Interview with Frank Spotnitz
Melissa J. Perenson
Agent Mulder’s (David Duchovny) return leads to a military tribunal that could cost him his life in The X-Files two-hour series finale.
Frank Spotnitz on the End of The X-Files – Part Two
Chris Carter’s right hand man on the close of Mulder and Scully’s TV journey
Last Sunday saw the conclusion of The X-Files’ formidable run after a nine-year stretch. We finally did learn The Truth – though much of it proved to be a recap of the past more than new revelations in the present. And we finally had to say goodbye to Mulder and Scully – two characters whose odyssey we’ve followed through monsters-of-the-week and labyrinthine government conspiracies alike. Today, executive producer Frank Spotnitz continues his chat with Cinescape about the end of the groundbreaking show.
We know now that Mulder is the father of Scully’s baby, William; Mulder states it himself. Yet now that he’s back, the family can’t be reunited, since Scully made the heart-rending decision to give her son up for adoption in one of the show’s final episodes, “William.” “She doesn’t get him back in the finale,” acknowledges Spotnitz, who adds the decision to have her give up the baby was a difficult one. “But I think the decision to have Scully give up the baby was something that, in no small way, makes it easier to do another movie, and really sort of frees you in what that movie can be, in a way that you would not be free if the baby storyline had to be serviced. You’d just have to have another threat to the baby in the movie, and that dictates the entire story of the movie.”
Then again, he adds, “I can’t predict, because I don’t know how many movies there are going to be. I’m sure if there are enough movies, William will become important. Maybe William will be in the next movie. I don’t know, because Chris and I haven’t even started talking about what the next movie might be.”
The show may have served up unpredictable plot lines, but the one thing Spotnitz was always able to predict was the pace of Mulder and Scully’s evolution – if for no other reason than the fact that it was, by nature, glacial. “The characters evolved very, very slowly. Chris was very strict about who Mulder and Scully could be,” explains Spotnitz of the world’s best-known team of FBI investigators. “But I think through the plots, through the mythic journey these characters were on, they slowly began to change.”
The more Scully saw over the years, the more voices cried out that she should change. “We used to get criticisms all the time: ‘Oh, come on, she’s seen so much.’ By the end of season one, season two, people were already saying, ‘C’mon, how can Scully still be a skeptic, she’s seen so much?'” remembers Spotnitz. “But Chris knew that’s what made the show work, and you needed to preserve her skepticism. And even in ‘Endgame,’ there was a voiceover in that episode that was designed to tell us where Scully’s head was at that early point of the series; that, after all she’s seen, she’s still going to bring science to everything she sees. And it was an attempt to preserve Scully as a scientist and a skeptic. Yes, there’s stuff that we can’t explain, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t be explained one day.”
Now, that one day has arrived.
Whether you loved the finale – or loathed it – will have little impact on The X-Files’ historical contribution to dramatic television. While many will argue the series went out past its prime – the stories the show told, right up to the end, were some of the most ambitious projects on the small screen. “I think in terms of the ambitions of stories, and the ideas we tried to communicate – I mean, there was no idea too big. One of the first things that struck me when I came to work here was how smart we tried to be,” muses Spotnitz. “It’s the opposite of what everyone’s impression is of television. We were never smart enough. We were always trying to be smarter.”
“To this day, we’ve always tried to be smarter, because our audience is so smart. And no matter how smart we are, our audience is always smarter,” explains Spotnitz. “It became a very constructive dialectic. Less so the last two years, I’ve got to say, because so many of the voices on the Internet have been dumbed down, and it’s no longer what it was – a race to see who could surpass the other in terms of achievement and understanding the ideas we were going for.”
As smart as the fans were, Spotnitz laments the changes among the show’s Internet following. “Before ‘Sunshine Days’ aired I was distressed to read on the Internet that a lot of people were saying, ‘Oh, this is going to be them dissing the fans, and telling us that we were idiots.’ It’s such a misreading of us and how we feel about our fans. We love our fans, we’re so grateful for our fans – we think they’re so smart and attentive,” he reaffirms. “Nothing could be further from the truth. We would never do that. There was also a misreading of the ending of ‘Scary Monsters.’ ‘What are you trying to say, people are stupid for watching our show?'” he quotes. Determined to set the record straight, he adds, “You’ve got to be crazy to think that or do that if you’re in our line of work. I think that there’s a lot of wasted energy in some quarters talking about things like that.”
There’s no doubt that the devoted fans are still out there, though: some 13.4 million viewers tuned in for the finale – more than two-thirds of the show’s audience when it hit its peak four years ago.
Nostalgia for X-Files of yore brought back viewers in droves, but nostalgia of another sort has set in for someone like Spotnitz, who joined the series in its second season. “Oh sure,” he says candidly. “This is what happens in human nature; you forget about all of the pain. It’s the nice thing about human beings – you just forget about the pain and you just remember all of the good things. That’s what’s moving about [the end].”
At the Fox lot hub of 1013 Productions, they’re preparing to turn out the lights. The X-Files has taken its final bow, executive producer John Shiban has moved over to his new home at Paramount’s Enterprise, Chris Carter has a one-way plane ticket for a long-overdue vacation, and even Spotnitz will be moving on in a few weeks to take a producing job on a new CBS cop show series. But Mulder and Scully’s impact will not soon diminish. And while the logistics (including the final go-ahead from Fox) for another movie have yet to be worked out, there’s always that little hint bit about an alien colonization set for the year 2012…