Nine years of good TV and bad science is coming to an end. The X-Files has been cancelled and will end in May.
It was the best science fiction TV series of all time, with better acting, writing, and above all cinematography than any of its kin. True, when it started it had the second-rate feel of one of those syndicated series shot in Canada that only appears in late-night timeslots, sort of like Tales from the Darkside, but it grew into something much more polished and much more influential.
The show borrowed heavily from the movies All the President's Men and Silence of the Lambs and from the TV series The Invaders and Kolchak: The Night Stalker, but what is more important is that it fed upon the spirit of its era, mainly the mid- to late 1990s. Most readers will be old enough to recall that era as a time of conspiracy theories and alien abduction stories, giddy with anticipation for the millennium with its promise of something supernatural, extraterrestrial, divine, political, ecological, cultish, or techno-apocalyptic happening.
It was also a very ironic and postmodern decade, though, when nothing was supposed to be taken quite seriously. Though true-believer Agent Mulder eventually won skeptical Agent Scully over to belief in psychics, spirits, alien abductions, vampires, miraculous healings, improbable mutations, and the like, The X-Files maintained an interesting balance between taking such ideas seriously and dismissing them as funny, offbeat, and unlikely. On occasion, Mulder even uttered some of the very few skeptical analyses of psychic scams ever heard on television, as when he noted that one psychic was deliberately making vague predictions so he could claim after the fact that they had all "come true." There was enough irony in the show that one friend of mine, an earnest believer in JFK assassination conspiracy theories, refused to watch on the grounds that the show wasn't taking paranormal and conspiracy theories seriously enough.
But Mulder's speeches usually served as primers in pseudoscientific belief and were peppered with references to enough real-world paranormal claims to sound like erudite lectures to the unwary viewer. The show's creator Chris Carter and its male lead David Duchovny both claim to be skeptics about paranormal phenomena, while Gillian Anderson (who plays the initially-skeptical Agent Scully), in a further irony, believes in many paranormal phenomena and thinks that extraterrestrials may elude detection because they exist on a different vibratory-dimensional plane than humanity does.
The most frequently-recurring villain, who may or may not have been Mulder's real father (Chris Carter's meandering plotlines and his characters' motivations were often unclear), was the cigarette-loving conspirator nicknamed the Cancer Man, though he was generally referred to as the Cigarette-Smoking Man in later episodes to avoid confusion between him and another villain who was literally composed entirely of cancer cells. If you blinked you missed it, but in one episode, which featured a Brothers Karamazov-inspired interrogation scene, the Cigarette-Smoking Man was cured of lung cancer by the friendly human-alien hybrid named Jeremiah Smith, in exchange for Smith's freedom. All the major characters on The X-Files seem to have developed life-threatening diseases at one point or another, from cancer to mysterious brain disorders to nanobot-infested blood, and the resolutions of those problems, in retrospect, were usually arbitrary and sudden, as most likely the series finale will be in May.
In the past two seasons, viewership tapered off while, coincidentally or not, the public, having survived the millennium, lost a tiny bit of its ardor for the paranormal and conspiratorial. The show then attempted to evoke fear with the specter of biotech, particularly cloning (the process that may have aided in the creation of Mulder and Scully's baby, a series-killing development if ever there was one). Somehow, though, the biotech elements just made it all the more apparent that real life had passed The X-Files by, that it probably should have ended some time around season six, when a rival faction of aliens descended upon Roswell and burned alive the human leaders of the UFO cover-up conspiracy.
In the real world, biotech offers the hope of unprecedented improvements in human life. In the real world, paranormal beliefs offer only false hope. In the mirror-mirror world of The X-Files, though, reversing everything that common sense tells us occasionally made for great viewing, and the series will be missed unless they fail to resolve that whole business about the aliens tinkering with the DNA of human babies or the plotline about the unkillable super-soldiers trying to take over the world. So help me, if they don't make sense of all that, I'll really have something to complain about.
X-Files Series Summary
By Todd Seavey
Like a striptease act, X-Files kept us hooked by revealing only a little bit at a time, but with nine years' hindsight, here's a summary of the entire, ludicrously complicated alien conspiracy at the heart of the show, for truly obsessive X-Files-fan readers only.
