Born Again

Halfway through X-Files s10, here are my (in-progress) thoughts:

  • Quality: Variable so far, as to be expected from the depth of Chris Carter’s involvement. Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster, which aired last night, was more than everything I hoped for. Founder’s Mutation was fine, but not really my jam. My Struggle was . . . a mythology episode. Which is to say, it’s hard for me to be objective because I care so little about the mythology.
  • Offensiveness: Needs to be broken down into subparts, because it’s a hefty topic.
    • Casting: Actually way better than I’d hoped for, in general. It seems like there was a concerted effort to include as many women and, particularly, people of color (and women of color) as possible. This is not to say it’s perfect–there’s a South Asian nurse in the first episode that Scully repeatedly just refers to as “Nurse” like it’s her whole name, and the writing (and thus casting) of the trans character in last night’s episode couldn’t have been more stereotypical . . .
    • But it could have been so much worse. Which is not an excuse, but does imbue with me with an unexpected sense of relief. Though Annabelle (the character in question) checks off every 90s-stereotype box, the show seems to be attempting inclusivity, even if it fails. More than anything, it feels as though the show’s traditional power brokers (middle-aged white men, mostly straight, all cisgendered) were trying to work out their own personal understanding of gender issues via the character/minor plot thread. Though totally out of place and not executed with any particular grace, at least there was an attempt to engage.
    • On the other side: I don’t have any real problem with Scully serving as a fantasy figure for other characters on the show, in theory. But in (fictitious) reality, the show refuses to let the audience in on Scully’s own desires and interests, except in the most oblique of ways . . . so the more I think about it, the more frustrated and disappointed I am that MASMTWM featured just such a Scully sex-fantasy. This is, really, only the second episode (out of 205, plus two movies) to engage with Scully’s sexuality. The first had her sleep with a guy who later tried to kill her. Ughhhhhhhhh.
    • The revival episodes that have aired so far have played with the idea of narrative authority within the X-Files universe in a way that is an interesting (and appreciated) departure from the original series. Founder’s Mutation, in particular, looks past the traditional X-Files milieu of “Rich White Men Make Decisions and Control Things, With Malice” to the lives of people affected by those decisions. I read a fantastic article about this that I, strangely, did not save and now cannot find. Regardless of quality, I appreciate that the show has made attempts to engage with 21st century cultural shifts.
  • And, the whole revival has been worth it, if only for MASMTWM. What joy, what darkness, and what a truly surprising (and fun!) hour of television. Give Darin Morgan all the awards. Three of my favorite pieces of criticism about the episode:


2015 Goals Revisited

The sheer quantity of my goals for 2014 may have overwhelmed my interest in putting together a similar list for 2015. I did come up with a short and sweet list:

  1. Swim in Lake’s Pond during a visit to Camp Little Notch that’s just about pleasure
  2. Swim in Forked Lake
  3. Hike two high peaks
  4. Get my bike fixed so I can ride it again
  5. Finish a quilt. At least one.
  6. Get a new job.
  7. Complete something in the realm of writing
  8. Go to Schodack Island and/or Peebles Island State Park
  9. Try to do things I like instead of things I feel obligated to do.

And I did most of them:

  • I think I even went to CLN twice just for fun, and swam both times.
  • Ditto for Forked Lake.
  • I hiked Giant and Phelps. I liked both mountains a lot, but wish the Giant hike hadn’t happened during a heat wave.
  • Definitely did not get my bike fixed. Maybe now that we have a car with which to transport said bike . . .
  • I finished THREE quilts: for babies Hal, Bea, and Teddy. (Way to go with the early 20th century names, buddies.)
  • I did not get a new job. BUT I am actively working on it, and decided in June to not do so until about now anyway, so . . . pass?
  • Definitely completed nothing in the realm of writing.
  • I went to BOTH Schodack Island and Peebles Island State Parks. Schodack Island in the fall with Brianna for a lovely walk, Peebles Island last winter with Brianna and Sam, also a lovely walk.
  • That last one is something I was fairly successful with, though it’s hard to articulate. Basically, I am trying to be more mindful of why I make the decisions I make so I can take more joy from their results. It’s not necessarily about making easier choices. In fact, it’s often the opposite–making an effort to fight against the inertia of sitting by a computer all day to go for a walk after work, for example. Anyway, it’s a work in progress. LIKE ME. Hahahaha.

