An X-Files Retrospective, Part 11

15 May

The X-Files- Season 7

By the start of its seventh season, The X-Files had produced over a hundred episodes, a movie, and a spin-off series called Millennium. By all rights, it was time to bring this epic and often convoluted story of alien colonization to a close. In a perfect world, both FOX and Chris Carter would have realized this, and instead of giving us another standard season of The X-Files with a collection of monster of the week episodes that varied in quality and a smattering of mythology installments that if anything, made the mythos more confusing than it’s ever been, would have given us a more serialized final season that wrapped up all the various plotlines up in a nice, neat, little package.

Unfortunately, that’s not what happened, and while the seventh season had some of the series’ best monster of the week eps of its entire run, overall it felt stale and prolonged, like the writers, actors and producers were all beating a dead horse. I’d say that the show would have been better had FOX pulled a LOST and given The X-Files a definitive end date, but we all know how that turned out, so it may not have made a difference.

The story, as always, picks up right where the previous year’s season finale left off, with Scully uncovering what is essentially the alien Ark of the Covenant, a downed UFO in the Ivory Coast which has passages from the Bible inscribed on it and likely jumpstarted Earth’s evolution many millions or billions of years ago. I was very fond of this particular plot thread as the show had already established the concept of alien astronauts at the end of the fifth season and expanded on it with the film, and think it’s a very cool idea: that humanity’s origins are not godly, but extraterrestrial, and that what we call “God” is actually a sinister alien presence who perhaps even orchestrated our own religions as a form of subjugation.

For Chrissakes, would you guys just make out already?!!

The first part of the two-part series premiere, entitled “The Sixth Extinction,” was a great follow up to the sixth season’s finale “Biogenesis,” which found Mulder’s medical condition worsening after touching the rubbing of the Genesis slab from the last season, and Scully investigating the downed UFO, which also has the ability to resurrect dead tissue. This was a cool idea that was never further elaborated on, which was especially frustrating considering that the episode ended with the mad Dr. Barnes being killed by his zombie driver.

Mulder’s coma created a great amount of dramatic tension, but for whatever reason, the writers opted for the second half of “The Sixth Extinction” to be less heavy on plot and more focused on character. This means that a sizable portion of the episode takes place in Mulder’s hallucinatory brain, where he imagines himself living in a happy community where he’s married to Diana and all his buddies, including Deep Throat, are still alive. None of these scenes were particularly memorable, they detracted from the main story which had Scully racing to save Mulder’s life, and the old age makeup they gave David Duchovony is some of the worst I’ve ever seen- like they just lathered some cookie dough on his face. There were, however, very interesting revelations explored in the episode that shed light on much of the series’ greater mysteries. Mulder’s coma, it turns out, was induced when he touched the rubbing of the artifact, a reaction brought on by his exposure to the Black Oil in the third season. Thus, Mulder literally becomes the proof of alien life, the proof he’s been chasing his whole life. It’s also revealed that this genetic abnormality Mulder possesses is also the key to combatting the aliens and preventing the eventual holocaust, as it provides an immunity to the Black Oil. The Cigarette Smoking Man, being the greedy bastard that he is, has the remnants of the Syndicate perform an operation that takes the ability from Mulder and gives it to him. Fearing for Mulder’s life, Diana redeems herself by giving Scully access to the medical facility, and pays for it with her life. Diana was always one of the weaker characters on the show (even Jeffrey Spender was more interesting) so I wasn’t too upset to see her go. But at least she went out a hero, and not the cold bitch she’d been since her introduction in the fifth season.

“The Sixth Extinction” was also cool as it brought back lots of characters and threads from old episodes, including Albert Hosteen and Kritschgau. It’s always nice to see The X-Files remember its past and tell stories that longtime viewers can appreciate. With all the revelations the writers provided and all the progression the serialized portion of The X-Files went through in the two-parter, it seemed like a great opportunity to give Season 7 just a few more mytharc episodes and wrap things up before they got even more convoluted than they already were. Instead, the mythos takes a backseat to monster of the week eps, with pretty much none of the threads from “The Sixth Extinction” ever going anywhere save for the Cigarette Smoking Man’s illness.

