Part Four: The Journey
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow men.
– Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
I would like to see Fox Mulder take on a life of his own and actually have a Joseph Campbell journey, rather than have him merely play through a series of unrelated experiences. I see it more as an interior journey. Why is this man so in pain? Why is he so obsessed? Why would anyone want to live their life this way? How do we heal him? How do we show him the truth?
– David Duchovny, Playboy, November 1995
By the time David Duchovny expressed his desire for The X-Files to become a quest story, it had already become one.
As a graduate of Princeton University with a master’s degree from Yale, he was a literary intellectual before he became an actor. He wrote poetry at Princeton, where his senior thesis was on the novels of Samuel Beckett, and when the acting bug bit him, he broke off work on a doctoral thesis, “Magic and Technology in Contemporary Poetry and Prose.”
There are so many literary and even poetic touches in The X-Files that it is hard to believe Duchovny didn’t have some input beyond a few scripts and story ideas for which he is officially credited. Roy Thinnes once related that Duchovny had recruited him for the role of Jeremiah Smith in “Talitha Cumi” by telling him that he had written the part for him. And the encounter between Smith and Cancer Man, with its echoes of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor scene in The Brothers Karamazov, is just one example of the sophistication of the show’s writing.
The very mention of a quest almost automatically invokes the memory of Joseph Campbell, whose theories of mythology have become – whether or not he ever intended it – a model for popular culture studies. We have all seen Star Wars given the Campbell treatment by critics, and perhaps wondered whether an action-packed space opera with no obvious intellectual pretensions can bear such scholarly analysis.
Luke Skywalker, at least, fits the model of the classic quest hero. His journey becomes as much spiritual as physical, involving far more than rescuing a princess-in-distress or becoming a Jedi Knight to avenge the deaths of his foster parents. Along the way, he is initiated into higher truths by his mentors Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda – and in the end he must confront the dark side of the Force represented by his own father.
The interrupted journey of Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks was another quest that was more than it first seemed. A straightforward case of murder in a small town, apparently committed by a serial killer, develops by strange turns into a greater mystery involving supernatural forces of Evil – the demon Bob and the Black Lodge. There are intimations in The Autobiography of Dale Cooper that Cooper was chosen for a spiritual quest long before he became an FBI agent; had the series continued he would no doubt have been drawn into in an apocalyptic climax involving the White Lodge and the Black Lodge.
Why is The X-Files a heroic quest story in the Campbellian sense? During its first season, The X-Files could indeed be seen as just “a series of unrelated experiences.” Only the episodes featuring Deep Throat fell into any natural order; those and others involving aliens had no obvious relation.
It might have remained no more than that, except for Gillian Anderson’s pregnancy, an unintentionally providential event, which forced Carter to change course at the end of the first season. To work around Anderson’s absence, he created the story line leading up to “One Breath,” itself a turning point for the series.
While most episodes thereafter were still stand-alones, with no relation to the unfolding mythology, we could sense the backstory; we wanted to know, not just what would happen to Mulder next week, but where his life was going.
In the classic heroic odyssey, the hero is distanced from his community by a journey to a far country, or even a distant galaxy. Mulder is an internal émigré – so alienated that we get the impression he never had anyone to really talk with until Scully was partnered with him. It is through conversation as well as action that Scully draws him out of his shell, and makes him better prepared for his quest even though she doesn’t believe in it.
Not that there aren’t scenes of life-and-death action. In “End Game,” it is Scully’s medical insight that saves Mulder’s life after his encounter in the Arctic with the Alien Bounty Hunter:
SCULLY: His blood has thickened… That’s why his heart is failing!
(The doctor spins around.)
DOCTOR: No, his heart is failing because he’s lost all his body heat!
SCULLY: No, the only thing saving him right now is the hypermetabolic state induced by the cold. Now, if you don’t do what I’m saying, you are going to kill him!
In “Anasazi,” by contrast, she saves Mulder by shooting him – he has become psychotic from drug-laced drinking water and is about to take revenge on Alex Krycek for the murder of his father – only with Krycek’s own gun.
“If you killed Krycek with that weapon there would have been no way to prove that you didn’t kill your father,” she explains. “I’m sorry about your father Mulder, I haven’t been able to tell you.”
Talk about toughlove!
In “Quagmire,” Scully is more subtle. Pursuing rumors of a Loch Ness-like monster in a Georgia lake, Mulder is so wrapped up in the case (poring over old pictures taken by a monster buff who’s come to a bad end, seeking images of the elusive creature) that he hardly notices her pain at the loss of her dog Queequeg (also killed by the monster). Later, the agents are marooned on a rock – in the middle of the lake, they believe – after their boat is sunk.
We expect another attack by the monster, but what we get instead is out of My Dinner with André – a conversation about life, the longest talk that the two have ever had, with asides about Nature (“My father always taught me to respect Nature, because it has no respect for you.”) and even cannibalism. Referring to those photos, Scully tells Mulder that what she saw in them wasn’t Big Blue, but: “You. That man is your future, listening only to yourself.” When he asks how she came to name her dog, she tells him about the nicknames she and her father had for each other (Ahab and Starbuck), which further reminds her:
How much you’re like Ahab. You’re so consumed by your personal vengeance against life, whether its inherent cruelties or its mysteries… Is it the truth or a white whale?
Mulder kids her about how he’d rather be the harpoonist with a pegleg Ismael had met on another ship before signing on to the Pequod, so he wouldn’t feel duty-bound to pursue the white whale himself, like Ahab (who had lost a leg to Moby Dick). In an ironic ending, he is led (incorrectly) to believe that the monster was only an alligator.
“I guess I just wanted Big Blue to be real,” he laments. “I guess I see hope in such a possibility.”
Yet he now seems willing to accept that there isn’t one, without letting his disappointment warp his life – thanks to Scully’s counsel. It is not the first time, nor the last, that her counsel and his experiences in stand-alone as opposed to mytharc episodes contribute to his spiritual growth.
Despite his seeming obstinacy, Mulder demonstrates in other stand-alone episodes that he is willing to pursue the truth even if it is not the truth he seeks – as in “Paper Hearts,” where he unhesitatingly investigates the possibility that his sister was, after all, the victim of a vicious serial killer rather than alien abduction or a government plot. And this was before he was set up for disillusionment about the very existence of aliens in “Gethsemane.”
Like Luke Skywalker, Mulder has wise men as mentors, although they have been ordinary humans – or occasionally their ghosts. Deep Throat was the first we encountered – first as a mere informant but then as a guru from beyond the grave in “The Blessing Way.” In “Little Green Men,” we learn that Mulder had earlier been taken under the wing of Senator Richard Matheson – who tips him off to a potential alien contact – although little is made of that relationship in later episodes, until Matheson is compromised in “S.R. 819.”
“Remember your failure in the cave,” Yoda warns Skywalker in The Empire Strikes Back, in which Skywalker had fought a dream duel with Darth Vader, only to learn that in resorting to violence he was destroying himself. Mulder’s cave was the radio telescope in “Little Green Men.” As a second season opener, the episode was a disappointment, promising a great revelation about the aliens that never materialized. Mulder complains bitterly at the end that he still doesn’t have any proof of contact.
But what Mulder doesn’t tell Scully is crucial. In a scene reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, an E.T. appears at the door as if in answer to his prayers – only he draws his revolver and tries to kill his extraterrestrial visitor. We neither see nor hear any shots; perhaps an alien force field gimmicked the gun. But that doesn’t matter. What does is that Mulder has failed a test; we sense that he realizes this, for it can only be out of shame that he chooses not to tell Scully.
Mulder’s failure was not merely his own; but humanity’s. If there is any hope for our kind, The X-Files hints again and again, it lies in our better natures. Christian philosopher C.S. Lewis opposed space travel for fear of what would actually come of human-alien contact. The kind of men to travel to other worlds, he warned in “Religion and Rocketry,” would be the worst among us:
Our ambassador to new worlds will be the needy and greedy adventurer and the ruthless technical expert. They will do as their kind has always done. What that will be if they meet things weaker than themselves, the black man and the red man can tell. If they meet things stronger, they will be, very properly, destroyed.
In the universe of The X-Files, we are in the position of the black man and the red man – with one essential difference. When the black man and the red man first encountered the white man, they didn’t know what was in store for them. We do. They didn’t know that if they dared slay a white man, the punishment could be the massacre of an entire village or tribe. We do. They didn’t know that contact with the white man would lead to slavery and cultural genocide at best, or extermination at worst. We do.
Yet, unlike the black man and the red man of 500 years ago, we also know about Gandhi and Martin Luther King – men whose words and deeds belie the pernicious doctrine of Franz Fanon (widely embraced by the intellectual Left in our time) that violence is the only recourse of those who are oppressed or threatened with oppression. The convergence of Right and Left in the worship of power and violence in the name of what they consider good ends is more troubling than the actual expression of power and violence.
In The X-Files, it is only our better natures that can move the aliens, from the defecting clones in “Colony” to Jeremiah Smith in “Talitha Cumi.” Perhaps Mulder, or his son, might yet touch the hearts of the Colonists as Gandhi touched those of his country’s British oppressors and his own countrymen. In “The Unnatural,” written by Duchovny, we learn how seductive the human values of freedom and individuality can be, in the person of Josh Exley – a gray who has chosen to be human for the love of baseball, and who defies the Bounty Hunter by telling him that his human face is his true face.
Mulder, too, has always been seeking his true face. In the classic quest, the initiation of the hero doesn’t necessarily depend on either the hero or those who influence him being aware of their roles in that initiation, or the fulfillment of the quest – consider Gollum in The Lord of the Rings. Cancer Man may have played a role just as unwitting.
There is too a sense of Providence, or at least a higher power at work; in Star Wars, it is simply called the Force; in “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” something seems to intervene to place Scully in that hotel kitchen at just the right time to forestall the fate that Bruckman and the Puppet have foreseen for Mulder. In “One Breath,” it is hinted that only Muller’s love brings Scully back to life after he is that she is “weakening.”
Like Laura Palmer on Twin Peaks, the principals of The X-Files are filled with secrets. This, too, is in keeping with the great tradition of the quest. In The Lord of the Rings, there are the secrets of the Ring itself, the true identity of Strider, the origin of Gollum and the treachery of Saruman. In Star Wars, the secret link between Skywalker and Vader is at the heart of the story, and Carter reprised eventually that theme by having Cancer Man assert that he was Fox Mulder’s biological father – although none other than William B. Davis has his doubts.
Another common thread in quest stories is the hero’s journey from isolation to engagement. Luke Skywalker starts as just a farm boy on a backwater planet, Frodo Baggins lives contentedly in an idyllic community until the summons comes. Neither of them is alienated from his world, but there is a precedent for Fox Mulder in Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, in which the hero is a leper: embittered against his own world; he at first refuses to believe in, still less care about the world he is called upon to save.
Skywalker must face Darth Vader and behind him the Emperor Palpatine. The ultimate enemies in The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant are variations of Satan. Frodo faces temptation as well as despair in face of Sauron and his minions; Covenant goes through a dark night of the soul before he can at last triumph over Lord Foul. Fox Mulder faces the same crisis in “Gethsemane,” a symbolically titled episode if there ever was one.
As in The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and Star Wars, the story of The X-Files unfolds on two levels. There are the periodic revelations about the aliens and the conspiracy, some of which may be red herrings but nevertheless seem to bring us closer to the truth. Then there are the personal revelations – about Mulder and Scully and their families, about Cancer Man and X and the other conspirators; and also allies like FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner, his successor Alvin Kersh, John Doggett and the Lone Gunmen.
Carter must have had the quest scenario in mind by the time “Tooms” was written. The image of a chrysalis at the end of that episode suggests not mere change, as Mulder remarks, but metamorphosis. Beginning with “Little Green Men,” Mulder appeared to be going through a process of initiation to prepare him for a destiny as humanity’s savior.
What could later be seen as a turning point came in the trilogy “Duane Barry,” “Ascension” and “One Breath.” Having suffered the loss of Samantha in childhood, Mulder now faces the loss of the one person in the world who has since come to mean anything to him, and while the episodes are overtly about what happens to her, they are really about what happens to him: and what kind of a person he becomes as a result.
