The X-Files Magazine [US]
Tom Braidwood, Dean Haglund, Bruce Harwood
It’s the last night on the set for actors Tom Braidwood, Dean Haglund, and Bruce Harwood. There is an air of impending sadness, because this could be their last night of shooting on any episode of The X-Files. So far, however, the mood is light. The actors and crew stand in clusters, chatting and laughing, as they wait to begin filming another scene. Several crew members ask for pictures with the cast of The Lone Gunmen. But later, the tone of the set will switch, as the cast and crew shoot close-ups for the trio’s final scene, which just happens to be the characters’ death scene. The script reads: Jimmy slowly lays his hand on the glass. The Gunmen do the same… three hands side-by-side opposite Jimmy’s, whose eyes now well with tears. This is goodbye. Reactions are mixed among the three actors. They all agree that the deaths of Frohike, Byers, and Langly while sad are fitting. “I’d already mourned the fact that the show was ending,” says Bruce Harwood, who plays John Fitzgerald Byers. “The fact that we were being killed, I don’t think made too much of a difference to me. It doesn’t surprise me that we go out this way.”
“Isn’t that how we all want to go?” remarks Dean Haglund, who plays Langly. “Well, maybe not so painfully,” he laughs.
Tom Braidwood, who plays Melvin Frohike, was not enthusiastic about the ending at first. “I guess I was a little disappointed,” he admits. “I don’t quite see why it had to happen.” Braidwood, who worked on the Vancouver set of the series as an assistant director for Seasons One through Five, is able to see the producers’ need to wrap up The X-Files characters once and for all. “In the end, it’s right for them,” he surmises.
Choosing to have the Lone Gunmen die at the end of “Jump the Shark,” did not come easy to co-writers of the episode, executive producers Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan and John Shiban. “It was actually a really hard decision to make,” explains Spotnitz. He exposes his fondness for the Gunmen, saying, “It’s funny, because they’re fictitious characters, and the show is coming to an end, but we really have a lot of affection for them.”
Spotnitz says that he, Gilligan and Shiban wanted to give the Gunmen a special ending, one that could only be achieved with such a dramatic climax. “It felt like the right thing to do,” he says. “We could really make them into big heroes and give them their moment to shine.”
Although they did not, at first, know how they wanted the Gunmen to meet their fate, the writers had definite ideas about how it should play out. “We just knew that we wanted it to be unequivocally heroic,” Spotnitz wholeheartedly.
Chris Carter’s announcement that this season of The X-Files would be the last came just as the writers were plotting out this one storyline. That was when they knew what they had to do. “It gave us the impetus to do this kind of ending,” Shiban says. Although a bit traumatic to comprehend at first, Shiban found himself excited at the story prospect. “If it is done well, there is no more heroic thing to do a character,” he says. “It seems just like the perfect end for the unsung heroes of the world.”
The producers did consider the effect on loyal Gunmen enthusiasts. “The ending is going to be challenging for fans of the Lone Gunmen,” guesses Gilligan. “It makes part of me sad, but it’s hopefully a noble end.”
Shiban has his own rationalization. “They die to save the world, and that to me is a fitting end.”
The guest actors in this episode are also well-versed in the Gunmen mythology, appearing in both The X-Files and The Lone Gunmen series with the conspiracy-debunking cabal. Stephen Snedden and Zuleikha Robinson make a reappearance (see ‘Shooting Co-Stars’ box-out), while Jim Fyfe also returns, having played Jimmy the Geek in The X-Files episode “Three of a Kind” and also dead Jimmy’s twin brother, Kimmy the Geek in The Lone Gunmen. Fyfe recalls his fondness for the three actors, as well as their on-screen counterparts. “I love them,” he says. “As guys they’re great, and as characters they’re great.”
When Fox canceled The Lone Gunmen in 2001, executive producers Gilligan, Shiban and Spotnitz were sure that they still had a story to round out. “It was such a big cliffhanger sitting out there,” Gilligan explains. “And we knew we wanted to resolve it.”
The ninth season of The X-Files was the obvious place to tie up those loose ends. “Within the X-Files context, we sort of vowed to ourselves to make this work,” states Shiban.
