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S11#6-8: The Lowdown

Endgames” is the three-issue finale of the IDW comics Season 11 — actually the finale of the entire story that Joe Harris started in June 2013 with Season 10 #1 that spanned 33 issues + 2 Christmas specials. The end of a nearly-three-year ride! It is also the announcement of the start of a new ride, since a new comics series begins very soon, set in the continuity of the live revival that happened in the meantime. Let us first take a look at the story proposed in this finale, before looking at the larger picture.

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Spoilers, obviously.

A summary of events as they unfold:

  • Flasfhorward: post-apocalyptic Washington DC & Mount Weather Complex: Mulder and Gibson(s)’s final confrontation. Mulder figured out Gibson’s game, Gibson waits for Mulder’s final move
  • Blackfoot County, Idaho: Mulder and Scully and the Lone Gunmen decrypt Gibson’s tape, completely empty apart from a mark that sends them to Stone Haven Depository, where Gibson probably sends/receives messages to the aliens
  • Camp Williams, Bluffdale, Utah: Mulder and Scully try to infiltrate the base, which turns out to be a covert mining operation of magnetite with Cantus activities; they meet reporters Kelsey and Brandon; Kelsey-as-Gibson tries to warn off Mulder; Brandon is a Rebel, captures Scully; Rebels disguised as military infiltrate the base, try to steal magnetite, are stopped by Gibson’s assault team and are destroyed by magnetite; Mulder captures a Rebel
  • Teton Ridge Mall, Idaho: the Lone Gunmen help Mulder, find out that Cantus works to demagnetize the magnetite at an industrial scale
  • Outside Salt Lake City, Utah: Scully recovers, surrounded by Rebels working against Gibson, AD Morales reveals to be among them
  • Northern Utah Desert: Mulder approaches a second mine with Rebel, is stopped by Gibson-as-Skinner, who kills Rebel
  • Northern Utah Desert: Mulder and Skinner enter the abandoned open-pit mine, discover truckloads of demagnetized tapes and Gibson at the bottom
  • Franklin County, Idaho: The Lone Gunmen discover the tape has regained its magnetic properties
  • Pit: Gibson controls a technology that is a focal point, a crucible viewer of all possibilities past and future. Skinner temporarily knocks him off; Rebels and Scully arrive; UFO appears, destroys Rebels, abducts Gibson — just as Mulder and Scully figure out Gibson’s long-term plan. Mulder steps in to explore the crucible.

Gibson’s long con

Endgames” presents answers and revelations that, in the best tradition of The X-Files, come out as onion layers, still hiding something inside and still leaving a part of mystery at the end. Joe Harris has had years of exercise in this format, and a reread is necessary here to grasp the overall story.

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Through various twists and turns over the past three years, we learn the following: the Faceless Rebels have been monitoring Gibson for a long time, trying to influence him and trying to figure out what his real plans were. They thought they were on the same side in the beginning, aiming to resist the all-powerful alien Colonists by expanding Earth’s defenses with mined magnetite. (See for example the magnetite pipeline safety belt in S10#1-5; such a large-scale but underground mobilization could be the reason why the invasion did not happen in 2012.) But then they discovered Gibson was actually rendering the magnetite inert, annihilating Earth’s natural defenses and essentially giving Earth to the Colonists on a platter. The Rebels tried then to oppose him, but Gibson managed to make contact with the Colonists and be taken into their fold, sealing the planet’s future. However, Gibson’s longer-term plan was one of deceit: the magnetite was designed to become active again after some time — now truly spread all over the place thanks to its conversion into mass-consumption audio cassettes — and in a hypothetical future the Colonists would encounter resistance when they would least expect it, perhaps cancelling their plans altogether.

Mulder, and to a lesser extent Scully, were caught in that game of deceits. Gibson was telling Mulder that he was doing this as a friend but Mulder never believed him: Gibson’s objective was to make Mulder — and everyone — believe that he really had betrayed any resistance and was working for the Colonists, and in doing so he wanted the Colonists to believe it too, lower their guard and take him with them. Gibson was already a lonely person due to his abilities, and his plan did not help at all to make him build saner personal relations with other human beings.

The Rebels

We also get confirmation that AD Morales is a member of the Faceless Rebels, something that we theorized here in the S11 X-mas Special.

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In S11#7, a Rebel manages to say “we are only guardians […] committed always to…“: to what he was referring is unclear, perhaps the Rebels have taken it on themselves to safeguard Earth from the Colonists. Their purpose, as Morales says, “to root out efforts to compromise this nation’s ability to administer and defend itself“.

