I started my journey to watch all 202 episodes of ‘The X-Files’ just a few days ago and I’ve recently finished season one. I figure the longer I keep this up, the further I can get before I burn out, that way I can take a break if needed while keeping up with the pace I’ve set myself.
My first major observation for Season One is a bit of confusion as to how the show is generally portrayed/perceived in pop culture. Going into this, and even from my own vague memories of watching the show when I was younger, I was under the impression that the series was primarily about aliens. This impression does a disservice to the show. Excluding the pilot and the finale, I felt that the weakest episodes were all alien-centric and most of the stronger episodes dealt with strange, often terrifying phenomena that was terrestrial in nature.
The pilot is as good as if not better than any dramatic pilot I’ve ever seen. It does a good job establishing every character and the plot without throwing it in our face like a lot of dramas and even some comedies in this day and age have a tendency to do. ‘Gotham’ is probably the best, recent example of this. They introduce every single character right from the get-go and don’t give them or the plot time to breathe. Instead of letting it unfold naturally and letting the audience figure out the details along the way, ‘Gotham’ shoves everything right down the audience’s throat. This left a bad taste in my mouth, and it was almost a full year until I revisited the show to find out that I actually enjoyed it.) By the end of the pilot, it was clear where both Mulder and Scully stood in their beliefs regarding what is happening in their world, with Mulder as the believer and Scully remaining the skeptic. The tone set by the pilot indicates we’re in for a dark and dangerous ride through a world of unknown danger and conspiracy. Something is clearly out there, but what that something is is less clear by the end of the pilot than it was at the beginning, and the show is all the better for it.
The second episode, while mostly unmemorable, did introduce the character of Deep Throat (Jerry Hardin), a mysterious government agent who is ostensibly helping Mulder with the X-Files cases by steering him towards or away from the cases he (Deep Throat) wants Mulder to work on. As the season progressed he proved to be an asset to Mulder, often providing him with information Mulder would have had no access to otherwise. You’re never quite sure of Deep Throat’s ultimate motives, but the relationship between him and Mulder is effective.
The third episode of the show entitled ‘Squeeze’ introduced the first true standalone villain of the series: Eugene Tooms, played by resident creepy actor Doug Hutchison. This is also my favorite of the first season. Tooms is a serial killer over one hundred years old who emerges every 30 years, devours human livers and then goes back into hibernation. He also possesses the ability to make his body amorphous in order to get in through air vents and smaller spaces to kill people. This combination results in a truly terrifying and unpredictable villain because, as is usual with ‘The X-Files,’ everyone is in denial about the nature of the murders and Mulder is the only one who understands what is going on. Tooms would return again toward the end of the season, and sadly, his return actually lessened the character’s effect, at least in my opinion.
A major running undercurrent of the show is that Mulder, while seemingly paranoid or delusional, is often right about what is going on, and everyone, Scully included, thinks he’s wrong. This may actually be my biggest problem with the show. Most of the time, even when faced with overwhelming evidence, Scully doesn’t accept what’s right in front of her. It’s not until the middle of the first season that she admits that she’s afraid to believe. Despite her insistence that she doesn’t believe, Scully consistently pledges her loyalty to Mulder, making it clear that he is the only person that she trusts in all of this.
As the first season progresses, we are introduced to a plethora of unexplained and almost always deadly phenomena including pyrokinesis, seemingly extinct insects capable of cocooning and killing humans, a banker robber who is revived in the mind of a FBI agent, and, a werewolf. As I said before, the best episodes are not alien but terrestrial in nature, mysteries with no real explanation – just unexplained, deadly phenomena.
The first season’s final episode seemingly brings the overarching conspiracy to a head, setting Mulder on a dangerous path while simultaneously providing Scully with incontrovertible, scientific evidence that extraterrestrial life exists. Sadly, Scully is forced to hand over the evidence in order to save Mulder. In the exchange, for Mulder’s life, Deep Throat is killed, and the X-Files are seemingly shut down with the alien evidence placed in a Raiders of the Lost Ark type warehouse. I have no doubt Mulder and Scully will get through this little snag, partially because there are nine more seasons, but also because Mulder’s last words for the season showcase his determination:
“I’m not gonna give up, I can’t give up, not as long as the truth is out there.”
Darkness is a major characteristic of the first season, almost a character in its own right, and (oddly enough) it highlights everything. This darkness exists not only in the series’ lighting and cinematography, but in the music. ‘The X-Files’ exists in shadows and smoke with the swell and flow of the dark music behind it, providing almost overwhelming tension. Depending on the last episode I watch during one of these marathons, I often need to cleanse myself of the darkness by watching an episode of ‘Archer’ or ‘The League.’ That’s not really a knock, as much as it is evidence that even after all these years ‘The X-Files’ remains extremely effective at unsettling the viewer.
Another fascinating aspect of the first season, one that I imagine will carry through the series, is seeing actors who are now famous in bit-part roles. ‘The X-Files’ includes the likes of Seth Green, Doug Hutchison, Mark Sheppard, and Titus Welliver. All four of them are, if not household names, at least readily recognized by anyone that watches a decent amount of TV. I would imagine as the show continues there will be even more names that I recognize.
Overall, I’d say Season One does an excellent job of establishing that the ‘X-Files’ universe will live in dark conspiracies and the idea that nothing we witness can truly be trusted, and that something is out there that can’t be explained by convention. If the series is lacking in any one regard, it’s linearity. The first season, while full of strong episodes, moves back and forth between bottle episodes and episodes that seem to be driving towards the overarching answers Mulder and Scully are seeking. Hopefully as the show progresses, we will fall further into the conspiracy and, by the end of it all, discover what’s really going on.
I’m unfortunately burdened with a little bit of foreknowledge, as I know that the Smoking Man ends up becoming the series’ main antagonist, but at least I don’t know how his character will play out, so the show’s future is full of possibilities for me.
And, just for your reading pleasure, here’s a bullet list of some of my major observations regarding the first season:
- The chemistry between Mulder and Scully is some of the best I’ve ever seen on TV, and impressively is at this point littered with little to no sexual tension, which the show is all the better.
- Scully’s continued refusal to accept what is really going on appears to be out of fear.
- There is a government conspiracy, but I fear even after nine seasons and two movies we’ll never actually find out the truth.
- Mulder’s obsession with finding the truth over caring what people think about him is simultaneously his greatest strength and likely his tragic flaw.
- Terrestrial mysteries are significantly more fascinating than extra-terrestrial mysteries.
- This is effectively the greatest procedural cop show of all time.
- Music is used more effectively in this show than I can think of in almost any TV show (or even some movies for that matter).