“What the actual shit!”
These are the words that were on most people’s lips after watching the finale of The X-Files revival. Myself included.
Actually, those words were on my lips the second that Agent Reyes was revealed to be working with the Cigarette Smoking Man just like disgraced FBI agent Diana Fowley did back in the day. I’m not a fan of Reyes or anything, but I found that slightly uncharacteristic of the empathetic believer.
Do Scully and Miller (oh, and Mulder too) get blown up by that UFO? No, silly. They probably jump away while it blows their car up. Or they get abducted. Or maybe it’s just Scully that gets abducted. Maybe next season will be about Mulder’s search for Scully. Maybe he’s pregnant too. That would be something new and fresh for this show, wouldn’t it? It’d be like Junior butwith more explosions. Can’t you just see Miller helping him give birth in a deserted shack somewhere?
Using a cliffhanger ending like this is a surefire way to keep the public’s interest going, even if how we got there doesn’t make a ton of sense. But what really astounded me the most was how this whole six-episode mini-season was basically an extended pilot for how The X-Files is in the age of smartphones.
So then. What will happen when the show comes back next year? Because we all know it will. It’s just a matter of time before we get a renewal announcement.
Now that Fox confirmed a 10-episode X-Files season 11, let’s speculate on where the series can go from here.
It’s clear from watching both parts of “My Struggle” that Chris Carter simply needs more time to tell the kind of mythology stories he wants to tell. These episodes dumped so much info on me that I tuned out more than once. Sure, the major story beats come through loud and clear—like Scully having alien DNA because of the experiments conducted on her back in season 2—but they’re so bogged down with verbose Fox News sensationalism that it’s not as exciting or believable as it could be.
Some critics have blamed Carter for doing too much telling and not enough showing this season, and they’re not wrong. All of the action is dialogue (if not monologue) driven now. But this could be a symptom of what happens when you have a short window of time to tell tall tales. There’s just not enough room to breathe. To avoid this, I can see next season’s episode count extended enough to allow some more time to tell a cohesive overarching narrative. (8-10 episodes tops. They don’t want to overdo it just yet.)
The earth-shattering events of this season’s finale will undoubtedly have repercussions on the world of the show, but we have to ask: what will they look like?
To set a realistic expectation, let’s look back to Carter’s other classic genre show Millennium. Lance Henriksen’s magnum opus pulled the same stunt The X-Files just did by introducing a widespread epidemic during its apocalyptic second season finale (“The Fourth Horseman”/”The Time is Now”.) This turned out to be one of Millennium’s major creative highs, simply because of how ballsy it was. At that time, The X-Files could never have pulled off a stunt like that—not even in its own feature film. This frightening two-parter was a masterful exercise in mass terror told on a personal scale, catapulting the show’s grim procedural drama to operatic heights. By the time its credits rolled (also after a cliffhanger,) not only was a major character dead, so was the rest of the world.
So what happened when the show came back for a third season later that year? The whole contagion was curiously downplayed, recontextualized as nothing more than a minor outbreak that killed a few people in a small corner of the United States. The show made the occasional passing reference to the events, but hurried rebuild its familiar format. (Yes, there were different elements and characters added in, but they had little to no impact on the format of the show.)
This is more or less what we should expect from The X-Files season 11. After its season premiere is over, I’m 98% sure we’ll go back to usual status quo just like we always have, which is why we still have new X-Files produced to this day. It doesn’t have to be mired down with intricate plotting from week-to-week like Fringe or any of those other imitators. The X-Files isn’t amorphous like that. It holds its form and structure no matter what, even when it experiments.
That said, what major plot line can we expect The X-Files season 11 to indulge itself in? In one word: William. Mulder and Scully’s child is now a MacGuffin. He’s also the ace up the show’s sleeve at this point. We spent most of the revival watching Scully and Mulder mope around about their missing son—which made us think that we were finally going to see what the kid looks like nowadays. But no, denied. I see why. This season was just a teaser. Believe me, this show is in no rush to resolve its one last meaningful storyline. It’s going to clutch onto that plotline with its undead fingers and stiff zombie grip. Remember Samantha, Mulder? Yeah, we’re not seeing that kid for a while.
In the hypothetical next season, I can also see The X-Files perfect what it was trying to do during its later seasons: become an ensemble show. Agents Miller and Einstein are like Doggett and Reyes filtered through several focus group sessions and reruns of Sleepy Hollow. They have that quirky Bones type of chemistry going, which today’s viewers (i.e. young moms) love. They also look like Mini-Mulder-and-Scully, and people love that.
Because she lives in London, part of me expects that Gillian Anderson will pull a David Duchovny circa 2000 and only sign on again as a part-timer. For that matter, I can see Duchovny doing the same thing to keep NBC’s Aquarius going. That way, the two can focus on their other projects while Miller and Einstein are featured more prominently in the overlapping episodes—under the guidance of either veteran agent, of course. Depending on how this is handled if it occurs, it might make the show evolve past its limits and set up a new ten year plan. (TV is a business, after all. No one’s volunteering to make this so I can blog about it. Although that would be really awesome of them if they did.)
The real question is, which past characters do we want to see return next time?
Krycek. If they can bring back the Lone Gunmen (and waste them in a small cameo) and the Cigarette Smoking Man after being thoroughly napalmed to death somewhere in Arizona, surely production can find a way for Nicholas Lea to make an appearance. Ooh, maybe he’s raising William somewhere in Vancouver B.C. That would be a twist. Really, though, I would settle for him playing a ghost again. Or a different character, like a clone of himself. Clones are a thing in The X-Files universe, remember. At this point, I know the show is capable of absolutely doing anything possible in order to feed itself. So might as well fit more fan service in there, right? Make it worth our while.
