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The X-Files – all things (Review)

This September, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

Say what you will about The X-Files, but the show was never afraid to be weird.

all things is a very odd piece of television. It is moody and atmospheric, philosophical and meandering. It is hard to contextualise, even within the framework of a season as eccentric and disjointed as the seventh season of The X-Files. It doesn’t really work, but that’s not a big problem. The seventh season is full of episodes that don’t quite work. There is definite ambition here, and a clear desire to say something that means something to actor (and director and writer) Gillian Anderson.

Walk o' life...

Walk o’ life…

Anderson exerts a very conscious gravity over all things. She is not the first actor to write and direct an episode of The X-Files, but she is the first to write and direct an episode centring on her character. all things is an episode written and directed by Gillian Anderson, with a heavy emphasis on Scully. This is as close to a treatise on the character as the actress is ever likely to produce. Perhaps this accounts for the heavy atmosphere and solemn tone of the piece.

all things is a mess of an episode, but it is an interesting mess. It is an episode that feels consciously at odds with both the show around it and the character at its centre. It is an awkward (and occasionally ridiculous) piece of television, but it looks and feels utterly unlike any other episode of The X-Files. That has to count for something.

The beating of the world's heart...

The beating of the world’s heart…

Recalling the origin of all things, Gillian Anderson has confessed that she never really intended to write for the show. It happened almost by surprise:

No, it was a weird thing where people had asked for a long time because… David [Duchovny] had directed a couple, so people had asked if I wanted to, and it never occurred to me. Even though I knew that I eventually wanted to direct, it had never occurred to me in terms of The X-Files. And then finally I thought, “Well, why don’t I? Do I have any ideas?” I remember asking myself that question at about 11 o’clock at night, and I realized there were two images that had stuck with me. They were unrelated to the show, but it was a starting point, these two ideas. And I started to write the outline there and then, and I wrote the entire outline just sitting there at that moment. It was like it had been sitting there waiting for me, going, “Hello? You can let me out now!” [Laughs.] And I presented it to Chris [Carter], and he liked it and said, “Well, if you succeed in writing an episode and we like it, you can do one. And then we can talk about you directing it.” And then it went from there.

While it had taken David Duchovny four seasons to go from pitching his story ideas to actually writing and directing an episode, Anderson moved a lot quicker.

Pieces of a puzzle...

Pieces of a puzzle…

Gillian Anderson’s decision to write and direct an episode based around Scully is interesting. After all, this is not the first time that an actor on the show has helped to shape and define their character. David Duchovny was massively influential in mapping out Mulder’s character arc during the early years of the show. Duchovny took story credits on Colony and Anasazi, two very early episodes that hinted at the complicated Mulder family dynamic that would help guide Mulder’s arc going forward. (On a smaller scale, he even improvised character dialogue in Oubliette.)

However, it feels like the role of the actor in shaping and defining the character has always been in collaboration with the writing staff. Duchovny’s work on Colony and Anasazi was a joint effort with Chris Carter. At the start of the seventh season, Duchovny’s Mulder-centric work on The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati was written with Chris Carter and directed by Michael Watkins. Duchovny’s writing and directing credits on The Unnatural and Hollywood A.D. were less interested in Mulder and Scully as characters than as windows to a particular story.

A touching tale...

A touching tale…

Earlier in the seventh season, William B. Davis had written the script for En Ami to focus on the Cigarette-Smoking Man. However, Davis is quite candid about how much of his script was changed in consultation with the staff writers working on the show. Chris Carter heavily re-wrote the script and reworked Davis’ core ideas. The heart of En Ami derives from Davis’ original idea, but Davis has spoken about how much the story evolved and developed during story meetings and rewrites.

In contrast, Gillian Anderson is very much writing a story that is about Scully. More particularly, Gillian Anderson is writing a story about she relates to Scully. Throughout the extended run of The X-Files, various writers have put their own unique mark on Mulder and Scully. Howard Gordon’s Mulder is distinct from Darin Morgan’s Mulder; Chris Carter’s Scully is different from Glen Morgan and James Wong’s Scully. It makes sense that Gillian Anderson’s iteration of the character would feel markedly different from other iterations.

