Being a first-generation geek is a tough burden to bear. While many people my age grew up watching classic sci-fi and fantasy with their parents, I was trapped in a boring, imagination-less void until my reading skills were advanced enough for Harry Potter. This being the case, I never got to experience firsthand many of the television shows that are all but sacred to other geeks of my generation.
Two weeks ago, I decided on a whim that it was long since time for me to watch The X-Files, which originally aired between 1993 and 2002. Though the show has faced some valid criticism on this blog before, I have been thoroughly enjoying the first few seasons as a first-time viewer, and it’s easy to see why it became such a cult classic.
The story follows Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, two FBI agents assigned to a “special” department to investigate all the really weird cases that no one else can make heads or tails of. Usually paranormal or extraterrestrial forces are at play, and in spite of their best efforts and Mulder’s unhealthy obsession with aliens, they either can’t solve the case or—if they do solve it—they can’t prove their conclusions to other people. Their frustrations are compounded by the fact that both individuals and covert government programs are constantly at work to cover up evidence and stop secrets from being made public, so Mulder and Scully are constantly having evidence destroyed and having their memories wiped.
In that regard, it’s a bit of a frustrating show, because our heroes just can’t seem to win. They usually succeed in saving a life or two or even neutralizing the threat, but as the show goes on it becomes increasingly difficult to believe that they could keep their jobs for so long if they’re not solving a single case. With that said, the cases themselves are generally pretty imaginative and intriguing, which make them simply fun to watch if you can suspend your disbelief a little.
The X-Files has a recurring theme of UFO sightings and abduction cases, many of which are loosely connected to the abduction of Mulder’s younger sister when he was a child. I find, however, that I have been enjoying the “monster of the week”-style supernatural episodes more. Mulder seems to already know everything there is to know about UFOs, so whenever something alien-related happens, the episode mostly features Mulder ranting on and on and Scully rolling her eyes. The episodes that focus on creepy human experiments or biological anomalies in nature are more dynamic, because the two have to work out the details and solve the problem together.
There is one story arc in Season 1 where Scully and Mulder uncover a human eugenics experiment from the 1940s that cloned a genetically modified group of men and women. The resulting clones were exceptionally strong and intelligent, but also violently mentally unstable, and they seemed to have a psychic connection to each other. One of the female clones had escaped and used a fertilization clinic to continue propagating more violent, manipulative clone children using unsuspecting women as hosts. It was a dark and fascinating idea, made creepier because elements of it were plausible to some degree. It was also a case where Scully and Mulder were both baffled by the details and didn’t work out what was happening until it was nearly too late. There are other episodes about previously-unknown animals or bacteria that are especially interesting also, and they break up Mulder’s UFO ranting into palatable chunks.
I have only seen up to the end of Season 2 so far, and I have heard tell that the storytelling goes off the rails a bit in later seasons. I can’t attest to that personally, but I do know of plenty of other shows whose stories have suffered because the show itself became a cash cow, and a nine-year run does tend to steer a show into the ground. Regardless of what flaws may emerge in later seasons, I do feel confident recommending the first two seasons to new viewers. Elements of the show are a bit dated and a bit contrived, but it is wonderfully entertaining and creative, and the two main characters have great chemistry. My advice would be to watch it until whatever point you start to dislike it, and don’t let any geek elitist shame you into watching any further.