We also see the Rebels be destroyed by the magnetite ore, something that was not obvious before, since we only have seen them be destroyed by alien radiation (5X14: The Red and the Black) or the alien stiletto (6X11: Two Fathers). This calls back to the Acolytes in S10 (#1-5), who appeared to be green-blooded alien/human hybrids sensible to magnetite and the alien stiletto, and who looked like a religious cult in praise of the alien Colonists. Perhaps the Acolytes too were of the same race as the Rebels, with the Acolytes having remained faithful to the superior Colonists while the Rebels turned against them. This further reinforces the theory that the alien stiletto is made out of magnetite.

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Another Rebel at the back of a truck (cf. The Red and the Black)

Furthermore, there are various references to:

  • The “Wow!” signal, spotted by SETI in 1977 and thought to be proof of extraterrestrial life, although there is still debate and alternative theories as to the true phenomenon behind the signal, such as comets. This signal was already referenced prominently in 2X01: Little Green Men!
  • More references to the surveillance state: Stone Haven Depository might be fictional, but the NSA does need facilities to store all their big data they gather through PRISM, and we get the obligatory references to Edward Snowden & Chelsea Manning.
  • Namedumps for Halliburton (large multinational energy services company with lobbying power, and into shale gas production) and Blackwater (large private military and security company, involved in subcontracting or assigned secret missions by the US military).
  • The timewarp device brings about a great Dr Who reference!

The crucible

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At the heart of Gibson’s plans is what he and Morales refer to as the “crucible“: “a looking glass” or “a focal point“, a device that allows to look at all pasts and futures, all possibilities and how they play out from beginning to end. The aliens, with their faster-than-light travel and time loss-inducing abductions, have the “ability to warp space/time” and have a different perspective from the linear uni-directional way we humans look at things. Gibson and his “ascended” mind can “see things through all facets of the gemstone“, see that “they’re just circles“. Any decision, and chess move, makes sense only when all possible outcomes and future moves have been taken into account; and so Gibson’s strategy — to manipulate or to lie at specific moments, to sacrifice certain pawns, like the assault team that reveals the Rebels at the entrance of Stone Haven Depository — is tailored towards one outcome. Different paths towards one goal. The chess imagery is once more heavily used here, closely associated with Gibson Praise ever since his introduction in 5X20: The End, when the CSM said “It’s all a game. You just take their pieces one by one until the board is clear.

Gibson didn’t find the crucible, it is “of my design and creation“, possibly based on the recovery of alien UFO technology, and created there after the site was used for magnetite ore extraction. We see all kinds of flashbacks of all the events that lead here, throughout the television series’ life (all of Gibson’s appearances since 5X20: The End, and Mulder and Scully moments: 1X79: Pilot, Fight the Future, 6X20: The Unnatural, 7X17: all things) but also throughout the comics S10 and S11, including their own flashbacks. The ultimate reference is a panel where we very clearly see Mulder and Scully from the “season 10” 2016 revival, a continuity entirely independent from the comics’, which shows that the crucible also taps in different possibilities, parallel universes.

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The story also includes a recurring flash-forward into a post-apocalyptic, post-colonization future, the kind of future that fans have fantasized about for a very long time, of which we got a short glimpse in a dream sequence in 7X04: Amor Fati. In a devastated landscape, with Scully apparently dead, a weary Mulder confronts Gibson in the form of a multitude of clones, in the Mount Weather Complex, what we know to be the seat of the secret government once colonization starts (9X19/20: The Truth). In that future, Mulder “killed you [Gibson] already” “and that’s why you lost, Mulder“: we see the outcome of Mulder pulling the trigger at Gibson at that crucial moment when he is being abducted at the crucible, when the pact between Gibson and the Colonists is done and the Colonists are being led down the path Gibson wants them to. Without that pact, the future results in a violent confrontation between Colonists and whatever resistance there will be, a dark future for everyone involved. Gibson is left only with himself, playing a big chess tournament with himself. Gibson then reappears to Mulder, season 5 young, just as Mulder suddenly appears to be S11 young; the crucible allows both to explore these “potentialities“, to travel back and forth between them and judge them as from an a-temporal perspective. Old Mulder realized the tapes were a form of resistance too late; Gibson realized this was not the outcome he wanted and back in the present made a Christmas gift to Mulder, a tape that the Gunmen discover is remagnetized, preventing Mulder from killing Gibson at the last moment and allowing him to proceed with his plans; Mulder sees that. Several potentialities have led to this, and the one we explore as a potential flash-forward is erased.