“Duane Berry” was the first episode to hint that humans were actually collaborating in alien abductions – meaning that they might also have been involved in the abduction of Samantha. If Mulder had reason to hate Cancer Man and his ilk before, he now had far more reason to hate them – and that is before the abduction of Scully. There seemed to be no room left in him for anything but hatred.
When Scully mysteriously reappears at the hospital in “One Breath,” he goes ballistic, assaulting the attending physician and screaming maniacally, “If you’re with them, if you’re hiding anything, I swear I’ll do anything it takes to find out what they did to her.”
In the course of that episode, Mulder – like Christ in the wilderness – faces a series of temptations. The first comes from X, who has replaced Deep Throat as his informant. We sense that, unlike Deep Throat, X is driven by opportunism rather than conscience – a perception later confirmed by his role as abductor of the shadow-killer Dr. Banton in “Soft Light,” and as a cold-blooded killer for Cancer Man in “Wetwired.”
Mulder has been chasing down a man who stole a vial of Scully’s blood. When X intercepts him in the hospital laundry room, he reveals a bit about himself – and what Mulder, too, risks becoming:
I used to be you. I was where you are now. But you’re not me, Mulder. I don’t think you have the heart. Walk away. Grieve for Scully. And then never come back. You will be able to live with yourself, on the day that you die.
Mulder ignores his advice, breaking away just long enough to capture the man with the vial. While trying to force a confession out of him, he drops his guard long enough for the man to get loose – whereupon X reappears, and shoots him execution-style, bullet to the rear of the head, while taunting Mulder:
You want to see what it takes the find the truth, Agent Mulder? You want to know the things I know?
Cancer Man, who suspects Mulder himself of having killed his agent, tries to stir up trouble for him with Skinner. But Skinner has had enough, and slips him Cancer Man’s home address. Mulder is again placed in the path of temptation – to wreak vengeance on the man who had brought such pain to his life.
Only, when we encounter Cancer Man alone in his ratty apartment, we can see that he is a pathetic figure – evidently an alcoholic as well as a chain smoker, judging from the liquor bottles and shot glass on his table as he watches an old war movie on TV. More than that, he is Mulder’s own mirror image in the sacrifice of his life to an obsession:
Look at me. No wife. No family. Some power. I’m in the game because I believe what I’m doing is right.
Cancer Man is nothing if not sly. When he claims credit for Scully’s return (“I like you. I like her, too.”), we can’t tell whether this is a revelation or a ploy. He acts, in any event, as if he is certain that Mulder will kill him, and taunts him much as X had:
I have more respect for you, Mulder. You’re becoming a player.
Only Mulder decides he’d rather not be a player. Not on Cancer Man’s terms. He may see that as a sign of weakness, for he attempts to resign from the FBI the next day – a rash act that Skinner forestalls with a touching story about his own near-death experience in Vietnam. But his decision at Cancer Man’s apartment is confirmed when he overcomes the third temptation, again from X.
For whatever devious motives, X has lured the men who took Scully to Mulder’s apartment, by convincing them that Mulder has stolen documents about the case hidden away there, but will be conveniently out of town when they arrive to search the place:
I’m giving you the men who took her…. They will be armed, and you’ll be waiting…. to defend yourself with terminal intensity. It’s the only way, Mulder. The law will not punish these people.
Mulder takes up watch at his apartment, but is interrupted by Scully’s sister Melissa, who brings word that Scully is weakening and that he should be at her bedside for her. When he tries to beg off, Melissa won’t let up. Earlier she had argued for Scully’s right to die, rather than be kept on life support to be studied for clues to her abduction: “She’s not a piece of evidence.” Now she tells Mulder about himself:
I don’t have to be psychic to see that you’re in a very dark place – much darker than where my sister is. Willingly moving deeper into the darkness cannot help her at all.
Melissa departs and we see Mulder return to his vigil in the darkened apartment, his gun on the table next to him. Yet in the very next scene, he is at Scully’s side – love and loyalty have overcome hatred and vengeance. He has begun to learn an essential lesson of the quest story: that he cannot overcome the enemy by becoming the enemy. There may be no logical cause and effect at work, but it is only after his triumph over the temptations of evil that Scully awakens and is restored to him.
Providence again seems at work in Scully’s near-death experience, a counterpoint to Mulder’s exterior journey, in which she has a vision of her late father telling her of his regret that he never told her how much he loved her – and is counseled by “Nurse Owens,” who is not really a nurse at the hospital but a guardian angel: “Dana? I know death is at arm’s reach tonight; but Dana, your time is not over.”
“One Breath” doesn’t advance the solution to the central mystery of The X-Files: Scully can’t remember anything about her abduction, and Mulder learns nothing new about the aliens or the cover-up. In the episodes that follow, moreover, it becomes clear that their sufferings, akin to Job’s, are far from over. But the bond forged between them is strong enough to see them through crises that might have broken them before.
“Trust no one,” Deep Throat told Mulder in “The Erlenmeyer Flask.” Chris Carter meant the execution of Mulder’s informant in the first season finale as a warning: that anything can happen, and no one is safe. In “Anasazi,” “The Blessing Way” and “Paper Clip,” we learn not only that nothing we have seen before is necessarily what it seems, but that Mulder and Scully are being tested in a series of personal and spiritual crises rather than being subjected to mere peril.
This was foreshadowed in “Colony:” the “return” of Samantha Mulder turned out to be a cruel hoax, but not before Mulder’s failure to rescue the alien mimic from the Bounty Hunter convinced him that he had caused the death of the very person he had dedicated his life to save. We can only begin to imagine the guilt he must have felt when he brought the news to his father. Yet, in light of what he later learned about Bill Mulder, we must wonder whether Bill himself was ever taken in by the mimic welcomed “home” by his ex-wife.
The revelation in “Anasazi” that Bill Mulder was involved in criminal experiments is yet another blow to his son. Before Bill has a chance to explain or make amends, he is silenced forever by Alex Krycek. Yet Cancer Man had warned Bill to keep silent, to safeguard his son: “I’ve protected him up to now.” Evidently he wasn’t about to trust Bill’s assurances to him.
In most paranoid films and TV shows, the conspiracies are just too perfect. The conspirators are in complete accord, and their plans never go wrong: in Nowhere Man, they so thoroughly obliterate Thomas Veil’s identity that even his dog goes along with the gag. There may be a few noble defectors, but never ordinary stupidities or slip-ups; only the illogical lapses that keep the plot simmering, and the hero alive. But on The X-Files, what once seemed a perfect conspiracy has gone awry, perhaps simply because of the inherent moral weakness of conspirators.
There was X, playing both ends against the middle. There was Krycek, turning into a loose cannon. In “The Blessing Way” and “Paper Clip,” we see Cancer Man himself at bay, as the crisis over the stolen MJ file drives a wedge between him and the leaders of the Syndicate – not only the Well-Manicured Man but the head of the group known as the First Elder.
In “The Blessing Way,” Carter again taps into Christian mythology, while blending it with native American mythology. Fox Mulder – apparently killed in a buried train car in New Mexico that concealed the bodies of aliens or alien clones used in medical experiments – is found unconscious in a nearby cave and brought back to life in a ceremony called the Blessing Way.
“There was doubt that he would recover but the spirits were in attendance because on the night of the third day, he opened his eyes and asked for water,” relates the Navajo elder Albert Hosteen, on an obviously symbolic note. When the reborn Mulder asks where he has been, Hosteen tells him: “This place. You carry it with you. It is inside of you. It is the origin place.” And Mulder himself begins to sound like a prophet when he appears to Scully in a dream:
I have been on the bridge that spans two worlds, the link between all souls by which we cross into our own true nature. You were here today looking for a truth that was taken from you, a truth which was never to be spoken, but which now binds us together in dangerous purpose. I have returned from the dead to continue with you….
Nor is it an accident that, on the brink of death, he has been counseled by the spirits of Deep Throat (“Go back. Fight the monsters within and without.”) and his own father (“If you were to die now, the truth would die with you.”), just as Scully was advised by “Nurse Owen” in “One Breath.” But it is significant that neither reveals the truth Mulder has been seeking: in the heroic quest, such revelations can come only at the appointed time and in the appointed manner.
Next to that, his journey with Scully in “Paper Clip” to a former mine housing medical records of millions of Americans, apparently exploited in genetic experiments, seems anti-climactic. The subsequent appearance of a UFO and the arrival of black ops agents blasting away with automatic weapons are trite. As in “Little Green Men,” the agents escape, but complain that they are no closer to the truth than ever.
A major handicap Carter always faced in episodes touching on the conspiracy was to find reasons for Mulder and Scully not to learn the truth, after all. That the discovery of the medical records leads them nowhere is implausible as well as frustrating. Can’t they consult one of the Navajos who memorized the MJ file? Or was Skinner’s boast to Cancer Man about that a bluff? If it was for real, why hasn’t he told Mulder and Scully?
Scully’s attitude is also troubling. Carter insisted that she remain a skeptic, even though that became less and less credible as revelation followed revelation. A stratagem suggested in “Paper Clip,” with the encounter at Victor Klemper’s greenhouse between her, Mulder and the Well-Manicured Man, is followed up in “731,” where Scully discovers a mass grave of experimental victims – and a Deep Throat of her own with a plausible explanation. Only her Deep Throat is actually the First Elder.
It was the First Elder who had called on the Consortium’s “friends” in the black ops forces to “handle this matter more satisfactorily,” and those same black ops forces slaughter the experimental subjects at the abandoned leper colony in West Virginia. Perhaps heeding the advice of the Well-Manicured Man that further direct attempts to eliminate Mulder and Scully would be counter-productive, he has now devised an elaborate scheme to drive a wedge between the two agents.
Ostensibly, the two-part episode that began with “Nisei” has to do with an alien autopsy, yet another captured UFO and an alien hybrid being smuggled out of the country by Dr. Shiro Zama/Ishimara. But there is more than meets the eye, and not only in Scully’s encounter with the First Elder. When she has her implant analyzed at an FBI lab, it turns out to be a chip that can mimic “memory formation.” But does it merely copy memories, or can it plant them? Could Scully have been given false memories of Dr. Zama as her abductor, to help make him the fall guy in the First Elder’s cover story?
Whatever the case, Scully falls for the story hook, line and sinker. She can believe in a conspiracy involving monstrous medical experiments, but not in the involvement of aliens or the creation of alien-human hybrids. At the end of “731,” she berates her partner for obsessively pursuing what she now believes is the cover story:
You’re doing their work for them. You’re chasing aliens that aren’t there, helping them create a story to cover the shameful truth.
Yet in countless other episodes, their partnership is part of Mulder’s spiritual growth, even – or perhaps especially – when the cases don’t involve the mythology.
“Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” contrasts the clairvoyant insurance salesman Bruckman’s stoic fatalism with Mulder’s conviction that human action can make a difference, as in this exchange:
BRUCKMAN: How could I see the future if it didn’t already exist?
MULDER: But if the future is “written,” why… bother doing anything?
BRUCKMAN: Now you’re catching on.
MULDER: Mr. Bruckman, I believe in your ability, but not your attitude. I can’t stand around, letting people die without doing everything within my – albeit unsupernatural – power to interfere with that fate.
Bruckman has a similar argument with Scully, so convinced of the inevitability of his visions that he breaks off a warning of the death that he has foreseen for Mulder at the hands of the Puppet. But that vision, shared with the serial killer called the Puppet, fails to come true. Perhaps the unseen hand of Providence is at work on Mulder’s behalf when Scully arrives at that hotel kitchen just in time. According to the stage directions for the teleplay, the Puppet’s shock at his own end isn’t exactly what we might expect:
He stares down at his wound in complete mystification, not so much like a man who’s just been shot, but like a writer who’s watching the director’s cut of one of his own episodes.
Darin Morgan’s teleplay doesn’t reveal why Bruckman commits suicide at the end. Perhaps the burden of his visions has overwhelmed him at last. But perhaps he is also overwhelmed by guilt – by the knowledge that he might indeed have prevented some of the deaths he foresaw, as Mulder’s was somehow prevented. At the very least, he could have spared his neighbor Mrs. Lowe the indignity of being gnawed at by her dog after she died of natural causes. It is his withdrawal from life that has doomed him.
