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The X-Files – Within (Review)

This October/November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the eighth season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of The Lone Gunmen.

What is The X-Files without Mulder? Can it even exist without Mulder?

The show entered its eighth season facing an existential dilemma. David Duchovny had renewed his contract with Fox at the last possible minute, three days before Requiem consigned his character to limbo. However, it was not necessarily the renewal that Fox would have wanted. Duchovny had agreed to reprise the role of Mulder in the eighth season of The X-Files, but only for eleven of the season’s twenty-one episodes. This meant that the character of Mulder could only actually appear in just over half of the season’s episodes.

Eye see...

Eye see…

This was a pretty significant blow to The X-Files. The title of the show referred to the procedural cases investigated by Mulder and Scully, but the series had long abandoned any pretense of focusing on those cases ahead of Mulder and Scully. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson had elevated the characters to pop culture icons, with any pop savvy person capable of easily slipping a reference to Mulder and/or Scully into casual conversation. The chemistry between the two was so strong it forced the global conspiracy to second billing in The X-Files: Fight the Future.

Attempting The X-Files without Mulder (or with “just under fifty percent less Mulder”) was perhaps the most daring and ambitious decision of the show’s entire nine-season run.

"And introducing Robert Patrick."

“And introducing Robert Patrick.”

To be fair, it is possible for popular prime-time shows to endure the loss of popular or iconic characters. After all, the original cast of E.R. rotated in and out of circulation across the show’s fifteen seasons. George Clooney bailed after five seasons; Julianna Margulies left after six; Anthony Edwards and Eriq La Salle made it to eight seasons; Noah Wyle was the last of the original cast to leave, having committed to eleven full seasons of the hit prime-time drama. However, the beauty of E.R. was the way that it could rotate in new players to fill those gaps.

E.R. was not alone in this. Plenty of other television shows manage to balance rotating casts. Law & Order was very efficient at swapping out players in the ensemble as required. George Eads was the only cast member of CSI to remain a regular throughout the show’s fifteen-season run, as the rest of the cast changed around him. In a way, this was very much a result of the demands of prime-time network television. Although Law & Order and CSI continued into the twenty-first century, it is arguably typical of the nineties network model of television.

News that Mulder's porn stash was up for grabs filtered quickly through the J. Edgar Hoover building...

News that Mulder’s porn stash was up for grabs filtered quickly through the J. Edgar Hoover building…

After all, the factors at play were very much tied to the default mode of television production: high-profile hour-long dramas produced in blocks of twenty-plus episodes. That is a lot of commitment; even leaving aside the time spent filming twenty-plus episodes of television, there is also publicity and other obligations to consider. The restrictions that these high-profile television roles imposed upon actors made it entirely understandable that regular cast members tended to come and go as the show continued around them.

Modern television had gotten a little more flexible in how it treats its cast. On a practical level, shorter season runs of thirteen (or fewer) episodes mean that cast members are no longer tied to a given television show for the bulk of the calendar year. Actors like Jon Hamm or Steve Buscemi can headline high-profile dramas without having to sacrifice other opportunities. David Duchovny was able to work on the effects-heavy comedy Evolution during his absence from the eighth season of The X-Files; that would not have been possible had he committed to twenty-one episodes.

Before the dust has settled...

Before the dust has settled…

More than that, the tendency towards shorter seasons and something approaching the miniseries model means that the production of television is no longer a week-in-week-out model. With the scripts prepared ahead of time, and with looser deadlines before broadcast, it is easier for productions to schedule shooting around the actors involved. The breakout of cable television at the turn of the millennium has made scheduling much more flexible; it is possible to split seasons or delay broadcast in a way that is not feasible on more advertising-driven television.

In a way, the difficulties around getting David Duchovny to commit to the eighth season of The X-Files are very much tied to a larger transition that was occurring in television at the end of the nineties and into the new millennium. As his excitement over the revival has demonstrated, it is easier to get David Duchovny to commit to a full season of six episodes than a full season of twenty episodes. It is interesting to wonder if transitioning to annual (or even biennal) runs of six episodes might have been able to preserve The X-Files in its iconic form.

