It's now 2012, the year - according to "The X-Files"' convoluted but riveting mythology - that colonization is supposed to happen by alien forces. This event that is supposed to take place in December. So here's a timely update designed to bring us up to speed on that most influential sci-fi series from 1993-2002, in which the adventures almost took a back seat to the growing relationship between Mulder and Scully, two FBI agents assigned to seek out the truth of unusual cases that cross their desks in the basement of a Washington, D.C.-based office.
PLEASE NOTE: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
About the Series
There’s little doubt that this series, which first aired in 1993 on a fledgling channel named Fox, was the among the most influential shows in TV history. After it came along, science fiction got darker and more suspenseful in tone, many TV shows started forming their own multi-episode story arcs and “mythologies”, conspiracy theories showed up everywhere and Fox started to think it could actually succeed as a fourth broadcast network. At the height of its popularity in the late 1990s, the show spawned a movie, a spinoff ("The Lone Gunmen"), a song from Welsh band Catatonia called “Mulder and Scully” (only the Welsh could rhyme "worry" and "Scully"…), and constant references in the media. "The X-Files" has been so deeply ingrained in pop culture, it’s hard to imagine what the TV landscape would be like today without it. Certainly "Lost," "Torchwood," "Heroes," "Alias," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and other recent and contemporary shows owe a big debt to "The X-Files"’ groundbreaking nature.
The show aired from 1993-2002 and was created by Chris Carter. It consisted of what are often called “monster of the week” episodes, which are stand-alone episodes that have no real bearing on the story arc. The other episodes are part of the show’s mythology and advance the conspiracy that lies at the heart of the show. "The X-Files" was a dark series punctuated with dry character humor, featuring gory scenes, suspense and things that go bump in the night.
X-Philes, die-hard fans of the show, will often tell you that the third season is the best. The first is also notable, of course, for setting up the show and the mythology, and the fourth is considered fine for its deeper development of Scully’s character.
During the last two seasons (of nine), actor David Duchovny appeared only sporadically as a guest star while two new characters were added - Agent John Doggett, who worked alongside Scully after Mulder's disappearance, and Agent Monica Reyes, who eventually took Scully's place on the X-Files. These last seasons were generally considered past the point at which "The X-Files" "jumped the shark." The show's creators, however, have blamed 9/11 for waning viewership in the show as well. The last episode, a two-hour event called "The Truth," aired on May 19, 2002.
Fox Mulder (David Duchovny): An FBI agent working on - and obsessed with - the X-Files, a series of cases with unexplained paranormal or supernatural circumstances that were shelved by the FBI. His childhood was marred by the unexplained abduction of his sister Samantha at age 8 (he was 12). During the course of the series he learns the truth about that night and the fate of Samantha, as well as the identity of his true father. He is abducted himself in the eighth season of the show. When he returns, he is infected with an alien virus and treated by Scully. He goes into hiding after being fired from the FBI. At the end of the series he is convicted for murder, but breaks out of prison and goes on the run.
Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson): An FBI agent with a medical background, assigned to debunk Mulder’s work on the X-Files as his partner. Though she is the skeptic, she comes to trust Mulder’s intuitions and becomes irrevocably tied into his life. During the course of the series she is abducted by aliens; during that abduction she apparently has her ova harvested and a microchip implanted into the back of her neck. The removal of the chip gives her cancer, which eventually goes into remission. She discovers a daughter, a hybrid created from her harvested ova and alien DNA. Later she and Mulder have a son together, William (through means that were never clarified). She gives him up for adoption when she believes he is in danger.
Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi): Assistant Director of the FBI Skinner often acted ambiguously and clearly knew more than he was letting on, but his value as an ally for Mulder and Scully is undisputable. In the beginning it is implied that the Cigarette Smoking Man has a hold on him; later, Alex Krychek controls him through nano-technology. Over the years he develops respect for Mulder’s abilities and is on his side during the murder trial. He became a main cast member during the last few years of the series.
John Doggett (Robert Patrick): This no-nonsense FBI agent was introduced in Season 8’s episode “Within,” when he was put in charge of the manhunt to find Mulder. When the hunt was unsuccessful, Doggett was demoted to work on “The X-Files” with Scully. He became the skeptic, while Scully acted as the believer. After Mulder and Scully left the FBI, he teamed up with Agent Reyes to continue investigating the X-Files.
Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish): Took Scully’s place as the “believer” when she left the FBI. She and Doggett met when she investigated the kidnapping of his seven-year-old son. He contacts her to assist on a case in which alien abductees disappear. Later she appears again in the series when she comes across a case that might have a link to Doggett’s son’s murder. Finally, in mid-2001, she is called to protect Scully as Scully is about to give birth, and makes a permanent move to the X-Files.
Notable Secondary Characters
Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis): A shadowy character who soon reveals himself as a villain, so named because of the fictional Morley cigarettes he constantly smoked. He is a representative of the Syndicate, trying to discredit Mulder and keeping a leash on Skinner as well. In the final episodes, we learn he is the father of Mulder, Samantha and Jeffrey Spender.
Deep Throat (Jerry Hardin): Mulder’s first season informant, who is a member of the Syndicate. He believes that the public needs to know some of the Syndicate’s secrets, though his information is vague and, on occasion, diversionary. Mulder “calls” him by putting a black light lamp in his window.
X (Steven Williams): Deep Throat’s successor and a member of the Men in Black, used by the Syndicate to ensure the progress of the conspiracy. His motives and loyalties were ambiguous, his personality more cautious and his actions often ruthless. Mulder calls him with an “X” using tape in his window—but X never comes unless it suits his own purposes. Exchanges between X and Mulder are often heated, but X saves Mulder’s life on more than one occasion.
Marita Covarrubias (Laurie Holden): Starting in the fourth season, she was Mulder’s third informant and assistant to one of the special representatives of the UN’s Secretary General. After her discovery as Mulder’s informant, the Syndicate uses her as a guinea pig for a vaccination treatment for the black oil. She has a relationship with Alex Krychek.
Lone Gunmen (Dean Haglund, Tom Braidwood, Bruce Harwood): Richard “Ringo” Langly, Melvin Frohike and John Fitzgerald Byers were conspiracy theorists, hackers and government watchdogs who often assisted Mulder and Scully. They also put out a newsletter and rode in a VW bus. Note: The group was spun off into its own short-lived TV show in 2001.
Alex Krychek (Nicholas Lea): First appears as an FBI agent partnered with Mulder after he and Scully are reassigned, but he was actually an undercover Man in Black agent who switched sides fairly regularly. Has the highest murder rate of any "X-Files" character — Krychek assisted in Scully’s abduction, killed Mulder’s father, assaulted Skinner — and that was all before the black oil entity took control of him. His additional good works got him thrown into a Russian gulag and Tunisian prison. He also infected Skinner with nano-technology, tried to destroy Scully’s child and attempted to kill Mulder.
Well-Manicured Man (John Neville): A British member of the Syndicate who at times aids Mulder and Scully in order to keep them on the trail. He believes they are easier controlled this way.
Jeffrey Spender (Chris Owens): FBI Agent Spender, worried about his own reputation, asks Mulder to stop investigating his mother. He is very antagonistic to Mulder’s theories, and begins working with the conspirators. Following the events in the first movie, he becomes the primary X-Files investigator with Diana Fowley. After the revelation that the Cigarette Smoking Man is his father he starts to follow in CSM’s footsteps, but fails in his first major test.
Diana Fowley (Mimi Rogers): An old flame of Mulder’s who helped him re-open the X-Files, but was later probably working with the Syndicate.
Alvin Kersh (James Pickens, Jr.): An Assistant Director at the FBI who temporarily supervised Mulder and Scully when they were off the X-Files (starting in the sixth season). Loyal to the Cigarette Smoking Man, he mostly assigned them to menial detail. Was promoted to Deputy Director, and continued to discourage X-Files investigations by Doggett and Reyes.
Alien Bounty Hunter (Brian Thompson): There are many of these, actually, tasked by the Colonists to eliminate threats to their invasion of Earth. They also worked for the Syndicate on occasion. Could shape-shift to any desired appearance, but preferred the form of a Russian pilot. The ABHs had green blood that contained a retrovirus lethal to humans.
Cassandra Spender (Veronica Cartwright): A multiple abductee, ex-wife of the Cigarette Smoking Man and mother to Jeffrey Spender — and an alien-human hybrid whose concerns about colonization lead her to Mulder and Scully.