THE SHORT VERSION: The FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) investigate paranormal phenomena, including UFO abductions that elements within the government want covered up.
THE LONG VERSION:
In pre-history, human DNA may have been manipulated by another race to create the potential for various psychic abilities.
In the early twentieth century, a mysterious object (in reality, probably a comet or small black hole, but on the X-Files show, it is implied that it may also have been a spaceship or alien weapon) struck Tunguska in Russia, leaving behind a black, living ooze (nicknamed the Black Cancer) that can enter people's minds and take over their bodies. Elements of the Russian government have been experimenting on people with the ooze, and the peasants in the region protect themselves from being used in the experiments by chopping off their right arms, since many governments covertly "tag" people for tracking purposes by inserting a molecule-sized tracer during routine inoculations.
In the mid-twentieth-century, a flying saucer containing more of the Black Cancer was retrieved from the bottom of the ocean after it destroyed an American submarine. Two young military men, William Mulder (not to be confused with his son Fox) and the man nicknamed the Cigarette-Smoking Man began investigating the matter and began working on a secret government project on "xeno-implantation" an effort to fuse humans with other species, possibly aliens.
During the sixties, the Cigarette-Smoking Man probably had an affair with William Mulder's wife and may even have fathered Mrs. Mulder's two children, Fox and Samantha.
With his own wife, the Cigarette-Smoking Man had a child who (at least as an adult) had the last name Spender.
The Cigarette-Smoking Man may also have been responsible for the assassination of JFK and MLK and for various other government plots.
In the early 70s, William Mulder left the government's secret Project, of which he had become a director. Samantha Mulder was abducted at a very young age, perhaps, as it appeared later, to ensure William's silence. She was raised by the Cigarette-Smoking Man as his daughter, though Fox grew up believing his sister had been abducted by aliens (which may also be true).
In the 1980s, both Fox and Spender (who may be half brothers) became FBI agents, with their careers watched over and influenced by the Cigarette-Smoking Man.
In 1988, Fox encountered three conspiracy theorist nerds, nicknamed the Lone Gunmen, who have helped him uncover the truth about the government's experiments.
In 1989, the Cold War ended, and the military may have shifted a great deal of its money toward the Project.
In 1993, Fox, who had re-opened decades-old documents called the X-Files about paranormal FBI cases, found himself assigned a more skeptical partner, forensics expert Dana Scully, who over the next several years (while fighting various seemingly paranormal threats) gradually came to share Fox's belief that a government-alien conspiracy may exist, while Fox Mulder came to share her insistence on basing one's beliefs on hard evidence.
THE MID- TO LATE 90s (AS SEEN ON THE SERIES):
THE LATE 90s TO THE PRESENT:
The appearance in mid-season five of an organized band of "rebel aliens," with their orifices stitched closed to prevent infection by the Black Cancer, raised hopes amongst the Consortium that resistance to the Colonists from within might be possible. As a result, the Consortium members experimented with a vaccine against the Black Cancer, using it on one of their occasional allies when she was infected (Marita Covarrubias, who worked for the United Nations), but it was uncertain whether their vaccine would be as effective as the one that the Russians were believed to possess.
In the season five finale (1998), the Cigarette-Smoking Man destroyed Mulder's X-Files (and the rest of his office) in a fire, and Mulder was asked by the Justice Department to justify his strange investigative methods, despite the support Mulder and Scully have long had from bald, bespectacled FBI Assistant Director Skinner.
From the information in the first X-Files film, the aliens appear to develop in stages, with Purity which is simply another form of the Black Cancer, the aliens' semi-sentient DNA material (for which the bees sometimes function as a delivery system) infecting human hosts, sometimes causing them to become hybrids or birth-mothers but other times causing them to gestate monstrous, vicious, young aliens who eventually burst free of their hosts, later shedding their skin and becoming classic "greys." Our manipulation by the Colonists has been going on for tens of thousands of years, and they seem to be responsible for humans' psychic abilities.
