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The X-Files – The End (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

The End is a watershed moment for the show.

There is a reasonable argument to be made that The End accomplishes very little in terms of narrative. It doesn’t really do a great job bridging to The X-Files: Fight the Future. It certainly doesn’t do a great job wrapping up any of the show’s long-running concerns. Indeed, it adds two characters who will go on to become major (if controversial) players in the show’s overarching mythology. Even the big dramatic twist at the end of the episode feels familiar, with The End closing on a more memorable visualisation of the cliffhanger to The Erlenmeyer Flask.

Burn, baby, burn...

Burn, baby, burn…

Nevertheless, The End does feel like an end of sorts. It closes out five seasons of The X-Files. Carter had suggested in interviews that he only wanted to do five seasons of the show before transitioning into feature films, and so The End marks the conclusion of the run that Carter had originally planned for the show. After all, The X-Files had crossed the hundred episode mark earlier in the year. It was ripe for syndication. It was at the stage where Fox and Ten Thirteen did not need to keep the show on the air to keep printing money.

At the same time, The End marks another more definitive sort of end. It would be the last piece of The X-Files to be filmed in Vancouver until The X-Files: I Want to Believe a decade later. Vancouver was a part of the show’s DNA. It had been the show’s production hub since The Pilot. More than two decades later, The X-Files would return to Vancouver for its six-episode wrap-up miniseries. Discussing the revival, Carter argued that Vancouver was “a natural place to make a show like The X-Files.” Certainly, the mood and atmosphere lent itself to the series.

"My video collection!"

“My video collection!”

So The End marks a fond farewell from the production team to a city and region that had served them well.  In that respect, it feels like a more definitive sort of ending. The End opens with a scene that is confident enough to let Canada be Canada. As with the opening scene of Herrenvolk, it is almost comical how hard The End flags its “and starring Canada as Canada” cred, to the point where a mountie rushes to the aid of an assassination victim. The closing scene of The End burns down the show’s most iconic and memorable sets.

While The End is not necessarily a satisfying mythology episode or season finalé in its own right, it does feel like a suitably big moment in the evolution of the show.

Smoking gun...

Smoking gun…

There had been rumours and murmurings about a possible move from Vancouver to Los Angeles for quite some time. The rumours had begun gaining traction during the fifth season. In October 1997, David Duchovny began publicly signalling that he wanted the production to move south of the (Canadian) border. However, an interview with make-up artist Tony Lindala in the same month suggested such a move was “highly unlikely.” Things quickly changed. Sources suggested the move was “basically a done deal” in January 1998. It was only officially confirmed at the end of March.

It was no secret where all this pressure was coming from. David Duchovny was eager to get away from Vancouver. He had married actress Tea Leoni early in 1997, wearing his wedding band in flashback scenes filmed for fifth season episodes like Unusual Suspects and Travelers. Leoni was an actress working in Los Angeles, filming her sitcom The Naked Truth. Duchovny was understandably eager to spend more time with his bride. Spending a significant portion of the year so far from home can be draining.

Burn notice...

Burn notice…

For his part, Duchovny argued that he had given a lot in service of the show, and had become gradually disillusioned by the show’s refusal to make good on a promise that he claimed dated back to before The Pilot:

“They said we will just shoot the pilot there and then move to LA. After the show was picked up they told me we will do at least the first year in Vancouver because it has the right look and it will be cheaper. We can make better shows and get better production value for the dollar up there. So we did the first year. Then they said we are going into syndication, which means working continuously for three years, after which we get to go where we want. It was tough and in the middle of the third year, my girlfriend and I did split up. After three years, they were saying that we will have five great years on television then we are all going to quit. So could I handle two more years in Vancouver? I didn’t have a girlfriend anymore so I had no reason to go to LA. So I said I can handle it because Vancouver is really nice.

“Going into the fifth year, I assumed we would shoot the sixth year in LA, and it looked like it was the first time they heard about it. What happened next was that the press was saying that David Duchovny, infantile, impetuous, whimsical, weight-throwing-around star imperiously makes production move to Los Angeles just because he wants to sit in a jacuzzi with his wife in Malibu. That’s the way things happened. Good story no? It reads like a bad fairy tale. Why they kept it a secret is what I want to know.”

