I’m currently catching up with a couple of ‘90s shows that I inexplicably missed at the time. It’s odd, because they are both very much my kind of thing: one is David Lynch’s cult show Twin Peaks; the other is the item at hand, The X-Files, created by Chris Carter.
Of course, I would occasionally see an episode here or there but this is the first time that I’ve had the opportunity (thanks, Anne!) to watch…well, the whole of Season One, the beginning of the beginning.
I’m not sure what grabbed people back in the early nineties and I don’t want to check, so I’ll make a few assumptions. The first episodes aired during a period when the populations of most countries would have become less than trusting of their governments, something epitomized in two of the show’s catch-phrases: GOVERNMENT DENIES KNOWLEDGE and TRUST NO ONE. Of course, that paranoia is in the ha’penny place compared to today when I and any sane person automatically distrusts anything the government tells them. There’s also a nice nod in the direction of conspiracy aficionados with the character of Deep Throat, not to mention the first appearance of the marvelous Lone Gunmen. I love those guys.
The other interesting thing is the way that the two main characters are the complete opposites to the gender stereotypes of the indefatigable FBI Special Agents.
Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) retains qualities that, rightly or wrongly, we define as feminine. He is very much the intuitive one whilst Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) is more hard-headed, interested primarily in facts and slow to be convinced of some of Mulder’s theories.
As everyone surely knows at this stage, Mulder believes that there is a government conspiracy to cover up evidence of E.B.E’s. I love that acronym, by the way: Extraterrestrial Biological Entities. Suck that one up, Spielberg!
In fact, there is very little here of what would become the predominant theme. Perhaps only five episodes could really be said to deal with the conspiracy. Also, it’s not all that cohesive at this point. I’m not entirely sure, but I think that at least two other alien races that are apparently dispensed with appear in these first episodes: the rather hard-to-believe shapeshifters of ‘Gender Bender’ and those ghosts of Mars in ‘Space’.
The big surprise for me was the overall quality of what became known as the stand-alone ‘Monster-of-the-Week’ episodes. ‘The Jersey Devil’ doesn’t seem to have been exactly a crowd-pleaser but I greatly enjoyed it. As to the homage-to-John Carpenter tale, ‘Ice’, it is surely as good as anything that TV was producing on a low budget at that time, as were the creepy duo of ‘Squeeze’ and ‘Tooms’; as for ‘Beyond the Sea’ with Brad Dourif, it is simply TV gold.
It’s interesting to note that watching them over a period of a few weeks like this you find yourself waiting for your favourite writers to show, as for example the excellent Glen Morgan and James Wong. Strangely enough, Chris Carter himself could be a bit dodgy. Director Rob Bowman, who would become rather synonymous with the series, made his X-Files directorial debut here, with the visually arresting, credence-stretching ‘Gender Bender’.
In fact, from this distance what Carter and his team of scriptwriters can clearly be seen to have been doing is throwing a bit of everything into the mix and figuring what concoction would take. Here in Season One we had everything from poltergeists to intelligent machines to werewolves.
It was all wrapped up with the splendidly entitled ‘The Erlenmeyer Flask’, where we really see the enormous extent of the conspiracy and the lengths that certain shadowy government outfits will go to keep it from the public.
And it really was wrapped up! The series comes to a logical conclusion with the X-Files being terminated and Mulder at least out of a job. You see, the ratings weren’t confirmed at that point and there was a possibility that what was to become an astonishing cultural phenomenon was finished before it began.
But that was all about to change; and the rest was TV history.