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The Lone Gunmen – All About Yves (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.

The broad consensus would seem to suggest that All About Yves is the best episode of The Lone Gunmen.

While this is perhaps unfair to Madam, I’m Adam and Tango de los Pistoleros, it is certainly a defensible position. All About Yves is one of the tightest shows of the season, and marks the first time since The Pilot that a plot has managed to actually build momentum and tension across its run-time. As effective as the climaxes of Madam, I’m Adam and Tango de los Pistoleros might have been, the first season of The Lone Gunmen doesn’t really offer much in the way of dramatic stakes.

"This looks familiar..."

“This looks familiar…”

In a way, that is to be expected. The Lone Gunmen is, first and foremost, a comedy. There are points in the first season where it feels like The Lone Gunmen exists primarily as a silo to store all the displaced comedy that the production team stripped out of the sombre eighth season of The X-Files. (Cynics might suggest that there wasn’t quite thirteen episodes’ worth of comedy to be re-homed.) It is hard to feel too stressed when Langly is threatened in Bond, Jimmy Bond or when a poacher points a gun at Byers in Diagnosis: Jimmy.

That is the beauty of All About Yves, managing to create a growing sense of tension and unease without sacrificing any of the show’s humour. Indeed, with the addition of guest star Michael McKean to the cast, All About Yves winds up funnier than about half of the preceding season.

The truth is out there...

The truth is out there…

The Lone Gunmen is really committing to this whole crossover thing, drawing in both Michael McKean and David Duchovny for the big season finalé. Any excuse to have McKean around is worth the price of admission; McKean is one of the most underrated comic actors of his generation, and there is something quite satisfying that his relationship with Vince Gilligan developed to the point where he appeared as a regular on Better Call Saul. Along with Steven Tobolowki, McKean makes one of the show’s more memorable guest stars.

It makes perfect sense to bring the character of Morris Fletcher into the world of The Lone Gunmen. His last appearance was a brief cameo in the Gunmen-centric Three of a Kind at the end of the sixth season. However, even Michael McKean’s delightfully charged interactions with the trio in Dreamland II suggest that the pairing was inevitable; even if the characters cannot remember any of their exchanges, the audience can. McKean plays very well off Braidwood, Harwood and Haglund.

He'll repeat this until he's blue in the face...

He’ll repeat this until he’s blue in the face…

McKean is (and always has been) perfectly cast as Fletcher, bringing the lecherous government employee feel like a more complex character than his appearances would suggest. John Shiban and Vince Gilligan acknowledge the charm that McKean brings to the role:

“He’s just a delight. He so embodies this character that it’s scary,” Shiban gloats about his guest star. “One of the reasons he’s such a good fit with both The X-Files and The Lone Gunmen, is because, as comic as he is, he carries himself with such a sense of reality.”

Also praising McKean, Gilligan says simply, “He so gets it.”

McKean has a magnetic comedic personality, one that serves to make the character oddly compel despite (or perhaps because) of his flaws. McKean deftly balances the comedic and dramatic demands of both the role and the show around him.

A ring of truth to it...

A ring of truth to it…

McKean allows All About Yves to get away with a lot, lending credibility to lines like “lesbian? I thought you said lebanese!” or “I should be using these last hours constructively… drinking at the bar and juggling blonde triplets.” The Lone Gunmen has always had a juvenile sense of humour, particularly when it comes to matters of sex. (The teaser to All About Yves finds Jimmy making the obligatory “rectal probe” joke when the Gunmen stage Morris’ abduction.) The key to making those gags work seems to hiring an actor of McKean’s caliber.

As funny as McKean is, the character of Morris Fletcher has always worked because there is just enough humanity underpinning the sleazy jokes and the cruel punchlines. Fletcher is a weasel, but he is a recognisable weasel with moments of humanity. Morris Fletcher is more than just comic relief. When he was introduced in Dreamland I, he was presented as the most banal sort of evil, a self-righteous and entitled coward willing to do whatever it took to survive despite his own severe shortcomings.

"Okay! Okay! I'll sign for a second season!"

“Okay! Okay! I’ll sign for a second season!”

Fletcher is very much an archetypal Vince Gilligan character in the mould of Robert Patrick Modell or Walter White. All are fundamentally tragic and pathetic figures, although Fletcher wears his more pathetic tendencies on his sleeve. Fletcher has no “Heisenberg” or “Pusher” persona to hide behind, lacking the ambition to become even a gun for hire or a meth kingpin. The best that Fletcher can aspire towards is using his government position for sex. There is something very banal about this.