David Duchovny's contract renegotiations were not going to plan...

David Duchovny’s contract renegotiations were not going to plan…

Then again, network television was not in a position to support such a decision at the turn of the millennium. As Danny Bowes has argued, the “rotating cast” approach was very much a cultural marker of nineties television production:

Clooney’s departure, and eventually that of the entire original cast, points to the generational shift that has happened in the 19 years since the debut of ER. Long-running series used to function like long-running Broadway shows, a reflection of the shared history between early television and live theater, which was as much aesthetic as it was practical. A TV show, much like a stage show, was an entity greater than its component creative parts; actors could be replaced with great frequency, with new characters written in.

ER may be the last great TV drama of this model. Its principal cast turned over multiple times over the course of its run (which only just concluded in 2009, long after the changing of the guard it heralded in terms of raising the bar for television drama). It had several different showrunners over that time. And yet it remained, immutably, ER. This characteristic was already a historical artifact by the end of the ’90s.

As Bowes concedes, this model of television production did continue into the twenty-first century. E.R. only wrapped up in 2009; Law & Order concluded a year later; CSI only shut its doors in 2014. However, these were very traditional shows – very much the “television old guard.”

Hold him back, Scully...

Hold him back, Scully…

While overseeing Law & Order, Dick Wolf refused to cede ground to his performers. When the cast of Friends began collective bargainingin the mid-nineties, Wolf rang up the head of NBC (Warren Littlefield) and urged him to start firing the cast one at a time until they gave in. “I guarantee you that Warren would not have had to get rid of more than two of them before they caved,” he reflects. He adopted a similar approach in his management of Law & Order. “The show is the star,” noted actor Linus Roche of his experience working on the series.

Still, the twenty-first century found television teasing the idea of prime-time drama as a star vehicle. 24 would launch in 2001, headlined by Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer. Bauer would become an icon of twenty-first century American masculinity, and as much a part of the show’s identity as its distinctive real-time format. When 24: Live Another Day forced the production team to choose between Kiefer Sutherland and the show’s format, they opted for the former; keeping Sutherland on board, it became a twenty-four-hour drama told in twelve episodes.

Everything's up in the air...

Everything’s up in the air…

Even spin-offs of popular shows like Law & Order and CSI were not immune to this trend, perhaps reflecting the changing landscape. Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has enjoyed a much stronger sense of cast continuity than its parent show. Unlike the original show, both CSI: Miami and CSI: New York managed to hold on to their lead actor for the entirety of their runs. When Law & Order: Criminal Intent swapped out its leading man, it replaced Vincent D’Onofrio with Jeff Goldblum – perhaps recognising the importance of a character performer.

Of course, all of this was in the future. The X-Files is very much a nineties television show, having premiered three years after Law & Order and one year before E.R. The show is rooted in the cultural context of the decade, beholden to a lot of the expectations and realities of nineties network television production. Although the show was incredibly experimental within that context, there was a sense that the show was no longer as radical or avante garde as it had been in its earlier years. Around the broadcast of the sixth season, The X-Files falls behind the pack.

Sadly, Fox never capitalised on potential crossover with a reality television and alien abduction show.

Sadly, Fox never capitalised on potential crossover with a reality television and alien abduction show.

The X-Files is stranded as a scripted prime-time drama on network television just as innovations begin to occur elsewhere. The sixth season marks the point at which The Sopranos had claimed the Outstanding Drama Series Emmy nomination slot previously occupied by The X-Files. Meanwhile, network television began to skew towards reality television. Fox’s top-rated show in the 2000-2001 season would be Temptation Island. In the years following the cancellation of The X-Files, Fox would dominate with American Idol.

However, perhaps The X-Files was still ahead of the curve in some respects. Unlike so many nineties prime-time dramas, it was quite clear that The X-Files was not entirely flexible when it came to rotating the cast. Chris Carter’s prime-time drama is not quite “actorproof”, to borrow a quote from Dick Wolf. Rotating the cast on The X-Files is not as easy as it would be on a show like E.R. or Law & Order. Although the show has credited actors like Mitch Pileggi and William B. Davis as “also starring”, Within is the first time a new name appeared in the opening credits.

