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The X-Files – Monday (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

It always ends the same way. As is appropriate for a story about a time loop, Monday begins with an ending. The teaser catches the last few minutes of one of the episode’s repeating time loops. It is a striking image. Everybody dies – including Mulder and Scully. How could the episode possibly continue past that point? It is simple. Time resets. The universe snaps back into shape around Mulder and Scully, much like it did at the climax of Dreamland II. Everybody gets another chance to set things right. The show bounces back to its status quo, as it did with One Son.

Time for a do-over. Revise it until it’s right.

A ticking clock...

A ticking clock…


It always begins the same way, playing out with minor variations. Sometimes it goes faster; sometimes it goes slower. The conversations go different directions, the emphasis shifts subtly. Words are substituted. However, it is more or less the same day. It is just lived over and over and over again. Every time it ends, you just get bumped right back to the start. Do not pass “go.” As such, you can begin another desperate search for meaning and make one more effort to get out of it all in one piece.

Time loop narratives are a staple of science fiction. The idea that characters are trapped in a perpetual present with no future has inspired countless classic science-fiction stories. The time loop is just a particularly brutal iteration of the time paradox, the classic time travel story where a character realises too late that their character arc is a circle rather than a line. As the use of the phrase “loop” suggests, these stories tend to feature characters caught going around in circles.

A nasty wake-up call...

A nasty wake-up call…

As with lots of great science-fiction devices, it is a potent metaphor for the way that life works. Very few viewers can empathise with the literal idea of being trapped living out the same twenty-four hours, but many will recognise the experience. The dull repetition. The lack of meaningful progress. The idea that going to sleep at night just “resets” the clock back to its original setting so we can begin again, refreshed and renewed. Each day is slightly different, but it’s the same in every way that counts.

Although the stock comparison for an episode like Monday is something like Groundhog Day or Run Lola Run, the episode takes its inspiration from a far older source. Vince Gilligan is perhaps the X-Files staff writer who is most overtly influenced by television in his writing. X-Cops is a very self-aware piece of television, while the opening sequence of Drive plays with the format by staging a car chase. Even when it comes to episodes with clear cinematic influences – Bad Blood and Drive – Gilligan is prone to cite classic television as his inspiration.

A ticking time bomb of insanity...

A ticking time bomb of insanity…

In the case of Monday, the inspiration came from The Twilight Zone. In The Truth About Season Six, Gilligan explained:

The funny thing about Monday is… people say ‘we really like it a lot’, but people always smile and say, ‘well, you’re ripping off Groundhog Day, aren’t you? With this day that keeps repeating over and over again?’ And I say, ‘We’re not ripping off Groundhog Day. We’re ripping off The Twilight Zone!’

The episode of The Twilight Zone in question was Shadow Play, the second season episode adapted by Charles Beaumont from his own short story.

“Well, this has turned out to be quite an interesting day…”

Interestingly, this was not the first time that Rod Sterling production had been associated with the idea of a time loop. A similar idea underpinned The Time Element, a 1958 teleplay written by Sterling for Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse. It was the attention garnered by The Time Element that afforded Sterling the opportunity to craft his own science-fiction and fantasy anthology. In fact, The Time Element is considered such a vital part of the history of The Twilight Zone that it is packaged on the first season blu ray release.

Although this demonstrates that the idea of the time loop is nothing new, it should be noted that the nineties saw an increased interest in the concept of the time loop – with a number of major motion pictures running with the idea during the decade. Groundhog Day is the most popular, but 1998 had seen the release of both Sliding Doors and Run Lola Run. Genre television was increasingly fond of the device, with Star Trek: The Next Generation offering up Cause and Effect in 1992 and Stargate: SG-1 serving up Window of Opportunity in 2000.

Dying to see how this ends...

