Halloween rolled around and as my baby boy’s first Halloween we had big plans of costumes and pictures. Well, he had plans of just generally being a little fussy, as babies have the right to do. So, when he fell asleep early in the evening and the Mrs. wanted to work on her art blog I decided it was time for a little something spooky and something that fit the small screen. With a new series coming out I decided to revisit X-Files from the beginning to see how it holds up.
Director: Robert Mandel
Writer: Chris Carter
Creator: Chris Carter
Air Date: Sep. 10, 1993
Quick Review: Despite having seen the episode multiple times (the most recent being about 8 years ago however) and knowing that no danger ever really approaches Mulder or Scully as the pursue the mystery of dying children that are potentially alien abductees, I couldn’t help but get caught up in the spooky atmosphere of this pilot. There is a great feeling of wheels within wheels as we get the town authority holding secrets even as the potential for our FBI protagonists holding secrets from each other looms high. Mulder’s revelation of his past experiences and missing sister feels a little heavier than necessary, but it does serve to paint him as a zealous crusader with a reason for being so. Still, the biggest shine of the show is the partnership. Despite the potential for Scully holding secrets from Mulder (and vice-versa) there is a keen feeling of friendship and respect between these two. That might be the most refreshing since it feels so many TV shows these days have relationships built around antagonism.
Analysis: This show aired over twenty years ago and it is hard not to compare it to modern offerings. Now, I don’t want to compare it to what we can find on HBO, Netflix or even AMC. I feel those are more boutique channels offering up small batches of excellent product. The big networks, which is what Fox was on the verge of being in 1993, is a more apt comparison. How X-Files compares is kind of a mixed bag. The visual aspects of the show do feel hokey. Most scenes do feel staged, or at least staged for TV while the aesthetics today share a lot more similarities with film. X-Files just looks cramped and smaller on the screen in a way that other shows of the time (or earlier). For reference, I’m thinking of Magnum PI or Homicide. Both of these feel more at home in their surroundings. But maybe X-Files is just going for a more claustrophobic feeling to set it apart. That certainly is a possibility and would help set it apart, but it also makes it feel like an adolescent. Not quite at the level TV is will eventually arrive but not really excelling at what Tv looked like at the time.
But, even though the visuals might not be the strongest, even though there is a charm, I do feel the writing is a lot stronger than what is out there now. A lot of shows, and popular ones at that, feel like they are writing down to the audience. That the shows either have a low opinion of what characters can grasp or that they want an audience to be able to Facebook, Tweet and still grasp what a show is offering. And characters better be simple archetypes so the audience doesn’t get confused. (I’m looking at you Arrow and Brooklyn 99, and I’m shaking my head in disappointment) Even from the pilot it feels like X-Files is trying another approach. The main characters, while having archetypal characteristics, feel rounded. Even having it be a male believer and a female pragmatist was/is refreshing. That these two characters can disagree and not have it be pouty fighting is also a breath of fresh air. Or that they simply can disagree until the scene is truly finished, not stopping the action after a rant so that the writer doesn’t have to think a way out the exchange (I’m thinking almost every argument in Grey’s Anatomy.)
Still, it is a pilot so there are holes or perhaps areas that are to be decided latter. It isn’t all together clear how much Mulder knows of Scully’s meeting with the FBI overseers. He knows, or least assumes, she was sent to keep an eye on him. Does he know about her meetings? Does he know she kept certain artifacts and handed them over? Was there potential for Scully being more of a spy? From this first episode we are shown that she thinks highly of him. I love the little scene where Mulder knocks on the door with a silly joke and Scully’s face brightens up. It’s just an expression but it does a great deal to show that even though she disagrees with some of his beliefs that she still has positive feelings/friendship towards him. I don’t even know if it is a subtle moment or if it just feels subtle by comparison.
A few more stray thoughts. I can’t really say why, but the music felt like riffing on John Carpenter to me. Wish I knew if it was or not. If fit, but it also made the show feel very 1980’s.
Lastly, I remember Scully appearing in her bra as being more showy. I don’t know if it was because I was younger or if I’ve just become desensitized to women in their underwear on TV, but it did feel far less titillating this time around. Maybe fan service has just gotten much more in our faces.
Wrap Up: A nice spooky start for a series. I’ve never really gotten past season 3 of X-Files. I wonder if I were to keep watching would it hold my attention. I remember the episodes being very hit and miss. This pilot is definitely a hit and shows where TV was twenty years ago in both positive and negative ways. Less advanced cinematography, but arguably better written. For a network show at least.