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XF comics update: Comics to end soon? + #10-13 review

The X-Files comics at IDW continue their course since their launch right after the live revival in March 2016.

Writer Joe Harris, who has been around since the comics started in IDW in 2013, broke the news in The X-Cast podcast: the current run of the comics is set to end soon! The next story arc, #14-17 Resistance (May-August 2017), will be the last — with a return to the “mythology” Harris has been building (modern-day politics and Syndicate remnants). After this, Harris will no longer be involved in the X-Files comics. Will the recent announcement of the making of a live “season 11” change these plans? Will IDW continue with comics under a different writer? Frankly, this announcement came as a surprise and given the way Harris was developing his new mythology it felt like he had some plans for many more issues. This comics run somewhat gives the impression that Harris’s motivation to write these comics has decreased compared to the Seasons 10/11 comics — or is it that the fans’ reception post-revival has been more lukewarm? After over 50 issues it is understandable; perhaps this decision was Harris’s. Do the decreasing sales also have something to do with this? We might know some answers to all these questions soon.

Issues #10-13 (January-May 2017) are covered below. Both stories are two-parters, this format definitely works better than one-offs. Both of these stories are character studies not focusing on the protagonists Mulder & Scully, in both of them the past plays a much more important role than the present (a bit like the Ishmael story with Scully’s father in issues #4-5 of this comic), further reinforcing the feeling that…it looks like this franchise’s most interesting part lies in its past.

Issues #1-9 were covered at EatTheCorn here.

 


#10-11: Contrarians

…or the Cigarette-Smoking Man’s 1980s adventures, featuring President Ronald Reagan and William Mulder! Joe Harris’s love for the character of the CSM is no secret; he was already a very prominent character in the Season 10 comics (or at least a version of the CSM) and Harris misses no opportunity to write for him (he was again featured in the 2016 Christmas Special). Here he is again, still justifying his actions as nothing wrong in the middle of an affair that nearly toppled an administration, and directly advising or ordering about the President himself.

This is something we had never seen in the series itself, where the relations between the Syndicate and real-world power figures were kept vague (final cut scene of 9X20: The Truth with G.W.Bush notwithstanding). This is much more “in your face” and straightforward conspiratorial. The politically charged time of today, with the arrival of the current US president, has been compared with the 1980s and the shock of another outsider arriving in the White House with economically radical policies and who was later accused of “constitutional subversion“. However, The X-Files series managed to never be partisan and certainly never equated the Syndicate’s agenda with the Republican Party’s; while parallels can be made, much is in the eye of the beholder. The Watergate scandal might have served as an inspiration, but the scandal itself was never the focus of an entire episode. The open politics of the Harris XF comics do reflect the status of the world today, where it is very difficult to discuss anything without taking a stance; and while I don’t condemn these parallels, they are a change of approach compared to Carter’s.

IDW_ongoing_10_reagan-csm

The story of these comics issues, in true XF fashion, mixes real historical events with the alternative shadow history of conspiracies and aliens: a secret US-Contra mission in 1980s Nicaragua that also served as a mission to destroy a crashed UFO in the middle of the jungle. The UFO provided healing and resurrecting powers to those that came in close contact with it (something we saw in 7X03: The Sixth Extinction), or that sniffed the cocaine mixed with the UFO’s metal components. The US-backed Contra war lord “El Comandante” Manuel Suaréz/Suárez was one of the resurrectees; he became a drug lord; in the present day he reveals himself to Mulder to stop the cocaine trafficking into the US and stop this chain of events. This is a crazy story worthy of the alien ganja of Season 10’s comics G-23! The story works well in a “complementary information” kind of way, however the present day story is limited and its drug bust resolution lacks much impact.

At the heart of the story are really the CSM and William Mulder, their personal history and their deep character differences that made many mythology episodes interesting — Fox Mulder and Scully here only play a peripheral role and do little investigating. We know of Bill Mulder’s involvement in secret State Department affairs from early on before he retired in his home in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts (2X25: Anasazi); indeed in 1987 he “came out of retirement just to check on this nest egg” in this story. He is paired with the CSM to deal with alien business, just like a reluctant Deep Throat and the CSM did in 1991 in 4X07: Musings of a CSM. Bill is the one with a heart and a conscience, something which led him to part with the Syndicate in 1973 (6X12: One Son). In 1987, Fox Mulder was in the Violent Crimes division of the FBI. The CSM teases Bill repeatedly about his wife Teena, and indeed as Fox later says “my parentage is something of a matter of dispute” (see 3X24: Talitha Cumi). This is all fine, however it is difficult to imagine that the CSM and Bill Mulder would keep such unresolved “family” business over such an extended period of time, or that Bill would continue to be involved in shady State Department businesses well into the 1980s and be grumpy about it while he had already expressed his discontent in the 1970s. Harris had already paired these two in a 1952 flashback in his Season 10 #10 More Musings of a CSM, and the CSM-Reagan scenes are also a delight; it is something that works — but only in small doses.

IDW_ongoing_10_csm-bill

Cut scene from 6X11: Two Fathers

Cut scene from 6X11: Two Fathers

Notes:

  • History check: Of course, the background of the story is the whole Iran-Contra affair, a US scandal in the middle of a war-by-proxy of the Cold War. The Hezbollah, revolutionary Islamist group with ties to Iran, held US & Western hostages during the Lebanese civil war (1982-1992); the US secretly negotiated a hostages-for-weapons trade deal; the arms were passed from Israel to Iran, which was then recently out of the Islamic Iranian revolution of 1979 and under the rule of Ayatollah Khomeini (pictured in the comics); the money was sent back to the US from Israel; part of the money was used by National Security Council member Oliver L. North (his mug shot was used as reference for the comics art, and he is actually featured in one of the variant covers for #10) to finance the Contra in Nicaragua; the Contra (from “Contrarevolucionario”, counter-revolutionary movement) was a right-wing paramilitary group against the socialist Sandinista government of Nicaragua (aided for some time by the Soviet Union, ruled 1979-1990, and again from 2006 to today). The affair broke out in 1985; Congress started hearings about it in 1987; most involved received a presidential pardon in 1992 by George H.W. Bush (himself involved at the time as Reagan’s vice-president).
  • The presidential address at the opening of comics #10 took place on March 4 1987, when Reagan was forced to come clean with his involvement on the affair. “I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.“: the double-speak in this sentence could very well be a character description for the CSM!

IDW_ongoing_11_ufp

  • The 1987 flashbacks take place in Bluefields, Nicaragua, one of the places that was mined by the Contra with the help of the US in the 1980s.
  • some mealy-mouthed bedwetter from Massachusetts“: refers to G.H.W.Bush’s opponent in the 1988 Presidential elections, Michael Dukakis, Democrat and then Governor of Massachusetts.
  • My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.“: Reagan really did say this, minutes before an official broadcast, as a joke to the sound people present.
  • Regan’s nickname was “Dutch“.
  • After he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1994, Reagan retired at his home in Simi Valley, California, where the CSM pays him a visit in 1999. Does his “legacy” refer to the upcoming election of G.W. Bush after the Democrat interlude of Clinton?
  • The case starts with a dying man saying “Mulder” when he really only knew Fox’s father: this is similar to the beginning of 5X15: Travelers.
  • 1980s events and conspiracies name-dumped to by Mulder: the US invasion of Caribbean island nation Grenada (1983 overthrow of leftist revolutionary strife); the 1986 baseball World Series (Bill Buckner’s loss to the New York Mets); G.H.W. Bush vomiting on the Japanese Prime Minister in 1992; the Berlin Wall conspiracy theory (the wall as a containment boundary for evil / the Antichrist, which was released once the wall fell).
  • The Iran-Contra deal was previously mentioned in The X-Files: Mulder shouts it at Deep Throat’s face in 1X16: E.B.E.; and the man who killed Melissa Scully with Krycek, Luis Cardinal, was a Nicaraguan who had participated in the Contras deal and became part of the School of the Americas as revealed in 3X16: Apocrypha.
  • Scully plays the old videogame The Legend of Zelda (1986).
  • Nitpicking: The Nicaraguan flashbacks in #10 should be in 1987, not 1988. Several mistakes in the Spanish (also, the CSM himself speaks Spanish! Maybe he learned it during his Cuban days?)
  • The art is by Greg Scott (also: S10 #9 Chitter, and X-Files: Year Zero), who does a great job at the likenesses of Ronald Reagan and William B. Davis; oddly enough, all the 1980s flashbacks are drawn in much more detail than present-day Mulder & Scully, which appear to be done much more in haste.