The return of this plot meant that they had to wait a whole year from the last episode of The Lone Gunmen to write the resolution. Gilligan admits to having some trouble when he actually had to sit down at the computer. “I spent a lot of time building it up in my head,” he says. “The whole time saying, ‘This has to be the greatest episode ever. This has to serve two masters – The X-Files and The Lone Gunmen series – and marry them together perfectly. It has to be beautiful.'”
While crediting Spotnitz with making sure that the episode would get done at all, Gilligan still toiled with developing the plot. “It’s taken me the longest of about any episode to work my way through,” he says. “It’s been a tricky one.”
The writers agreed that they could not simply make this show a continuation of The Lone Gunmen finale episode, “All About Yves.” “I was thinking along those lines,” Gilligan acknowledges, “but Frank rightly said we can’t exactly do that because this is a whole different television series – one that we’re using as a platform to finish this story.”
The writers also had to bear in mind that many X-Files fans may not have tuned in to the Lone Gunmen’s series. “It would have thrown The X-Files audience too much,” says Spotnitz.
The three put their heads together to figure out just where exactly the audience would find the Gunmen and their cohorts after a whole year. The story they came up with reunites the Gunmen, Jimmy, and Yves with arch nemesis Morris Fletcher (played comically and astutely by Michael McKean) was pivotal to The Lone Gunmen finale. Fans of The X-Files will also remember the character from the “Dreamland” two-parter and “Three of a Kind,” both in Season Six. In “All About Yves,” Fletcher orchestrated a dramatic con job, kidnapping Yves and leaving the Gunmen in a secure, underground bunker. Naturally, the Gunmen are none too thrilled to encounter Fletcher again.
In “Jump the Shark,” Fletcher first draws Agents Doggett and Reyes into Yves’ case by teasing them with the claim that she is a Super Soldier. The agents then bring in the Gunmen. The episode moves quickly out of the realm of Super Soldiers and into that of international terrorism, biological agents, and shark cartilage. Yes, shark cartilage. Sharks were incorporated into the story after the title of the episode was chosen. “Jump the Shark” is an entertainment web site launched in 1997, named for the famous Happy Days episode in which Fonzie jumps over a tank full of sharks on his motorcycle. The creator of the website, Jon Hein, christened the term to portray the moment in a television series’ run when its originality has begun to go downhill. Spotnitz calls the title, “a funny joke at our own expense.”
Gilligan agrees. “I kind of like it when a show ribs itself, and the idea of jumping the shark is sort of fun.”
The producers arranged for Hein to have a walk-on role in the episode, but unfortunately, his schedule did not allow for the appearance. Hein, however, was delighted to hear of his creation’s use as the episode’s title. “I thought it was great,” he declares enthusiastically. “The X-Files has always ‘got the web’ and actively incorporated it into the show with a great sense of humour and cleverness.” The X-Files is the site’s second most popular vote-getter. Most of Jump the Shark’s voters feel that the show has never, in fact, “jumped the shark.”
After the writers secured their title, they looked for ways to incorporate sharks into the episode. Gilligan recalls that the writers liked the image of the shark in the first shot of the show. They came up with the teaser that features Fletcher on a boat in the Bahamas.
“We threw out the teaser for a long time because it felt, at first, that it got us off to the wrong start,” says Shiban. After several sessions of working out more traditional X-Files teasers, they came back to the original, more comedic one.
“We wanted to start it off and truly tease the audience in the classic sense of a teaser, to get them intrigued,” Gilligan opines. “Michael McKean does that.”
McKean is a favourite of the show’s producers. “When an actor exceeds your expectations, it’s great,” says Spotnitz. “He is a surefooted actor, period. Be he’s also a great comedic actor, with great comedic timing and instincts.”
“He’s just a delight. He so embodies this character that it’s scary,” Shiban gloats about his guest star. “One of the reasons he’s such a good fit with both The X-Files and The Lone Gunmen, is because, as comic as he is, he carries himself with such a sense of reality.”
Also praising McKean, Gilligan says simply, “He so gets it.”
The Lone Gunmen themselves are also exciting about reuniting with McKean. “We’ve been talking Spinal Tap, and I switch from fellow actor to annoying groupie,” jokes Haglund.
