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The X-Files and the Future, Part 1: What’s left hanging?

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

As you well know, visitor, The X-Files is returning in January 2016 after over thirteen year of absence from the television screens — or after over seven years of absence from the cinema screens. Meanwhile, the comics continuation by IDW will keep on, parallel to that.

Announced in March, the 6-episode revival series was shot between June 8 and September 3 2015 (quite longer than originally planned — attention to detail and budget overshoot, or will it end up being seven episodes?), well in advance of its January premiere. The exclusive world premiere is set for October 6 in Cannes, France (MIPCOM, professional event), and October 10 in New York (New York Comic Con), before the premiere on FOX on January 24.

Where many were expecting the X-Files to continue its (mitigated) career as a feature film franchise and wrap with a final mythology-filled “X-Files 3”, Chris Carter has been given the opportunity to do another run on television. And where this fan expected him to be cautions and transform the idea he must have had for a wrap-up film into a multi-part television event, Carter has run wild! The revival series is developing into a much more ambitious project than expected, with the involvement of among the best of the show’s writers, with the return of several of the show’s supporting cast, with a mix of both mythology and stand-alone episodes, with the possibility of more mini-seasons or even the idea of a film not out of the picture either. This, inevitably, heightens expectations. Let us have a close look at what the X-Files left unfinished, what has changed since it has left the airwaves, and what it could add to its storytelling universe.

Phenomena Incognita

Revival promo art: “Phenomena Incognita”

Out of all the story threads that the X-Files opened and never fully unraveled, you could say there are hundreds of things a continuation could pick up on and build further. But if you are going to do a continuation more than a decade later, why stick to the details? A continuation must have a certain amount of things that can make it recognizable as the same thing from the past — characters, situations, settings, props, photography, a healthy dose of nostalgia — but it also needs to do things differently, otherwise it defeats the purpose of having a continuation at all. Many sequels are nothing but more of the same with a single element different so as to spice things up but at the core they have nothing new to say, nothing new to contribute in their central themes or development in their characters. Sequels and revivals only too often rely on that, particularly in the last ten years or so now that the lines between movie franchise, television series and internet-exclusive content have blurred and everything is part of a cross-platform serialized storytelling. Why do something new when a minimal effort re-hash of the same is often enough to make economic sense for a producer? But why make something new if you have exhibited the level of intelligent writing Chris Carter has and you have nothing new to say in the world of The X-Files? This divide between economic rationality versus artistic motivation is one that has existed since the beginning of this, or essentially any, show.

So let’s examine what The X-Files has left unresolved, in what ways it could develop, and what new it could add to the mix. This being Eat The Corn, there will inevitably be a mythology bias to all this and for this I do not apologize. Also, there are spoilers for the (old!) series; and although I have not managed to remain spoiler-free for the revival series, I offer no spoilers here (in fact I know some of these items will not be followed through).

Part 1: What’s left hanging?

To be frank, the long-time fans have to admit that not everything is about the past. While a minimum amount of continuity is necessary, the truth is that thirteen years in television is an eternity and this revival is like a reboot on a clean slate — anything that is from the old series is just icing on the cake. This minimum amount of elements from the past should be the mere concept of alien colonization and a human conspiracy collaborating with them. Everything else that came with it — Samantha, Bill Mulder, the implants, the bees, the corn, the vaccine, the different hybrids, the nanotechnology, most supporting characters — was passionately complex but it needs not even be mentioned anymore.

"You're looking at the future, Mister Mulder"

“You’re looking at the future, Mister Mulder”

 

Colonization

This is by far the principal plot point of the whole mythology and overshadows everything else in this list. Colonization is what the show has been teasing since very early on (3X24: Talitha Cumi really made it explicit) and self-inflicted a constraint by putting a future date to it, December 22 2012. The resolution of this storyline is what the audience has been waiting for for an eventual third X-Files feature film that never came “on time”. The status of this, and the fact that the date has passed but nothing (apparently?) happened, has to be addressed.