In his own way, Fletcher fits more comfortably on The Lone Gunmen than he did on The X-Files. Part of this is simply due to scale. Given the challenges they face week-in and week-out, Morris Fletcher really is not that big a threat to Mulder and Scully; once Scully figures out that he is not Mulder in Dreamland II, he becomes more of a nuisance than a problem. Morris Fletcher might be a reasonably competent mid-level man in black, but he cannot compete with the sheer odious evil of the Cigarette-Smoking Man.

A bit of a stretch...

A bit of a stretch…

Instead, Morris Fletcher feels perfectly suited to the world of The Lone Gunmen. If the Lone Gunmen serve as ineffectual reflections of Fox Mulder, then Morris Fletcher is an ineffectual reflection of the show’s mythology. As much as the Lone Gunmen embody Mulder’s idealism and romance while operating on the far fringes of popular consciousness, Morris Fletcher represents the selfish banality of the central conspiracy deeply insulated away from colonisation plots and genocidal scheming.

It often seems like the Lone Gunmen are tilting at windmills, trying to make a difference despite overwhelming odds against the backdrop of a larger narrative where they are plucky comic relief rather than dynamic heroic figures. Morris Fletcher is just the opposite, part of the political machinery that enables larger wide-scale abuses and perpetuates a culture of deceit and manipulation. Fletcher goes along with this not because he is motivated by vision or burdened by responsibility; he goes along with it because it is easy.

A probing interrogation...

A probing interrogation…

And so Fletcher makes the perfect antagonist for The Lone Gunmen. He is a character who can pose a credible threat to these three hackers, but can still fit with the lighter jokey tone of the show. Fletcher is a man who can show up with armed death squads twice over the course of All About Yves, but who is still defined by his pathetic attempts to engage in extramarital affairs with women he meets at bars. Morris Fletcher is a fascinating character, and it interesting to imagine where he might have gone with the show.

Indeed, even those cheesy pick-up scenes resonate quite skilfully with the show around them. The Lone Gunmen works best when the show sits between the tragic and comic, when it seems like the laughter serves to keep the tears at bay. The Lone Gunmen is a profoundly lonely show about dysfunctional and isolated individuals trying to make sense of the world. Fletcher himself succinctly sums this up in the opening scene. “It isn’t all… you know,” he urges, offering a fifties UFO whistle to explain his day job. “It can get lonely too.”

Back in black...

Back in black…

Fletcher is obviously cynically hitting on beautiful women in an effort to trick them into sleeping with him, but there is a grain of truth to his confession. Fletcher’s loneliness does not excuse his extramarital affairs, but his actions suggest that loneliness is a fundamental part of the human condition. As reprehensible as Morris Fletcher might be, the show seems to pity him. Fletcher might be arrogant, cowardly and self-serving, but these traits serve to make him all the more human in the larger context of the mythology.

As ever, the relationship between The Lone Gunmen and The X-Files is intriguing. Appropriately enough, given that its cast featured three veteran X-Files characters, The Lone Gunmen was tied more firmly to The X-Files than any of the other Ten Thirteen productions had been. Millennium and Harsh Realm shared certain themes and interests with The X-Files, but their own continuity rarely overlapped. In contrast, The Lone Gunmen relies quite heavily on the continuity and history of The X-Files to give it weight.

Road trip...

Road trip…

The teaser to All About Yves even features a hilarious low-budget abduction of Morris Fletcher in which the Lone Gunmen attempt to extract vital information from the man in black. To be fair, the scene works on its own terms, with the fairly cheesy set and Fletcher’s eagerness to fold under interrogation. When Frohike-as-alien suggests that Fletcher has “information”, Fletcher is more than willing to cooperate. “Hell, yeah! Yes I do. What do you want to know?” Fletcher’s spinelessness is a beautiful reintroduction of the character.

However, the scene is also structured as a fairly blatant “homage” to the alien torture sequences from Within and Without. The set is designed as low-rent imitation of the alien ship that housed Mulder, while Fletcher finds himself sitting in the exact same chair – bound and naked. He is even threatened with similar alien procedures. “Oh no, not the nose thing, I hate the nose thing!” It is a sequence that plays well in the context of The Lone Gunmen, but which is elevated to a whole other level by its connection to The X-Files.

