X-Files, Season 1

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as their characters Fox Mulder and Dana Scully

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as their characters Fox Mulder and Dana Scully

My wife and I agreed without speaking to each other that we were going to spend the fall and winter going through our entire collection of The X Files on DVD.  Since we have the entire series, that will be quite a feat.  Still, it says something about us that we seemed to agree not only that we needed something “new” to watch (and neither of us have sat and watched The X Files in years), but that it would be this particular program, which we watched pretty faithfully for its entire run.  Being together so long, our brains work along the same lines.

My first impression of this now-21-year-old first season is how different the world was not that long ago.  In the pilot episode, Mulder uses a rotary slide projector instead of a Power Point.  Neither has a cell phone (which they would get in later episodes), relying on borrowed rotary-dial phones, pay phones, and phone books.  Scully has a laptop that is a museum piece.  There is little to no internet usage, let alone references, and the desktops on display in the background of office scenes are using MS-DOS rather than windows (I think in later seasons, they actually switched to using Macs and Apple products, although I might be misremembering).  The cars strike me as “old”.  There are station wagons.  Scully wears suits that have shoulder pads in them.

Lisa and I were pointing out these differences in appearance.  It was actually odd to think how many big and small changes have occurred over two decades, to the point that things we now take for granted weren’t even available as givens for props.

It is the thematic nature of the show, however, that I find even more intriguing.  As a fan of conspiracy theories – without believing any of them – I do like the way executive producer and writer Chris Carter weaves actual conspiracy theories throughout what is too often a disjointed and unclear “mythology” (I believe that is because, despite his best efforts at cohesion, that “mythology” wasn’t fully fleshed out ahead of time; contemporary programs from Lost to Breaking Bad to American Horror Story move forward either with a rough outline in place or the actual script drafts completed before shooting begins).  The show builds tension nicely and cleanly, and even knowing how things progress, it’s surprising how engaging that tension becomes.  In part that is because of the chemistry and banter of Mulder and Scully (although I agree with our younger daughter’s observation that Scully’s skepticism becomes far more difficult to accept even after a few episodes, let alone over the course of several seasons).

On the other hand, the prevalence of conspiracy mongering in our contemporary political and cultural climate renders the use of conspiracy theories as a plot device off-putting.  Not least because many of the conspiracy theories used in the program are actual things believed by real people, the show has a bit too much of a “documentary” feel.  Conspiracy mongering has become not only prevalent but pernicious, from the “Swift Boating” of John Kerry in 2004 (in which his actions during the Vietnam War were called in to question) through the years-long questioning of Pres. Obama’s provenance and loyalties going all the way back the serial conspiracies people got paid good money to propagate about the Clintons, faith in our political leaders has been undermined even among those who know better because an atmosphere of distrust – a healthy thing in a participatory democracy – has morphed in to an absolute, rather than relative, social virtue.  Alternatives always seem plausible when confronted by official narratives; far too many of those alternatives, however, have veered off in to la-la-land, from Reptilians infiltrating government to a small group of bankers actually ruling the world in secret (just a changed name from the days of that Russian forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion).

While I accept the terms of the show as it’s presented, I also recognize how it managed to push to the mainstream ideas and currents of thought that are corrosive to our polity.  This isn’t necessarily Chris Carter’s fault, or the shows fault.  All the same, it can be off-putting.

Still, it’s a fun show.  It’s especially nice to see just how young both Duchovny and Anderson were at the beginning; shots of both of them make them appear not much older than teenagers (and I don’t think Gillian Anderson was more than 22 or 23 when the show began).  And it’s also nice to know the writing and production values will improve over time, giving the show a nice, noir feel as shadow and darkness become prevalent, light more piercing (a nice metaphor that can never be overused just because it looks so good), and the characters evolve (well, Scully; Mulder remains Mulder throughout).

It should be a good fall and winter.  And, of course, the truth is out there.