as Scully and CSM’s child (via “alien science”). Which actually makes sense, given the events of En Ami, but is no less profoundly distasteful for that. Besides which, the return’s mythology arc has flourished distastefulness as a badge of pride. We even have the new super-violent Mulder, who graphically slits open an assassin’s throat during the grand climax.
Typically of the show, amid talk of colonising space and doubling down on such non-discussions as the “assassination” of JFK (it was CSM, remember?) we get some Zelig Gump footage of Carl Gerhard Busch’s crucial involvements in global affairs. There are a few decent moments in the introductory montage, as CSM informs us “Too much is made of the will to power, as if our will is free and our choices our own”; are the images he shows here predictive programming too? After all, we have Trump and vote counters, as if to say “He won’t win a second time” (alternatively, it may be trying to present him as yet another Elite puppet).
There’s mention of fake news, but with all the cynicism out there “The one thing no one’s prepared for will wipe the slate clean” (cue the plandemic two years later). And “If people knew the truth, they’d riot in the streets” (that’s the argument for a necessary trickle effect in unveiling the lies, but just the plandemic side is provocative enough). There’s a curious push-pull here too, amid footage of crop circles and CSM rhetorically asking “Is there life out there?” The opening sequence concludes with the Moon landing and a pull back to reveal it’s… yes, in a TV studio! It’s by far the best moment in the episode, but it rather goes towards the whole story being a lie and that you can’t trust anything CSM says (the chain of reasoning would be that if Moon landings are a lie, NASA is a lie, space is a lie and aliens, though unofficial, are also a lie, The X-Files’ terrain has always been to mix revelation and obfuscation into a murky paste, and what it’s doing here is, ironically, closer to an actual truth).
Duchovny looks super jowly in this one, with eyes that are even more difficult to locate than Richard Gere’s. Skinner is on hand to explain that Scully’s hypothalamus is transmitting Morse Code (“Find him”). No, I didn’t make that up. This is rubbish, but it’s still more engaging than The Truth (perhaps peculiarly, since I don’t think it’s really improved any, I’m actually giving this a slightly higher rating than I did first time).
The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati
(7.2) It’s quite something for a multi-part X-Files story to transition from one of the very best to the very worst over the course of its duration, but the Season 6 finale/Season 7 openers achieves it. Biogenesis is one of the greats. Amor Fati’s an abject stinker, a horrid Last Temptation of Christ variant as Mulder gets down from his cross (or X) and dreams a dream of capitulating to CSM’s beckoning to give it all up, bed down with a scientologist and ride out the alien apocalypse. Why, he’ll even become an old man, caked in the most laughable makeup you ever did see. All of this is going on while CSM is siphoning off Fox’s super alien virus-resistant DNA. As is customary with Carter, several recurring characters are arbitrarily killed off (Diane, Kritschgau), but it’s the show that’s been dealt a near-mortal blow here.
(4.9) It’s all the more irksome when, after a good opening episode, a two-parter thoroughly messes up, because it’s very difficult to separate the two from each other entirely. Were I treating them as entire stories rather than individual parts, the lie of this listing would look very different. Terma is not in the last bit worthy a sequel to Tunguska, which had all sorts of things going for it, from infection under lab conditions to infection under chicken wire ones.
The mechanics of the vaccine being tested on Mulder are murky to say the least, but that’s in the nature of the myth-arc (the greatest absurdity is that the vaccine works! Well, in his case. Kind of). Notably, the black oil attaches itself to the pineal gland (which is all kind of chakra-suppressive suggestive). Fox escapes the gulag with remarkable ease and fails to address the Alex problem with customary form. Never mind, though. At least Krycek loses an arm. Plus, Fox gets to deliver an “I believe” speech to a breathless committee (another of them, so soon?) Wait until next season, though, and it will be a different story. There’s also a KGB assassin running around, but he isn’t overly formidable in aspect.
(5.2) Less of the portentous narration than Part I, but no less exasperating, with more of Scully being sick (finally resolved here) and more of moron Mulder having his sister dangled before him by CSM (will he never learn?) There are some saving graces, such as Pat Skipper’s strong performance as Scully’s brother and a nice bit of Mulder guesswork regarding the man in the FBI who order the wiretap, but it isn’t as if Mulder’s doubt is something the show is even genuinely pushing on the audience (“He’s seen but scant pieces of the whole” affirms CSM). Which rather makes the entire effort a bit pointless, as opposed to mildly intriguing.
(5.1) Season 5 continued the somewhat pedestrian impulses oft-applied to myth-arc storylines that attempted to tackle the overriding arc. This meant more localised storylines, be they relating to Max Pfenning or Cassandra Spender, were liable to give the impression things weren’t quite as dire as they seemed. The irony is thus that – and again, it might not seem so at first glance – the arc was generally in better shape for a couple of seasons post-movie than it was across the couple of seasons prior.
This season opener is all about establishing Mulder’s long dark season of the soul, doubling down on the possibility suggested by Kritschgau in the (pretty good) Season 4 finale Gethsemane that everything he’s wanted to believe is a lie. The results tend to parody, however, with long stretches of Carter’s-favourite voiceover narration that curl the toes and stomach lining, so excruciatingly banal are they. There are a few choice intimations here, like the Cold War being a PR battle rather than a genuine threat, but Redux is stodge of the most stultifying order. Well, perhaps slightly less so than Part II (above).
(6.1) An entirely inauspicious one at that. As the first episode following the (first) movie, this could reasonably be seen as a harbinger of the rocky road the myth-arc would take going forward. Rather than seizing the opportunity to hit the ground running with a mission statement and clear direction, The Beginning is caught trying to clear up points from both the Season 5 finale (The End) and Fight the Future, and crucially failing to come up with anything nourishing in plot terms in the bargain.
Mulder and Scully are off the X-Files, Gibson Praise is (very nastily) having his head opened up by the Syndicate, and that gnashy alien from the movie is shown not to be a one-time only, but only so the reasons it won’t become part of ongoing lore can be explained away. This is the first time we see AD Kersh, and you have to hand it to James Pickens Jr for his ability to deliver unexpurgated spleen to the point of absurdity.
On which point, Assistant Director Maslin does a commendable job pinpointing just how nonsensical the arc plot has become, without really even trying (a conspiracy “Who are growing corn in the middle of the desert which features pollen which was genetically altered to hold a virus which will be taken away by bees whose sting transmits the virus, causing the growth of an extra-terrestrial biological entity inside the human host?”)
(7.11) The second part of Mulder’s finding out the fate of his sister, and it’s a resounding let-down/retcon/cheat of the most galling order, as Chris Carter sees fit to inform us she was transformed into starlight and taken away from all the horribleness of the experiments undertaken on her. Not so lucky were those in numerous shallow graves at Santa’s grotto, but never mind, because Fox has his titular. The one saving grace here is Anthony Heald’s performance as psychic abductee parent Harold Piller, leading Mulder on his quest, to Scully’s undisguised disdain, but ultimately left wanting himself.
(11.5) The series didn’t often stray into the territory of myth-arc episodes that were very light on the arc. While Ghouli’s William-centric, there’s a degree to which this James Wong outing feels almost as if it was repurposed for him and then rather less than convincingly backwards engineered in an attempt to justify his inclusion. Which is why, come the finale, William’s voiceover has to explain why the hell he’d play such a silly game (“prank”) with some girls who end up mauling each other (because it got out of control), when he should be concentrating on concealing his superpowers.
It goes without saying that resorting once again to William being the series’ vital kernel, after it was so “successful” first time round, was going to be a hiding to nothing. This super son thing didn’t work back in Angel (where they soon recognised as much), but Carter’s like a dog with a bone. He’s going to force you to appreciate William, or you don’t get any X-Files at all. How about that? Robbins’ performance is fine, but I found myself much less forgiving of the telling here than I was on first viewing.