Fun fact: apparently they shipped the chair all the way from Los Angeles.

Fun fact: apparently they shipped the chair all the way from Los Angeles.

Even the character of Morris Fletcher is heavily defined and informed by his appearances on The X-Files. While All About Yves provides the audience with enough information to understand his character and motivations, the episode plays best with an innate understanding of where Fletcher came from. Indeed, the opening shot of Morris quietly slipping off his wedding ring plays as a dark joke at the expense of his reconciliation with his wife in Dreamland II, acknowledging that nothing has actually changed.

This is, of course, the irony of Morris Fletcher. Fletcher could easily find happiness with his wife, if he were willing to put the effort in; Dreamland I and Dreamland II suggested that the marriage between Morris and JoAnne Fletcher is not fundamentally broken, even if the decision to wipe away all of their development with a push of the reset button feels unnecessarily cruel. Fletcher does not have to be alone; he is alone by choice, and by his own unwillingness to engage with his own life.

Drinking it all in...

Drinking it all in…

In that way, perhaps, he is a reflection of the Lone Gunmen. Unusual Suspects suggested that the Lone Gunmen gave up comfortable and relatively normal lives in order to pursue a romantic ideal that they may never actually attain. Several episodes of The Lone Gunmen suggest that loneliness is something of a choice, a sacrifice made for greater ideals. Episodes like Madam, I’m Adam, Planet of the Frohikes and Tango de los Pistoleros all touch on this conflict between larger conspiracy narratives and personal intimacy.

Are the Lone Gunmen so alone because of the choices they have made and the ideal that they have chosen to pursue? Like Morris Fletcher, would the Lone Gunmen be happier if they were willing to take stock of their lives instead of chasing some ideal? Fletcher enjoys his freedom to hit on beautiful women at bars, much like the Lone Gunmen take pride to their defense of basic freedoms. They all seek the freedom of escape from the mundanity of normal life, but ignore Simon’s observation that “the whole world is a cage when you’re trapped in it alone.”

Illegal alien...

Illegal alien…

Fletcher is not the only connection between All About Yves and The X-Files. The season finalé features a special guest appearance from David Duchovny as Fox Mulder, stopping by the show as he was preparing to leave the role. Duchovny reportedly did that as a tip of the hat to the team working on the show:

“As for The Lone Gunmen, I did that as a favor for [writer-producer] Vince Gilligan and the guys,” he continues. “The show was on the bubble, as they say, and they thought a guest appearance by Mulder might give the show a boost at a point where a decision was being made to renew it or not. It was a nice little bit, just one scene, and it only took a day to do . I guess it didn’t help, though.”

To be fair, it is a very small appearance. According to the commentary, actor Steven Snedden was flown down to Los Angeles to shoot the scene on a very tight schedule. Nevertheless, it was a very nice gesture from an actor who was admittedly retiring from the franchise.

"In our own way, we are all alone..."

“In our own way, we are all alone…”

There does seem to be some disagreement about the particulars of the appearance, particularly the promotion of it. Some articles published before the episode aired drew attention to Mulder’s appearance, while Chris Carter suggested in conversation with Michael Ausiello that the production team were not able to promote the appearance as well as they might:

Speaking of which, I understand David Duchovny will appear in [tonight’s] season finale. Why is it such a big secret? This is just the ratings-grabbing stunt the show needs right now.

Where did you get that information?

Um… reliable sources.

Well, I can’t comment on it, of course. On either the question or the pure fact.

Well, let’s throw out a hypothetical: If David Duchovny were to drop in, wouldn’t you want to promote the heck out of it?

I will promote the show in any way I possibly can. I do what I can under the limitations that I am given, and that’s the way I always proceed.

Hmmm… so David agreed to do it under the condition that it not be promoted. I get it now.

I think that is a rather complex hypothetical. Anything is possible, as I always say about The X-Files. I would say the same thing with The Lone Gunmen.

Well, let me ask you this: Will there be any big surprises [tonight]?

Definitely.

To be fair, given the brevity of the cameo appearance – a minor scene between Jimmy Bond and Fox Mulder – it would be been rather disingenuous to promote Duchovny’s guest spot. Indeed, it would have seemed like a rather desperate ratings ploy from a series that was admittedly on the bubble line at this point in its life-cycle.

Frohike might have been a little over-eager for the wrap party...