Dying to see how this ends…

Even discounting stories where reiteration was a central point of the time travel narrative, the long nineties saw an abundance of time loops and temporal paradoxes. The Terminator series grappled with the idea of causality and free will. In Life between Two Deaths 1989/2001, Philip E. Wegner proposes that the fixation on time loops in nineties science-fiction reflected a contemporary anxiety about the end of history:

Thus history in the first Terminator film, as in all works of this SF subgenre, unfolds according to a rigidly deterministic logic, in which any apparently free action is revealed as no more than a prescripted movement in an always already concluded narrative. As Slavoj Zizek puts it, writing of the subgenre as a whole, “The subject is confronted with a scene from the past that he wants to change, to meddle with, to intervene in; he takes a journey into the past, intervenes in the scene, and it is not that he ‘cannot change anything’ – quite the contrary, only through his intervention does the scene from the past become what it always was: his intervention was from the beginning comprised, included.”

The idea of “the end of history” haunts The X-Files, with the show seemingly worried that everything ended with the collapse of Communism and the fall of the Berlin Wall. The show reflects nineties existential anxieties, wondering whether a future exists beyond the present “unipolar moment.” The show had used time travel to touch on these themes before, with Synchrony dreading the end of history.

Quick draw...

Quick draw…

The end of history means that there is no future, that there is nothing beyond the “now.” The future is a recurring theme in Monday. Pam finds herself (and everybody around her) living the same day over and over again – struggling to reach the next day, but always ending up back where they started. It is heavily implied that Bernard is inspired to rob the bank because of his own difficulties envisioning a future. When Pam suggests that it is not too late for him to go to work, Bernard responds, “Who cares? Like there’s a big future in mopping floors. Like that’s something to lose.”

“This time tomorrow, Pam,” he promises. Pam finishes the thought, “Everything will be roses.” The irony is bitter. There will never be a tomorrow. There will never be a future. Even as the nineties were coming to an end, it seemed like The X-Files was perfectly in tune with the decade. Situated between the Cold War and the War on Terror, the nineties were a period of untold prosperity and success. However, they also lacked a clear sense of momentum or purpose. It could feel like the world was just spinning around aimlessly, never actually going anywhere.

Cheque it out...

Cheque it out…

October 1999 would see the release of Fight Club, itself a meditation on the apathy and disenfranchisement of the decade. As evidenced by the movie’s avowed fanbase, it seems that Chuck Palahnuik tapped into something with the rage of spoilt manchild Tyler Durden. “We’re the middle children of history, man,” Durden proclaims at one point in the film. “No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives.”

This bland sameness is reflected in the way that Monday captures the dull routine for Mulder and Scully. A recurring gag in the episode is that Mulder and Scully are late for a Kafka-esque meeting that never seems to end – Scully describes it as “the longest in FBI history.” The meeting, appropriately enough, concerns the future. The episode’s first cut to the meeting features an agent droning, “Now, that’s assuming these trends continue well into the coming year…” The future seems to be set. It is the same as it has ever been.

“This never happened before.”

Interestingly, there is an argument to be made that aesthetic tastes “froze” in the nineties – that pop culture itself ended up frozen in some sort of time loop. As Kurt Anderson argued in 2012, the nineties does not seem as distant from the present day as the seventies did from the nineties:

The Aeron chair in which you’re sitting is identical to the Aeron chair in which I sat almost two decades ago, and this morning I boiled water for my coffee in the groovy Alessi kettle I bought a quarter-century ago. With rare exceptions, cars from the early 90s (and even the late 80s) don’t seem dated. Not long ago in the newspaper, I came across an archival photograph of Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell with a dozen of their young staff at Morgans, the Ur-boutique hotel, in 1985. It was an epiphany. Schrager’s dress shirt had no collar and some of the hair on his male employees was a bit unfashionably fluffy, but no one in the picture looks obviously, laughably dated by today’s standards. If you passed someone who looked like any of them, you wouldn’t think twice. Yet if, in 1990 or 1980 or 1970, you’d examined a comparable picture from 27 years earlier—from 1963 and 1953 and 1943, respectively—it would be a glimpse back into an unmistakably different world. A man or woman on the street in any year in the 20th century groomed and dressed in the manner of someone from 27 years earlier would look like a time traveler, an actor in costume, a freak. And until recently it didn’t take even that long for datedness to kick in: by the late 1980s, for instance, less than a decade after the previous decade had ended, the 1970s already looked ridiculous.