Food for thought...

Food for thought…

In light of the decision to base all things around Scully, it is interesting that Anderson doesn’t seem to hold any opinions about the future development of the character. Asked where she might like to see Scully go in the future, Anderson answered, “I just have no interest in choosing her journey, and I never have, really. They did a great job directing her from the beginning, and I was always happy to go whichever way the wind blew her.” That seems like an odd sentiment from an actress whose sole writing and directing credit on the show centred on the character.

Then again, there is a sense watching all things that the episode is less focused on Scully than it is on espousing certain Buddhist and New Age philosophies. As the title implies, all things is essentially a story about how all things are ultimately connected in ways that are not easily perceptible or logically explainable. Lives overlap and intersect in what appears to be a random fashion, but which ultimately suggests some pattern or reason to human existence. all things aspires towards profundity.

Time to pull the blind on the show?

Time to pull the blind on the show?

In some ways, all things feels like a relic of the nineties. It comes at a point where Hollywood has wholeheartedly embraced Buddhism and New Age philosophy in response to the existential ennui that characterised much of the decade. In In With the Om Crowd, published by New York Magazine in June 1994, Sallie Dinkel noted:

In the past few years, Buddhims has attracted adherents from an even more surprising quarter – lawyers, Wall Streeters, and other higher-tax-bracket types presumably scarred by years of corporate trench warfare. Many of these converts are the same people who have been warming therapists’ couches and going to twelve-step programs for years. Indeed, the magazine has acknowledged Buddhism’s alliance with the recovery movement in stories like ‘The Formless Form: Buddhism and Twelve-Step Programs’ and ‘Awakening with Prozac.’

In April 1995, journalist Edward Silver noted that Tibetan Buddhism had “taken on the proportions of a subculture” within Los Angeles. High-profile celebrities like Richard Gere and Oliver Stone helped to bring Buddhism into the mainstream. A year-and-a-half after all things, Gere would guest-star on The Simpsons to convert Lisa.

"I'm looking for God. Also, tumors."

“I’m looking for God. Also, tumors.”

Gillian Anderson was very heavily influenced by Buddhist philosophy. She married Clyde Klotz in a Buddhist ceremony at a golf course in 1994. Anderson cited Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now as one of her “Desert Island Books”, with one reviewer summarising Tolle’s work as “Buddhism mixed with mysticism and a few references to Jesus Christ, a sort of New Age re-working of Zen.” Around the production of all things, Anderson identified Pema Chödrön When Things Fall Apart as one of her favourite books.

To be fair, this would not be the first time that The X-Files had been used as a vehicle for New Age philosophy. Certainly, the treatment of Native American folklore and tradition in The Blessing Way and Paper Clip was in keeping with the broader trend of New Age appropriation of Native American religion and spirituality during the nineties. Anderson is not really doing anything that much different; all things is certainly more respectful and tactful in its portrayal of Buddhism than many of the show’s Native American stories.

"Whoa."

“Whoa.”

Nevertheless, all things feels less like a story about Scully than it feels like a calculated Buddhism delivery system. It is a strange fit, to be sure. After all, Scully is a character largely defined by her Catholicism. If Scully is to have a deep personal journey about the interconnectedness of all things, it seems more appropriate to filter that through Christian humanism rather than New Age Buddhism. Scully is confronted by a profoundly personal and spiritual crisis of meaning in all things, but she never seems to filter it through the lens of her pre-existing religious beliefs.

To be fair to Anderson, this is not the only glaringly out-of-character episode in the seventh season. David Duchovny had Mulder dream of a perfect suburban life in The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati, despite the fact that nothing in the series suggested that Mulder would ever aspire towards a perfect suburban life. It isn’t only the actors who write the two leads out of character; Tom Maddox and William Gibson rather bluntly forced Mulder and Scully into generic archetypes so that First Person Shooter could hash out basic gender politics in video games.

Opening doorways... of the mind...

Opening doorways… of the mind…

As with a lot of the seventh season, there is a sense that the characters have become too fully-formed to really support this style of writing; we know too much about Mulder and Scully at this point for the writers to be able to bend and contort them to fit the particulars of a story like this. In the early years of the show, when the characters were still mysterious and hazily-defined, the show could get away with strange revelations like this. Scully’s religion only really became a truly essential part of her character in Revelations during the third season.