Frohike might have been a little over-eager for the wrap party…

It is fun to try to line up the continuity of the eighth season of The X-Files with the first season of The Lone Gunmen. The Lone Gunmen’s appearance in All About Yves feeds rather clearly to their reappearance in Nothing Important Happened Today I; the characters are wearing the same blue face paint and black costumes that they wore during the climax of All About Yves. Nothing Important Happened Today I unfolds two days after the events of Existence, with Mulder enjoying forty-eight hours of happiness with Scully and William.

As such, it seems highly unlikely that Mulder’s appearance in All About Yves could have happened before the events of Essence and Existence, despite the broadcast order of the episodes. It seems All About Yves to mark Mulder’s last appearance before going on the run in Nothing Important Happened Today I. Although it is most definitely not the same car park and Mulder is not wearing the exact same costume, it is fun to think of how much time Mulder spent skulking around car parks on his last weekend with Scully and William.

Lights in the sky...

Lights in the sky…

Despite All About Yves‘ emphasis on the connections that exist between The X-Files and The Lone Gunmen, Frank Spotnitz has suggested that the spin-off may have suffered from comparisons to its parent series:

I think that the biggest curveball we threw the audiences was how comedic, how blatantly comedic the show was. And I don’t think people we’re expecting that from the people behind The X-Files. If I had to do it over again I might have tried to make the transition more slowly.

It is interesting to wonder whether that was a factor in the somewhat muted reaction to The Lone Gunmen, whether fans were looking for something more in keeping with the tone (rather than just the themes) of The X-Files.

He was pretty (Mc)Kean to reprise the role...

He was pretty (Mc)Kean to reprise the role…

Of course, this argument glosses over the fact that The X-Files was going through its own identity crisis in parallel with the launch of The Lone Gunmen. Although still a popular show, The X-Files was no longer the cultural juggernaut that it had been around the release of The X-Files: Fight the Future. Indeed, it seems like The Lone Gunmen might simply have had the misfortune to miss the wave; the ideal time for an X-Files spin-off was arguably long past by the time that The Pilot was broadcast in March 2001.

More to the point, the eighth season of The X-Files was locked in its own battles concerning fan expectations and tonal direction. Certain vocal sections of the X-Files fanbase had lashed out at the production team for daring to imagine a future for the show without Mulder. Robert Patrick and the writing staff did an excellent job introducing Doggett, but the show’s introduction of this new lead was highly controversial. As such, it seems like fans were not sure what to expect from The X-Files, let alone The Lone Gunmen.

Nice bra, brah...

Nice bra, brah…

The tone was what made The Lone Gunmen unique; otherwise the show might be “thirteen extra X-Files episodes, but without Scully or Doggett or Mulder.” The first season of Millennium had been criticised for being too serious in tone, so it seems ironic that The Lone Gunmen would be criticised for being too goofy. (It seems The X-Files really was just right.) As Darin Morgan (somewhat bluntly) argued of Millennium, nobody would complain about the tone if the scripts were good enough.

All About Yves would be the last issue of The Lone Gunmen. The production team knew that they were on the bubble, so they pulled out all of the stops to engage the audience and to convince the network to greenlight a second season. The “Cap’n Toby” Show was held back to air as part of the second season. There was a cliffhanger ending that all but promised viewers a second season. Two characters crossed over from The X-Files. Answers were promised to big questions.  The show managed to strike the perfect balance between funny and tense.

It's just not on the cards...

It’s just not on the cards…

Frank Spotnitz has argued that the writers only really figured out the voice of the show with All About Yves, making the cancellation very frustrating:

Alas, we’d finally figured out the right tone for the show, but we’d already been cancelled! This to me was hands-down the best episode of the series, combining the intrigue of “The X-Files” with the comedy that the Gunmen did best. We were thrilled to work again with Michael McKean, who’s not only terrifically funny but a terrific actor as well. Remembering this episode, I can only sigh, thinking of what might have been…

All About Yves is probably the season’s most balanced episode, and it suggests that the show had found its voice at the end of its first season.

The numbers add up...

The numbers add up…

Although nowhere near as controversial as the decision to cancel Harsh Realm after only three episodes had aired, the production team did seem stung by the cancellation decision. There is still some debate around the reasons for the cancellation. Chris Carter has argued that the ratings for the show were solid:

Actually, the ratings are respectable. For Friday night at 9, they are good ratings for Fox. Everything is relative in the ratings game because Friday night is a very small night. So, we’re actually heartened by what we have done in the ratings, but a show like this takes some time to find an audience. But I know that there is a vocal audience out there because they weigh in every day and every week on the Internet.