Just in case you needed proof that it was still The X-Files...

Just in case you needed proof that it was still The X-Files…

There are a lot of reasons why The X-Files was not a show that lent itself to rotating casts. The most obvious is that the show had only two lead performers. Losing a single member of the primary cast effectively meant jettisoning half of the ensemble. There was no gradual way to ease characters in and out of rotation, no handy support framework that would allow the audience a chance to get to know them casually. Losing Mulder or Scully not only meant losing fifty percent of the cast, but also most of the show’s key character dynamics.

More than that, there was no precedent for cast rotation. After all, Doctor Who manages to rotate a cast of two actors quite frequently; the show has occasionally managed to effective replace the entire cast in one fell swoop. (Also swapping out key behind the scenes players at the same time.) However, the audience is very much accustomed to this rotation as part of the show’s core framework. Lead actors wander into (and out of) the show all time, so it is no big deal if the show has difficulty maintaining a stable ensemble for more than a year or two at a time.

No time for reflection...

No time for reflection…

In contrast, The X-Files has been very stable. There have been episodes produced without David Duchovny or Gillian Anderson, but those were the exception rather than the rule. When Gillian Anderson left the show to give birth to her baby, she was only absent for a single episode. The audience has spent seven years with Mulder and Scully, with the show never daring to suggest a replacement. Whenever new characters were introduced in relation to the X-files, they were generally presented as hostile interlopers. (Poor Krycek, Spender and Fowley.)

More than that, the production team had taken great care to emphasise that the real key to The X-Files was not so much the eponymous investigations unit as it was the dynamic between Mulder and Scully. When the unit was closed in The Erlenmeyer Flask, Mulder seemed more upset at losing his partnership with Scully than the loss of his life’s work. Considering quitting the FBI in The Host, Mulder explains, “They don’t want us working together, Scully… and right now, that’s the only reason I can think of to stay.”

Dialing it back...

Dialing it back…

In fact, the second season treats the reopening of the X-files at the end of Ascension as an anticlimax. Mulder is put back in charge of the unit, but the show makes it clear that he feels incomplete. It is not until Scully returns to work in Firewalker that the familiar status quo reasserts itself. The second season of the show goes out of its way to emphasise that Mulder and Scully are the true heart of the series, not anything to do with aliens or ghosts. The X-Files: Fight the Future is driven as much by their relationship as by the threat of colonisation.

The show never backed down from that hardline position that The X-Files is effectively Mulder and Scully. In fact, the opening arc of the sixth season went further. When Spender and Fowley were assigned to work on the X-files, the show lost any interest in the basement office. Instead, the show followed the quirky relationship between Mulder and Scully who took to investigating weird stuff together during their time away from work, developing the show into what felt like a weird paranormal romantic comedy.

A cliffhanger...

A cliffhanger…

Tellingly, the sixth season’s “Mulder and Scully Lite” episode was S.R. 819, focusing on Skinner rather than Spender or Fowley. Spender and Fowley were presented as obstacles to be overcome rather than characters in their own right, with Scully threatening to kill Spender in Triangle and Mulder digging through Spender’s trash in Terms of Endearment. Spender and Fowley were portrayed as a hostile enemy force occupying the basement. However, the show didn’t really seem to mind.

The sixth season suggested that it wasn’t really important who was in the basement office. Mulder and Scully got to travel the country together looking for weird stuff in Dreamland I; they got to spend Christmas together in How the Ghosts Stole Christmas; they got to play matchmaker together in The Rain King. The sixth season made it clear that the X-files themselves were largely irrelevant to the show. As far as the production team were concerned, Mulder and Scully were The X-Files.

"The name's Doggett... John Doggett."

“The name’s Doggett… John Doggett.”

It helps that even creator and executive producer Chris Carter defines his obligation to The X-Files in terms of the two lead actors. After all, Carter originally only planned to produce five seasons of the show. At the start of the ninth season, he claimed that he only stayed with the project because he felt like he owed it to Duchovny and Anderson:

“I never imagined doing what I’m doing on season nine. It’s against all odds,” he says. “The only reasons I stay are that I feel a tremendous loyalty to the people I work with. I feel that the show still is a good storytelling vehicle, and I feel a responsibility to make good on a promise that I would stay on the show as long as David and Gillian stayed with it.”