Fearful Symmetry

It’s not like I think the X-Files is perfect.

There are lots of very easily identifiable problems from the original run. It is impossible to read any criticism of the X-Files without encountering complaints that the mythology is not only inconsistent, but often contradictory. Another one: “It went on too long.”* Slightly less popular is acknowledgement of the show’s racism, xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, transphobia, ableism, etc. etc. etc., an incomplete rundown of which is available here.

Since these new episodes were announced, I’ve thought about this a lot. It’s hard not to when, in the 2010s, one rewatches plots revolving around a Burkinabe spirit stealing pigmentation from black victims, or the Chinese mafia using a black-market organ lottery, or not one but TWO (otherwise super-charming?) episodes that focus on women giving birth to mutant babies after being unknowingly raped^, or (oof) a transgendered bisexual serial-killer alien. (The X-Files, ladies and gentlemen!) These episodes bothered me a little bit during the 90s, but not too much, partially because most of the truly offensive episodes are awful and so I made no attempt towards putting in the considerable 90s-VCR-styled effort it would have taken to track them down and rewatch them.

But the other part: by that decade’s standards, these episodes were completely unremarkable in their othering of, well, basically everyone who’s not straight, white, wealthy, and beautiful. And while the show wasn’t innocent, it also made unusual efforts (for the time) towards inviting thought on these subjects–most notably via this particular scene from Darin Morgan’s amazing “Humbug”:

So it gave itself cover, and it had cover from the entrenched cultural problems of the era. That’s not an excuse, but it is the reason people talk about the mythology being inconsistent so much more than they do the show being . . . offensive.

And it’s also the reason this is the topic that gives me the most anxiety about these new episodes. I expect these episodes to be uneven–three of them are written by Chris Carter, the series creator who is hard for fans to fully hate (see: series creator) but is equally hard for fans to even like.^^ If you will, he is no Vince Gilligan. All the episodes could all be awful (though I expect at least two to be somewhere on the sliding scale of good to great), and I’d still gleefully sit down each week to watch them.

But what if the show hasn’t adjusted its relationship to the non-Mulder demographic? What if Mulder is still, implausibly, always right and the holder of the show’s narrative authority? What if the show hasn’t cast gay/Black/trans/Muslim/normally-sexualized women folks? Or, what if it has, but only in stereotypical roles? This will be impossible to forgive. In 2016, there is no hall pass for celebrating the historical dominance of white manhood.^^^

* It did, but without seasons 8 and 9, where would we find archival footage of beatific, luminous early-30s Gillian Anderson?

^ The more charming of these episodes, Post-Modern Prometheus, is actually far more offensive. In the other, Small Potatoes, the rapist at least ends up in jail. In the former, the rapist (or, technically, the accomplice and beneficiary of the rapist, who is himself murdered halfway through the episode and presented as a victim) just goes to a Cher concert with Mulder and Scully. See?

So charming and so, so wrong.

^^ For so many reasons. He wrote and directed some almost-great episodes, to be sure, but he’s also the guy who framed his lead female character as being “above” sex. How I feel about that: “Ughhhhhhhhhhhh.” See also: Mulder’s porn collection and sex life AND/OR Carter’s the guy who wrote the charming and horribly offensive episode above.

^^^ Unless you’re the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Also: “Ughhhhhhhhhhhhh.”


An ongoing list of some of my favorite new(ish) writing around the X-Files. Mostly, other people thinking about the evolutionary role the X-Files played in their lives, the evolution of television as an art form, the evolution of the Internet from community to whatever it is today, and the evolution of modern paranoiac-scientific thought.

‘The X-Files’ Returns, Or How a TV Show Can Change Your Life

Revisiting the All-Girl Online ‘X-Files’ Community That Helped Me Survive High School

In the Dark

As ‘The X-Files’ Returns, Do We Still Want to Believe?