Given that Fox had just invested in a massive blockbuster film starring the two leads, and had convinced Carter to continue producing the show beyond that theatrical release, losing Duchovny was not really an option at this stage of the game.

Checkmate...

Checkmate…

So Duchovny used his leverage. In a number of interviews during the fifth season – at a point where the show was at the height of its popularity – he made a point to stress his unhappiness. “Either they’ll move the show to L.A., or I won’t be on the show anymore,” he was quoted in The Los Angeles Times. Rumours circulated that Duchovny had negotiated the extension to his contract so as to provide Fox and Ten Thirteen with an ultimatum: either the show moved to Los Angeles or Duchovny would only commit to appearing in eight episodes of the sixth season.

Duchovny’s attitude earned him little favour in Vancouver itself. After all, shows like The X-Files were worth over $200m to the economy of the city and the region. Local businesses began hanging “Duchovny go home” signs outside their doors. However, some were sympathetic to Duchovny. “It was hard on him,” co-star Nicholas Lea argued. “He was handed the key to the city and ended with eggs being thrown at his house. People just didn’t see that he wanted to be with his wife.”

Snow escape...

Snow escape…

Of course, this marked the beginning of what would become a recurring theme over the new few seasons. It seemed like Duchovny wasn’t just unhappy with Vancouver. He was unhappy with The X-Files as a whole. He was prone to vent his frustrations in interviews leading to the release of Fight the Future:

”I assumed there was no way it would last,” he said. He added that he believed that his character, Fox Mulder, is ”clearly insane.” ”I’d love to be off the TV show,” he was quoted as saying, ”but because of my greed I have to give them another two years.”

At a point where it seemed like The X-Files was at its zenith, Duchovny seemed to actively tearing at the show. He was publicly playing out his own dissatisfaction as the franchise’s first feature film was about to be released.

Shooter...

Shooter…

In interviews, it seemed almost like Duchovny was hoping that the studio would call his bluff when he demanded the show move to Los Angeles. Like Carter, it seemed like Duchovny had only planned for five seasons of The X-Files. In interviews around the release of the film, he made it clear that he was less than enthused about the prospect of returning for a sixth season:

“I would’ve liked this past season to be the last,” he says flatly. He’s sitting in his trailer on the Fight the Future set, dressed in T-shirt and shorts. His Nike-sandaled feet rest on copies of Yoga Journal and the Don DeLillo novel Underworld on a coffee table. Ask about the possibility that this movie could turn into a franchise a la Star Trek, and he’s even more blunt: “I’d much rather be involved in a franchise movie series than do the goddamn TV show every week.”

It was quite clear that Duchovny was increasingly unhappy with his obligations and commitments to The X-Files. It seemed quite likely that Duchovny was hoping to kick-start a career beyond the show itself. It seems likely that relatively high-profile failure of hist starring vehicle Playing God during the fifth season informed at least some of that sentiment.

Three's company!

Three’s company!

Duchovny’s dissatisfaction would cause considerable production tensions during his final years working on the show. Over the course of the fifth season, Duchovny voiced very public frustration with Gillian Anderson’s attempts to secure equal pay with her male co-star:

“To make it a gender issue is total [nonsense],” he says. “That’s not what it is. It’s just a seniority thing–seniority in terms of the initial contract, which stipulates all subsequent contracts. That’s just the way it goes–and the way it’s always gone. . . . There’s nobody out there who gets less than they can get. I want her to be as happy as she can be. If that means making as much money as she can, then I want her to make as much money as she can. That’s why I didn’t like the tone of the pronouncements, because it has nothing to do with me. Her contract has nothing to do with mine.”

Apparently Duchovny did not share the same sense of solidarity that held the cast of Friends together through their ten season run. Tensions behind the scenes would rise quickly, culminating in a lawsuit between Duchovny and Carter during the troubled seventh season.

Stick with it...