All of this contributes to the sense that The X-Files is defined by its relationship to Mulder and Scully, that it is not possible for a television show to call itself The X-Files without Mulder and Scully. This put the production team in an awkward position when they faced the prospect of making the show without David Duchovny.

The shoot must have been torture.

The shoot must have been torture.

To be fair, the eighth season has things a lot easier than the ninth. David Duchovny might have one foot out the door, but that also means that he is available to work on the show. It is quite informative that two of Duchovny’s eleven appearances in the eighth season are given over to his fairly small involvement in Within and Without. It would be quite easy to tell this sort of story without using Duchovny; simply remove the torture sequences and have the Alien Bounty Hunter conduct his business wearing another face.

The decision to bring back David Duchovny in so limited a capacity in Within and Without is clearly intended to reassure fans. The X-Files is a show that likes to tease audiences, but Within and Without are dead serious. The production team want the audience to know upfront that David Duchovny has not abandoned the show. Making a point to use Duchovny in the first two episodes is an effort to reassure the audience that Mulder is still around and that the production is not being coy or disingenuous.

Sleeping on it.

Sleeping on it.

It is a gesture of good faith to an audience that had perhaps grown skeptical of The X-Files. After all, the show had a habit of promising revelations and resolutions that never quite materialised – or never materialised in the form that had been promised. Frontloading David Duchovny’s guest appearances like this has an adverse impact down the line; it means that Duchovny will only appear in nine of the season’s next nineteen episodes. However, it does offer honest-to-goodness proof that Duchovny will be back in some form or another.

Of course, there is a sense that The X-Files might be trying a little too hard; that the show is genuinely terrified about what Duchovny’s absence might mean going forward. The eighth season gets revamped opening credits that draw attention to this insecurity, both in what has changed and what had not changed. Duchovny himself is incorporated into the credits so that he becomes an essential part of the show even when he doesn’t actually appear. When he does actually appear, he still gets top billing ahead of Gillian Anderson and Robert Patrick.

Giving Praise.

Giving Praise.

The X-Files is still about Mulder, even when Mulder is a character largely defined by his absence. Over the course of the eighth season, this proves to be a very clever way of easing the show through a difficult transition. After all, the show can build to a run of episodes in the second half of the season that do feature Duchovny as one of the show’s lead actors. However, this approach ultimately becomes a crutch in the ninth season. It is one thing to build a show about Mulder when he is definitely coming back; it is another to do it when he most likely isn’t.

Still, all of that lies in the future. Within and Without are very much about establishing trust with the audience that the production team still know what they are doing. The two-parter is also about establishing the character of John Doggett. After looking at over one hundred actors (although only ten seriously), Chris Carter settled on Robert Patrick. Patrick had auditioned for a role on Carter’s Harsh Realm. He didn’t get it, but Carter remembered him. “He was somebody I knew I wanted to work with at some point,” Carter reflects.

A Doggett investigator...

A Doggett investigator…

Patrick was a film veteran at this point, a character actor instantly recognisable to savvy movie fans for roles in projects as diverse as Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Copland and The Faculty. Reflecting the changing television landscape, Patrick was a film performer who had transitioned to television through The Sopranos:

So I went and I did The Sopranos, and I went, “God, why don’t I look at TV? Who am I to think that I’m better than that? Look at some of the stuff you’ve done and then look at the stuff they’re doing on The Sopranos!” And that opened my eyes. And I found [X-Files creator] Chris Carter and The X-Files, and when I was given the chance to go in there and jump in there for David Duchovny, I was like, “Are you kidding me? Abso-%$!?ing-lutely! Let’s do it!”

The fact that a performer like Patrick was open to the commitment of a weekly prime-time television show demonstrated that the industry was changing. Indeed, Patrick already had been cast in the pilot for L.A. Sheriff’s Homicide, but was released to work on The X-Files.

Making quite a splash...