Mid-season six, the Consortium members were almost all slain by the stitch-faced rebel faction of aliens. They want to put an end to the Colonist race's galactic-imperialistic spread of their DNA and apparently succeeded in halting that project on Earth, at least for a while. Krycek and the still-infected but recovering Covarrubias survived and escaped the massacre, as did the Cigarette-Smoking Man and his collaborator, Fox Mulder's FBI agent ex-girlfriend, Fowley.
Cassandra Spender, who is Agent Spender's mother and the Cigarette-Smoking Man's ex-wife, was revealed to be the first fully successful human-alien hybrid and was also apparently slain by the rebels in the massacre. The warring alien factions weren't heard from for over a year thereafter. We learned that the CSM has also gone by the name C.B.G. Spender, having been married to Cassandra and having fathered Agent Spender. We saw the CSM apparently shoot and kill Agent Spender shortly after the Consortium members were slain, since he was angry that his son would not help him in the Consortium's time of crisis. The Consortium does appear to deserve some sympathy, since it was only their collaboration such as William Mulder voluntarily delivering Samantha into their hands for experimentation (the adult "Samantha" with the CSM was an impostor or clone) that bought time for Earth by convincing the Colonists to delay a real invasion. After the massacre, it was unclear what would happen with the Consortium gone and the Colonists possibly fighting the rebels somewhere in space. (Nor was it clear what would become of the leaderless conspiracy or the various purposeless hybrids and clones now presumably scattered amongst the human populace.)
In an effort, perhaps, to simply keep a lid on the whole situation and prevent renewed conflict, FBI Assistant Director Skinner and Krycek appeared (in the sixth-season finale) to be collaborating in an effort to cover up evidence of ancient alien artifacts that prove all Earth religions were alien-inspired. Krycek was revealed in another episode to be controlling Skinner by threatening to let nanobots in his system grow unchecked.
In the seventh-season opener, Fowley was murdered, Skinner was blackmailed, and Mulder's Pentagon source was murdered all apparently by Krycek. Fox suffered brain abnormalities as a result of his earlier exposure to the Black Cancer, so the CSM hybridized himself through a medical procedure that extracted alien DNA from Mulder's system (and he finally claimed to be Fox's father, though Fox did not hear this). As a hybrid, the CSM might be one of the only people to survive the coming viral holocaust.
In the mid-season two-parter, Mulder learned that the CSM raised Samantha as his own for a time, living with her and with his son Jeffrey Spender for a few years, but Mulder's encounter with Samantha's ghost suggests she died at the age of fourteen (though she left behind, from what we saw in earlier episodes, a few clones, including at least one adult clone and one child clone who were possibly still living in the mid-90s, if the impostor Samantha introduced to Mulder by the CSM was indeed a clone and if the child clone seen in one episode successfully eluded a pursuing Alien Bounty Hunter). During this story, Mulder's mother, revealed to be terminally ill (perhaps as a side effect of an earlier episode in which the Alien Bounty Hunter healed her stroke, those this isn't mentioned), committed suicide.
In a later episode, the CSM claimed he was dying from complications related to his recent medical procedure, and Scully suggested that the CSM's conspiracy was over. The CSM went to great lengths to acquire alien medical data, which he then destroyed (perhaps because he realized it couldn't help him or perhaps because cover-up was his only goal).
In the seventh-season finale, Krycek and a seemingly-healthy Covarrubias turned on the CSM. Krycek appeared to kill the CSM to prevent him from restarting the Project (despite the CSM's last-minute protestations that he and his son are vital to humanity's survival). Meanwhile, the Alien Bounty Hunter seen in some prior episodes oversaw the abduction of several people in Bellefleur, Oregon, including Mulder. Scully told Skinner, who witnessed Mulder's abduction, that she is somehow pregnant again, possibly due to alien intervention, though she had previously been rendered barren by alien experimentation. Mulder's sudden disappearance presumably put an end to the tighter budget scrutiny that the X-Files agents were beginning to feel from the FBI in this episode.
