The sci-fi geeks among you are probably aware that The X-Files returned recently, for a limited-miniseries run on Fox. I loathe the current sequel trend, but not on general principle. It’s because the sequels tend to be enormously lazy cash grabs. It’s perfectly fine to redo or add to existing material, if you have something worth adding. (The first few seasons of Sherlock are true to the original in spirit, and well-liked by Holmes nerds even though the stories differ wildly from Doyle’s originals.)
Like many people, I enjoyed The X-Files when it first aired in 1993. Its leads, as FBI agents investigating UFOs, Bigfoot, and such, played their encounters with monsters so dryly they seemed more like accountants than law enforcement. Or: DMV meets Dracula. While the show’s hints of an overarching, the sinister plot to cover up “The Truth” about UFOs was fun, suggesting that kooks everywhere were right all along. Although this had been stolen from, and done better in, Close Encounters, it was enjoyable transposed into scary-show format.
X-Files Loses Its Spark
Also like many people, I drifted away as the Sinister Plot became more labyrinthine. It lost its air of spooky silliness and drifted into a tedious mix of pretension and sloppiness. The show’s creator, Chris Carter, seemed not to realize he was pulling together bits from earlier popular successes (Twilight Zone, Close Encounters) and believed viewers tuned in for his “vision.”
“If the conspiracy is really as powerful as Mulder thinks it is, only collective action can change it. Only some version of democracy can stand up against it.” —James Surowiecki
The Sinister Plot got away from poking (not entirely harmless) fun at UFO and Bigfoot conspiracy buffs (at times, the show’s depiction of such could be downright mean-spirited). And it moved into much more irresponsible territory. In addition to covering up Roswell, and lying about abductions, the Bad Guys also assassinated JFK. And Dr King. Seriously. That’s really reprehensible.
(The episode where this is revealed mentions actual historical facts about Hoover’s attempts to smear King, and how hard-right elements considered him a communist threat. Maybe in Carter’s mind this information justified working such a tragedy into his monster serial. If so, Carter’s mind is unhinged.)
Giving X-Files Another Try
But, I have high admiration for Gillian Anderson as a performer, and some nostalgia over seeing her recreate the role which started her fine career. Plus, I like miniseries. American TV shows tend to have seasons which are way too long (cable has begun figuring this out.) So, I thought I’d give it a try.
Our FBI agents and now retired from the UFO biz. They had a kid who’d been genetically altered with alien DNA, whom they had to give up and never see again for the kid’s own safety or something. They are contacted by a Glenn Beck type, who wants their input on a big story he’s planning to break. They’re hesitant, being good liberals, but the Beck fellow knows his UFO lore, so maybe he’s not entirely an opportunistic TV liar.
Turns out Beck has an honest-to-God alien spaceship (or working copy, anyway), stashed in a hangar. Why? Oh, herein lies a tale. Brace yourselves. This is Scientology, Story of Xenu-worthy stuff.
When we started exploding A-bombs, it attracted the notice of space aliens, who came to save us from destroying ourselves. But the Big Mean Earth Bad Guys kept shooting down alien ships and learning from their technology. They built replicas of those ships to abduct people and perform genetic experiments involving, again, alien DNA. Also, stories of alien abduction helped distract the public from these Mean Bad Guys’ master scheme, which involves environmental devastation, obesity, consumerism run amok, sparking wars, and blowing up skyscrapers. This is all to justify the buildup of a surveillance/police state which will finally be unleashed after the next manufactured catastrophe to take over the world. Starting with America. Bwahahaha!
Where to start with this? Wouldn’t any aliens who mastered FTL travel to stop us from using atomic warfare realize we were pretty violent primates and, I dunno, keep their ships from being shot down? But the illogic isn’t worth going into.
The Same Old Thing — But Newer
What I do find bizarre is how this equates both right-wing fantasies (the Beck type moans about gun confiscation), left-wing reality talking points (global warming, the military/industrial/security complex), and conspiracy stuff (JFK again, UFOs, the World Trade Center), mashing them into a giant pile of equal Woes Upon Ours.
And I guarantee you, as usual, our FBI heroes will never be able to solve. One more layer upon one more layer to uncover… The Beck character is shut down. The Great Truth can never be revealed. “They” won’t allow it.
What the hell does Chris Carter think he’s doing with The X-Files? Making some profound statement about our troubled times? I suspect he’s a reasonably left-leaning guy with a very large bank account from his overpaid cinematic work, who thinks he’s providing “fun entertainment” with “a little meaning to it.” I suspect this because this is what Hollywood types with slightly leftist sympathies who enjoy their comfortable lifestyles very often say they think. You know, the new Star Wars has an anti-Mean War message! In there somewhere. Amidst all the explosions.
Collective Action and Conspiracy
As to the annoying persistence in our culture of how people with marginalized positions believe “if only I could make people understand this one truth, they’d realize I’m totally right,” let me refer you to almost every chat thread on the internet. (Not here! We’re quite civil when we disagree. Mostly…) Or The Atlantic review of The X-Files from 1997 by James Surowiecki, from which I take this fine quote: “If the conspiracy is really as powerful as Mulder thinks it is, only collective action can change it. Only some version of democracy can stand up against it.”
Exactly. And by turning real fears, genuine abuses of power, into plot material for a monster show, Chris Carter mocks the very notion of democracy. He says, in effect, “It’s all just another form of entertainment… but that’s OK, since it has a little meaning to it.” So, too, did Indiana Jones defeating the Nazis.
Star Trek and Doctor Who have more bite. And Terry Pratchett would eat this weak social commentary for breakfast.
But I still love Gillian Anderson.