Reopen The X-Files! Series supremo Chris Carter tells Tara Bennett about the most unexpected comeback of 2016
Trawl the internet in 2015 and you’ll find no shortage of stories to fuel the paranoid: governments accessing our personal data; the drones that will soon be hovering in our personal space; conspiracy theorists on overdrive about the one-percenters ruling the globe. It feels like the kind of stuff you’d imagine Fox Mulder poring over in his cramped FBI office on his neverending quest to prove that the truth is still out there.
Except Mulder – and his brilliant but ever sceptical partner Dana Scully – have been off the conspiracy beat for close to a decade, The X-Files franchise lying dormant in popular culture.
Gone they may have been but creator/ executive producer Chris Carter assures SFX that The X-Files was certainly never forgotten. “I think about The X-Files almost every day,” Carter admits. “Whenever I pick up the paper, I see an X-Files story. It’s in my blood. I’ve been doing this for a third of my life so it’s certainly a part of me. “
That doesn’t mean Carter didn’t appreciate the break. Charting the mythology for 202 hours’ worth of episodic stories, plus spin-off series (The Lone Gunmen, Millennium) and two movies burned him out on the franchise.
“I took some time off,” Carter says of his low profile status in recent years. “I think it’s given me distance and clarity and certainly a renewed interest in telling X-Files stories.”
Carter found himself unexpectedly blowing dust off The X-Files this year after the stars and the schedules aligned with Fox’s intention to revive the franchise on TV. “When I got a phone call saying the actors were interested and would I be interested in coming back for a short series, my answer was immediately, ‘Yes!’” Carter laughs. “If David and Gillian were interested, I was interested.”
Carter assembled former series writers James Wong, Glen Morgan and Darin Morgan to craft the new series. “We originally intended to do eight episodes but we got cut to six so we had to look at things differently. It meant we couldn’t reach out to some of the people who helped us before. But to do a short series is really the way to come back at this time. It’s now what people are doing and I think it gives you a chance to focus in an interesting way.”
It’s been eight years since cinematic entry The X-Files: I Want To Believe, the point at which Carter says the show’s canon went into stasis. And while there is a current The X-Files Season 10 comic series from IDW, of which Carter is quick to praise its editor Joe Harris, he qualifies those stories as “excellent fan fiction”.
Carter says the new event series follows the narrative left suspended when the ninth season ended in 2002. “We’re continuing some mythology from that place but we’re also continuing the storytelling in terms of Mulder and Scully’s relationship as it relates directly to what we know about them in the second movie.” In that film, the duo, who had a child together, were on rockier ground, relationship-wise, a continuing theme as the miniseries opens.
While some fans will be less than thrilled to learn their power couple is not together, Carter says continuing to explore how these two diametrically opposed personalities have remained in each other’s orbit is true to the show’s original premise. “They struggled with their relationship originally,” Carter reiterates. “Through the second movie, they came together, which was absolutely natural. But they found themselves feeling that it couldn’t work in that way. If Scully holds by her professional pursuits and Mulder by his, it would pull them apart.”
That push and pull is even reflected in the title of the first episode of the revived series, “My Struggle”. Carter admits a large part of the narrative came from just “imagining where Mulder and Scully are, not only in their relationship but their professional lives. Mulder lives a hermit life, probably hand to mouth, maybe even with some help from Scully. I think there is an idea that Mulder has suffered for his singular pursuits.”
Meanwhile Scully is no longer an FBI agent and has returned to her medical career. “She is a serious person so she takes her career seriously,” Carter explains. “But I think deep down she probably, unconsciously, desires a reason to be pulled back [to Mulder]. For her, as a scientist, [being a part of the X-Files] was an amazing experience and a challenge to her. In the hospital and in medicine, she now has an opportunity to do both things.
“They have an emotional connection,” Carter continues. “They share something. In episode four he takes her hand and it’s a loaded moment. So I feel it’s given us something new to explore considering we will have been doing this for 22 years.”
The catalyst for the pair to come back together turns out to be conservative media pundit Tad O’Malley, played by Joel McHale. O’Malley is a younger, more energised and better financed version of Mulder who comes calling to enlist Fox’s help in exposing the repeated abduction experiences of a young woman named Sveta (Annet Mahendru).
