High Strangeness: The X-Factor

Friday, August 28, 2015

The X-Factor

As I've mentioned here before, my wife and I have been watching "The X-Files" for the first time and really enjoying it. I didn't much get into the show during its initial run starting in the early '90s, for reasons that now escape me... I think at the time I just didn't buy the "Mulder: Believer/Scully: Skeptic" dynamic. It seemed too pat, too easy, too devoid of subtlety.

Now, however, I can appreciate it on a new and unexpected level. It still defies belief that in so many of the episodes Scully refuses to acknowledge the weirdness that is staring her in the face while Mulder insists on finding a paranormal explanation for everything... But now, some 20 years later, I can recognize and appreciate where the writers and actors were having fun with the dynamic, bending it this way and that, exploring its limits, letting the characters make self-referential jokes about it... It mostly works, and--surprise--it's mostly fun!

And, besides... Flukeman! How can you not love the TV show that unleashed Flukeman on the world?

Why did Flukeman never get his own spin-off series?
The real revelation, however, has been to see what an interesting role The X-Files has played in both and validating so many pernicious UFO myths about government cover-ups, the Roswell saucer crash, alien abductions, Disclosure, etc... If there's an intriguing UFO myth out there, no matter how questionable the origins, chances are an X-Files writer has used it as the basis for a script. And why not? They're all fun stories, even if they can be picked apart by a 5 year-old.

But by exploiting these stories to build up the show's internal mythology, the writers and producers of the show unintentionally strengthened the hold these stories have on the racial subconscious. I mean, during its initial run this show was bringing in 20 or 30 million viewers each week; if even one percent of those viewers were convinced by Special Agent Mulder that a spaceship really did crash in Roswell, that's a hell of a lot of new believers... Never mind that their belief is based on a fictional TV show, if Mulder is able to get Scully to admit that even one tiny, tiny, miniscule part of the story could be true, well then there must be something to it.

Or maybe it was intentional, who knows? All I know for sure is that it is fascinating to explore the pretty damn amazing role this show has played in simultaneously exploiting and constructing so much of our UFO and alien mythology....

And, besides... Flukeman!






9 comments:

Tom said...

The X-Files are coming back as a cable mini-series. While doing interviews about this, David Duchovny said that he personally did not believe in aliens or ufo's, at all. I found that interesting.

Mark OC said...

The coming series is one reason we decided to watch the original. I'm sure millions of fans assume that Duchovny is a believer; what a pain in the ass that must be!

Curious Fellow said...

Well, if you're going to watch any episode, the seminal "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" is the one to watch. Lots of hilarious UFO-related mythos, insider references to historic UFO stories, and add in Charles Nelson Reilly as Jose Chung being confronted by both Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek playing archetypal Men in Black, and you have a trifecta!

Best episode I can recall for those into UFOs.

Anonymous said...

I too, started watching the first three years of the series. I found it to be a mixed bag. You can break the show down to 'monster of the week' programs and the 'mythology' episodes. The monsters are almost laughable and the ufo stories are few and far between.

I probably will watch the rest of the series but the program seems somewhat dated and ridiculous in parts to me. Anyone else feel that way?

Tom said...

Anon,
In later years the show becomes more and more heavily into the ufo phenomena and a myriad of conspiratorial characters and groups are introduced. I would indeed encourage you to finish watching, as the intrigue builds as the silly episodes decrease.

Allison Jornlin said...

Humbug and Jose Chung are my favorites!

Mark OC said...

We just watched "Humbug" the other night, and as fun as the episode is, it only serves to point out how wildly inconsistent the show can be... "Humbug" is beyond silly, and really has no reason to exist in the context of The X-Files except to give the actors an easy week.

Half the episodes make no sense at all, many of them are pretty uninspired, but... the good ones are really good! Last night we watched "Soft Light" with Tony Shaloub and his murderous dark matter shadow, and I totally loved it!

Anonymous said...

The problem is there are just a handful of 'mythology' episodes per a 24 show season. That is a lot of slogging to get to the meat. Mark is right. I did not recall X-Files being this uneven all those years ago. Maybe I have a different outlook as twenty years have passed.

purrlgurrl said...

Anon . . . I didn't watch in its original airing (life then didn't allow much TV). I finally watched a decade later, but couldn't get through the whole series because so many of the episodes are laughably bad and crazy implausible, even for science fiction. Threw in the towel around season three. Yeah, it resonated with the prevailing paranoia and conspiracy culture that was already in full bloom, but Chris Carter was simply exploiting an already existing Zeitgeist. Besides, at the time it aired the unresolved sexual tension between Mulder and Scully was often the focus of next day office talk about the show in my world. I think this element went over the heads of many geek fans as well as younger viewers, but probably is what kept a lot of people tuning in.