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The X-Files (IDW) Christmas Special 2015 (Review)

This June, we’re going to be taking a look at the current run of The X-Files, beginning with the IDW comic book revival and perhaps taking some detours along the way. Check back daily for the latest review.

Nothing gives a better sense of how compressed The X-Files: Season 11 is than the decision to incorporate The X-Files Christmas Special 2015 into the larger arc of the season, as a bridge between Mulder’s capture at the end of Home Again, his detention in My Name is Gibson, and his adventuring with Scully in Endgames. Although it might be possible for readers to smoothly jump from the climax of My Name is Gibson into the high-stakes action of Endgames, the events of The X-Files Christmas Special 2015 smooth the transition.

Arriving late in the run of The X-Files: Season 10, The X-Files Christmas Special 2014 felt almost like an “out of continuity” adventure that found the cast sharing the holiday season together in the apartment of Walter Skinner. The festive levity provided a nice contrast to the trauma regularly inflicted upon these characters, providing a much lighter story in the spirit of the season. In contrast, The X-Files Christmas Special 2015 struggles to balance the lighter tone expected of a Christmas special with the demands of the larger arc.

Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas.

In some ways, The X-Files Christmas Special 2015 plays like two separate stories combined into one. The first of these stories is a light-hearted romp involving the renegade Lone Gunmen. The second of these affords Mulder the chance to meet Gibson Praise face-to-face before their climactic confrontation in Endgames, further demonstrating that the faceless rebels are intent on stopping Gibson from enacting whatever that plan might be. These two stories feel somewhat at odds with each other.

It is perhaps the Lone Gunmen story that is the most interesting of the two, if only because the plot involving Gibson only serves to bridge My Name is Gibson and Endgames. The Gunment went on the run at the end of Elders, and are now traveling the country in their beat-up Volkswagen van. One of the best recurring gags of Season 11 finds the trio working various odd-jobs to keep their heads above water. Frohike is a department store Santa in The X-Files Christmas Special 2015 and Langly is working an electronics store in Endgames.

Lights in the sky.

Lights in the sky.

The Lone Gunmen are fundamentally comedic characters, and so they lend themselves to the somewhat lighter mood that one expects from a Christmas story. Harris understands this, and has a great deal of fun with the goofier lower-stakes adventures of the three conspiracy theorists. Their plot start with the discovery of a “Commander Crunch” whistle outside their van, which is used to summon aliens in much the same way that phreaker John Draper (in)famously used his old Cap’n Crunch whistle to hack the phone line.

It is a lovely little detail, not least because John Draper is generally regarded as one of the earliest hackers to really break into popular consciousness, a figure of considerable influence in the development of modern technology. As such, it makes sense to establish an evolutionary link between the Lone Gunmen and those earlier “phreakers.” More than that, there is something delightfully whimsical about summoning aliens using only a whistle that came packaged with a breakfast cereal.

Present and accounted for.

Present and accounted for.

By necessity, this cannot be as light or goofy as the set up of The X-Files Christmas Special 2014. There is no single image in the entire story that can compete with the sight of the Cigarette-Smoking Man vaping or Skinner getting increasingly “jolly.” Nevertheless, there is something very sweet about focusing on the Lone Gunmen at Christmas. Indeed, many of the best Lone Gunmen sequences emphasise the trio as a dysfunctional family; sleeping in the same room in Kill Switch or cooking dinner together in Dreamland II.

Indeed, this theme even carried across to The Lone Gunmen, with the trio welcoming Jimmy Bond into their strange family unit and even treating Yves as a distant relation. There is an endearing domesticity to some of the short-lived series, particularly the sequence at the start of The Cap’n Toby Show that finds the group sharing breakfast while reading the newspapers in search of a good story. As much as Mulder and Scully found an unlikely family together, so did the Lone Gunmen.

Look! Up in the sky!

Look! Up in the sky!

Indeed, The X-Files Christmas Special 2015 is at its best when it plays up this aspect of the story. There is a lovely shot of the trio sharing the same bed on Christmas Eve, emphasising that all they have is each other. When Frohike and Langly are kidnapped, Byers steadfastly refuses to let them go. Byers is not losing his family on Christmas. It is, in its own way, the perfect holiday sentiment for a story focusing on the Lone Gunmen. It is a shame that that the rest of the story never quite lives up to this.

To be fair, there are some problems with the Lone Gunmen section of the plot. When Langly and Frohike are abducted, Joe Harris and Matthew Dow Smith place the characters in a parody of Mulder’s abduction from Within and Without. This feels a little overly familiar, given that the trio already parodied Mulder’s abduction back in All About Yves. However, that’s not the real problem with the sequence. The real problem is the comic’s weird fixation on playing Frohike’s rectal probing as a recurring gag.

Pinned down.

Pinned down.

