What the hell can I possibly say about The X-Files? I sort of watched two seasons when they were originally airing, and tried to get into the post-Duchovny stuff and got sick of it. Why in the hell am I talking about them anyway? And what does the show have to do with the emergence of the Gothic in late 20th century culture?
OK, that last stuff will have to stay light and at the end, just so I can actually write about it later for a conference or something. But first, a friend said I should try re-watching the show from the beginning since it’s on Netflix now. OK. He got me to watch a late (season 7?) episode with a genie. It was hilarious. Humor is pretty much the easiest lure to use on me. Sold.
Second, I came in around season two, and in fact watched about half of that season, all the way through “Anasazi.” I was disappointed and frustrated that the first episode of season three, which I eagerly anticipated all through the airing break, didn’t continue straight on from it. So my interest broke down slowly, as the show never appeared to answer anything I wanted answered. I suspect for many of us back in the day The X-Files were our Lost – always teasing and never quite going anywhere. But, again from the aforementioned friend, I hear it eventually did deliver, and continued to be funny along the way. All right.
I am not going to blog every episode, heavens no, but this is pretty much about the first one. First, look at this:
That is Fox Mulder and a great example of the visual pallet of the show. For years this show was the darkest thing on the air; I mean that literally, it was hard to see stuff. It still is. It’s meant to be hard to see things. I probably don’t have to draw all the lines from “hard to see” to “show with a mystery at its core,” but instead I’d like to point out, as we pass, that Mulder and Scully are nearly always lit well. They are both shining lights into the darkness. That is figurative, though this episode features a lot of running around the woods in the rain with flashlights. That’s probably the real reason C-$ loved this show: all the running around in the damn woods.
OK, OK. This episode introduces the two characters, and sends them to Oregon to find out why people are dying with no obvious cause of death while sporting two raised bumps on their lower backs. They were possibly abducted by aliens or the government. Oh, and also, a comatose boy is killing them, some fucking how that’s not explained. There’s a nice scene where he looks like a werewolf with no fur, and his dad tries to shoot him to keep him from killing his last victim – except blinding light appears and saves the day. I guess. I mean, except for the threat of their inevitable return as posited by the hypnotized werewolf-coma-boy.
Oh, this episode also introduces the Mulder-and-Scully vs. small-town-paranoia thing that I remember being a big deal for this show. I think the 90s were one of the high water marks for the assumption in American culture that everyone in small American towns was fucking crazy and hiding something (c.f. Twin Peaks).
I should probably tell you something now, before I go on to that stuff about SF and Gothic and such. I owned a bunch of X-Files books. I don’t just mean the stand-alone novels, though yes I had two of Kevin J. Anderson’s novels. I mean novelizations of tv episodes. Here, check this link to my goodreads history. I sold these a few years ago, but I record everything I read on the site. Yup, there they are, in their glory. To this day I desperately want to watch “Squeeze” because the book horrified me, even though I could tell in middle school it was poorly written. I will get to actually do that soon. Hurray!
OK, so the Gothic stuff. There are exceptions, but SF has usually been a pretty tidy, clean, and well-lit experience. It was about science, and people do science in labs, and labs are bright, dammit! I think The X-Files was one of the things in that managed to pull together the mood of the Gothic along with pretty hardcore SF ideas (whether they were “hard SF” or not I don’t care). Aliens, hypnosis, conspiracies, drugs, there are all kinds of shit in this show that are SF ideas, but they’re presented as though in a horror movie. The pacing even follows a horror movie more than a SF plot. Now, there’s not a strong boundary line between horror and SF in the first place, but I think the popularity of the show came from this amalgamation in a place no one expected it: tv. It did something the books weren’t doing much of at the time. The early 90s, if I understand it correctly, were ruled in print SF by the hard SF masters, who had taken the shelves back from the experimental writers of the 60s and 70s. Mind you, they were all still around (Moorcock, Ellison, Harrison, Aldiss, Delany – hell, they’re still around now), but they weren’t the face of SF as they were for a small window of time. So for The X-Files to look more like an episode of Unsolved Mysteries (and yes, I think one directly influenced the other) than a Clarke novel or an episode of Star Trek, that was crazy. And it fucking sold, didn’t it?
There you have it. I may chime in again in a few weeks when I finally get around to watching “Squeeze.” That’s just this show doing a serial killer, if I remember right. And I think I do. Air ducts, man, air ducts…