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Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Todd Camp

Nine years is a long time to wait for “The Truth.”

But that’s how long Chris Carter, creator of the pop culture phenomenon known as “The X-Files,” has been telling us “the truth is out there.”

And tonight, as the show wraps up nine seasons of alien abductions, monster hunts and government cover-ups, Carter calls his legion of “X-philes” close, leans in and whispers what they’ve all been waiting for.

Or will he?

Carter offers a characteristically mysterious take on tonight’s two-hour series finale, titled “The Truth”:

“You see Mulder and Scully in a way that you may have always wanted to see them,” the 44-year-old Carter says. “The show and the conspiracy and the mythology and the X-Files as a concept have come full-circle. I think it’s a very touching, emotional show that doesn’t so much answer all the questions as it tries to make the entire series seem cohesive.”

We do know that David Duchovny’s Agent Fox Mulder returns and must stand trial, defending not only his life but the very existence of the X-Files. But cohesion and clarity have never been the aim of this deliberately evasive, often hypnotic series that has left an indelible “X” on the TV and cultural landscapes.

A solid, if not spectacular, performer in the ratings (at its peak, the show was drawing about 20 million viewers and was regularly in the top 20), the “The X-Files” is better measured by its hold on the public consciousness.

The show and its stars graced numerous magazine covers from “Rolling Stone” to “Vanity Fair” to “Newsweek” _ not to mention a staggering 10 covers for “Entertainment Weekly.” It inspired a wave of spinoff merchandise, including novels, trading cards, video games, comic books, soundtracks, toys, videos and DVDs, as well as its own official Web site, fan magazine and fan expositions. There was a spinoff TV series (which was later canceled) called “The Lone Gunmen,” based on a trio of recurring “X-Files” characters. And the 1998 feature film, “The X-Files: Fight the Future,” grossed more than $185 million worldwide.

The series was also the first legitimate dramatic hit for Fox. But beyond its reliability as a cash cow for a struggling network, the series tapped into the American psyche, with its catchphrases “The Truth Is Out There” and “Trust No One.” They would become mantras for an increasing disenfranchised public.

“I think that its underlying subversiveness is sort of a universal thing, and certainly an American thing,” Carter says, though the show’s nationalist paranoia has appealed to audiences in more than 100 countries around the world.

“What was more important about “The X-Files” was “how” it did what it did rather than “what” it did,” says Stuart Fischoff, professor of media psychology at California State University, Los Angeles. “You really had a fortuitous blending of ingredients. . . . it had a feel, it had a look, it had an ambiguity.”

Much of the show’s appeal has been linked to its filmic quality. Shooting in the perpetually cloudy, damp surroundings of Vancouver, Canada, gave the show a glistening, wet darkness all its own, a trait that unfortunately vanished when the series moved to Los Angeles to allow Duchovny to be closer to his wife, actress Tea Leoni. Its top-notch writing team and talented visual-effects and cinematography crews have helped earn the show 61 Emmy Award nominations and three Golden Globes wins.

But the heart of the series’ success has always been its stars.

“To me, the appeal of Duchovny and (Gillian) Anderson was so strong that even the episodes that weren’t really that great were saved by the chemistry between the characters,” says Craig Miller, 42, editor of the Arlington-based science-fiction magazines “Wrapped in Plastic” and “Spectrum,” some of the first national periodicals to begin covering “The X-Files.” “They found the right actors for the right parts.”


Drawing inspiration from television classics such as “The Twilight Zone” and ’70s cult shows like “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” and Jack Webb’s “Dragnet”-like “Project: UFO,” “The X-Files” first introduced agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully in 1993.

“It was when the Internet was taking off. . . . The mood of the country was such that all of the global villains had sort of fallen away and everyone was starting to look inward. It was a time of a sort of spiritual longing, and a time when science and technology were evolving faster than our ability to comprehend the consequences of it,” Carter says of the show’s origins. “So there were a lot of things and moods and facts and circumstances that I think allowed it to succeed.”

“There’s always been a time-honored suspicion of the government, and a fascination, mixed with hope, mixed with fear, of extraterrestrial life,” Fischoff says. “We look to the skies for either bad things or good things _ good things to deliver us, bad things to harm us.”

Duchovny’s Mulder is a brilliant FBI criminal profiler and confirmed believer in extraterrestrials, stemming from witnessing his sister’s abduction as a child. He continues his search for her while working on “The X-Files,” the bureau’s division devoted to unexplained phenomena. Anderson’s Scully is a medical doctor and confirmed skeptic assigned as Mulder’s partner in an effort to debunk his work.

It was this relationship _ the skeptic and the believer _ that would drive the series _ with Scully’s doubt waning in the face of overwhelming evidence and Mulder’s belief system increasingly eroded in the face of growing government cover-ups.

The presence of a subtle sexual tension between the partners has also played no small part in their appeal, though fans have been rewarded with little more than a couple of kisses and an off-screen one-night stand that may or may not have resulted in the birth of Scully’s baby.