Other occasional characters included members of Scully’s family, including her father Captain Bill Scully, her mother Margaret, her sister Melissa and her brothers William and Charles. Scully’s young son William also plays a role. Members of Mulder’s family appear as well, including his sister Samantha and his mother Teena. Senator Richard Matheson and a few FBI Assistant Directors were thrown into the mix too. In the final seasons, The Toothpick Man was introduced in part to replace CSM, and Doggett’s friend Knowle Rohrer, a Super Soldier, also appeared on a recurring basis. On the bad guys’ side, you also had the introduction of the Elders, especially the First Elder, who controlled the Syndicate.
Many characters boasted personality quirks or habits that helped develop the story throughout the series. Mulder and Scully’s ubiquitous cell phones helped Nokia’s presence in the real-life cellphone market; Mulder had his sunflower seeds and his aquarium; the Cigarette Smoking Man had his fictional Morley cigarettes. In many cases these quirks helped define the characters; just a glimpse of an ashtray with a Morley still smoking was enough to send chills down the spine.
Monster of the Week Episodes
For the most part these are stand-alone episodes, although they have been known to introduce characters or situations that are part of the conspiracy. Many of them stress the skeptic-believer dynamic between Mulder and Scully and advance the deepening trust between the two.
In the first season, such episodes include “Squeeze,” which introduces Eugene Tooms, a janitor with a strange talent for getting in and out of places; “Ice,” about members of an Arctic research team that kill themselves thanks to an organism that amplifies feelings of paranoia and anger. In “Eve” two fathers across the country from each other are killed, and both turn out to be parents to eight-year-old girls who look exactly alike. Eugene Tooms returns in “Tooms,” as he’s released from prison and needs to make one more kill before he can hibernate. A third season episode notable for its lighter tone is “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” in which interviews get differing points of view on an alien abduction. That season also included “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.”
In the fifth season “Unusual Suspects” told the origin of the group known as The Lone Gunmen and “Kill Switch” was written by cyberpunk author William Gibson. In the sixth season “Millennium” closed off the story of the unsuccessful other series created by Carter and “X-COPS” channeled the spirit of Fox’s popular reality show. The sixth also included some lighter-themed episodes, such as "Arcadia," in which Mulder and Scully go undercover as husband and wife in a neighborhood with extremely strict rules, and "Rain King," where they discover that a man who can control the weather may end a big Kansas drought if he can just get the girl. The seventh season included “all things,” an episode about the path not taken written and directed by series star Gillian Anderson. (David Duchovny also wrote and directed an episode or three, including “William” during the last season.)
Episodes that are considered “monster of the week” episodes have included eugenics experiments, outer space, viruses, aliens, occult rituals, voodoo, cannibalism, zoo animals, disease, parasites, invisibility, stigmata, cockroaches, mind control, ancient artifacts, elusive legendary creatures, organ harvesting, African folklore, religious cults, plastic surgery, malicious tattoos, Frankenstein’s monster, vampires, hypnosis, telepathy, telekinesis, the Bermuda Triangle, ghosts, time anomalies, spores, Navajo legends, resurrection, virtual reality, genies, numerology. After nine years, the X-Files ran the gamut of supernatural and scifi-themed plots. Even the insidiousness of the cigarette industry became fodder for an episode.
Put simply — as if anything were ever simple in the world of “The X-Files” — the government is hiding evidence of an alien invasion and a plot to colonize the Earth.
As it was unfolded over several episodes each season (usually including cliffhangers and season openers), the conspiracy was a murky and convoluted enterprise that came to encompass alien abduction, alien bounty hunters, the black oil, government secrets and a great many characters. Except in the first and second seasons, most references to extraterrestrials in the series were about the Colonists. The Colonists were supposedly the Earth’s original inhabitants, forced to leave the planet during the last Ice Age. Their blood contains an intelligent virus that can incubate in other lifeforms, known as the black oil, and apparently this virus did not leave the planet when the Colonists did. The virus supposedly contains the aliens’ genetic blueprints.