Making quite a splash…

Within and Without are tasked with introducing the character of John Doggett. The two-parter is quite aware of how sharp an uphill battle that will be. David Duchovny had been the show’s male lead for seven years; this could easily feel like a transparent attempt to replace him with another leading man. As such, the two-parter makes a number of conscious attempts to hedge its own bets. Wisely, Within and Without avoids pushing the character of John Doggett too hard. This is a story largely driven by Scully with other characters around her. Doggett is one face in the crowd.

The two-parter helps to build up a nice support framework around Scully, a conscious effort to reassure viewers that not everything has changed. Mitch Pileggi has always offered a sense of certainty and absolutism, and Within and Without make great use of Skinner as a supporting character. He provides an anchor for the audience. Similarly, the Lone Gunmen make a somewhat gratuitous appearance in Within, popping in for a quick scene to offer exposition. Margaret Scully makes a vocal cameo. Even Assistant Deputy Director Alvin Kersh returns to the fold.

Kersh is curt...

Kersh is curt…

The production team were wryly aware that Doggett would face an uphill battle in order to be accepted by fans who had grown accustomed to the character of Mulder. This was a make-or-break moment for the show. As Gillian Anderson conceded, it could be the beginning or the end for The X-Files:

“So there’s a kind of a feeling of starting over in a sense,” she suggests. “It’s like a new beginning. Keeping in mind where we’re come from, who we’ve come with and everything, it feels good.” Of course, there is the concern that the long-time loyal audience might not embrace Patrick in his role, to which Gillian is philosophical. “Well, if it means that we just do one season with Robert because the fans just can’t deal with Mulder not being around, then that’s what we’ll do.

“However, if they accept him and they get in step with this new and interesting character, then we can move things forward in its own direction. It’s going to be what it’s going to be she offers. It will be nice if people keep an open mind and not be too afraid or judgemental, initially, about what it’s going to be. I just feel like we need to give the guy [Robert] a break.”

Within incorporates this hostility into its own plot. Doggett is introduced as an antagonistic character, trying to manipulate important information out of Scully, only for Scully to throw water in his face. It is an effective introduction to the character, even if it is undercut by having Doggett’s face appear in the opening credits.

This is why it always pays to watch the credits, Scully.

This is why it always pays to watch the credits, Scully.

The show’s abrasive introduction of Doggett is a very effective way of foregrounding the audience’s anxieties about the character. In interviews, the production team were quite clear that Doggett was not intended as a replacement for Mulder, despite the fact that he would be appearing in each of the season’s twenty-one episodes. Carter insisted, “He is not Mulder’s replacement. Robert Patrick is an addition to the show. He, along with Mitch Pileggi and his expanded role, was necessary to tell good X-Files stories in the absence of Mulder.”

That said, it is good that the show decides to turn Doggett into a stand-up guy fairly quickly. There are some minor teething troubles in the dynamic in Patience and Roadrunners, but Scully generally seems more hostile and suspicious of Doggett than he does of her. There is evidence of Doggett’s status as a stand-up guy as early as Within and Without, when he declines to include Skinner’s outburst in his report because of the damage that it might cause to Skinner’s reputation. Doggett seems a decent enough sort.

"And he hasn't tried to monologue yet..."

“And he hasn’t tried to monologue yet…”

Still, Within and Without reveal very little about Doggett. The character does not even get to interact with Scully too much; Skinner seems to play the narrative role of “second X-files agent” while Doggett is busy overseeing the manhunt for Mulder. Over the course of Within and Without, Doggett feels very much like Mike Millar from Tempus Fugit and Max: a decent hard-working government official who is just trying to do his job and who is ill-equipped when aliens happen to involve themselves in his brief.

If Doggett’s face weren’t in the opening credits, and if Without did not end with character assigned to the X-files, Robert Patrick might simply seem like a new recurring character for the eighth season. Doggett certainly doesn’t feel like a new lead on the show. If anything, he feels more secondary to the plot than Walter Skinner. Then again, this feels like a very conscious effort to introduce the audience to Doggett by degrees rather than ramming him down their throats. After all, the fans would never accept Doggett if the show insisted upon him.

"Got a good stare goin' on."