The bevy of monster eps are a mixed bag, and in fact there is a noticeable distinction between the first and second halves of the season, the first being the better. “Hungry,” the episode that followed the premiere, is my favorite of the season, and a monster installment that is trumped only by the Brad Dourif-starring “Beyond the Sea.” It tells the story from the perspective of the monster, who in this case is a pretty ordinary kid who just happens to have a genetic abnormality that makes him hunger for human brains. In this installment, the monster is actually the protagonist, and Scully and Mulder only appear when they interrogate him. It’s a very cool twist on the show’s tried and true formula, and is propelled by amazing performances by star Chad Donella and supporting actor Mark Pellegrino (most well-known as Jacob on LOST). It’s unique, creepy, gross and emotional- everything a good X-Files episode should be, and it doesn’t even prominently feature Mulder or Scully.

Sorry your show got cancelled, bra.

I get the impression that because the show had been on the air for so long, the writers felt they had gained enough leeway to take some risks with their formula, which makes it all the stranger when I reached the second half and was treated to episode after episode of goofy bullshit. But the dozen episodes that preceded those weaker tales were all pretty great. “Millennium” is, you guessed it, a crossover episode with the Lance Henriksen-starring spinoff series of the same name, which also acted as a sort of series finale for the show as it was cancelled after three seasons. A great episode that was like peanut butter and chocolate coming together; seeing Mulder and Frank Black in the same scenes, working together, brought a smile to my face. It also centers on zombies, which I love, but did it in a natural, creepy way that felt appropriate for both shows. It also brought some resolution to the story of Frank Black, who is given a happy ending where he and his daughter are freed from their ties to the Millennium Group and walk into the sunset. The actual millennium itself is given the appropriate amount of weight, i.e., none at all. Frank Black doesn’t even bother to watch the Times Square Ball drop, a huge step forward for the character who has finally decided to stop living in the past and worrying about the future, and to enjoy his time on Earth moment to moment. And… Mulder and Scully finally kiss!! Yes, perhaps fearing that the world could actually end in the year 2000, the two decide, “what the hell?” and share their first kiss.

The kiss brings me to another bit of criticism I have for the season: the strange manner in which Mulder and Scully’s relationship is handled. In seven years there has been more sexual tension than in every Skinemax movie ever produced, and after the failed kiss in Fight the Future I naturally assumed Mulder and Scully would get together in Season Six. Apparently, not the case, and while the duo kiss in “Millennium,” the exact nature of their relationship is kept frustratingly cryptic, with only tiny hints that they’re sleeping together. Though I don’t think we needed straight-up sex scenes, it would have been nice to have a little more clarity given to their romance, especially considering the reveal of Scully’s pregnancy in the season finale (which I’m still not even sure is Mulder’s).

“The Goldberg Variation” is another standout episode, which stars Willie Garson (of Sex & the City fame) as a man with uncanny luck. It’s quirky and cute but not on the nose, and Garson gives a stellar performance. Even better is “The Amazing Maleeni,” an episode involving real-world magic and starring real magicians Ricky Jay and Jonathan Levit, much like Season Two episode “Humbug,” which involved carnies and geeks and featured members of the Jim Rose Circus. What makes the episode especially noteworthy is that there is only a tiny sprinkling of the supernatural- for the most part it involves actual magic, performed by actual magicians. And who doesn’t love Ricky Jay? Also of note is “Orison,” which sees the return of Donnie Pfaster, the potentially demonic serial killer who lusted after Scully in Season Two.

The last two mythology episodes worth mentioning before the season took a noticeable downward turn are “X-COPS” and “First Person Shooter.” “X-COPS,” as the name implies, is a parody of FOX’s popular reality series COPS, and is literally just an episode of COPS that Scully and Mulder just happen to be in due to the supernatural nature of the case. With a story involving an invisible horror, “X-COPS” is essentially Cloverfield before there was Cloverfield, and was perhaps inspired by the recently released and incredibly successful Blair Witch Project. “First Person Shooter” is The X-Files’ not-so-subtle way of addressing the issue of videogame violence, but is a lot of fun and prominently features the Lone Gunmen.