Character development on network television tends to be expansive. Series bibles frequently contain back story and history for the characters involved, but this is more of a rough guide than a clear map. Writers and actors heap more and more detail on to the skeleton framework that existed in the pilot script, hoping to flesh out and discover the character. Characters on episodic television shows don’t tend to arrive into the world fully-formed, even if the script is great and the performance is transcendental. There is generally a process of “discovering” the character.

"Still looking for God. Also crop circle patterns."

“Still looking for God. Also, crop circle patterns.”

This is particularly obvious in the first season of The X-Files; the writers tend to just add material on top of the characters, hoping that something might stick. A lot of it does not; Mulder’s fear of fire in Fire is never mentioned again and the show’s first explicitly religious episode, Miracle Man, focuses on Mulder rather than Scully. However, some of those details do endure; Scully’s yearning for her father’s approval in Beyond the Sea arguably shapes the character going forward, as does Mulder’s nightmare about his father in Roland.

While the character is fuzzy, there is a great deal of freedom for the writing staff. The broad strokes of a character might create certain expectations that can be subverted or manipulated. Revelations does an excellent job of turning the audience’s expectations on their head; Mulder is cast as the skeptic and Scully as the believer, but in a way that serves to further illuminate both characters. However, that subversion itself then becomes a character trait; Mulder’s opposition to organised religion is part of his identity, as is Scully’s spirituality.

Talking around in circles...

Talking around in circles…

The problem comes at a point where the characters feel so fully defined that adopting that “just add more material” approach becomes counter-productive. At some stage, Mulder and Scully are so fleshed-out that new information begins to conflict with what we already know. Even if the character development does not explicitly contradict what came before, it seems to fill a lacuna which has already been thoroughly explored. Scully’s profoundly personal story about discovering the nature of evil in Orison is not contradictory, but it does seem odd that it never came up before.

At this stage, Mulder and Scully are so fully realised and nuanced that there is not a lot of room to manoeuvre. The use of Mulder and Scully as two-dimensional talking heads in First Person Shooter is ultimately a rather shallow take on the duo. Mulder’s dreams of suburban life in The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati seem at odds with his behaviour in Arcadia. Scully’s conversion to New Age Buddhism in all things feels like it happens at the expense of years of careful character development.

Projecting her uncertainty...

Projecting her uncertainty…

It does not help matters that Anderson’s script tends towards the trite and patronising in its approach to profound spiritual matters. There is a palpable tension to The X-Files, and the way that it tries to balance the paranormal with the rational. After all, the show exists in a world where all manner of crazy conspiracies are true; where Mulder and Scully would seriously debate whether or not to let William get vaccinated, and where there really is a secret one-world-government plotting against the people.

During its early years, The X-Files was frequently criticised by skeptics for favouring spirituality over science. Chris Carter even addressed the World Skeptics Congress on the matter. The actions of Timothy McVeigh cast a long shadow over the middle stretch of the show’s run, to the point where Carter was still addressing it in the lead-up to the release of the film. The X-Files had to carefully balance its desire to criticise those in authority with the sort knee-jerk paranoia and anti-intellectualism associated with certain strands of conspiracy theory.

"What drives you?"

“What drives you?”

The seventh season of The X-Files has wholeheartedly embraced religion. Sein und Zeit and Closure revealed that Samantha Mulder was ultimately taken by angels rather than aliens. Biogenesis and The Sixth Extinction cemented the links between the alien and the divine running through the show’s mythology. In The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati, Mulder was transformed into a human-alien hybrid and actively compared to Jesus Christ. The X-Files had always featured religious undertones, but they became much more explicit at the turn of the millennium.

More than that, the seventh season seemed to put religion ahead of science and rationality. Signs und Zeit seemed almost romantic in its portrayal of unquestioning fundamentalist faith. En Ami offered a divine miracle to the parents of a young boy who refused to treat his cancer on medical grounds. It was not that religion was one of many paths to understand the world; it seemed that religion was the only path. This was reinforced by Chris Carter’s contemporaneous work on Harsh Realm, which tied the virtual realm’s moral decay to its lack of religious faith.