Stick with it…

All of this seemed like a harbinger of things to come. All these decisions and arguments would ripple and reverberate through the remaining four seasons of the show. The End comes at the finish of the fifth season, which had been Chris Carter’s original plan for the show. The End is the last episode of the initial run to be filmed in Vancouver. The End is the first season finalé that is closer to the end of The X-Files than to the beginning. The End is the last episode broadcast before the release of Fight of the Future.

The End arrives at the end of the show’s peak popularity. The fifth season of The X-Files was the eleventh most-watched show on prime-time television, a higher ranking than Fox’s other breakout hits like The Simpsons or 24 ever accomplished. It was all downhill from here. The sixth season would manage a respectable twelfth place in the annual ratings. The seventh would slip down to twenty-ninth. The eighth would fall less drastically, but no season of The X-Files climbed in the ratings past this point.

Praise!

Praise!

When you are standing on top of the world, there is only one path left open to you. In a way, The End really is the end. At least, it is the beginning of the end. The narrative of The X-Files was no longer the narrative of a plucky little show that had surpassed expectations and had become a breakout hit. Instead, The X-Files was a successful show dealing with all manner of internal and external pressures. The X-Files was no longer a show to be built up; it was a show to be torn down.

This is, of course, a gross over-simplification. There are great episodes ahead. There are great seasons ahead. Duchovny and Anderson still have great chemistry. Some of Chris Carter’s best (and most ambitious) work is ahead. However, attempting to reduce a nine-season production history down to a single narrative arc inevitably results in simplification. The writers would have done well to note that when trying to wind down the show’s ever-expanding and increasingly-top-heavy mythology.

"Y'know, we could have rented an office or something..."

“Y’know, we could have rented an office or something…”

The End seems to acknowledge this grand sweeping arc of history, realising that this is the end of a golden age for the show. Sparing its critics the opportunity of destroying the show, the closing act of The End burns the X-files to the ground. As Chris Carter noted on the commentary to The Red and the Black, this was largely symbolic:

This is one of the last episodes, among the last episodes ever to be shot in this office, which we would go to burn, to be a spoiler of my own mythology episode, we would burn at the end of the season five, sort of in effigy, as it were, after our long run in Vancouver where this office sat on a stage, different stages, but ultimately the same stage for about four years. And it would never be the same, when we recreated it in Los Angeles it was changed, people may not have recognized that but it was very, very different.

It is a powerful image, one that truly underscores the sense of change and trauma unfolding behind the scenes. The production team might be able to build a convincing replica of that iconic basement set once they move to Los Angeles, but The X-Files is never going to be the same again. Mulder can spend all his time trying to piece it back together, but it must – by necessity – be different.

Flame on...

Flame on…

At the same time, The End seems caught between two extremes. As much as the various production decisions embrace and acknowledge the tumultuous change taking place, the script makes an effort to reassure viewers that nothing really changes. After treating viewers to the assassination of the Cigarette-Smoking Man in Redux II and teasing his survival in The Red and the Black, The End finally brings the character back into the fold. Alex Krycek stares down the barrel of his gun as the Cigarette-Smoking Man begs him to take the shot. He can’t. The Cigarette-Smoking Man endures.

It turns out that the conspirators need the Cigarette-Smoking Man to solve a problem for them. They need him to take care of the assassin who tried to murder Gibson Praise, and to take the boy himself into custody. It seems a bit weird that there is only person in the world qualified for such an operation, particularly when his direct involvement is absolutely minimal – beyond “signing” both actions with a cigarette packet like a comic book supervillain announcing his return. One would imagine the conspirators would frown on such showmanship.

I am Sam('s father... possibly.)

I am Sam(‘s father… possibly).

Of course, it doesn’t matter that The End is unclear on why the conspirators actually need the Cigarette-Smoking Man. The show itself needs the Cigarette-Smoking Man. That is enough. The Cigarette-Smoking Man is a vital part of the show’s iconography, a reliable and recognisable image associated with The X-Files. It would be unthinkable to make the move to Los Angeles (and the transition into the movie) without bringing the character back into the fold. Having the Cigarette-Smoking Man torch the X-files is almost comforting; it would be more shocking if it were anybody but him.

