The X-Files, one of the most important television series ever, was launched 30 years ago today, on 10 September 1993. The series, created by Chris Carter, narrated in 218 episodes broadcast along eleven seasons (1993-2002, 2016, 2018), and two films (1998, 2008), the cases investigated by FBI Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). These cases were subdivided into the stand-alone episodes, known as those of ‘the monster of the week’, and the serial christened ‘the mytharc’ or the mythology. The mytharc, focused on Mulder’s search for the truth about an impending alien takeover of Earth, started quite by accident when Gillian Anderson became pregnant and her absence was justified with an alien abduction. In the end, Scully’s capacity to reproduce has become a central motif in the series, if not the central one, as the ending of the most recent season (which I am not going to spoil) shows. The X-Files can now be seen in its entirety on Disney+, which announced a few months ago a reboot with new protagonists and new plots more palatable to our woke times.
I was a fan of The X-Files from the very beginning and, as such, I was very happy to receive in 2004 (or thereabouts) the commission to write a book, addressed to a general readership, on the whole series, which by then was presumably over. There was no precedent for the task of analysing such a long audiovisual text, and I did not want to simply write an episode guide. I therefore decided to organize the book as an essay (with chapters on the series’ TV context, the protagonists, the other characters, the mythology and the monsters), followed by a guide consisting of a summary of all the chapters. The book, Expediente X: en honor a la verdad, was published in 2006. I received many enthusiastic messages from kind readers but the relationship with my publisher was a disaster, and as a result I withdrew the heavily illustrated book from circulation and uploaded just the plain text onto the digital repository of my university; it has been downloaded so far 14624 times, being the only book on Carter’s series in Spanish.
Now and then I would receive a message from another kind reader, suggesting that I should publish a second edition, particularly after the release of the 2008 film, The X-Files: I Want to Believe, and even more so after 2018, when season eleven was aired. The problem was that I hated the film and the two newer seasons; I did watch season ten, which aired in 2016, but I didn’t even bother to watch season eleven. The bad experience with my publisher, besides, still rankled, and I politely ignored all the petitions to revise the 2006 book. This changed in January this year, 2023, when Javier Valencia (author of an indispensable book on Twin Peaks and editor of Weird TV), contacted me, mentioning the name of his publishers, Dilatando Mentes, as a possibility to launch a second edition. Something clicked, I thought it was about time to complete my study of The X-Files, and I contacted José Ángel De Dios García following Javier’s advice. Ángel and I were planning to publish the new book in 2024, but when I realised quite by accident that the 30th anniversary of Carter’s series would be on 10th September, I decided to rush the revision. It’s been a hectic process, but the book, La verdad sin fin: Expediente X, is ready and will be launched next Monday 18 (it’s now available on pre-order).
I first thought of simply adding an appendix with an analysis of the 2008 film and the 2016 and 2018 seasons, but I soon saw that was lazy. I decided, therefore, to integrate my comments on these parts of The X-Files into the five existing chapters and to add the corresponding summaries to the second part of the book. Luckily for me, seasons ten and eleven are quite short, with only six and ten episodes instead of the 24 that were habitual for the previous seasons (most shows usually run 13 episodes per season). I did not watch again the original series, as I simply had no time. I focused instead on the problem of updating the chapter on the business context of television (which has changed plenty since 2006) and renewing the bibliography (this is not an academic book, but I cite everything published academically in English on The X-Files). I am satisfied with the result, though, of course, the readers need to judge whether my method works well. One has already complained that I have unnecessarily suppressed the episode ranking that I offered in my first book, but I did so because I found myself disagreeing with my own choices. If you ask me, my favourite episodes are the parodic ones written by Darin Morgan and the tragic Kaddish.