In the eighth-season opener, under pressure from skeptical FBI agent John Doggett, Scully hypothesized that the aliens are trying to cover up evidence of their past deeds (which may also explain why both Krycek and the CSM seemed mainly interested in cover-up at some points during season seven, even to the point of destroying useful alien data, and why the CSM appeared to be receiving no aid for the devastating health side effects of the hybridization experiments he performed on himself several months before his death).
Also in the opener, the aliens still held Mulder and several other repeat-abductees, stole files belonging to Mulder and Scully, and sought to abduct a psychic boy last seen around the time of the X-Files film who Mulder believed to be the best living evidence of the aliens' ancient and ongoing manipulation of human genetics. Scully killed the Alien Bounty Hunter by shooting him through the back of the neck, preventing him from abducting the boy, but Mulder was seen captive on an operating table somewhere, surrounded by faces identical to that of the Bounty Hunter, so presumably all the aliens wear that as their default human face. The FBI searched for Mulder, and Doggett was assigned to be Scully's new partner on the X-Files.
Mid-season eight, it was revealed: a. Mulder knew he was dying of a brain disease, presumably similar to the CSM's, when he was abducted; b. prior to his abduction, he had donated sperm for Scully so she could make one last attempt to have a child; c. Scully's doctor appeared linked to a still-active (or new) conspiracy to experiment on pregnant women, so she still couldn't be sure exactly how she was impregnated; and d. Jeremiah Smith, a good hybrid with healing powers last seen years earlier, was still active, claiming to be the only person now working to heal returned abductees (which suggests the good hybrid doctors seen in an earlier episode failed in their efforts to heal their birth mothers). Smith was helping abductees with the assistance of a UFO cult near whose compound were found the Oregon abductees, including Mulder, who appeared to be dead. Doggett solicited the help of Monica Reyes, an FBI agent from his past, open-minded, trained in cult investigations, and apparently a witness years earlier to the paranormal murder of Doggett's son. The UFO cult's leader said the alien invasion predicted for the millennium was now in progress and that this explained the greater violence done to the bodies of recently-returned abductees. Smith vanished from the cult compound during a UFO sighting, apparently abducted himself.
Krycek appeared three months later, still wielding control over Skinner through the pain-inducing nanobots in Skinner's system, insisting that Scully's baby must not be allowed to come to term, and claiming to have a vaccine capable of preventing Mulder's near-dead body from transforming into a perfectly healthy-looking but alien one (as appeared to happen to Mulder's fellow abductee, Billy Miles, who came back from a death-like state claiming to trust the aliens). This appears to be the fate of those taken in the mass abductions that the conspiracy leaders once said would herald the final stages of the invasion (creating human-seeming killer drones to oversee final experiments on human babies, apparently). Luckily, Mulder was awakened without either transforming or needing the vaccine (the perhaps-final vial of which Krycek initially offered, then destroyed when Doggett appeared unwilling to cooperate with him). Mulder just needed a combination of lowered body temperature and traditional anti-virals. FBI Deputy Director Kersh began positioning Doggett as the sole X-Files investigator, anticipating Scully's maternity leave and Mulder's marginalization at the Bureau (and later dismissal).
In the two-part eighth-season finale, Krycek and a woman in league with Scully's doctors revealed that Scully's doctors were using alien technology but not to aid the hybridization conspiracy. They were genuinely trying to master the cloning of single-parent offspring for infertile women, and in Scully's case they believed they engineered one devoid of genetic imperfections, inadvertantly intimidating the aliens and causing them to send "Billy Miles" to kill Scully's doctors and attempt to kill her, but she drove off with Reyes in search of a safe place to deliver the baby, after being aided by Mulder, Doggett, Skinner, and even Krycek, who apparently decided to help save the child which he claimed to consider literally miraculous once he concluded it was too late to hide the child's existence from the aliens. (The aliens may fear that all their genetic tinkering, everything from the hybrids and telepaths to the various strange biological phenomena that plagued the Mulder/Spender family, could be undone even without a vaccine if humanity masters genetic engineering.)