There are, of course, a few exceptions today—genuinely new cultural phenomena that aren’t digital phenomena—but so few that they prove the rule. Twenty years ago we had no dark, novelistic, amazing TV dramas, no Sopranos or Deadwood or The Wire or Breaking Bad. Recycling bins weren’t ubiquitous and all lightbulbs were incandescent. Men wore neckties more frequently. Fashionable women exposed less of their breasts and bra straps, and rarely wore ultra-high-heeled shoes. We were thinner, and fewer of us had tattoos or piercings. And that’s about it.

Not coincidentally, it was exactly 20 years ago that Francis Fukuyama published The End of History, his influential post-Cold War argument that liberal democracy had triumphed and become the undisputed evolutionary end point toward which every national system was inexorably moving: fundamental political ferment was over and done. Maybe yes, maybe no. But in the arts and entertainment and style realms, this bizarre Groundhog Day stasis of the last 20 years or so certainly feels like an end of cultural history.

This theory is borne out in The X-Files itself. Although it is fun to laugh at some of the early suits worn by Mulder and Scully or to mock the size of their mobile phones, the show is not too far removed from the aesthetics of the present day. It really does not seem like time has marched on twenty years.

A new perspective...

A new perspective…

If the emphasis on the time loop as a narrative trope expresses an underlying sense of nineties existential crisis, then it seems as though Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko offers some sense of closure. Set in October 1988 and released in October 2001, Donnie Darko serves to bookend the long nineties by offering the viewer a temporal loop that is eventually shattered by an airline disaster. Written and filmed before the events of 9/11, the symbolism inherent in Donnie Darko is uncanny and unsettling.

In many ways, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 represented the end of the nineties, shattering the sense of perpetual “nowness” that defined the decade. If much of the decade had been spent in search of purpose or direction, the War on Terror provided a sense of focus and purpose that had been missing since the end of the Cold War. It was a brutal and horrific attack that left deep and visible scars. It seemed like it took a catastrophe to end the nineties, to throw all those anxieties into focus.

Well, there is probably a less contrived way to have Scully take Mulder's shirt off...

Well, there is probably a less contrived way to have Scully take Mulder’s shirt off…

Monday ends on a similarly grim note, suggesting that death is the only possible outcome to this perpetual time loop. Pam cannot escape the sense of dread and repetition without sacrificing herself. It is her sacrifice that releases the other characters from the loop, a particularly ironic twist given that she is the only one aware of it. Monday is a rather grim and cynical episode of The X-Files, but one that feels particularly in tune with the decade around it. The X-Files is a cultural artifact of the nineties, even as the decade draws to a close.


It always begins the same way, playing out with minor shifts in emphasis. Sometimes it moves quicker; sometimes it moves slower. The action plays out slightly differently, the tone shifts subtly. Words are substituted. However, it is more or less the same day. It is just lived over and over again. When it ends, as all days must, you just get bumped back to the beginning. Once there, you can begin another desperate search for meaning and make one more effort to get out of it all in one piece.

A nasty wake-up call...

A nasty wake-up call…

Monday is very much in tune with the anxieties and uncertainties of the sixth season, imagining Mulder and Scully trapped forever in a perpetual “now.” No wonder the episode’s original title was “Mobius”, evoking that looping strip that is most often pictured in a manner that recalls the “infinity” symbol. The sixth season has become increasingly fascinated with the idea that Mulder and Scully will spend eternity trapped in the same familiar status quo, repeating the same debates and arguments for all eternity.

Every change that the sixth season has made comes with the promise that things have not been altered beyond recognition. In The Beginning, Mulder and Scully found themselves pulled off the X-files; the show seemed to treat their return to the department as an inevitability. In Two Fathers and One Son, the show closed off its mythology in a way that was consciously inconclusive; not only did it reset the status quo of Mulder and Scully on the X-files, but the Cigarette-Smoking Man will be back by Biogenesis at the end of the season.

A ticking time bomb of insanity...

