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Starlog: End Games

End Games
Ian Spelling

With murky questions & enigmatic answers, creator Chris Carter closes The X-Files.

It’s starting to sink in. It’s the end of The X-Files. And, like a gallon of black oil, it’s starting to seep into the warped mind of Chris Carter, the man who created The X-Files, executive-produced it for nine years, scripted dozens of episodes and directed several as well.

What began in 1993 as a cult TV favorite – about FBI Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigating the paranormal, aliens and government conspiracies – blew up to become a full-fledged phenomenon on the order of Star Trek – right down to the conventions, fan fiction and the official magazine. Now, with The Truth – the two-hour series finale Fox aired in late May – the show has come to a close.

“Only in small ways is it sinking in right now,” Carter says during a break from production on The Truth. “I sense it when I say, ‘This is the last production meeting’ or ‘This is the last casting session.’ There are lots of lasts. It’s sinking in slowly, but there is still loads of hard work to be done. We have to finish filming and then edit the finale, which will have a quick turnaround. We’ve got plenty left to do before we can really think about the end.”

Final Truths

So what’s the truth about The Truth?

“You see the return of David Duchovny,” Carter replies. “You find out where Mulder has been, what he has been up to. You see some old faces who, if you’ve been a long-time fan of the show, you haven’t seen for a while – and might wonder **how** it is you’re seeing them again. You’ll also see a really good story that brings us full circle back to the pilot. And we make some sense of the mythology. I’m not suggesting that we can answer everything or answer the unanswerable, but we certainly take a **logical**, cohesive approach to trying to answer some of the bigger questions. It’s very fitting that David is back, and it’s a chance to come full circle. He fits into this season’s story arc anyway, so it’s as if we had **planned** it this way.

“It has been interesting for us because we’ve been able to build up to this finale. The last two or three years, the final episode of each season was done without knowing if the show would be back or if I would be back. That was tough, but it’s almost harder now, because we know we have no [other] chance to go back and re-explain things. We have to hit all our marks now. Also, emotionally, we have to be honest with the characters and the journeys they go on. You don’t get a chance to go back with them, either. These are all things we’re taking special care with. I’ve never had a show that has gone 200 episodes, where I had to wrap up nine years of storytelling. Who teaches you these things? I don’t know.”

Carter himself decided to terminate The X-Files. The show’s ratings began their decline after Duchovny became a part-time player during Season Eight, and this year, with Anderson, Robert Patrick (John Doggett) and Annabeth Gish (Monica Reyes) as the leads, the ratings started off lower than ever before. Although the Nielsen numbers remained stable throughout the season – especially after it was announced that this would be the show’s last hurrah – Carter elected to leave the party before being unceremoniously tossed out on the street.

“I think there are some other good shows [now] on Sunday nights,” he reasons. “But we’re still neck and neck with the competition. And while our ratings are down, we’re actually doing the same numbers as a new hit show like Alias, so everything is relative. I don’t know what happened. You could blame it on so many things. You could say it was because of David’s departure. You could say it was because of 9/11. You could say it was because we premiered late and in heavy competition. I ultimately **don’t know** what it was, but I’ll tell you this very interesting experience I had. I was speaking at a college over the summer, and I’m in this classroom that’s full of 100 kids. I’m looking out at them and I’m thinking, ‘These kids are 17, 18, 19 and 20 years old. These kids were 8, 9, 10 or 11 when the show started. They probably didn’t watch The X-Files. I’m dealing with a whole new generation of viewers.’

“Everything changes, and sometimes you can’t quite figure out **where** the viewers have gone. They may have grown up, gotten married, changed their habits or tastes. There are so many variables when a show gets into its grey years. It was very difficult to tell Robert and Annabeth [of the decision to call it a day] because I think they feel responsible, and they’re **not**. They worked hard. They’re terrific actors and they gave everything to the show. If there’s any blame, it’s really on some mysterious x factor.

“The acting has been superior this year,” Carter praises. “The addition of Annabeth and Robert has been really fun for the writers and producers. They are excellent to work with and excellent to write for. We told X-Files stories in new ways, using the trio of Scully, Reyes and Doggett. It has been an interesting exercise telling the stories. And it has been interesting to have David gone for a year and still have him be such a looming presence on the show – even though he was not on it.

“I thought we had some great episodes. 4-D was kind of a Twilight Zone episode as was Audrey Pauley. I was very happy with the episode I wrote and directed [Improbable]. Most people probably didn’t get it, but if you watch it again and again, you’re going to see things in there that you might not have seen the first time. Burt Reynolds did a great job. I was thrilled that we were able to get Burt for the show. And I thought David did a really beautiful job on William [which Duchovny directed but did not act in]. The episode was a departure for us in that it was very talky. He did a great job with it.”