In a number of stand-alone episodes, there is an emphasis on moral responsibility. Eugene Tooms, in “Squeeze, “ was a freak of nature, driven by needs that placed him beyond the bounds of morality as much as a saber-tooth tiger. But the same cannot be said of Darren Peter Oswald, the lightning killer of “D.P.O.” who, except for his power, is an all-too typical incarnation of contemporary amorality – the same pathology exposed in Tim Hunter’s chilling film River’s Edge, based on the true story of a teenager who callously murdered his girlfriend and showed off her body to his equally callous peers.
There is also an increasing emphasis on empathy. In “Oubliette,” Mulder is able to identify with and find inspiration in Lucy Householder – a victim of circumstance like himself who is nevertheless able to rise above self-pity and achieve true heroism. At first, Scully can’t understand why he believes in her, when evidence suggests that she may somehow be an accomplice in mad photographer Carl Wade’s abduction of teenager Amy Jacobs:
SCULLY: You’re becoming some sort of empath yourself, Mulder. You are so sympathetic to Lucy as a victim like your sister that you can’t see her as a person who’s capable of committing this crime.
MULDER: You don’t think I’ve thought of that? I have, and not everything I say or do or think goes back to my sister. You of all people should realize that sometimes motivations for behavior can be more complex and mysterious than tracing them back to one childhood experience.
Mulder is right, and later events confirm what we had already suspected: that Lucy’s own childhood kidnapper was Wade. We can barely imagine what she went through then; being held for years instead of mere days. But Amy’s sufferings revealed in scenes as harrowing as any in The Silence of the Lambs, are surely terrible enough – as terrible as anything ever shown on network television. At the end, however, it is Mulder who seems to discount Lucy’s heroism – taking upon herself the death by drowning that had seemed destined for Amy:
SCULLY: She saved Amy’s life, Mulder [and] whatever there was between them, you were part of that connection. Did you think of that? Lucy may have died for Amy, but without you they never would have found her.
MULDER: I think she died for more than Amy. I think finally it was the only way she could escape… the only way she could outrun Carl Wade.
It is surely coincidence, but Lucy’s sacrifice for Amy parallels a scene in Charles Williams’ Descent into Hell, in which a contemporary woman takes upon herself the pain of her ancestor, a religious martyr being burned at the stake centuries ago. A Christian eccentric, Williams believed that the Bible commands us to literally bear each other’s burdens, as an act of “substituted love.”
In first season monster-of-the week episodes, Mulder’s cases were just that – cases. Most of the monsters, to be sure, could hardly arouse his sympathies or ours; but even in episodes like “Miracle Man,” where a faith healer turns out to be a murderer, Mulder kept his emotional detachment. Yet in later episodes, he chose engagement over detachment even when, as in “Pusher” – the story of a psychic who can talk his victims into killing themselves – the objects of his concern hardly merited it. “Grotesque” can be seen as a reminder of the perils of obsession – the senior agent who has become the thing he hunted (another psychic killer) could have been Mulder
We are reminded again of Mulder’s growing capacity for empathy in “Mind’s Eye,” where the blind Marty Glenn is cursed with a gift to see only through the eyes of a murderer. Unlike Lucy Householder in “Oubliette,” she chooses to take a life rather than give her own – to rid the world of the killer Gotts. Yet Mulder is there for her at the end, recognizing that she has made an ethical choice after her own fashion – and is willing to pay for it by living in darkness for the rest of her life, beyond any sentence she may serve in jail.
Even on the eve of David Duchovny’s departure from the series at the end of the seventh season, the theme of Mulder’s spiritual journey found expression again in “Je Souhaite,” one of the finest parables on the limitations of power and the hubris of altruism since H.G. Wells’ The Man Who Could Work Miracles and Ursula Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven.
It’s the story of a genie doomed to grant the wishes of anyone who comes into possession of her magic lamp. We’re all familiar with the warning to be careful what you wish for, and the episode invites us to feel superior to the low-life Stokes brothers who bring disaster on themselves by making one stupid wish after another.
We’re more enlightened than that, we like to believe. If we met a genie, we’d use our wishes for the benefit of humanity. Mulder is one of us, not one of them. So of course he wishes for peace on Earth – only to find the world depopulated, because that’s the only way to achieve world peace without a fundamental change in human nature.
“So you expect me to change the hearts of six billion people?” Jenn chides him. “No religion in history has been able to pull that off…. But you’d like me to do that in your name.”
Scully puts it another way: Even if Mulder could frame the perfect wish to perfect the world, that wouldn’t mean he should: “Maybe it’s the whole point of our lives here, Mulder – to achieve that. Maybe it’s a process that one man shouldn’t try to circumvent with a single wish.”
Chastened, Mulder finds the right wish after all, freeing Jenn from her curse.
In contrast to Mulder’s spiritual evolution, we see frequent reminders of the Dark Side – even the dark side of religion. “Revelations,” by contrast, in suggesting that Christian mythology just might be true, is daringly speculative.
Is Simon Gates really Satan or an agent of Satan? Is Kevin Crider really the reborn Christ, or at least a potential saint on whom the fate of the world may rest? We see the smoke rise from Gates’ hands as he strangles the false stigmatics; we see Kevin’s true stigmata and the illusory double he creates like St. Ignatius. We have Scully’s expert medical judgment that the body of Owen Lee Jarvis miraculously shows no signs of decomposition.
Films like Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen have long played on Satanism, and The X-Files mined that theme in “Die Hand Die Verletzt.” But “Revelations,” if we take it at face value, suggests an entirely new story arc for The X-Files – one that goes beyond the purely secular (if much mythologized) concerns of aliens and conspiracies into the realm of what theologians call eschatology, the end of all things. Gates, indeed, echoes the prophecies of End Time in the Book of Revelations as he is about to kill Kevin at his recycling plant:
The sun will be turned into darkness, and the moon will turn to blood, because of you, son…… You have to die, Kevin – for everyone. For the New Age to come.
The episode involved a role reversal for Mulder and Scully as skeptic and believer. “I believe in the idea that God’s hand can be witnessed,” she declares. But for Mulder, believers in religious miracles “give bona fide paranoids like me a bad name,” and he especially resents Scully’s idea that she may have been chosen to save Kevin. She must confide in a priest, six years after her last confession, what she cannot discuss with her partner.
We encounter the same dilemma in “All Souls,” where Scully once again is seen confiding to a priest – this time about the deaths of four deformed girls who were born to an angel but would be taken by the Devil had they lived. The first had died from what seemed a lightning bolt just after being baptized, and as an inconstant Catholic Scully is troubled by this – but doesn’t get much sympathy from Mulder:
MULDER: And why would God allow this to happen. Why do bad things happen to good people? Religion has masqueraded as the paranormal since the dawn of time to justify some of the most horrible acts in history.
SCULLY: I was raised to believe that God has His reasons, however mysterious.
MULDER: He may well have His reasons but He seems to use a lot of psychotics to carry out His job orders.
When the truth about the Seraphim and the Nefilim (“They have the souls of angels but they weren’t meant to be.”) comes out, it is bizarre even to Scully’s confessor. But a more troublesome aspect of “All Souls,” as in “Revelations” is whether we are meant to accept Biblical mythology as part of the fundamental reality of The X-Files. Can that and the X-Files mythology both be “true,” or part of some greater truth? Carter was already toying with such alternate mythologies in his other TV series, Millennium.
In the first season of that show, the Millennium Group was seemingly nothing more than a private crime-fighting agency. In the second, it was a secret religious group dating back at least to the Middle Ages, with knowledge of a coming apocalypse. But in the third, it was reduced to a band of paranoids set up by J. Edgar Hoover in the 1940’s.
As a further complication, Carter insisted on bringing yet another variation of the Millennium Group – a corporal’s guard of fanatics bent on bringing the world to an end by killing themselves before the millennium – to a crossover episode of The X-Files. This was after one episode of Millennium had included a sound bite from “Kill Switch,” establishing that The X-Files was a TV show in its universe! Yet behind all the waste and guff of the religious episodes, Carter seems at times to be have been seriously concerned with spiritual issues and what he sees as the spiritual malaise of our time.
In “Talitha Cumi,” there are two encounters between Cancer Man and Jeremiah Smith, the alien hybrid clone who has miraculously healed the victims of a shootout at a Washington fast food outlet. Cancer Man has had Smith abducted, and it is clear that they go back a long way – like Cancer Man and the Mulders. In their first conversation, Cancer Man reveals the soul of a fascist – but also that of a lapsed believer:
We give them happiness and they give us authority… Men can never be free. because they are weak, corrupt, worthless and restless. The people believe in authority. They’re tired of waiting for miracle and mystery. Science is their religion. No greater explanation exists for them.
There is already a hint of Dostoyevsky here, but in their second encounter, the conversation between Cancer Man and Smith turns to God, in a manner reminiscent of the parable of the Grand Inquisitor. Smith suggests that Cancer Man is afraid people will believe he is God, because of the miracles he has performed (Indeed, the demented man who shot up the restaurant believes that he has been touched by the Good Lord.).
Smith isn’t God, or even Christ; that he is willing to buy his personal survival and freedom by promising Cancer Man a cure for his lung cancer, and thus seemingly assuring his nemesis’ part as one of “commandants” after the invasion, is a sign that he has human weaknesses even if he isn’t human. But he seems to believe in God, or at least in that which humans represent by God, and argues that his faith is what sets him apart from Cancer Man:
SMITH: You rule over them in God’s name.
CANCER MAN: They don’t believe in Him, but they still fear Him. They’re afraid not to, because they’re afraid of freedom.
SMITH: And you give them happiness.
CANCER MAN: We appease their consciences. Anyone who can appease a man’s conscience can take his freedom away from him.
Another supernatural theme tapped by The X-Files is eternal recurrence. In “The Field Where I Died,” Mulder and Scully raid a religious cult whose members believe in reincarnation – and Mulder comes to believe that he himself was a Civil War soldier known to one of them in a past life. He even believes that he has recovered other past-life memories, including one from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1944:
I’m a woman, a Jewish woman. My son is with me. He is Samantha. My father, he’s dead on the street. He is Scully… An officer [Gestapo]. He is Cancer Man. Evil returns as evil… My husband is taken away from me. He is Melissa.
This has to be a fantasy, like other accounts of recovered memories; Cancer Man was already born by 1944, In “Triangle,” both he and Jeffrey Spender are Nazis in what has to be a dream as Mulder finds himself aboard the liner Queen Anne in 1939. Avatars of Scully and Skinner also appear in what csn be taken as a strictly allegorical episode. If nothing else, “Triangle” reminds us of the burden of 20th Century history.
“History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake,” James Joyce’s alter-ego Stephen Daedalus remarks in Ulysses. For Mulder, history is a personal nightmare, for he is not merely a passive observer like Joyce but an active participant. His own father was one of the architects of that nightmare, his own sister one of its victims. He must feel the burden, the karma of that history on his shoulders.
The purely religious parallels sometimes become strained. The Native American mythology – just right in “The Blessing Way” – is laid on too thick in “Paper Clip,” with its clumsy link between Melissa Scully and the White Buffalo legend: it seems that she was a promised savior, heralded by the birth of a white buffalo – with her own death then prefigured by that of the calf. In any case, that legend is part of the lore of the plains Indians, not the Navajo.
When “Revelations” first aired, it seemed unrelated to the mytharc. The issues of God and miracles were brought up in “Talitha Cumi,” but on what could be taken as a rhetorical basis – without the truth or falsity of belief affecting the plot. The same could be said of the White Buffalo: superstition and coincidence. With “Christmas Carol” and “Emily,” however, the mytharc and the religious arc were clearly linked for the first time.
Emily was revealed as a child of the Purity Control cloning project, created from Scully’s own ovum combined with alien DNA. But whereas an episode that involves the Project would usually start as one of Mulder’s cases, “Christmas Carol” began with Scully visiting her brother Bill’s family in San Diego — and with a phone call in her dead sister Melissa’s voice that couldn’t possibly have come from the number it is traced to.
“Dana… she needs your help. She needs you, Dana. Go to her,” Melissa’s voice tells her – leading her to a three-year old girl whose adoptive mother has just died an apparent suicide. Struck by the uncanny resemblance between Emily and Melissa as a child, Scully is drawn into a mystery that seems to have nothing to do with the X-Files and everything to do with family secrets. Even the discovery that Roberta Sim was murdered, and the subsequent murder of her husband Marshall, doesn’t change that.