Krycek turned out to be still working with the aliens, though he insisted to Mulder, even as he was about to shoot Mulder, that he genuinely wanted to find some way to stop the aliens. Mulder referred to the fact Krycek "killed my father," presumably unaware this might be doubly true. Skinner shot and killed Krycek. Numerous aliens were present (disguised as humans) as Scully gave birth in an out-of-the-way location, but they left without harming the baby, which looked like an ordinary human. Doggett and Reyes stubbornly confronted an angry Kersh, implying they won't let him stop them from investigating X-Files cases despite the fact they fear he's linked, knowingly or not, to an obstructionist conspiracy, since he once met secretly with two FBI agents who turned out during the childbirth emergency to be alien drones of the "Billy Miles" type. Mulder later kissed Scully, hinting the child is his and "miraculous," though only in the ordinary sense and not in any way the aliens or the rogue scientists would understand.
Season nine began with Mulder, apparently threatened by forces within the FBI, going into hiding (perhaps wise, since he and Scully appeared to have about seven relatives dead under mysterious circumstances, counting Mulder's sister, Mulder's legal dad, Scully's sister, the mother of Mulder's half-brother, Mulder's half-brother, Mulder's own mother, and Mulder's biological dad). Mulder and Scully's baby, William perhaps because the scientists infused him with alien DNA in the womb exhibited slowly-developing telekinetic powers. Instead of renewed budget-crunching or threats from Kersh, who Doggett attempted to investigate for ties to the conspiracy, Doggett and Reyes instead found themselves harried by an FBI assistant director named Follmer with old romantic ties to Reyes. The real threat, as always, remained the dispersal of alien DNA into human bodies, especially babies, by disguised alien invaders or their agents. At least one alien drone, formerly Doggett's FBI confidant, may have been a product of a project to create unkillable, regenerating "super-soldiers" using the alien DNA, rather than a full-fledged alien. One of his fellow super-soldiers, a woman named McMahon claiming to hate the super-soldier project, decapitated him to rescue Scully, Reyes, and Doggett. After apparently aiding in the destruction of a ship central to the super-soldier project, she survived drowning and near-disembowelment.
So, alien DNA, combined with human DNA, appears to produce...
...perhaps depending on the circumstances of the human-alien gene splicing. Perhaps by the beginning of season nine, the aliens were focused on creating deadly super-soldiers instead of the various other, earlier types, which may only have been legacies of the five-decade, half-hearted, human-led collaboration conspiracy. Though it was unclear what their next move would be, the aliens clearly seemed to be tracking and quite likely tampering with large numbers of mothers and babies, at least at the time of the dueling super-soldiers incident.
Near mid-season nine, Scully was contacted by another couple whose child has strange powers. The father was killed by a man from the NSA, referred to as the Shadow Man, who nearly lured Mulder out of hiding and who later told Scully that either Mulder or William must die, whereupon his super-soldier body was destroyed by some seemingly telekinetic force.
This may hint at an impending deus ex machina ending for the whole series, centered on baby William.
[UPDATE: No, instead (around the same time that the Lone Gunmen sacrificed themselves to stop bioterrorists--and about one year after their failed spin-off series, which began in early 2001, strangely enough, with a terrorist plot to crash a passenger jet into the World Trade Center) Jeffrey Spender returned, deformed by alien-DNA experimentation and planning to commit suicide, and paused to inject William with a vaccine that eliminated his alien psi-powers, inspiring Mulder and Scully to give him up for adoption , to keep him safely away from the conspiracy. Mulder and Scully themselves had to go on the run, after witnessing the final return and certain death of the CSM, who was blown apart by rockets from black helicopters operated by an increasingly pervasive conspiracy, a conspiracy apparently worried that the CSM knew the aliens' bodies get torn apart (as the Shadow Man was) when in close proximity to magnetite. This knowledge does Mulder and Scully little good, though, for even though Kersh is now on their side, other elements in the government have framed Mulder for murder and in the final scene of the final episode, Mulder and Scully, in hiding, can find consolation only in the thought that if humanity is exterminated on schedule by 2012, at least there may be an afterlife. A pathetic end to nine years of meandering and red herrings. Couldn't they have just given us a big high-altitude magnetite bomb killing all the aliens on Earth and called it a day, or maybe turned their attention to Bigfoot?]