The decision to close The End with the decision to pull Mulder and Scully off the X-files is another example of the episode trying to have its cake and eat it. Closing down the X-files is a pretty big cliffhanger, and makes a suitable conclusion for a farewell show. After all, what better symbolises the end of The X-Files than the end of… the X-files? However, it is quite clear to even the most savvy viewer that this is not really anything resembling an ending. Closing the X-files was a big deal… when it happened in The Erlenmeyer Flask. Here, it feels oddly reassuring.

"Well, at least I don't have to call you this time..."

“Well, at least I don’t have to call you this time…”

After all, Mulder and Scully have been pulled off the X-files before. They spent a few episodes at the start of the second season removed from that assignment, before finding their way back. Viewers know this. Although the burnt-out office makes for a stunning visual, the cliffhanger itself is pretty nuts-and-bolts. The audience has been there and done that, at this point. “The X-files are closed… again” in The End is not quite as limp as “Brian Thompson walks menacingly” in Talitha Cumi, but it’s not The Erlenmeyer Flask or Anasazi or Gethsemane.

The scripting of The End insists loudly and repeatedly that this is not really anything approaching final or definitive. Most obviously, the script introduces two major new players into an already sprawling mythology – neither of which is essential to (or even appears in) Fight the Future. The show’s central mythology is already over-stuffed and over-crowded, but The End adds even more characters to a storyline that should probably start winding down rather than continue gearing up.

"There is one more way to kill a man... but it is as intricate and precise as a well-played game of chess..."

“There is one more way to kill a man… but it is as intricate and precise as a well-played game of chess…”

Although Gibson Praise becomes a recurring part of the show’s mythology, Diana Fowley is perhaps the most controversial and divisive addition that The End makes to the larger mythology of The X-Files. Introduced as a potential romantic interest for Mulder, Chris Carter conceded on the DVD that the addition of Mimi Rogers had been proposed by David Duchovny:

Mimi Rogers was David Duchovny’s idea, and it was a great idea. I think the reason that Mimi Rogers came and did the role of Diana Fowley was because of David, that they had worked together previously. She had the physical stature, bearing, mien that we needed for the character, she was ultimately going to be a villain, and she was believable as an ex-love-interest of Mulder’s.

The arrival of Diana Fowley is the logical conclusion of a recurring thread running through the fifth season. With episodes like Detour teasing a possible romance between the leads and with the emphasis of Fight the Future being on the relationship between Mulder and Scully, The X-Files was going to start actively leaning into the sexual tension between Mulder and Scully.

"Consider yourself fired..."

“Consider yourself fired…”

As such, Diana Fowley was a character designed to be hated by just about every section of X-Files fandom. The “shippers” would hate Fowley for serving as a transparent obstacle between Mulder and Scully. The “no-romos” would hate Fowley for enhancing this decidedly soap opera dynamic to the show. In on-line discussions of the show, Frank Spotnitz seemed to suggest that the writers intended this reaction:

I thought Diana was deliciously threatening and the turns she took from appearing to be nothing more than Scully’s rival to being CSM’s ally, to finally betraying CSM, were interesting. I know a lot of people hate her character, but I think a lot of that is because they love Scully. I’m always interested to watch how opinion changes over time. When I joined the show, nearly 6 years ago, everyone hated X and wanted us to bring back Deep Throat. Now, more people know who X was, than Deep Throat so I’ll be curious to see what people think of Diana in a few years’ time.

Of course, there is a very thin line between the sort of “love to hate” reaction that characters like Krycek or the Cigarette-Smoking Man evoke and the more generic (and less enjoyable) “hate to hate” reaction reserved for characters that really fail to land with the audience. Diana Fowley would land very firmly in the “hate to hate” bracket, a problem that the writers would not quite work around.

Fowl(ey) play...

Fowl(ey) play…

To be fair, the problems with Diana Fowley are not necessarily rooted in the character of Fowley herself. Quite simply, Fowley has a fairly disappointing impact in the way that the production team tend to write for Scully. She reduces Scully to the role of a jealous lover. Even Gibson – the super-important key to the X-files! – is ultimately drawn into the relationship drama. It occasionally seems like his telepathy is just a vehicle for that romantic triangle. “I know you’re thinking about one of the girls you brought,” Gibson teases. “One of them’s thinking about you.”

