The reviews of episodes of The X-Files done by both Max at Apt. 42 Revisited and Darren at The M0vie Blog are almost as good as watching the episode’s themselves, each for their own reason. Darren’s reviews are well researched thesis-like essays that are a pleasure to plunge into. I try to synchronize the featured review with my latest posts of my X-Files Facebook Project, but as said is still not going as well as anticipated, and because in four days, we are set to watch the first episode of The X-Files’ revival, I thought it quite à propos to feature Darren’s review on the initial run’s last episodes.
It is interesting how the popular memory of a thing can differ from the actual thing itself.
Memory was always a key theme of The X-Files, particularly in the early years of the show. Although the aliens and the conspirators were plucked from the demented imaginations of the most paranoid tinfoil hat enthusiasts, a surprising amount of the show was rooted in real history that had been allowed to slip by under the radar: the genocide of the Native Americans; the resettlement of German and Japanese war criminals after the Second World War; radiation experiments upon prisoners; the Tuskegee syphilis experiment.
The truth is contained in the gap between memory and history. In a way, then, it feels entirely appropriate that the popular memory of The X-Files should remain quite distinct from the show itself. The popular memory of The X-Files tends to suggest that the mythology makes no sense, that it does not fit together in any tangible form. This is an opinion repeated so often that it has become a critical shorthand when discussing the end of the show; much like the assertion “they were dead all along” tends to come when discussing Lost.
The truth is that the mythology of The X-Files largely made sense. Sure, there were lacunas and contradictions, inconsistencies and illogicalities, but the vast majority of the mythology was fairly linear and straightforward. It had been fairly straightforward for quite some time. The show had been decidedly ambiguous in its first few seasons, only confirming that colonisation was the conspiracy’s end game in Talitha Cumi at the end of the third season. Elements like the black oil and the bees tended to cloud matters, but the internal logic was clear.
Significant portions of both The X-Files: Fight the Future and Two Fathers and One Son had been dedicated to spelling out the finer details of the mythology in great detail. Mankind were not the original inhabitants of Earth; the former occupants had returned and were making a rightful claim; the conspirators had agreed to help them, selling out mankind for a chance to extend their own lives. Everything else was window dressing. The production team had laid everything out during the fifth and sixth seasons.
Still, the general consensus of The X-Files was that it was a show driven by mysteries that was always more interested in questions than answers. This was certainly true, but it was somewhat exaggerated. When the cancellation was announced, the media immediately demanded answers. A month before The Truth was broadcast, Tim Goodman complained about how the show offered “precious few answers to Carter’s riddles.” Two days before the broadcast, Aaron Kinney wondered of the conspirators, “Who are these people and what is their agenda?”
It does not matter that these answers have mostly been provided and that the truth is mostly know. This was the context of the conversation unfolding around The Truth, and it likely explains a number of the creative decisions taken during the production of the episode. The Truth plays as an extended video essay dedicated to providing answers that were offered three or four seasons earlier in relation to mysteries that are no longer part of the show. The Truth is a passionate and intense argument that the mythology of The X-Files does make sense.
For viewers tuning back into the show for the first time in years, this means long expository monologues and skilfully edited montages that do not tie into the plot of the episode in any significant way. For those who stuck with the show for these past few seasons, it means rehashing everything that the show has taken for granted since the fifth or sixth season. While it feels like The Truth is desperately longing for vindication, to the extent where the show puts itself on trial in the person of Fox Mulder, this does not make for compelling viewing.
There are a lot of problems with The Truth. The most obvious structural problem is the trial at the heart of the episode. It is the most glaring issue with the feature-length series finalé because it just saps the momentum out of the episode and accomplishes absolutely nothing. The X-Files was always praised for its cinematic production values and its feature film sensibilities, but so much of The Truth is spend in a small room with a bunch of extras providing an excuse to watch clips of earlier (and often better) episodes.
The X-Files took a great deal of pride in demonstrated what could be done on television. It is perhaps a cliché, but The X-Files was frequently described as a weekly film on a television budget. At its peak, the show looked and sounded better than anything else on television with a breathless ambition that allowed Mulder to journey to the Arctic in End Game or jump atop a moving train in Nisei. There was a sense that The X-Files had shaken off a lot of the preconceptions and expectations associated with television in the eighties and nineties. It changed the game.
This makes The Truth feel all the more tragic. The finalé demonstrates so many of the restrictions that were associated with television production when the show began, before it raised the bar. There are tacky narrative contrivances and shortcuts, the show is padded out with expensive-looking footage from earlier episodes, the bulk of the episode takes place in a single room, storytelling is more verbal than visual. These were all restrictions associated with television during the eighties and nineties, restraints against which The X-Files often strained.
Read the rest of the review here.