"Mind. Blown."

“Mind. Blown.”

In all things, Scully engages in a spiritual discourse with Colleen Azar. Colleen used to a physicist; a woman of science not unlike Scully. Inevitably, Colleen came to realise that she was not living a fulfilling life. This is perfectly understandable, but there is something a little bit uncomfortable about how all things implicitly links the fact that Colleen chose science over spirituality to her existential ennui. Mirrored with Scully’s own spiritual awakening, it seems that all things believes that anybody working in science must be unfulfilled, even if they don’t realise it.

This is not the only uncomfortable aspect of all things. The episode suggests that Colleen’s lack of spirituality caused her to become physically ill. “It’s the cancer that got my attention,” Colleen confesses, seeming almost glad of her brush with death. “It stopped me from being on the self-destructive path I was on. It made me realize I was in a field that had little meaning for me and it’s what’s allowed me to be happy for what feels like the first time in my life.” There is something quite unsettling about that.

Also, the bit where the episode suggests Scully's own cancer might have been a result of her scientific beliefs. Ugh.

Also, the bit where the episode suggests Scully’s own cancer might have been a result of her scientific beliefs. Ugh.

Indeed, the episode builds towards a climax where Scully – a fully qualified medical doctor – essentially tells Daniel Waterston that his own lack of spirituality is responsible for his current debilitated physical state. “It’s no accident that you got sick, Daniel,” Scully tells him. “You’ve been running from the truth for ten years.” The implication is that spiritually healthy people don’t get sick; spiritually healthy people don’t get cancer. It suggests that illness is not down to a complex combination of factors, but is simply down to faith and religion.

To be fair to all things, it stops just short of a condemnation of modern medicine. When Scully decides to have a New Age specialist perform a spiritual procedure on the comatose Daniel Waterston, the episode makes it clear that this is not an “either/or” deal; this New Age spirituality is not exclusive, and can be used in conjunction with modern medicine. When the doctor objects, Maggie Waterston decides to defend Scully’s decision. “If it isn’t hurting him we should at least be open to it.”

X-ray of hope...

X-ray of hope…

While there is certainly an appeal to the idea that emotional and spiritual well-being is somehow tied to physical well-being, it is an analogy that can become too simplistic and too shallow. Discussing her own treatment, Colleen confesses to Scully, “I was introduced to a healer who helped me see the disease for what it was. It wasn’t until I began releasing shame and telling the truth that my cancer went into remission.” It seems like medicine might also have contributed in some way.

It seems arbitrary to criticise all things for proposing a world where religious faith can cure cancer. After all, The X-Files takes place in a world populated by aliens and liver-eating mutants. The problem is that the show seldom seems like a recruitment video for those concepts. all things frequently feels like a wholehearted endorsement of Colleen’s position, a sincere and earnest lecture to the audience on the benefits of Buddhism and New Age philosophy. Relating that back to the experience of enduring and surviving cancer seems shallow and crass.

Rose to the challenge...

Rose to the challenge…

Aside from that uncomfortable “not being spiritual will give you cancer, being spiritual will cure your cancer” subtext, there is an appealing earnestness to all things. It feels like an episode that genuinely meant a lot to Gillian Anderson. After all, Colleen effectively summarises the episode, “Holistic practitioners believe, as do many eastern religions, that living beings exist beyond the physical dimensions of time and space that we’re composed of layers of energy and consciousness.” Trying to translate that to forty-five minutes is certainly ambitious.

It seems like Anderson herself would readily admit that all things did not quite work out as well as she might have hoped. “It certainly wasn’t one of my favorite episodes, but the process of it was exhilarating and rewarding,” she confessed as The X-Files was wrapping up. Around the same time, it was the first memory of the show that sprang into her head when she was asked to list her favourite experiences on The X-Files. Although a directorial career never quite materialised after The X-Files, her work on all things inspired her to option the book Speed of Light to direct.

Sleep on it...