A ticking time bomb of insanity…

Chris Carter’s two stand-alone scripts of the year played with the idea of time and timelessness. Triangle suggested that Mulder and Scully would always fight evil together, whether in the America of 1998 or the Bermuda Triangle of 1939. How the Ghosts Stole Christmas imagined Mulder and Scully buried together in a haunted mansion, proposing that true love might just last forever. The themes of immortality and time play out across the sixth season, as it seems like the show is processing its own extended life-span.

Sometimes, it feels like frustration underpins these themes. In Dreamland I, Scully wondered whether she and Mulder would ever get out of their damned car. Dreamland II allowed Mulder to live the domestic life of a married father, but suggested that the universe could not support so radical a change before “snapping” back into shape with a convenient reset. Drive also played with the car metaphor, featuring Mulder confronting the possibility that he might be “running out of West.” In contrast, Tithonus went out of its way to suggest that Scully was immortal.

“Well, this has turned out to be quite an interesting day…”

Monday offers its own rather cynical expression of these anxieties as Mulder and Scully find themselves living the same day over and over again. The irony is laid on quite heavily, suggesting a routine that exists even outside of this particular time loop. “Cover for me, will you?” Mulder asks. He leaves without waiting for an answer. Scully frustratedly replies, to an empty office, “When do I not?” It seems like Mulder and Scully could do this forever. As The X-Files rushed through its sixth season, that seemed more and more likely.

After all, The X-Files was still a success, even if it was not quite as big as it had been the year before. The ratings might have been slightly down on the fifth season, but they were still high enough to be considered a success. The show had survived the move to Los Angeles, despite the higher production costs. Fox had tied Chris Carter and David Duchovny down for a sixth and seventh season. There were rumours of a second movie planned for 2000. The show had already lived beyond Carter’s original dream of five seasons and one hundred episodes.

Dying to see how this ends...

Dying to see how this ends…

It seemed more likely that The X-Files could just keep running. Law & Order was getting ready for its tenth season. The Simpsons was gearing up for its eleventh season with the original cast. The Star Trek franchise was on its third spin-off and eighth feature film. Although Millennium was considered something of a failed show at this point, Fox was still interested in soliciting new ideas from Chris Carter for shows like Harsh Realm or The Lone Gunmen. It seemed like the future of The X-Files was secure.

Of course, this future came at a price. The fact that The X-Files could continue to run in perpetuity meant that it could never have a proper ending. The show would not have an end point towards which it might aspire. There could be no conclusion, no closure. The key was to keep The X-Files successful and profitable, and that meant sticking quite closely to the format that had already been established and cemented over the first half-decade of the series’ lifespan. This was evidenced in the fact that even closing the X-files could not push the show too far off-format.

Quick draw...

Quick draw…

In light of all this, it is telling that the time loop in Monday is closed with the death of Pam. The episode suggests that death is the only possible outcome to this perpetual time loop. Death brings closure and resolution. Monday is a particularly grim and cynical episode of The X-Files, but one that feels particularly in tune with the season around it. As with Tithonus, it seems that immortality might be as much a curse as a blessing. Monday is a brutal piece of commentary on the show itself.


It always begins the same way, playing out with minor adjustments here and there. Sometimes it rushes by; sometimes it just drags. The events alter ever so slightly, the mood shifts almost imperceptibly. Lines of dialogue are altered. However, it is more or less the same day. It is just lived repeatedly. When the day comes to end, everything is just reset back to zero. All accomplishments are wiped, lost to history. Once back at the start, you can begin another desperate search for meaning and make one more effort to get out of it all in one piece.

A nasty wake-up call...

A nasty wake-up call…

Monday might be a potent metaphor for the larger existential crises of the nineties, or it might be a meditation on some of the recurring themes of the sixth season. However, it also plays as a rather more relatable metaphor. The episode’s title is a bit of a clue here. Writers John Shiban and Vince Gilligan retitled the episode from “Morbius” to “Monday.” Each of the four acts of the episode opens with Mulder waking up at a quarter past seven on Monday morning, having slept in and running late for a meeting.

