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.
This is not the end.
But it really should be. At least for Mulder and Scully.
In many ways, the eighth season is just as much a miracle as Scully’s pregnancy. A season of The X-Files where Mulder only appears in half the episodes? A season where Scully is pregnant? A season casting Robert Patrick as Scully’s new partner? That sounds like a recipe for disaster, particularly when combined with the declining ratings during the sixth and seventh seasons, not to mention the high-profile creative tensions behind the scenes. At the start of November 2000, the eighth season of The X-Files looked like a trainwreck waiting to happen.
But it wasn’t. Although the season has its fair share of problems, it is one of the most tightly focused and clearly purposed seasons that the show ever produced. Mulder’s absence and Scully’s pregnancy provide clear emotional pivot points for the season, while Robert Patrick does incredible work in an impossible position. Invigorated by the challenge of making a version of The X-Files utterly unlike what had come before, the production team really raise their game. The eighth season is a creative success.
More than that, it was a commercial success. The seventh season of The X-Files avoided cancellation because it was the strongest performer in what might charitably be described as Fox’s “worst season ever.” Although the show was haemorrhaging viewers, Fox could not afford to lose it. The decision to greenlight an eighth season without the full commitment of David Duchovny was a desperate move on the part of a network without any viable replacements for its flagship drama.
However, against all odds, the eighth season succeeded. It managed to hold its viewing figures relatively steady, at a time when television ratings were down across the board. In fact, the tail end of the eighth season actually managed to improve on ratings from the same point in the seventh season. Vienen out-performed Brand X, while Alone rated higher than Fight Club. For a series perceived to be in decline, this was quite an accomplishment. It was no longer Fox’s top-rated show, but it was more solid than it had been.
Of course, this success would turn out to be a mixed blessing for the show. Much of the seventh season had been spent wondering whether the show would finally be allowed to retire; the production team hinting towards resolutions while remaining afraid to commit. The seventh season seemed trapped in limbo somewhere between “business as usual” and “final season”, leading to a very frustrating experience for both the production team and the viewers. It seemed like the team was paralysed by indecision.
The eighth season is a lot more confident and assertive. While the seventh season never seemed to know if it was coming or going, the eighth season knows that it is both coming and going. The season is structured as both a satisfying final season of the show as it was and the first season of a new series born from those ashes. The eighth season manoeuvres Mulder and Scully to a point where they can ride gracefully off into the sunset, while bringing Doggett and Reyes to a point where they might credibly take over from the duo.
The eighth season is largely structured around the idea that it might be time for Mulder and Scully to hand over their oversized flashlights and pass their stylish trench coats to a new generation, retreating to an altogether more mundane world of parenthood and domestic comedy. Scully’s arc since Requiem has been about the journey to motherhood, facing the possibility that she might end up taking that journey alone; Mulder’s arc since Three Words has largely been about accepting that the world moved on in his absence.
Towards the end of the eighth season, Duchovny began signalling that he was unlikely to return for the ninth season. In May 2001, he refused to confirm or deny whether he would be returning. In early June 2001, he would make his position clearer – he would not return for the ninth season, even in a cameo role. He stated, bluntly, “Yeah, I’m done with the TV show.” He would reiterate that position across the summer break, making it clear that fans should not expect to see him back on the show.
David Duchovny was lucky enough to have the freedom to leave the show. His contract at the end of the seventh season extended no further than the end of the eighth. Gillian Anderson had already signed for an eighth season, so she had to sign on for a possible ninth season at the start of the year to ensure that she got a pay-rise for her work. Interviews at the end of the eighth season suggested she was just as eager to leave. Asked about her desire to continue on, Anderson noted that “eight years is a long time.”
Similarly, Chris Carter himself was long past the original five-season run he had proposed for the show. He has repeatedly claimed that he was anchored to the show by a promise that he had made to David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. It seems entirely feasible that Carter might actually leave the show if Anderson and Duchovny were allowed to finally clock out. Indeed, Carter was reportedly quite late to return to show when it entered production on the ninth season. It’s understandable; eight seasons is a phenomenally long time.