 


 

#12-13: Skinner

Skinner’s past as a soldier in the Vietnam war in 1970 are the focus of this unimaginatively titled two-parter. During the Seasons 10-11 comics run, Joe Harris had mentioned that he wanted to do a Skinner-centric story, and had Season 11 not been cut short this story might have been part of it.

Skinner famously described his near-death experience in Vietnam in 2X08: One Breath.

I enlisted in the Marine Corps the day of my eighteenth birthday. […] One night on patrol, we were caught and everyone, everyone fell. I mean, everyone. I looked down at my body, from outside of it. I didn’t recognize it at first. I watched the V.C. strip my uniform, take my weapon and I remained in this thick jungle, peaceful, unafraid, watching my, my dead friends, watching myself. In the morning, the corpsmen arrived and put me in a bodybag until I guess they found a pulse. I woke in a Saigon hospital two weeks later.

His succubus history was explored in 3X21: Avatar.

She was there with me. Watching me as I was watching myself dying, my blood spilling from a hundred different places. Until she lifted me up and carried me back, away from the light.

XF_ongoing_13_skinner

Here, Harris adds a third paranormal dimension to his experience, with a Southeast Asian amulet and a sort of curse that follows Skinner and his platoon. Ultimately this paranormal curse acts as an allegory for the soldiers’ remorse on their morally questionable acts during wartime — namely, the murdering of civilians and of children. Echoes of 2X04: Sleepless and its guilt-ridden Vietnam War vets. The demon haunts the soldiers and torments them to their death; Skinner escapes because despite his guilt he stands his ground and doesn’t give in to despair. An excellent profile of Skinner’s strong character! — although the spell is broken in the conclusion in a sudden way, just like in the previous story.

That’s a lot of paranormal phenomena linked to a single event in Skinner’s life! The concept is a bit hard to swallow just because of this accumulation and the willingness to “top the ante” every time Skinner’s past is explored. An out-of-body experience is interesting enough and was instrumental in drawing Skinner’s character (of course, One Breath was a Morgan & Wong script); but two additional paranormal phenomena taking place simultaneously? That being said, this is less incredible or out-of-character than the past of the Scully family explored in #4-5 Ishmael.

The entire first issue is devoted to events in 1970; half the second issue travels in various moments in the past, leaving just a few pages taking place in present day. Mulder and Scully play minor roles, like in previous Skinner-centric episodes, however this extensive focus on the past is original. One could have imagined the narration starting from the present and explaining the past via dialogue, à la Skinner’s confessions, or focused flashbacks embedded in the story instead of this back and forth.

Notes:

  • The temple is mentioned as pre-Buddhist. The amulet has an inscription in Latin which is never fleshed out or mentioned in the dialogue: “Tibi, magnum Innominandum, signa stellarum nigrarum”, which can be translated as “To you, the great Not-to-Be-Named, signs of the black stars/dark stars”. This is a callback to H.P. Lovecraft’s and Robert Bloch’s Cthlhu mythos: it is a spell or invocation to one of the Ancients that cannot be named, found in the fictional De Vermis Misteriis (Of the Mysteries of the Worms). The revival comics are building quite a few Cthulhu references!
  • The ghostly appearances of the amulet demon resemble a lot the demon glimpsed in #4-5 Ishmael. Is the reader meant to make a connection, is Harris building something here? Or is this just lack of imagination in the drawings?
  • “Born to Kill” helmet: a Full Metal Jacket reference!
  • Is the smoking agent in the 1970s trial…the CSM? Was that the CSM’s first meeting with Skinner?
  • Compared to the previous two-parter, this one is much, much less dense! It even indulges in two entire pages with no dialogue at all.
  • The art here is by Andrew Currie and colors by Sebastian Cheng, the same team behind #4-5 Ishmael. Same comment applies: the drawings are very “comic book-y”, i.e. targeting a young adult audience, the colors are very bright, and there is little mystery and dark atmosphere, an overall very un-XF-like product. Although Skinner’s likeness is expertly done.

Three weeks and counting…

It is now 2016 and not only have we survived another winter solstice since December 22nd 2012 but we are presently less than a month away from entering the world of the X-Files again!

The revival

The FOX marketing machine is gearing up accordingly. “I Still Want To Believe” is the new tagline, echoing the old and underlying the fact that this is a repeat, “more of the same”. This fine line to walk between repeating the old — cozy, reassuring, nostalgic — and the new — bold, risky, unsettling — is a balance that all continuations must face. The recent Star Wars sequel (only very relatively successful, in my opinion) is the most recent example in the impulse to keep on continuing pop culture franchises.

So far there have been exclusive premieres of the “pilot” episode at select festivals (Monte Carlo, Los Angeles, Italy), we have seen posters, trailers, and a behind the scenes documentary. This is a lot of material for a six-episodes event, and goes a long way to show that FOX really believes in this and wants it to succeed. Also, the amount of images revealed goes very far — fans have been trying to assign each single frame to not only individual episodes but also chronologically within episodes — and key plot points have been revealed by the promotional campaign disregarding Carter’s previous obsession with secrecy and spoilers control. This is a very modern way to promote entertainment — the social networks buzz must be fed continuously and at all costs — but could prove counter-productive. Already, there is very little one cannot find on the first episode and many story details on the other five by searching the internet.

However, as a fan, I must admit that it all looks extremely exciting! (Including some worrying aspects on the mytharc, but coming up with theories to fill the gaps/plot holes is what we do for a living here.) It is all calibrated to appeal to those who remember the X-Files from the early seasons, including the radical approach on the Mulder-Scully relationship — which is a mix of a non-risk-taking return to how it used to be in the early days and part of a greater plan to reveal what has happened since 2002 progressively throughout all episodes, especially on the fate of William and their romantic split, using elliptic narration and flashbacks. Hopefully the episodes will actually deliver on the good buzz.

TXF_newyear

Of course, everything is done to promote the new series, which also means that the old series benefits from this buzz too — some even say that financially the new series is made so as to pump up the value of the old series as well for broadcasting rights for internet streaming services. The one-episode-a-day event that FOX marketing is animating over all its social media (head over to EatTheCorn’s Facebook page for some comments on each mytharc ep) is not only a way to count down to the new series but also a way to bring in new fans.

The BluRay

The most important event however, and quite possibly the ultimate and, well, last possible thing that could ever be done with the “old series” is its release in BluRay. Long anticipated with HD broadcasts in Germany and the USA since 2013, the whole package, including the two films and all bonus material from the DVDs, and a slot for the future new series’ BluRays (I wonder where “season 11” will fit if there is one?) was released on December 8 2015. After being one of the very first TV series that was edited in complete form in the DVD format in 2000, the X-Files has made the jump to the next format.

The challenges to do such a release were many — head over here for an interview with Jim Hardy, CEO of Illuminate, the company  behind the transfer — chief among which the fact that every single episode had to be recreated from scratch by scanning the films of the raw unedited dailies. Post-production in the 1990s was done directly on VHS, and creating HD transfers is comparatively easier for shows both before and after that period! We’ll leave the debate on whether original 4:3 aspect ratio or feature-like revisionist 16:9 widescreen was better to the experts — what is out there looks amazingly fresh regardless. However, no release is perfect: the fonts that were used for the XF logo, the opening credits, the cast and crew credits, and the place and time tags are different from the original; some departures from “The Truth Is Out There” tag were not respected; and some other issues. These things are all the more frustrating that they could have easily been respected, and I don’t expect FOX to do a re-release (or a re-scan for 4K for example) any sooner than one or two decades. You can see some DVD to BD comparisons and a detailed list of differences here.

“The rest”

Another important “old series” release could also be very close. The third volume in the X-Files music by La La Land has been postponed from 2015 to early 2016, and I could very well see LLL taking the opportunity to make use of the revival to release it. After two volumes for both X-Files and Millennium, it’s going to be worth the wait — and in the case where LLL lacks inspiration, here is a requests list.

The interest on the X-Files has been rising steadily since IDW started publishing X-Files comic books in mid-2013, and EatTheCorn has been covering closely the storylines developed by Joe Harris. “Season 11” should be drawing to a close with three more issues and what follows next is still unclear, apart from an independent “what if” alternative history issue in April. What is certain though is that IDW will be continuing to publish X-Files comics, with Joe Harris very much involved! What form will these comics take (unique stories, continuing storyline) and what continuity they will follow (alternate universe, pre-revival, post-revival) is not yet revealed.

