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The X-Files: Season 11 (IDW) (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.

The X-Files: Season 11 is a relatively lean beast.

The X-Files: Season 10 seemed to struggle to map out a clear direction or identity for itself. This was most obvious in the context of the comic book’s mythology, as writer Joe Harris and his collaborators frequently found themselves revising and rewriting the mythology from one story to the next. All the elements introduced in Believers were reduced to a footnote in Monica & John. Although Gibson Praise made his first reappearance in the final pages of Believers, the mythology only truly galvinised around him over the course of Elders.

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In contrast, The X-Files: Season 11 has a very clear idea of where it is going and room for a minimal amount of distractions along the way. While the art team on Season 10 changed quite frequently, the nine comic book issues that comprise Season 11 are all handled by the core team of writer Joe Harris, penciller Matthew Dow Smith and colourist Jordie Bellaire. There is a consistency and focus to the run that is striking. There is no time for exploration or improvisation. Everything serves its purpose in the context of the story being told.

This is a double-edged sword. While it does reduce the chance of an endearing standalone story like Chitter or Immaculate, it does afford the run a purity and energy that was somewhat lacking as Harris had to revise and rewrite his mythology while the revival miniseries moved closer and closer to public announcement. In some respects, Season 11 feels kind of like the version of The X-Files that some fans wanted when the revival was announced. It is an efficient attempt to resolve dangling plot threads and bring closure to the story being told.

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There is something quite endearing watching Joe Harris devote so much energy to closing off his story. It is a cliché to remark that The X-Files has never been good at closure, but only because it is largely true. In the years after The X-Files faded from the cultural consciousness, it became common for fans to point to the show as an example of a television series that never resolved all of its mysteries. This is somewhat unfair. Chris Carter worked hard to answer questions in episodes like Two Fathers, One Son, Sein und Zeit, Closure and The Truth.

The truth is more nuanced. The X-Files did provide answers to its great mysteries. The conspiracy was laid bare, through awkward sci-fi exposition, in the clip show format of The Truth. Mulder discovered what happened to Samantha in Closure. The human conspirators largely met their end in One Son. There is a larger question of whether those answers (and those resolutions) were satisfying. After all, Samantha’s death seemed to directly contradict dialogue in End Game or The Blessing Way. The actual impact of One Son was left ambiguous.

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The truth is that Carter was quite fond of leaving openings and loopholes for further storytelling opportunities. While the conspirators were largely dispatched in One Son, the conspiracy was not exposed to the public and there was some sense that the organisation continued its sinister plots into the seventh season. While The Truth had Mulder helpfully summarise the mythology for the benefit of the audience at home, the episode also set up a pretty compelling sequel hook by promising an alien invasion in December 2012. The X-Files was not good at endings.

This would become obvious in the context of the revival miniseries. Despite early indications that Carter was not treating the six episodes as the end of his work on the franchise, many fans were surprised when My Struggle II ended with a sweeping dramatic cliffhanger instead of a tidy resolution. Some fans had expected the revival to be the end of the line for The X-Files, which made it a surprise when Carter positioned it as the start of something new. Carter was being particularly brash given that the possibility of an eleventh season was still hypothetical.

Bewitching.

Bewitching.

All of this serves to make Season 11 rather unique in the context of The X-Files. This is a comic book series that exists almost exclusively for the purpose of wrapping up those threads seeding in Season 10. There is a clear sense that Season 11 is not building outwards or putting plot points in play for later use. Season 11 serves to tidy up a bunch of loose ends before (and during) the broadcast of the revival series, allowing IDW to effectively relaunch their monthly comic book series with the same creative team in continuity the television relaunch.

As such, Season 11 is really nothing but an ending. The three-issue Home Again story marks the only “monster of the month” story in the season. Everything else is very consciously building towards a pre-determined ending that reveals the truth about Gibson Praise and explains how Season 10 and Season 11 fit within the larger tapestry of X-Files continuity. Even nominal “done-in-one” stories like My Name is Gibson and The X-Files Christmas Special 2015 exist primarily to inch the story closer and closer to Endgames.

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This is something of a mixed blessing. In a very real way, Endgames might just be the most satisfying ending to an X-Files mythology that was ever written. There is a quick glimpse of My Struggle I as Mulder peers across the myriad realities, but the story effectively ends with Mulder and Scully having their memories wiped. These three years of comics are effectively erased, treated as the “missing time” that was so central to the larger mythology of The X-Files and building a framework into which multiple versions of the canon might possibly be integrated.

It is a wry and self-aware ending, one that acknowledges Season 11 as a truncated and abbreviated comic book overshadowed by a more high-profile take on the franchise. It is an ending that is ultimately self-serving; it is a way to assert that Season 11 still “matters” even though the events of the comic book are impossible to reconcile with the continuity of My Struggle I. As self-serving as it might be, there is something endearingly open-minded in the notion that every possible X-Files story can be valid, that there are infinite versions of Mulder and Scully out there.

