Did behind-the-scenes drama and David Duchovny’s departure doom The X-Files‘ last three seasons, or is The Truth still worth seeking?
The X-Files seasons 7-9, currently streaming on Netflix and Hulu Plus.
FBI agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) hits a snag in his search for the truth about alien life when a mysterious extraterrestrial relic causes a major mental breakdown. When Mulder is later abducted, his partner Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) continues investigating the X-Files with skeptical agent John Doggett (Robert Patrick). Scully struggles with her new role as “the believer”, her fear that Mulder may never be recovered, and the inexplicable fact that she has somehow become pregnant.
During the 7th season, Duchovny sued 20th Century Fox for underselling rights to affiliates.1 He was not contractually obligated to remain on the series beyond seven seasons. Feeling that Mulder’s character had run his course, Duchovny decided he no longer wanted to be a lead actor on the show. He appeared in 12 of season 8’s 21 episodes and only season 9’s series finale. Although the show’s rating plummeted at the end of its run, the cast and crew got back together for the 2008 feature film sequel X Files: I Want to Believe.
What’s to Love Now
Tying up loose ends is the main order of business in seasons 7-9. Here the show definitively addresses some of the series’ lingering questions. Whatever happened to Mulder’s sister Samantha? Will Scully realize her dream of being a mother? Do Mulder and Scully ever get together? What is The Truth? Thankfully, there are clear answers to all these queries.
While many viewers were understandably turned off by Mulder’s removal, the unexpected benefit is a lot of rich Scully development. As a character, she’s arguably more dynamic than Mulder; her gradual shift in beliefs, her reasoned embrace of truths she cannot explain, is perhaps more relatable. It’s also interesting to watch this emotionally reserved character vacillate between extreme feelings – a crushing fear that her partner/best friend/soul mate may be lost forever and a maternal joy that once seemed impossible. Anderson is a great actress2 and does very well with this complex material.
What Makes Us Groan
Watching a beloved series die a slow, painful death is depressing on so many levels. While Duchovny’s departure was certainly a deal breaker, The X-Files‘ decline was already in effect at the start of season 7. It doesn’t take a lot of behind-the-scenes knowledge to see this show’s crew was suffering from serious family problems. The dull stories and sleepy pacing are a sad contrast to earlier seasons’ edge-of-your-seat intensity. The bright, arid southern California backdrops (production moved from Vancouver to Los Angeles between seasons 5 and 6) feel all wrong on a show that used fog and mist to great visual effect. Even the bit part actors feel out of place; the subdued Canadian guest stars who, by and large, lent this show an air of normalcy that made the supernatural stuff spookier by contrast, have been replaced with showy, distracting American actors. By the time they cart out Cary Elwes as a sexy, sinister FBI bigwig in season 9, I can barely recognize the program I once loved.
Doggett is a poor addition to the cast. While watching Scully play the unexpected “believer” role is compelling, watching him play the skeptic is not. This doubter 2.0 is no genius, just a former NYPD lunk who says stuff like, “About all I know about the paranormal is men are from Mars and women are from Venus.”3 I had hopes for improvement when the very likable Annabeth Gish joined the lead cast in season 9 as Doggett’s new partner, agent Monica Reyes. But it was already too late. By that point in the series, most of the mythology was just FBI internal soap opera and Scully’s journey had grown quite dispiriting. I completely lost interest.
Unless you really wanna know what happens, just let it go. The best moments of seasons 7-9 are mostly upsetting.
If you can’t stand to not know The Truth, I have compiled this handy list of must-see episodes. You’re welcome.
Season 7 – E1-2 “The Sixth Extinction” parts 1&2 are essential if you want to understand Mulder’s connection to the alien invasion and witness Scully’s first admitted belief in extraterrestrial life (WARNING – part 2, cowritten by Duchovny, is horribly self-indulgent). E11 “Closure” tells you exactly what happened to Samantha Mulder.4 I found E21 “Je Souhaite”, about a very worn-out genie, to be the one and only fun “monster-of-the-week” episode in these final seasons. E22 “Requiem” is absolutely essential to the mythology.
Season 8 – E1 “Within” and E2 “Without” establish Doggett’s character and Scully’s new maternal adventure. E13 “Per Manum” examines the background behind her mysterious pregnancy; the flashback scene in which Mulder agrees to be her sperm donor is one of Anderson’s finest acting moments in the whole series. E14 “This Is Not Happening” and E15 “Deadalive” thrust Mulder back into the narrative. E20 “Essence” and E21 “Existence” flesh out the concept of super-soldiers and also bring the season’s storyline to a satisfactory end. They should have stopped here.
Season 9 – E1-E2 “Nothing Important Happened Today” parts 1 and 2 tell you about Scully’s new life, Mulder’s sudden absence, and key info on super-soldiers. Then skip straight ahead to the finale, E19-20 “The Truth”. It’s a largely disappointing end to the series, but at least they do a good job of putting the pieces together.
X Files: I Want to Believe – I saw it once. It was okay, though it adds little to the overall mythology.