It’s no wonder that IDW is also expanding its X-Files merchandising line: after the X-Files board game (which should have a couple of extensions in the future) and re-prints of all older comics and novels, a trilogy of X-Files short story collections is coming out, edited by horror writer Jonathan Maberry. The stories mostly take place in the “golden age” of the series, around 1996, but not exclusively. The first volume, “Trust No One“, was released in July 2015 and the second, “The Truth is Out There“, will be released in March 2016. There are some older XF alumni in here: Stefan Petrucha, writer of the (excellent) first 16 issues of the XF Topps comics in 1994-1995, Sarah Stegall, famous XF reviewer of old; Joe Harris and Dean Haglund might participate in a future third volume.

Titan also publishing two X-Files Companion books that seem to consist in collections of already published material, namely articles from the official XF magazine (some of which can be found on EatTheCorn) published by Titan in the 1990s. There will be two volumes: the first “The Agents, the Bureau, and the Syndicate” in January and the second “Monsters & Villains” in March.

I wonder what else we will be seeing in terms of merchandising in the coming weeks and months.

The fandom is also gearing up to the revival. Professional genre expert John K. Muir, who has written on X-Files and all things Chris Carter several times on his blog, also published his book on XF, The X-Files FAQ, featuring reviews and analysis of The X-Files and Carter’s other works. Darren Mooney finished his epic series of reviews of all four Ten Thirteen shows on his site, an incredible amount of text and many amazing insights. The reference site X-Files News has relaunched their website afresh. Retrospective articles in the media abound.

FOX is planning to broadcast the episodes in over 60 countries all around the world within 24 hours of their broadcast in the USA. Barely three weeks remaining for the launch of potentially the first season of the revival.

Massive Music Compilation Updated

Ever since 2008, Eat The Corn has been making a list of interesting cues in Mark Snow’s music for The X-Files: the Massive Music Compilation. Now, with the great help of many contributors, the list has been greatly updated and expanded.

More Music from the X-Files: Find here cues for no less than 150 episodes, often with specific time details and sometimes with links to videos with music recordings. With the BluRay coming out in less than two months, surely better quality audio rips will be created, until we get a proper soundtrack release. Also, don’t forget to check out Snow TraX.

Following a (necessarily subjective) ratings system based on appreciation and how often cues have been requested, the “Best Of” music yet to be released is from the following episodes:

Deep Throat
Conduit
Shadows
Ghost in the Machine
GenderBender
Darkness Falls
Ascension
Dod Kalm
Apocrypha
Talitha Cumi
Paper Hearts
Never Again
Memento Mori
Redux
Redux II
The Pine-Bluff Variant
Triangle
Drive
The Rain King
Milagro
Field Trip
Salvage
Essence
Audrey Pauley

Hopefully this will serve as inspiration for La La Land Records, who have been releasing Mark Snow music with X-Files Volume 1 in 2011 and Volume 2 in 2013; Volume 3 is expected soon.

La La Land also recently released more Mark Snow music for Millennium. Since the first release in 2008 had no “Volume” label, the release of a “Volume 2” was a great surprise, and it is well-deserved. Here is the list of episodes covered in “MILLENNIUM VOL 2: LIMITED EDITION (2-CD SET) – LLLCD 1352“:

Season 1 Season 2 Season 3
Gehenna
The Judge
Force Majeure
Covenant
Lamentation
Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions
Luminary
Anamnesis
The Fourth Horseman
Through a Glass Darkly
The Sound of Snow
Seven and One

Mark Snow is also composing the music for the upcoming X-Files revival. Keep that Mark Snow music coming!

The X-Files and the Future, Part 3: Where could it go?

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

After looking at what was left unsaid in Part 1 and a quick sociopolitical analysis of the past two decades in Part 2, we finally look here at The X-Files’ future in terms of where the storylines could go compared to the state of the show and its mythology after nine years and two movies.

Part 3: Where could it go?

The X-Files wasn’t big on making changes to its core formula. It was pushed outside its comfort zone when Gillian Anderson was pregnant in early season 2, creating the seminal storyline of Scully’s abduction. It worked around actors’ availability in season 5 due to the shooting of Fight the Future, coming up with episodes like the Lone Gunmen-focused 5X01: Unusual Suspects or the flashback 5X15: Travelers. It promised big changes by assigning two different agents to the X-Files in the first half of season 6, Spender and Fowley, but went nowhere with that. It promised even bigger changes by ending the core of the mythology in 6X12: One Son, but tried to tell stories around that and not addressing the fallout of these events for the rest of the season and the next. It introduced new characters in season 8 and 9 but still built the story around the old ones.

The X-Files really became more about Mulder and Scully than the “X-Files” cases in season 6. In front of the camera, we were following X-Files-like cases investigated by two agents no longer on the X-Files bureau, who either did it out of leisure (6X04/05: Dreamland, 6X08: How The Ghosts Stole Christmas) or stumbled upon that out of coincidence (6X15: Monday). Behind the camera, the X-Files production had changed location, a decision that impacted literally hundreds of people, to accommodate the leading star’s wishes. It became even more so about Mulder and Scully in season 8 and 9, ironically, when it was trying to pass the torch to new agents but tried to keep the older audience by using continuously Mulder’s return as a selling point and making the search for Mulder the structuring plot line of season 8; then by keeping Scully and her “old mythology” baggage in season 9, still building the whole season around Scully and a missing character rather than around the two new agents.

So, presently, “The X-Files” is synonymous with “Mulder and Scully investigate paranormal phenomena”, and I wouldn’t expect this to change much in a revival series — up until (maybe) Carter, Duchovny and Anderson all call it a day and FOX decides to do a reboot.

Two souls in search for meaning

Two souls in search for meaning

Within that framework, there is a lot that can change. There have been many theories and fan fiction stories as to where things could go, literally numbering in the thousands. Let’s examine a few creative possibilities, based on hints that the show has left and some speculation. Warning: The list below is not necessarily where I want this to go. Careful what you wish for!

Mulder and Scully, Private Investigators

Our ex-agents investigate paranormal cases through their own consulting company, occasionally brushing with the FBI (or the Millennium Group), occasionally getting help from Skinner, Chuck Burks or a Lone Gunmen-like network of truth-seekers. Mulder can fulfill his fantasy of living in a trailer like Max Fenig’s. Mulder’s obsession wouldn’t stop after he left the FBI, but finding a motivation for Scully to do this would be trickier. It could involve the quest for William.

Of course this is the opposite option of them joining the FBI again, or acting as consultants exclusively with the FBI (like Frank Black). The FBI certainly gives access and authority they wouldn’t otherwise have, and provides them with forensic, medical, criminal records, and all kinds of resources, like Danny. Them becoming agents is certainly the decision that makes the most sense in terms of brand recognition. It is practical, obvious, predictable. I Want To Believe and the comics Season 10 both went that way, making their career as FBI agents or FBI consultants intrinsically linked with their “quest for the truth”.

However, acknowledging the passage of time, they are no longer the young agents that are sent out on the field doing all the work from the ground up; had they built a career in the FBI they probably would have moved to more managerial positions and would be training or overseeing other agents, like Skinner did for them, than being in the field themselves. Which brings us to…

The X-Team: more members, more offices

Mulder and Scully are the experienced Special Agents In Charge who head a team of younger Agents in the field. In line with the “big franchise” aspect, the X-Files can become a show with not just two leads who do everything, but an entire team with agents in the field, agents specialized in forensics or medicine, agents more involved in the internal politics of the FBI… In short, an ensemble show like we usually get in cop shows. This had really started in season 9 already: not just Scully and Doggett, but Scully, Doggett, Reyes, Skinner, Kersh, Follmer. Scully was no longer an agent in the field but a doctor training younger agents in Quantico. While this direction was forced on the show due to cast changes behind the camera, it was also due to the writers looking for ways to make the show different after nearly two hundred episodes strictly centered around two leads.

Keeping with the franchise idea in a globalized world, one can imagine a “core” team (or core series) with Mulder and Scully and other X-Files divisions and teams (or mini-series spin-offs) spread across the country or the world. Like “CSI” and its multiple spin-offs or “Doctor Who” and “Torchwood”, the recombinations and cross-over possibilities are multiple.