Eternal Proofs

Carter, like anyone else out there who cares about The X-Files, will never know for sure if Fox would have renewed the show for a tenth year if he hadn’t pulled the plug. The network axed Ally McBeal, another graying show that struggled to spike the ratings. “I don’t know,” Carter allows. “The X-Files is a show that provided them with success, popularity and Nielsen numbers for so long. I honestly think there was a sense of, ‘Oh dear, that show.’ It wasn’t a feather in anyone’s cap anymore. All the players have changed since this show was first on the air. What makes careers are new hit shows. I think when a series gets to be a certain age, certain people love it for certain reasons, but it’s not always the people who broadcast it week in and week out.”

Even as The X-Files fades to black as an original series, it will live on in other ways. Repeats will be ubiquitous on cable (SCI FI, TNT) and in syndication. A second film is in the works. Seasons One through Four are already on DVD, and Season Five hit stores in May as a six-disc set from Fox Home Entertainment which includes all 20 episodes (among them, Post Modern Prometheus, Bad Blood, Kill Switch and Unusual Suspects), a fresh half-hour documentary (The Truth About Season Five), Carter commentary on several shows, deleted scenes and even a DVD-ROM game.

“I’m very satisfied with the DVDs,” Carter remarks. “I wish there was more time for me personally to spend on them, but I did spend every minute I could. It was kind of emotional to sit there and talk about Season Five, especially Post Modern Prometheus [which he wrote and directed]. When you watch your own work, you’re rarely emotional about it, but there was something about that monster losing his dad that was very touching to me. Season Five was one of our best seasons. The seven mythology shows we did that year were very important in platforming to the theatrical release. But I think the thing that’s the best – and this isn’t just about Season Five – is that you get to see the good work we’ve done in one of the best, if not **the** best, reproduction formats, DVD.”

Some fans out there, no doubt, would like to see Carter’s other series – Millennium, Harsh Realm and The Lone Gunmen – receive the DVD treatment. For the record, so would Carter. “Millennium, I’m told, will be on DVD,” he says. “Harsh Realm is selling very well on video, and I guess it could find its way to DVD. I don’t know about The Lone Gunmen yet. I foresee Millennium being on DVD, certainly. It has many hardcore supporters. It was a modest hit.”

Last Facts

As for the future of the X-Files feature franchise, Carter reports that everything is proceeding as planned. Duchovny and Anderson are signed to star in a second movie, and Carter will pen the script with Frank Spotnitz, who has been the show’s co-executive producer since the second season. “The film should go into the works pretty quickly,” Carter reveals. “I don’t think we will be filming it before summer 2003. You’ll probably see it in summer 2004.”

It’s at this juncture in the conversation that Carter is informed that he has been named one of STARLOG’s Most Important People in SF & Fantasy. The writer-producer acknowledges the accolade, but doesn’t quite know how to assess his impact on the genre. “That feels odd to me, since I’ve never considered myself to be a SF maven, aficionado or even devotee,” he says. “It’s something I have a great interest in, but that interest is in a certain kind of SF, which I would really categorize more as speculative science. So far as the show [and its impact on SF], I think it drove up certain standards of quality, production-wise. It’s very regular and unflagging quality certainly raised the bar for SF shows. The X-Files is a [type of] show that you may never see again, because Fox was willing to spend the money to do it right. Right now in network television, money is tightening, and the ability to do the things that we’ve done will be far less achievable. It’s a simple matter of economics.”

Looking ahead, Carter says that beyond a rest and jumping into the initial phase of work on the next X-Files feature, he’s going to direct and co-write (with Spotnitz) a feature for Dimension Films, pen a book and, as per his contract with Fox, develop a TV pilot. “I won’t do a domesticated show,” Chris Carter says. “We did little movies with The X-Files each week, and I really want to do a show that has that scope. The X-Files had a large canvas, and I don’t want to limit my canvas by doing something that is a typical, traditional franchise show. And if you look at the shows I’ve done – The X-Files, Millennium, Harsh Realm and even The Lone Gunmen – they were big-canvas shows. They were scopey, and that’s what I want to continue to do.”

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3 Responses to “Starlog: End Games”

  1. […] the show had done in the past. In his assessment of the ninth season, Chris Carter praised 4-D as a “kind of a Twilight Zone episode.” The script acknowledges this classic science-fiction sensibility with references to Rod Sterling […]

  2. […] Indeed, Carter has been quite obtuse about Improbable. Citing it as one of his favourite episodes of the ninth season, he suggested that fans had not interpreted it correctly: […]

  3. […] after the end of the series, Carter described talking about the fifth season as emotional – “especially” discussing The Post-Modern Prometheus. Frequent collaborator Frank Spotnitz has identified The […]