What does is the revelation that Scully herself, not Melissa, is the biological mother. Only now does she appeal to Mulder, who reveals for the first time that her ova had been taken during her abduction three years before. Yet as Mulder pursues the conspiracy connection, including the shapechangers who use elderly women at a nursing home as surrogate mothers, Scully’s concern is with adopting Emily – and saving her if she can from a mysterious ailment that we can recognize as the shapechanger organism invading her system.
In a straight mytharc episode, the object would have been only to save Emily’s life, or at least to be consumed with indignation at her death. Yet Scully, for all her maternal feelings, comes to agree that this is a child who “was not meant to be” – and that her mission is not to save Emily’s life but to save her soul. The episode leads directly to “All Souls,” in which Scully is again the agent of salvation – this time to deformed children of a fallen angel whose souls would otherwise be forfeit to Satan. The link to “Christmas Carol” and “Emily” is clear, not only from Scully’s vision of her daughter during the climax, but in a reference to the angel’s children as “not meant to be.”
As in “Revelations,” Mulder is the skeptic. But whereas this had seemed an arbitrary contrivance at time – particularly since Mulder had been open to other manifestations of the supernatural in episodes like “The Calusari” – now became a deliberate part of the mythology. How Scully’s vision of the truth, rooted in personal experience as well as childhood faith, could be reconciled with Mulder’s, became a subtext of the quest.
Faith and the loss of it come to play in “Gethsemane,” which turns on an elaborate scheme by the Syndicate to plant a fake alien body – a chimera – where Mulder will be led to it, and then let the scientific chips uncovered by Scully fall where they inevitably will. Michael Kritschgau is the agent provocateur, with Conrad Strughold – the real number one of the Syndicate, who never appears on screen except in Fight the Future – later taking the credit.
“We’ve discredited Agent Mulder. Taken away his reputation,” he reminds his fellow Elders in the novelization of the screenplay. “Who mourns the death of a broken man?” Of course, as the Well-Manicured Man remarks, Mulder is “far from broken” – but only because the Elders’ scheme to destroy his faith simply transformed it and sent him off on another crusade.
Indeed, Mulder’s rejection of his former beliefs in favor of the biological warfare cover story planted by Kritschgau was so stubborn as to seem incredible even to Skinner in “The Red and the Black.” Moreover, it was never entirely clear whether he regained his faith in that episode, or only in Fight the Future. In Sci-Fi TV, Duchovny complained that the story line hadn’t been developed in a believable manner:
I liked the idea that Mulder lost his faith for a while, but it has to be legitimate and not just a trick or a conceit. I felt that …. it played as a bit of a superficial turn. Suddenly, Mulder lost his faith and, suddenly, he got it back. I would have preferred it if it had been a season-long descent, with something cataclysmic occurring to help him get his faith back.
Another obvious problem with Mulder’s sudden loss of faith is the fact that he has already actually seen living aliens and proofs of their existence in episodes like “Little Green Men” and “Paper Clip.”
Yet the stage may have been set in “Demons,” where Dr. Charles Goldstein – who may be involved in the conspiracy (He has murdered abductee Amy Cassandra and her husband) – injects Mulder with a hallucinogenic drug that triggers seizures and possibly false memories of having had advance knowledge of Samantha’s abduction. Mulder may thus not only doubt his own memories from other times, but fear that he is somehow responsible if his drug-induced visions about Samantha are true.
What redeems the “Gethsemane”-“Redux” trilogy is the mutual respect and loyalty of Mulder and Scully. When Mulder kills a spy who has bugged his apartment, Scully tells an FBI review board that the body is Mulder’s own – in order to give him time to find the truth. Seemingly on the brink of death from cancer, she even offers to take the fall for him.
Only Mulder won’t take that deal. Nor will he take a deal offered by Cancer Man to quit the FBI and work for him — after having produced a woman he sincerely believes is his long-lost sister. Cancer Man has also helped him find a new microchip that he promises can cure Scully’s cancer, but even that doesn’t sway him. Yet another deal is offered by FBI Section Chief Scott Blevins: to make Mulder’s problems go away if he identifies Walter Skinner as the mole in the FBI who had his apartment put under surveillance.
Whatever the merits or demerits of the trilogy, Duchovny had his own take on the stages of Mulder’s interior journey in an interview that appeared in Vanity Fair in advance of Fight the Future:
I wanted Mulder to go through an archetypal journey, starting from a position of innocence, which is one of trusting his father–the elders, in mythology–being a good boy and a good son, to being an outcast, feeling like his father is Darth Vader, then going to almost as innocent a stage, in which he believes that everyone’s a liar, and everyone’s out to get him, then maturing to a kind of enlightened cynicism.
“As the movie opens, Mulder is in the last of those stages,” Vanity Fair writer Michael Shnayerson added. Psychologically, Fight the Future thus ended one cycle of the quest and set the stage for another. Or did it? In another trilogy, which begins with “Biogenesis” and continues with “The Sixth Extinction,” there are hints of yet another cycle.
In Part Two of “The Sixth Extinction,” “Amor Fati,” Mulder dreams of what might have happened had he never embarked on his quest, It is both wish-fulfillment and nightmare, beginning with a happy marriage and a reunion with his sister and ending with the nightmare of alien invasion – of a city in flames as the spacecraft of the Colonists soar overhead. But within that dream, there is another – of himself some years into the future, on some unknown beach.
There are actually five scenes to the dream within a dream. In the first, the episode’s opening teaser, Mulder watches a young couple with their toddler son. The toddler may be Mulder himself as a child, but there is a fleeting image of the boy seeking his father as Cancer Man ushers Mulder into the dream journey – with a scenario written by Duchovny – that bears an deliberate parallel to The Last Temptation of Christ.
“Take my hand, Fox” says Cancer Man. “I am your father.”
In the second glimpse of the beach, as he is embarking on the dream journey with Cancer Man, Mulder encounters an older boy, perhaps seven or eight. But the scene takes an ominous turn. “The child is father to the man,” the boy tells him – but in Cancer Man’s voice.
In the third beach interlude, which takes place as Mulder dreams of a suburban life with Diana Fowley in the Last Temptation fantasy, the same boy is building a spacecraft in the sand, but a wave washes it away. “Hey buddy, that’s okay,” Mulder tells him. “You can build it again. Just start again. Okay?”
The fourth encounter occurs as the Mulder in the dream journey is an old man. “I know about the boy, the boy on the beach,” the unchanged Cancer Man tells him. “The vision you go to in your mind. We all have such places… born of memory and desire.” “I’ve seen him thousands of times,” Mulder replies. “I’ve never seen what he wants me to see.” “Close your eyes,” Cancer Man suggests. “He’s ready to show you if you’re ready to see.”
(The Dream Beach. Mulder in jeans and a T-shirt walks over to the Boy, who has finished a huge sand UFO, resembling the one Scully found in Africa.)
MULDER: Wow. What did you make?
BOY: An unidentified flying object.
(The BOY jumps down from the top of the ship and begins kicking it apart.)
MULDER: Hey! What are… what are you doing? Why are you destroying your spaceship?
BOY: (accusing) It’s your spaceship. You’re destroying it. (throws a handful of sand at MULDER) You were supposed to help me.
(Mulder is speechless, watching the Boy destroy the ship.)
When “Amor Fati” was broadcast, we didn’t have any inkling that Mulder would become a father himself, but perhaps Carter did. Was the boy on the beach Mulder’s son? We know that he is the biological father of William. Mulder, and Scully may have sensed as much at the outset of her pregnancy: there’s no mistaking the Mona Lisa smile on her face when she breaks the news to Skinner. And the fifth scene of the boy on the beach? That may be the most telling of all, now that we have seen what becomes of William at the end of the series.
The beach scenes aren’t necessarily a literal vision of the future, however. They take place, we must remember, in the context of the dream journey in which Mulder abandons his quest and thereby dooms humanity. If the boy on the beach is indeed Mulder’s son, he is also a metaphor for the future of humanity. The spaceship itself can be seen as a metaphor, for a spaceship can bridge the gulf between worlds – and species. Or it can be seen as a metaphor for the bridge between generations, between a father who has begun the quest and a son who must continue it.
It is only Mulder’s dream journey that redeems a trilogy that begins with one of the worst mytharc episodes, “Biogenesis.” The events of that episode are ludicrous, involving fragments of a UFO inscribed in Navajo (Never mind that Navajo wasn’t a written language!) with verses from the Bible and other sacred texts, plus the entire human genome; and a rubbing from them that somehow triggers alien genes in Mulder and gives him telepathic powers. It doesn’t help that the episode also has one of the worst soliloquies ever, with Scully giving a pretentious overview of evolution and talking about “matter and gas” as if gas weren’t a form of matter.
That same UFO rubbing, according to Cancer Man, has also made Mulder “immune to the coming viral apocalypse,” and – as if he’d known all along that this would happen – he knows just what to do about it. Mulder is whisked away to a Department of Defense medical facility, where a transfusion will supposedly endow Cancer Man with alien powers. And if Mulder doesn’t survive the procedure, “Then he suffers a hero’s fate.” The treacherous Diana Fowley is there to see it done:
CANCER MAN: Don’t think of the man… Think of the sacrifice he’s making for all of us… for the world.
FOWLEY: It would’ve been nice to give him a choice.
CANCER MAN: You don’t think Mulder would’ve chosen this? To become the thing he sought for so long? To feel what it’s like? He is what he sought.
FOWLEY: We’ll never know.
CANCER MAN: (taking off his jacket) Besides, his task is almost complete. I’ll carry the burden from here on in.
As we later learn, the operation is a failure – just why, we never learn – and Cancer Man has come down in the world the last times we see him. But despite all the nonsense about the alien inscriptions and the alien powers, even a plague of locusts and a sea of blood, nothing of any real importance comes of the trilogy but the dream of the last temptation of Mulder and the image of the boy of the beach and all that may foreshadow.
Mulder and Scully share their first kiss at the end of “Amor Fati,” after declaring that they are each other’s touchstones — another foreshadowing as it turns out (Their second kiss, in “Millennium,” might be dismissed as only a reaction to the occasion.). But before that could be followed up in “all things,” there was another severe setback in the story of the quest.
For seven years, one of the cornerstones of The X-Files had been the fate of Samantha Mulder. We knew from the start that it was his recovered memory of her abduction in 1973, apparently by aliens, that first drew him to the X-Files. Finding her, or at least finding out what had become of her, was one of his consuming passions.
In “Sein und Zeit” and “Closure,” Mulder finally learned the truth about Samantha – or did he? “Closure,” with its implication that she was never with the aliens, but taken by Cancer Man to a remote Air Force base, contradicts all that we have been told before – by the Bounty Hunter in “End Game” and – more tellingly – Cassandra Spender in “Two Fathers.” Cassandra, as the first human turned into an alien hybrid, is telepathic – she can read human and alien minds alike. From her hospital bed, she can read Mulder’s
CASSANDRA: You just doubted yourself. You were just doubting you’d ever see her again, weren’t you? (Mulder looks up at Scully) Your sister.
SCULLY: Agent Mulder told me he believed he saw his sister … last year.
CASSANDRA: That wasn’t her, Agent Mulder.
MULDER: Then where is she?
CASSANDRA: Out there, with them. The aliens.
Yet in “Closure,” Mulder is led to believe that Samantha was on Earth all the time, and saved by divine intervention after escaping from Cancer Man at the age of 14. She simply vanished from a hospital where she was being treated. Some divine force is at work that rescues innocent children from pain and suffering and turns them into starlight. At the end, Mulder has a close encounter in the woods with Samantha and other children saved from this vale of tears:
(The glowing 14-year-old girl embraces him warmly, touches his face as they gaze at each other, then holds him again as he holds her and strokes and kisses her hair. He is smiling. It’s okay.)
(Mulder comes back out of the woods. He is calm.)
SCULLY: Mulder, where did you go?
MULDER: End of the road.
SCULLY: Mulder, what happened? Are you sure you’re all right?
MULDER: I’m fine.
(Mulder looks up at the starry sky, and sighs.)