Scully in one of her many attempts to escape The X-Files

Scully in one of her many attempts to escape The X-Files

This is the “next generation X-Files” direction, that was so abhorred by a large part of the fandom during the airing of seasons 8-9, but is really a natural evolution of many long-lived shows. The fact that a large part of the fandom rejected it shows how intrinsically linked are the X-Files with Mulder and Scully. Perhaps FOX will want this possibility for the future to be thought of and prepared, introducing a couple of younger agents, spending some time with both the old and new generations, then allowing Carter/Duchovny/Anderson to retire while FOX continues on with the new agents. But as long as the head trio is game to continue, the next generation or reboot is still a thing of the future.

Colonization: not a resolution

What a resolution to give to the mythology’s main hook? How final can the conclusion be when it comes to a replacement of the human population by aliens?

The X-Files built a reputation out of treating fantastic stories realistically, placing them in our world, present time and in everyday settings. Even if Mulder searched for undeniable proof of the existence of extraterrestrials or of some paranormal phenomenon, he was doomed from the start: if he found this proof and presented it everywhere for the world to believe, we would instantly no longer be in the same universe as the X-Files and all credibility the show built would crumble. Like for true religious faith, one has to believe even if he spends his entire life without proof, without certainties. When Mulder and Scully did find parts of the truth, it was a personal revelation that didn’t go beyond themselves. In 6X22: Biogenesis Scully tells Mulder of the end of the Syndicate “after all you’ve uncovered […] you exposed their secrets. I mean, you’ve won. What more could you possibly hope to do or to find?” as if personal knowledge was enough. In 7X22: Requiem Mulder is told that “investigating your sister’s abduction and the government conspiracy around it, both of which have been resolved” as if for the FBI Mulder’s (and the viewer’s) own closure was equivalent to revelation to all. This is removed from the energy of Scully and Mulder of earlier seasons who not only wanted knowledge but also justice: Scully in 3X02: Paper Clip: “I’ve heard the truth, Mulder. Now what I want are the answers.” Mulder in 3X10: 731: “I want them accountable for what did happen. I want an apology for the truth.

Yet as discussed earlier on Eat The Corn on the occasion of the (real-world) December 22, 2012, this lack of clear resolution is intrinsic in perhaps all of Ten Thirteen shows. It is about the quest, the doubt, the absolutes, rather than the answers. About “fighting the future” in the face of forces that seem too big even to comprehend, but not ever reaching to a point where stopping to fight is acceptable. “Don’t give up“.

Not the resolution you are looking for

Not the resolution you are looking for

Thus, what could happen about colonization? An “Independence Day” scenario where ships appear and explosions ensue? Carter already dismissed that by having Mulder pee on that poster in Fight the Future; far too caricaturistic. The most likely option is that colonization is or has been postponed, and its menace still hangs over us like a sword of Damocles. Whether some actions secretly countered the invasion in 2012, or the invasion started only it is happening insidiously underground and very progressively, or the 2012 date was misunderstood by religious cults, the colonization will remain. Even not referencing it will not make its threat go away. Like for the Christian Apocalypse, its believers will say that “the date is set” but God has its ways.

Let us then explore some creative possibilities that could add some spice to the apparent scenaristic dead-end of the colonization — possibilities that express some big remaining uncertainties to the mytharc: is the William prophecy real? are the Creation Ships coming from the Black Oil alien race? were Supersoldiers created by the Black Oil race or by the Shapeshifters race?

“Only to awaken another enemy”: trading our Alien Overlords

The Colonist aliens (i.e. the Black Oil, or the Greys, in case you have lost count) have always been presented so invincible and powerful, God-like at times, that their superiority over any resistance the low-tech human race could present appears doomed. But what if the Colonists are really much more fragile than they appear? For all we know, their entire force resides in their superior technology, but their numbers could be few and their forces on Earth could be little more than the large ship in Antarctica and the UFOs we have seen.

So the Faceless Rebels could have really won the “war for Heaven and Earth”, eventually, after their trail of fire in 5X14: The Red and the Black and 6X12: One Son, perhaps with the help of certain ex-members of the Syndicate or of the Russian syndicate (along with Krycek and Covarrubias, as was originally planned for season 7 according to rumors). With the Black Oil aliens out of the way, the race of the Faceless Rebels might betray their human allies and make their own plans for colonization of Earth.

Not so final as it appeared

Not so final as it appeared

There are some who have also theorized that this happened already, and that the Supersoldiers we see over seasons 8-9 really are envoyés of the Faceless Rebels, and not a secret weapon of the Black Oil aliens that got activated after the Syndicate was exterminated. This could be a possibility, given that the evidence to tie the Black Oil aliens to the Supersoldiers is mainly based around their biology, and the Faceless Rebels’ biology is akin to the Black Oil’s (as evidenced by similarities with hybrids, see the relevant dossier). Thus, confusing things a little more in the alien bestiary of the X-Files, there is still colonization looming but no specific invasion date.

We are all aliens

A story thread extensively used in the X-Files is the idea that we humans are all part alien, due to what proves to be alien intervention in our creation. This idea finds echoes not just in the concrete biological sense but also in an abstract, somewhat esoteric sense: “The truth I’ve been searching for? The truth is *in* you” Mulder tells Scully in 5X14: The Red and the Black. It would only make sense then that the resolution to the show’s mythology would involve our biology and our common ancestry with the aliens.

The X-Files’ central mythology is essentially a story of biological warfare at a cosmic scale. It joins both Mulder’s beliefs in extraterrestrial life and Scully’s basis in science via her expertise in medicine. The objective then could be to prevent colonization thanks to biology with the latest biological weapon against the Black Oil virus invader.

A possibility is to develop a storyline around the idea that we already have the solution to the problem: ‘immunity is inside us’. We have seen occurrences where humans have activated alien genes that give them special abilities and perhaps immunity (Gibson Praise, Mulder in 7X04: Amor Fati). We have seen occurrences where humans are naturally immune to the Black Oil (the Huichol Indians, 8X16: Vienen). We have seen a vaccine against the Black Oil be developed in Siberia, perhaps thanks to the presence of magnetite from meteors weakening the Black Oil or to an already present partial immunity among the local folk. Joining pieces of information together, this could even all be tied together in a single string of immunity among humans: Gibson Praise might have ascent from the Philippines, colonized by Asia; American Indians, ancestors of the Huichol and the Anasazi, reached the American continent via Siberia by crossing the Bering Strait; alternate names for 5X20: The End were Zhigansk and Okhotsk, two cities in Siberia, one a meteor crash site, the other a port city close to the Bering Strait. Perhaps the vaccine we saw being developed is derived from that natural immunity — appropriately, Native Americans would give the answer to the White Man and the world. See 5X20: The End, 8X16: Vienen and 9X19/20: The Truth for more; granted, this theory might contain a more than considerable amount of speculation.

Scully only minutes after googling "hybridization with gene therapy"

Scully only minutes after googling “hybridization with gene therapy”

Of course, William, the product of the union of two people who have had precedents with biological experiments with the Black Oil, not to mention a fertility possibly recovered thanks to alien technology, would be the natural and ideal candidate for being the source of the biological solution to counter the aliens. By doing so, he would also be fulfilling prophecies around his role in countering the colonization.

Thus, an antidote could be devised, rendering the biological attack of the colonization moot. It would have to be delivered, without the aliens or Supersoldiers knowing about it. Like the Syndicate made use of fertility clinics, obligatory inoculations and even the water supply system (9X01/02: Nothing Important Happened Today), so the human resistance could make use of these same tools to deliver an antidote to everyone. Any surviving cloned hybrids, grown from the start to be experts in biology (e.g. 4X15: Memento Mori), could be part or even orchestrate that resistance network. Conducting a secret underground war to prevent an all-out military war would be fitting with the low-key approach that the X-Files has had form the beginning. If Mulder and Scully were to stumble upon this underground network in an investigation, using the Syndicate’s tools in secret for a good purpose, could even lead them to mistake it as nefarious, ironically.
This is but one way with which a non-apocalyptic, biology-based war on the future of colonization could develop.

Redux III: A conspiracy of men

How to make the mythology feel more real and thus scarier in a time when the omnipresence of personal cameras has not proven the existence of UFOs and when the alien craze is not what it used to be in the 1990s? Make it more about the human aspect of it. The X-Files understood early on the importance to have human villains opposing Mulder and Scully instead of impersonal aliens, given the drama and emotion and personal backstories that could be created as we got to know the conspirators better. Could The X-Files pull another try at taking the aliens entirely out of the picture and make it about humans only, like it tried with 4X24: Gethsemane and 5X02/03: Redux? At the time the “rational” explanation was an impressive narrative achievement but it did leave a lot of in-universe questions to be explained; the “Mulder as skeptic” arc that followed was, for many, too sudden and not believable; and then came mythology episodes that firmly confirmed the alien forces at play.