Monday is an episode very much about routine, but it is about a very particular kind of routine. It is about a working routine. It is telling that Monday is really the only episode of The X-Files where Mulder appears to have any money trouble; the rest of the show consistently implies that Mulder is independently wealthy. As Mulder ducks out of a meeting to deposit his cheque to pay his landlord, it is not mere chance that Monday coincides with the beginning of the working week.

A ticking time bomb of insanity...

A ticking time bomb of insanity…

Watching Mulder walk past at 9am on a Monday morning, Pam reflects, “Right on schedule. Poor guy.” Although the morning plays out in a rather dramatic fashion, characters make repeated references to the mundanity of their working lives. Pam urges Bernard to just go to work on that Monday morning. Mulder skips out on a boring administrative meeting that is probably a more accurate account of life within the FBI than his regular workload. There is a sense that this is just an ordinary day in the life of Mulder and Scully.

“Travel expense reimbursement – who’s got those figures?” Skinner asks the meeting. “All I’ve got here is third and fourth quarter.” It is very mundane examination of life in The X-Files. Outside of occasional lines of dialogue in episodes like Conduit or Drive, the show never really worries about how Mulder and Scully justify their trips around the country – and even the world. This is just the bureaucratic red tape that holds it all together behind the scenes, the crushing normality of it all.

“Well, this has turned out to be quite an interesting day…”

In a way, the time loop in Monday is just a rather cynical interpretation of day-to-day existence. The long queues that never move, the mind-numbing meetings that never end. Sure, there are variations to it all, but they happen within a theme. Sometimes people get up later, sometimes earlier; sometimes public transport runs ahead of time or behind time. “You’ll pass a few minutes earlier a few minutes later,” Pam tells Mulder. “Little details, they change. But it always ends the same.” It is a crushingly depressing take on working life.

“Don’t you see?” Pam asks Mulder. “We’re all in hell. I’m the only one who knows it.” Pam experiences this particular hell every day, but it seems like Bernard is eager to escape his own everyday hell. This sense of a work-related horror story is even reflected in the choice of words that resonate with Bernard. During the botched robbery, Mulder reassures him, “You’re the boss.” Bernard seems oddly reassured by this, repeating, “I’m the boss.” He does not repeat Scully’s assurance that he is “in control”, for example.

Dying to see how this ends...

Dying to see how this ends…

As such, Monday feels like a capitalist horror story. In that respect, it is something of a companion piece to Vince Gilligan’s Folie á Deux and Drive. Folie á Deux was a story about how office work can transform people into zombies, while Drive was a horror story about the mad rush forwards and push westwards. Monday imagines hell as a working day repeated ad infinitum. Meetings that feel eternal even before we get to the time loop, economic desperation, long queues at the same bank that would turn up on Breaking Bad.

In light of this subtext, it is interesting to note that Gilligan considers himself to be “probably more conservative than most folks in the business.” There is an interesting and recurring frustration with the excesses of capitalism that appears to run through Gilligan’s work. It is arguably most pronounced in these three episodes spread across the fifth and sixth seasons of The X-Files, but the theme can also be discerned in some of Gilligan’s other writing outside of The X-Files.

Quick draw... er... write...

Quick draw… er… write…

Even though Breaking Bad attracts a lot of attention for its “conservative themes”, the show is also a cautionary tale about capitalistic excess on both a macro and micro level. If the United State had a better healthcare system, Walter White would not have the justification for his descent into villainy. Walter would always have had that bitterness and violence inside himself, but it’s arguable less damage would have been caused. Similarly, Walter is very clearly a product of a society that measures success (and masculinity) in materialist and monetary terms.

This reading of Monday as a metaphorical horror story about working life is reflected in the final sequence of the episode, as Mulder and Scully manage to break through the time loop and reach the next day. The sequence opens with the familiar shot of the newspaper delivered outside Mulder’s door, the dull thud waking Mulder up. It might finally be Tuesday, but it seems that the daily grind goes on, with Mulder receiving a phone call from Scully instructing him that he has another report to present to Skinner. The wheel keeps turning.

Cheque it out...