It is to the credit of the production team that they seemed to acknowledge as much. The final third of the eighth season plays as an extended epilogue to what came before, with the show bringing Mulder back from the dead in DeadAlive so that he might learn to let go of the X-files. Three Words, Empedocles, Vienen and Alone are all about Mulder making his peace with that transition – allowing Mulder (and some of the show’s core fanbase) to feel comfortable that The X-Files are in safe hands with Agent John Doggett.
Existence even allows a moment for the characters to appreciate everything they have been through and to take stock of the journey. A large part of Existence is about Mulder learning to leave behind the conspiracy thriller shenanigans of the J. Edgar Hoover Building in order to be with the woman he loves and their child. His conversation with Doggett in the parking garage seems a little awkward in the context of the episode, but fits quite comfortably with the themes of the two-parter.
“How long can you keep this up?” Doggett asks. “How long until the next Billy Miles rears his head? The next threat? The next phantom? You ever stop to ask yourself? All the sacrifice, the blood spilled… you’ve given nearly a decade of your life. Where the hell is it all going to end?” It is a fair point. All Mulder can offer in reply is a simple, “Maybe it doesn’t.” However, that is a very trite and simplistic answer. It seems like Mulder contemplates it over the course of the two-parter and eventually decides where he really wants to be.
Scully even alludes to this in her conversations with Mulder as they feel the super soldiers in Essence. As he bundles her towards the car, she insists, “Look, Mulder, look, I can’t take this! I can’t live like this, as the object of some unending X-file.” There has to be a point at which the characters stop running around. There must be more to life. As much as Carter might charm audiences by joking about wheeling Mulder and Scully off-stage in wheelchairs, there is something quite tragic in that image.
It seems like the eighth season might acknowledge as much. Trying to calm Scully, Mulder promises, “This isn’t about the X-files, Scully. It is only about you.” Given how self-centred and single-minded Mulder can be, that is actually a pretty sweet statement. More than that, it foreshadows the revelations about the nature of Scully’s pregnancy at the climax of Existence. William is not a child designed by aliens or conspirators, but is the result of the love between his mother and father.
As such, Essence and Existence are about providing a more certain type of closure than the ambiguity that surrounded Requiem. At the end of the seventh season, the show was not sure if it was coming back and in what form it might return. At the end of the eighth season, the production team seem certain that the show won’t be coming back with Mulder and Scully. Carter noted, “I wanted to be satisfied that this could function as either a series or season finale, and that either way it would continue to preserve the possibility of The X-Files movies.”
Of course, the success of the eighth season meant that Essence and Existence might not be the end of The X-Files. Although it was all up in the air during the production of the two-parter, Carter remained optimistic about the possibility of a ninth season:
“Right now, there is a lot of ground to cover in getting there for next year,” he says. “Right now, there are certain X factors – if you will – we don’t know. We’re all hopeful. I think everybody wants to come back. I am not sure if David wants to come back or not, but I don’t foresee any real concrete reason why we wouldn’t come back. That said, it is in negotiation.”
In an interview before the broadcast of the two-parter, Robert Patrick suggested it was both an end and a beginning. “The honest-to-God truth is, with the two-part finale, I feel like we’ve shot an episode that brings a sense of almost-closure, and yet there’s more to be told.”
And so Essence and Existence do offer hints of what is to come. The final scene with Doggett and Reyes sets up a dramatic arc for the next season, with Doggett proudly declaring that he has launched an official investigation into Deputy Director Kersh. While it lacks the sheer “oomph” of “Mulder’s missing!” or “Scully’s pregnant!”, it would seem to set up a nice recurring conflict for a hypothetical ninth season. It would certainly seem to be a bigger deal than Nothing Important Happened Today I allows it to be.
More to the point, Essence and Existence are largely about decluttering the show and allowing Mulder and Scully to disengage. The biggest revelation of Existence is that William is not the messiah or the “Chosen One” or even a hybrid. The super soldiers show up for his birth, expecting something epic and world-changing. They seem to leave disappointed. It is almost like The X-Files‘ answer to the introductory sequence from The Life of Brian; the super soldiers arrived at the wrong nativity scene.