Still, in 9X19/20: The Truth, Mulder, and Carter via him, ends his testimony with: “[I’ve learned] that the devil is just one man with a plan but evil, true evil, is a collaboration of men which is what we have here today“. The choice of words is interesting, especially since Mulder knows that Supersoldiers are involved in the ploy to have him on trial. Today, after all we have seen, a coup à la Gethsemane would be unrealistic. However, there is flexibility.

Noam Chomsky's "Manufacturing Consent and Alien Bodies"

Noam Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent and Alien Bodies”

With memory manipulation (1X01: Deep Throat), hypnosis (3X20: Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”), proof manipulation (photos in 1X16: E.B.E., whole bodies in 4X24: Gethsemane) and given how easily false information can be planted and how fake footage can be produced with the technologies of today, the show could argue that once you manipulate enough memories and plant enough false evidence, you manipulate the way people remember about things: you effectively change history. There are hardly any eye witnesses of the Roswell crash left alive, for example; what we know about it is what we are told about it. This could insert much-needed doubt and uncertainty as to what “the truth” is.

The show could also take focus out of the aliens and more on how the various conspiracies have used the fear of the aliens as a tool for mass psychological manipulation: under a greater menace, you are willing to turn the eye when those who state they will protect you make immoral things. This thread, stated in Kritschgau’s memorable speech in 5X02: Redux, could fit nicely with the post-9/11 Patriot Act, the surveillance culture and associated loss of liberties in exchange for security.The show could even go as far as to downplay the role the aliens have played in the past. We mentioned above how the forces of the Colonists might be much fewer than what we are led to believe; perhaps the Colonists had also a much lesser hand in events than what we thought. They do exist but beyond specific occurrences like the seminal Roswell crash of 1947 or the deal with the Syndicate in 1973 their appearances are rare; the abductions and experiments are man-made, the UFO crashes is more or less advanced technology, the whole manipulation is more or less made known depending on each one’s access to top secret information.

On the credibility of this option, given how much we have seen on The X-Files, your mileage may vary. I was certainly very seduced by the ideas introduced in the “Redux” trilogy. It would give new windmills to chase for Mulder, and could perhaps inverse the roles with Scully, as she might defend the aliens’ presence given the quasi-religious experience she had when discovering that spacecraft in Africa in 6X22: Biogenesis. Which brings us to…

Creation Ships: The voice of God

The show could decide that it’s all about God. The aliens as an allegory for God is something the X-Files have played with several times in the past, with visual imagery of alien abductions reminiscent of religious rapture, with Mulder’s quest for life in the skies paralleled to Scully’s religious belief, and of course with the idea that the human race is a creation by aliens. “What we call God is only alien, an intelligence much greater than us” the Cigarette-Smoking Man says in 7X22: Requiem. Yet this “ancient astronaut” theory cannot give the whole picture though: if “they” created us, who created “them”?

Fascinated Supersoldiers

Fascinated Supersoldiers

Fascinated God seekers

Fascinated God seekers

It was never fully ascertained that the “Origin Ships” seen in 6X22: Biogenesis and 9X11: Providence belonged to the same alien race as the Black Oil. This was hypothesized because the pieces fit, the Ships seeding life so that it can be later colonized by the “Purity” race, and there was no need to complexify things further with more alien races. But there is enough uncertainty there to build a different story. These “Origin Ships” could come from elsewhere; contact with them is linked with religious awe and stories of prophets and prophecies (the old religions in Biogenesis, the William prophecy in Providence). The Ships are linked to William (the one in Biogenesis possibly returned Scully her fertility; the one in Providence called for William and safeguarded it from the fire that killed all the others); the Supersoldiers themselves might not know everything about these Ships and their interest in them would be similar to their interest in William, a religious yearning to understand something that is mysterious for them as well.The search for the truth on these Ships could instill some interesting new dynamics on the show, and would also make us humans and the alien Supersoldiers all equal before this grander religious quest.

The voices of the dead

Actually, Chris Carter’s scripts have grown more and more religious as time has passed. The aliens-as-God is only subtext until it becomes the core of the mythology in the last three seasons. Christian symbols abound around the immaculate conception and birth of William. I Want To Believe is a lot about faith (Christian faith, specifically). The turning point really was Millennium’s “Seven and One” near the end of the show’s last season, an episode preceding Biogenesis and the rest; it was Carter’s last script for Millennium, and gave Frank Black the closest he could get in terms of character development and closure by turning him towards religious faith (Catholic Christian, specifically): “it is the light which guides me now“. Initially a person with doubts, Carter’s personal faith perhaps matured and strengthened during those years, which showed in his work. Perhaps this faith is more strong now than before — in “The After”, discussion of the Christian Apocalypse and the whole premise which might have proven to be a take on Dante’s “Inferno” is proof towards that — and religious themes in The X-Files will become the big focus. That is fine as long as Carter is subtle, intelligent and perhaps ambiguous about it, indeed the best years of the show are associated with times when several versions of “the truth” were possible.

Another interesting point that shows The X-Files being steered towards more spiritual and religious ground is the importance of ghosts in the show’s finale. Ghosts and paranormal phenomena in general were kept in principle out of the very science fictional mythology, yet in later seasons the lines began to blur: the Biogenesis trilogy, but also the Walk-ins in 7X11: Closure, and Krycek and X’s ghosts in 9X19/20: The Truth. Mulder summarizes what he believes in not as something related to alien life, but something much more spiritual: “I want to believe that the dead are not lost to us. That they speak to us as part of something greater than us, greater than any alien force. And if you and I are powerless now, I want to believe that if we listen to what’s speaking, it can give us the power to save ourselves.” This echoes very well 3X16: Apocrypha where Johansen memorably told Scully: “We hear them everyday. They talk to us, They haunt us. They beg us for meaning. Conscience… it’s just the voices of the dead, trying to save us from our own damnation.” Scully later says: “I think the dead are speaking to us, Mulder, demanding justice. Maybe that man was right. Maybe we bury the dead alive.

Possessions of the alien kind

Possessions of the alien kind

Possessions of the spiritual kind

Possessions of the spiritual kind

The X-Files mythology never fully explored that, but reminding that thread in the show’s finale, of all places, is significant. Also, a parallel is made between the forces of the dead and the forces of the aliens: one, obviously, is a force of good, the other a force of evil. By extension, the fate of humanity is then framed between those two forces, and the fight against colonization becomes a fight where supernatural forces could have an unexpected role.Indeed, to the Black Oil — black, alien, malevolent — can be opposed the Walk-ins — beings of light, well-intended. Both are beings that occupy a human host, but one is the light that counter-balances the darkness of the other. There is some visual imagery that could illustrate that, with the black filter in front of the eyes of a Black Oil-infected host, and the white aura of ghost appearances in the show (7X10: Sein und Zeit / 7X11: Closure, specifically). The show even toyed with the idea of absolute, spiritual evil as a kind of infectious virus in 8X17: Empedocles, where fire behind the eyes signified that person was infected — just an episode away from 8X16: Vienen and its Black Oil-infected oil workers. Unexpected allies of the spiritual kind could be a nice twist to the colonization storyline.

The show goes on

The possibilities are not endless but the mythology is not in the dead end it is often being described to be.

There are other possibilities as well, such as developing a different mythology altogether. Seasons 8 and 9 seemed to be building towards a Doggett and Reyes-specific mythology on evil as an immaterial force and the disappearance of Doggett’s son Luke, with episodes like 8X06: Invocation, 8X17: Empedocles, 9X04: Hellbound, 9X16: Release. It is a bit late in the game for Scully and Mulder to change the mythology as radically but it is a possibility. In a revival show with much fewer episodes per year than 24, what is mythology and what is not could blur and the so-called monster-of-the-week shows would have to be as important to the central characters and with high stakes as the so-called “mythology” ones. The show could even take a radical turn towards realism and really have episodes where Mulder is wrong and Scully is right, where the paranormal phenomenon is disproven and the scientific explanation is proven as correct — possibly Carter’s initial plan before he saw the difficulties in making such a show as exciting as having the mysterious and the paranormal “win”.