Scully’s experiencing a hypnagogic state, leading to a long overdue series mention of “sleeping prophet” Edgar Cayce (“He also believed in the lost City of Atlantis”: “Another reason to love the guy”). She indulges a gushing confessional to William’s “corpse” (this is patented Morgan & Wong emoting, and all the more tiresome for it). Mulder actually does some detective work, however briefly (working out the splatter pattern indicates two shooters killed William’s parents) and spills soda in a laptop, to the chagrin of the DoD.
William was part of Project Crossroads (experimenting with hybrid DNA). François Chau (Lost) has a decent cameo as not-William. Morgan’s a much better director than Carter (the Scully sleep paralysis on the hospital couch sequence is masterfully staged), but the ideas are mostly rather slender (man).
(9.16) Scully gives William away because he’ll never be safe if she doesn’t. Somehow, the bad guys have absolutely no ability to access adoption records. This is desperately thin, with Spender, now looking like Odo from DS9, owing to some nasty DNA-tampering, showing up to de-Christ-ify William while – yes, because this is yet again going to revolve around the absent Duchovny (albeit, he’s there but all the way across the other side of the camera) – Doggett, not being very bright, is convinced Spender is actually Mulder. Sat next to the myth-arc episodes that preceded it, William is actually okay, but that’s almost entirely down to Chris Owens’ affecting performance. At least we’ll never have to see William again after this, right? Right?
Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man
(4.7) An oft-celebrated episode, delving into CSM’s past. For me, it signals the series entering a stage of near-terminal self-indulgence, particularly when it comes to the myth-arc, so stoked on fandom’s laudation that it feels the need to exhume the better left unsaid. All the more so, since Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man focuses on arguably the show’s most overexposed and undeserving character. Carter obviously just couldn’t get enough of him (hence exhuming his obliterated body for the return). So much so that Musings offers his unreliable narrator and failed sci-fi author mulling possible past deeds while looking at killing off Frohike.
Now, you might suggest this is incredibly clever, since unreliable CSM puts himself as JFK’s assassin – and we all know JFK wasn’t actually assassinated, right? – as well as having the Oscars rigged annually. Mostly, though, despite a reliable Chris Owens as young CSM, Musings is flimsy fluff, all the way along to the tepid Forrest Gump riff at the end. Where the hell is Darin Morgan? You’ll have to wait another six seasons to find out.
(5.7) Mulder’s back in this second part of Christmas Carol, getting all muscular with regard to the lowdown on Scully’s miraculous child (he beats up a PranGen doctor and conspicuously fails to make a case for Scully adopting the girl at a hearing). Where Carol was more contemplative, Emily ups the alien side, with the poor bairn oozing green goo from her neck, necrotising and dying. Absolutely, some will find this one moving etc, but I rather see it as cynical and manipulative. And, in attempting to show the multitude of layers its characters have, Emily emphasises quite how limited The X-Files actually is.
My Struggle II
(10.6) For all that I’ve given the show’s arc return a hard time, it is, not least in Season 10, much more interesting than in the previous run. Which isn’t to suggest it’s good, but it does hold the attention, for all that it’s dramatically corrupt, and in some respects deplorable. This is Carter directing/writing again, with all the underwhelming staging of large-scale events that entails (doctors Anne Simon and Margaret Fearon garner a co-credit, telling you exactly how “legitimate” the series’ science is. Simon wrote The Real Science Behind the X-Files: Microbes, Meteorites and Mutants, and as such extols fabrications such as virus theory and objects hurtling our way from outer space).
So here we have the plot-device dead end of CSM taking centre stage, a stultifyingly desperate measure that carries zero dramatic weight because the character was all used up about the time he began winning dedicated episodes.
We also have the unforgiveable making a turncoat of Reyes (“Why did you call me, Monica? To tell me what a coward you are?”) The wiki summary has it that Reyes “has spent the last twelve years assisting CSM (“I just changed the timetable”), but intending to halt the invasion from within the syndicate”. Which says a lot that it’s less than crystal clear (the transcript remains incriminatingly absent from the X wiki). What has she done for twelve years, besides warning Scully when it’s too late? This is lousy writing, illustrative of the quality throughout the episode.
We also have Agent Einstein arguing science with Scully as a pandemic descends and Mulder having a sub-Greengrass shakycam, fudged frame-rate fight with a guy sent by CSM. Agent Miller’s nose looks very red. A triangular UFO hovers over 14th Street Bridge. No one will forget that one, if anyone survives. Oh wait, you haven’t seen My Struggle III? Carter pulling a Bobby Ewing would have had viewers turning off in droves, had any of them actually come back for Season 11. Indeed, while My Struggle received great viewing figures (and a premature guarantee of a return run), ratings crashed as audiences realised the series had failed to move with the times, however many truth bombs it might be dropping.
So the reason this gets a rating as high as it does is not for storytelling, but rather because what it’s setting out in predictive-programming terms is really quite fascinating. Scully discovers her DNA has been altered as one of the chosen survivors, which is all very so-so and not that relevant. What is, though, is the assertion that DNA is being altered unbeknownst (see the Coof vaccine; which has as one of its ingredients black goo, so in that sense, alien DNA, yes) and that separately, transmission of an immune-system-decimating pathogen can come from the small pox vaccine via generational transmission (see the Coof vaccine).
Scully tells Einstein “It actually isn’t that farfetched and within the realm of accepted science” to suggest there’s more in that (syringe) than a vaccine, and Einstein responds that it would be “an unprecedented violation of the public trust”. I mean, heaven forfend that such a thing should roll out 4 realz about five years later (and not be a dream sequence).
Amusingly – or not – this contagion is the first of many, “AIDS without the HIV” (so that’s just AIDS, right, there is no HIV; see John Rappaport for more). An ex-soldier is suffering lesions from the anthrax vaccine being activated (Scully neglects to mention that it had to be withdrawn from being administered because so many soldiers were suffering ill-effects in real life… before being reintroduced). “In the event of compromised immune systems, it’s the vaccines that are attacking their systems”. Of course, the plandemic started via (flu) vaccines compromising immune systems, and the Coof vaccine was designed to compromise immune systems, but you get the idea, as Scully’s theorising is a moving feast.
In this scenario, let’s not forget Dr Science: “pathogens are everywhere Every cough, every sneeze, every cut on the finger deadly”. Then Tad O’Malley tells us of “New reports that microwave radiation is also being used as a trigger” (again, this ties with 5G and those administered the flu vaccine succumbing to the lung condition everyone feared so much).
Our friendly Tad is also on hand to inform us aluminium in the atmosphere will trigger a genetic response in our DNA (“a widespread failure of our immune systems”). Scully concludes “It’s in the genetic line already. A virus within a virus. That was put there in the small pox vaccine. It’s what these men are calling the Spartan Virus”. CRISPR gets a nod, as do everyone’s favourite PCR tests. There’s a veritable feast of predictive programming in My Struggle III, amid all the terrible dialogue, characterisation and muddying science lore. As CSM says, he has “the ultimate weapon. The ability to depopulate the planet, to kill everyone but the chosen”.
What’s that? Mulder needs his son’s stem cells to survive? Surely a fantasy on Scully’s part. It makes no sense! What’s that? Scully’s outside, calming the rampaging hoards, telling them everyone will be saved with her magic DNA vaccine at the local hospital? That makes no sense! It must surely be a fantasy on Scully’s part. I can’t wait for My Struggle III….
(4.1) Middling Race might have been a better title (in translation). Season 3/4 registers as probably the least noteworthy Season finale/opener, and while Talitha Cumi edges it, it’s only really by degrees. We’ve more of Mulder and his clone sister, only this time a diminutive hive-mind version. He’s so insta-thick, he has no degree of critical detachment with regard to her nature etc, which by this point – scratch that, at any point with Fox – is simply irritating.
More Roy Thinnes is good, of course, and there are some nods to Midwich Cuckoos with the blonde boys massing round a bee-stung telecoms guy. But the business relating to Alien Bounty Hunter and Teena Mulder is faintly tiresome. Scully is still testifying, of course (“cataloguing, tagging and inventorying the population via small pox inoculations”; all rather innocuous next to subsequent vax plans in the show, and indeed real life). X snuffs it and Maria Covarrubias enters the picture. Neither can make a great case for having been well used by the writers.