The eighth season spends considerable time hyping up the mysteries around Scully’s pregnancy, with Essence going into overdrive. Will Scully give birth to an alien, like those featured in Per Manum? Is she going to give birth to super soldier like Billy Miles? Krycek only fuels speculation by suggesting William might be Jesus Christ. When Mulder suggests the colonists are afraid of Scully’s pregnancy, Krycek responds, “They’re afraid of its implications.” He elaborates, “I wanted to destroy the truth before they learn the truth.”
The truth, Mulder intuits, is religious in nature. The truth, according to Mulder is “that there’s a God… a higher power.” This is not a surprise. The X-Files has linked the alien and the divine since the second season at the latest, in episodes like Red Museum and Fearful Symmetry. Even in DeadAlive, Billy Miles hailed the colonists in almost religious terms. In many ways, The X-Files is a show about religious faith, as one might expect from a show with the tagline, “I want to believe.”
Since aliens have long been associated with the divine on The X-Files, it makes sense that alien-human hybrids have come to occupy a place between humanity and divinity, with Mulder lying on a crucifix-shaped operating table as he transformed into a hybrid in The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati. The scripts for Essence and Existence nod towards this, with Krycek suggesting that the baby might be “more human than human”, the same words that Mulder used to describe Gibson Praise in The End.
As such, it would not be surprising to see the show take a religious approach to William and reveal that he is a divine figure. Certainly, Essence and Existence seem to be leaning in that direction. There are countless nods to the story of the nativity, down to the star in the sky that guides Mulder to Scully and William or the casting of the Lone Gunmen as the three wise men bearing gifts. (Although it does like like Scully gets the inn rather than the stables, so that’s got to count for something.)
However, the key point of Existence seems to be that William is just a healthy human baby. The super soldiers leave the sight of the birth quite disappointed and dejected. “I don’t understand, Mulder,” Scully confesses in the final scene. “They came to take him from us. Why they didn’t…” Mulder responds, “I don’t quite understand that either. Except that maybe he isn’t what they thought he was. That doesn’t make him any less of a miracle though, does it?” It seems that William is a more low-key miracle, rather than a “Chosen One” miracle.
William is a child born of love, against all scientific laws and sinister machinations. It is a rather corny end to the eighth season, but one very much in keeping with the recurring themes of the show. Perhaps must succinctly stated in the final scene of The Truth, but also heavily implied by episodes like The End, the show has repeatedly stressed that all the answers that Mulder might ever need are more likely to be found in other people rather than shady corridors. Mulder and Scully’s story ends with a more intimate “truth” than either expected.
When the two discuss the anxiety hanging over Scully’s pregnancy, Mulder explains, “I think what we feared were the possibilities. The truth we both know.” When Scully asks for clarification, Mulder responds with a kiss. This is still a Ten Thirteen television show, so the kiss is relatively chaste rather than passionate. Nevertheless, it is the most explicit confirmation of a romantic (and sexual) love between the two characters. Existence suggests that the most profound “truth” at the heart of the show is “Mulder and Scully love each other.” It’s cheesy, but it largely works.
It is perfectly fair to point out that this is not the only logical end point of the arc that began with The Pilot. After all, the show’s fandom is still torn between “shippers” and “no-romos”, more than a decade after the show went off the air. The production team generated considerable controversy by deciding to break up Mulder and Scully before the events of My Struggle I, although one suspects that the writers involved may never have put them together in the first place.
However, the show had been pushing the two together for a while. Regardless of personal opinions, this was the only reasonable end point for Mulder and Scully after The X-Files: Fight the Future and Triangle and The Rain King. Nevertheless, the kiss in the script was even more chaste, with Mulder kissing Scully on the forehead:
“We all sat down with Kim Manners and Chris Carter and said, ‘We’ve been teasing and doing that bull for so long, let’s have a real kiss at this point,’” Duchovny said during his press junket to promote his latest film Evolution. “I said, ‘I’m pretty sure I’m not coming back at this point so let’s have a romantic kiss.’”
It certainly was a long-time coming, and very much overdue. The show has danced around the relationship for so long that it is impossible to put various markers in its development. Was their kiss in Millennium their first real kiss? Did they really sleep together in all things? If so, was it even the first time?