Sleep on it…

There are certainly interesting aspects to all things, even if the show never quite comes together. The relationship between Scully and the Waterston family is interesting, if only for what is left unsaid rather than what is clearly articulated. According to Anderson’s commentary on the episode, a lot was ultimately trimmed from the show:

These scenes with Waterston… there was so much more dialogue initially and so much more that I wanted them to say to each  other and in fact, in the filming that they did say to each other that we had to take out, almost ten minutes I had to take out of  the episode in the editing process to cut it down to forty-two-point-whatever minutes.

The original draft of the script made it clear that Scully did not have an affair with Daniel Waterston while she was a student, but that his wife believed that they did. It was a somewhat convoluted set-up that strained very hard to over-explain something that did not necessarily need an explanation.

Affairs of the heart...

Affairs of the heart…

The broadcast cut of all things implies that Scully did have a (brief) affair with Waterston while he was a doctor and she was in medical school. This is a much more interesting dynamic than “Scully didn’t have an affair with Waterston, but everybody thinks that she did”, because it allows the episode to engage with some pretty big ideas head-on. Once again, there is a sense that all things is very much a product of the late nineties. In particular, there are rather concious shades of the Clinton impeachment to all this.

Daniel Waterston was a family man in a position of authority; Scully was his student. While in that position of authority, it seems that Waterson embarked on an affair with Scully. The script makes it clear that Waterston’s interest was unrecipricated, but the broadcast episode leaves it decidedly ambiguous. There are certainly parallels between Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, with the President of the United States engaging in an illicit affair with a White House intern.

Still looking for God. He's in the next hospital room.

Still looking for God. He’s in the next hospital room.

One of the more awkward aspects of the Clinton impeachment is the portrayal of Monica Lewinsky in the mainstream media. In some respects, it foreshadowed the excesses of internet-era outrage:

Long before slut-shaming was a term, Monica Lewinsky was its original target. My teenage friends and I were among her critics, though the rest of the country, too, seemed to be acting like horny misogynist teens. The basics of Lewinsky’s story we all remember: Young intern makes idiotic mistake and, like many before her, starts a sexual relationship with the President. Affair leads to legal explosion, investigation, impeachment and, ultimately, one of the first tests of the Internet’s viral capabilities. (The story was blasted out on Drudge.) The young woman is permanently cast as a semen-smeared laughingstock.

Nearly two decades later, Lewinsky is still a punch line and a sly euphemism for oral sex. She reappears in the press this week by way of a 4,000-word Vanity Fair essay about the hellish aftermath of her “mutual relationship” with President Bill Clinton. She says she’s had trouble getting jobs. (Everyone knows her name, after all.) She turned down lucrative offers to tell all — because they “didn’t feel like the right thing to do” — and survived on loans from family and friends. If humiliation is indeed the most intense human emotion, as a new study found, then Lewinsky is my generation’s Hester Prynne. She had suicidal thoughts, and her mother feared that she would be “literally humiliated to death” (a consequence we now know is not so far-fetched in the Internet and social-media era).

It seems strange to think that Bill Clinton has largely escaped from the shadow of that event, while Monica Lewinsky is still treated something of a pariah.

"It was a dark and stormy night..."

“It was a dark and stormy night…”

The public’s opinion of Lewinsky was noticeably (and consistently) lower than their opinion of Clinton, which is perhaps saying something in a culture as radically politicised as the United States. Katie Roiphe lamented that the real problem with the scandal was that Lewinsky was “not that pretty.” Maureen Dowd earned a Pulitzer for comparing Lewinsky to Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. Lewinsky herself has spoken about how she felt betrayed by feminists during the discourse around the whole impeachment scandal.

In a way, it hits at large issues around how the media characterises adulterous affairs involving married men. There is tendency to focus to on the other woman in that particular scenario; the other woman is frequently characterised as a “homewrecker” who destroyed a happy family. The man’s responsibility in the affair is typically downplayed, as if it suggest that men lack any real sexual restraint and that the obligation falls upon women not to “tempt” weak-willed men. The other woman is turned into something of a monster; the other woman is “othered.”

Temple of Doom Enlightenment.

Temple of Doom Enlightenment.