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This efficiency also helps to declutter the mythology somewhat. Season 10 was dominated by the return of long-dead characters like the Cigarette-Smoking Man, the Lone Gunmen, Mister X, Bill Mulder and Alex Krycek. Season 11 has a much tighter focus. The only returning figures central to the mythology are the Lone Gunmen and Gibson Praise, which really helps to keep the story tight. Indeed, the Lone Gunmen get much more to do in the context of Season 11, feeling a lot more like their old selves than they did working for the NSA in Season 10.

There is a price to all of this. As much as Season 11 feels tighter and focused than Season 10, it also feels like it sacrifices a lot of storytelling opportunities. In order to condense the plot down to eight issues and a Christmas special, Joe Harris has to make a number of storytelling sacrifices and cut off a number of promising ideas at their root. There are any number of clever premises at work in Season 11 that the comic book rushes past in order to get to that final confrontation between Mulder and Gibson.

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The most obvious of these forsaken premises is the very idea of “Mulder on the run.” One of the more interesting aspects of Joe Harris’ work on Season 10 and Season 11 was a willingness to rehabilitate concepts from the troubled final seasons of The X-Files. The idea of “Mulder on the run” dates back to Nothing Important Happened Today I and Nothing Important Happened Today II at the start of the ninth season. However, because that plot was a work-around designed to cover David Duchovny’s departure, the show could never capitalise on it.

The notion of building a whole season (or even half a season) of stories around Mulder as a fugitive is intriguing. Indeed, it feels very much like a callback to classic television like Kung-Fu or The Incredible Hulk or The Fugitive. The X-Files was a show rooted in the pop culture and politics seventies America, so it makes sense that the comic book would adopt a premise that could have been lifted from the television of the era. There is something exciting about Fox Mulder wandering the highways and byways of America, fighting monsters.

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More than that, the premise opens up all sorts of storytelling possibilities. The X-Files was a show that had long been fascinated with the eccentric spaces within the American heartland. It is fun to imagine Mulder vanishing into those eccentric spaces, disappearing into the folklore that he once investigated from the comfort of the J. Edgar Hoover building. With stories like Chitter and Immaculate, Joe Harris had demonstrated a considerable knack for those sorts of small-town X-Files, so it seems like this new status quo would be a great fit.

The abbreviated run of Season 11 undercuts that premise somewhat. The new status quo is established in the pages of Cantus, a single issue story that exists primarily to bring readers up to speed with where Mulder and Scully are following Elders. Mulder then wanders into the clutches of the Peacocks in Home Again. At the end of Home Again, Mulder is arrested. The final splash page of the story finds Scully apprehending Mulder and turning him over to the custody of the FBI.

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As a result, Mulder is only on the run for four issues. Those four issues comprise only two individual stories. The first of those stories is primarily concerned with picking up the pieces from Elders. The second of those stories is a sequel to the episode Home. It seems perfectly reasonable to suggest that Season 11 never fully capitalises on the potential of the “Mulder on the run” plot that was promised in the closing pages of Season 10. It all feels rather rushed and constrained, as if the comic is rushing headlong towards a reboot.

Indeed, this rushed feeling applies to Mulder’s arc across Season 11. Mulder is taken into custody in My Name is Gibson. He is effectively freed from custody by Gibson Praise in The X-Files Christmas Special 2015, and returned to Scully. Everything is reset to the status quo in the closing pages of Endgames. As a result, there is a sense that Mulder’s arc has been abbreviated and there is never an opportunity for the readers to find their footing. Everything is constantly changing and evolving, the pieces are constantly in motion.

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There are other issues with this compressed pace. Most obviously, Scully feels like something of a passenger across the arc. Scully spends Cantus and Home Again chasing Mulder, with little time to develop her own agenda or motivations. Scully is separated from Mulder when he is taken into custody in My Name is Gibson, and is roped into helping Byers rescue Langly and Frohike in The X-Files Christmas Special 2015. Scully arrives late to Mulder’s final confrontation with Gibson in Endgames. With more time or space, Scully might have had greater agency.

In fact, there are a whole host of ideas that are broached and ignored. In the closing pages of Elders, it was revealed that the X-files have been outsourced to the private contractors known as “Cantus.” In interviews around the comic series, Joe Harris has expressed his interested in the lines that have blurred between public and private spheres in recent years. However, there is never enough space to flesh out or explore what “Cantus” actually means beyond serving as a convenient shadow company for Gibson Praise.

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Aiming to incorporate elements of the mythology that are being ignored by the revival, Harris focuses on the faceless rebels as antagonists for the second half of Season 11. However, there is never enough room for Season 11 to do anything exciting or compelling with these aliens. In fact, the faceless rebels who featured in My Name is Gibson and Endgames seem much more generic than the figures who first appeared in Patient X and The Red and the Black. It seems like Season 11 employs a sort of shorthand in using this aspect of the mythology.

These are serious issues. Season 11 does feel very short and very rushed. However, it also feels a lot tighter and more constrained. These storytelling sacrifices allow Season 11 to build a lot of momentum as it rushes towards the finish line. In some respects, it feels like Season 11 is the kind of story that many fans and critics wanted from the revival miniseries. It is heavily serialised and driven by a singular narrative thread dedicated to tying up lingering loose ends. In that respect, it is a very modern type of X-Files story.

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For better and for worse.

You might be interested in our reviews of IDW’s “season 11” of The X-Files:

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