Agent Doggett. Monica Reyes got to come back, but not good old John? Unacceptable. Doggett was the unsung hero of The X-Files for a good year or two, and he was the first newbie agent brought into Mulder’s strange basement office after he disappeared. He was patient zero for the future of the franchise. Robert Patrick said he wasn’t interested/available because of his commitment to CBS’s Scorpion, and some say the poor reception of his tenure on the show left a bad taste in his mouth. Well, we want you back, Robert. Maybe we want you to show up and save the day again. Maybe you can be the one to finally take down CSM! Just a heads up, you might want to do it several times in a variety of ways just to make sure he’s actually dead.
Gibson Praise. Remember when this kid was “the key to everything in the X-Files?” What is he now? Chopped liver? And what happened to him after the ninth season (series) finale? The last we saw, he was standing around in Mulder’s empty office with Doggett and Reyes, wondering where the hell all of the file cabinets went. (Why did those two bring him to the Hoover building anyway?!) IDW’s own Season 10 comic series brought him back and did some wicked cool things with his character, why can’t the show?
Marita Covarrubius. Remember her? I miss the way she talked through her teeth. She had a very unpredictable run on The X-Files, good one minute, evil the next. We’d love if it she popped up again even if it’s just to glower at the camera seductively for a brief moment.
Also, while we’re at it, can we have the Black Oil back, too? That’s such an iconic part of The X-Files universe. We haven’t seen it since a late season 8 episode, so I think it’s time to make a comeback. You can even explain Agent Reyes’ change of heart on being infected with the oozy sentient virus. Or not.
It’s safe to say most of The X-Files revival’s potential realized itself in week-to-week standalone episodes that made no reference to chemtrails or convoluted alien DNA experiments or Tad O’Malley being a player. Some fans think that the monster-of-the-week installments were where the show shined the most during its classic run. In retrospect, they’ve got a solid point. Of course, Fox will recognize that critics and viewers alike had a better response to these and will up the episode count to provide more of these offerings in season 11.
For the better part of 2015, I’d been picturing The X-Files revival being akin to the earlier seasons of the show (i.e. murky, ominous, and envelope pushing.) I was excited to see what kind of monsters the show would come up with in today’s climate. I was hoping for controversy, shocks, and gross-outs. Instead, the tone of the tenth season was fairly whimsical—along the lines of the show’s cutesy seventh year. This was inarguably due to the nature of the MOTWs, “Were-Monster” and “Babylon” specifically. These light-hearted entries embraced the attitude of the show’s post-Vancouver salad days when The X-Files was a wry Hollywood extravaganza with tongue firmly pressed in its cheek.
As such, the priority of the revival was not in making nightmares, but in exploring broader concepts about the human experience through clever storytelling. However, each “standalone” this time around did not, in fact, stand on its own. Each installment had at least one significant contribution to the main ongoing storyline. Season 11 will most likely take this approach next time, making their monsters-of-the-week count towards a larger goal.
So, what do we hope these creature features will be like?
Scary. Come on, X-Files. We know how good you are at keeping us up at night. We know that even during your most divisive seasons, you still managed to crank out a gorey mind-bender or two when you felt like it. Next time around, why don’t you try to unsettle us again? Even if its just in one episode. You’ve got the talent to pull it off, especially with Wong and the Morgans on your side. We challenge you.
Funny. Darin Morgan, we love you. We need more of you in our lives, and we want you to know that your most recent X-Files effort was hilarious, reassuring, and batcrap crazy all at once. You brought out the best in Mulder and Scully. That’s why we’re asking you to please come back for season 11 and write not one but TWO episodes. Or co-write another one at least. You spiced up the shortlived Night Stalker reboot’s dialogue so well as consulting producer back in ’05, we know you can do the same for X-Files.
Also, Chris Carter. Do you think we forgot about you? Despite the mixed feelings about your mythology episodes that bookended season 10, we thought “Babylon” was genius (despite certain problematic cultural themes.) But we got what you were trying to do, Chris. And we liked it. The way you introduced Mulder and Scully Jr. while making references to Einstein’s twin paradox was impressive. And Mulder’s drug trip? We thank you for that. And for giving us that classic feeling back.
The revival reminded us The X-Files will always have the power to delight us in unexpected ways.
So what do we want from the next batch of standalones?
Written by guests? Here’s a suggestion: why don’t we pull a season 5 stunt and have certain episodes written by famous names? No, I don’t mean Stephen King again. But more like, I don’t know, J.J. Abrams? Nevermind. He might be too expensive now. Joss Whedon? No, he’s expensive now, too. Sigh. If only it were 2003 again.
Written & Directed by David Duchovny. Now this has got to happen. Duchovny’s episodes from the show’s classic run were unforgettable. We’d love to see what kind of story the Aquarian Californicator would tell nowadays.
Written & Directed by Gillian Anderson. Say what you will about that one episode Anderson created (“all things”), but we’d love to hear Anderson’s take on a modern day X-File. But who are we kidding? She doesn’t have time for that nowadays, does she? Good for her.
Why not do a sequel? I realize you think you’re above doing a MOTW sequel, and perhaps that was a good call this time around, but come on. Let’s have an old monster return for the heck of it. You can still be innovative. Think about it, Mr. Carter.
A version of this article originally ran on February 26th, 2016. It’s been updated to reflect the confirmed status of season 11.