This is part of a broader debate about sex and sexuality. The tendency to characterise extramarital affairs in this manner is part of a larger trend; there are clear parallels to the victim-blaming aspect of rape culture, which assigns responsibility for men’s sexual conduct to women. One of the more interesting aspects of the Lewinsky scandal, and one reflected in Scully’s relationship with Waterston, is the fact that much of the “blaming” and “shaming” is done by other women. It is Maggie Waterston who clearly blames Scully for the dissolution of her family.

One of the more interesting aspects of all things is that it builds to Scully calling Daniel Waterston out for his choices. After all, Daniel Waterston was the more mature of the two; he held a position of authority and was also the one with the family. The episode’s most satisfying moment comes when Scully confronts Waterston about his own part in what happened. “It’s time that you took responsibility for the hurt you caused in your family.” Of course, this is immediately undercut by the fact that Scully blames his denial for his illness, but all things is a mixed bag.

Ad-dressing the shippers...

Ad-dressing the shippers…

In this respect, the broadcast episode’s implication that Scully actually did have an affair with Waterston makes the climax all the more effective. The script’s convoluted efforts to preserve Scully’s innocence make the story too simplistic and clear-cut. There is something a little uncomfortable about implying that Waterston can only be held accountable for harming his family if Scully didn’t sleep with him. The broadcast cut makes it clear that Waterston is to blame for the hurt that his decisions caused to his family, even if there was another person in the affair.

all things is also interesting for suggesting that Mulder and Scully are now sleeping together. The show has been rather coy on the topic; the seventh season has featured a lot of flrity banter between the two leads, not to mention the kiss in Millennium. It is certainly possible to argue that Mulder and Scully have been sleeping together for quite a while before all things, and that this is simply the first time that the series candidly acknowledges the fact. It is, perhaps, another sign that the production team though the end was near.

"Yeah, but I got to have a cool Native American vision quest thingie!"

“Yeah, but I got to have a cool Native American vision quest thingie!”

According to the commentary, the episode’s teaser was a late addition to the script. Gillian Anderson added it at the recommendation of Frank Spotnitz, because the production team felt that the time was right:

When I first wrote this episode, it did not hint at the fact or the notion that Mulder and Scully may have spent the night together. But at some point Frank Spotnitz had come to me and said, you know, around this time in the season we were thinking that it might be a good idea to imply that and it might be possible for us to add it into the script and so that’s kind of how it came about that Scully starts this episode basically in Mulder’s bathroom putting on her clothes and the insinuation that they have indeed spent the night together.

To be fair, the show had been teasing a possible romantic relationship between Mulder and Scully for quite some time. The almost!kiss was the emotional crescendo of The X-Files: Fight the Future, after all.

Hold me.

Hold me.

However, the show had been reluctant to actually follow through on the tease. The first half of the sixth season seemed to be building towards an actual kiss with stories like TriangleDreamland IDreamland II and How the Ghosts Stole Christmas. In a way, The Rain King feels like the point at which the show tipped its hand; if Mulder and Scully could not kiss under those circumstances, then they would likely never kiss. As such, the seventh season feels like progress. Even if the show never explicitly acknowledges a romantic relationship, it is clearly there.

Given how reluctant the writers had been to acknowledge the possibility of a romantic relationship between Mulder and Scully, it seemed like the candidness of episodes like Millennium and all things was proof that the staff did not expect an eighth season. As far as the production team were concerned, it felt like “Mulder and Scully almost certainly had sex” was one of the harbingers of the show’s apocalypse. It was a small courtesy that the writers would extend to fans, in the hope that they would never have to actually follow it up.

Seepover!

Seepover!

It is telling that one of the first leaks from the revival was confirmation that Mulder and Scully were no longer a romantic couple. Given how hard it had been for the writing staff to acknowledge Mulder and Scully kissing and having sex in what appeared to be the final season of the show, it makes sense that the creative team would want to launch into the six-episode revival by getting back to the classic “unresolved sexual tension” dynamic that had made their interactions so compelling.

Indeed, it quickly becomes clear that the production team actually have no idea what to do with the show in the wake of the provocative teaser to all things. That shot of Scully getting dressed in Mulder’s bathroom as he lies sleeping is a nice olive branch to the shippers, but it creates a whole mess of problems going forward. Interestingly, Carter and his tea would decide to build on that relationship in plot terms rather than emotional terms. It turns out that Mulder and Scully having sex is not so much about their character arcs as the show’s plot arc going forward.