There is something quite appropriate about closing out this story in this way. While the mythology of The X-Files focuses on conspiracies and colonisation, the emotional arc has always been about family. It is not for nothing that William is named for both Mulder and Scully’s fathers. Mulder’s entire quest is motivated by the loss of his sister, an event that tore his family apart. Deep Throat and the Cigarette-Smoking Man are ultimately surrogate father-figures for Mulder, a man who never managed to put the pieces of his shattered family life back together.
Scully has her own deep-rooted family issues. Her father was only fleetingly tied to the mythology through a degree of separation in Piper Maru, but that does not mean that Scully is not shaped and defined by her own familial anxieties. Scully’s time with Mulder has served to isolate her from everybody around her, cutting her off from personal and professional avenues that she might want to explore. It is perfectly fitting for Scully to get a chance to fully embrace the potential to start her own family with Mulder.
Understandably, this was an emotional moment for the cast and crew, the culmination of eight years for these characters and these actors. Director Kim Manners recalls shooting the scene on the DVD commentary:
This was David and Gillian’s last scene together. We shot it on the last day of the picture. And as they come together to kiss, you’ll see the camera will pull out of the door, that was the last shot of David and Gillian together, and we wrapped. And David and Gillian stood in that room together alone, and held each other for a good five minutes, they didn’t talk, they didn’t move, they just held each other, and tears were running down their faces, it was a very touching moment, one I’ll never forget.
I think we got the kiss in one take.
Manners’ direction is also superb. He pulls the camera away from Mulder and Scully, as if to afford the duo some privacy in their new life beyond The X-Files, as if to suggest that this is where we must leave them.
There is another reason that the sequence was so emotive for all involved. The role of William was played by Jerry Shiban, the son of producer John Shiban. He recalls of the experience, “That was my son’s acting début. He was Scully’s first baby. So that will always stick in my mind as a high point.” There is something quite sweet in the way that closing scene affords so much closer not only to the characters but also to the production team. It would have been a beautiful and poetic place to leave those characters as the show (and the audience) moved on.
The theme of family runs through Essence and Existence, even in matters unrelated to the new nuclear family formed between Mulder, Scully and William. Tellingly, Reyes is introduced as a character who shares certain familial traits to both Mulder and Scully. Her fascination with New Age philosophy suggests that she is ultimately a spiritual descendent of the deceased Melissa Scully. Dana Scully herself even acknowledges as much. “I was thinking that you reminded me of someone that I was close to,” Scully admits. “My sister.”
Reyes is also firmly tied to Mulder. The introductory shot of Reyes in This is Not Happening is framed so as to evoke the teaser to The Field Where I Died, perhaps Mulder at his most New Age. More than that, Reyes’ appearances in This is Not Happening and Empedocles both placed considerable emphasise on her smoking habit. By this point in the show’s run, it is impossible for anybody to puff on a cigarette without evoking the Cigarette-Smoking Man. Indeed, Existence even has an ominous night time shot of Reyes puffing on a cigarette to cement the association.
The theme of family even comes into play in the final scene between Mulder and Krycek, another example of the show beginning to tidy away loose ends. As Krycek menaces Mulder, Mulder brings their conflict back to basics – he strips away the years of betrayals and plots in order to get right to the emotional nub of their relationship. “You want to kill me, Alex, kill me,” Mulder urges. “Like you killed my father. Just don’t insult me trying to make me understand.” It all comes back to family.
Of course, Alex is really just a twisted reflection of Mulder. Although Marita Covarrubias doesn’t appear in the eighth season because Laurie Holden was busy shooting The Majestic, it feels entirely appropriate that Alex Krycek dies broken and alone. Krycek was always Mulder without morality, without integrity. Krycek considered himself to be the anti-hero to Mulder’s hero, but he lacked Mulder’s basic humanity. Krycek was always a defective copy and a pale immitation, from the moment he was introduced as an over-eager potential partner in Sleepless.