MULDER: I’m free.
It comes off as sappy as an episode of Touched by an Angel, just as “Sein und Zeit” had seemed a shameless rip-off of both the Jon Benet Ramsey Case and the far superior “Paper Hearts,” in which Mulder first came to suspect that his beliefs about Samantha’s abduction might be false. Yet it is presented as the definitive conclusion to the story of Samantha.
Shortly after the episode first aired, Frank Spotnitz suggested that it had been a spur-of-the-moment decision to put an end to the Samantha mystery. It seems strange that such a fundamental element of the quest should have been given such cavalier treatment, yet even stranger was the way Carter himself described the episode at the 1998 Comic Com:
It was supposed to be just a little bit vague, but Mulder believes that through the course of those two episodes this year that when bad things are about to happen to children there is some force, some presence that comes down and, perhaps, saves children from those terrible fates. And he thinks that because of the testing that was being done on Samantha that, in fact, that’s what’s happened and that she has been removed and will perhaps be returned. She has become starlight, if you will. So that’s what he believes.
Believes? Thinks? There was nothing the least bit vague about the episode itself, only about Carter’s assessment of it. Could he have been hinting that “Closure” was a red herring, and that what Mulder had come to believe is the truth about Samantha isn’t? In “The Truth,” it is reiterated that Samantha is dead; yet in I Want to Believe, Carter leaves some wiggle-room with Scully’s remark that Mulder is “still looking” for his sister.
The DVD of Fight the Future includes a scene, cut from the theatrical release, that might reconcile the two fates of Samantha Mulder. It involves Mulder and the Well-Manicured Man, who, perhaps even more than Cassandra Spender, should have inside knowledge:
WMM: My group has been working cooperatively with the alien colonists, facilitating programs like the one you saw. To give us access to the virus, in hope that we might be able secretly to develop a cure.
MULDER: To save your own asses.
WMM: Survival is the ultimate ideology… Your father wisely refused to believe this.
MULDER: My father sacrificed my sister! He let them take Samantha–
WMM: Without a vaccination, the only true survivors of the viral holocaust would be those immune to it: human/alien clones. He allowed your sister to be abducted, to be taken to a cloning program. For one reason.
MULDER: So she’d survive…… As a genetic hybrid.
WMM: Your father chose hope over selfishness. Hope in the only future he had: his children. His hope for you was that you would uncover the truth about the Project. That you would stop it. That you would fight the future.
Yet as we learned in the case of Deep Throat, Mulder’s informants don’t always tell the truth. Carter’s ambiguity raises all sorts of questions, not the least of them how such a convincing hoax could have been set up – and by whom. But the most fundamental question is why? If Samantha or some version of her is actually still out there with the aliens, as Cassandra Spender and the Well-Manicure Man insisted, why is it so important for Mulder to believe otherwise?
Mulder himself may have given the answer. “I’m fine,” he tells Scully. “I’m free.” He is free of his anger against the aliens for what they might have done to Samantha, an anger that might blind him to the true course he must follow. What that true course is, we may never know, but we can sense that it has something to do with Scully – that he may now be open to love and even fatherhood. At the end of “Amor Fati,” they have kissed, but only kissed. The future, as we later learn, would depend on them going much farther than that.
In “Requiem,” where we see Mulder himself abducted, the series returns to its roots. The action, like that of the pilot episode, is set in Bellefleur, Oregon, and centers on abductees from the pilot who are being abducted all over again. Carter obviously went to a great deal of trouble to find a location in California that matched the original one in British Columbia, and there is even a visual reference to a spray-painted mark on a lonely stretch of road that Mulder had made years earlier.
At the time it was first broadcast, “Requiem” was a sign of hope to veteran X-Files fans – among them Autumn Tysko:
“Requiem” did a number of major things in the X-Files universe. It provided a neat bookend to the first seven years of the story. It opened up doors “which lead to other doors” and it allows the show, and more importantly the mythology, to “move forward, put the past behind.” More amazingly, it did something I thought was impossible at this stage of the game: it surprised me and made me interested in the eighth season.
The episode was filled with cryptic remarks that seemed to promise future revelations. “These abductees aren’t just systematically being taken,” Mulder tells Scully. “They’re not coming back.” How does he know this, and what does it mean?
“It has to end some time,” he later tells her, warning her away because she herself is a past abductee and thus in danger from the hidden UFO. But what has to end? His life? His mission in life? But if that is the case, what is the point of surrendering himself to the aliens?
As for Cancer Man, who also sees something epochal in the appearance of an invisible and damaged UFO near Bellefleur, we never learn what a man who could once command armies can hope to accomplish now that he is a pathetic old cripple in a wheelchair relying on the dubious aid of Krycek and Marita Covarrubias. Yet he too is given a cryptic line, just before Krycek pushes him down the stairs à la Johnny Udo in Kiss of Death: “As you do to Mulder and to me… you do to all of mankind, Alex.”
As with the story line in “Duane Barry,” “Ascension” and “One Breath” that was conceived to account for Scully’s absence when Gillian Anderson was pregnant in 1994, “Requiem” was a case of necessity mothering invention: David Duchovny had served notice that he would be only a sometime player in the upcoming eighth season. As an episode, “Requiem” ends with two riveting scenes: the image of Mulder, in solidarity with the other abductees, calmly accepting his fate; and Scully’s climactic revelation to Skinner:
SCULLY: Sir, um… there’s something else I need to tell you. Something that I need for you to keep to yourself.
([Skinner] looks at her questioningly. She looks ready to either laugh or cry, but can’t decide which.)
SCULLY: I’m having a hard time explaining it. Or believing it. But, um…
(Pause. A small inward smile of joy mixed with plenty of pain.)
SCULLY: I’m pregnant.
(Skinner stares at her, speechless. She tries to smile. But through her tears, it comes out as a mixture of a laugh and a weak sob.)
Yet another mystery: how, and by whom? Only, while the mystery of Scully’s child was pursued through the entire eighth season – inadvertently giving the impression that her pregnancy was the longest on record – the season did practically nothing to explain the whys and wherefores of Mulder’s abduction. Aside from torture scenes, in which he is spreadeagled on the alien equivalent of a hospital bed, and a brief clip in which the Bounty Hunter is legion, we never see anything of his experience out there – and never learn anything about it afterwards.
When “Requiem” was filmed, it could have been the last episode of the show for all Carter knew. Plan A was doubtless to go straight to another movie. When it turned out that there would be an eighth season after all, only with Duchovny absent for most of it, he was forced to do some quick retrofitting to explain why Mulder had volunteered for abduction.
Plan B may have already been at the back of his mind, but it wasn’t a very good plan. In “Within,” newcomer John Doggett discovers medical records and even a grave marker indicating that Mulder was terminally ill from his experiences in “The Sixth Extinction” and expected to die that year. Yet despite a supposedly “clear record of his decline,” Mulder – unlike Cancer Man — never showed any signs of illness on screen.
The scenario becomes ludicrous in “The Gift,” where we learn that he sought a cure from a monster that can swallow people whole and then regurgitate them good as new, or even better than new. Only he feels the creature’s pain, and shoots the thing to put it out of its misery. Quite aside from the silliness of the terminal illness scenario, it’s hard to believe that Mulder would never have confided in Scully, as close as they had become by then.
The underlying fault with Plan B is that it is purely mechanistic. Mulder is dumped back on Earth along with other abductees in “This Is Not Happening” – so he was wrong about them “not coming back.” This sets the stage for a death and resurrection scenario in “Deadalive” that is a replay of both “End Game” and “The Blessing Way,” but not as good – and to make it work, Carter has to have the Colonists implausibly return the abductees before rather than after their transformation into replicants.
There are distractions like Krycek having got hold of a vial of the Black Oil vaccine once in the possession of Bill Mulder – never mind that Bill had been killed before the vaccine was developed, or that it shouldn’t even work against the new virus. It all comes down to Scully to save her partner in the end, but Mulder awakens acting like his old self as if nothing had happened. The point of “Deadalive” was reduced to nothing more than introducing the replicants as a new strategy of the Colonists to replace the shapeshifting clones.
Yet in the ninth season, it developed that the U.S. military had apparently been using super soldiers as far back as the first Gulf War, and had created the first of them – Knowle Rohrer and Shannon McMahon – soon after the U.S. Marine Corp pulled out of Beirut in 1982.
In his commentary on the Super Soldiers set of CDs, Carter claims that the military project was just a cover story, but that doesn’t wash, given the chronology. The Colonists were still relying on shapeshifters as late as “Without,” and we have the testimony of Shannon McMahon in “Nothing Important Happened Today:”
SHANNON MCMAHON: You know what I am. I’m the product of 50 years of military science, the program your old friend Knowle Rohrer told you about. I’m a bio-engineered combat unit. I have no weaknesses – I don’t sleep, I can breathe under water. That’s how I saved your life John.
DOGGETT: How do you know what I know. What Knowle Rohrer told me?
SHANNON MCMAHON: Knowle Rohrer and I were drafted right out of Bravo Company together. We were… Adam and Eve, the program’s first. There are many more now. … They can’t kill us. We can’t be killed. Knowle Rohrer and I are alike in almost every way. The difference is I hate what I am.
She may be lying, but she saves Doggett’s life by decapitating Knowle Rohrer, so she can’t have been an instrument of the Colonists like Billy Miles. And there is later the report of Josepho in “Providence” that he saw super-soldiers take out an Iraqi strongpoint during Operation Desert Storm, after his unit had been wiped out save for him.
True, Josepho is crazy, but it was the appearance of what he called “angels” that drove him crazy. And Desert Storm was in 1991 – if the Colonists had such warriors that far back, they missed plenty of opportunities to deploy them in their own cause. So why would they pick the Gulf War? Moreover, nothing that Josepho saw could have given him the idea that the super-soldiers were aliens, let alone point men for an invasion.
Whatever the truth about the super-soldiers, however, they became the cowbirds of the new mytharc, undercutting the romantic story of Mulder and Scully and their quest. In “Trust No 1,” for example, the denouement turns on the discovery of the super-soldiers’ vulnerability, which introduces a jarring note to Scully’s poignant last e-mail to the man she loves:
I hold no hope you can respond to this. Or that it reaches you. I only hope that you are alive.
I cannot help believing that you jumped off that train because you knew what I now know – that these “super-soldiers,” if that’s what they are, can in fact be destroyed. That the key to their destruction lies in the iron compound at that quarry.
I am scared for you, Mulder. And for William. The forces against us are unrelenting. But so is my determination. To see you again. To regain the comfort and safety we shared for so brief a time.
Plan B for the eighth season also centered on the mystery of Scully’s pregnancy, with some fans speculating that Cancer Man had become a father yet again – after putting her under in “En Ami.” But later episodes all indicated that Fox Mulder was indeed the father. Scully refers to the child as “our son” in “The Truth,” and Mulder does likewise in I Want to Believe. If there were any further doubt, Frank Spotnitz laid it to rest at the New York Comic Convention in 2008.
But just how Scully managed to become pregnant was never revealed. Instead, we were treated to red herrings in “Per Manum” about a failed attempt (seen in flashbacks) to restore her ova, and another woman having given birth to an alien baby as part of yet another Syndicate project that apparently outlived the Syndicate.
In “Essence,” there was yet another red herring about Scully’s own pregnancy being part of an experiment to create natural-born super-soldiers in – never mind that a super-fetus could tear her womb apart. Meanwhile, Chris Carter was so careless about the timeline for her pregnancy that it seemingly ran for 12 months behind the TV screen as well as in front of it – not that she or anyone else noticed.
Granted that he had to work around the absence of David Duchovny for most of the eighth season, there were other alternatives to developing the story line. But when it was announced that there would be a ninth season without Mulder at all, things really started to come apart. The X-Files could have ended with “Requiem” and gone straight to movies. It could, and looking back now, should have ended with “Existence.”
The episode in which Scully finally gives birth is obviously inspired by the story of the birth of Jesus in the Bible. The abandoned house in Democrat Hot Springs, Georgia, might as well be a manger for all the comfort it offers Scully and Agent Monica Reyes. There is even a pre-natal transposition of the Flight into Egypt, for they are hiding from the replicants like Billy Myles.