William in 2012?

William in 2012?

 

William

While season 8 (somewhat predictably) built suspense around his gestation, Scully and Mulder’s son was a story that only became a burden after the show kept Scully in the cast in season 9. Who remembers the bad taste of him being given up for adoption apart from the fans that followed through to the very end? Yet, Carter seems to still have plans for him and address this prophecy surrounding him. The “savior” motif has actually existed for a long time in the mythology of the show before landing on William’s shoulders: Gibson Praise was “the key to everything in the X-Files” in 5X20: The End, Mulder had “become our savior” in 7X04: Amor Fati. And that is most likely William in the credits of season 9, at the age he would be in 2012.

State-of-the-art in infiltration technology

State-of-the-art in infiltration technology

 

The Supersoldiers

The infiltrated alien has also gone though various incarnations in the X-Files, between the Alien Bounty Hunter, the shape-shifting Rebel, the Black-Oil-infected host or the alien/human hybrid. The latest version of that were the alien replicants deceptively called Supersoldiers. They were in a position of power in 2002 and if they are not today it has to be addressed. In I Want To Believe, the inclusion of Ten Thirteen alumni Sarah-Jane Redmond in a very small role as FBI Agent Fossa made me expect that she could later be developed as an undercover Supersoldier — or it could be nothing but another inside joke.

 

The Faceless Rebels and the Russian syndicate

Story threads abandoned in season 6 but that was supposed to become integral to seasons 7 and 8, this is probably a storyline that was borne out of the ever-complexifying mythology that is now old history. However, this is a development that held so much promise that I had to add it here, not to mention that the flash appearance of the Rebels in the comics Season 10 was a great surprise. What would have happened if a resistance against the Black Oil Colonists, perhaps encompassing the rebellious cloned hybrids, had destroyed the Colonists’ plans? What if the Rebels had then proven as ill-intentioned towards humans as the Colonists?

 

The Syndicate

It got destroyed in season 6, of course, but we only knew about the American branch. Did the Rebels exterminate its international members as well? Did some, like mastermind Strughold, survive? Was it reconstructed but with different goals and alliances? The comics Season 10 goes down this path and makes things very interesting.

"You have a friend at the FBI"

“You have a friend at the FBI”

 

The living

Of course, any living character can be returned. However, a lot of time has passed and a new series should not clutter itself too much with the past. Audiences are not necessarily familiar with all the characters and the opportunity of a continuation series should not be wasted by making it a series of “what happened to” moments just to satisfy our curiosity. Some can return, but certainly not all.

  • Walter Skinner, of course, has been an ally for so long it’s difficult to imagine a continuation without him.
  • Alvin Kersh, on the other hand, was a replacement character to create drama when Skinner grew too close to our agents; I can’t imagine his role couldn’t be filled by another face at the FBI.
  • John Doggett and Monica Reyes, as good as the actors portraying them were, never quite gelled with the audience as a lead duo, but a cameo to help an investigation forward would not be unwelcome.
Uncertain fates

Uncertain fates

  • Gibson Praise was a recurring character that Carter brought back for the series finale, and as a child with alien-derived powers he could be seen perhaps as an earlier version of William. This is an obvious choice for a returning character, unless William becomes the focus. Gibson’s inclusion in the comics Season 10 might prevent that or end up being contradicted.
  • Marita Covarrubias, Mulder’s only surviving informant, did not get the character development she deserved in the series and an interesting development for her could be devised, especially with the success actor Laurie Holden has been getting recently with “The Walking Dead”; optional.
  • Jeffrey Spender returned from the dead to close season 9 but I never understood why that was necessary; optional.
  • Margaret and Bill Scully, the only surviving family members of Mulder and Scully, would be a nice to-have.
  • Frank Black, who, short of having his own feature, could make an appearance. Carter has expressed desire to return to the character and a revival of Millennium’s sister show would be as good a vehicle as any to do that, given that FOX might not consider the brand name recognition sufficient to launch a Millennium revival, despite the dedication of its fan base.
Ghosts of seasons past