Although the ratings fluctuated from week to week, they ended up roughly in line with the ratings for the third season of Millennium that had aired in the same broadcast slot. Given the broader decline in television ratings, that was quite impressive; comparable with the performance of The X-Files in its early years.

Henchmen always get it in the neck...

Henchmen always get it in the neck…

Of course, The X-Files was not in its early years any more. More to the point, neither was Fox. It seems most likely that the cancellation was a purely pragmatic decision from a network that was a lot higher up the food chain than it had been in the early nineties. Frank Spotnitz conceded as much, despite his frustration:

I thought a lot more went right than went wrong. I wished very much the network had brought back the show for another year. There was a mighty campaign internally to keep it on the air. There was a lot of support for the show among the studio executives and some of the network executives too. I think they just took a gamble that they could do better.

As actor Dean Haglund reflected when asked for his own opinion on the show’s cancellation, “It was the year everyone was watching Who Wants to be a Millionaire, which was showing five times a week in America. I don’t know, these game shows!”

Things are about to get real...

Things are about to get real…

It is possible that The Lone Gunmen was simply a victim of bad timing. It arrived at a point where the reality television crazy was entering high gear. In September 2001, Survivor and American High would take home the first Emmy awards for reality television. Surveys revealed that forty-five percent of all Americans (including seventy percent of the coveted 18- to 24-year-old demographic and fifty-seven percent of the 25- to 34-year-old demographic) were watching reality television.

The scheduling and viewing figures supported these findings. Who Wants to be a Millionaire was airing four nights a week and performing spectacularly in the ratings. In fact, Alan Sepinwall has argued that ABC’s aggressive scheduling of Who Wants to be a Millionaire (and the success of that approach) made it “impossible to grow new scripted hits” during the early years of the twenty-first century. Although the major networks all made a point to stress that scripted television was not going anywhere, it seemed like reality television dominated the landscape.

After the show's cancellation, Langly auditioned for the Blue Man Group...

After the show’s cancellation, Langly auditioned for the Blue Man Group…

Vince Gilligan has argued that the biggest issue with The Lone Gunmen was simply a matter of poor timing, although it may have been compounded by some other factors to do with network expectations and the show’s choice of leads:

Maybe this was a show that had a specific time it should have come out and we missed that window. I don’t know what that window would have been, but I’ve got to think there was enough interesting plots and humor, and the characters were likeable and noble enough. In my mind, and I’m the most biased person you can ask, my thing was always, ‘what’s not to love?’ Maybe there wasn’t enough sex or sexiness or something. Maybe three guys hanging out together in a basement, maybe people need more romance; I don’t know what it is.

Byers, Langly and Frohike are a rather unconventional set of leads by the standards of network television, to the point that it feels like Yves and Jimmy were drafted in to add some conventionally attractive cast members.

Locked down...

Locked down…

Almost inevitably, there are various conspiracy theories around the show’s cancellation. There was some suggestion that The Lone Gunmen was doomed from the outset, that Fox never really had any faith in the show. Certainly, Fox was a network that had become increasingly ruthless in the way that it dealt with young television shows. The network seemed quite uncomfortable with any show that was strange or unusual and which might require a little time to grow an audience.

Reflecting on the situation, Carter offered, “My experience is that if a network is not behind the show, that the audience perceives this as a vote of no confidence and doesn’t get behind it, either.” According to Dean Haglund, the network’s lack of enthusiasm for The Lone Gunmen was rooted in the fact that “the relationship between Chris Carter and the Fox network executives had, over the years, eroded.” Carter was no longer considered to be the young and dynamic future face of television.

A bolt from the blue...

A bolt from the blue…

Indeed, Carter speculated that some of the negative response to The Lone Gunmen was playing the man rather than the ball:

“I think what happened is that now, people are reviewing this so-called powerful person, and they’re not reviewing the show,” he says. “They’re reviewing the circumstances surrounding the show, and that’s disappointing to me. I don’t think about power, to be honest. I think about doing a good job and the treatment you get when you produce something that’s good and deserves a chance. If it’s not given its fair shake, then I get irritated, but I’m not asking for anything more than that, nor do I think anyone should ask for more than that, because you’d keep too much crap on TV if it was just a power play.”

The cancellations of Harsh Realm and The Lone Gunmen demonstrated how far Carter had come from his $30m deal with Fox to produce new television shows.