The famous “UFO” crash in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947 first introduced the aliens to a select group of human officials who created the Syndicate. The alliance between the Syndicate and the Colonists was formed early during the Cold War. What do the humans get out of it? A small group of humans (the Syndicate’s heirs, who have been turned over to the aliens as a show of good faith) will survive by becoming alien-human hybrids — Samantha Mulder, for example, and Cassandra Spender. Colonization is set for the year 2012. But both sides quickly started working against each other, of course. Mulder and Scully occasionally encountered the experiments both sides were doing to create the ultimate alien-human hybrid, which included sets of twins.
To complicate things further, there’s a group of rebel aliens who oppose Colonization, but not because they like humans. They’re the ones who look like their mouths have been sewn shut — this is to avoid infection by the black oil. These rebels successfully weed out most of the members of the Syndicate, leading the Colonists to create Super Soldiers — human replacements. Now the Colonists don’t even need humans. They begin to fill the positions of power that the Syndicate once held and, by the end of season nine, have a large amount of control over the world. The invasion is still coming.
In a sense, the mythology that Mulder and Scully pursued - focusing on abduction and the fate of Samantha Mulder - was put to an end in the seventh season episode called "Closure." The new mythology, related but focusing on the Super Soldiers and the rebel aliens, continued after that.
The first movie, “The X-Files: Fight the Future,” supposedly wrapped many elements from the series’ fifth season when it was released in 1998. It was designed to bridge the gap between the show's fifth-season finale, "The End," and the sixth season's first episode, titled "The Beginning." It was also designed to be accessible to those who had never seen an "X-Files" episode before (for example, Mulder explains the entire series in a drunken ramble at a bar during the beginning of the movie). The plot - aw, heck if I can explain it in 30 words or less: Alien virus (i.e. black oil) from ancient times rears its head again. Mulder and Scully, already in the proverbial FBI doghouse, must uncover the conspiracy and save the world.
The 2008 sequel, “The X-Files: I Want to Believe,” was released July 25, 2008 and acts as an extended, stand-alone episode. This one was surprisingly accessible for people who don’t know the mythology of the show, or who simply couldn’t remember all the twists and turns of the series’ nine-year run. And let’s face it, there were a lot of those. Fortunately for us, there’s very little you need to know to enjoy “The X-Files: I Want to Believe.” If you understood the premise of the show and remembered the long, complicated history of Mulder and Scully’s relationship - and, as a bonus, if you could recall that Scully had a child whose whereabouts are ambiguous and that Mulder’s prime motivation in many of his actions can be traced back to his sister’s abduction by aliens - then you were set. In fact, it seems as though the movie’s producers wanted to go back to what appealed to “The X-Files”’ first fans — the creepy atmosphere, the romantic tension, the conflict between the believer and the skeptic — before any of the conspiracy was revealed. The plot: Mulder and Scully have been out of the FBI for some time - he's a fugitive, she's now a doctor. But when an FBI agent gets kidnapped and a pedophilic doctor says he's experiencing psychic visions of said agent, the FBI searches them out to help with the case.
Quick Look: Current Availability
All nine seasons of “The X-Files” are currently available on DVD both as new editions and after-market ones. The newer slim sets are reasonably priced, but the more expensive and bulkier original boxed sets contain an extra features disk.
You can purchase all episodes together as “The X-Files: The Complete Collector’s Edition,” which is the 2007 release of all the episodes together. However, you can still find other versions of the complete series available as well.
A relatively cheap July 2008 release, “The X-Files: Revelations,” was billed as the “Essential Guide to the X-Files Movie.” However, as mentioned before, you don’t really need to brush up on “X-Files” mythology if you watched the show and just don’t remember all the details - it’s just not required to enjoy that film. This DVD included eight of the stand-alone, monster-of-the-week episodes and didn’t look much at the conspiracy at all. But the episodes were chosen carefully and are good ones, so if you want to review these you would get a sense of the show’s mood and tone and style.
Now, if you’re only interested in the conspiracy, your best bet might be to locate the four volumes of “The X-Files Mythology” series. Vol. 1 — Abduction, Vol. 2 — Black Oil, Vol. 3 — Colonization and Vol. 4 — Super Soldiers. Each is sold separately.
By the way, even the DVD releases of “The X-Files” were groundbreaking, as it was one of the first series to be released season-by-season, with lots of extras.
However, it should also be noted that all nine seasons of "The X-Files" are currently available on Netflix.