“It had that element that has continuously made stories attractive to men and women for thousands of years, and that is the star-crossed lovers,” Fischoff says. “These are people who never quite make it, and the minute they do, like “Cheers,” the show goes down the tubes.”

Equally interesting is the rogue’s gallery of characters who have helped or hindered the agents in their quest for the truth, including: Assistant Director Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), the Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis), X (Steven Williams), Deep Throat (Jerry Hardin), Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea), the Lone Gunmen (Bruce Harwood, Dean Haglund and Tom Braidwood), and later in the series, agents John Doggett (Robert Patrick) and Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish).

All of these characters coexist within a delicate balance of grim stories involving supernatural creatures or human monsters, mythology episodes focusing on an increasingly complicated government conspiracy (see accompanying synopsis), and occasional oddball adventures showcasing the cast and crew’s delightfully dark senses of humor.

Mulder’s continuing quest for his sister would be put on hold for a visit to a town populated by former circus freaks, his body swap with quirky Man in Black Michael McKean,, or, in Carter’s favorite episode, a black-and-white retelling of the Frankenstein legend featuring a tortured creature with a Cher fixation.

Last week’s episode centered on a psychokinetic man with a “Brady Bunch” fixation. But even though the humorous episodes often angered diehard fans, they were also the most critically lauded and gave folks who didn’t follow the story a much needed inroad to the show.

“The mythology, at some point around the fifth or sixth season, became so maddeningly complex, I could no longer make any sense of it,” Miller says. “And I thought it was just me. But in talking to people who followed the show, and who obsessed over the show much more than I did, I would ask them, “Whatever happened with this or that?’ and they’d say, “Beats me. I don’t know.’ ”

Despite the show’s confusing nature, it still ended up influencing any number of copycats _ most of which died on the vine in Fox’s disaster-prone lead-in spot for the series when it first aired on Friday nights. It’s safe to say, however, that popular series such as “CSI, Smallville, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alias” and “Roswell” owe their very existence to “The X-Files.” Fox even used the show to market its own programming, with Duchovny and Anderson showing up in “The Springfield Files” episode on “The Simpsons,” and specific “X-Files” episodes referencing Fox shows like “Cops” and the network’s much-ballyhooed “Alien Autopsy.” But Carter’s other TV experiments _ the well-made but too grim “Millennium,” or the quickly abandoned “Harsh Realm” and “The Lone Gunmen” _ never clicked with audiences.


Though the series drew from real life _ directly or indirectly referring to events such as Ruby Ridge, Waco and the Oklahoma City bombing _ it was in the wake of Sept. 11 that Carter says the show was perceived as has having run its course. “The mood shifted radically,” he says. “I think that to question authority was un-American, for a time. But this is not a young show anymore; it’s not a new show. And while I feel like we did really good work this year, I think that the mood of the country did affect us.”

But Fischoff says the show was in trouble long before Sept. 11.

“All shows run out the skein of their appeal and they get tired,” he says. “If it really, really lost its flavor because of the World Trade Center, that’s kind of a heroic demise. But I don’t think that’s really what happened.”

Duchovny left the show at the start of the eighth season, shortly after settling a highly publicized lawsuit he filed against Fox over his share of the show’s syndication profits. For many fans, his departure sounded the death knell for the series, though he returned for half a season last year as well as the series finale tonight. Most of this season, the series has ranked in the mid-’80s, with a weekly audience that’s dropped to less than 9 million.

But with Anderson contracted for another year, Carter stuck it out, despite seriously considering leaving the show at the end of last year, he says.

“I made a promise to the actors that I wouldn’t bail out on ’em and I didn’t, so I at least feel like I’ve honored something I feel very strongly about,” Carter says. “Now it’s time to find new ways to tell a good story.”

Whether it’s stayed too long at the fair or whether or not there are still good mysteries to unravel, “The X-Files”‘ departure will leave a void, not just in Fox’s Sunday night lineup, but in the pantheon of shows with good storytelling. For nine years, “X” has marked the spot for something a little different, and Carter himself says he still hasn’t begun to grasp the scope or impact of his creation.

“It’s just weird to see the places it’s cropped up, you know,” he says. “You hear it referred to in popular song lyrics or you see people with it tattooed on their body. That’s always strange.”

But with the series’ final episode airing tonight, Fischoff says one of the show’s greatest appeals was that “it never really ended. The central recurring theme, the leitmotif of “The X-Files” was never resolved,” he says.

So when Carter and company unveil “the truth” tonight, X-philes everywhere remain confident that there are many more truths still out there.

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One Response to “Fort Worth Star-Telegram”

  1. […] Chris Carter ever decided to take a less hands-on approach to the running of the show. After all, Carter had suggested that his attachment to The X-Files was largely rooted in a promise made to Gill…, so he might be willing to step back if the show continued without so strong a focus on Mulder and […]