Science Fiction Weekly
Frank Spotnitz tells the truth about the latest season of The X-Files
The negotiations went down to the wire. But when the dust settled, The X-Files was on Fox’s schedule for an eighth year, and actor David Duchovny (Mulder) had agreed to return.
As a result, though The X-Files is still fundamentally about telling scary stories, now it’s also about so much more. As if restructuring the series to focus on Scully (Gillian Anderson), her temporary partner, Agent Doggett (Robert Patrick), and their search for Mulder wasn’t a dramatic enough shift, at the end of season seven Scully revealed that she was pregnant. That’s a lot to absorb– for both audiences and the show’s creators alike. Executive producer Frank Spotnitz shares his thoughts on The X-Files’ season so far.
The decision to bring The X-Files back for another year was a last-minute one. How did that affect how you approached the episodes for this season?
Spotnitz: After we found out we were going to be back for another year, the first thing we thought about was, since we don’t have Mulder, who is going to be added to the mix that’s going to shake things up? Honestly, we had to feel our way forward through all of the stories. The X-Files is still The X-Files–it’s always been a plot-driven show–so finding the stories and the investigations has not been any harder than it ever was. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it hasn’t gotten more difficult. What has gotten difficult, and interestingly so, is how these two people go about solving these cases.
What went into the process of casting Robert Patrick (Terminator 2) as Scully’s new partner, Agent Doggett?
Spotnitz: Well, this was a huge studio/network decision. Everyone had an interest in this, because it’s really about the preservation of the series–they really want to see the show continue beyond an eighth year, to a ninth season and beyond. It was a massive casting process; hundreds of names were thrown into the hat, and we saw dozens of actors. We saw many fine people for this part. And I have to say, the one guy who came in, of all the people we saw, who was exactly what we had imagined, was Robert Patrick.
Given how central Mulder and Scully’s relationship is to the series, how did you go about constructing a new working dynamic between Doggett and Scully?
Spotnitz: It’s so complicated. There are so many factors you need to consider, doing something like this. It’s like brain surgery on a TV show. What’s evolved is [Scully as] a very reluctant believer, someone who arrives at paranormal explanations as a last resort; only when science abandons her, when she runs out of all possible real-world theories, does she dare to put forward something that Mulder might have in the first scene of Act I in previous years.
How does Scully react to Doggett’s arrival on scene?
Spotnitz: With hostility [laughs]. Scully does not welcome him, and he has to earn her respect and her trust, much like he has to earn the respect and the trust of the audience. And I think it’s a strategy that’s paying off for us.
“Via Negativa,” this season’s seventh episode and the first episode you’ve written solo in a while, focuses on Doggett’s character.
Spotnitz: It was kind of a storytelling challenge, because early in his tenure, Agent Doggett is handed the reins of an X-File investigation. And he has to struggle through it, with Scully offering only limited help. It was a bit of a brain teaser to figure out how to tell a story like that, but it ended up being very satisfying, and a great experience for me to write and to watch filmed, because we had a new director to the show, Tony Wharmby, who was wonderful, and totally into the script and totally into the character. And then Robert Patrick, he just showed what he could do. He was just fantastic.
After 11th-hour contract negotiations last May, Duchovny struck a deal to appear in a limited number of episodes. How are you dealing with Mulder’s absence through the first half of the season?
Spotnitz: Well, Mulder is sort of spiritually present in all of these episodes, even when they’re not looking for him, because it his approach that Scully is forced to adopt, and it was his unit. And through an incredibly complicated arrangement [with] David’s agents and manager and the studio, he’s available to us for a certain number of days here and there. And so there are episodes that feature him prior to his ultimate return. It’s a weird deal they struck, because I believe he’s in six episodes for real. And then there are a certain number of days to be used by us here and there, that they imagine will amount to another five episodes, but it may be less, or may be more.
When was the decision made to pursue a storyline in which Scully becomes pregnant?
Spotnitz: At the very beginning of season seven, we hit upon the idea and it seemed wonderful to us. There was beautiful symmetry to it. We knew that was our target all season, and so we did a number of things in episodes that would be tantalizing for fans who later were to look back at the episodes and try and figure out when Scully might have gotten pregnant and how. And that’s something we will continue to explore this season. But all questions will be answered by the end of the season, we promise.
How will Scully’s pregnancy affect her ability to search for Mulder?
Spotnitz: Season eight begins the morning after season seven. She’s not showing, and she’s able to not show for some months, so she’s able to preserve her secret for some months. I think this is going to be a season with more than one cliffhanger in it, and we’re going to use those cliffhangers as opportunities to expand or contract time as need be.
With Mulder away, will we see more of The X-Files’ peripheral characters this season?
Spotnitz: We’ll see Krycek and Covarrubias in the second half of the season. I think their roles become more important when Mulder is returned. But Skinner, to me, is extremely interesting this year, because his role has changed fundamentally.
Will we see much of the Lone Gunmen?
Spotnitz: They appear in the first episode, and again in “Via Negativa,” the episode I wrote with Doggett, and again in episode 11. We hoped to use them more, but it’s difficult, because they’re in production now on their own series in Vancouver; it’s going to be logistically difficult.
Mulder and Scully are obviously the heart of The X-Files–but now we have Doggett, too. What will happen to that dynamic when Mulder is back in the picture?
Spotnitz: That’s a really interesting question, and that’s the one we’re starting to explore in earnest, because we’re almost up to that point, in terms of writing the shows. But he’s not going anywhere, so he’s going to become an important part of the show. It really becomes a three-lead series at that point. I think, over time, a bond will form between Scully and Doggett, and it doesn’t go away once Mulder returns. I think it’s going to be interesting to see how these two men play off of each other once Mulder comes back.
So far, the show’s ratings have held steady. But did you have any concerns going into this Mulder-less season?
Spotnitz: Definitely. I was totally uncertain about whether it was a good idea to go forward this year. If it had been left up to me, I’m not sure I would have gone forward; but having committed to it, I wanted it to be great. And I wanted to be vindicated creatively, and defeat all the naysayers. So that’s what we’ve been doing. All of us are aware of what a huge risk this is, and how crucial the character of Mulder has been to this series, how much he has been the series, and how much he and Scully and their relationship have been central to everything that has made the show successful. To take that away–you can’t take a bigger gamble in television. We’ve gone into this with our eyes open, fully aware of the more-than-good chance of failure, but we’ve been going at it the best way we know how.