The X-Files was one of the first Internet-fueled TV phenomena. Every Sunday evening, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) would work together and occasionally at cross purposes for many seasons. After each episode aired, fans flocked to message boards and Usenet mailing lists to discuss everything from the “MOTW” (Monster of the Week) to the nuances of the “’ship” (meaning Mulder and Scully’s relationship—or lack therof).
Debuting in 1993, the series centers on FBI psychological profiler Mulder, and his beloved X-files, a roomful of dead cases and bizarre phenomena reported and never explained. He is a brilliant profiler, and so the series canon goes, an Oxford trained psychologist. After a career that started to hit the skids as he began to obsess over the long-ago mysterious disappearance of his 8-year old sister Samantha, Mulder went from crack profiler to just “cracked” in the opinion of his FBI bosses. As such, Mulder—and the X-Files—are sent to languish in the basement of the FBI building in Washington, D.C. Mulder’s obsession to find Samantha, leads him to believe in the existence of a vast, baroque (okay, shall we say convoluted?) government-alien conspiracy with an unknown (and clearly nefarious) goal.
Although Mulder’s bosses publicly dismiss Mulder as crazy loose cannon baying at the moon, they are concerned enough about what he’s doing to assign him to a spy—a watchdog to report on his investigations. “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer,” comes to mind as an apt description for what the FBI Powers That Be intend for Mulder.
Dana Scully, a rigid-thinking forensic pathologist and medical doctor (as she often described herself) is assigned to work with Mulder, gain his confidence and report back to her handlers in the upper echelons of the FBI. But as Scully begins to witness things not easily explained by science, she is (very, very slowly and reluctantly) pulled into Mulder’s story, which might be characterized as a “folie a deux” by the skeptics in the room…storyline (and is in fact the title of a Season 5 episode).
There is an unmistakable chemistry between the two lead characters—even romantic, as many the many “shippers” in the fandom insisted; something series creator Chris Carter resisted for years. There would never be anything romantic between them. Full stop. But, as Carter learned, characters often take on lives of their own, and eventually the chemistry became full-blown “unresolved sexual tension,” better known in the X-Files fandom as “UST.” And of course there were the “no-romos” as well among the fandom, just as insistent that Mulder and Scully’s relationship was and always should be strictly Platonic—if that.
In many ways, Mulder’s journey follows a classic hero’s tale—the quest to understand not only what happened to Samantha, but also to be proven right about the existence of the extraterrestrial-human conspiracy. The series tries to walk a fine line between two genres, one, establishing a series “mytharc,” which follows Mulder’s ongoing investigation into the conspiracy. But the series also showcases “stand-alone” episodes between the mytharc entries as Mulder and Scully (affectionately known in the fan community as “Moose and Squirrel”) hunted ghosts, demons, banshees, and monsters—supernatural and all-too-human.
Along the way, both Mulder and Scully experience enough of the world’s (and other-worldly) weirdness to satisfy the most ardent paranormalist. But Mulder’s quest comes at a high cost. Family members are assassinated; Mulder nearly commits suicide midway through the series run; Scully is abducted and contracts cancer as a result.
The shadowy conspiracy is often represented The Cigarette Smoking Man (CSM), creepily played by William B. Davis. But, like most of Mulder’s antagonists along the way, he (and we) were never quite sure whether he is friend or foe. Other antagonists appear and disappear along the way, from the ruthless Alex Krychek to The Well-Mannered Man. And let’s not forget the alien bounty hunter.
The pair are aided on this very twisty maze of a journey by everyone from their boss, FBI Director Skinner and a trio of proto-geek/conspiracy nerds, The Lone Gunmen. Many of their allies start out as possible enemies, and supposed friends are not, adding to the intensity of the story.
The series held my fascination for many of its nine seasons, but after the series moved location from shooting in atmospheric (and rainy) Vancouver to sunny Southern California, it seemed to me (and others in the fandom) that the X-Files began to falter. Whether it had to do with the mytharc losing steam (or becoming just too confusing), the growing indifference of lead actor Duchovny, or just that the series had gone on just a little bit too long, the X-Files lost its way. Full disclosure: I stopped watching the series by the end of Season 7. Mulder’s journey had become someone else’s story, and my buy-in to the series had vanished.
While the series aired, I was a bona fide X-Phile as we were called back in the day. I spent hours online discussing every nuance with others on the old usenet groups like alt.tv.x-files, and its corollary “analysis” group. I even wrote fanfiction.
There is still much interest in the series; fandoms die hard, and new fans are created every day through syndication and streaming. So, I’ve decided to begin anew and watch the series again in retrospect. It’s recently begun airing reruns on BBC America, so I’m not being totally out of step.
Look for a new entry once or twice a week in this space, as I retrace the series from its very first episode. I can’t guarantee that I’ll stick it out through all nine seasons; I still can’t quite bring myself to get into the exploits of Dogget and Reyes, the duo who tried to fill the shoes of “Moose and Squirrel”… er… Mulder and Scully. So tune in and come back often to join the conversation whether you are original X-Philes or have only come to the series lately. And spread the word.