(3.15) Season 3’s myth-arc was going such great guns up until this point, it can probably be forgiven for bottoming out a little. Indeed, this is arguably the show’s first serious stumble in terms of the conspiracy plotline, and that’s more because it seems to think two-parter equals action at the expense of good storytelling – a fairly frequent malaise in the show’s multi-part stories – is more than enough to be getting on with.
And it isn’t as if the material isn’t there. I suspect I thought this was pretty good when I first saw it, as the imagery is bashing the door in upfront. You’ve got a crashed WWII bomber, complete with live pilot in the cockpit, there for fifty years, and you’ve got the first blush of the infamous black goo, I mean oil, one of the show’s more celebrate acts of disclosure (now, it’s everywhere, in your vaccines, in your system, probably on your toast). You’ve got host-jumping oil, and Krycek getting all cloudy in the eyeballs, but even Rob Marshall’s assured direction can’t make Piper Maru seem inspired.
(6.9) John Shiban’s D.O.A. riff isn’t quite what it says on the tin, and it leaves a lot to be desired. Skinner is stuffed chock-full of nanobots – something fitfully used as an impetus from this point on – but is entirely short-changed the most compelling part of the movie(s)’s narrative: the hero having nothing to lose in finding out who did for him.
Instead, he’s stricken for large parts of the story and lucky not to get an arm hacked off. Obviously, the injection of deadly nanotech into an individual has now been enacted on a global scale, and one might suggest that, while the show – always a useful predictive-programming tool – was ahead of the game, it entirely failed to live up to the material’s potential. The results are vaguely serviceable but mostly rather perfunctory.
Fight the Future
Flashy – series director Rob Bowman shows he’s more than capable of handling widescreen logistics – but empty, the movie opts out of delivering anything ground-breaking or decisive as far as advancing the series mythology is concerned. And, in terms of spectacle, we get a nice, confined massive spaceship in Antarctica, the sort of thing even Mulder can store away by the time we reach My Struggle (“I only want to believe”). Most shamelessly, Carter et al introduce a xenomorph Grey variant for one (well, two) episode only, just so there’s some deadly alien cachet.
They also side-line Scully as damsel in peril so Mulder can be handed the third-act heroics. Ironically, the movie’s best business can be found at the outset, as the predictive programming of a secret-government-inspired terrorist incident demolishing a very large building finds Mulder and Scully dealing with non-spooky stuff, and all the more engrossing it is for it.
There are also sinister events umbrella’d under an invented virus outbreak (albeit, the black goo/oil, in show terms, has been given the label of virus, “a colonising force that cannot be defeated”). The movie also serves up an ice-age prologue, underwriting official pre-history (complete with Neanderthals) and the first X-Files movie referencing paedophilia (a means of smearing Martin Landau’s Kurtzweil, it seems; it will be a major story point in I Want to Believe). A disappointment, mostly because, with all the resources at their disposal, the makers opt to play it safe to the point of inertia. Unsurprisingly, Fight the Future wasn’t the sizeable hit it might have been.
(3.16) An incremental improvement on Piper Maru, but this second instalment still isn’t up to very much. Perhaps its most memorable scene finds Krycek puking black goo into a spaceship (because, unlike the real stuff, you can easily divest yourself effortlessly of its parastical qualities).
Well-Manicured Man is back, Skinner recovers from getting shot for the cause (that was at the end of Piper Maru), and Mulder thanks him… and Skinner gets all gruff, cos that’s the kind of guy he is (that is, when he isn’t spending whole seasons being devious and failing to tell people vital information that would have been much better for all concerned – well, maybe not CSM or Krycek – if he’d done what a sensible, astute assistant director ought to and come clean with his closest colleagues). There’s also a generational flashback to Bill Mulder in the ’50s. You can expect more such somewhat lame pandering going forward.
(8.13) Scully gets sucked into the alien baby racket through means that don’t entirely stand up to scrutiny, all the while flashing back to Mulder offering his sperm for strictly paternal purposes. That latter part is unnecessary and simply underlines an area the show should have given the widest of berths (the repercussions of which would be felt in the Season 9 arc, to at times disastrous effect), while the former…
Well, there’s some reasonable intrigue here, including a classic opening with a mother giving birth (though that bit may have been made up) and Doggett first encountering super-soldier Knowle Rohrer. This comes one episode before Mulder is returned, but the series was actually managing fine without him. There was much more damage reminding us he was gone every five minutes than actually having him gone.
(5.6) More underwhelming Season 5 fare here, ironically so, since it’s gearing up for the big-screen event (no wonder it didn’t do the hoped-for business). These more introspective, character-focussed myth-arc entries (see also 7’s Sein und Zeit/Closure) often receive acclaim for depth and resonance, but I tend to the position that they expose the essential shallowness of their characters and hang-ups, and so focussing on them rarely yields rich rewards.
Dana’s all over her cancer now, so give her something else to be miserable about. She’s convinced a child is dead sister Melissa’s, but thanks to the extraordinary properties of a PCR Test – yep, one of those – we learn the mum’s Scully herself. The one way to ensure the arc comes crashing down is to focus on offspring, so it’s lucky this one’s days are numbered, right? Good performances, but it left me largely stoney-faced.
Sein und Zeit
(7.10) The first part of the one where Mulder finally discovers the fate of his sister, and you couldn’t conceive of a bigger pile of rot were you Damon Lindelof kicking about the idea of ending Lost in a heavenly church. Here, though, events are engaging enough, even mildly intriguing, provided you’re able to get past the story’s walk-ins concept being nothing of the sort, and further still, some bilge of the highest order (endangered children are physically transformed into starlight).
Amid such ethereal ponderings, there’s a rather grim serial killer plotline located at a Santa’s grotto and a couple of distraught parents coming under suspicion when their son is goes missing. Kim Darby’s good as a mother who previously lost her son the same way (with a message from beyond). But this mixture of saccharine and queasiness surely can’t end well…
(7.15) Scully swallows the idea that CSM’s going to offer her a cure for cancer, when all he really wants to do is knock her up. Only you won’t learn that part until eighteen years later. For now, don’t worry, you can dream easy that little baby William actually is the Fox-Dana lovechild every series aficionado had been rooting for since the series began.
I mean, that was where it was all leading, right? An entire season arc devoted to psychic little William? Anyway, with William B Davis presumably having the hots for Anderson/ Scully, he writes CSM having the hots for Scully and even manages to get away with Scully seeing a sliver of humanity in the nicotine junkie’s flyblown lungs. I’m the inverse of one who finds CSM endlessly fascinating, so this detour road trip/character study failed to woo me. It does have its staunch advocates, however.
(10.1) The problem with the 2016 event series and its 2018 half-season follow up isn’t a lack of material – Season 10 is as predictive in its programming as the show got, bar none – but rather an almost wilful disregard for quality execution. Time was, even the most rubbish arc plot could rely on a Kim Manners or a Rob Bowman to scrub up the sow’s ear. The X-Files’ return boasts a cart load of writer-would-be-multi-hyphenates. Not such a problem when the desired effect is low key or atmospheric. Much more of one when we’re dealing with actiongeddon, and it’s down to Chris Carter to deliver it.
That doesn’t matter too-too much in this exposition-mired opener, as Joel McHale’s more personable, less incandescent-than-you-know-who, right-wing online webcaster Tad O’Malley leads Mulder into a medley of shocking truths. Straight off the bat, Carter has to address the elephant in the room, that liberal-as-hell sentiments (“Why would I watch this jackass, Scully?”) have been co-opted by someone on the opposite side of the spectrum. Conspiracy is now a dirty word among the left, so where does that leave the show (even a Fox produced one)?
Well, the dangling puppet it always was, is the answer. Only more so. Essentially, O’Malley’s there to say all the things Mulder can’t, as it would make him right-leaning (but they can agree on aliens – and a re-enacted Roswell with iffy CGI – since they transcend political boundaries. Obviously, because they’re patently absurd).