See, Mulder! Beds aren't so bad!

See, Mulder! Beds aren’t so bad!

Then again, all of this lies in the future. As with a lot of the seventh season, all things changes with the context around it. It was clearly written so that it might function as part of a possible last season for the show, but its meaning got distorted by the decision to greenlight an eighth season. In hindsight, all things retroactively becomes the start of a much larger and more convoluted plot-driven arc rather than the logical conclusion of the Mulder and Scully relationship.

Much like her writing, Gillian Anderson’s direction of all things is decidedly ambitious. As with her writing, Anderson’s direction doesn’t quite work. There is a lot of slow motion here, and a lot of ambient background music to create a sense of mood. There are some images that feel like they are aiming towards the surreal or the abstract, but don’t quite make it. Perhaps the most effective is a late-episode sequence where Scully carries red roses in slow motion through Chinatown. all things misses “profound” and lands comfortably in “pseudo-profound.”

Putting the matter to rest...

Putting the matter to rest…

At the same time, it is clear that Anderson is trying to something bigger and more impressive than simply “point a camera at something and shoot.” This is very much an effort of a director consciously aspiring towards a distinct style, even if it doesn’t quite pay-off. all things looks and feels utterly unlike any other episode of The X-Files, with Anderson very firmly asserting her own vision on the show. It is an admirable effort, and it is interesting to wonder what Anderson might have done with a little more experience.

There are interesting choices here, even if they don’t pay-off. Most notably, Anderson does try to do some interesting stuff with sound design. The episode is populated with background noise, tying into the script’s underlying themes about perceiving the world as an interconnected reality. Again, there is a sense that the show is aiming for profundity and missing; the background noise during Mulder’s crop circle slide show is more distracting than clever, and there is a sense that the episode is trying more than a little too hard.

Still, there are moments when it almost works – as if Anderson is capturing something approaching the heartbeat of the world in the sound of a car’s indicators or the steady rhythm of a hospital monitor or the sound of rain outside. Although it doesn’t synch up as perfectly as it needs to, at one point Mark Snow’s music seems to swell in rhythm with this sound design. It is a very clever idea, albeit one that is not executed as well as it needs to be. (In some respects, it seems to prefigure the ticking metronome running through Brian Reitzell’s Mizumono score.)

The sheer ninetiesness of the episode is arguably captured in Anderson’s decision to include Moby’s My Weakness and The Sky is Broken as part of the episode’s soundtrack. all things aired at a point where Moby’s Play was becoming ubiquitous. Every track on the album had been licensed for use in multimedia. It represented the third time that a Chris Carter show had borrowed a track from the album over the course of the season. Leviathan had included Run On, and Closure had been bookended by My Weakness.

Assessing the cultural impact of Play ten years later, Moby singled out Gillian Anderson’s use of The Sky is Broken as one of his favourite uses of material from the album:

My Weakness is such a strange piece of music. There’s no drums and it’s this odd African choir loop — I sampled it 12 years ago, I don’t remember what it’s from. What was most gratifying for me when Play became successful was when people liked the more obscure songs. Gillian Anderson used The Sky Is Broken in an X-Files. I was so flattered that someone had listened to the whole record.

In a way, it is very much a marker of the cultural moment; Moby’s Play was very much an album that marked the transition between the twentieth and twenty-first century. Old ideas, resampled and remixed, for a new audience.

all things doesn’t work. It doesn’t necessarily come that close to working. It feels more like a New Age thesis statement than an episode of television. At the same time, it has an endearing earnestness and experimental attitude to it that helps to offset these very serious flaws. It would be too much to describe all things as a success, but it is certainly a very interesting failure.

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

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8 Responses

  1. I almost skipped this one in my rewatch based on your review. I’ve skipped quite a few others based on my personal inclinations but I ultimately decided not to skip this one. It’s certainly weird but I think it more or less holds up.