“Got a good stare goin’ on.”

The real star of Within and Without is Scully. The two-parter is centred on Scully’s emotional journey. Director Kim Manners and composer Mark Snow do a wonderful job emphasising Scully’s isolation and disconnect. Over the course of the episode, Manners frames Gillian Anderson as events transpire around her. Scully remains steadfast and determined as the world around her reels. Anderson’s performance is as good as it ever was; the audience never once doubts that Scully keenly feels Mulder’s loss, but they also never doubt that Scully will keep going.

In particular, Without takes the character of Scully to the Arizona desert, recalling the evocative teaser to Emily. Manners shoots the desert in such a way as to emphasise its scale and majesty; this is an incredibly vast and empty world, one with little life to sustain it. The sequence of Scully wandering alone through the desert in Without is a beautifully lyrical piece of television, a visual metaphor that is carefully calibrated. Given the emphasis on Scully’s emotional state, Within and Without could easily seem trite or manipulative. Instead, they feel intimate.

Middle distance is the best distance.

Middle distance is the best distance.

As much as Doggett might be a new character, the show works very hard to assure viewers that this is not a reboot or a fresh start. The X-Files is not going to launch as a new show just because David Duchovny is no longer committed to a full season. Even the episode’s mythology elements are all familiar and established; the Alien Bounty Hunter has been skulking around the edges of the conspiracy since the second season, while Gibson Praise was part of the fabric that tied the show into the movie in The End and The Beginning.

Continuity becomes key here. Within and Without makes the case that the key to finding Mulder is in the show’s own history. Doggett and Scully don’t necessarily have to follow new leads to new conspiracies to unearth Mulder. Instead, they have to delve into the past. Within and Without suggest that only by affirming their own links to the show’s continuity do Doggett and Scully have any real hope of recovering Mulder and – in doing so – making The X-Files whole once again.

Lifting her spirits...

Lifting her spirits…

Explaining why the Alien Bounty Hunter might be stopping in Arizona, Scully assures Skinner and the Lone Gunmen that the Alien Bounty Hunter is digging into old continuity. “Because they are looking to find that which is not in my computer or Mulder’s computer or in the files that were removed from the FBI,” she informs them “They are looking to find the whereabouts of good, hard proof. That in this case exists in a person, in a boy named Gibson Praise.”

The choice of Gibson Praise is quite telling; Gibson Praise had appeared in The End and The Beginning, serving as a bridge for the show in a variety of ways. Most obviously, Gibson Praise was a bridge into and out of Fight the Future. However, the character was also a bridge between the show’s time in Vancouver and its move to Los Angeles. It makes sense for the show to return to Gibson Praise at this most volatile of times. (The use of Gibson also solidifies the season’s theme of the truth being internal rather than external.)

Semi-facepalm!

Semi-facepalm!

This attention to continuity draws attention to one of the bigger issues of the eighth season. As much care is taken to ensure a smooth transition from Mulder to Doggett, some of the creative choices are rather jarring. Most notably, the revelation in Within and Without that Mulder was apparently suffering with “an undiagnosable condition” following The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati feels a little trite and convenient. Most notably because there was absolutely no indication of that during the seventh season.

To be fair, the Cigarette-Smoking Man was afflicted by a similarly ambiguous ailment over the course of the seventh season. He was revealed to be sick in Closure, contemplating his mortality in En Ami and confined to wheelchair in Requiem. However, Mulder never demonstrated any of these symptoms. He remained quite vigourous and active throughout the season. Although his thoughts in Requiem were a bit morbid, there was nothing to suggest a debilitating illness in Hollywood A.D., Fight Club or Je Souhaite.

"You think he'd have just pre-paid for them to do it after he died." "Mulder always was theatrical."

“You think he’d have just pre-paid for them to do it after he died.”
“Mulder always was theatrical.”

Within and Without insists upon retroactively giving Mulder a terminal illness, devoting considerable effort to assuring the audience that this is not just the conspiracy covering their tracks. Scully, the most sympathetic and knowledgeable character in the narrative, almost immediately endorses the revelation.  “Mulder was dying,” she states simply. “For a year, he was going to doctors. There’s a clear record of his decline.” It is a rather inelegant way of conveying plot information to the audience.