There is something quite lazy in how early (and often) The X-Files Christmas Special 2015 returns to that particular well. As the reality of the situation dawns on him, Frohike proclaims, “Hang on a second… those are my pants on the floor there… then what’s going on behind –?” Later, he refers to the aliens as “butt probers!” Even when his memory is wiped, the rectal probe is treated as a seasonal punchline. “So long as they’ve got a cushy booth. Santa must’ve sat on a reindeer or something because my bells are jingling something bad back there.”

Rectal probing is perhaps the easiest joke to make about alien abduction, but also one that feels increasingly ill-judged and outdated. After all, there is considerable evidence that a significant proportion of alien abduction narratives are repressed sexual trauma. Even setting that aside, there is something rather distasteful about the reduction of sexual trauma to a punchline, something of a double-standard when it comes to male victims; rectal probing and prison rape jokes tend to be made around male characters.

A probing discussion.

A probing discussion.

In some ways, it could be argued that Joe Harris is simply remaining faithful to his source material. The X-Files and The Lone Gunmen were a product of the nineties, and so much of its humour was rooted in prevalent attitudes of the era. Vince Gilligan was particularly fond of prison rape jokes in his comedy episodes, with Frohike joking about the possible assault of Langly in Unusual Suspects and Mulder warning Scully of the threat in Bad Blood. Langly even made his own variant on the gag in Three Men and a Smoking Diaper.

Of course, this does not excuse it. The humour felt a little dated at the turn of the millennium, and it feels particularly dated almost two decades later. Part of updating The X-Files for the new millennium is acknowledging the aspects of the original that didn’t work, and working to make the series reflect contemporary values. Indeed, it is worth noting that both Joe Harris’ Season 10 and the revival miniseries feature much more prominent homosexual characters than the original series, reflecting changing times.

Bright ideas.

Bright ideas.

However, this rather ill-advised gag is not the only issue with The X-Files Christmas Special 2015. The Lone Gunmen abduction and rescue narrative is juxtaposed against an issue-long conversation between Mulder and Gibson the includes a confrontation with a faceless rebel, and the implication (confirmed in Endgames) that Morales has been a faceless rebel all along. It a bizarre contrast, with the wacky comedic Lone Gunmen plot working in contrast to Gibson’s manoeuvring and manipulation.

To be fair, given the accelerated nature of Season 11, this subplot is a necessary part of The X-Files Christmas Special 2015. There are only three issues (or one arc) left before the curtain comes down and the comic is relaunched. The central arc needs to move forward. The plot threads need to align. However, there is something jarring in the comic’s efforts to integrate a whimsical Lone Gunmen abduction narrative with Gibson’s high-stakes plotting. More than that, Gibson’s manipulations seem excessively contrived and elaborate given his objectives.

Bah. Bonfires are for Halloween.

Bah. Bonfires are for Halloween.

At the same time, there is a firm sense that change is in the air. The X-Files Christmas Special 2015 is narrated by Assistant Director Morales, who is the most prominent new character to be introduced during Joe Harris’ run on the book. Morales’ narration is strange, inviting the audience into the head of an alien. However, it is also strangely mournful. There is a sense of dramatic change taking place behind the scenes. There is a major shift coming down the line, with the broadcast of My Struggle I only a month away.

Morales reflects, “And so, as they enjoy this final holiday season, before everything they understand and think they know is changed… before this current cycle ends… before a new season of our immortal balance can be joined… let them gather their resources and lick their wounds. Allow them their appearances and holiday lies… our moment is at hand. A new age has already begun to dawn.” It obviously refers to the machinations at work involving the rebels and colonists, but it also speaks to the concerns of the comics.

More Morales.

More Morales.

It is no coincidence that The X-Files Christmas Special 2015 unfolds primarily on Christmas Eve rather than Christmas itself. This is a story about anticipation. Things will be different. “Either we start living in the future, Mulder… or we die in the past,” Gibson warns. In a way, he is speaking about the comic itself. In the wake of the revival miniseries, Joe Harris would relaunch The X-Files with Matthew Dow Smith and Jordie Bellaire. The continuity of Season 10 and Season 11 was largely cast aside to line up with the television series.

With the new series fast approaching, it feels appropriate for The X-Files Christmas Special 2015 to focus on characters like the Lone Gunmen and Morales. The Lone Gunmen were killed off in Jump the Shark and remain dead in the revival, barring a short cameo in Babylon. The are likely erased from continuity once the comic book re-aligns with the revival miniseries. Morales is a character created specifically for the comic book, her very existence over-written by the revival miniseries. For these characters, this is their last chance to shine. A parting gift.

Driving the plot.

Driving the plot.

The X-Files Christmas Special 2015 feels a little clumsy and rushed in places, at least some of which is down to the logistics of Season 11 as a whole. Some of its decisions are ill-judged and ill-considered. However, there is something quite endearing about a Lone Gunmen Christmas story, even if it gets lost in the shuffle around it. For a holiday special, The X-Files Christmas Special 2015 has a lot of work to do.

 

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2 Responses

  1. I have a question not closely related to the topic. Do you plan to write reviews of episodes from first and second series and movie befoe third season of Twin Peaks premiere?

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