Unable to take a hint, Gibson refuses to drop it. “You’re wondering, aren’t you?” he asks Scully later in the episode. “About that other girl. She’s wondering about you, too.” The episode goes out of its way to stress that Gibson’s UST-dar is not malfunctioning. Scully visits the Lone Gunmen under the pretense of researching psychic phenomena. However, it turns out that she is just digging for dirty about a new romantic rival. Switching off the monitor, she instructs them, “First… I want you guys to tell me who Diana Fowley is.”

Group work...

Group work…

“Jealous girlfriend” is not a look that suits Scully. The production team should knows this. After all, there were shades of it when the character Phoebe Green was introduced back in Fire during the first season. There is a reason that Mulder’s ex-girlfriend who was more into the paranormal than Scully didn’t recur, even beyond the fact that “Mulder’s ex-girlfriend who was more into the paranormal than Scully” is a pretty cheesy plot element. Gillian Anderson does the best that she can with the material at hand, but is not well-served by it.

It doesn’t help that The End is coming off a season that has worked really hard to squeeze Scully into a very traditional gender role. Episodes like Christmas Carol, Emily, Chinga and All Souls have dealt rather directly with the idea that Scully really wants to be a mother – a character development that seems rather at odds with the no nonsense professional introduced as early as The Jersey Devil. The show never really explains this transition, taking for granted that Scully should want kids at this point in her life.

"It was a nice piece of work, Cigarette-Smoking Man. But you shouldn't have signed it."

“It was a nice piece of work, Cigarette-Smoking Man. But you shouldn’t have signed it.”

Certainly, Mulder never really finds himself asking an equivalent question. An extended portion of the eighth season is dedicated to Scully becoming a mother. The show never really affords Mulder the same character arc outside the broad hypotheticals of the late eighth season. The closest Mulder comes to dealing with fatherhood is in the opening scenes of Nothing Important Happened Today I, which suggest a rather more… cavalier attitude to parenthood than Scully has. It is unfortunate that the fifth season finds Cully so awkwardly forced into both “special mother” and “jealous girlfriend” roles.

(In fact, both The End and The Beginning manage to have Scully fill both roles over the course of the two-parter. She is decidedly more interested in the well-being of Gibson Praise than either Mulder or Fowley. Mulder chases the alien into the reactor in The Beginning, with Gibson being there by happy coincidence. In contrast, Scully tends to Gibson’s wounds and cradles him – even accompanying him to the hospital. So The End gets to have its cake and eat it with regards to the characterisation of Scully.)

Stand up guy...

Stand up guy…

Interestingly, the introduction of Fowley in The End represents a clear engagement with the show’s past. The fourth season was very interested in fostering a real and tangible connection with the first season. Max Fenig had been a one-shot guest character from Fallen Angel, and found himself the focus of an epic two-parter in Tempus Fugit and Max. The Cigarette-Smoking Man eavesdropped on The Pilot in Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man. Scott Blevins reappeared for the first time since Conduit. This is a different sort of engagement.

If the fourth season was interested in the broadcast history of The X-Files, then the fifth season is interested in the secret history of The X-Files. The fifth season posits three different (but reconcilable) origin stories for Mulder’s interest in the case. Unusual Suspects wryly suggests it is all the result of drug-fueled paranoia. Travelers implies he was drawn into it by the mention of his father’s name. The End posits that Mulder and Fowley found the work together. None of these ideas are exclusive, but is interesting the show should be so fixated on this origin so suddenly.

"So, how did you end up down here, Mulder?"

“So, how did you end up down here, Mulder?”

In a way, it reflects the epiphany that Carter had back when he was writing Redux I at the start of the season. Drafting the opening two-parter, Carter seemed to realise that he could just keep expanding and developing the world of The X-Files. After all, that is how he managed to escape the cliffhanger from Gethsemane; Redux I wrote its way around the cliffhanger by simply revealing more information around the clips broadcast a few months earlier. The solution to any narrative problem facing Carter was simply to add more story.

