Yesterday I watched the second X-Files movie, The X-Files: I Want to Believe. And with that I finally completed my “adventure” with this juggernaut of a show. I started watching the X-Files in the early autumn of 2011. And so I ended in the early summer of 2015. With a long break between the late summer of 2013 and the late spring of 2014 (during which I watched Breaking Bad).
As a whole I enjoyed this show. It usually is good TV. Decent entertainment. The most famous episodes, the ones dealing with plots of alien abduction/invasion (which make up about a quarter of the show’s episodes) are often intense thrillers. And the perhaps less symbolic standalone episodes, during which the heroes of the show faced the proverbial “monster of the week”, went from hit-or-miss at best in the early seasons to fairly consistently good in the mid-show seasons.
Chronologically, I would classify the nine seasons if the X-Files in three eras: the early era consisting of Seasons 1 and 2. The bulk era spanning Seasons 3 to 7, and the late era with Seasons 8 and 9.
In Seasons 1 and 2, I thought the show is really carried by what is known as its mythology. Namely, the story arc about aliens. All the episodes dealing with the mythology arc are strong and memorable, and very few standalone episodes match their quality and intensity.
In Season 3 what I’d nerdily call a phase transition happens: the standalone episodes improve in quality and consistency. This carries on to Seasons 4, 5, and 6. Meanwhile, the alien mythology arc becomes ever more convoluted. Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz, the usual writers for the mythology episodes, keep opening new storylines without ever closing any. I still enjoyed almost all mytharc episodes of this bulk era, but this is due in part to my being a casual watcher. To the hardcore, diehard fans who spent much of their free time compiling everything they had learned so far about the alien conspiracy, however, many new mytharc episodes from Seasons 4 to 6 were confusing and contradictory. I cared rather little. Season 7, however, was very weak: not only was the mythology losing steam, but the standalone episodes were only slightly better than those of Seasons 1 and 2.
And then of course came Seasons 8 and 9. Following David Duchovny’s demands, the show’s writers made Fox Mulder a recurring character instead of the main character he had been. His partner Dana Scully would find herself paired with Special Agent John Doggett. His tough but unassuming demeanour, his ex-military no nonsense attitude made him a favourite of mine, which was really the only way a longtime watcher of the show could get over, so to say, Mulder’s largely diminished role.
The ending of the ninth Season was notoriously unsatisfactory. Not that the series finale was a terribly bad episode, but the way Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz simply seemed to have shied away from even trying to bring a conclusion to the elaborate story arc they had been weaving for a decade was fairly shocking.