Mulder’s illness is a weird choice, on multiple levels.  Most obviously, it does not actually go anywhere except The Gift. Mulder’s illness ultimately plays out as a red herring across the season, contributing nothing to the season arc. Doggett speculates that it might have motivated Mulder to fake his disappearance, but the audience knows this to be a lie. (And, to be fair, trying to maintain ambiguity across the season would risk alienating the audience.) The best that can be said about Mulder’s illness is that it plays to the body horror themes of the season.

Getting a read on this...

Getting a read on this…

Perhaps the decision to reveal Mulder was hiding a terminal illness represents an attempt to keep Mulder somewhat active in the narrative. Within and Without suggest that Mulder still has secrets to reveal, even if he is not an active participant in this phase of the show’s history. Mulder is not a closed book; his narrative was not complete when he wandered off at the end of Requiem. Of course, this revelation significantly undercuts the quiet beauty and dignity (and some of the ambiguity) of Mulder’s final moments in Requiem.

“I doubt we agents ever really truly know each other even our partners,” Doggett reflects. “Not at the end of the day. Their real lives, their friends, girlfriends, deeply personal things, issues.” This perhaps mirrors the show’s writing style; Carter tended to avoid digging too deeply into the personal lives of the characters, except where they intersect with the show’s themes. The characters’ lack of a life outside the X-files expanded into a core theme, but it initially seemed rooted in the production team’s disinterest with soap opera.

Sealing his tomb...

Sealing his tomb…

The show was still ambiguous as to the exact nature of the relationship between Mulder and Scully. The seventh season treated the possibility of romance between the two leads as a secret to be guarded closely. There was something deeply frustrating about this, particularly given the six years of teasing and flirting leading up to the kiss in Millennium and the hook up in all things. The show’s reluctance to even acknowledge the possibility of a relationship while hinting furiously at it felt like an attempt to have the cake and eat it too.

The revelation of Mulder’s mysterious brain illness feels like an example of the show trying to exploit its own ambiguity. Sure, there’s very little to explicitly contradict the revelation that Mulder knew he was dying for most of the seventh season, but it does add an unpleasant subtext to a whole host of developments over that year. Mulder chose that point to get involved with Scully, without telling her? Mulder never talked about it with his mother before she died? It is one of the weaker elements of Within and Without, and the eighth season as a whole.

Still, despite Within and Without‘s emphasis on the show’s own history, there is a sense that this is a new beginning. The show tries to smooth over the rough edges in the transition with references to past continuity and established characters, but this is not the same show that it was at this point in the seventh season. The show has a new purpose and a new plot. For the first seven years, Mulder was the man chasing the X-files; it seems entirely appropriate that the eighth season show find Mulder effectively becoming an X-file himself.

This new set-up reinvigourated the production team. The seventh season could occasionally feel a bit tired, as if the cast and crew were a little frustrated at going through the same motions over and over again. As Carter recalls, the possibility of an eighth season injected a bit of excitement into the show:

“I had to write the season finale Requiem not knowing whether or not we’d be back,” admits CC. “It set up an interesting problem for me in coming back now and doing an 8th year. I have the opportunity to be able to explore things that I wasn’t going to be able to do. There was a point last season where it was kind of distressing. Right around Xmas time I came into Frank Spotnitz’s office and I said, ‘I’ve got this great idea’, and he looked at me and said, ‘We’ve only got ten more episodes to go.’ There’s still a lot of things I want to explore.”

There is a solid argument to be made that Requiem, Within and Without constitute the strongest mythology episode since Patient X and The Red and the Black in the fifth season. Certainly, the search for Mulder and the arrival of Doggett gives the eighth season a stronger sense of thematic unity than any season since the third.

If the seventh season of The X-Files could never decide whether it was or wasn’t the final season of the show, the eighth season is decidedly more ambitious. In many ways, the eighth season is simultaneously the last season of the show as it was and the first season of an entirely new show. As Frank Spotnitz recalls:

It’s really a different show than it’s been in the past seven years because the characters of Mulder and Scully so much defined the way every episode unfolded. And now when you take Mulder out and put in this other character, it changes everything. So, it’s been challenging. But it’s certainly been a welcome change of pace after years of doing the show one way.

