The year is 1996. I’m sitting on the trundle bed in my sister’s bedroom in front of an analog tv set, while talking on a landline phone to a friend. Cue eerie music; a familiar theme song. “I’ve gotta go,” I say, “The X-Files is on,” as I slam the receiver down.
It’s a scene that feels poignantly fresh in my mind, despite the fact that it took place 20 years ago. Not unlike many other Americans at the time, I loved The X-Files, and for the nine-years the original series ran, the quirky show about a duo of FBI agents investigating unsolved paranormal cases was a part of the backdrop of my life as much as it was a part of the fabric of the culture at the time.
I was never what you might call a super-fan. It’s not like I watched every episode of every season. But I had been a regular viewer of the series off and on – sometimes tuning in every week religiously, and other times, dropping in to catch an episode whenever circumstance and timing were right for me and my younger, easily-distracted brain. The X-Files was for me, a constant. A known variable. A reliable old friend with whom you could drop by unannounced anytime and be welcomed with open, alien and monster-loving arms.
It’s been 14 years since the original run of The X-Files graced our television screens for the last time, with its final episode airing on May 19th, 2002. By then, it had become the longest-running sci-fi series in U.S. television history, (although the argument could just as easily be made for it being a horror series). As much as I had enjoyed The X-Files over the years, I had stopped watching the show by that point. My attention had been called elsewhere. And, it’s no secret that the show had jumped the shark by then. Hell, there was even an episode in season 9 titled “Jumped The Shark.” But, it didn’t mean that I loved Mulder and Scully any less.
Cue 2016. Fox has revived The X-Files, with the original series creator, Chris Carter at the helm, and the original leads, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, returning to play agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully once more.
I initially found the news of the show’s return intriguing – but in a kind of nonchalant way. It had been a long time since I was last invested in Mulder and Scully’s world of paranormal mysteries, conspiracy theories and alien abductions, and in the pair’s on-again off-again on-screen romance. Did I even care anymore?
In many ways I’m a different person now than I was 20 or even 14 years ago. Top that with the fact that so many attempts at reviving and/or rebooting long dead but beloved franchises end up as disappointing sucker-punches to the gut of nostalgia, rather than the joyful nostalgia blast we long for them to be. You know the old saying, “You can’t go home again,” – and you know that for the most part, it is all too true – you really can’t go home again. And, as Stephen King wisely and terrifyingly pointed out in Pet Sematary, “Sometimes dead is better.”
So, it was with a dose of Scully-like skepticism that I sat down to watch the premiere episode of The X-Files revival; the seemingly aptly titled “My Struggle.”
**Spoilers Ahead** The episode opens with Agent Fox Mulder narrating an expositional rundown of everything we need to know to catch up to this moment, including who he is, the history of The X-Files, and a general re-cap of the events that transpired in the first nine seasons. Ok. So far, so good.
Cut to a lesson in real-life alien and conspiracy theories and mysteries climaxing with a sweet UFO crash (meant to be the 1947 Roswell crash) and the big question – “Are we truly alone, or are we being lied to?”
Good question, Mulder, good question. I’m feeling your vibe so far.
Cue eerie music; a familiar theme song… and, wait – oh my god – is that the original title sequence!? Yep, it’s the original title sequence, straight out of 1993. Yes. I mean, YASSS. The truth is out there, baby.
I was feeling pretty good about things at this point…but it was only 3 minutes in. I needed more time to assess the situation.
The rest of the episode plays out as a re-visit to and continuation of the over-arching mythology of the series with some new twists. Flashing between 1947 Roswell and modern-day Washington D.C., we are led to believe that there really was an alien space-ship that crashed at Roswell and that there’s evidence pointing to a large, all-encompassing governmental conspiracy that involves basically every conspiracy theory you can think of plus alien-hybrid babies, and it’s hinted that Mulder and Scully’s long lost child, William, whom they gave up for adoption for his own protection, is maybe almost totally for sure one of these alien-hybrids.
Mitch Pileggi is back as Walter Skinner and The X Files are re-opened. Mulder and Scully are reunited in a very much pick-right-up-like-it-was-yesterday type of way. And just like that The X Files series is back, as if the past 14 years were merely a good night’s rest.
The main cast of characters look older. (Sigh). But then again, so do I. They also still look good. Really good, all things considered. Maybe this getting older business isn’t so bad after all. Their dynamic hasn’t changed. But times clearly have – they have cell phones now and Mulder sometimes struggles to use his.
Over the course of the next 4 episodes, we follow along with the familiar duo as they delve deeper into the giant conspiracy plot, encounter a were-monster, a murderous Tulpa/thought-form, a terrorist plot and a magic-mushroom trip. At times silly, meta and over-the-top, there’s an almost spoof-like quality to the series in its wink-winks and nudge nudges to the fans and to its original run.
But there’s more than just silliness here: there’s also a real sense of heart. And while the show has fun with itself and with its topics, it doesn’t mock the mysterious… instead it embraces the collective bucket of unexplained phenomena – everything that is mysterious, weird, gross, paranoia-inducing, disturbing, unknown, unsettling and downright creepy in our collective consciousness – and offers a devoted, if at times lighthearted, investigation into these topics in such a way as to make anyone a lover of (if not believer in) the paranormal – much in the same way the original series did.
It was hard for me at first to process my feelings about the revival series. I knew I was drawn to it. I wanted to keep watching it. It made me feel some kind of way.
It wasn’t until about halfway through episode four, the seemingly aptly titled “Home Again,” that the show itself – via a conversation between Mulder and Scully – explained to me its own magic.
As the two FBI agents pursue a lead on a mysterious figure known as the “Trashman,” Mulder lets a possible suspect escape into some tunnels.
His reason: “I don’t do stairs anymore.”
Scully is disappointed. “Mulder, back in the day, I used to do stairs and in 3-inch heels.”
“Back in the day?!” Mulder scoffs. “Scully, back in the day is now.”
He whips out his flashlight, she hers, and as their beams cross into an X formation, they move stealthily and purposefully into the dark.
In that moment, it all made sense to me. This mish-mash of time and space that is The X-Files revival manages to be somehow simultaneously old and new, different yet the same. Older, slightly rougher around the edges, wearier perhaps, but still hopeful, still holding onto the same old spark.
Much like myself, I suppose.
Sitting on my couch here in 2016, watching The X-Files Revival, I am simultaneously sitting on my sister’s trundle bed in 1996. Somehow in this moment, the present is the past and the past is the present and I’m me now but also young again. Back in the day is now, I want to believe, and I feel as though I could live in this suspended state of X-Files past/present time/space animation forever. What a time to be alive.
The X Files revival / Season 10 finale airs tonight on FOX.