Gillian Anderson: I Was Offered Half Duchovny’s Pay for ‘The X-Files’ Revival

Rewatching the X-Files: my 50-episode binge

An ‘X-Files’ fangirl bares her ‘X-Files’ loving soul

The X-Files and the birth of obsessive internet fandom (Though I think this is better on the fandom than criticism, perhaps proving the author’s point.)

‘The X-Files’ in the Age of Truthers

The Nostalgic Science Fiction of “The X-Files”

Young at Heart

At the age of 33, I have redevoted myself to online fan culture to an extent I previously did not think possible. I have come to understand the purpose of Tumblr. I have read, possibly, every single notable fanfic written between 1993 and today. I have, of course, rewatched every episode–some more than once. This has all taken quite a bit of time that I could have devoted to more “adult” and productive pursuits that include, but are certainly not limited to, exercise, career advancement, and a normal sleep schedule. It’s not unusual for me to be up at 2 a.m., pawing through my phone for a fanfic set sometime between IWTB* and present day, hypothesizing about what canonically plausible journeys Mulder and Scully may have been on since they were last seen. A little bit of NC17 material never hurts, either, given it’s often the middle of the night.

I have enough memory of what life was like before this that I know these behaviors may seem pitiable, or, at minimum, is not how most people live. And yet: I feel gratitude, joy, and very minimal levels of regret. As the folks on tumblr say, it’s been a journey. It’s hard to explain–though I’m going to try–but in some ways, it’s not about the X-Files, or even Gillian Anderson’s magnetizing pull.^

I was 11 when the X-Files started to air, and watched from almost the very beginning. In our 6th grade hallway my beloved friend Leigh told me I should watch it, and so starting that Friday night, I did. Alone, sprawled across my parents’ bed in the dark of our drafty old Upstate farmhouse, surrounded by cornfields and next door to a current sociopath/future murderer. During the commercial breaks, Leigh and I would talk on the phone. I’d twist the spiral plastic cord over and around my fingers, breathless with fear and anticipation. After countless rewatches and nearly a decade of on-demand streaming access, it’s easy for me to forget–but the X-Files once terrified me, just as it intended.

I wasn’t particularly invested in the online fan culture of the X-Files, primarily because most of my nerd energies at that time were devoted to a different, far more embarrassing fandom. This is not to say that I didn’t read huge amounts of fanfic, lurk on message boards reading spoilers, and probably enter a few chat rooms and totally misrepresent my age and/or gender. I did. I totally did.

But where my love of that other show was, and is, easy to explain (secret identities + banter + a sassy lady), my relationship with the X-Files is more complicated. I love the X-Files because it’s the X-Files–not because of the philosophical questions it poses, nor because of the groundbreaking role it played in (and with) the development of narrative television’s storytelling format. Not even because it stars Gillian Anderson. I love the X-Files because it reminds me of sitting in a creaky country house, talking in the dark with my friend on the phone; of running through an empty mall with friends, arms linked, after seeing 1998’s Fight the Future; of sitting with other nerds in the back corner of a campus pizzeria in 2002, watching the series finale in a mutually understood nostalgic silence.

So I’m not just happy that it’s coming back because I love it. Of course, I do love it, and I am so excited. But the journey has been changing in ways I’m just starting to understand. A lot of this growing up and becoming an adult business has to do with learning to accept that things change, even when you don’t want them to. Homes get sold, businesses fail, friends drift apart, towns and institutions shift, babies are born, people of all ages die, the earth warms.

The X-Files coming back is, of course, not going to change any of that. But it’s made a sliver of difference in my understanding of how the world must work. Two years ago, the idea that I could ever again watch new X-Files episodes was so ludicrous that it had never occurred to me, even as a daydream. Doors that seem shut forever today may edge open with time, if the stars align and enough change happens that things come back around to where they started. Maybe there’s hope.

*IWTB is I Want To Believe, the 2008 X-Files movie, which was a huge disappointment in almost every possible way, excepting one very satisfying (but sexless) scene in Mulder and Scully’s shared bed.

^Except for how basically everything is about Gillian Anderson’s magnetizing pull. Look at her.