I missed out on this cultural waypoint of the 1990s, second grade was too early to get hooked on a television show for me. At the time it was also way outside of my comfort zone. Even as an adult I have an overactive imagination, but as a child it was a problem because I wasn’t yet old enough to not believe everything I saw on television. I distinctly remember one episode of The X Files featuring a villain who was made up of nothing but cancer cells and had to shed his skin like a snake—whether or not this is an actual episode I don’t know, but that’s what I remember. It didn’t help that I only caught a few minutes of this episode and it was late at night, in the dark, and I was by myself. Needless to say I did my best to avoid the series until it went off air in 2002.
Nosferatu was also a pretty good scare for childhood-me. I caught just enough of the long doorway shot of Count Orlok to give me nightmares for years. Today, I love Nosferatu.
Similarly, Jake and I are now watching through the entire series run of The X Files on Netflix—the great liberator of media consumption—and I am really enjoying it. We haven’t quite reached the weird cancer-guy episode I remember from my childhood, but we have gone far enough into the “story arc” to have met some real aliens. Jake has watched through the series jumping from episode to episode according to the story arc and skipping the majority of the “monster of the week” episodes.
That’s something I’ve never encountered before: skipping the majority of a series’ episodes to only watch those that relate to the longer story arc across the whole series. And while I understand the frustration that a lot of the less-substantive, monster-of-the-week episodes engender, I think they do add nuance to the larger story. They may not be critically important to the overall story, but they offer great opportunities to explore and develop characters.
The X Files is a great show, it does some pretty interesting things for a light sci-fi series in the early 90s. For instance, having the female lead be the skeptic instead of the vulnerable and gullible character. Not that any of the episodes pass the Bechdel test, but that’s mostly for movies. They also made the aliens real, but the bad guys human—a very interesting twist for science fiction in general, but especially in the 1990s. The series also doesn’t shy away from showing you the bad guy. It holds on to the suspense of not seeing the full identity of its weekly monsters until the end of an episode, but we very plainly see Cigarette Smoking Man™ and his associates as well as the ever present Roswell style aliens. I’m not sure what CSM and Co are up to just yet, but I wish his character nothing but bad luck. In fact, so far my favourite episode is very close to the end of season two where Cigarette Smoking Man™ is visibly shaken by coming close to public exposure. That moment of fear and weakness from the villain is pretty rewarding.
We’ve just started in on season three now and I have to agree with an observation that Jake made earlier tonight: the show gets stuck on Silence of the Lambs—we see similar cinematography, similar story mechanics, and there’s even a guy in a hard plastic face mask. Not that it’s a bad thing. Homage is great in contemporary work. But, having said that, enough is enough. I’m not strictly tired of it yet, but we’re fast approaching an impasse.
Like a lot of things I didn’t like as a child—coffee and naptime, for instance—The X Files is fast becoming a favourite as an adult. If you’ve never watched it, or haven’t rerun it in a while, I encourage you to do so. It’s pretty good and the 1990s flashback moments are hysterical—like huge cellphones!