Halfway through the season the writers decided to finally conclude the story of Samantha Mulder once and for all, in a two part arc that was very controversial amongst fans. After investigating the disappearance of a young girl who vanished under mysterious circumstances, Mulder and Scully uncover a mass grave and begin to question whether Samantha was abducted at all, or rather murdered by a serial killer (an idea posited earlier in the episode “Paper Hearts”). Rather than going for one or the other, Chris Carter decided to find a “happy” medium, by revealing that Samantha was indeed abducted by aliens and then raised by the Cigarette Smoking Man on a secret army base, but was later taken by “walk-ins,” spirits who save the souls of innocents from inevitable torture and grisly death. In a final, eye-wateringly emotional scene scored by Moby’s “My Weakness,” Mulder is reunited briefly with the spirit of his dead sister, thus bringing “Closure,” as the episode is entitled, to his quest to find her. Though the scene is beautiful and works in tandem with the Moby track, overall I was disappointed by the resolution. I understand the decision to end Samantha’s story once and for all as it was starting to get drawn out and David Duchovny was leaving the show at the end of the year, but I felt both the character of Mulder and the audience deserved to find Samantha alive. Revealing that she’s in fact been dead for many, many years, was very depressing and made Mulder’s final line of “I’m free” all the more tragic. Sure, a heavy burden has been lifted from his shoulders, but so much of his life’s work now seems to have been in vain.

Most of the rest of the season is pretty forgettable, so much so that I can barely remember what happened in some of the weaker episodes. Neither of the episodes written and directed by Gillian Anderson (“all things”) and David Duchovny (“Hollywood A.D.”) are any good, and may be proof that some actors should just stick to acting. Anderson’s is especially weak, a Scully-centric tale involving a former lover she had in college, and a story that is pretty much a retread of every single Scully story that preceded it. On the bright side, by this point in the story Scully has finally accepted that aliens exist, and the phrase “I”ve seen things I cannot explain” becomes a bit of a catchphrase for her. “Hollywood A.D.” is a weird, meta-episode where a movie is made based on Scully and Mulder’s lives starring Gary Shandling as Mulder and Tea Leoni as Scully. It also has something to do with Catholicism and a Da Vinci Code-esque conspiracy, a plot that’s literally abandoned halfway through when the agents decided to take a vacation and go to L.A. Duchovny’s not half bad at crafting some witty dialogue, but he has no conception of proper story structure, and it shows.

Ah, man, are you fucking smoking in my car? That's shit's a rental, you cigarette-smoking bastard. There goes my deposit.

“En Ami” is a Cigarette Smoking Man-centric episode written by actor William B. Davis which focuses on CSM’s relationship with Scully. Though also a little odd structurally, it’s far better than “Hollywood A.D.” and “all things” and proves that nobody knows the character better than Davis himself. It also has a nice ending in which CSM finds a cure for the debilitating illness he’s been suffering from since receiving the genetic material from Mulder, but then tosses it into a lake rather than save himself. CSM’s always been one of my favorite characters, and I love how multi-faceted he is. Much like Benjamin Linus on LOST and Scorpius on Farscape, CSM isn’t so much a villain as a complex antihero who’s done evil things but may not be inherently evil at his core.

Unfortunately, many of the season’s second helping of monster of the week episodes are overly goofy, silly to the point of being trite, and not original. Ever since Season Two each season of The X-Files features a “comedy episode,” but Season Seven seemed to have a truckload of them. The worst offender is “Fight Club,” a dreadful episode starring Kathy Griffin that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. It’s odd that the season featured some of the best and worst monster episodes, but perhaps the later ones lacked in quality because the writers were just sick of writing them.