Perhaps his relationship with Covarrubias might have redeemed him. After all, Mulder was tied to the real world by Scully. The costuming and styling of Covarrubias suggested that she was perhaps a counterpart to Scully in the same way that Krycek was a counterpart to Scully. Mulder and Scully were brought closer together by the horrific experiments conducted upon Scully in Ascension, but Krycek was quite willing to abandon Covarrubias to those same experiments in One Son.
Had Krycek chosen to leave with Covarrubias at the end of One Son, could they have lived happily ever after like Existence suggests that Mulder and Scully will? Krycek and Covarrubias got a second chance at a happy ending in Requiem, throwing the Cigarette-Smoking Man down the stairs and simply walking away into the world. However, Krycek could not stay gone. It was no coincidence that he returned in DeadAlive, the same episode that ultimately brought Mulder back.
Existence continues the mirroring of Krycek to Mulder. Holding Mulder at gunpoint, Krycek muses, “It’s too late. The tragedy’s that you… you wouldn’t let it go.” It would seem that this particular tragedy is much Krycek’s as it is Mulder’s. Krycek died because he was unable to walk away; Existence makes it clear that he was forcibly recruited by the colonists between his return DeadAlive and his appearance in Essence. Had Krycek stayed away, or stayed with Covarrubias, he might have enjoyed a happy ending.
After all, Krycek has always been as much of a brother to Mulder as Spender. Krycek is not related to the Cigarette-Smoking Man, and Mulder’s paternity remains ambiguous. Nevertheless, the Cigarette-Smoking Man plays out his own twisted version of King Lear with his three sons. In his final moments, Krycek desperately tries to articulate this strange bond that exists between them. “We wanted the same thing, brother. That’s what you don’t understand.” There is something quite pathetic about Krycek, underneath all the hurt he might cause.
That said, his death represents a clear effort to clean the slate – allowing Doggett and Reyes to start fresh. As much fun as Krycek could be, there was always a sense that the character hung around too long. The writers never seemed entirely sure what to do with Krycek, perhaps culminating in the “lost year” that was Alex Krycek’s seventh season. The character was planned to start a new conspiracy, but winded up spending the vast majority of the season locked in a Tunisian prison.
Even actor Nicholas Lea himself had grown somewhat tired of character’s lack of focus and direction. On the evening that Existence was published, Lea offered a simple statement via his own website:
Everything has an end. I felt that K wasn’t getting a fair shake anyway. It’s not that fun to just play a villain, without any reasoning behind it. I wanted more indepth ideas about the character and it never came. It kind of stopped being fun to play.
His frustration is easy to understand. Krycek never seemed to have a clear purpose or arc. He was little more than a driver in The End and a henchman in The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati.
Of course, the ninth season immediately undercuts all of this. Essence and Existence are deeply undermined by the creative choices made over the course of the summer that followed, with the show abandoning all of the elements that made the two-part finalé so interesting and compelling. Doggett and Reyes are not allowed to carry the show by themselves; Mulder and Scully are not allowed to retire to family life; William is not just a child conceived of the love between his parents.
Nothing Important Happened Today I and Nothing Important Happened Today II go out of their way to strip out all the important beats. The central arc of the eighth season is the journey of Mulder and Scully towards becoming a family. Scully spends the first two-thirds of the season worried that she will be abandoned by Mulder, while Mulder eventually learns to give up his mythical quest to enjoy the family life destroyed by Samantha’s abduction. The opening minutes of Nothing Important Happened Today I tear all that apart for nothing.
The ninth season does not stop there. Despite the suggestion that William can be both a miracle and a perfectly normal child, the ninth season insists upon positioning him as a figure in a grand prophecy who has mysterious mental powers. Provenance and Providence suggest that William is simply another step on Mulder’s mythic journey, rather than a human alternative to him. More offensively, William suggests that the child is only special because of his superpowers or messianic status. When Scully discovers William is just normal, she gives him up for adoption.
Still, all that lies in the future. Much like Requiem, it is interesting to wonder what might have happened if The X-Files (or even just Mulder and Scully) had stopped here. Unfortunately, that was not to be.
Filed under: The X-Files | Tagged: alex krycek, chris carter, david duchovny, ending, essence, existence, family, finale, happy endings, krycek, mulder, reyes, scully, Television, the end, the x-files, william |