Saturday, February 05, 2011

The Truth Is Outre

I just spent the past five-and-a-half months watching the entirety of The X-Files, a pop culture curio-turned-phenomenon-turned-curio-again that I had somehow missed in its entirety when it was on the air (I was too busy watching Batman and SWAT Kats to notice, I guess; then I discovered Buffy, and that was that). Had I found the show as it aired, I'm sure it would have turned into an obsession to rival that of Fox Mulder's; with time and distance on my side now, I can look at it more objectively. What the hell was the X-Files about?

One could say it was about The Truth; after all, that's what Mulder searched for all those years. The Truth, however, is an ambiguous concept, something the writers seemed to understand. Answers are hard to come by in life. Often, they never do, and when they do, they're rarely easy. Every time Mulder thought he found what he'd been looking for-- evidence of a worldwide conspiracy, or the existence of alien life, or what happened to his sister-- the rug would pull out from under him, and he'd tumble down a different rabbit hole. The truth is out there, remember-- it's never here and now. It's weird, it's scary, and it sounds stupid when we try to explain it to other people. It's never what we really want to hear. Perhaps we're better off not knowing.

The X-Files is also about belief, or, at least, wanting to believe. Mulder's the resident "believer," but Scully's the heart of the show, and it's her beliefs that drive the storyline-- not necessarily in aliens or ghosts or fluke men, but in faith, in God, and in Fox Mulder. The entire series showcases the death and destruction Mulder leaves in his wake during his quest. Scully is the first to be caught up in this, and outlasts all others. She sacrifices everything she has for a mission that's not even hers, all because she believes in one man. That belief is the only thing either of the two leads has in the conclusion of the show, a convoluted, unsatisfying ending that leaves our heroes broken and alone. A lot of poor writing goes into those final moments, but in many ways it's the only possible ending-- two people holding onto each other, in the shadow of a nigh-incomprehensible colossus they can neither control nor escape.

The show sheds light on hidden corners of America, where monsters, myths, folklore, and legends live, where superstitions are always true and the more improbable answer always turns out to be the right one. The X-Files mythologized America, and it's in the standalone, monster-of-the-week type episodes that this comes out. The series often lost the plot, as it continually expanded the nature of its ongoing conspiracy arc, in needless and confusing ways. That aspect of the show does not conclude, but rather peters out. The standalones however, do what their name implies, standing the test of time and lending the show its real strength.

Is there a happy ending? No; the show doesn't really end at all, in fact. Mulder and Scully should ask themselves-- was it all worth it? I'm not sure what they'd answer. As a viewer, was it all worth watching? Well... 70-75%, sure. When it was good, it was damn good. Were those last couple years a slog? Yes. (Robert Patrick is the most watchable thing about them. He gives it everything he's got, but at that point, he's the only one trying.) Will the truth set you free? Perhaps not. If your belief is strong enough, however, the truth doesn't really matter.

Sorry for the poorly-written rambling above. I spent a lot of time watching this damn show, and I have to make some record of it. Coming soon: the Essential X-Files.

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