Not that Carter follows the gospel religiously, and the story still leaves some things unexplained – not only the pregnancy itself, but what the replicants are up to. When a local cop shows up at the scene, she seems to be on the side of the angels – she even shoots Myles when he threatens Scully. But then she herself turns out to be a replicant, and is joined by a host of her kind – even Myles — at Scully’s bedside as Reyes delivers her child. And then they all get in their cars and drive away.
“I don’t quite understand that either,” Mulder tells her a day or two later, just after a visit by the Lone Gunmen – who have come to Scully’s apartment bearing gifts like the Three Magi. “Except that maybe he isn’t what they thought he was. That doesn’t make him any less of a miracle though, does it?”
There is also a seeming miracle in Mulder’s having arrived at Democrat Hot Springs to join Scully, without Doggett ever having reached him to pinpoint the location. “There was a light. I followed it,” Mulder tells Byers. We know what he’s talking about, because we have seen Reyes gazing at a bright light in the sky. It could be just the moon, shining through a light overcast, but it’s an obvious reference to the Star of Bethlehem.
At the end, Mulder and Scully are akin to Joseph and Mary. The infant William may not be the fruit of a virgin womb, yet we are meant to believe that he brings new hope to the world. But that is for the future. For now, it is enough for them to acknowledge their love for each other and for the child who, no matter what his “true” origin, is truly theirs:
SCULLY: From the moment I became pregnant, I feared the truth… about how… and why. And I know that you feared it, too.
MULDER: I think what we feared were the possibilities. The truth we both know.
SCULLY: Which is what?
(Still holding the baby between them, Mulder leans down and kisses Scully on the lips. And keeps kissing her. Scully reaches out to hold Mulder’s arms and returns the lover’s kiss..)
We can sense that Carter has prepared us for this, in Mulder’s dream of the boy on the beach in “Amor Fati.” We can sense that the torch may one day be passed from father to son, and can even believe that the whole series has led up to this – although we know full well that “Requiem” was conceived in desperation.
Only “Existence” wasn’t the end of the series. Facing yet another season, Carter had to come up with yet another plan – call it Plan C. Having spared Mulder and Scully and William in “Existence,” the replicants were after Mulder again in “Nothing Important Happened Today.” That accounts for Duchovny’s absence, but it doesn’t account for why Scully and her baby aren’t in just as much danger from Knowle Rohrer and his ilk.
There are further red herrings or possible red herrings, starting with William’s on-again, off-again telekinetic powers and Shannon McMahon’s confirmation of Rohrer’s story that the baby was the product of an ovum genetically altered at yet another secret lab – this time on a Naval vessel that hasn’t made port in years and is conveniently blown up before Scully can find out if her own ova were among those being worked on there. It’s an echo of the scene in “Paper Clip,” with its treasure trove of medical records related to the original Syndicate project.
Even at the end of the series, William’s true nature is ambiguous. Does he have alien genes or doesn’t he? Is he a threat to the Colonists or isn’t he? In “Provenance” and “Providence,” he is kidnapped by an alien-worshipping cult whose followers believe that William is their messiah and who have been drawn to a crashed UFO in Canada with the same sort of inscriptions as those found in Africa three years earlier. William is found alive after the UFO takes off, burning all the cultists. All of which meant… What?
It meant that William had to be written out of the show, as in soap operas, where newborns soon vanish, only to return years later when they are old enough to be played by child actors. “Providence” certainly gave Scully sufficient reason to put him up for adoption, but in “William” Carter brings in yet another complication: a disfigured Jeffrey Spender, who wants her to believe that he is really Mulder – and injects the baby with magnetite. Does that mean William was born a super soldier? If so, magnetite should have killed him. And if he wasn’t, what was the point of that injection?
It all makes about as much sense as Spender’s claim that his disfigurement was the result of a failed attempt to turn him into a super soldier, when the creation of super-soldiers had been routine since 1991. And his after-the-fact “explanation” isn’t any help:
SCULLY: So, what, you’ve prevented it now? You’ve … prevented alien colonization by injecting this metal into my son?
SPENDER: Your son is the one thing the aliens need. I took revenge on my father by taking William away from them.
SCULLY: So, he’s all right now? I mean, just like that?
SCULLY: So, it’s over. They’ll let him be.
(Spender looks sad.)
SPENDER: It’ll never be over. They’ll always know what he was. They’ll never accept what he is.
We not only don’t have any idea what Spender means, we don’t know why or how he’d know anything about Scully’s son. We do know from “The Truth” that the invasion is still on. We do know from I Want to Believe that William is still alive, but nothing more. Yet however he muddled the details, Carter may have given us the big picture.
It can’t be mere coincidence that William’s adoptive parents in Wyoming are flying the state flag – the white buffalo – when the child is brought to them, and that they even hang a white buffalo mobile over his crib. So much was made of the white buffalo legend in “Paper Clip” that we know William must still be destiny’s child. “God has his reasons and his ways,” remarks his adoptive father, but he doesn’t know the whole truth of it.
We don’t know any more than that. We don’t know whether Carter had a vision of the end of the series, the end of the quest. We’ll probably never know now. Mulder and Scully don’t seem to be worried about the alien invasion in I Want to Believe, but they didn’t seem to be worried about it in standalone episodes of the series, either. It would have been bad drama to reference the mythology in the second movie, just as it would have been in standalone episodes of the series. Alas, the last word we get in the series isn’t helpful.
At the end of “The Truth,” Cancer Man – before his fitting death in a pyre that is ultimately of his own making – taunts Mulder with the truth that he has refused to share with the tribunal, or even with Scully: that humanity’s fate appears to be sealed. It is something Mulder must have suspected all along but, like the parent of a missing child who holds out hope until the body is found, he seems to have been crushed by the proof – and fears it will crush Scully. And yet we know that these two will not be crushed.
SCULLY: You’ve always said that you want to believe. But believe in what, Mulder? If this is the truth that you’ve been looking for then what is left to believe in?
MULDER: 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 are I are powerless now, I want to believe that if we listen to what’s speaking, they can give us the power the save ourselves.
SCULLY: Then we believe the same thing.
“The dead are not lost to us,” Mulder says. The phrase isn’t original with him, or with Chris Carter. It is invoked in Catholic theology: “Our faith teaches us that the dead are not lost to us. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, they have passed into a world where life is changed, not ended. They are secure from every earthly trial and pain.” Scully, even as a lapsed Catholic, might be aware of that.
But while Catholic teaching may have a certain grandeur to it, Carter reduces it to a rip-off of The Sixth Sense: Mulder sees (and hears) dead people — Krycek and the Lone Gunmen. Up to now, the dead have appeared to him only in dreams, although the Navajo wise man Albert Hosteen has appeared to Scully – not dead yet, just too ill to travel. But to have Mulder kibitzed by the dead in order to find a way to defeat the aliens trivializes the quest.
Carter doesn’t seem to leave any alternative, however. Barring divine intervention, what could possibly save humanity from the Colonists? “The weapons and the magic?” Whatever they might be, they are probably too little and too late. The Alien Rebels, with whom the Well-Manicured Man proposed an alliance? From what we saw of them, if any survive, can they be trusted any better than the Colonists? Their only earnest was mass murder, and in one of his Comic Con appearances Carter further muddied the waters:
There are actually several alien races. There’s the grays and there are the faceless aliens, who are another race, and then there’s the alien bounty hunter who is a renegade; he left the faceless crew.
A renegade? We’d always assumed that the Bounty Hunter was simply a member of the Colonists’ secret police, referred to in Carter’s secret message at the end of the Fight the Future music CD. If we are to credit “The Unnatural,” he has been playing that role since at least 1947. In every other appearance, he has served as a loyal enforcer for the Colonists and the Project, and he appears again in “Requiem” and – multiple incarnations in one scene – in “Without,” from which we have to conclude that he is also supporting the replicant program.
Those replicants are repeatedly referred to as unstoppable, and if the Pentagon has its own force of super-soldiers, they are probably outnumbered by those of the Colonists. If Carter were to follow his own logic, they could be defeated by artificial magnetic fields as well as random encounters with magnetite, but Carter isn’t known for following his own logic. And yet, perhaps the real answer has been staring us in the face all along.
From the second season of the series, Mulder has had encounters with aliens or alien hybrids who have gone native. The first was in “Colony” and “End Game,” where we first encounter the Bounty Hunter in his mission to liquidate an unauthorized colony: a colony made up of look-alike cloned doctors who work at abortion clinics around the country. Among them is a woman who poses as Mulder’s sister Samantha, adopted by the aliens, but is in fact an alien herself.
FALSE SAMANTHA: The men you’ve been seeking are the progeny of two original visitors, clones who have been attempting to establish a colony here since the late 1940’s.
MULDER: A colony?
FALSE SAMANTHA: Loosely. The community, by necessity, is dispersed. There are clones identical to my parents living in virtually every part of the country.
MULDER: What are they trying to accomplish?
FALSE SAMANTHA: It’s their belief that our stewardship of the planet is being forsaken, and that by default, they’ll someday become the natural heirs.
MULDER: And in the meantime?
FALSE SAMANTHA: Through hybridization, they’ve been working to erase that aspect which has forced the community to scatter… their identical natures.
The doctors have been using abortion clinics to obtain human fetal tissue and use the DNA to create true human-alien hybrids – a project that is the obverse of one begun by the Syndicate in 1973 with Purity Control. But what’s really interesting here is that is that these colonists are trying to escape their “identical natures” – to become individuals. On the surface, that is only a means to an end, to escape the Bounty Hunter. Only, why would they even want to escape unless their lives as individuals had already become meaningful to them?
According to the false Samantha, “The experiments weren’t sanctioned.” The aliens also considered the project a “dilution of their species” – and sent the Bounty Hunter to terminate it. Although Mulder can’t know it at the time, the very existence of the woman he takes to be Samantha must be the proof of its success, for the original colonists arrived here two decades before she was born. As for the idea that the gray aliens consider hybrids a “dilution of their species,” that is echoed in Billy Miles’ encounter in “Essence” with Dr. Lev – a doctor with Zeus Genetics who was using multiple abductees as surrogate mothers for aliens in yet another hybrid program in “Per Manum:”
BILLY MILES: I won’t be visiting long. I’ve just come to verify it’s true.
DR. LEV: Verify that what’s true?
BILLY MILES: That your work’s been fruitful. I can see that it has by the abomination you’re holding in your hands.
(DR. Lev is holding a barely alive alien baby. It is pitifully gasping for air.)
DR. LEV: You’ll have to leave now.
BILLY MILES: Your work here is done.
In “Memento Mori,” while seeking a cure for Scully’s cancer, Mulder comes across yet another community of alien-human hybrids in Pennsylvania, led by Kurt Crawford. Crawford claims at first to be only a member of the UFO network to which other women abductees dead or dying of cancer belonged, but it turns out that he is actually one of a number of identical hybrids – and that the abducted mothers supplied the ova used to create them.
As usual, the details seem to contradict those in “Colony” and “End Game:” this time, the alien invaders themselves seem to be behind the project, and Scully herself is a part of it – the last survivor among the other abductees remembers meeting her in captivity. And yet the Crawfords are not exactly loyal servants of the aliens:
HYBRID: Not at all. You’re arrival was only coincident with the execution of our objective.
MULDER: What objective?
HYBRID: Subvert the project. The project that created us.
MULDER: I’ve seen this boy before. These boys were you.
HYBRID: We’re among the end results.
MULDER: And you want to destroy them?
HYBRID: No. What we want is the same thing that you want.
“I don’t want to be no famous man. Just want to be a man,” Josh Exley quips in “The Unnatural,” David Duchovny’s tribute to the love of baseball – and to the love of life, what it means to be human. Mulder hears the story from Arthur Dales, now an old man, who was a cop in Texas back in 1947.
EXLEY: See, there’s something you got to understand about my race. We don’t have a word for laughter. We don’t laugh. I don’t know if you noticed in between all that fainting you was doing but we have very tiny mouths, so no smiling even.
YOUNG ARTHUR DALES: Wow.
EXLEY: I tell you, when I saw that baseball game being played this laughter just… it just rose up out of me. You know, the smell of the grass, 11 men — first unnecessary thing I ever done in my life and I fell in love. I didn’t know the unnecessary could feel so good. You know, the game was meaningless but it seemed to mean everything to me. It was useless, but perfect.