“Micheal’s great,” agrees Braidwood. “He’s a character and a very funny man. He’s a lot of fun to work with.”
Gilligan likens the character of Morris Fletcher to Louie DePalma from the television series Taxi. “He’s the guy you love to hate,” Gilligan laughs. “But you don’t really hate him. Deep down you sort of love him.”
After Fletcher’s humorous entrance, the story gradually becomes more serious, culminating in the Gunmen’s touching final scene with Yves and Jimmy. Balancing humour is something The X-Files writers have done numerous times throughout the series’ nine seasons, especially when the Lone Gunmen are on hand. In this episode, however, it was especially challenging.
“In the writing, we did a number of revisions around that very issue,” Shiban states.
“The world in which [these characters] live is not funny,” Spotnitz elaborates. “We had to make it more real.”
Over the course of writing The Lone Gunmen series last year, the producers, according to Gilligan, found the show “worked best when there was actually a little more drama rather than a little less.” He thinks they achieved this tone best in the series finale. “That episode struck a nice balance between comedy and sort of high stakes seriousness,” he recalls wistfully. “We tried to strike that same tone in this one.”
Admittedly, this episode hits both ends of the spectrum. “It is a balancing act, and we’re watching dailies every day and walking that tightrope,” Shiban confesses.
Another challenge was the actual melding of the two shows. Once they got into the writing of it, it became very difficult to merge the two series together. Spotnitz refers to the combination of the two shows, something they have done before with the Millennium series crossover in the seventh season X-Files episode, “Millennium,” as a “massive headache.”
Shiban remarks that it was difficult to communicate the complicated back-story that would have become The Lone Gunmen mythology had the series continued. “We kept running up to these moments where the three of us would be working on the script,” he recounts, “when we asked ‘Does The X-Files audience need to know this? Is the back story too complicated?’ You have a whole world for a series, but this is just one episode.”
The writers were now faced with the daunting task of communicating this world to a viewing audience that may not be familiar with The Lone Gunmen series. Calling it a “necessary evil,” Gilligan explains that they tried to keep exposition to a minimum.
Another challenge to writing this episode was, as Spotnitz puts it, “striking a balance in screentime between the Lone Gunmen and Doggett and Reyes.” Add Morris Fletcher, Jimmy Bond, Yves Adele Harlow, and Kimmy the Geek to the mix, and you’ve got a full plate for any writer.
“It’s an exercise in trunk packing,” says Gilligan. “You have to use every little bit of available space.”
Shiban, while discussing the difficulty of working Agents Doggett and Reyes into the initial story, says that he found it just as problematic as having to incorporate the characters into the X-file into any script. “The X-Files is a hard form to master,” he muses, “which is partly what I think makes it so good when it clicks. But we struggle every week.”
“We realized very early that our Act IV would mostly be the Gunmen, because we’re doing a story about how the Gunmen are unsung heroes,” Shiban says. “We want them to be heroic in the climax. Therefore, we knew that [Doggett and Reyes’] role would be diminished at some point, and that made it easier in some ways.”
The producers are happy with the final script as a tribute to the Gunmen, but they understand fan reaction will undoubtedly be mixed. “Some will hate us for it,” predicts Shiban. “But I bet the ones who say they hate the idea will cry when they see it.”
“At the end of the day, if the fans of The Lone Gunmen series are the ones pleased, that’d be enough for me,” sighs Gilligan. Although he hopes that all X-philes will enjoy it, Gilligan offers up some morsel of completion for the fans of the canceled series. “They stuck with us through thick and thin, and I wanted to see something resolved for them.”
As the late night on the set draws to a close, the actors reflect on the end of the Lone Gunmen, bringing up feelings about the end of The X-Files series as a whole.
“I’m really sad to see it go,” says Fyfe of The X-Files. “I think all successful shows become a part of the culture in a way. I’ll miss it.”
The cast and crew once again laugh together between takes. Although the sentiment of the episode is bittersweet, everyone on set is having fun with the one last go around.
“What I’ll miss are the people, because they’re all great to work with,” Braidwood reflects. “It’s been a wonderful experience, and that’s what I’ll miss the most.”