As I worked on, I went through tremendous bouts of nostalgia for a series which I simply adored, but that gradually disappointed its audience, and finally alienated it with the second film and the two final seasons. I don’t like television series in general because they are created to survive for as long as possible regardless of plot inconsistencies. These piled up after The X-Files jumped the shark, that is, outstayed its welcome. Carter’s series was killed by three main factors. One was David Duchovny’s arrogant behaviour: although he is a much worse actor than Gillian Anderson, he was always treated as the show’s star, which allowed him to force production to relocate to California when he tired of Vancouver, where the series was shot, and to practically disappear from seasons eight and nine. The second factor was the (mostly female) audience’s insistence that Mulder and Scully should be involved in a romantic relationship; Carter was a no-romo (a person who resisted that idea), as I am, but the shippers forced his hand and he turned the unusual chemistry between the characters into awful melodrama, particularly taking into account how obnoxious Mulder can be. The third factor that killed the show was 9/11. Mulder’s search for the truth about the mythology seemed frivolous in a context in which the FBI had failed to prevent the 2001 terrorist attacks against the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, and so the show fizzled out and ended less than a year later, in May 2002.
When I wrote the first version of the book, I binge-watched all the episodes and when I reached the double final episode I was living in Mulder and Scully’s world more than in my own. Like Mulder, I want to believe in the existence of extraterrestrials and have the certainty that we are not alone, but the truth he discovers at the end of eleven years of ceaseless searching left me simply devastated. For a few days, mundane, ordinary life seemed to be unreal; reality lay elsewhere and I could not find my way back in. I wrote the book not so long after 9/11, in the period when Facebook (launched in 2004) and other websites and apps were bringing in the reign of the new Web 2.0 and the growth of social media, to which I have never adapted. When I watched the 2016 and 2018 seasons I was, therefore, horrified by how poorly this new atmosphere had been assimilated. Whereas Carter’s series had started as a liberal, left-wing exposé of the lies told by the US Government since the 1930s, with the villainous Cigarette-Smoking Man as the great manipulator, it veered in its last seasons towards positions that are uncomfortably close to the Republican right. Or the other way round: the US extreme right has appropriated the critical anti-Government positions of the left, destroying in the process democracy. Whereas Mulder’s crusade demanded answers and the full accountability of the Government for its shadowy actions, in its new iteration that crusade is on the side of paranoia-ridden, conspiracy-prone wackos who believe QAnon’s mad claims. I should not be this dismayed, since The X-Files was born on Fox TV, the channel that has done most to support Trump and undermine US democracy, but I am. Of course, I am not saying that Carter and his team used to support Clinton and now support Trump, but that in times of crippling post-truths Mulder’s own truth is suddenly empty, obfuscating and elusive rather than vital. This is why I have called the book The Endless Truth (La verdad sin fin), because I see no end to the quest to find it.
If you have the chance and the inclination, I recommend that you watch The X-Files, all of it, including the not so good episodes. Don’t worry if you don’t understand the mythology: as happens, Carter himself did not understand it because he decided not to keep a bible (a central repository of the ins and outs) and so the inconsistencies abound in it. Even so, the interaction between Mulder and Scully is always appealing (or almost always), and many of the monsters of the week unforgettable (Tooms, the family in Home, the Great Mutato…). Don’t miss the episodes by (and with) Darin Morgan, or eccentricities like The Postmodern Prometheus. Do learn about American history and folklore, enjoy the heady mixture of science fiction, gothic and detective fiction. Watch The X-Files before it is too late. As we are learning these days, the streaming platforms think nothing of erasing from their catalogues shows that are not available on DVD, to lessen the bulk of the property on which they pay taxes. Millennium, Carter’s other main series, is now no longer (legally) available, and I dread the day when this happens to The X-Files, or many other series we love or just need to study. You have been warned.
In the meantime, ‘trust no one’ and keep searching for the truth, for ‘it is out there’, as we, the x-philes, know. Carter, please, leave Mulder and Scully alone, and please Disney+, spare us a reboot we x-philes know can never work.