    The line that really stuck here was when Scully says she’s “not the same person…I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t seen you again.” I think that was supposed to be the point of this script. It gets lost with all the new age spiritualism, which is ultimately only a way of showing Scully’s open mindedness when she asks the healer to help Daniel. There could have been other ways to do it but this choice makes sense given Scully’s background as a medical doctor.

    I think you’re spot on with your analysis of the message the episode sends (maybe inadvertently) being a little misguided. But it’s nowhere near as heavy handed as some of Carter’s philosophical scripts.

    This is also the first script with a woman in the writing credits since Schizogeny but Kim Newton would have been the last regular female writer on the show in season 3. all things would be the last. As much talent as The X-Files produced, it’s really a shame that no female writer or director ever put her stamp on the series. Michelle Maclaren is enjoying quite a bit of success now and was credited as a co-executive producer for seasons 7-9 but only directed John Doe (probably the best episode of season 9). This is a bit of a tangent but it was touched on a little in the EW panel over the weekend. Scully became one of the strongest female characters on television largely because of Gillian Anderson.

    • The lack of female writers always frustrated me, particularly since the spin-offs were more willing to bring in female writers. Although their sole third season script was a disaster, I really liked Erin Maher and Kay Reindl’s contributions to the second season of Millennium for example. All the articles around John Doe mention MacLaren is the first female director since Gillian Anderson, so it isn’t as if the production team were unaware. I can’t help but wonder if the exclusively male make-up of the writers’ room led to awkward episodes like Emily, which plays as the kind of male power fantasy that One Breath subverted.

  2. I thought this was a masterpiece of an episode.

    It’s basically the ultimate Shipper Episode.

    It’s all about Scully learning to love Mulder. It opens in the future: Scully has slept with Mulder. It then flashes backwards to Scully angry at Mulder and angry at where her life has ended up. The middle section of the episode is then about Scully, a Catholic, becoming open to New Age stuff. When she accepts the New Age Stuff, she metaphorically learns to accept Mulder and his New Age Stuff. At this point she accepts her love for him and they fall asleep on the couch, later having sex, which the episode opens with.

    Great episode.

    • I’m not a shipper, but I think your comment, ‘ It’s all about Scully learning to love Mulder’, sums up the episode perfectly. Scully’s rigid scientific view has kept her focused on her work with Mulder rather than their relationship. The series of events presented in ‘all things’ help to break that cycle. Scully’s faith in Catholicism has also blinded her to this, which is why it takes the presented new age and buddhist philosophies to help her open up to seeing that she loves Mulder despite her rationalisations to the contrary. It’s a subtle way to have Mulder and Scully become more intimate and suggest Scully has opened up to more extreme possibilities that she believes in during season eight and nine.

      Darren, I love most of your reviews, and I agree with some of the points you have made about ‘all things’, but I completely disagree that the episode is a mess. It’s an oddity in the series, certainly (although I feel it has shades of ‘Beyond the Sea’ to it in that we get to see Scully grow). For me, ‘all things’ is easily the best episode of a very disapointing season because it delivers something different and powerful. And that’s what most of the series’ best episodes do.

  3. I thought this was a masterpiece of an episode.

    It’s basically the ultimate Shipper Episode.

    It’s all about Scully learning to love Mulder. It opens in the future: Scully has slept with Mulder. It then flashes backwards to Scully angry at Mulder and angry at where her life has ended up. The middle section of the episode is then about Scully, a Catholic, becoming open to New Age stuff. When she accepts the New Age Stuff, she metaphorically learns to accept Mulder and his New Age Stuff. At this point she accepts her love for him and they fall asleep on the couch, later having sex, which the episode opens with.

    Great episode.

  4. I was a bit confused by this episode, but hen as a shipper confirmation of Mulder and Scully secret sex life was too good to not appreciate it, the same way I cannot hate Millennium because it has the kiss even if I personally don’t like any kid of zombies, but upon rewatch I think it has more merits that I thought the first time. I also think that Scully using alternative medicine is more about her own mental view of the relationship with Daniel having a black heart means he was not the kind of man of integrity she truly wanted. She tried alternative medicine again in the show with Mulder who might be crackpot crazy but he does has a good heart.
    Of course that is my reading the symbolism might just be absent and the lack of follow up is just the show’s being experimental because they know they can get away with it.

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