Whatever direction the continuation of the show takes, it will have to reintroduce the central divide that made the X-Files so interesting to watch: the debate between the “skeptic” and the “believer”. The debate provides different worldviews, the debate exists because there are things that are uncertain, because there are mysteries unsolved. In the later seasons of the show, in particular during season 7, Scully and Mulder’s views on things seemed to be converging, appropriately enough since they were reaching the end of the show and their romantic union was also a union and synthesis of ideas. As good as that ending was, that divide has to be there to drive the show. It does not have to mean disagreement on everything or a return to how things were in 1993 or the end of their relationship; it does not even need to be over the existence or non-existence of extraterrestrials. But their intellectual discourse has to have a basis on a divide, and only if there is a divide will there be uncertainty and the truth can be “out there”.

There are possibilities and fan theories. And then there is what Carter has decided to do. Options are discarded and future paths are not chosen: the story Carter will choose to tell will be one direction only. He seems to have the ambition to tell it over more than “just” these six episodes, once more postponing the resolution again, but giving more ample ground to storytelling and experimentation.

Now, for the spoilery part. There are lots of spoilers out there, some of which are very hard to avoid, and some of which seriously spoil the fun of discovering these episodes when they will air. I will not participate in spreading confirmed spoilers or rumors around… but I will link to this trailer:

So. Weary Mulder and reluctant Scully, check. Dark spaces and flashlights, check. Supportive Skinner, check. Shadowy old informant, check. The immortal Cigarette-Smoking Man, check. Modern paranoia and secrets from our post-World War II past, check. Beautiful photography, check. What is here can be compared to the three-part analysis of these Eat The Corn dossiers; we could do a minute analysis of the trailer but at barely over three months from the premiere I will leave that to the whim of each one.

The date is set for January 2016 — but before that, the world premiere of the first episode, Carter’s “My Struggle“, in MIPCOM, Cannes, France, today, October 6. Expect to find spoilers everywhere.

If you want to refresh your memory on the mythology, you can delve into our synthesis, the Eat The Corn Mytharc Primer.

The X-Files and the Future, Part 2: What new can it add?

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

We continue our examination of The X-Files and its future. After looking at what was left unsaid in Part 1, we look here at how the world has changed since the show left the air and what things it could possibly integrate in its universe.

Disclaimer: Though I do a lot of name-dropping, the topics here are in keeping with the themes of The X-Files and I do not necessarily agree with everything. Also, there is a US bias in many of the topics addressed; as much as I would like it to be more varied, The X-Files is an American show mainly addressed to an American audience and I tried to keep that in mind when thinking about what it could tackle.

Part 2: What new can it add?

The X-Files is remembered mostly as a thing of the 1990s: its best years were in 1994-1998; Skinner is remembered with a portrait of Bill Clinton in his office; its last season suffered from a “mood change in the country” according to Carter after 9/11/2001; it was absent from the screens during G.W. Bush’s presidency, so much so that this was a joke in I Want To Believe. But it was something of the 1990s in more ways than just how Scully’s wardrobe has aged or how grainy and 4:3 the picture is. The X-Files was, among other things, about that short part of history between the end of the Cold War and the start of the War on Terror (so many wars!), and the state of the American consciousness, and as an extension of the world as a whole, because of that. About how after being worried about the Soviets as aliens, we had to fill the gap with something in our minds and turned to the skies and extraterrestrials as aliens (“Tonight we have a new enemy“, as Deep Throat said). About discovering that not everything as it seems and that despite unprecedented economic growth and material well-being there are still many things we do not understand and many things we should not take for granted — hence the horror found in mundane settings and the paranoia around the government. Also about the new supplanting the old — with stories about secrets in small towns of rural America unraveled by DC investigators, or about finding faith in a world so shaken by globalization and new trends that the values of old no longer hold.

G. W. Bush's inaugural and ultimate appearance on The X-Files

G. W. Bush’s inaugural and ultimate appearance on The X-Files

What new interesting developments has the world seen since 2002 that could be integrated in the world of the X-Files, and in particular of the X-Files mythology? Where can the new X-Files break new ground with all this?

Television and narration

Since the nineties, television has followed history and illustrated the obsessions of its time. Just to name a few: “24” was a signature show of the years when terrorists were in everyone’s minds; “Battlestar Galactica” allegorized the post-9/11 world with themes such as power abuse, the risk of totalitarianism in times of great stress, and “one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter”; “Lost” made the interconnectivity of the internet age into a storytelling procedure, networking time periods, characters, storylines; “Breaking Bad” succeeded in marrying the novelistic single story arc vision with cinematic directing and photography; “True Detective” and “American Horror Story” have made the season-length anthology series format popular; and this year’s “sense8” is globalization incarnate, seamlessly transitioning between mindsets living all over this planet.

Now, everyone expects a show to have a well-structured mythology — audience and reviewers are not forgiving about this. Along with shows like “Babylon 5”, The X-Files pioneered the grand mythology type of storytelling and despite its undeserved reputation it excelled at making it interesting and coherent — this very site exists to make that point! Whether they made it along as they went or not (which they did, at least for the specifics of each scenario) is not relevant, what is important is to have a throughline to patch each individual scenario to, and there’s no reason why Carter couldn’t still fulfill that role. If there are things to worry about Carter’s handling of things, it wouldn’t be this.

Jose Chung writing a book about post-modernism in the writers' room of television shows

Jose Chung writing a book about post-modernism in the writers’ room

The mythology approach for genre shows has become so common that the anthology type of show, with a series of stand-alone stories, or even a show like the X-Files that alternated between stand-alone and mythology episodes, has essentially disappeared. Narration is much more serialized over several episodes. Actually, given the X-Files’ schizophrenic treatment of its characters between the earth-shattering personal events of mythology episodes and the reset-button monster-of-the week, adding some continuity and fluidity would not be a bad thing! The X-Files was famous for its self-contained stand-alone episodes that could offer wildly different types of stories and make the voices of individual writers stand out compared to a uniform single-voice serialized show. This differentiating richness must be kept and it won’t be considered old school if it keeps its format of alternating mythology and stand-alones; however its approach and transitions must be reexamined.

In addition, the post-modern narration that the X-Files experimented with in some of its episodes (3X20: Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”, 5X06: Post-Modern Prometheus) has become something more common, and massively popular. Intertextuality within a television show or even between genres is much more accepted (anything by Charlie Kaufman, anything by Quentin Tarantino, “Community”) — we live in a Darin Morgan world! Whereas most of the X-Files’ (Carter’s) candid idealism has become less frequent or less popular: anti-heroes or tortured individuals, not romantic heroes, populate our screens. Again, here, The X-Files’ plurality of voices with several writers expressing themselves is something Carter has understood as an important part of the success of the original show.

Going full Orwellian

In terms of changes in the real world since the 1990s, the obvious item is the surveillance state. Carter has attributed the loss of steam of the show in season 9 to the fact that the X-Files’ mistrust of government would catch difficultly with the public opinion. After a decade with “patriotism” the key word, mistrust of Big Government is back in the public consciousness. The revelation of a global surveillance program in various incarnations, what many people have been saying was happening all along, has shaken the media since 2013. The NSA surveillance programs PRISM, the NSA big data analysis program Boundless Informant, the deals between US-UK governments and large private companies to have access to all telecommunications, the spying of various governments by the US government, the leak of intelligence cables to the press, surveillance by drones and drones warfare, this is all material The Thinker and Fox Mulder would rave about! The X-Files touched on surveillance several times, with the most notable example in the show’s last season, 9X08: Trust No 1, with NSA cameras recording absolutely anything.

Image from "The Enemy of the State" re-used in the pilot of "24"

Image from “The Enemy of the State” (1998) re-used in the pilot of “24” (2001)

There are always fringe groups, like the 9/11 “truthers”, but, ironically, such concerns are much more mainstream now compared to how conspiracy theorists were when Mulder was called “Spooky”, which breathes more realism to the X-Files. The “New World Order” aspect of these developments is very close to the X-Files’ obsessions for a cabal of private interests working secretly against the interests of the many, and I can’t imagine a new X-Files without some of this being mixed to the Syndicate/alien conspiracy.

“Welcome to the wonderful world of high technology”

Related to the above: as surveillance programs have developed and embraced high-tech, so have those who try to counter them. Wikileaks, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Bradford/Chelsea Manning, anonymizer Tor, the Dark Web, peer-to-peer networks used to spread information and render censorship impossible: all these items are what mainstream media and conspiracy theorists both talk about. A Lone Gunman type of character informant to Mulder and Scully would be well versed in all this.