Mulder touches on all the same essential systemic/ paradigmatic acceptance of old in the opening monologue (Scully will do likewise, of a kind in My Struggle II) as he informs us what happened after the files were closed in 2002 (why didn’t he become a lone gunman?) The Stone Age: real. Ed Mitchell: went into space. Ignore that, though, because “now people only laugh” about UFOs. And we get a wobbly reheat of Season 5’s “Are they really a hoax?”, “What if there is no alien conspiracy?”, that never seems entirely sure if it wants to ask the question, because it really wants to enact an even wobblier retcon of the alien-invasion plan.
“My life’s become a punchline”, admits Mulder, as Illuminati stooges Obama and Kimmel josh about Area 51 and UFOs. Tad tells us “9/11 was a false flag”, and if his bringing Roswell into his argument is nothing if not inelegant (“a warm up for WWIII… dating back to… Roswell”), Mulder’s retrenchment, having escaped aliens on a vast spaceship in “Antarctica”, not least, (“I only want to believe”) is baffling; why an ARV would have him awestruck after that is anyone’s guess. Free energy? Real (see the ARV). There’s nothing new here in terms of his conversation with Rance Howard (who’d know a thing or two about masonic machinations). What, the government was abducting us, and it was being misreported as alien abductions? That’s been part of the script all along (only now reframed as simply using the alien tech).
Tad knows the truth, but not that the Manhattan Project was a fake, it seems (atomic testing drew the aliens through wormholes, you know… Although, wormholes/portals is the method for universal travel). Tad brings up FEMA, pharma, agri-poisoning, EM waves, military, mass surveillance, and multinational elites who “will cull, kill and subjugate” (there’s also simulated alien invasion – Project Blue Beam – and the threat of digital money vanishing). Oh, and Scully has alien DNA? That’s supposed to be a hook. “I have alien DNA” is less Greys than it is Anunnaki/Draco.
So O’Malley’s a useful tool to namecheck the theories swirling in the conspirasphere without endorsing them, per se. On that level, the opener may look like same old, same old, reheating tired themes (Roswell) and unconvincing narratives (aliens are a hoax, aren’t a hoax). Just to ensure you’re firmly trapped in the late-90s, CSM is revealed as still alive, the last thing anyone outside Carter and perhaps Davis thought would be a good idea. Anderson looks a little desiccated, while Duchovny resembles Walter Matthau’s pet schnauzer. Skinner seems exactly the same plus Action-Man beard but will volunteer “Since 9/11, this country’s taken a turn in a very strange direction” (again, more than Mulder can muster).
This is… okay, though. Unfinessed and showing it’s out of touch in storytelling technique (and directorial acumen, for that matter), but at least vaguely alert to what’s been missed in the meantime.
Little Green Men
(2.1) You’d have thought the show would attempt something a little more ambitious for its sophomore season opener, particularly after the drama of arc-expanding The Erlenmeyer Flask. Little Green Men is a merely adequate little excursion, in which Mulder treks to Puerto Rico at Senator Matheson’s tip off (no Deep Throat to guide him now), outpacing a Blue Beret UFO Retrieval Team and nearly meeting an alien. There’s much Mulder voiceover work too, pumping up fake NASA and their fake Voyager mission, and fake NASA and their fake radio telescope looking for ET intelligences (just what IS it doing?), the history of the “Wow” signal and an anecdote regarding George Elllery Hale’s “Little Elf”. Indeed, the quantity of references in Morgan and Wong’s script suggest something much more satisfying than this at-best simmering story.
(2.17) Colony concludes here, and like the previous season two-parter (Duane Barry/ Ascension), the second instalment increases the scale to diminishing effect. There’s a whacking great submarine-amid-the-ice set – Ice Station Zebra, eat your heart out – and Mulder somehow making it all the way out to the Arctic circle. Anyone would think this notion was sufficiently legitimate that it could be called upon again for a leap to the big screen.
Before that, there’s an incredibly weakly motivated exchange of his (clone) sister Samantha for Scully. Talking of weak, how’s this for saving Fox from death’s door? “Transfusions and an aggressive treatment with antiviral agents have resulted in a steady but gradual improvement in Agent Mulder’s condition”.
(8.18) On one level, this is a bit of bum deal. Of all the ways to chuck Mulder off the X-Files, they use the trad-est of trad mythology tales, as the series revisits Season 4 black-oil territory amid dire warnings of it infecting ninety percent of the planet (don’t worry, you need a better means of delivering it than this, such as via a vaccine cocktail).
That said, Vienen moves along at a clip and, on its own terms, is reasonably entertaining. The bigger shame is that this was an opportunity to lend Mulder and Doggett a degree of rapport – think Angel and Spike – but they’re instead stuck in the same tiresome sniping mode. As such, one can’t help think Fox’s final handshake handover is of the shame-they-couldn’t-find-someone-better variety.
(3.24) Way to drop the ball. How to top the Season 2 finale? Don’t even try. Talitha Cumi’s abiding selling point is the first appearance of Roy Thinnes’ Jeremiah Smith, one of those characters who always seemed to have much more potential than was explored. Most likely because the writers hadn’t any idea what to do with him, hence his extended absences from the show and eventual demise. As such, the cold opening is probably the highlight (in titular terms, Jeremiah resurrects a bullet-riddled gunman). There’s also a shapeshifting piece of fan service as Smith, all trussed up like Hannibal Lector, waves CSM’s past acquaintances/ victims in his face.
Talking of CSM, we learn Mrs Mulder rode his baloney pony, which is uber icky. You know how shows get so caught up in their mythology that their central everymen become chosen ones? That’s where this is going seriously awry (at least Buffy made her special from the off). Rather sheepishly, the season cliffhangs on Brian Thompson advancing on Jeremiah and our heroes in a budget-conscious industrial site. Talitha Cumi will do, but let’s face it, it isn’t even breaking a sweat.
(4.14) Like the same season’s Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man, this seems to be a regular fave contender among myth-arc tales, but I find it skirts too-similar territory to Season 2’s One Breath, only to markedly less success (the answer to Musings’ “Where is Darin Morgan?” is that he was supposed to write the story this replaces).
There’s lots of introspection over Scully’s cancer diagnosis, and introspection has rarely been Carter’s strongest suit, particular since it usually entails, or equates to, ponderous voiceovers. Yes, there’s a raft of them here. There’s also Mulder railing against the injustice of it all, unable to find answers, and Skinner doing the foolish thing in offering his allegiance to the devil in order to save Scully. There plotline of the alien-human hybrid clones attempting to save the MUFON members is simultaneously intriguing and sketchy in its coherence.
(8.21) Mulder’s slinging his hook. Finally. At least, until the next season finale. In the opening stages, Existence continues with the elements that mostly gave Essence a free pass; it’s an action-spectacle, super-soldier fest, as Billy Myers rebuilds himself from a metal spinal column and uses his bare hand to cut through a lift door (quite what the relationship between X-super soldiers and their real-world counterparts is, is somewhat vaguer than the black goo/oil. Apart, obviously, from being super-improved).
Elsewhere, alas, Scully’s about to spawn, Reyes is getting all super sensitive but not nearly enough that she doesn’t ignore her own psychic-ness. Events culminating in a somewhat baffling question mark (on the super soldiers’ part re William) and some really quite rotten messianic beckoning (Mulder follows a light to the “stable” and the three wise Gunmen show up bearing gifts). It will certainly be a blessed relief, now both Mulder and Scully have left, to see the show can get back to some proper investigating. Wait, what’s that…?
(6.11) Season 6 pretty much wraps up the alien-invasion arc here, but the proceedings largely play out on the responses of those closest to CSM, the title referring to the offspring of Carter’s mystifyingly favourite villain. Jeffrey Spender will be approached by dad to join his mission, but it’s all rather set up to fail (Krycek has to deal with the alien Jeff’s been sent to dispatch). The best part of Two Fathers is the return of Veronica Cartwright as Jeffrey’s mum Cassandra, nearly peeing on the floor in her excitement at seeing Fox again. The Rebels’ plan for her (“They saved her to expose us”) is kind of nonsense, but when did that ever stop Carter?
