First of all, this is not going to be 500 words or less. That’s impossible. (This thing is convoluted as hell.)
It’s going to be split into at least four parts, to make it more digestible. And to give my lazy ass time to finish it.
The titles of each post will have a Black Eyed Peas lyric in parenthesis. I assume no explanation for this is needed.
The notes I’ve taken (Yea, that’s right. Notes. I took NOTES, motherfuckers, what?) on the episodes foretell a great chronicle of what goes through my head when I watch TV rather than a great retelling of the X-Files’ story arch.
Oh well. At least it will make it different from all the other synopsis on the web.
And it might explain to a few of my family and friends why I prefer to watch sports and news on television. I don’t really know anything about sports or news, so I find it relaxing. I know a little something about acting and film (or, at least, I like to think I do) and, consequently, I have a hard time turning off my inner-critic. It feels like work. (Unless the show is REALLY well-made, i.e. “The Wire” or “Mad Men” or “The Bill Engvall Show”.)
Anyway, without further ado…
THE X-FILES STORY ARCH.
We are gonna do this one fast, because the whole first season basically functions as an introduction and prologue to the story arch.
It’s clear the producers had no idea if they were going to get picked up for a second season, so they kept the episodes largely self-contained (meaning, there’s very little “mythology”.)
Through Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) we meet Fox “Spooky” Mulder (David Duchovny). He’s obsessed with aliens and the paranormal. He believes his sister was abducted. She’s been assigned to him by some dude smoking a cigarette, ostensibly to debunk his work.
In the first episode, Mulder wears glasses. WHAT A DORK! He was mostly likely conceived by series creator Chris “Touchdown” Carter as a bit nerdy but 20th Century Fox, or Duchovny’s agent, or Duchovny himself convinced Carter to scrap that idea and let the actor’s inner-stud shine through.
Gillian Anderson’s hair and make-up team clearly changed after the pilot as well.
And changed even more so later in the series!
We also briefly meet F.B.I director Walter Skinner (Mitch Pleggi). He spends most of the first season as the stock cop-show-boss, stern and very yelly.
You get the feeling he was going to be just a minor character like the rest of the F.B.I. superiors in The X-Files but Pleggi’s great performance (he’s easily the best actor in the first two seasons) elevated his character’s stature.
Then there’s Deep Throat. He is the first in long line of government informants. Sometimes he tells Mulder the truth. Sometimes he doesn’t. Eventually he gets killed. Par for the course.
Not so “par for the course”, Mulder wearing cut-off sweat pants.
The last episode of the season, “The Erlenmeyer Flask”, is the only one with real significance to the story arch. It drops a number of tantalizing hints about the grand conspiracy.
There is a doctor that spouts green blood when he is wounded.
A guy with a crew cut that stalks people.
An alien fetus discovered by Scully, which marks the beginning of Scully’s frustrating and inexplicable reluctance to accept the stupid truth about the stupid aliens. (SHE SAW ONE in the first damn season, yet it takes almost the entire series to convince her they really exist.)
And a giant storage facility somewhere inside the Pentagon.
That’s really all we get.
What is most remarkable about Season 1 of The X-Files is the subtle shift of narrative mode that takes place over the course of the 20-some episodes.
We begin in the very common first person singular subjective. In other words, we identify with Scully. This is an often exploited narrative device in television and film. (The best example I can think of at the moment, besides Dorthy in The Wizard of Oz, which is the quintessential example, is Will Smith’s character in the first Men in Black movie.)
Side note, Men in Black also contains one of the Top 5 rap/pop songs about government agents and inexplicable or outright paranormal events. (“It’s the M.I.B.’s. Unh. Here come the M.I.B.’s”)
Number 1? Ghostbusters. Can you name the artist? It probably says his name right under this but I can’t see the video until I publish it.
(Yep. It did.)
In The X-Files, Scully serves as our window into an unfamiliar world. Her character’s sense of discovery is shared by the audience. That’s how the device works.
The problems come later, when studios (and let’s be honest, artists) try to bank on the success of a fledgling show or movie. The sense of audience discovery is gone and so the writers are forced to either vastly redefine the world of the piece or change the narrative mode.
They usually fuck this up.
A good example of this dropping-of-the-proverbial-ball is Men In Black II. The writers decided not to change anything, perspective wise, and made an hour long movie that bored everyone to tears.
Another example is Jurassic Park II: The Lost World. Here they tried to switch the narrative mode from Sam Neil to Jeff Goldblum. It didn’t work. Movies simply aren’t as fun when the main character and, by extension, the audience, know essentially what is coming. Steven Speilberg tried to account for this by making the film much darker, but to little avail.
An example of a sequel done well is James Cameron’s Aliens. He basically built an entire world around Ridley Scott’s very claustrophobic first film and, consequently, the writer’s were able to keep the main character Ripley’s point of view without a loss of discovery.
My favorite example of an awesome shift in point-of-view is the series finale of The Sopranos. Through the course of that show, the audience was presented with Tony as an object to be studied. We are always looking at him. Mostly, we see him through the eyes of his psychiatrist, Dr. Melfi.
Though we may understand the way Tony views an event (although often we are left guessing), but we never see an event through his eyes.
Until the last episode.
Right before the screen goes black, we finally get a glimpse of how it feels to be Tony. He’s supposed to be enjoying dinner with his family, and on the surface seems to be doing just that. But when finally given his perspective, we realize just how exhausting and paranoid his life is. Every sound makes him look up. Every stranger is a possible assassin. He’s constantly tense, looking around the room.
(By the way, if you want to read a super-exhaustive explanation of the Soprano’s ending, this guy’s is very popular. At the beginning, he says he is going to debunk the “Tony’s always looking over his shoulder” interpretation, but, in my opinion, he ends up making that interpretation seem valid.)
(I hope this isn’t boring. This is all I got.)
What makes the X-Files unique is how they subtly shift the narrative mode to Mulder’s perspective without losing Scully’s inner-life. Juggling two equal first person perspectives is a pretty deft trick and the X-Files manages it with ease. (Granted, tons of cop and/or buddy shows have done this in the past, but generally there is one straight-laced guy or gal the audience identifies with and a kooky one the audience observes and laughs or cringes at.)
It’s pretty impressive, this split narrative focus.
Unfortunately, a lot of the early episodes feature clunky directing and acting, which can be a little distracting.
That’s the end of the beginning.
I promise the next one will be a little bit more, “here’s what happens in the show” and a little less “film theory 101”. I just had to get all of that out of my system.
They say he only caught touchdowns, but it turns out Chris Carter also wrote and produced one of television’s most beloved dramas….