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I demand to see the charred remains of Knowle Rohrer

What will happen now that Gibson has been taken by the Colonists? That is open to interpretation. He will probably learn a whole lot from them, becoming even more “ascended“, and perhaps planning for his escape strategy once his long-term plans are revealed to the Colonists. Most importantly Gibson will keep them focused on the task of colonization up to some point in the future where the tapes will become magnetized again, and the Colonists, infiltrated as they will be in the human society, will be suddenly decimated all over the planet, or at least pushed back decisively. Resist while serving.

Resolutions and continuations

And so the Season 10/11 storyline comes to a conclusion — really, the whole mythology of alien/conspiracy/colonization that energizes the show is given an absolute, final resolution! Mulder is left to explore the crucible, and we are to understand that we can now switch to the “revival” universe, where a different set of events, a different potentiality, will unfold. Harris chose to close his story carefully and wittingly, with a MacGuffin that, albeit very convenient, opens up all kinds of possibilities and makes an in-universe explanation for the existence of the parallel storylines we see. Quite an achievement, given the constraints that were imposed on him!

We are left to wonder how different things would have turned out had the live revival not happened. Quite probably not very differently.

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When the (live) revival was announced in March 2015, before even we knew much of what became My Struggle I & II, the Harris comics readers started asking what would happen out of the many possibilities (potentialities?): Would the revival follow the comics chronologically? Would the revival carefully ignore the comics but not make them directly incompatible? Would the revival and comics be completely incompatible? Would the comics then continue regardless, in their alternate universe? Would the comics ret-con their own history in order to force them to be compatible with the revival? (Would time-travelling be involved?)

As much as I would have preferred the revival (i.e. Carter) to have been respectful of the comics, it is now clear that once the live revival got going there never was a plan to make them a single coherent story. In 2013, Harris created his story, and even followed Carter’s advice to respect certain limitations in case a revival or a third movie would happen — not to address Mulder and Scully’s son William directly, not to resolve the alien colonization storyline. The main antagonist ended up being Gibson Praise, although ultimately it would have made little difference had it been William, and the alien colonization storyline was addressed only when it became clear the comics and revival were fully on parallel tracks. Harris’ stories were more ambitious than what Carter would allow, and yet when the revival came Carter ignored the comics completely. Given the market size of monthly US comics versus television broadcast worldwide, such a configuration is not exactly surprising. And yet, things could have been different.

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As Harris acknowledges in his letter closing the last issue of Season 11, his original plans were for Season 11 to be more or less as long as Season 10: “it wasn’t without sadness when we realized a story I had originally projected to run for another 15-plus issues would need to be reimagined“. “Endgames” does feel rushed at times, spending a lot of time with things that are not that consequential (the reporters) and jumping suddenly from one point (the mining operation) to another (the crucible). The whole season started with a new status quo, Mulder on the run in #1, only to cut it short in the very next story arc. The season was obviously planned to be longer, keeping Mulder and Scully apart for a longer time, building to revelations and progressive changes, alternating between stand-alone stories and mythology arcs, instead of the continuous serialized story we saw. In initial solicitations, #2-4 “Home Again” was billed as a two-parter, not the three-parter it became; the S10 X-mas Special was an independent story, unlike the double-size very, very crucial part of the story that the S11 X-mas Special became. The finale came after it, as it had to be published more or less in tandem with the revival airing on televisions, in January-February 2016, taking advantage of the media buzz for The X-Files brand.

Once it was clear that the comics were an alternate universe, I don’t see why the comics couldn’t continue and given a proper, non-rushed development. It would probably have ended in a similar way anyway, however we can imagine that the longer Season 11 would have addressed certain dangling storylines left from Season 10, such as the Acolytes or Krycek. That would have been the preferred option. What we got was a disservice to the S10/S11 comics; all the while the “season 10” revival was a disservice to seasons 1-9 mythology.

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It’s the end of the world, I’m telling you!

Of course, Harris’ X-Files were not perfect. Where they excelled in mystery and twisted plot, they underdeveloped other aspects, such as Mulder-Scully interactions; their characterization was rather rigidly stuck to how they were during the peak years of the show and the extra focus on the mythology put Mulder much more to the front than Scully; the dialogue was at times trying hard to be verbose and cryptic; we got our share of present-day politics references, but there was little focus on the other ingredient that made The X-Files stand out, the science. Yet the overall effort was a passionate enterprise and in many pleasantly surprising ways very true to the X-Files way of storytelling and mythos. In several aspects better than what ended up being the plot of the on-screen series. This reader and X-phile is certainly grateful!

In terms of artwork, Smith’s drawing and Bellaire’s coloring work very well once more here, especially given the constraints of delivering a monthly comic, and the improvement of the artwork over that of Walsh in the first issues of S10 is enormous.