Although we have seen little of the Colonists, it is enough to sense that they are driven by grim Darwinian necessity. Like insects on Earth, they appear to go through some sort of metamorphosis – in “The Beginning,” we see one of the juvenile killers that emerge from human host bodies molt into an adult gray under the influence of hard radiation. The embryo called Purity Control suggests that the grays also reproduce sexually, but that doesn’t necessarily imply that they share any gentler emotions with us – or that they love their children in the sense that we can.
Hive minds are a cliché in science fiction. In Robert A. Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters, invading alien parasites turn humans into slaves with no more individuality than ants or termites. Pod people replace humans in Jack Finney’s The Body Snatchers, which has been filmed several times. In Dark Skies, a short-lived rip-off of The X-Files, the alien enemy is even called the Hive. If the Colonists are not a hive race, their culture at least suggests that of the Klingons, the austere warrior race in Star Trek. This becomes evident when the Bounty Hunter confronts Exley:
BOUNTY HUNTER: Show me your true face so you can die with dignity. As your executioner I show you my true face before I kill you.
(The Bounty Hunter morphs into a Gray Alien.)
BOUNTY HUNTER: Show me your true face or you will die without honor.
EXLEY: This is my true face.
Exley has found his true face, but found it as a human. When he dies moments later, he even dies as a human, bleeding red – if we are to credit Dales’ recollections. That Pinocchio-like transformation may not be a literal addition to the mythology, but it is at least symbolically true. The aging Dales even hints that it might work the other way: “Do you believe that passion can change your very nature?” he asks. “Can make you shape-shift from a man into something other than a man?” A hint about Mulder’s son, perhaps? Or just a tease? But what Dales tells Mulder about humanity is in dead earnest:
DALES: What is it to be a human, Fox? Is it to have the chemistry of a man? In the universal scheme of things a dog’s chemistry is nearly identical to that of a man. But is a dog like a man?
MULDER: Well, I have noticed over the course of time, a man and his dog will often start to look like one another.
DALES: (laughs) To be a man is to have the heart of a man. Integrity, decency, sympathy: these are the things that make a man a man and Ex had them all, had them all, more than you or I.
“You can’t kill them all,” Jeremiah Smith tells Cancer Man in “Talitha Cumi.” “You can’t kill their love, which is what makes them who they are, makes them better than us, better than you.” Smith is yet another defector, won over from the Colonists by his understanding of humanity.
“Better,” to him, has a meaning that would never occur to the aliens: for them, as for the likes of Cancer Man and Krycek among our own kind, only “stronger” can have any meaning. Might doesn’t simply make right, but is right. That was the nightmare of George Orwell in Nineteen-Eighty Four: “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever,” Winston Smith’s interrogator O’Brien tells him. In our own time, the boot may be disguised as a hushpuppy, but it is still there in the machinations of powerful governments and powerful interests to manipulate our lives.
Martha Nochimson, who analyzed the Mulder-Scully relationship in Screen Couple Chemistry, has recognized love as fundamental to The X-Files:
The importance of human love is a thread through the series, surfacing most powerfully and meaningfully for me in “Milagros,” “The Unnatural,” “all things,” as well as the shows in which Mulder has the fantasy of the child. Baby Billy, the visible sign of the consummation of the love of Scully and Mulder (a very pure example of human love, indeed), is the culmination of that narrative thread,
“Existence,” Nochimson believes, should have set the stage for The X-Files: The Next Generation. That didn’t happen, and never will. And yet we can imagine it in the clues Carter left us, especially in “Amor Fati.” We can imagine that the toddler in the first Boy on the Beach scene is William Mulder, and the couple in the background his adoptive parents. We can imagine that the toddler is seeking Fox, his true father.
His importance seems to be underscored by a scene in I Want to Believe that, while it relates to Scully’s soul-searching over whether to try the experimental treatment for a boy dying of brain cancer, might seem gratuitous to the movie – and yet goes straight to the heart of what Nochimson was writing about, and the resolution of the true story of The X-Files depending on the Next Generation:
SCULLY: Why bring a kid into the world just to make him suffer? I don’t know, Mulder, I’ve got such a connection to this boy.
MULDER: How old is he?
SCULLY: You think it’s because of William.
MULDER: I think our son left us both with an emptiness that can’t be filled. Just go to sleep. Let me curse God for a while.
SCULLY: Thank you.
When we see the older boy, tearing apart his sand spaceship while berating Mulder for having failed to help him, having left him to suffer somehow, we can take it as a reminder that fatherhood is more than a matter of biology: that Mulder must be there for his son, not only to show his love but to imbue young William with courage and love and all else that is required – beyond any mere alien powers he may manifest – to protect humanity.
Yet there is another scene, an epilogue to the episode, after Scully has rescued Mulder, after he has told her how much she means to him, after their first kiss. We are given a final glimpse of the beach. This time, however, Mulder and the boy are laughing together as they build a new spaceship in the sand.
“Perhaps this episode foreshadows Season 8: Mulder becoming a father and stopping the Colonization,” wrote Aaron Branwyn in a post at at alt.tv.x-files. Even more to the point, a British fan named Kathrine added: “I thought maybe it was the future… right forward into a time when spaceships and aliens weren’t scary.”
We can sense that, from that one scene, we are in the right future – a future where Mulder’s quest has been fulfilled, even if we are never to see how.
Appendix: Back from a False Future….
The X-Files was back. But was it really The X-Files that so many of us knew and loved from 1993 to 2002?
Some 15 years had passed between the last episode of the classic series and the 2016 revival (Season 10), and yet another revival (Season 11, 2018) played out two years later. The original stars were back – David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as Fox Mulder and Dana Scully – as well as several other key players. And the reboots came from the creator of the series, Chris Carter
* * *
“You want the truth?” Fox Mulder’s old enemy asks in “Babylon,” fifth episode of Season 10. “You’ve come to the right place.”
That was only part of a hallucination in “Babylon.” But if fans thought Cancer Man (William B. Davis), raised from the dead for the second or third time, would make sense of the “truth” in the finale of the mini-series, they were in for a disappointment. The second part of “My Struggle” not only discarded the mythology of the original show, but that of its own first part – and didn’t make any sense in either version.
Cancer Man here is the Father of Conspiracies (Everything from the Kennedy assassination to fake Moon landings) as well the father of Mulder and of William – whom Mulder and Scully believe (as we were led to believe) to be their son. Reaction to that among many old-time fans was negative, and fans were also put off by Season 11 revealing the finale of Season 10 to have been just a dream. How did it come to this? And why should we still be interested in the original series, which is the subject of this monograph?
“I think of it as a 13-year commercial break,” Carter told Deadline Hollywood when the revival of his series was first announced in 2015. “The good news is the world has only gotten that much stranger, a perfect time to tell these six stories.”
Only, 13 years is a long time in the world of fiction, too, and could The X-Files both catch up with the real world and remain true to itself as a story? Could raising the dead so promiscuously – the Lone Gunmen also returned, if only in a hallucination in “Babylon”– be taken any more seriously than the multiple deaths and resurrections of Kenny on South Park or Agrajag on The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy? And how many times could the underlying mytharc be changed – or in this case trashed?
Carter had shown some nervousness about that at the Entertainment Weekly Fest in October 2015 when he objected to the characterization of the new X-Files as a reboot or a revival or even a mini-series: “‘Reboot’ sounds cheesy,” he said. “I don’t like any of those words.”
But the comparisons to the reboots of other TV classics like Star Trek and comic book superhero series that often relegate established history to the memory hole are, alas, inevitable now we that we have seen what Carter was up to in “My Struggle,” the two-part mytharc episode that bookended a related conspiracy episode, “Founder’s Mutation,” and three stand-alone monster-of-the-week stories.
“I’ve been misled – we’ve all been misled,” Mulder lamented in the first part. “I was being led through a dark alley to a dead end.” This came after right-wing conspiracy maven Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale) had introduced him to Sveta (Annet Mahendru), a multiple-abductee and seeming brood mare who can read minds – and revealed that her abductors had all been humans, not aliens. At last, Mulder was on to the path to the real truth out there, with Sveta as “the key to everything” – the very same thing he had said about Gibson Praise in the fifth season finale, “The End.”
But it was Carter himself leading Mulder and Scully and fans of the original series down the garden path, misleading them about his latest take on the mythology, which he had already re-explained several times in the original series. In “My Struggle,” however, virtually everything has to be explained away. Oh, there was indeed the UFO crash at Roswell – which rates an elaborate flashback, with the only surviving gray executed by a Man in Black and an Army doctor making off with the body (without himself getting shot.). But there was never an alien invasion – just humans replicating alien technology and genetics in pursuit of O’Malley would later call “the most evil conspiracy the world has ever seen.”
Anything Mulder actually saw or experienced to the contrary, anything we ever saw was just SFX in service to the “real” conspiracy. Remember the Syndicate cutting a deal with the Colonists in 1973, under which the Elders gave up their children as hostages (among them, presumably, Samantha Mulder), but being wiped out by the alien rebels in 1998? Never happened; in “Founder’s Mutation,” we learn the Syndicate was working entirely on its own to create human-alien hybrids – who, in the finale, it develops, are to be the only survivors of a global plague. Not only that, but we are told Mulder himself never had any alien DNA or capabilities, as we had been given to believe in Season Eight – even though he can read a near-dead terrorist’s mind in “Babylon.”
O’Malley came off like Groucho Marx in Duck Soup (1933): “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?” Mulder himself paraphrased George Orwell after meeting with Skinner: “It’s about controlling the past to control the future.” But even O’Malley didn’t know the true aim of the conspiracy until returning to cable TV in the finale – after his show had been suspended in the first episode, in which he had told Mulder and Scully that it was all about imposing the kind of New World Order paranoids have been railing about for decades. And even in the second part, he thought alien DNA was going to be the vector of the plague.
So what was Carter doing? Not only rewriting history, but reducing the mythology from a vision of the alien and the eerie to something that seemed totally out of mundane conspiracy theory, except for the bit about creating alien hybrids, while replicating alien spacecraft and staging sightings of same to divert public attention from the actual agenda of the conspirators. As Price Petersen complained at TV.com:
How is that a good twist? And again, it retcons a decade of mythology in one fell dumb swoop. We had seen actual aliens on this show! Several races of them! Doing bad and dangerous things! It was all very confusing, but at least it was scary! This twist is just boring.
According to O’Malley, in the first part of “My Struggle,” elements of the Conspiracy included 9/11 as a false flag operation, plus “severe drought, brought on by weather wars, conducted secretly using aerial contaminants and high altitude electromagnetic waves, and a state of perpetual war.” He ticks off some standard right-wing obsessions like gun confiscation, martial law and concentration camps – but also favorite liberal targets such as the Patriot Act, NSA spying, militarization of police, and the corporate takeover of the food industry in order “to fatten, dull, sicken and control the populace already consumed by consumerism.”
There’s a brief scene of the now aged Army doctor from Roswell, but after taking the trouble to arrange a secret meeting with Mulder, this latest Deep Throat balks at actually telling him anything. Another contact of O’Malley’s, Garner (Hiro Kanagawa) invokes Big Oil, which has suppressed alien “torroidal energy” technology except for its use by the Conspiracy to replicate alien spacecraft used for UFO sightings. Somehow, Garner and his anti-Conspiracy allies have reproduced such a craft in a hidden hangar – where they show it off to Mulder (It can take off soundlessly, and even turn invisible). But – no surprise here – the Evil Empire strikes back at Garner his team and Sveta by the end of the first part.
There are clips of Bush and Obama in that first episode. The fourth, “Home Again,” even centers on abuse of the homeless, perpetrators of which are torn limb from limb by the monster of the week. “Babylon” turns on Islamic terrorism – but also does a number on Islamophobia, personified by stereotype Texans and nasty Homeland Security agents. Talking heads rant at each other on a cable news channel, and Mulder and Scully muse about the epidemic of hatred.