"The Thinker", the fourth Lone Gunman (from 2X25: Anasazi)

“The Thinker”, the fourth Lone Gunman (from 2X25: Anasazi)

Internet and the media

The internet and social media has changed the speed with which information is received and spread, making it easier for anyone to track the source and understand if information is manipulated or not. This apparent democratization of information has been twisted into manipulation, with “planted” stories or stories that subjectively present selected parts of a whole that become viral; conspiracy stories there are easy to imagine. Social media can be deceptive, as one only chooses to be informed by media outlets one agrees with ideologically beforehand, thus missing the counterpoint. Mass media oftentimes eschews information neutrality, either unawares or purposefully, and become tools with an agenda to protect — particularly deceitful when they pretend impartiality. This bias has particularly been debated around — ironically, for The X-Files — FOX News, with accusation of conservative views; other channels have been accused of having a liberal bias. Recent decades have also seen a resurgence of talk radio, which is often fertile ground for clearly one-sided politically oriented discussion, due to the 1987 repeal of the “fairness doctrine” that required public broadcasters to present balanced views of a controversial issue.

Art Bell and Frank Black

Art Bell and Frank Black

Chris Carter is certainly sensible to these issues. His project for a TV series around “Area 51” (discussed on Eat The Corn here) would have included some discussion on “the spectrum of political discourse as seen on the cable news channels” and would be “treading on some of this interesting ground that Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, and Julian Assange have uncovered for us“, surely addressing topics like media manipulation of information and the hiding of governmental/military secrets. Carter himself had appeared on the popular but underground radio talk show “Coast to Coast AM” by Art Bell, a staple of conspiracy/paranormal talk shows since the 1980s; he went so far as to have Art Bell himself appear on the Millennium season 3 episode “Collateral Damage” to welcome Frank Black in his studio.

The media and information ultimately join the central themes of The X-Files: it is about the truth, whether it can be hidden, whether there is an “absolute” truth. If Carter was following these trends from the 1990s and earlier, he surely has things to say about them, and now that “Area 51” has been cancelled he can recycle these storylines into the X-Files.

El mundo gira y gira

Compared to the nineties, today’s world is certainly much more complex. The fall of the Soviet union did not bring about the end of history; today we live in a multi-polar world where the power of the United States is not what it used to be, if not waning, where geopolitics are fluid and where terrorist attacks somewhere in the world are part of everyday news. When right-wing militia and apocalyptic cults were more of a thing of the nineties, today worries are more about random spree killings and popular discontent due to racial discrimination or racially motivated killings. The never-ending economic “crisis” has become the new normal; the impoverishment of the middle class has generated discontent and movements like Occupy and the 99%, and while some are more wary of one another some others have become more active in civil society. The X-Files could find ways to illustrate these unstable times in allegorical ways, like the recent trend with zombies could be seen as an allegory for the uniformization of modern society and the brainwashing of clerical jobs (XF had been there with 5X19: Folie à Deux).

Mulder has a go at that 99% lifestyle (from 1X04: The Jersey Devil)

Mulder has a go at that 99% lifestyle (from 1X04: The Jersey Devil)

The demographics are changing as well, with “minorities” and multiracial people increasing and being represented in the media more. The adage of the power only being held by old white males that the X-Files used for the Syndicate no longer holds. Certain episodes purely based on exotic foreign cultures, like 3X19: Hell Money or 4X04: Teliko, won’t do. The X-Files was a series written by (nearly exclusively) white males with a (nearly exhaustively) all-white, heterosexual cast. Some variety in the cast and some more international scope in the stories would be a natural evolution.

“Science is their religion”

The X-Files thrived on the divide — and intersection — of science and religious belief, and while scientific research has broken new ground since the 1990s, society as a whole is little more advanced when it comes to its spiritual anxieties and each person’s need to feel part of a greater whole. Quite the contrary, recent times have also seen the emergence of more fundamentalist religious groups and skepticism towards science, with movements of anti-science, anti-vaccination, climate change denialists, evolution theory skeptics and proponents of “intelligent design”.

7X15 En Ami: A miracle redeems believers -- but the miracle was man-made

7X15 En Ami: A miracle redeems believers — but the miracle was man-made

Building a story around these trends is much trickier — and risky! The X-Files universe was often more black-and-white than grey; despite “humanizing” the villains and making tragedies out of their stories, the good side and evil side were easily recognizable in the X-Files (and Millennium), particularly in spiritual episodes. It would be interesting to see what the X-Files would make out of this.

“One day, the modern world would find us and my home town would change forever”

Can paranormal phenomena remain unproven and urban legends really be taken seriously today, when everyone has photo cameras? Can secrets be kept and proof remain hidden when everyone has access to wifi with a smartphone? Can whole communities keep horrible secrets from the rest of the world? Can episodes like 2X24: Our Town or 4X03: Home take place today?

The ubiquitousness of the internet poses serious storytelling challenges to writers of mystery and horror, and one has to find new and believable ways to tell scary stories. Many modern films and series have compensated this with more horror, more explicit gore, more of everything — while the X-Files’ approach was to manage to scare with less; again this poses a challenge.

The government's secret vintage warehouse: CRT sceens

The government’s secret vintage warehouse: CRT sceens

Similarly, investigating is not what it used to be, and I can imagine that much of what was time-consuming is now something “you can easily do on the Internet” like an accountant FBI fellow told Mulder in 7X22: Requiem. Investigative work in the 1990s was appropriately visual: sifting through a room full of (paper!) archives, looking at microfilms, rewinding through tapes… Now it would be more challenging to write about an investigation without falling victim to the unrealistic shortcuts and artificial impressiveness of series the X-Files itself inspired, like CSI.

Hell, The X-Files cannot be about everything! There are some things that the new X-Files will jive with, engulf in its world and twist them into its timeless themes, and others that will not fit.

We wrap up this series of article with Part 3 on where the series could go

The X-Files and the Future, Part 1: What’s left hanging?

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

As you well know, visitor, The X-Files is returning in January 2016 after over thirteen year of absence from the television screens — or after over seven years of absence from the cinema screens. Meanwhile, the comics continuation by IDW will keep on, parallel to that.

Announced in March, the 6-episode revival series was shot between June 8 and September 3 2015 (quite longer than originally planned — attention to detail and budget overshoot, or will it end up being seven episodes?), well in advance of its January premiere. The exclusive world premiere is set for October 6 in Cannes, France (MIPCOM, professional event), and October 10 in New York (New York Comic Con), before the premiere on FOX on January 24.

Where many were expecting the X-Files to continue its (mitigated) career as a feature film franchise and wrap with a final mythology-filled “X-Files 3”, Chris Carter has been given the opportunity to do another run on television. And where this fan expected him to be cautions and transform the idea he must have had for a wrap-up film into a multi-part television event, Carter has run wild! The revival series is developing into a much more ambitious project than expected, with the involvement of among the best of the show’s writers, with the return of several of the show’s supporting cast, with a mix of both mythology and stand-alone episodes, with the possibility of more mini-seasons or even the idea of a film not out of the picture either. This, inevitably, heightens expectations. Let us have a close look at what the X-Files left unfinished, what has changed since it has left the airwaves, and what it could add to its storytelling universe.

Phenomena Incognita

Revival promo art: “Phenomena Incognita”

Out of all the story threads that the X-Files opened and never fully unraveled, you could say there are hundreds of things a continuation could pick up on and build further. But if you are going to do a continuation more than a decade later, why stick to the details? A continuation must have a certain amount of things that can make it recognizable as the same thing from the past — characters, situations, settings, props, photography, a healthy dose of nostalgia — but it also needs to do things differently, otherwise it defeats the purpose of having a continuation at all. Many sequels are nothing but more of the same with a single element different so as to spice things up but at the core they have nothing new to say, nothing new to contribute in their central themes or development in their characters. Sequels and revivals only too often rely on that, particularly in the last ten years or so now that the lines between movie franchise, television series and internet-exclusive content have blurred and everything is part of a cross-platform serialized storytelling. Why do something new when a minimal effort re-hash of the same is often enough to make economic sense for a producer? But why make something new if you have exhibited the level of intelligent writing Chris Carter has and you have nothing new to say in the world of The X-Files? This divide between economic rationality versus artistic motivation is one that has existed since the beginning of this, or essentially any, show.

So let’s examine what The X-Files has left unresolved, in what ways it could develop, and what new it could add to the mix. This being Eat The Corn, there will inevitably be a mythology bias to all this and for this I do not apologize. Also, there are spoilers for the (old!) series; and although I have not managed to remain spoiler-free for the revival series, I offer no spoilers here (in fact I know some of these items will not be followed through).

Part 1: What’s left hanging?

