It almost snuck by me, but I remembered! Yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the premiere of The X-Files. And as a huge fan (I think they used to call us X-Philes) of the show who has recently been working through (almost) every episode from start to finish, I have a couple things to say about this.
This is the first chronological binge viewing I’ve completed on this show since I originally began watching — something that happened pretty late in the series. Sometime in 1999, I picked up the show during season 7 and got hooked after the finale. That summer, FX played a couple episodes a night starting from season 1. By fall, I was fully engaged in not only watching the show, but also talking about every aspect of the show on the Internet. With other self-proclaimed “x-philes”. Half cringe, half I ain’t even mad.
Besides the phenomenal technical achievements of the show which I’m sure are discussed elsewhere on the internet on this happy birthday week, I have two major takeaways as an impressionable teenager, both of which have become a lot clearer upon this recent binge in adulthood, ten years after the show’s series finale (sob).
The first thing: characters are everything, and not just the heroes. Yes, Mulder and Scully went through some fantastic character development (which, by the way, is even more impressively subtle when you view episodes back to back to back, there’s some amazing mental breakdown slow burn). But how about Cigarette Smoking Man? How many shows give their nameless villain a whole subplot? An entire episode? It’s a long journey to the reward, but these small hints build up to a pretty emotionally complex end to the main mytharc, with a lot of engaging and amusing stand-alones along the way. Even characters we saw once or twice — the psychological mindgames of “Pusher”, or the scary as hell hair and nail fetishist in “Irresistible” were way more captivating than a lot of recurring roles on other shows.
Interesting and likable (or at least relatable) characters are a difficult lesson to learn as a filmmaker, and even when X-Files was at its worst, it was still a great teacher.
Two: Dana freakin’ Scully. Looking back, she was possibly my biggest role model as a teenager (plus I had a lot of Scully-related forum handles) — and I wasn’t alone. At a Comic-Con, Gillian Anderson said she had dozens and dozens of women tell her that they pursued a career in medicine, science, psychology, law enforcement, or another related field because they had grown up watching Scully kick ass every week. In another interview, I saw a lot of women mentioning their path into filmmaking began with Dana Scully. I’m not sure my hair would even be red without Scully.
Scully is complex character with layers and junk. She’s a deeply flawed person without being portrayed as weak-willed. She’s physically and mentally tough, but she worries about burdening her partner with her concerns and keeps a lot to herself. Early in the series, the show tried to occasionally show that Scully had a romantic life — but then somebody realized that the audience didn’t care, and it got way better.
It’s interesting that the main thing taken away from her after her abduction was her ability to bear children, which made for an interesting dynamic to a character that already overcompensated for her gender as many women are prone to do in a male-oriented field. But she’s, at least for 7 seasons, not defined by infertility so much as she is by wanting to find answers, like Mulder. Even when she’s the victim, she’s not truly helpless (nor is she truly unaffected.) And I think that’s kind of rare for women in stories. Plus, infertility is such a trope for female characters anymore, but was anyone addressing such a thing in the early 90s?
I’ll admit that Scully in seasons 8 and 9 was kind of crap though. The storyline that had sucked me into the show originally ended up being the weakest link for her character (make babies, protect babies, etc.) But still, we’ll always have the ass-kicking Scully in seasons 3 through 5 (including the movie, especially the movie!) And girlfriend could wear them shoulder pads, mhmm.
Also, a majority of X-Files were edited by female editors. I don’t really have a further point to make about that, I’m just saying it was a thing I realized upon this binge.
X-Files was awesome. Ya’ll should Netflix it if you never watched it before. Great stories, great dialogue, best opening title sequence ever. Yeah, I said it.
Scully: Mulder, it’s such a gorgeous day outside. Have you ever entertained the idea of trying to find life on this planet?
Mulder: I’ve seen the life on this planet Scully, and that is exactly why I am looking elsewhere.