With the second part of “My Struggle,” however, fans were thrown for a loop again, by the sudden revelation of a plague that could wipe out the human race, but which Cancer Man and the Syndicate apparently see as the only way to save the planet from the depredations of ordinary humans – global warming and all that. It seems that something called the Spartan virus, carrier of a whole bunch of contagions, has been piggybacked for decades through genome editing onto vaccines for smallpox and other diseases – you know, the kind that cause autism in children – the latest having been anthrax shots for soldiers sent to Iraq (the first to suffer the effects in the finale). Aluminum nanoparticles from chemtrails somehow also play a part.
Scully’s efforts to combat the outbreak are ludicrous, based on her discovery that she has alien DNA that could be replicated in great enough quantity to confer immunity like hers on countless others – who, contrary to what O’Malley broadcast when he resurfaced, never had any to begin with. Or does she actually need stem cells from her missing son William? Even homeopathy, with its ridiculously tiny doses, makes more sense than bits of DNA from one or two people, and her discussion of biotech issues with newcomer FBI agent Einstein (Lauren Ambrose) is ludicrous – as is the notion that alien DNA or stem cells could be mass-produced in virtually no time to combat a global pandemic.
But other elements of the episode are just as ill conceived. Cancer Man, it seems, is still a prime mover of some kind, despite his ups and downs in the original series – having been targeted by black helicopters in the finale – and yet he too is doomed by the plague. He has suborned former agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) by offering her alien DNA, and had his face reconstructed after his seeming death in “The Truth.” Only, Reyes’ role in “My Struggle” is to defect and inform Scully about the new Truth. Mulder, meanwhile, has had a fight with a minion of Cancer Man’s, then driven all the way from Washington, DC, to Spartanburg, SC, for a tête-a-tête with Old Smokey – all the while ignoring cellphone calls from Skinner and Scully. Miller (Robbie Arnell), another new FBI agent introduced in “Babylon,” manages to track him down and rescue him, driving all the way back to the capital – where Scully manages to weave through stalled traffic occasioned by the panic over the plague in order to reach them with the cure – just as a UFO appears. The end.
Only it’s not the end, and it turns out to be a hallucination even within the context of the story. Season 11, with ten episodes rather than just six as in Season 10, comes off like a soap opera. Here’s how a slightly edited version of the Wikipedia summarizes it:
Mulder initially presumes Scully’s ramblings are a product of her illness but leaves the hospital to investigate. Agent Spender later appears at Scully’s bedside, revealing that someone is looking for William. He first balks at telling her the location of her son, revealing only the name of the family that adopted him – Van De Kamp. [as in fish sticks!] Mulder tails a henchman who he believes will take him to The Smoking Man, but he arrives somewhere else with mysterious conspirators; Mr. Y [Was there also going to me a Mr Z?] .and Erika Price. They try to negotiate with Mulder into turning over his son but Mulder refuses. Skinner tries to meet with Scully, but can’t find her. As he goes to his car, he is met inside by The Smoking Man and Reyes. Meanwhile, Scully tries to leave the hospital but her seizures return causing her to crash her car. She is rescued by Agent Einstein and Agent Miller, and is readmitted to the hospital. Both agents leave the room. An assassin sent by Mr. Y and Erika enters and tries to suffocate Scully, but Mulder steps in and saves her by slicing the assassin’s neck. As Skinner comes in, Mulder confronts him since he smells like smoke. In a flashback to when Skinner was in the car with the Smoking Man, the latter reveals (in a further flashback that he, not Mulder, artificially impregnated Scully.
Scully opens her eyes in the dark, laying on her side on a bed in a mysterious house. She explores the mysterious house and ends up in an endless pattern of the same room. Mulder theorizes that the experience is a type of sleep paralysis. She goes back to her memories of her sleep paralysis, where she grabs a snow globe with a model of the boat in it. Mulder and Scully get to the dock, meeting with a Detective Costa. Later, Scully’s attention is drawn to a man that observes them intently from one of the portable walkways. Costa informs them that the victims asked if they found Ghouli. When Scully turns to check if the mystery guy is there, he’s gone. Both agents investigate the two teenagers about the slashing. Both of them go on about the experience and their boyfriend, Jackson Van De Kamp. The agents arrive at the Van De Kamp household, the same house Scully saw in her dream. Two gunshots are heard with a third coming from upstairs. Scully goes up and finds the bleeding corpse of Jackson Van De Kamp. As they leave the room and the door clicks closed, the zipper opens slowly. Jackson sits up and escapes the room. Mulder meets with Skinner at the Chimera, telling him to drop the investigation. Mulder confirms that Jackson’s DNA matches Scully’s. At the hospital, Jackson explains to Brianna that he’s been hiding because there are people after him. He reveals that Ghouli doesn’t exist and it’s just something he “made up”. Jackson escapes the hospital after the death of the DOD members. The next day, Scully spots a rural gas station that has a windmill just outside. Scully meets with Peter Wong with Wong mentioning that he wishes he could know her better. The agents ask to see the recording tapes. In the recording, Scully is having a conversation with William. She smiles as Mulder holds her while they see their son, alive. Over the course of the season, they search for William. In the third episode, “Plus One,” Scully and Mulder are intimate again. In the season 11 finale, “My Struggle IV, she reveals to Mulder that she is pregnant with his child. Also in the finale, the Smoking Man shoots William, who has made himself look like Mulder. But Mulder shoots his nemesis, who falls into the sea and presumably drowns – and William rises from the dead.
* * *
The Fox TV publicity machine had pulled out all the stops to promote the reboot, in hopes it would lead to more. But advance reviews of the first Season 10 episode by Brian Lowry at Variety and Tim Goodman at the Hollywood Reporter were scathing, as were most reviews the day after. Ben Travers at Indiewire, who had been first out of the gate after the episode was screened at the New York Comic Con, had thrown cold water on the revival. Fans seemed excited at the chance for a sneak peak, he wrote:
Yet during the screening itself, the audience was largely quiet. Cheers burst out when Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) first appeared on screen, and the unaltered opening titles were met with rapturous applause. Otherwise, most of the episode — which could’ve passed for fan fiction if not for the main cast’s presence and big budget production moments — passed by without much stirring, laughter, cries or gasps.
Still, with a boost from the NFL playoffs, the first episode of what was called Season 10 drew 21 million viewers and the rest came in at least close to nine million. The popularity of the reboot, whether fueled by nostalgia on the part of veteran fans or by seeming relevance to millennials, or both, led to production of Season 11 – despite negative reviews of “My Struggle” in The New York Times (Where Kaly Soto said it “left me bitter, angry and nearly throwing Thai food on my new carpet.”) and elsewhere. Ratings for Season 11, when it did materialize, were the worst ever, yet Carter still dreamed of yet another sequel.
The revival of the series might have seemed inevitable, given the legendary status of the show – another example, announced about the same time, was a revival of Twin Peaks, which came to pass in the spring of 2017. And yet it came as a surprise, given how things had stood before rumblings of a revival had begun a year before the mini-series debuted. In late 2014, Carter had been busy trying to launch another project, The After, described at the Internet Movie Database as having to do with “eight strangers who are thrown together by mysterious forces and must help each other survive in a violent world that defies explanation.”
The After was greenlighted by Amazon Studios, with a pilot episode produced, but was canceled a year after the pilot was shown without any further episodes shot. Carter had previously tried to market a series called The Unique, described by Digital Spy (April 20, 2012) as about “a woman seeking revenge for the murder of her husband, only to be drawn into a global conspiracy.” Unlike The After, that didn’t even make it to a pilot episode.
A year before that, it had seemed unlikely than ever that there would be an “after” to the 1993-2002 series that had put Carter on popular culture map – even if he was still holding out hope in an interview for the October 2013 Empire:
It’s really up to 20th Century Fox, whether they have the will to do it. I think all of us are interested in putting the band back together. I have an idea for a third movie in my head. The colonization date has passed [December 22, 2012] and that is something we wouldn’t ignore. For the second movie, we only had the budget for a stand-alone story, but we want to go back to the mythology.
But going back involved scrapping more than the colonization date – dismissed as being only the year in which the Syndicate began putting its Final Solution into action. “The conspiracy theory plays a bit like Oliver Stone during his JFK fever pitch — only if his source material was Infowars instead of UFO lore,” quipped James Hibberd in a spoiler alert at Entertainment Weekly.
The only carryover from the original mytharc seems to be William, the son of Mulder and Scully, who had been put up with adoptive parents in “William” (2002). He had been mentioned in I Want to Believe, Carter’s belated 2008 big screen follow-up to the series, and would presumably have appeared in further episodes or a third movie.
But I Want to Believe did poorly at the box office – $47 million domestically and $68 million worldwide – and that seemed at the time to preclude further sequels or a series revival. For that matter, Fight the Future (1998), his mid-series movie, was generally regarded as a disappointment although it eventually grossed $189 million worldwide.
At the height of its popularity in 1997-98, The X-Files had drawn nearly 20 million viewers. But ratings subsequently began to decline, even before the departure of David Duchovny as Fox Mulder for most of the seventh and eighth seasons. By the time the series finally wrapped up with “The Truth,” the audience – at least the mass audience – had moved on. Unlike Star Trek, the series never became a lucrative franchise, although it retained a hard-core following.
“The Truth” had been roundly panned by Robert Shearman, in Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium & The Lone Gunmen (2008) as offering too little and too late. And it had seemingly killed off Cancer Man, just as “Jump the Shark” had killed off the Lone Gunmen (who reappeared as ghosts in the finale – one of the episode’s silliest ideas).
The X-Files: Season 10, a comic book series launched in 2013 with Carter himself as executive producer, took the story forward from I Want To Believe. But the comics, which later extended into a Season 11, scrapped seemingly established facts of Season 9 and earlier, including the deaths of the Lone Gunmen – and even had Gibson Praise (!) becoming the prime mover in a revival of the Syndicate, with the resurrection of Cancer Man and Krycek (On TV, he was last seen in “The Truth,” but hardly as a prime mover.). A spin-off comic book miniseries, The X-Files: Year Zero (2014), even takes it back to the 1940s, when a mysterious figure called Mr. Xero first tips off the FBI to paranormal cases. Will any of this figure in future episodes or a movie? Will it add anything to the significance or future legacy of the series?
The X-Files was certainly innovative, and has been credited as an inspiration for other paranormal series as Strange World (1999-2002), Fringe (2008-13) and even Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003). But the series that brought Carter fame and fortune brought him criticism for catering to the conspiracy theory epidemic – Peter Knight’s Conspiracy Culture, from Kennedy to The X-Files (2000) invoked the memory of the show, perhaps to bolster sales as much as his argument. But with the reboot, Carter went whole hog for conventional conspiracy mania.
The year after Knight’s book appeared, the pilot episode of his spin-off series The Lone Gunmen turned on a plot to hijack a plane by remote control and crash it into one of the World Trade Center towers. It may have been pure coincidence that Al Qaeda carried out the same scenario six months later, only with two planes and live hijackers. But the episode, in which the U.S. military-industrial complex is behind the attack, may have helped fuel the Truther conspiracy theory.
Post-9/11 conspiracy scenarios about international criminals and foreign or domestic terrorists rather than aliens became staples of 24 (2001-2010, revived in 2014). Homeland (2011–) centers on the real-life war on terror, and in Scorpion (2014-) outlaw hackers are recruited by Homeland Security to deal with crises. Series inspired by recent history may have made The X-Files seem irrelevant and even quaint by comparison.
And yet, while The X-Files never rivaled Star Trek or Star Wars in the number of hard-core fans, it has retained enough of a following to justify theme events at comic book conventions, and boasts a news website, a Facebook page, a twitter feed and other online activity – it all goes back to a Google group which originated in 1993 as a Usenet forum, alt.tv.x-files, and is still going strong more than 20 years later.
Gillian Anderson, who nixed any return to The X-Files after Season 11, had collaborated with sf-technothriller writer Jeff Rovin on a trilogy called The Earthend Saga (2014-16). While it isn’t a spin-off from The X-Files, it’s in much the same vein: Earth seems to faces a great catastrophe with roots in the prehistoric past and possibly alien contact. There’s a lot of New Age guff about the transpersonal plane and racial memory, reincarnation, vaguely described “energies” and even the Piri Reis map – plus a secretive Group that has an inkling of what’s happening but doesn’t want anyone else to know.
One thing we do know: That series is going nowhere, and Carter’s own reboots haven’t gone anywhere – at least, nowhere worth following him.