(8.11) Mulder encounters a soul eater. You remember, back when he was dying all the way through Season 7. Oh, right. Yeah. That didn’t happen until they retconned it for Season 8. A myth-arc-lite story, which may be cheating from a Mulder point of view, but Season 8 has already had so many doppelgangers/flashbacks/visions of Fox by the time he returns, it hardly feels like he’s even been away. This is a Doggett episode, basically, where he investigates Mulder’s visit to Squamash, Pennsylvania and happens upon the same creature. It’s an affecting tale, replete with brute locals and the death and resurrection of our lead character. Wait, what’s that? They did the same thing two episodes later as well?
(6.12) A significant step up on its opening instalment (Two Fathers), the escalation here takes on some degree of urgency and decisiveness as the rebels foil the Syndicate’s plans in most demonstrable fashion. What the show could really have done with was a clean break, however, with CSM done for along with his co-conspirators. Instead, he would fester throughout its later arc-plot developments like an unwanted smell.
This is the last we’ll see of Cassandra; Jeffrey, less so, despite being shot by dad. But if you don’t see some killed and/or the body in the show, the chances are they aren’t dead. And in CSM’s case, even if you see them explode in flesh-peeling fireball, the chances are they aren’t dead. Marita’s lurking in hospital wards like a looney thing, while Krycek delivers some genuinely persuasive “I’m out of here” responses to what’s going down. I’d recalled that the post-movie conspiracy arc was largely a turkey, but One Son makes for a very respectable showing, and as a two-parter, it still isn’t bad at all.
(1.10) Mulder chases down a crashed UFO, complete with an alien on the lam blessed with Predator camouflage tech. Again, the show is still careful to provide evidence in his ET quest that could as legitimately encompass a military explanation (the craft, the camo gear, the marks Max Pfenning – later to return in Season 4 – has suggesting abduction and implantation).
There’s also the government’s propensity for a cover story (the toxic cargo of a plane crash) and the X-ers reps, as reported by Max, who is even aware of “the enigmatic Dr Scully”. Fandom is burgeoning. Crop circles merit a mention to boot. Fallen Angel is an unremarkable episode, one that would likely be labelled lacking if dropped into any subsequent season, but here, at this point in the show, it’s an important building block in the overall myth-arc.
Nothing Important Happened Today II
(9.2) A decent conclusion. Really, this Season 9 opener is waayyyy better than a number of earlier, much more respect starters, and is rather lumped in with the (justified) stink wafting off many of the season’s other myth-arc entries. We’re very much dealing with the show in action mode here, of course, as we were with the previous season’s finale, which tends, if not forgive, to mask any number of sins.
Nothing Important Happened Today II is nevertheless guilty of the most outrageous manipulation of a countdown clock, possibly in the history of film and TV, and leaving the overriding motivation of Lucy Lawless’ Sharon McMahon hanging. It also features a didn’t-see-that-coming twist with Kersh and more evidence of super soldier’s particularly powerful punching abilities.
Nothing Important Happened Today
(9.1) And so begins perhaps the most-maligned season, certainly the one that earns the most recriminations for its treatment of the myth-arc. The opening two-parter is mostly pretty good, though, more concerned as it is with the super-soldier narrative than Scully’s miracle baby. Things would only go terribly, disastrously wrong when the focus was reversed.
There’s Lucy Lawless as one of the augmented soldiers, like Knowle an ex-army buddy of Doggett, and she makes for a memorable presence (her intended ongoing appearances were nixed due to pregnancy). Cary Elwes arrives as Brad Folmer, the weasel, and we have Doggett and Reyes taking centre stage, but for third-wheel Dana demanding devoted redundant subplots. This is a good showcase for Robert Patrick, in particular, determined to get his man (Kersh) despite all around him, notably Skinner, warning him off.
(2.6) It’s far from uncommon for the second part of a myth-arc story to squander the first’s potential, but there probably shouldn’t even have been a part two in Ascension’s case. Duane Barry was conceived as a one-off hostage tale, and it’s very evident how the overwhelming success of that episode fails to pay off in this follow up, with Scully abducted by Duane, who wishes to exchange her so they will leave him alone.
As such, its vital to both the season’s arc and, consequently, the ongoing Scully plotline. Krycek reveals his true colours, there’s an impressively staged cable-car scene, and the emphasis on action rather than conversation is, in theory, a nice contrast with its predecessor. Unfortunately, in cutting to the chase, Barry himself is dealt short shrift, rather dumped in a manner that would be common to many of the show’s better, or at least more intriguing, recurring characters. The early encounter with a cop, to the accompaniment of Nick Cave’s Red Right Hand, is first rate, though.
(7.22) Going back to where it all started can be fraught territory. Doctor Who’s done it a number of times, to decidedly less-than-inspired results. The series’ return to Bellefleur, Oregon, though, location of the Pilot, is surprisingly effective and easily the best of the seventh season’s arc episodes.
Abductee Billy Miles is now a deputy sheriff, and nothing good will come of his current encounters. Further still, Mulder is being targeted, along with anyone else who has immunity to the alien apocalypse (quite why there should be such a rash of singular successes after all those years of failures, well, plot expediency has always been one of Carter’s strong suits. That and making no sense whatsoever).
The entire gang gather – Krycek, Marita, Lone Gunmen, Skinner, Scully, Mulder – but under the impression Scully is being targeted. Doh! Skinner becomes a believer after seeing the UFO streak off. Krycek throws CSM down some stairs, but no decisive action would have been final enough to keep Carter keeping him down (see the Season 9 finale for ultimate proof). Oh, and Mulder and Scully get all snuggly. Never, ever listen to shippers. Of course, that one pretty much broke the series. It certainly did for any chances the myth-arc would have to land on its feet again. The best of Requiem is less the focus on these regulars than the body-snatchers territory of Bellefleur, though. Indeed, it would be easy to imagine a spin-off, devoid of our leads, devoted to the citizens struggling with doppelgangers in their midst.
(8.20) We’re teetering on the brink of full-on Scully baby disaster arc here, but luckily, her waters haven’t yet broken. So instead, we’re still steeped in rampaging super soldiers of the Billy Myers variety as in the first half of this two-part season finale. Mulder’s out of the FBI but still bringing matters to Doggett’s attention, and Krycek surfaces for his final bow, full of dire warnings of imperilled humanity and the reason – allegedly – they want to do for Scully’s unborn. Essence’s virtues are more in the action focus the super-soldiers plotline inherently brings with it, meaning it’s quite satisfying when it doesn’t stand still for very long.
The Blessing Way
(3.1) Mulder floating adrift ’pon the astral fronds wasn’t, perhaps, the best way to top Anasazi’s ATG Season 2 cliffhanger, but this follow up thankfully doesn’t completely screw the pooch. Carter goes all post-Dances with Wolves cod-Native American spiritual, and it’s down to Floyd Westerman natural gravitas as Albert Hostein that the inclination to go the way of typical X-ruminations is held in check.
Less serviceable is trotting out the dearly departed to offer Fox advice from the great beyond. Nevertheless, there’s the occasional gem, as Albert suggests we should “trust memory over history”. Sage advice, given who varnishes the history. Scully gets regressed, but the experience isn’t nearly as singular as her session in Season 5. And John Neville makes his first appearance as Well-Manicured Man. Alas, that doesn’t signal the curtailing of CSM’s presence, the show’s other of hyphenated avatar of evil.
(2.16) The X-Files as action movie mission really starts here. You have the first of the subsequently overused framing device (Mulder’s in mortal peril, but how did he end up in such straits?) There’s the first encounter with Mulder’s long-lost sister, sympathetically played by Megan Leitch, consistently failed by Carter et al because she’s only ever used as a plot device (when the Samantha saga is resolved, it’s a damp squib, and nothing about the clones conundrum is really addressed in either a philosophically or metaphysically satisfying way).
