How much of last year’s X-Files revival do you still remember?
It’s a question worth pondering now that Fox has announced a 10-episode order for another season, with production due to start in the summer for a 2017/2018 premiere date. The original trio – Duchovny, Anderson and Carter – are back, and I suspect if you remember anything about the revival at all it’s that Chris Carter had clearly lost his touch. There were 6 total episodes, and he wrote and directed three of them. Not coincidentally, those three were the worst of the bunch, and by a pretty wide margin.
Well, come to think of it you might also remember Gillian Anderson’s unfortunate wig, but it got better by the end of the season. Chris Carter’s writing did not. If anything, it got worse.
To recap, he was responsible for the bookending season premiere and finale, which more or less formed a two-part episode dealing with one percenters ruling the world with the assistance of alien DNA recovered from Roswell, and the season’s penultimate episode “Babylon,” which was just all over the place tonally. It shoved this WTF sequence into the middle of a story about a comatose suicide bomber and Mulder and Scully’s differing methods for extracting information from him about his terrorist cell:
Is that Fox Mulder or Hank Moody?
To be fair, X-Files always reserves the right to be weird and even broadly funny. Funny-weird X-Files is actually my preferred version of the show. However, Carter’s episodes, be they funny, serious mythology or somewhere in-between have rarely ever been the X-Files at its best. He created the show, but he has always been its biggest liability. That was easier to ignore back in the day when the show was cranking out 20+ episode seasons. In a 6-episode season, though, when literally half of the entire season is coming from Carter, and he yet again makes it all up as he’s going along and fails to properly pay off any of the season’s story arcs it ends up leaving an incredibly bad taste in your mouth. As BirthMoviesDeath wrote last year:
[Carter’s season 10 episode] all share the same problems; they’re all half-baked, they’re all overstuffed with ideas that never go anywhere and they’re all filled with stilted, shitty exposition instead of drama. Out of the three, Babylon, was the most interesting but only because it was the most insane – Mulder going on a honky tonk-themed mushroom trip was watchably bizarre but absolutely out of place in the episode. Hell, the whole thing was barely an X-File in the first place.
Carter has ideas, but he seems unable to bring them to fruition, and what’s worse he has no filter that helps him separate good ideas from bad ones. Bringing in Scully & Mulder: The Next Generation as a joke on reboots? Great idea! Bringing them back as recurring characters? What the hell was he thinking. That’s the Chris Carter microcosm right there – a good idea and a bad idea, inextricably linked into one larger crummy idea.
You’ll forgive me, then, if I’m not jumping for joy over the new season. I first need to see who else ends up on that writing staff with Carter. Last season, he brought back franchise stalwarts Darin Morgan, Glen Morgan and James Wong to pen and direct an episode a piece, and Darin’s “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” was the consensus pick for best-of-season. All three would be welcome to return for the new season as would any of the show’s other famous alumni, although I suspect Vince Gilligan’s probably still too busy. Bring in some new blood as well, if you want.
Perhaps fresh eyes will help the new season feel like it’s finally caught up to the times because last season’s token references to Uber, Google and Edward Snowden didn’t quite cut it. As I (and io9) argued last year, The X-Files and its wonderfully malleable format is precisely the type of show which can speak to our modern anxieties. This now-ongoing revival doesn’t just have to be an exercise in nostalgia; it can be easily adapted to today’s paranoid times. We’ve moved past post-9/11 jingoism and returned to the assumption that the man is out to get us, tapping our phones, poisoning our water, Manchurian Candidate-ing our President. In The X-Files’ absence, Person of Interest stepped in to speak up against the NSA wiretappers, and Charlie Brooker’s brilliant anthology series Black Mirror continues to take fascinating looks at what it means to live in a world increasingly overrun by technology.
What did the X-Files revival do? Oh, just bent over backwards to blame everything on aliens (which, to be fair, is kind of X-File’s jam), threw a mad scientist at us, conjured an obscure totem monster as a mixed metaphor for homelessness and parenthood and took the weakest and weirdest swing at domestic terrorism. It was mostly window dressing for a 6-episode character study in two people struggling to deal with grief (Mulder and Scully mourned their son, Scully lost her mom) and cope with the aging process (Mulder needed “Were-Monster” to reassure him that his life’s work hasn’t been meaningless).
That generally worked for me, but the new season needs to up its game. Congress is now selling off our internet privacy. X-Files needs to do an episode about that. Do a Slenderman episode, or something Slenderman-inspired in which little kids are driven homicidal by an internet meme. A mad scientist conducting crazy experiments could now be a medical research company tricking people into signing consent forms through social media. If you want to rip off Braindead and joke that alien bugs are eating out people’s brains and making them more partisan, sure, why not. I’d watch your take on that story.
Most importantly, do a better job of planning the season. Make sure your arcs actually pay off, which should be easier since you have 10 instead of 6 episodes this time. And see to it that Chris Carter doesn’t come anywhere close to writing half of the episodes. It’s his baby. He should and needs to be involved, but for the betterment of the show maybe he doesn’t have to be quite so involved this time around.