Given how hard the earlier seasons had worked to establish Mulder and Scully as the heart of the show, it makes sense that replacing Mulder fundamentally alters the show. The eighth season teases the possibility of resolution for Mulder and Scully while also offering the starting point of something new and exciting.

The eighth season is very much aware of this paradox. The opening episodes of the eighth season are structured almost like an introduction to the new series. Opening with two mythology episodes followed by a very basic monster of the week, the eighth season opens using the same basic rhythm as the first season did. More than that, the first three episodes of the eighth season to be broadcast are all written by Chris Carter, much like the first three episodes of Harsh Realm were written by Carter to establish tone.

At the same time, the end of the eighth season is structured very much like a final season; much more like a final season than the seventh season had been. The eighth season of The X-Files is the first season to close with an entirely self-contained two-part mythology episode. Requiem was largely a self-contained single episode, but it was very much open-ended so that it could transition to either an eighth season or a movie franchise. Essence and Existence feel like they offer a lot more closure.

Within and Without mark the end of The X-Files as fans knew and loved it. They also marked the beginning of something new and intriguing. The X-Files were dead. Long live The X-Files.

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

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6 Responses

  1. It is interesting to think of the logistical choices in utilizing Duchovny’s 11 appearances in season 8. I think that the season is mostly backloaded is revealing that Carter is still looking to end the series. If he was really planning on a season 9 with Doggett and Reyes from the start, it would have made more sense to front load the Mulder story and have him make a few cameos later in the season, if at all.

    Funny, now as I write that, I’m reminded of the conspiracy theories that Carter sabotaged his own show in the later years. The front loaded approach would have been stronger evidence of this. I still think he wanted to end the series but saving the Mulder story for the end of the season tells me he still wanted to end it in what he considered to be the best way.

    • That’s a very good point, actually. But I think Carter also understood that ratings for the season as a whole would be stronger if the show teased Mulder’s return and then he returned – rather than having him around and then leave. (After all, there’s a lot of chance the audience would leave with him if there was no promise he was coming back.) That said, I wonder if the backloading was a conscious choice or simply set by David Duchovny’s scheduling with Evolution.

  2. Dick Wolf was woefully misguided about ‘Friends’, but I’ve noticed successful people often assume what works for them will work on an entirely different beast. I like ‘Law and Order’ (and spin offs) but they are ferociously plot driven shows where the main characters are so many interchangable roles. ‘Friends’ (and indeed most sitcoms) are character driven where the plot of the week is often incidental.

    • That’s a very fair point. I just loved the anecdote as an example of particular nineties attitudes to television production. I’m kinda glad we’ve drifted away from that, because it (generally) means stronger actors on television than there would have been previously.

  3. Hi Darren!

    Fantastic X-Files reviews, I’ve been revisiting the series from season 1 and I’ve learned so much with you, all the inconspicuous messages and links to reality. Thank you so much.

    Adding my 2 cents on this one, I just have to say that actually there was a very subtle indication that Mulder may have been experiencing a health issue in the 7th season. It was in the very beginning of “Signs and Wonders” where he ended a bit suddenly a call to a “doctor” as Scully entered the office. I thought at that time that it had to have a meaning. As a post-reviewing note, the tone of Mulder’s voice is indeed a little bit lowered and slowed down just after the call as he speaks to Scully, not enough to cause suspicion at that time but making sense now.

    Greetings from Portugal

    • Thanks Hélder! Hello Portugal!

      That’s a fair point, although I think the inference was – as you noted – it was meant to be the doctor who examined the kid with all the snake bites. I think Spotnitz has talked about how the production team would have liked to seed Mulder’s illness better if they had known for sure there’d be an eighth season. There’s a quote on here somewhere from Spotnitz. Maybe in The Gift or Per Manum, because those seem to be the obvious choices? (I think it’s Per Manum, where Spotnitz talks about having to use Duchovny in flashbacks so often.)

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