So cloned hybrids then, and accompanying toxic green blood. Alien bounty hunters, whereby Brian Thompson does his T-600 act (this was all Duchovny’s idea, it seems, and not one of his brightest). For much of the proceedings, our heroes, especially Mulder, are required to be fairly dumb for this to work (it’s Terminator meets The Hidden). There’s a concentration on the Mulder family backstory too, a process that would gradually diminish the X-world in expanse and resonance as it all becomes that bit too personal. This moves along effectively enough, but much like a blockbuster, it’s all about the initial impression rather than withstanding a revisit. Oh, and as per vaccinations, the show posits an underlying suspicion of abortion clinics.
(4.24) Gethsemane ranks with Talitha Cumi as the least auspicious – or memorable, anyway – season finale, but it’s actually pretty good. We’re at the beginning of Mulder doubting his quest, a long dark knight of a Season 5 beckoning, during which we’re privy to another alien autopsy. But this one, like the Santilli footage, is a fake. In some respects, it was a smart move to go to this place, since the idea that the conspiracy is itself a subterfuge to mask the actual conspiracy holds considerable merit and is, in part, standard procedure of obfuscation and misdirection, even if we all know where it’s going to lead in the end (we have, after all, seen what we’ve seen).
John Finn is really good as telling-it-like-it-is (or not) Michael Kritschgau, although, per the previous season finale’s guest star Roy Thinnes, his character never gets the measure it merits. Much of this account relies on Carter and co having unspooled the myth-arc in such an incomprehensible and impenetrable fashion that you doubt what you’ve seen/been told, so in that sense, it’s possibly more feasible than it should be. On the downside, Scully’s giving evidence AGAIN (Mulder topped himself, you know. That’ll create suspense, right?) And she’s STILL dying. Give it a rest, already.
(2.8) Beloved by those who venerate the show’s more introspective, soul-searching content, One Breath’s more positive elements are rather diffused by that very tendency to the overblown and portentous (see Memento Mori). We have Scully, sitting in a boat, knocking at an ethereal and slavishly symbolic death’s door, while Mulder, a loose cannon, attempts to find solutions.
Melissa, Dana’s unfortunate sister, is a try-out for the unfortunate Agent Reyes, all woo-woo and overstatement, the name of the game here from Morgan and Wong. Skinner gets to talk Nam, the Gunmen drop in (to inform us that Scully’s DNA has really been messed with, and her health too…), Don S Davis says “Starbuck” one last time and Steven Williams X’s is the hard graft to Deep Throat’s soft soap. We’re also seeing the more express, centre-stage presence of CSM at this point (Mulder holds him at gunpoint). Which is, well, you know what I think of that. But due credit, he’s good here, and it’s an effective confrontation scene.
The Sixth Extinction
(7.1) In and of itself, this isn’t bad, but there’s the problem of a definite downward trajectory to this three parter. The Sixth Extinction comes smack in the middle, after one of the series Top-5 myth-arc episodes and before one its bottom 10. Scully’s much less reliable than last time, while Mulder is dished some strong super-psychic Mulder material before Diane shows up to tell him not-so-sweet nothings.
There’s also a return of Kritschgau as resident expositor of super-secret government dirty projects and the odd resurrection. The episode moves along and continues to benefit from the ancient-aliens theme introduced by Biogenesis, but there’s a nagging feeling that it isn’t really adding much to sustain the narrative. Nevertheless, the best season opener since the third’s.
(2.10) Whilst it’s a slightly ungainly mash-up of plotlines that ultimately don’t come together satisfyingly – the walk-in cult have a purely coincidental connection to the nefarious human-hybrid experiment taking place – this is the sort of oddball grounding for an episode the myth-arc could have benefited more from. It’s no wonder stories tended to be more linear when you see the plotting issues presented here, but the balance is that Red Museum delivers a level of intrigue and curiosity often absent from Syndicate storylines.
There are almost too many ideas; the Church of the Red Museum turns out to be a red herring and could have benefited from an episode solely dedicated to its rather superficially covered beliefs. Purity Control is leading to aggressive kids in the town of Delta Glen, there’s a whole farming/bovine-growth-hormone angle, a paedophile peeping tom, more dread vaccinations, a very convenient plane crash requiring our heroes to do far less deductive work than would lend them credit, and Crew-Cut Man on an evidence-mopping-up mission. A story that suggests a welter of possibilities for the arc plotline, so a shame so many ended up following a pedestrian course. A good title too.
(5.20) Perhaps this should have been the end. I’m sure most would agree anything beyond Season 8 at the outside was a big mistake. The End isn’t so dissimilar to Season 4’s finale Gethsemane, in that it isn’t at all bad, but the “two-parter” that follows (Fight the Future and The Beginning) isn’t much cop. Jeff Gulka’s Gibson Praise debuts, and the accompanying paraphernalia – child chess prodigy, but through mind reading, not skill; he’s our evolutionary leap forward – is the kind of place the show needed to be striking out for in order to avoid stagnation.
It’s just that The End probably need to mooch that way at least a season earlier. As it is, the more metaphysical, quasi-religious yearnings that tend to be a big comfort blanket for Carter are usually revealed as superficial when he entirely fails to nurse plotlines to a satisfying conclusion (See also The Sixth Extinction). Spender’s in this, as is the first blush of Mimi Rogers as Diane Fowley. The episode rather goes off target when it gets into Mulder emphasising the importance of the assassin, but the initial premise is so striking, it does much of the heavy lifting.
(4.21) Walter Skinner learns the kind of price he must pay for offering his loyalty in payment for saving Scully’s life; he’s called upon for a bee clean-up operation. These bees can induce small pox in minutes (you know, the medical establishment’s definition of small pox: a deadly virus. This is the show’s essential gambit, underlining that everything else – nukes, the Pasteurian disease paradigm, space – is legit, but oh my, the aliens (which, like the owls, are not what they seem). It’s a good, straightforward episode, one that includes several great moments: Mulder realising just who that is on the surveillance-camera footage; Skinner confronting a smirking CSM.
This is Not Happening
(8.14) Scully yells the title phrase at the heavens (or departing UFO) at the end of the episode. Which is also the last we see of Jeremiah, since she’s – eventually – got him killed (and endangered Mulder’s survival) by intruding upon the UFO cult’s human-alien retrieval operation. And she has the temerity to lay into poor befuddled Doggett every five minutes! Monica Reyes makes her first appearance, and Annabeth Gish’s strong performance is continually undercut by garbage sub-Deanna Troi dialogue (thanks Chris, don’t forget to kill her off eventually in the most callous fashion while you’re at it).
Notable is that, in all her years investigating, Monica never found any evidence of satanic ritual abuse. So was she actually looking? Even Scully scoffs. So Reyes is a sort-of-psychic, chain-smoking abuse denier who will eventually join (but not really, right?) CSM’s depopulation scheme. Carter really had it in for her, didn’t he? This episode builds well, and there are strong guest performances from the returning Roy Thinnes and Wrath of Khan’s Judson Scott. I’m not sure the aliens’ strategy has much thought behind it, but that means it neatly matches the myth-arc as a whole.
(8.15) Mulder’s back from the dead, but it’s like he’s never been away. Probably because the season has dutifully, but foolishly, smothered us with flashbacks and incessant references. Deadalive finds the series really getting into its new super-soldiers plot, as Billy Myers is fished out of the ocean and rapidly becomes a whole new man, while Mulder is fished out of the cemetery after three months and…
Well, all I can say is, thank goodness for courses of antivirals. And thank goodness Skinner was all set on killing him, otherwise Fox might have turned super soldier too. What? Yeah, some of the developments here are a on the suspect side, but as a whole, Deadalive succeeds at drawing you in and developing its new mythology intriguingly, even as the old (Skinner and his nanobots) is on the unnecessary side.
(1.1) A remarkably congruent debut, setting out the programme’s stall with just enough legitimate lore that it withstood a return visit to Bellefleur in Season 7’s finale. The Pilot gives us abductions, missing time, nose bleeds, implants, possible alien remains, government secrecy and much reticence and scepticism, not only from new X-Files assignee Dana Scully but also consequent to Mulder’s desire to be proved right. Then there’s Fox’s abducted sister as a prime motivator and the first appearance by CSM (more would be the pity). Certainly, the confidence of intent and focus here would soon be belied by a myth-arc ready to dart, or flop, all over the place.
