Flashback Friday: THE X-FILES

Courtesy Fox

Du du du du du du…

It’s the show that defined a generation, and arguably defined online fandom. Plus, it literally spawned the term “shipper,” and no, we’re not talking about FedEx. For a series about moth men and flying saucers, it sure made us all care about the sex lives (or lack thereof) of a couple of nerdy FBI agents just a little more than is probably acceptable.



To say that The X-Files was revolutionary on TV is an understatement. It went from a Friday night cult hit to a post-Superbowl ratings behemoth and a blockbuster movie to boot. It was the watercooler show of the mid-90s, and if you weren’t watching, you were missing the boat, man.

(To put this in perspective: the first time Mulder and Scully kissed, for real, as themselves was on the front page of a major Canadian newspaper. With screen caps. It was Tumblr probably before the creators of Tumblr were even born.)

So grab your tinfoil hats and stroll down memory lane, missing-time-style, to reminisce about the will they-won’t they to end all will they-won’t theys.

Quick Synopsis: The FBI’s most-unwanted Special Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) investigates supposedly unsolvable, mysterious cases, ruffling feathers in the process. Baby-faced Medical Doctor™ Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) is sent to discredit his work on her way to being The Best Medical Doctor Who Ever Doctored At The FBI. Only instead she uncovers an international conspiracy, gets abducted by aliens (or are they?), beats terminal cancer, sees all kinds of crazy stuff, and oh yeah, falls in love with Mulder. Also, Jesse L. Martin is a honey-voiced baseball-loving alien.


Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

When The X-Files premiered in 1993, I don’t think anyone knew what to make of it. FOX was still in its infancy as a network, with its only hits being The Simpsons and Married With Children, but its real claim to fame were reality specials of the When Animals Attack! variety. That probably actually helped the show thrive; there was so little else on the airwaves that its middling ratings weren’t the surefire cancellation fodder they’d be anywhere else.

It was this weird little production, at once small-budget and big-time-ambitious. It was shot in Vancouver and looked decidedly Vancouver, despite setting stories everywhere from Florida to Antarctica. It was full of Canadian extras masking their “ehs” and “aboots,” but also looked a lot more like small-town America than it could have (and would later on) in Los Angeles. It was all part of its charm.

It seemed like the producers never really knew when the network might pull the plug, and as a result, threw everything including the kitchen sink at the audience. Killer computers! Psychic serial killers! Homicidal clones! Bigfoot! Alien abductions! The first season had it all! It could have been cheesy, and to be fair there were episodes that fell into that category (again, killer computer, anyone?), but when it came down to it, the show had a lot of heart. Mulder was so earnest in his search for aliens and conspiracies, because it brought him one step closer to finding his abducted sister, and more importantly, became a way for his inner twelve year old to fix his broken family once and for all.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

And that’s why Scully stayed. Let’s be real, folks: Scully was a catch. She was young and ambitious — she rewrote Einstein for her graduate thesis, for God’s sake — and could have her pick of the litter for job opportunities. Sure, there was a little bit of adolescent rebellion going on in her career choices, eschewing respectable hospital gigs for a job debunking the resident spook and torpedoing her own reputation in the process, but she wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for Mulder’s own dedication. She could see this guy wasn’t messing around, and she wanted to help him. Maybe at first it was to help him realize he was being crazy, but soon enough it was to help in her own right. Because if there was one thing Scully couldn’t stand, it was Bad Guys getting away with Bad Things against unsuspecting Americans. She was as noble a fighter as her partner, and together their inherent goodness triumphed over evil. Or, at least, threw rocks at evil a little.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

What really captivated me as a wide-eyed teenager was the intelligence the main characters exuded, particularly Scully. Nobody talked down to the audience; they used big words and expected you to know them, and if you didn’t, it was up to you to follow along anyway. Sure, Mulder lost his gun just about every other episode, and Scully seemed to get abducted at least once a season, but these were strong people to be admired on television. Mulder was an Oxford grad who could wax poetic about the universe while making a fart joke. Scully was a tiny Irish Catholic navy brat who aced medical school and could take a run at guys twice her size and often bring them down. (That might not have been realistic, but it was damn satisfying to watch as a girl in the 90s.) Together, they were a symbiotic mix of smarts and sass.

It’s no surprise that within a few years, the show racked up Emmys and Golden Globes, along with critical acclaim across the globe. For a series about the supernatural, the struggles the characters faced were all too human: losing family members, losing ambition, losing life on more than one occasion, losing faith. Yet, from the ashes, Mulder and Scully always dusted themselves off, and lived to fight another day, because they were the heroes, dammit.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

Another thing the show doesn’t get enough credit for is just how funny it could be. As the series found its footing, the writers experimented more with dark humor, and it worked. I can’t think of too many crime procedurals that had Charles Nelson Reilly guest starring as a kooky author, but that was the magic of The X-Files. “Bad Blood,” in the fifth season, is one of the greatest episodes of television ever, a Rashomon-style narrative over what happened in a town full of vampires in British Columbia Texas, who really just wanted to pay taxes and watch cable. Mulder sang “Shaft” and Scully almost made out with Luke Wilson — and it was awesome. I’m sure other dramas infused comedy into their writing before The X-Files, but none of them captured my heart quite like this quirky little gem.