On the Yves of cancellation...

On the Yves of cancellation…

Some outside observers seemed more aware of precarious position of The Lone Gunmen than any of the production staff. On the commentary for All About Yves, Vince Gilligan shares an anecdote about how the staff on King of the Hill knew the fate of the spin-off before The Pilot had even been broadcast:

We were friends with Jimmy Hardwick, who does the voice of Dale on King of the Hill. And he was telling me one time – before the Lone Gunmen even aired – the character of Dale had a t-shirt on him saying “Bring Back the Lone Gunmen!”

Gilligan elaborated on the story on the audio commentary for Jump the Shark:

He explained it to me. They were big fans of the show but they just sort of had a feeling Fox wasn’t going to get behind it or something. They have a long history of not being treated super-well by their… I don’t know how deep into that I should get, but they’re a good bunch of guys over there.

When they talk about the experience, the production team seem surprised about the cancellation. In hindsight, it seems like the series was always doomed. During the production of Jump the Shark in the final season of The X-Files, there was some suggestion that Fox was quite antagonistic towards the Lone Gunmen characters.

You must be at least this po-faced to work for the federal government...

You must be at least this po-faced to work for the federal government…

On the commentary for Jump the Shark, Frank Spotnitz remarks that “there was zero support for doing it from the studio. They were, like, hostile to the idea.” In LAX-Files, Bruce Harwood observed, “I think if the studio objected to anything, it was wasting time on our characters long enough to kill us off.” Given that the studio was reluctant to allow the characters to guest star on The X-Files, it makes sense that it had been reluctant to get behind their self-titled spin-off.

It is a shame. The first season of The Lone Gunmen has its problems; the first season of any show will have problems. The first season of a show is largely about figuring out what the production team want it to be, there are bound to be clumsy missteps and awkward miscalculations. By the middle of the season, the production team seemed to have found a unique voice for the show. By the time they reached All About Yves, the production team had figured out how to deftly balance tone.

Face-to-face...

Face-to-face…

In fact, All About Yves marks perhaps the most successful use of Yves Adele Harlow and Jimmy Bond across the entire thirteen-episode season. Tom Schnauz had used Jimmy rather well in Madam, I’m Adam and had used Yves quite skilfully in Tango de los Pistoleros. However, All About Yves marks the first time that the show has successfully balanced its obligations to all five leading characters. Every member of the ensemble has an opportunity to shine without crowding out anybody else.

Most notably, All About Yves manages to skilfully divide the cast. A lot of the first season attempts to split the Lone Gunmen away from Jimmy and Yves, but most of those episodes struggle to keep everything ticking over. The Jimmy and Yves subplots in Eine Kleine Frohike and The “Cap’n Toby” Show both feel like they crowd out an episode that could use more room to breath; the decision to shunt the Lone Gunmen into their own subplot in Diagnosis: Jimmy creates a rather imbalanced episode.

Pointed rebuttal...

Yves was not happy to hear the show had not been renewed.

All About Yves keeps the Lone Gunmen plot running in parallel with the Yves plot, and allows Jimmy to cross between them. The two plots are obviously related, generating some nice tension as the story moves along. They are structured cleverly, dovetailing neatly at the climax. It helps that All About Yves makes a point to humanise and develop the character of Yves Adele Harlow. While Jimmy suffers from having to be the comic relief, the exposition generator and the team heart, Yves suffers from a lack of definition across the first season.

Most painfully, The Lone Gunmen repeatedly insists that Yves is something of a self-interested anti-hero. In The Pilot, Yves is introduced stealing an important piece of technology out from under the noses of the Lone Gunmen so as to sell it to the highest bidder; later, she seems perfectly willing to let Byers and thousands of people die. However, the show quickly softened Yves. After all, she finds herself drawn into every single episode of the first season. Occasionally (as in Tango de los Pistoleros) there is some tension, but mostly her goals align with those of the group.

In Eine Kleine Frohike, Yves helps to save the Lone Gunmen from a Nazi war criminal. The episode ends with Jimmy explicitly pointing out that Yves is not as cynical as she may claim. In Three Men and a Smoking Diaper, she drops by to offer parenting tips. In Maximum Byers, she goes undercover as Jimmy’s girlfriend. In The Lying Game, she helps Jimmy track the Lone Gunmen down when they are kidnapped. The show makes a number of references to her nominal anti-hero status, but Yves never demonstrates some ambiguity.