(8.1) The series without Mulder – don’t speak too soon, there’s still twice the Duchovny here, on an alien spaceship having his face stretched and as an alien bounty hunter abducting Gibson Praise – hits the ground running in the unforgiving swelter of the Californian desert.
Doggett meets with a frosty reception from Scully and Skinner; he starts as he means to go on, perseveringly, which is wise. The reframing gives the production a bit of oomph, requiring the production team to tailor Skinner a more proactive role and Scully a sense of urgency, even if her believer status is a rude turnabout designed to contrast with Doggett taking on her former position. The myth-arc in Season 8 largely succeeded, though, which it shouldn’t have really, given the number of things working against it.
(8.2) The second part of the Season 8 opener, and the series slips effectively into Who Goes There?/ The Thing territory as the FBI realise a shapeshifter is in the midst of their investigation into the missing Mulder. Doggett is browbeaten by all and sundry, not least DD Kersh (James Pickens Jr enjoying the chance to go full spleen; get used to that). Indeed, if you didn’t know better, you might think the series had actually been done the world of good by Duchnovy’s semi-exit…
The Red and the Black
(5.14) Perhaps not quite as impressive as its predecessor (Patient X), this is nevertheless chock-full of great moments. Head of the list is Scully’s regression to the bridge cliffhanger and the fate of Cassandra; a great performance from Anderson here, allowed to go a little of piste.
Then there’s Well-Manicured Man realising he may be able to take a different tack in terms of the Syndicate’s approach, envisioning the potential of an alliance with the Alien Rebels if the vaccine fails. Plus, there’s Krycek urging Mulder to pull his head out of his ass. Chris Carter does a serviceable job directing The Red and the Black, although it has to be said that the climactic truck encounter between floaty rebel and bounty hunter is on the naff side.
The Erlenmeyer Flask
(1.24) A strong season finale, to be sure, but one that seemed more essential at the time than in retrospect. The Erlenmeyer Flask finds the show grappling with some of the tropes that would become most essential, most notably alien-human hybrids and toxic green blood. There’s also proof of aliens, at last, in the form of a preserved foetus, although the show will later flip flop on whether anything was there at all (Season 5), and suggest it may have been a case of smoke and mirrors. There are some holes in this one’s logic that rather stand out (Scully’s procurement, and the Syndicate seemingly failing to get to it earlier).
This is also the beginning of a very fixed and limited take on ETs (in retrospect, the alien bounty hunter seems like high fantasy that had to be brought down to earth). Certainly, there’ll be no room for more out-there theories – ultraterrestrials per John Keel, or the most germane one, that they are, in fact, “evolved” future humans (that neither saw the light of day suggests very determined predictive programming, however fast and loose the arc plot may have appeared)*.
DNA manipulation is the order of the day – via extra-terrestrial gene sequences – through gene therapy (and cloning an alien virus: good old viruses!) and the application of suspect vaccinations (perish the thought!) This is just the beginning of the show’s intense mistrust of vaccine programmes. Another reason it isn’t on right now (and yet, My Struggle II was only six years ago). Fast paced, exciting, dramatic (Deep Throat dies!) and revelatory, and with a great title, The Erlenmeyer Flask remains one of the best season finales.
*Addendum 07/03/23: This is not to dismiss the Zeta-Greys narrative, which is evidently the show’s principle juice (actual ETs), although that one doesn’t include fancy embellishments like colonisation either.
(4.8) A Tunguska tale and not a Tesla in sight. It’s at least somewhat gratifying that Mulder won’t be called on the exact nature of the event in his narration – comet, asteroid, piece of antimatter – even if the storyline itself implicates it as a meteorite, owing to the Antarctica connection. It also helps matters that the episode pelts along agreeably, sending Mulder and Scully into a raid that just happens to turn up Krycek (the two former partners then head off to Siberia/Vancouver woods, a Gulag and a particularly iconic cliffhanger wherein a chicken-wire enmeshed Mulder has black oil dripped on him).
The infectious aspects of Tunguska echo the previous year’s virus-scare movie Outbreak (the first-rate sequence in which a NASA scientist in a hazmat suit gets black-oiled while drilling into a rock sample). Krycek has a solid suspense scene, having been locked up by Skinner but with an assassin after him. The only problem with this one, as I see it, is the how it concludes…
(5.13) Just when you were giving up the will on Season 5, Cassandra Spender arrives to bail out the sinking ship. Mulder’s up on stage, puncturing abductees’ illusions and so attesting to his disbelief in Cassandra’s experience. Indeed, his essential tenet here, of disavowing unquestioning belief, is fundamentally sound, and given Cassandra’s spreading a gospel of “a new age of supernatural enlightenment”, he’s right to be cautious.
The key problem with the Alien Rebels is that we’ve got Brian Thompson on the one side and some zip-locked eyes and mouths on the other, but a disappointing lack of personable communication. As a result, they never take on much shape, once we know their essential motives. Indeed, this two-parter is so strong mainly because – like a number of others in the Top 20 – there’s a compelling main character and concomitant focus on that individual. There’s much that is overriding arc here, but Patient X comes down to Cassandra, and that’s why it works so well.
(3.2) Perhaps the greatest achievement of the Season 2/3-spanning three-parter is that it ultimately comes good. Sure, it has in common with most of the multi-part stories that its first instalment is easily the best, but it’s light years ahead of the third-part fumble that is Season 7’s The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati. Carter milks the most from his Native-American job lot by having Albert Hosteen attend Melissa’s stricken bedside (clue: her fate is that of anyone unfortunate enough to be related to our starring duo). But he also has him ushered in as a key facet of a very rare occasion in which CSM is blindsided, and by generally befuddled AD Skinner at that.
Who previously received a good kicking from Krycek. Who, in a nicely staged sequence, comes to realise that he’s as expendable as those with whom he’s engaged to come the heavy. On top of all that, there’s an excellent sequence – courtesy of Rob Bowman, who else – in which Mulder and Scully seeks answers in a disused mining facility, replete with milling hybrids, trigger-happy hit squads and dazzling UFOs. There are more nods to the dubiousness of vaccinations and a good showing from ’70s and ’80s Bond film regular Walter Gottell as a font of exposition in an orchid house. This is the show at the peak of the myth-arc, since it manages to convince you it’s all heading somewhere substantial and perhaps even satisfying.
(3.9) Season 3’s myth-arc entries go from strength to strength following the more-than-capable season opener(s). Carter, Gordon and Spotnitz consciously take a leaf from the success of the previous year’s Duane Barry/Ascension but shrewdly play the formula in reverse. All the action comes in the opening instalment and the close-quartered tension in the second. Which means the whole thing plays much better, culminating with the premise’s strengths rather than leading into hollow run-around fizzle.
Mulder’s on the trail of a train car that housed an alien autopsy (all very post-Santilli film), and in the process, he’s on rare action-man form; why, he even gets to leap onto the roof of a moving train at the cliffhanger climax! The story delves into Japanese Unit 731 (the title of part two) and its experiments on human test subjects, but the emphasis is on pace rather than ick. We also see Scully meeting the cancer-stricken abductee/implantees of a MUFON group, so furthering her own interminable abduction plotline. Mulder gets the good stuff, though, as does he in the second part…
(4.17) A fine opening part in what had been a disappointing season for myth-arc episodes up to this point (barring the first half of Tunguska). Max Pfennig from Fallen Angel returns, and the story is all the better for focussing on a precise piece of lore rather than the plan as a whole.
Mulder and Scully investigate a crash site, one caused by a mid-air alien hijack, there’s an army guy turning whistle blower, and Moustache Man is out to take anyone down to clean things up. Joe Spano is really good as the lead crash investigator. It’s Scully’s birthday. Mulder’s allowed to use deductive skills in an impressive way (working out there’s a second crash site). This is Carter and Spotnitz working at full strength, and it’s illustrative that, give or take Seasons 9-11, it’s very difficult to point to the series consistently failing to deliver before a certain point.