Cheque it out…

Perhap Pam’s death is more of an escape than she realises. Perhaps it is the happiest possible ending. After all, Mulder and Scully will keep living these sorts of days over and over again. Monday is a particularly grim and cynical episode of The X-Files, but one that feels particularly in tune with Vince Gilligan’s work on Folie á Deux and Drive. It reads very well as a criticism of the capitalist system, suggesting that the daily rat race is really just one big circle going around and around and around. There is no end.


It always begins the same way, playing out with minor adjustments here and there. Sometimes it seems to speed up; sometimes it seems to slow down. The characters occasionally skirt awareness of what is happening, as if peering behind the imaginary curtain. When the day comes to end, everything is just reset back to zero. All accomplishments are wiped, lost to history. Once back at the start, you can begin another desperate search for meaning and make one more effort to get out of it all in one piece. Except when it doesn’t.

A nasty wake-up call...

A nasty wake-up call…

Sometimes things just go off on a tangent – even if they seem to arrive at the same destination. For all the wonderful thematic resonance of Monday, it is worth focusing on just how well the episode works on a technical level, thanks to the scripting by Vince Gilligan and John Shiban and the direction from Kim Manners. The idea of staging a forty-five minute episode of television where the characters repeat the same day is daunting. It could easily become repetitive or boring; it could seem like a cheap trick – just hit “ctrl + C” and “ctrl + V” on the laptop and you’re done.

However, the episode goes out of its way to keep things interesting – even when it is rehashing plot points that the audience has seen two or three times before. Kim Manners deserves a lot of credit for this. The clever decision to frame the opening sequence in a different way each time helps to underscore the idea that there is still room for improvisation and dynamism in this time loop. The key beats may remain the same, but the notes can change. This temporal mechanics stuff is really just cosmic jazz.

A ticking time bomb of insanity...

A ticking time bomb of insanity…

Vince Gilligan and John Shiban reinforce this idea in a number of ways. For instance, Scully repeatedly informs Mulder that the meeting is still going on – but in a slightly different way each time. When Bernard prepares his ransom note in the bank, the wording is unique to each iteration. (Swapping out “holdup” for “robbery”, for example.) The first time through the loop, Mulder trips forwards over his shoes; the second time, Mulder trips backwards. Monday very clever and very efficiently sets up its rules about time loops.

These creative decisions are clever on a number of levels. Most obviously, they make the episode fun to watch; there is no sense that Gilligan and Shiban are conspiring to get one over on the audience by providing a clip show that is built around clips from the same episode. It also invites the audience to ponder questions about fate and destiny and predestination. Even before Mulder and Scully are consciously aware of the time loop, their reactions are different between iterations. Those changes are not enough to break out of the loop, but they do suggest time is not fixed.

Dying to see how this ends...

Dying to see how this ends…

There is some very canny scripting at work here. The teaser is structured so that it could be read as an in media res opening to a more generic episode. Watching Monday without spoilers or context, the viewer might expect something like Unrequited. It is a nice red herring. The episode then cleverly clues the viewer into the fact that something is wrong by having Pam’s interaction with Skinner play out slightly differently in the sequence after the credits, interrupting him earlier. It is a quick indication that the teaser was not a flashforward, even before the bomb explodes and we repeat.

Monday is a very fun and very clever little episode, one that manages to cram a lot of shrewd ideas into what is essentially the same ten minutes of television repeated four times. There is a joyousness and a playfulness to it that suggests there is still a great deal of excitement to be wrangled from The X-Files as a concept, even if it can occasionally feel like the show is treading water or walking around in circles. Perhaps immortality is not the curse that it might appear to be. Apparently there is room for brilliance and innovation, even as the days repeat.

So much for a quick withdrawl...

So much for a quick withdrawl…

Maybe Monday is not as grim and cynical an episode of The X-Files as it might appear. Perhaps it is a celebration of the perpetual “now”, an episode suggesting that perhaps the show can remain interesting and exciting even as it remains arrested in a particular moment. Maybe there is no end, and maybe that’s not such a terrible thing.

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4 Responses

  1. Great review! Very insightful and brilliantly researched. I’m going to have to reread it a few times 😛

  2. This may well be one of the greatest TV episode reviews I have ever read (and this site is not exactly short of fine televisual criticism). A genuine joy to read.

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