To be frank, the long-time fans have to admit that not everything is about the past. While a minimum amount of continuity is necessary, the truth is that thirteen years in television is an eternity and this revival is like a reboot on a clean slate — anything that is from the old series is just icing on the cake. This minimum amount of elements from the past should be the mere concept of alien colonization and a human conspiracy collaborating with them. Everything else that came with it — Samantha, Bill Mulder, the implants, the bees, the corn, the vaccine, the different hybrids, the nanotechnology, most supporting characters — was passionately complex but it needs not even be mentioned anymore.

"You're looking at the future, Mister Mulder"

“You’re looking at the future, Mister Mulder”

 

Colonization

This is by far the principal plot point of the whole mythology and overshadows everything else in this list. Colonization is what the show has been teasing since very early on (3X24: Talitha Cumi really made it explicit) and self-inflicted a constraint by putting a future date to it, December 22 2012. The resolution of this storyline is what the audience has been waiting for for an eventual third X-Files feature film that never came “on time”. The status of this, and the fact that the date has passed but nothing (apparently?) happened, has to be addressed.

William in 2012?

William in 2012?

 

William

While season 8 (somewhat predictably) built suspense around his gestation, Scully and Mulder’s son was a story that only became a burden after the show kept Scully in the cast in season 9. Who remembers the bad taste of him being given up for adoption apart from the fans that followed through to the very end? Yet, Carter seems to still have plans for him and address this prophecy surrounding him. The “savior” motif has actually existed for a long time in the mythology of the show before landing on William’s shoulders: Gibson Praise was “the key to everything in the X-Files” in 5X20: The End, Mulder had “become our savior” in 7X04: Amor Fati. And that is most likely William in the credits of season 9, at the age he would be in 2012.

State-of-the-art in infiltration technology

State-of-the-art in infiltration technology

 

The Supersoldiers

The infiltrated alien has also gone though various incarnations in the X-Files, between the Alien Bounty Hunter, the shape-shifting Rebel, the Black-Oil-infected host or the alien/human hybrid. The latest version of that were the alien replicants deceptively called Supersoldiers. They were in a position of power in 2002 and if they are not today it has to be addressed. In I Want To Believe, the inclusion of Ten Thirteen alumni Sarah-Jane Redmond in a very small role as FBI Agent Fossa made me expect that she could later be developed as an undercover Supersoldier — or it could be nothing but another inside joke.

 

The Faceless Rebels and the Russian syndicate

Story threads abandoned in season 6 but that was supposed to become integral to seasons 7 and 8, this is probably a storyline that was borne out of the ever-complexifying mythology that is now old history. However, this is a development that held so much promise that I had to add it here, not to mention that the flash appearance of the Rebels in the comics Season 10 was a great surprise. What would have happened if a resistance against the Black Oil Colonists, perhaps encompassing the rebellious cloned hybrids, had destroyed the Colonists’ plans? What if the Rebels had then proven as ill-intentioned towards humans as the Colonists?

 

The Syndicate

It got destroyed in season 6, of course, but we only knew about the American branch. Did the Rebels exterminate its international members as well? Did some, like mastermind Strughold, survive? Was it reconstructed but with different goals and alliances? The comics Season 10 goes down this path and makes things very interesting.

"You have a friend at the FBI"

“You have a friend at the FBI”

 

The living

Of course, any living character can be returned. However, a lot of time has passed and a new series should not clutter itself too much with the past. Audiences are not necessarily familiar with all the characters and the opportunity of a continuation series should not be wasted by making it a series of “what happened to” moments just to satisfy our curiosity. Some can return, but certainly not all.

  • Walter Skinner, of course, has been an ally for so long it’s difficult to imagine a continuation without him.
  • Alvin Kersh, on the other hand, was a replacement character to create drama when Skinner grew too close to our agents; I can’t imagine his role couldn’t be filled by another face at the FBI.
  • John Doggett and Monica Reyes, as good as the actors portraying them were, never quite gelled with the audience as a lead duo, but a cameo to help an investigation forward would not be unwelcome.
Uncertain fates

Uncertain fates

  • Gibson Praise was a recurring character that Carter brought back for the series finale, and as a child with alien-derived powers he could be seen perhaps as an earlier version of William. This is an obvious choice for a returning character, unless William becomes the focus. Gibson’s inclusion in the comics Season 10 might prevent that or end up being contradicted.
  • Marita Covarrubias, Mulder’s only surviving informant, did not get the character development she deserved in the series and an interesting development for her could be devised, especially with the success actor Laurie Holden has been getting recently with “The Walking Dead”; optional.
  • Jeffrey Spender returned from the dead to close season 9 but I never understood why that was necessary; optional.
  • Margaret and Bill Scully, the only surviving family members of Mulder and Scully, would be a nice to-have.
  • Frank Black, who, short of having his own feature, could make an appearance. Carter has expressed desire to return to the character and a revival of Millennium’s sister show would be as good a vehicle as any to do that, given that FOX might not consider the brand name recognition sufficient to launch a Millennium revival, despite the dedication of its fan base.
Ghosts of seasons past

Ghosts of seasons past

 

The dead

“Nobody ever really dies on The X-Files” as Carter famously said, but return too many characters from the dead and you lose the subtle suspension of disbelief that makes a work of fiction memorable. I’m sure writers can devise ways to make anyone return, especially in a science fiction & fantastic show like The X-Files: their deaths only happened off-screen, they were in fact alien replicants, there are hybrid clones around, they are dead but their spirit still lingers around… Tread carefully.

  • The Cigarette-Smoking Man was already resurrected with no explanation only to be present in the series finale, where he was also most definitely reduced to ashes. He was the absolute iconic and recognizable villain of the show and the temptation to have him around again will be great. But a page has to be turned at some point, nothing ever stays the same. Not to mention that he should be in his mid eighties at least to make things consistent with his history (at least in his twenties in 1953). Unless flashbacks are involved I would prefer to invest in a new villain, like season 9 tried with the Supersoldier Toothpick Man (actor Alan Dale).
  • Krycek is another tempting character to return, and a personal favorite. However, like with the Rebels and the Russians, he could be considered as old history now.
  • The Lone Gunmen will be needed in this day and age where any discussion of paranoia and high-tech and government surveillance will require side characters like them. Killing them was among the most stupid decisions season 9 did so the revival might as well follow the comics Season 10 and say they faked their deaths. Some of the actors are not getting any younger though.
Quiz: find the living one(s)

Quiz: find the living one(s)

  • Deep Throat and X have done their part and it would be more interesting to discover new informants.
  • Diana Fowley disappeared from the show very suddenly, as if the writers had no real plan for her after mid-season 6. Same as with Jeffrey Spender, her past with Mulder and her story arc was interesting but I see no particular reason for her return.
  • Cassandra Spender was never fully confirmed as dead, which is a handy way of leaving the door open for her return. Her return would have to be tied to the return of the Cigarette-Smoking Man, or even to that of the Faceless Rebels, making it rather complex. Her role of a being with a shared nature between human and alien could be fulfilled by Gibson Praise or William, or a new abductee.
  • Samantha Mulder was Mulder’s engine to keep on going forward and this was taken away from him in season 7 when he found out her faith, appropriately at a time when the series was thought to be ending and Duchovny’s motivation to portray the character had waned. Her mention anew in I Want To Believe (“This is about you trying to save your sister“) was a surprise. With the resolution we got in season 7, it took a long time for Mulder to close his wounds; however an interesting “what if” scenario would be that of Mulder reuniting with a clone that had Samantha’s memories, something that was teased as a possibility repeatedly in the series. A return in the form of a ghost should not be dismissed outright, nor should it be handled lightly.
From the IWTB Press Kit

From the IWTB Press Kit

 

Mulder and Scully

Of course. How the lead characters develop would be a main argument for following a continuation, given how truly essential these two characters and the actors portraying them were to the show’s success. The series ended with them a couple in love, retrospectively turning the entire series into the narration of how they met, appreciated each other, and ultimately found in each other the most significant partner they could imagine. In I Want To Believe it became apparent, as could have been expected, that their contacts with the dark aspects of the human soul, the paranormal and conspiracies of all kinds would take their toll on their relationship. The second film portrayed them as tortured individuals trying to balance things between a life together away from the worries of this world, and a life as selfless heroes battling “the darkness”. The quintessential Chris Carter protagonists. Funnily enough, the film was so ambiguous and not specific, like The X-Files often was, that while some understood that Mulder and Scully had been living together in West Virginia for the past 6 years, some others understood that they were only occasional lovers who seldom saw each other, and that Mulder lived in that house alone.

On to Part 2: What new can it add?