(4.18) And the biggest laurel one can bestow Tempus Fugit is that its conclusion is equally good, maybe even slightly superior. We get more of the titular character (who is, lest you forgot, dead), Mulder telling the dummies how it happened (a really good sequence, and the difference between Duchovny delivering acute voice over and bored shitless ones). He also gets another scene talking to a baddie à la 731, which is always good value (or actually, I should say, great value).
One might suggest it wasn’t so smart to board a plane with part of an alien power source, given the fate of Max, but it makes for terrific tension. A nice touch too, what with the ponderously high-falutin’ readings the show is wont to give, when Scully speculates over why Mulder gave her the Apollo 11 keychain for her birthday and he rejoinders “I just thought it was a pretty cool keychain”.
(8.16) Even at such a late stage as this, the myth-arc can surprise with a near-unqualified classic, as Mulder, back from the dead and determined to get everyone’s backs up – this is not the fans’ favourite Mulder by a long shot; think more like the one dosed with “LSD” in Anasazi – investigates presidential events (via a White House lawn teaser). Recent characters and plotlines converge very neatly here, including the returning Absalom (undertaking a prison break), Knowle Rohr feeding Doggett half-truths at best, and the promise of proof at the census bureau. But it wouldn’t all be a means to ensnare Mulder, would it?
(1.2) If the Pilot was commendably confident and robust enough that it holds its own against many of the later more fluid and well-versed myth arc entries, Deep Throat is the one that really hits the ground running. This time, Mulder gets to see a UFO, but is it of alien (original) design or simply advanced military tech? Is Jerry Hardin’s titular character really on Mulder’s side in getting to the root of things, or simply poking and prodding him as convenient? Roswell is namechecked, while the base Mulder and Scully investigate is a transparent swap-in for Area 51. Seth Green – popular with both Bill Murray and Isaac Kappy – appears as a stoned teenager.
The FBI come across as the “good guys” here, in that they’re up against the nefarious and obstructive military, who are willing to MKUltra Mulder to keep their secrets safe (thank goodness there was a Fox crew there to film Fox) and MKUltra their pilots (rewiring the brain of the man who inspires their investigation). The show is still a while off from showing us ETs, but its appeal in its early stages is that it seems to have a firm grasp of how to drop hints and tantalise the audience.
(2.25) “Oh my God, Scully, what have they done?” The end of Season 2 represents one of, if not the, ultimate myth-arc moments, where the intrigue of just what the Syndicate was up to was attached to the iconic imagery of mangled, mutilated hybrids hidden away in a buried box car in the middle of a Native-American reservation. The Navajo mythology interweaving with this also works much more effectively than in subsequent, over-ladled doses.
Indeed, there’s a generally impactful, off-kilter quality throughout, with Mulder acting hyper aggressive, having been spiked with “LSD” (I mean, I’m guessing no one on the writing team ever took the stuff, in that case) and forcing Skinner to put him in a headlock like an unruly pupil. The theme of forgotten, buried secrets and false paradigms is at its most potent here, because the evidence (literally) uncovered is so tangible and immediate. The series would tell better stories subsequently, and even deliver several superior myth-arc entries, but this was surely its peak water-cooler moment (even as the ratings were, at this point, still far from the show’s zenith).
(6.22) The series finally gets round to ancient aliens/Chariots of the Gods, now it’s largely done and dusted with the alien-invasion conspiracy (well, except as a 2012 signpost). And it’s a doozy. Yes, there are some structural similarities to No.5 on this list, but in most respects, Biogenesis manages to eclipse that (rightfully regarded) series finale highpoint.
An ancient artefact from an alien spaceship submerged off the Ivory Coast, inscribed with a passage from The Bible – amongst other religious texts – triggers an evolutionary lurch in Mulder, making him both psychic/telepathic and highly unstable. Scully, sceptical as ever but facing a religious challenge, which is more her Catholic bag, gets her own dose of paranoia as it becomes clear Diane Fowley and Skinner are deceiving her. The content lends itself to the Luciferian, of course (God is aliens), and the transhumanist (technology augmenting our evolution), while the alchemy of the execution is so confident, you have to wish they’d found somewhere more significant for the show to take it.
Rob Bowman directs this for all its worth, lending the kind of cinematic lustre he was poised to become used to (and then, not so much). Biogenesis is littered with marvellous moments: two pieces of the artefact fusing together and flying across a room, embedding themselves in a Bible; Mulder having the lowdown on other agents being on the case through his new faculty for earwigging the aether; Krycek passing the convulsed Mulder on a stairwell; the final pullback showing Scully on a beach with the semi-buried spacecraft. Fine support too, from Michael Ensign taking a decidedly James Randi position on all matters alien, and willing to kill for it, and Bill Dow as the returning Chuck Burks, bursting with enthusiasm as he explains the properties of a Magic Square. The subsequent instalments couldn’t live up to this promise, of course, but that was, alas, par for the course.
(1.17) I’m not one of those prone to claiming the early seasons of the show were the best and that it went off the boil after about Season 3. Indeed, I’d argue the first season is extremely patchy and very much an example of a show finding its feet as it progresses. Where it does tend to come out ahead on points, though, is in the relative simplicity of its nascent myth-arc.
Grand two-parters were a season away, and the stories that were present largely concentrated on a piece of the overall puzzle, rather than the conspiracy in toto; in later seasons, such stories would, broadly, also tend to be more satisfying than those attempting to create seismic shifts. So in E.B.E., rather than chasing abductees or UFOs, Mulder is on the trail of the jackpot, the body of a bona-fide alien. There’s more from Deep Throat and a sprinkling of Lone Gunmen. Gulf War Syndrome is namechecked, Roswell again, we see a mothership in the teaser; our heroes don’t. Mulder doesn’t get to see his prize either, of course, but Morgan and Wong achieve exactly what the series needs to at this point: leave you wanting more.
(3.10) This can boast all the merits of No.1 on this list, but it also has the benefit of coming second out of its two parts, such that, on balance, it forms part of a more satisfying complete story. Both two-parters have in common dealing with a more localised plot within the overarching conspiracy, rather than the conspiracy itself, and as suggested at several points above, these are the myth-arc entries that tend to stand the test of time. Added to which, while they can fall victim to terminal waffle when anyone ever opens their mouth, Carter and Spotnitz are quite capable of delivering the goods when it comes to tense and propulsive interactions.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Spotnitz gets a relatively rare sole credit on this episode. His conceit here is a sure winner, but without the interplay between Duchovny and Stephen McHattie, and the assured direction of Rob Bowman, it could easily have been squandered. Mulder follows his grail onto a train but finds himself locked in one of the train cars, wired to blow, while Red-Haired Man feeds him a line about what it is he’s found. And then Scully joins in on the phone with even more guff. It’s enough to addle anyone’s quest! While this all culminates in X’s finest hour (think sack of potatoes and boom), 731’s real trump card is a conversation: two men in a battle of wits.
(2.5) Sort of an exception that proves the rule, since this is both written and directed by Chris Carter, known for engineering numerous dissatisfying and rote myth-arc plotlines, as well as a tendency towards an incontinently virtuoso “style” of direction. But Duane Barry’s different. As fellow Top 10 entries Tempus Fugit/Max and Nisei/731 testify, telling a mythology story that focuses in tightly on one particular piece or individual within the conspiracy can pay dividends no level of effects spectacular or momentously muttered plans in motion can equal.
Duane Barry is a siege story, and to enjoy it to its utmost, one rather needs to forget that its second part Ascension was both an afterthought (this was planned as standalone) and relatively perfunctory and disappointing after all this promise. Mulder attempts to reason with abductee and hostage taker Steve Railsback’s title character, and a tense, effective and incisive back and forth results (Fox has more in common with the “criminal” than his colleagues, even if he ultimately fails him).
Per the series’ preceding form at this point, Duane’s experiences are left sketchy, since they’re decidedly on the subjective side (we see Greys surrounding his bed in an impressively Poltergeist-y opening, but he is clearly hallucinating humans as alien abductors in the second part). Good as all this, it isn’t just Mulder centric; Scully gets a classic scene setting off a Barry implant at a supermarket checkout. All this, and Krycek getting sent for coffee.