The X-Files enters the unknown without Duchovny
Tom Kessenich (aka Unbound)
It ended, with a kiss. And just like that, a door was closed on the past while another was opened to a future ripe with change and riddled with uncertainty.
When “The X-Files” begins its ninth season this fall, the landscape of the long-running Fox drama will have undergone a massive transformation. David Duchovny, the series’ top-billed star, has departed for good, leaving co-star Gillian Anderson behind, along with Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish, who joined the show last season as FBI Agents Doggett and Reyes.
Duchovny is not the first TV star to depart the small screen hoping to find more creative opportunities in the film world. But his departure creates a Grand Canyon-sized hole at the center of this series.
“The X-Files” has never been an anthology series or an ensemble show with a rotating cast of stars. It has always been about Mulder’s world as seen through the eyes of Anderson’s skeptical, scientific-minded Scully. Mulder’s quest to find the elusive “truth” was the impetus that drove the series forward, while the Mulder-Scully dynamic provided its heart and soul.
Now Mulder is gone after an emotionally compelling send-off in last season’s finale that saw him with Scully, holding their baby and kissing her passionately as the screen faded to black. That scene has fans wondering what will become of this series now that Duchovny has departed, and what will become of Scully, whose presence will serve as a constant reminder of who is no longer there?
“Mulder and Scully really are the heart and soul of the series,” executive producer Frank Spotnitz said in a recent telephone interview. “You can’t separate the success of The X-Files from the success of David and Gillian as actors and the characters they play. All you can do really is just rely on all the strengths you’ve got which is a great idea for a television series and some wonderful actors who are here and have chemistries of their own.”
Spotnitz said one thing fans of the series will not have to be concerned about is the paternity of Scully’s baby being revised in the ninth season. Much of the eighth season was spent examining how the baby came to be since it had been previously established that Scully was unable to conceive.
Numerous red herrings were trotted out, including the idea of alien tampering. But in the end, the naming of the baby after Mulder’s father and their tender kiss provided confirmation that the baby was Mulder’s and the product of a sexual relationship between he and Scully that had only been hinted at in the past.
“The final scene was meant to say that Mulder and Scully had consummated their relationship and this child was a result of that,” Spotnitz said.
That final scene would have been significantly different had Duchovny and director Kim Manners not intervened after both were unsatisfied with series creator Chris Carter’s original ending which featured a mundane kiss on the forehead.
“We all sat down with Kim Manners and Chris Carter and said, ‘We’ve been teasing and doing that bull for so long, let’s have a real kiss at this point,'” Duchovny said during his press junket to promote his latest film “Evolution.” “I said, ‘I’m pretty sure I’m not coming back at this point so let’s have a romantic kiss.'”
So out went the forehead and in came the lips. And in that final moment, with their child between them, Mulder and Scully were given a rare moment of happiness in their journey into the unknown.
The kiss capped the most controversial season in the show’s storied history. Fans were divided over the introduction of Patrick’s character and many were outraged over the re-writing of history that had Mulder inexplicably being given a fatal brain disease and Scully trying invitro fertilization using Mulder as a donor.
It all resulted in declining ratings and a reinvention of the series so pronounced it left many fans wondering what had become of the show they loved.
“Chris Carter had his chance to go out with a bang, leaving a memorable mark on TV history,” said Katherine Ramsey, a fan from Virginia since the first season. “Instead, he squandered it in the pursuit of the almighty dollar. Without Mulder’s wit and humanity, The X-Files has no soul. Everything I saw in Season 8 reinforced that belief.”
“Somewhere along the way, the writers managed to get themselves sidetracked by mindless gore, inane and irrelevant plots, timeline blunders, and soap-operatic teasing,” said Konrad Frye, a fan from the Canadian province of Manitoba who also has watched the series since its inception. “It’s a shame because things didn’t have to be that way and as a longtime fan of the show, I’d come to expect more.”
These fans weren’t the only ones disappointed. Duchovny also lamented how the series had shifted away from Mulder and the Mulder-Scully dynamic after his full-time return for the final six episodes.
“When I came back, I felt somewhat peripheral,” Duchovny said. “Mulder’s story was one of three or four stories and it didn’t feel like the same show to me.”
Spotnitz responds to such complaints by saying 1013’s hands were tied creatively due to Duchovny’s contract, which called for him to be a part-time participant.
Many fans disagree, believing greater care should have been taken to weave Mulder’s absence (he spent half of the season on a spaceship after being abducted by aliens) and Scully’s pregnancy into the framework of the first half of the season, rather than focusing so intently on Doggett. They were also unhappy that, in some instances, Mulder and Scully were reduced to being guest stars on their own show.
The discontent was reflected in the ratings, which were higher for the episodes Duchovny appeared in compared to the ones he did not. The five highest-rated episodes last season all featured Duchovny and there was a steady decline in the ratings in December and January, when Duchovny did not appear in any episode, that ended only after his return in Feburary.
With Duchovny gone, many fans have said they have no interest in Doggett, Reyes or a show called “The X-Files” that does not feature Mulder and Scully together.
“To put it simply, The X-Files is Mulder and Scully,” said longtime fan Jan Skinner from Peoria, Ill. “Without them, you have a show that happens to have the same name, but is something else entirely.”
Not only is the series at a crossroads with Duchovny gone, it may move forward without its creator.
Planning for the ninth season began in June with Carter absent for the first time since he created the series in 1993. He has yet to reach a deal with Fox to return for the ninth season and there is speculation he will not return or serve only as a “consultant,” with Spotnitz assuming the lead role for the show’s creative decisions along with co-executive producers Vince Gilligan and John Shiban.
Carter declined to be interviewed for this story, but Spotnitz said it has been odd going to work without the show’s creative driving force around.
“Obviously, we hope he comes back because it’s his show, it’s his vision that we’ve all been serving for all these years and he’s an enormously talented writer and producer,” said Spotnitz, who has been in charge of the series with Carter gone. “If he doesn’t, it’s not like we don’t know where all the files are.”
Spotnitz also said contrary to speculation, Anderson will be in all of the episodes next season. The Emmy-award winning actress is in the final year of her contract and has been vocal about being a reluctant participant, saying – as Duchovny did – that she is tired of the weekly TV series grind.
Despite that, Spotnitz said Scully will be a vital part of the ninth season with one of the central story lines exploring how Scully’s fertility was restored. Another issue to be addressed is how to explain Mulder’s absence given the romantic relationship with Scully that was confirmed in last season’s finale.
“I think we’ve got a way that’s going to be pretty satisfying to people to address that issue that’s completely true to the character and completely true to the series,” Spotnitz said, declining to reveal anything further. “We were able to plot certain things in (last season’s finale) considering he may not be back.”
For the first time in series history, the writers at 1013 do not have the luxury of relying on the strength of the Mulder-Scully relationship to push the show forward. They no longer have the luxury of knowing that when things are in doubt, Duchovny and Anderson’s amazing chemistry can lift the show to greatness.
Like Mulder, that is now part of the show’s past. The present is filled with uncertainty and in many ways, “The X-Files” is embarking on a tenuous high-wire act without a net.
“If I went into the season thinking things were hunky dory and there were no risks associated it, I’d be foolish,” Spotnitz said. “Mulder and David Duchovny have been incredibly important to the success of the show and now we’re going forward without that character at least physically present. So it’s a gamble, there’s no doubt about it.”