This was a clever resolution to the Gethsemane cliffhanger, but not necessarily the best policy for managing a sprawling story. Diana Fowley is very much the personification of this approach. She is a piece of story that did not exist until she was needed, a seemingly vital part of Mulder’s back story conjured out of thin air. There is no foreshadowing of her arrival, not necessity for her presence. She serves no larger story purpose, to the point where the show quickly runs out of ideas about what to do with her.

A silencer.

A silencer.

To be fair, The End seems acutely aware of all that. Early in the episode, Mulder arrives in his office to find Skinner waiting for him. During their talk, Skinner casually drops the title into conversation, offering what should be a thematically resonant line.  “I came down to ask you something,” Skinner confesses. “I guess I was nosing around, wondering about your… long-term plans.” When Mulder points to the files in Skinner’s hands, Skinner elaborates, “What do you hope to find? I mean, in the end?”

It is a big question, and not just because it includes the episode’s title as a pointer to how important it is. The X-Files was already stretching itself past Carter’s original plan. It was fair enough to ask what the long-term goals were to be, beyond the next case of the week. What represents an end game for The X-Files? What can Carter and his staff build towards in the years ahead? Does the perpetual extension and expansion of the show mean giving up on the idea of a satisfying fully-formed ending?

Boy wonder...

Boy wonder…

Even without the metafictional dimension, Skinner raises some interesting questions about Mulder. When does Mulder consider his quest complete? If he got back Samantha, would he stop? If he destroyed the conspiracy, would he stop? Does he need public vindication, or is private vindication enough? These are the sorts of questions that any final episode of The X-Files would really have to address from Mulder’s perspective. The End raises these questions, but never quite addresses them.

Four of the first five season finalés are build around a macguffin – Mulder and Scully get their hands on something that the government does not want them to have, and things escalate quickly. Gibson Praise is the macguffin of choice here, and he works fairly reasonably. He is not as compelling as the foetus in The Erlenmeyer Flask or the tape in Anasazi, but he is more believable as an object of interest than the stiletto in Talitha Cumi. In a way, he most resembles Jeremiah Smith in Herrenvolk, a pleasant person that might have some answers he’s not quite sharing.

"We are going to get a talking-to from the fire marshal after this."

“We are going to get a talking-to from the fire marshal after this.”

It seems a bit weird that Gibson Praise should be lauded as proof of Mulder’s work. He obviously is proof of Mulder’s work, but it seems a little strange that Mulder should be so excited about this individual case even before he finds out that Gibson Praise is “more human than human.” Why wasn’t Mulder this excited and gung-ho when he discovered other vaguely psychic people like Robert Patrick Modell in Pusher or Augustus Cole in Sleepless? Mulder wasn’t even this excited when he captured a real live fluke mutant in The Host, and that was much weirder.

Gibson Praise is presented as something akin to the Holy Grail. He is the magical connecting material that somehow ties everything in the show together. “This kid may be the key not just to all human potential, but to all spiritual unexplained paranormal phenomena,” Mulder insists, having never learnt to manage expectations. “The key to everything in the X-Files.” While Mulder has a tendency to get a little over-excited about things, it feels weird that this particular case draws this much energy.

Holding on together...

Holding on together…

It is also worth wondering where all of this falls in Mulder’s big arc of the season. Redux I and Redux II suggested that Mulder had lost his faith in the paranormal, and that he was only gradually earning it back at the end of The Red and the Black, building into the climax of Fight the Future. However, there is no cynicism here. Mulder is presented as just as much of a believer as he has ever been. He accepts everything that Gibson says at face value, making the sorts of wonderful logical leaps that audiences have come to love from Mulder.

Of course, the real reason for all of this is “because the plot says so.” There is some very contrived plotting at work in The End, to the point where it all seems to fall apart if you think about it too much. Why is the Cigarette-Smoking Man needed for this assignment in particular? Why does Mulder freak out so much about Gibson Praise? Why does the Cigarette-Smoking Man wait so long to execute the shooter? Isn’t it convenient that Diana Fowley just happens to attend Spender’s briefing as an expert in psychic phenomenon even before they know the kid is psychic?

"I'm really disappointed that you guys haven't introduced smart-cas since I've been gone."

“I’m really disappointed that you guys haven’t introduced smart-cas since I’ve been gone.”