Of course, there was the “ship” to end all ships. Mulder and Scully were epic. Not just in an overused internet meme kind of way, but in an actual Greek tragedy kind of way. The internet was ablaze at the time over where you stood on the topic; the “shippers” (short for “relationshippers”) and the noromos (or, “no-romancers”) brought down more than one forum in their day. But they’re meant for each other! one side would scream. They’ll ruin the show! claimed the other. In the end, the show kind of tried to have its cake and eat it too, by dropping tantalizing hints one minute, and splitting Mulder and Scully up for half a season the next. It was maddening, but honestly? At the time, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. For most of the run, at least, I loved the chase.

Until it seems everyone just went balls to the wall somewhere circa season 6 or 7: Mulder and Scully almost kissed until an alien bee sent her into anaphylactic shock! Mulder traveled back to 1939 and with the help of some Nazis realized he loved Scully! (No seriously, “Triangle” is one of the most beautifully cinematic episodes to grace your TV.) Scully admitted to Victoria Jackson that she’s in love with Mulder! JUST KISS ALREADY!

And then they did. On New Year’s Eve. After which the actors decided to run with it and kept playing the two characters like they really were together, and it was glorious. Then, the sneaky writers teased some bedroom hanky-panky and Scully ended up pregnant, leaving us all to guess if those two events were related, but OF COURSE THEY WERE.

Ahem, I lost myself.

Sorry, New Guy / Courtesy Fox

Sorry, New Guy / Courtesy Fox

All good things must come to an end, though. The X-Files’ was a little stranger than most; Duchovny wanted out, and was down to part-time in season 8, and was out for all of season 9, leaving the show scrambling for a new focus. Scully the Skeptic became Scully the Spook in Mulder’s absence, which was a fascinating turn, but the show suffered from trying to out-Mulder Mulder. Agents Doggett (Robert Patrick) and Reyes (Annabeth Gish) gave it their best shot, yet everyone just kind of ran out of steam. In hindsight, I can see all the factors that were beyond the writers’ control: when your leads want out of your show that is based entirely on their rapport, and the network is telling you to replace them with the newbies because it’s still one of their biggest hits, you’ve gotta make do with the hand you’re dealt. Especially immediately post-9/11 when conspiracy theories were falling out of favor with the public in lightning speed.

The truth is out there / Courtesy Fox

The truth is out there / Courtesy Fox

In the end, though, this show gifted us with nine seasons of thrills, and pioneered fandom. It gives “six seasons and a movie” a whole new meaning, because it’s one of the few shows to actually spawn a big-screen film, and one that was shot and released in the middle of the show’s run to boot. I don’t really think anyone has done that before or since, and The X-Files deserves all the praise it gets for its trailblazing ways. Its villains were heinous and delicious. Its white hats were brave and noble. (Sniff, the Lone Gunmen, we’ll always have your short-lived spinoff.) It was appointment television every single week.

It’s certainly the show that introduced me to the internet, for better or for worse. In The X-Files, I found a community of people who not only loved the show as much as I did, but wanted to discuss every godforsaken detail with as much zeal as I did as well. I found friends, but I also found the burgeoning ability to critically analyze content beyond “this is dumb!” or “oh my god make out already.” Basically, this entire site owes its existence to The X-Files, in some small way at least.

Well, folks, it’s time to grab some sunflower seeds and iced tea and ponder the meaning of life by the side of the road in a government-issue Ford Taurus. Because the Truth is out there.

The X-Files is available on DVD and Netflix.

(And if you’re up for a series play-by-play, head over to thetvmouse for her newcomer’s perspective.)


Nels knew how to operate a TV remote control before she knew how to talk. As a result, she has spent an inordinate amount of time pretending she actually lives on a soundstage. When she isn’t watching whichever show is currently capturing her heart, she is writing about how said show is currently capturing her heart. She loves pie.

2 Responses to Flashback Friday: THE X-FILES

  1. Hiiiii, thanks for the shout-out! I LOVE THIS. (Admittedly I stopped at the paragraph after the Tragic Bee-Induced Non-Makeout, because I don’t want to spoil anything for myself, but everything prior to that is glorious.) Mulder and Scully are ruining my life, and I couldn’t be happier about it.

    • Nels Nels says:

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! Your posts have been a bit of an inspiration, to be honest. We’ve been trying to come up with ideas for these flashback posts about shows we used to love here at the site, and once you started recapping The X-Files, I knew what needed to go to the top of the queue! I almost envy you for seeing it all for the first time, relatively unspoiled! (Especially because you can binge-watch it all at once and didn’t have to wait freaking YEARS like some of us, ahem.)

      Enjoy the rest of the series! Can’t wait to read more about it.

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