Sunday, August 5, 2012

The X-Files: The Truth (9.19) / (9.20)

Even before I sat down at the start of 2010 and decided to watch the entire run of The X-Files, I was aware that the series finale was a notorious disappointment. But I was under the impression that the disappointment came about due to the total lack of revelations or resolutions, not because the entire ninety-minute closer was such a horribly-scripted car wreck. The Truth is not a good episode. It's not a good finale and it's not even a good mythology episode. If anything it's a bizarre exercise in executive producer brain-leakage, something so absurd in its execution that it nearly descends into satire.

For the first seventy minutes of the finale, Mulder is on trial for murder. Characters from the past are brought in supposedly to support his cause, but literally wind up relaying nine seasons worth of storyline for the benefit of, I guess, the military jury. We get clips, surprise guest appearances and at least the implication that this is all going somewhere... but it doesn't. While all this is happening, the jury repeatedly asks for the point of these expository monologues, even explicitly stating that they're "trying a murder case, not taking a trip down memory lane". But it goes absolutely nowhere, an insane creative decision that leaves characters merely recapping the past. The strange thing is that series finales are generally the one time where you don't need exposition. The only important members of the audience are the long-term fans who are already aware of everything that's happened, ratings are irrelevant and the story is key. But Chris Carter ignores this, instead spending the far majority of the episode discussing the elaborate history of the show only to never utilize it anyway.

To further the ridiculous, we get random guest spots from a bunch of people long presumed dead. While the Cigarette-Smoking Man is somewhat integral, the appearances of Krycek and X are noticeably superfluous, shoehorned in with strained justification. Then again, the living characters aren't treated much better -- Kersh abruptly switching teams at the end of the episode and supporting our heroes. It's literally nuts.

In the end, the only revelation here involves something that won't happen for years to come (the date of alien invasion), implying that Chris Carter and his staff had merely piled conspiracies on top of one another for the last nine years with zero knowledge of where any of it was going. For a show that prided itself on its elaborate mythology, it's baffling to see Carter fail to even attempt to bring some kind of resolution to anything, the final hour being so 'in-episode' in its lack of stakes that you would never think this was a show with such a lengthy back-story. Sure, you could argue that leaving Mulder and Scully on the run and with little hope is some kind of grand statement on the futility of pursuing truth and justice, but... that's just depressing. And after nine seasons, over two-hundred episodes and a movie, the fans deserved more. As the show grew so convoluted and messy over time, it would be no surprise if answers weren't entirely satisfactory, especially since everybody had lost track of the questions themselves... but some kind of general outcome or pulling together of something isn't exactly a lot to ask for. Instead the series just ends, seemingly happy to drift away with its intricacies scattered wildly around the place like torn-out innards.

The only thing saving this from being a total wash is that last scene, with Scully unquestionably believing Mulder's assertions and pledging to stick by his side through whatever happens next. It's a powerful moment of character drama, so removed from the season one incarnation of her character and saying a lot about her evolution over the years. But that's the one moment of interest here, everything else so clumsy and bewildering in its awfulness that all it can do is leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

The X-Files itself brings to mind a strange analogy, but bear with me because I promise you I'm going somewhere. Several months ago I watched 10 Things I Hate About You, one of the few late-'90s teen movies that I hadn't actually seen. It's a movie that has a dedicated following, and being a fan of the genre and emotionally invested in the time period in which it was released, I had assumed that I would really like it. Surprisingly, I actually thought it was pretty 'blah' and underwhelming. That same emotional connection I had with similar movies, the She's All That's or the Get Over It's, just didn't occur. But it got me thinking that it may be because I'm watching it now, and not then, and the power those sorts of movies had over me years ago just doesn't exist anymore.

I sort of feel like this could also apply to The X-Files. Reading about the show as I've been watching, it almost goes without saying that the series had a huge, rabid fanbase, something that remains to this day. These folks were the very first generation of online fan communities (the newsgroups, the fugly Geocities fanpages), debating the intricacies of the mythology and the various plot strands long after the Ten Thirteen logo hit the screen at the end of each episode. And it made me wonder if to really get The X-Files and truly appreciate it, you had to be part of that kind of fandom -- the fandom that made the show as much as it did react to it. Naturally, this could all be crazy-talk. I'm sure there are a ton of people who have watched this show in recent years like I have and completely fallen in love with it, but it's definitely a feeling that I personally experienced.

Then again, I really did like The X-Files at one point. Reading back some of those early reviews recently, I loved the inherent spookiness and clever ingenuity of the monster episodes, along with the mytharc stories that hadn't yet become distractingly vague. Even now, there's something about the Vancouver chilliness of even some of the weaker early episodes that makes my hair stand on end and gets me all pumped up. But those feelings really fell away over the last couple of seasons, and my interest waned. If I hadn't been committed to write about it (and I wholeheartedly apologize to anybody who has actually read these things on a consistent basis -- lord, did some of them blow), I really think I would have dropped out around the fifth or sixth season.

I may have grown tired of it, but I can absolutely appreciate and understand the importance of The X-Files as a piece of fiction. It inspired most of the genre television of the last twenty years, shows as far-ranging as Buffy, Lost and Fringe as well as the entire contents of the SyFy network all cribbing certain sensibilities from the groundwork that The X-Files formed. And, if anything, the show can be viewed as both a reminder of a time when creative freedom on network television was even less than it is today, as well as something of a warning on the perils of allowing elaborate mythologies to spiral out of control. It's a show entirely deserving of its notoriety and its permanent spot in pop culture history, regardless of how it went out. D-

Guest stars
William B. Davis (The Cigarette-Smoking Man); Nicholas Lea (Alex Krycek); James Pickens, Jr. (Alvin Kersh); Laurie Holden (Marita Covarrubias); Matthew Glave (Agent Kallenbrunner); Jeff Gulka (Gibson Praise); Chris Bradley Owens (Jeffrey Spender); Steven Williams (X); Tom Braidwood (Melvin Frohike); Dean Haglund (Ringo Langly); Bruce Harwood (John Fitzgerald Byers); Adam Baldwin (Knowle Rohrer); Alan Dale (Toothpick Man); Cody Lightning (Native American Boy); Christopher Stapleton (Guard); Patrick St. Esprit (Dark-Suited Man); Julie Vera (Native American Woman); William Devane (General Mark Suveg)
Writer Chris Carter Director Kim Manners

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