Re-Integration: The End of The X-Files
by Sarah Stegall
Copyright 2002 by Sarah Stegall
It was never, as Chris Carter claimed, about Scully. It was rarely, as most media claimed, about Mulder.
It was always, always, always about Scully and Mulder.
They were two halves of a whole–intuitive/rational, impetuous/cautious, passionate/reserved. That’s not a new idea, but switching heads was. Scully-and-Mulder interested us because they switched mental genders; Dana Scully was the one with the “masculine” traits of logic, balance, and a conservative view of science. Mulder’s “feminine” side was his dominant side: listening to his feelings, playing his hunches, and leaping to conclusions.
Most of all, however, they were perfect complements. No matter who led the chase, they were in it together, often bickering, frequently smoldering, but always backing one another. We knew they belonged together. If modern life is, as some observers tell us, a search for psychological integration, well, here was an example of it. Nothing could separate them: not entrenched bureaucratic power, not aliens, not assassins, not even death (how many times, exactly, has Mulder ‘died’?). This refusal to dis-integrate has a powerful attraction to an audience living in the age of ephemeral marriage. Friendship is hard to come by in a highly mobile society; to see one standing up to anything that comes against it is compelling.
Of course the stories were interesting, most of the time. The mythology was, for a while, involving, until it became as labyrinthine as a comic book universe. There were sublime and poignant, bizarre and funny stories. But series television is not built on plot. I never expected “the mythology” to be adequately explained in the final reel. I never expected to have all my questions answered. I expected emotional resolution, the only resolution that counts in a character-based art form, and I got it. Mostly.
There’s no point in my recapping the series finale of The X-Files; after nine seasons you either know the terrain or you don’t. It’s a pity Chris Carter didn’t realize this when he wrote long expository speeches in order for, of all people, Walter Skinner to explain the X-Files. I’ve always said you should never drag a monster into the daylight, because the mystery and thus the interest dies. Similarly for convoluted plot lines like the mythology–the more you say these things out loud, the more ridiculous they sound. Carter was right, maddeningly so, to tease us all these years with glimpses out of the corner of the eye, hints in the dark, cryptic messages from untrustworthy informants. I doubt anyone watching “The Truth” after the first twenty minutes or so was a newcomer to The X-Files; telling us what we already knew was condescending, and the show has rarely been condescending. In fact, one of the major appeals of the show for years was its respect for the intelligence of the audience, a more surprising attitude given its parent network. We may have been duped and misdirected in nine years of conspiracy theory, but we rarely got cheated of an interesting puzzle. If nothing else, the very dearth of hard information we got merely teased us along.
And of course, the real tease was The Relationship. Did he? Did she? Would they? Had they already? People are, in the end, more interesting than aliens and super soldiers, so we were more interested in Scully and Mulder and the tension between them than in how many UFOs were being stored in a mountain somewhere. Which is why, when Duchovny left and Mulder necessarily went into eclipse, the show basically died.
Don’t get me wrong. I loved Robert Patrick’s stoic and heroic Agent Doggett. I was warming up to Annabeth Gish’s Agent Reyes. But they weren’t mental opposites, there was very little chemistry between the characters, and frankly, the train had already left the station by the time they arrived. It was too late to keep the weight of the myth arc from sinking the story lines under their own weight. It was too late to bring back outstanding writers like the Morgans and Wong. It was too late to bring back the sense of wonder and mystery that imbued the first four or five years. Inevitably, the new had worn off and the seams were showing.
So it’s time to close the X-Files and move on. I don’t look forward to a movie franchise; I know Chris Carter talks about it, but so far that’s all it is–talk. None of the spinoffs worked–the only one that had a chance, The Lone Gunmen, sank because the trio were presented as buffoons rather than serious heirs of the Mystery, and the X-Files works as comedy only once or twice a season. Johnny-Come-Lately SF series that riff on The X-Files don’t have the same thrill, the same mystique. Government-bashing has gone out of style. A nation at war with terrorism has a different kind of paranoia to pursue. And since Duchovny and Anderson are not coming back, there can be no more Scully and Mulder. So there can be no more X-Files.
Scully and Mulder intrigued us because they acted like the New Man and New Woman we see on the horizon, the ones who will inherit the new society that we are dimly aware is being born around us, who will embody new facets of a whole person in ways foreign to us. They were the opposites who attracted, the polarities that defined a universe. With them gone, the center falls apart.
The X-Files changed my life: it spurred me to reclaim a writing career that was moribund, to change my profession, my residence and my friends. Without it I would never have discovered the Internet in 1993. I would not be a professional writer. I would not have friends all over the world I have never met. And I might have allowed myself to forget that, perhaps, there is something out there that we don’t understand, that we may never fully comprehend, but that reminds us life is more than what we see, more than what we touch, and far, far more than we believe.
Thank you, Chris.