The X-Files season 11 has had an interesting journey, but as it begins to come to a close it appears to be ending on a strong note. The past few episodes have all been impressive, with many of evoking that vintage X-Files feeling that many viewers felt was absent from season 10. The show’s current season makes the wise decision to not burden its second to last episode with its cumbersome mythology. Instead, it is a delicate episode that plays into cults and obsession in disturbing ways.
“Nothing Lasts Forever” highlights some highly deranged individuals, but the decisions and belief systems that bring them to this point are more upsetting than any monster or senseless killer. The problems that get addressed are very real and even though this episode pushes it all to the extreme, its relevance make it all the eerier. We got the opportunity to talk to Karen Nielsen, the writer of “Nothing Lasts Forever,” about penning her first X-Files episode, the powerful themes it explores, and where she’d like to take Mulder and Scully next.
DEN OF GEEK: To begin with, what is it about these topics of artificial beauty and cult mentalities that interests you?
KAREN NIELSEN: I think being alone in society you just feel the pressures of appearance. We live in such a consumerist society and everything is just about how we look because that’s how we can prey on people’s insecurities and sell things. I’m susceptible to it just like the majority of people—not just women, but people—are in the world. And if you’re a woman and an actress it’s like quadruple all of that. If you’re over thirty you almost become a write-off, which is horrible. So I can definitely relate to what the episode says about being judged and not feeling good enough to be worthy of love. Of course none of that stuff has any merit towards your ability to be loved. In the episode, Olivia has a family and she’s loved, but for some reason it just wasn’t enough. A lot of people feel that way and no matter how much love you have, you’re still going to feel like it’s not enough. All the hate will get through and that’s a major problem in society, so why not play around with that?
How did all of the pieces of this episode come together? Did you start with the cult aspect, the aging stuff, or what?
I live in Canada, so I wasn’t exactly apart of the writers’ room. So for me it was a lot of conversations with different people about what i wanted to do and say with this episode. I’m a very character-driven writer, so I came from the place I wanted to say with them. So it was important for me to have character moments between Mulder and Scully, so that’s sort of where I came from and what I wanted to do. I also wanted to have three-dimensional diverse female characters and make them layered and more interesting.
On top of those things, I also knew that I wanted to explore Scully’s religion, too. I have a very Catholic sister, but I’m not religious at all. So that always fascinates me about you can still be very close with someone, but have this very different belief. Mulder and Scully obviously have that relationship. So when I wanted to touch on Scully’s religion in that respect, Glen [Morgan] brought up the angle of cults because they’re sort of like a really messed up religion. That’s where it started from, where Glen came in with the angle and I came it from character. Then you mix in a little James Wong and some American Horror Story for good measure and you get something special.
There’s almost a Twilight Zone quality to this story where there’s this aging starlet who never wants to lose her youth or relevancy. Was that show an influence to you at all with this episode? Was there anything else that was an influence here?
I think The Twilight Zone is always going to inevitably be an influence on The X-Files because it was such a brilliant iconic show in this genre and we all love it. I personally am a huge fan of The Walking Dead and because it’s such a character-driven show and about the journey and the people, there might be a little of that in there. It’s all about the characters. It’s about these women and what they’re fighting for as opposed to the plot.
Everyone’s fighting for something and that’s why people are more of an influence to me than other shows. People are fascinating and society is fascinating and I try to explore a little of all of that.
On that note, this is obviously an extreme episode, but did you find any news stories or real life examples of anything like what the Luvenises were doing here?
Yeah! Glen brought Humanism to my attention and that’s a huge thing. It’s where people will take other people’s blood to make them healthier and younger. It’s weird! Most people just do a blood in an IV sort of situation, but then there are of course people that take it to a whole other extreme. To me, that’s what’s so cool about The X-Files because usually the episodes are rooted in something from reality.
I was a big fan of Glen Morgan’s underseen Intruders series, which I know that you worked on as a script coordinator. I saw a lot of parallels between this episode and that show in terms of this idea of living forever through others.
Oh interesting! I hadn’t even thought of that, but you’re totally right! It’s such a fascinating concept though, right? It’s something that everyone can relate to on some level. People generally don’t want to die.
Juliet is a really fascinating character through all of this. Talk a little on the lore that her character believes in, her use of that metal stake, and where her head is at through all of this.
She’s a true believer. She takes that stake from the church and it’s almost like it’s holy water to her. She’s doing everything through God’s word. She wants to save her sister, even if that means sacrificing herself. She’s ready to give into the greater good. Family—and saving her family—is the most important thing for her. It’s so interesting because she’s a true believer in the same way that the cult followers are.
And the same way that Scully is.
Exactly. They all take extremes, but they all just want to be loved. True believers are interesting.
Especially on a show like this. You really lucked out with the fact that the show was able to get Jere Burns to play Dr. Luvenis. Did you have any input in who you wanted to play the role? How did Jere’s casting come about?
We have an amazing casting team and they brought forward so many great people it was almost like, “How do you choose!” But I’ve been a fan of Jere Burns’ forever, so he was a big want, especially for such a twisted role. He’s not afraid to run the risk of humorous the character can be and he just completely got it. It’s so amazing when that happens because it just confirms that the casting was meant to be. Nobody can connect with the character more than the writer and the actor, so it was cool to share that bond with him.
One of the things about this season that I’ve been really curious about is how the “TRUTH IS OUT THERE” message in each episode is something different. Were you told to change the message, or did you just have the opportunity to do so if you wanted?
I just think that when it happened in the first few episodes of this season, we all got excited about it and just ran with it. So yeah, it wasn’t forced on us, but it was a cool opportunity that most of us took advantage of. That’s so cool that you noticed it. I think they’re a fun little peek behind the scenes.
For sure. They’re always a great little extra. Lastly, you’re relatively new to The X-Files. Do you have any other story ideas or topics of interest that you’d like to dig into in a future episode of yours?
Definitely. I mean, I love the monster-of-the-week stuff the most. I love the whole “nothing is what it seems” aspect of The X-Files, so I would love to explore that side of it more through a monster-of-the-week character. I would love to do a Close Encounters thing. I know that Darin [Morgan] did a really funny one, but I would love to do a real, honest “let’s meet an alien” kind of thing—where’s he’s not trying to kill everyone. I would love to do an episode from an alien’s POV. That’s what I think would be cool.
The X-Files Season 11 will conclude next Wednesday at 8pm (ET) on FOX