It all feels a little forced and staged. Over the course of the first season, The Lone Gunmen never manages to build a credible character out of Yves Adele Harlow. Yves is the de facto fifth member of the team, but the episodes offer increasing convoluted attempts to paint her as an antagonist or a competitor. It is quite a relief when All About Yves promises to finally get past all that. The show seems ready to stop treating Yves as a mysterious anti-hero and start treating her as a member of the cast.

In fact, the original cut of All About Yves included the reveal of Yves’ name and back story. According to Frank Spotntiz on the commentary for Jump the Shark, this back story was radically different than the version eventually exposed:

You know, the irony, if they ever do Lone Gunmen on DVD, then this can be shown, is that in the season finale, the series finale as it turned out, of the Lone Gunmen, there was an entire scene purporting to explain Yves Adele Harlow’s real background. It was a great scene that got cut out for time, but it had a completely different name and completely different backstory.

On the commentary for All About Yves, Vince Gilligan offers a little snippet of the back story that was trimmed from the episode for time:

There’s another scene I can’t quite remember… I think it’s coming up… that we had to cut. Unfortunately, that actually gave away the secret of what Yves Harlow’s real name was. That was a heartbreaker. It was some big story about European orthodonture and how it related to… I don’t remember.

It is reassuring that the production team were not going to build Yves up into a multi-season mystery spanning several seasons of the show. All About Yves was ready to pony up some answers, thirteen episodes into the run. With that out of the way, maybe the show might have been ready to build Yves into a multi-faceted character.

Given the focus on Yves Adele Harlow (whose name is an anagram of “Lee Harvey Oswald”) and the fact that All About Yves is the last episode of the show, it feels entirely appropriate that the show should circle back around to Kennedy-era enthusiasm. The Pilot had established the Lone Gunmen as idealists who aspired towards sixties optimism, which feels entirely appropriate given the name of their publication. Throughout the season, it frequently seems like The Lone Gunmen is rooted a nostalgia for a time long faded into history.

If The X-Files is all about the legacy of seventies cynicism, then The Lone Gunmen is a yearning for sixties utopianism. When the time comes to lure the Lone Gunmen into a trap, Fletcher has the perfect bait. Trawling through records of shady government-sanctioned organisations, one event stands out in particular. “These operations go back decades,” Frohike notes. “This outfit must have been around since… Oh my god. Dallas, November 22nd 1963.” Byers clarifies, “JFK. The assassination.” Of course, it all comes back to that.

In a nice callback to The Pilot, Fletcher teases the group with details of a black ops squad responsible for various false-flag operations against the American people. Much as the World Trade Centre would have been destroyed by factions of the government, All About Yves suggests that Lockerbie, Lebanon, the Centennial Olympic Park bombing and Three Mile Island were all staged. Although nowhere near as uncomfortably prophetic as the attack upon the World Trade Centre in The Pilot, these resonate quite well with contemporary conspiracy culture.

The list presented to the Lone Gunmen in All About Yves seems even more pointed today. When the show was broadcast, there were undoubtedly dozens of people who did believe that every major political event of the previous four decades had been carefully orchestrated and staged, but they were largely confined to fringe magazines and internet chatrooms. In the years since The Lone Gunmen went off the air, those conspiracies have become increasingly mainstream; they are now fixtures of the twenty-four hour news cycle.

It seems like every tragedy spawns a conspiracy theory these days. Some believe that the levees in New Orleans were sabotaged so as to direct the brunt of Hurricane Katrina away from the wealthier sections of the city and towards the more impoverished regions. The tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School has spawned its own “truther” movement. Theorists have suggested that the Boston bombing was a “false flag” operation. It seems that everybody has a theory about what really happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370.

Despite its episodic structure and its affectionate appeal to classic shows like Mission: Impossible or The A-Team, The Lone Gunmen has almost aged better than The X-Files. The X-Files could be quite earnest in its conspiracy theorising. The opening to Fight the Future was a paranoid riff on the Oklahoma City bombing. In contrast, it is heavily suggested that the list presented to the Gunmen in All About Yves is an elaborate hoax, bait that feels simply too good to be true… because it probably is.

That is the sad truth about most conspiracy theories. There are undoubtedly real-life cover-ups and plots, but history would also suggest that governments are hardly organised enough to orchestrate conspiracies on the scale that many of these operations would require. In a world where even a police state like North Korea cannot completely cover its own internal atrocities, it seems hard to believe that any other government would have the sheer force of will to orchestrate lies as consistent and as uniform as those necessary to prop up these conspiracies.