Sure, it is possible to intuit or derive answers to all those questions. Maybe the Cigarette-Smoking Man was trying to lure Mulder into overplaying his hand, and so scared the shooter into confessing so that Mulder would then be really (albeit conveniently) screwed when he did kill the shooter. Maybe Fowley has already been compromised and is already conspiring against Mulder and Scully. Although, if that were the case, how come Gibson never sees fit to mention that between all his shipping fodder?

It should be noted that the “god module” to which Mulder alludes in conversations about Gibson Praise was quite a popular idea in the late nineties. The concept was proposed in 1997 by a study at the University of California. However, it is markedly different than the concept Mulder suggests here – research suggested that there could be a physical location in the brain that controls religious belief. Subsequent studies have suggested no such part of the brain actually exists. (Although Mulder seems to have “god module” confused with “god mode.”)

Talk about being played...

Talk about being played…

Still, Gibson Praise does fit quite comfortably with the broader themes of the fifth season. The season is populated with stories of special children – children cursed with unlikely gifts and children working through strained relations with their parents. Gibson Praise is just a logical continuation from the Monster in The Post-Modern Prometheus, Emily in Emily, Karin Matthews in Schizogeny, Polly Turner in Chinga, the intelligence in Kill Switch, Marty Glenn in Mind’s Eye or the quadruplets in All Souls. Gibson Praise sits comfortably in that milieu.

Arguably, Agent Jeffrey Spender is another example of the strained parent-child dynamic at work in the fifth season. The End suggests that Chris Owens is simply playing a variation of the character he played in The Post-Modern Prometheus, that Agent Jeffrey Spender is the product of a truly monstrous individual trying to find his own way in the world. His strained relation with both his parents suggests a bitter inner conflict as Spender tries desperately to find his own way in the world.

Hey, big Spender!

Hey, big Spender!

Patient X and The Red and the Black introduced Spender as a foil to Mulder. The End plays up that contrast, positioning Spender’s character arc in opposition to that of Mulder. Mulder is a child who came from wealth and power, but who abandoned all that in his pursuit of justice. His father was deeply involved in the conspiracy, and the Cigarette-Smoking Man made a very conscious effort to recruit Mulder over the course of Redux II. Mulder has left all that – and a promising career – behind to toil in a basement.

Jeffrey Spender is a character who is benefiting greatly from privilege. He has accepted the offer from the Cigarette-Smoking Man in the hope of advancing his career and his station. While Mulder firmly rejects all the compromises that his father made, Spender makes himself complicit through unquestioning loyalty and obedience. He is a good son, but he is precisely the wrong man at this point. Even before Mulder found out exactly what his father had done, Mulder seemed to renounce him. Even after Spender finds out what his father has done, he supports him.

The perfect shot...

The perfect shot…

The End and The Beginning push away from the broadly sympathetic (or at least understandable) portrayal of Spender in Patient X and The Red and the Black. Spender is revealed to be an antagonistic pushover who exists to block Mulder’s path. It is interesting how the script compares and contrasts the two characters. After all, Mulder is incredibly rude and confrontational to Spender. Sure, Spender probably shouldn’t have excluded him from the briefing, but Mulder goes out of his way to be obnoxious.

He practically heckles Spender during his presentation. “Sorry, can you rewind the tape?” Mulder insists, after arriving late and refusing to take a seat. He proceeds to attempt to hijack the conversation. “Please. I’ll tell you where. Just take it back?” Spender tries to remain reasonably professional, suggesting they talk outside the briefing. “Let me get through this. If you have any questions, we can talk later.” Mulder cuts to the chase, with typical tact, “I don’t have any questions. No. I just think you’re wrong.”

"You know, if this is the most fiendish plan the Cigarette-Smoking Man could come up with after five years, I think we're okay."

“You know, if this is the most fiendish plan the Cigarette-Smoking Man could come up with after five years, I think we’re okay.”

It is hard to tell how sympathetic the episode expects us to be to Mulder. Carter’s scripts for the show tend to take Mulder at face value. Certainly, Spender is never really developed or fleshed out in The End or The Beginning. There is a sense that the show wants the audience to side with Mulder when he warns Spender, “You’re insulting me when you should be taking notes.” It seems like the episode expects a little fist pump from the members of the audience as Mulder puts the little pup in his place.

