Poster for “The Walking Dead” Season 10 finale, 2020
I breaks my heart to say this, but 2016’s long-awaited return of “The X-Files” was not a triumphant one. (Indeed, I am writing this review nearly two years after its conclusion because I only recently got around to watching the last of its six episodes.) I’d rate the brief season a 4 out of 10 — the lowest rating I’ve ever given to a season of the show.
I hope this year’s Season 11 proves me wrong, but I’m finally starting to wonder of “The X-Files'” time has come and gone. (This is coming from someone who was a lifetime fan. I even thoroughly enjoyed seasons 7 through 9, which was when much of the show’s loyal fan-base began truly eroding between 1999 and 2002.)
So many of the show’s core elements seem outdated now. The character arcs of its two heroes and their relationship were resolved seasons ago. Its central overriding story arc — an elite cabal’s conspiracy about (and with) aliens — appears to have been milked for most or all all of its entertainment value. And the show’s format of mixing a handful of “conspiracy episodes” with standalone “monster-of-the-week” episodes feels awkward compared with contemporary programs that better integrate multiple plot lines. (Consider HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” for example, or even the various Netflix and television series that are part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.)
The truly fatal blow to “The X Files'” staying power, though, runs a bit deeper — network television just isn’t as positioned as it used to be to tell the scariest stories to a wide audience. There is too much competition from sources less beholden to censorship or to the milquetoast sensibilities of mainstream appeal. The first is easily accessible cable channels like HBO and AMC, which can shock viewers with visceral violence. The second is subscription services like Netflix.
And third is simply the Internet at large, with its endless cornucopia of morbid or bizarre content. “The X-Files” was created before the Internet was a common household utility. Part of the show’s appeal was that it offered people the creepiest stories they’d watch anywhere anywhere outside of a movie theater. And those stories at least seemed well researched by the program’s writers, who did a tremendous job for most of the show’s run.
Today’s Internet-connected entertainment marketplace is different. No matter how much weirdness “The X Files” can pack into a 43-minute episode, the average consumer can find material online that is darker or more frightening in less time than that. Compare the average “X-Files” episode, for example, to the array of material devoted to real-life “paranormal” subjects, like “Slender Man,” alleged UFO footage, or tragedies like the mysterious death of Elisa Lam. (That last one is truly shudder-inducing. Google it at your own peril.)
The only way a show like “The X-Files” can hope to compete is with excellent attention to tone, tension and character — something I thought that seasons 7 through 9 did pretty well with, despite a gradual fan exodus after David Duchovny’s awkward departure from the series. Season 10 just didn’t follow suit. It really was as though a range of previous “X-Files” episodes has been thrown in a blender, so that their component parts could be served yet again. The conspiracy stuff, in particular, was poorly executed, too hastily paced, and just a bit too campy for my taste. Mulder and Scully’s return was also too self-conscious — as though Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were reunited for a tongue-in-cheek reunion special.
It wasn’t all bad. These two leads are always fun to watch. The fourth episode was superb — “Home Again” served up both a creepy, macabre story and a meaningful character arc for Dana Scully.
Episode 3, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” was also fun enough. But while a lot of other fans absolutely loved this humorous entry, I personally didn’t feel its central joke merited a full episode. Besides, this particular twist has been done before, in a 1989 book by a well known speculative fiction author. (I won’t name the book or the author here, in order to avoid spoilers.)
The rest of the episodes were … fair, I suppose. Oh, well.
I’m thrilled that we’re currently being given Season 11 of “The X-Files.” As someone who was a longtime fan, I never envisioned the show lasting this long, even after a hiatus of many years. I just hope the show matures and grows in quality after this disappointing rebirth.