While The X-Files buys into the romance of the grand conspiracy narrative as a way to give meaning to Mulder’s personal existential crises, The Lone Gunmen seems more cynical and more wry in its assessment of conspiracy culture. It often feels like the grand idea of “truth” is a distraction, a roadblock on the way to happiness or fulfillment. In Madam, I’m Adam, an alien abduction narrative gives way to something altogether more intimate. In Planet of the Frohikes, a tale of animal assassins gives way to a simple love story.

In All About Yves, the gang’s fixation on the conspiracy in front of them serves to blind the team to Morris Fletcher’s obvious manipulations. The Lone Gunmen never really stop to think about the simple interpersonal dynamics at work here, or the fact that Fletcher simply can’t be trusted while Yves has repeatedly proven herself to be reliable and well-intentioned. “We’re looking for the truth and we’re doing it with a man that lies for a living,” Jimmy reflects, the most rational observation of the hour.

In a way, it feels almost appropriate that The Lone Gunmen ends on an unresolved cliffhanger. If The Lone Gunmen was more eager to deflate conspiracy theory than The X-Files had been, it makes sense that they would wrap up their show by subverting the mythology’s epic scale. The X-Files bridged seasons and rode into sweeps with impressive multi-part episodes driven by the show’s central conspiracy arc. If the Lone Gunmen existed as dysfunctional mirrors to Mulder, All About Yves becomes a dysfunctional mirror of the mythology.

If The Lone Gunmen suggests that conspiracy theory is secondary to more personal concerns, then the cancellation of the show provides the most ironic punchline of all. There is no impressively satisfying resolution to the cliffhanger; there is no magic escape from the clutches of Morris Fletcher. The cliffhanger of All About Yves does not lead to heroism or answers or resolution; it leads to the Lone Gunmen showing up at Doggett’s door in Nothing Important Happened Today I.

The survival of the Lone Gunmen is not a surprise. Earlier in the episode, Fletcher suggests that killing the Lone Gunmen “would have been like killing the staff of Mad Magazine.” While the rationalisations for keeping Mulder alive in The X-Files occasionally felt strained, it actually seems entirely plausible that the Lone Gunmen would simply not merit execution. The Lone Gunmen’s appearance (without Yves) in Nothing Important Happened Today I suggests that the cliffhanger to All About Yves was not a cliffhanger at all.

After all, Morris Fletcher got what he wanted; he captured Yves Adele Harlow. The Lone Gunmen really were nothing but bait. Indeed, the Lone Gunmen were never the focus of Fletcher’s plot, despite being the central characters of the show. The Lone Gunmen are ultimately fringe characters, even in their own narrative. Having fulfilled that purpose, they can be released back to their recurring role on The X-Files. It seems that The Lone Gunmen was just a ruse, an illusion, a subversion. The cliffhanger, the character, the show were all tilting at windmills.

There is a cruelty and a sadness to that, but that does not undermine the accomplishments of the show. In many ways, The Lone Gunmen is a bittersweet cocktail that serves the characters and the show quite well. All About Yves may build to a cliffhanger that is never really resolved, but it is still an entertaining episode of television. The Lone Gunmen may take a while to find its feet, but it is still charming and enthusiastic. The production team may not have received a second season, but they worked tremendously hard on the thirteen episodes that were produced.

In many ways, The Lone Gunmen feels like the perfect vehicle for its central three characters. Much like the eponymous characters, the fact that The Lone Gunmen may not have found success and validation does not make it any less heroic.

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4 Responses

  1. Fascinating stuff. And quite a lot of words to absorb!

    “Byers, Langly and Frohike are a rather unconventional set of leads”

    You can see the show working in the UK. I don’t know the culture there, or if they have conspiracy theorists like we do, but BBC loves this stuff. They also have a higher tolerance, maybe even a love affair, for the seedier and more depressing sides of life.

    Also, I tend to agree with Dean; the rise of reality TV harmed the industry. A lot of people are working for a lot less money, and the major networks were all trying to lowball each other. It almost destroyed NBC and made Fox a laughingstock (Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire? Really?) We’re only now recovering.

  2. So Morris was shaping up the be the Big Bad of TLG, and he ends up attending their funeral! I guess that was his “Moloch the Mystic” moment.

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