This interesting contrast can arguably be seen when the two clash over the treatment of the prisoner. The shooter tells Mulder that Spender has refused to provide him with food or water. This is rightly considered inhumane treatment. “I won’t tolerate that,” Mulder states, proving how heroic he is while getting Spender out of the room. “Spender, you got to get this guy some food.” After all, this isn’t the “fun” and visceral prisoner violence in which Mulder has been known to engage in episodes like Ascension.

Pause for thought...

Pause for thought…

However, while Spender’s behaviour is presented as wrong, the episode seems to think that Mulder is being perfectly reasonable when he threatens to leak information that would undoubtedly lead to the execution of the shooter. “I’m a pretty good guesser,” Mulder boasts. “The kid reads minds. How’s that? Why don’t I tell him you told me that, and then let’s see how safe and snug you feel in here.” That would effectively be a death sentence for the shooter; both Mulder and the shooter know that. The End seems to consider that a perfectly legitimate interrogation technique.

Then again, the writing feels more than a little clumsy. The End is positively riddled with awkward chess metaphors, most of them coming from the Cigarette-Smoking Man who seems to be auditioning for a role as a Batman villain. Having latched on to the notion that Gibson Praise plays chess, the Cigarette-Smoking Man boasts to the Well-Manicured Man, “It’s all a game. You just take their pieces, one by one until the board is clear.” When Spender asks for information, the Cigarette-Smoking Man advises, “Control the board.” It is all a bit laboured.

Things come to a head (shot)...

Things come to a head (shot)…

In theory, The End should also segue gently into the big summer film that is due to open in a few short weeks. After all, one of the joys of releasing a feature film while broadcasting a television show is the free promotional opportunities. However, The End does not sit entirely comfortably with Fight the Future. It heavily features characters completely absent from the film. Jeffrey Spender, Diana Fowley and Gibson Praise are key players in The End and The Beginning, but conspicuously absent from Fight the Future.

Of course, The End fits a lot of the more basic requirements leading into Fight the Future. The X-files are closed in The End so that they might be reopened in Fight the Future. The Cigarette-Smoking Man is brought back into the fold in The End so that he can step out of a helicopter as if nothing has changed in Fight the Future. However, there is no real sense of continuity between The End and Fight the Future. There is a sense that The Beginning does a much better job flowing out of Fighting the Future than The End does leading in.

Nick of time...

“Man, I am really glad that I swapped shifts with Well-Manicured Man’s other driver for Fight the Future.”

Perhaps the nicest piece of character continuity that bleeds from The End into Fight the Future is the characterisation of the Well-Manicured Man, who is horrified at the suggestion that the Cigarette-Smoking Man would murder Gibson Praise. “Dear God,” he complains. Later, when Gibson recognises the Well-Manicured Man as “a liar”, the older character is taken aback. The Cigarette-Smoking Man wryly observes, “You’ve never had the stomach for our business.” It does build to the Well-Manicured Man’s betrayal of the group in Fight the Future.

Of course, Patient X and The Red and the Black have already clearly established that the Well-Manicured Man is firmly at odds with many of his contemporaries. His horror with the brutality employed by the Cigarette-Smoking Man dates back to his earliest appearances in The Blessing Way and Paper Clip. The Well-Manicured Man actually has a very nice and logical character arc that plays out quite well across his appearances, even if his betrayal is not the twist Fight the Future makes it out to be.

The End is a big moment for the show, and everybody involved seems to know it. However, the script itself feels decidedly functional and stitched together. There are a few powerful moments to be found, but they don’t fit entirely comfortably within the framework of the script. The End closes a very important chapter in the life of the show with more of a whimper than a bang.

You might be interested in our other reviews of the fifth season of The X-Files:

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3 Responses

  1. I heard Vancouverans wanted to burn Duchovny in effigy, but they couldn’t find anything wooden enough.

  2. Nope. We couldn’t find anything DRY enough. We”re not called the Wet Coast for nothing!

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