Very soon the comics undergo a full reboot. “The X-Files” comics series (no subtitle — what would it be anyway? “the real season 10”?) will unfold in the continuity defined by the 2016 revival series, with Mulder and Scully’s corresponding looks and by the same team of Harris-Smith-Bellaire. Given the huge cliffhanger at the end of “My Struggle II” and also given how Harris’ mythology was overwritten by Carter previously, it is difficult to imagine the new comics series developing the mythology extensively. It will probably be a series of stand-alone stories, like the post-Petrucha Topps comics were in the 1990s. We will know soon enough.

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10 Responses to “S11#6-8: The Lowdown”

  1. Melissa says:

    Thanks for the review. I’m disappointed there wasn’t more variety in the stories in the comics including horror, humor, procedural etc like in the series. I liked the Year Zero mini series the most and I hope we’ll get more stories in the 40s. I look forward for the new series.

  2. Mercenary Nemesis says:

    I’m still waiting for Krycek’s Dossie. I got very curious about what you have to say about him.

  3. Emily Scully says:

    Thanks for all the news, reviews and updates, great work. Have you read the new comic series? Is it good? Also with the glitch in negotiations in s11, how do you think The X-Files can continue? (assuming it’s a big franchise for FOX to let it go)

    • orodromeus says:

      Thanks! Re: S11: I will point you to what I wrote on ETC’s Facebook page, which is often updated with news: https://www.facebook.com/EatTheCorn/posts/572998096227421
      FOX won’t let go of the franchise so this is not the end. But it certainly delays any X-Files with CC/DD/GA involvement, be it shortened S11 or TV-movie resolution, for 2018-2019 and beyond. And I’m sure FOX is also looking at options of X-Files without/after their involvement.

      Re: new comics: After the revival forced the wrap up of the previous comics continuity, I lost some interest. I will post an update eventually. Σύντομα…

  4. Emily Scully says:

    Ευχαριστώ:)
    Very interesting thoughts. Would you be interested in a “next generation” type of show if it was well made?

  5. Jason says:

    Scully can not die, Clyde Bruckman said so. In a post colonization future she’ll be the queen. Seriously, there were some interesting ideas in the comics but they spent more time revisiting old threads and recreating past scenes than tell a fresh story. Regarding the fact that the live series did not follow the comics, I don’t think there was ever a chance to do so. In every big movie or tv franchise the novels, comics, games etc are not treated as canon and every single time they are ignored. When Disney bought Lucasfilm the EU that started at tge 80s got de-canonized and a new continuity begun with the new films, Star Trek novels and comics have been rebooted several times to fit the new material that comes on screen etc. The safer move imo is to set the comics and novels in an un-specific time within the series and follow their own independent storyline without contradicting the canon material and hope that the new on screen stories will not affect those. Something like parallel continuities though the comics and novels are not allowed to contradict the source material.

    • orodromeus says:

      Sure, comics and extra material are like second-class citizens. The Star Wars Extended Universe is a great example. Also worth mentioning: the EU was not coherent within itself either, so attributing the status of “canon” and assigning priorities is not a bad thing to begin with.

      When the S10 comics started, they were the only game in town for X-Files, and just a few months later in the 20th anniversary panel (San Diego Comic Con) it really seemed to me as if Carter has given up hope that anything might happen with this franchise. The comics were, by default, *the* canon, and I really got invested in them. Combined with the fact that the live revival made some odd choices, I still hold the Harris comics to a high standard.

      That being said, it’s true the best thing Harris could now do would be to make up a mythology all of his own and try to tell his own story. Something like what Stefan Petrucha attempted with his first 12 issue in the Topps comics. Harris might be doing just that for all we know.

      Ideally, I think the XF comics would come out like graphic novels once every few months, telling complete but interconnected stories and with even more time spend on the artwork. But (non-independent) US comics don’t work that way…

      • Jason says:

        I agree, when the s10 comics started there was little hope to have an actual continuation of the show so it was logical at the time for the comics to be designed and promoted as a continuation of the series.

        As I said the comics had some interesting ideas but my problem is that (and that’s personal and perhaps it comes from the fact that I never took them as an official continuation of the series) so I saw the comics as an opportunity to expand the world of The X-Files, to go to places the series didn’t go, to introduce new characters and explore new ideas not to put the focus on the black oil and the clones/hybrids/rebels again.

        There are subject matters, for example, that the series didn’t explore in depth such as: other dimensions, artificial intelligence, mind control, implanted memories, erasing memories technology, cold fusion & other experimented technologies that they could create great independent stories and some of them could be used to advance the main mythology of the show.

        So my issues is more about the expectations I had and less about the quality of the comics.

        Topps comics is a great example of what they should do now.

        P.S. I also wanted more Scully focused stories.

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