Ghosts of seasons past

 

The dead

“Nobody ever really dies on The X-Files” as Carter famously said, but return too many characters from the dead and you lose the subtle suspension of disbelief that makes a work of fiction memorable. I’m sure writers can devise ways to make anyone return, especially in a science fiction & fantastic show like The X-Files: their deaths only happened off-screen, they were in fact alien replicants, there are hybrid clones around, they are dead but their spirit still lingers around… Tread carefully.

  • The Cigarette-Smoking Man was already resurrected with no explanation only to be present in the series finale, where he was also most definitely reduced to ashes. He was the absolute iconic and recognizable villain of the show and the temptation to have him around again will be great. But a page has to be turned at some point, nothing ever stays the same. Not to mention that he should be in his mid eighties at least to make things consistent with his history (at least in his twenties in 1953). Unless flashbacks are involved I would prefer to invest in a new villain, like season 9 tried with the Supersoldier Toothpick Man (actor Alan Dale).
  • Krycek is another tempting character to return, and a personal favorite. However, like with the Rebels and the Russians, he could be considered as old history now.
  • The Lone Gunmen will be needed in this day and age where any discussion of paranoia and high-tech and government surveillance will require side characters like them. Killing them was among the most stupid decisions season 9 did so the revival might as well follow the comics Season 10 and say they faked their deaths. Some of the actors are not getting any younger though.
Quiz: find the living one(s)

Quiz: find the living one(s)

  • Deep Throat and X have done their part and it would be more interesting to discover new informants.
  • Diana Fowley disappeared from the show very suddenly, as if the writers had no real plan for her after mid-season 6. Same as with Jeffrey Spender, her past with Mulder and her story arc was interesting but I see no particular reason for her return.
  • Cassandra Spender was never fully confirmed as dead, which is a handy way of leaving the door open for her return. Her return would have to be tied to the return of the Cigarette-Smoking Man, or even to that of the Faceless Rebels, making it rather complex. Her role of a being with a shared nature between human and alien could be fulfilled by Gibson Praise or William, or a new abductee.
  • Samantha Mulder was Mulder’s engine to keep on going forward and this was taken away from him in season 7 when he found out her faith, appropriately at a time when the series was thought to be ending and Duchovny’s motivation to portray the character had waned. Her mention anew in I Want To Believe (“This is about you trying to save your sister“) was a surprise. With the resolution we got in season 7, it took a long time for Mulder to close his wounds; however an interesting “what if” scenario would be that of Mulder reuniting with a clone that had Samantha’s memories, something that was teased as a possibility repeatedly in the series. A return in the form of a ghost should not be dismissed outright, nor should it be handled lightly.
From the IWTB Press Kit

From the IWTB Press Kit

 

Mulder and Scully

Of course. How the lead characters develop would be a main argument for following a continuation, given how truly essential these two characters and the actors portraying them were to the show’s success. The series ended with them a couple in love, retrospectively turning the entire series into the narration of how they met, appreciated each other, and ultimately found in each other the most significant partner they could imagine. In I Want To Believe it became apparent, as could have been expected, that their contacts with the dark aspects of the human soul, the paranormal and conspiracies of all kinds would take their toll on their relationship. The second film portrayed them as tortured individuals trying to balance things between a life together away from the worries of this world, and a life as selfless heroes battling “the darkness”. The quintessential Chris Carter protagonists. Funnily enough, the film was so ambiguous and not specific, like The X-Files often was, that while some understood that Mulder and Scully had been living together in West Virginia for the past 6 years, some others understood that they were only occasional lovers who seldom saw each other, and that Mulder lived in that house alone.

On to Part 2: What new can it add?

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