Unless you’re Nick Feitel and you’ve been living under a rock since the year 2000, you probably know that David Duchovny left The X-Files as a main character after the seventh season. I knew his abduction was coming, and was prepared for it to be disappointing and contrived, but was actually pleasantly surprised by the season finale, “Requiem.” It brought Scully and Mulder back to the site of their first case together, a nice way of bringing Mulder’s tale right back to where it began in the pilot. The Alien Bounty Hunter returns, as do Alex Krycek and Marita Covarrubias, who team up with a near-dead Cigarette Smoking Man only to betray him by the episode’s end. Though it was a little odd that Krycek and Marita would be working together again considering Krycek was working for CSM when he was performing Black Oil experiments on her, it was nice to see the two together, as they make a particularly ruthless pair of villains. CSM, wheelchair-bound and smoking cigarettes through a tracheotomy, is intent on restarting the Syndicate before he dies, and tries to loop Marita and Krycek into his plan, sending them to recover a downed UFO that Mulder is also searching for. At first, it appears that Krycek has turned on his former employer when he comes to Mulder and gives him the location of the spaceship, but it turns out to be a ruse: Krycek sent Mulder into the woods knowing he would be abducted. As CSM puts it, “As you’ve damned Mulder, so too have you damned mankind.” Those are his last words right before Kryeck tosses him to his apparent death down a flight of stairs. This isn’t the first time the writers have “killed off” CSM, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he came back, but I think it would be a better move if he truly did die on those stairs. He’s been the primary antagonist for a long time, but after the Syndicate was wiped out he sort of lost his significance and after the whole “debilitating illness” plotline it seems silly to resurrect him once more.

Hmm... maybe agreeing to this abduction thing was a bad decision...

Even though I knew it was coming, Mulder’s abduction was still pretty shocking. Stepping through a forcefield, Mulder happens upon a gaggle of abductees standing in a shaft of light. In much the same way Mulder accepted his sister’s fate, here he seems to accept his own: he’s been chasing aliens his whole life, always searching for proof, always looking for his abducted sister- what better way to end it all than to be abducted himself? It’s almost as if Mulder always knew that this would happen, so while some might think it odd that he basically let himself get abducted, I thought it was done in a very beautiful way and made sense when you considered the character’s history. The scene is also given slightly sinister undertones when Mulder comes face to face with the Alien Bounty Hunter, a moment that implies he may have made the wrong choice. I like how The X-Files depicts the aliens in a dichotomous light- sometimes they seem like benevolent beings with a master plan, but every once in a while the show reminds us that they’re actually creepy little grey men intent on our extinction.

And if that wasn’t shocking enough, the show gives us one final cliffhanger: Scully’s pregnant! A great move considering she was previously “barren,” as she put it due to CSM’s experiments, which makes the pregnancy miraculous. Assuming the child is also Mulder’s, it makes the situation all the more dramatic, and the search for Mulder all the more poignant. Considering there’s still two more seasons I’m not entirely sure where they’re going to go with this (is Scully going to be taking care of a baby for the final season?) but it was a clever way of keeping the audience engaged even with the absence of David Duchovny.

So there you go. Though the mytharc took a noticeable decline, the Samantha plot was resolved somewhat unsatisfactorily and the season overall had noticeably less quality than its predecessor, it did feature some of the greatest monster of the week episodes ever and had a genuinely shocking finale. I wish the writers had just wrapped the story up in another movie or a miniseries, but instead we got 40+ more eps featuring Robert Patrick. As much as I like the guy, I’m gearing myself for a slow and sad death for one of television’s greatest shows. One day executives will learn… one day…

Score: 8.4

Best Episode: “Hungry”

A monster of the week episode told from the perspective of the monster, with Mulder and Scully basically appearing as guest stars. A unique approach to the show’s formula, one that paid off thanks to a strong story, great dialogue and fantastic acting. I only wish the writers took the same risks with the rest of the mytharc episodes as they did here.

Worst Episode: “Fight Club”

A screwball comedy episode starring Kathy Griffin as doppelgangers who make people go crazy and fight each other anytime they’re in the same vicinity. Though it was a good role for Griffin, the episode wasn’t particularly funny and its premise was inherently flawed. Part of what makes The X-Files great is the ambiguous manner in which it approaches its supernatural phenomena. Though the audience often comes away with a basic understanding of what unfolded, it’s never explicit, and Mulder and Scully often end a case with no better understanding of what transpired. In “Fight Club,” there is absolutely no regard for logic and the episode ends with an explanation so dumb and far-fetched you can’t help but roll your eyes.

Continue to Part 12

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