Carter reveals that O’Malley represents someone who credibly brings Mulder’s life work into the present. “I think it’s a reflection of the times we live in,” he says of the heightened conspiratorial rhetoric that O’Malley broadcasts to his fervent followers.
“We live in a Citizenfour world,” Carter adds, referencing the documentary on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. “For years Mulder has been looking in one direction and [via O’Malley], he is all of a sudden pulled in another direction which makes absolute sense to him. He starts putting the pieces together in an interesting way. Mulder feels as though he’s been deceived yet it energises him. He’s been depressed and it lifts him out of his melancholy.”
Filming of the new episodes took place from June to September back in the show’s familiar stomping grounds of Vancouver, British Columbia, where the early TV seasons and the second film were produced. Carter himself wrote and directed episodes one, four and six and says the first day back on the set seems to have already attained semi-mythic status judging by the number of times he’s been asked about it.
“People want to know what that first day was like and what that first moment on the set was like. I have to say it was just a day of hard work as we hit the ground running. That being said, I went and visited David in the costume fittings and that was like old times. And then in hair and make-up with Gillian as a blonde and all of a sudden she is a redhead again. With everyone it was about slowly putting the layers and the shoes, literally, back on again. They were all very familiar things to us but across a span of time this great was its own special thrill.”
Back to basics
Carter does admit that getting to direct his stars again was particularly resonant for him: “Something that struck me was that David and Gillian have done so much work since The X-Files and they bring that wisdom. I think there was a moment in directing them that we had to go back and find those bearings again. It wasn’t hard. They both have clear ideas of the characters but there is so much water under the bridge. Finding [the characters] was comfortable but sometimes there may have been a mystery or two,” he laughs.
Nostalgia and the prevailing cultural decree that everything old should be new again are big reasons why The X-Files is getting the chance to exist again in its original medium. A long-time success in the home video market and now on streaming services that cater to the binge-watching generation, the show’s return has been crafted with a mandate to service both old and new audiences.
“The first episode is a very easy entrance for almost anyone, especially in that opening sequence,” Carter says of “My Struggle”. “We were mindful of the fact that we may have a new audience, but we were also mindful that the reason we are back is that we have a hardcore audience. We didn’t want to beat them over the head with a prologue that was insulting to them. So we walked a fine line and I hope we did it well.”
Back in the day, The X-Files was the show that created its own category of TV: the hybrid series that balanced an intense mythology that played out over episodes throughout the season and standalones, or “monster of the week” stories, that were self-contained. Carter says they continue that model in their new run.
“We looked at the fact that we had six episodes and we thought what would be best for the show? What made the show? It was the combination of mythology and standalone episodes. It was my idea to bookend the show with mythology episodes and in between are episodic stories. However, I think you will find there is an arc for Mulder and Scully within the larger arc. There is an honesty to the characters and where they are, and what they are going through, that connects the new episodes.”
As to whether these new episodes will make the show as big a phenomenon among Millennials as it was for the ’90s generation, Carter says that’s not something that keeps him up at night. “My objective is always the same: to tell great X-Files stories. That in and of itself is of absolute importance,” he emphasises. “But we’re living in a media world where the show is on Netflix. People can find it, and may have found it. I have people who come up to me that say they are fans of the show and they weren’t even born when The X-Files was first on. I do think there is an opportunity to reach new people. But we are living with diminished network ratings so it’s now up to Fox. If I’ve done my good work, it’s up to Fox to find people who used to like it, and people who might like it.”
And what if they do? Does Carter have a taste for more truth-chasing in the future? “It’s in my blood,” Carter emphasises again. “The way we end this series, we leave it open for more X-Files stories and that’s a clear message.”
X the unknown
Some dangling plot threads we’d like to see tied up in the new series…
When the show ended in 2002, we were led to believe that an alien force was going to invade and colonise dear old Earth on 22 December 2012. So when I Want To Believe hit cinemas in 2008, you’d have thought they’d have tackled that terrifying scenario, wouldn’t you? Naw-huh. So what did happen to those extra-terrestrial property developers and their delightful, eyeball-coating Black Oil?
In one of the new series trailers, there’s a glimpse of a phone screen with the word “William” on there. For those who may have forgotten this rather important (!) plot point, Mulder and Scully had a son, named for Mulder’s father, who Scully gave away in season nine. By our reckoning, the lad would be about 14 now. Is he the one calling up to say hi? And given his possibly alien origins (Scully was sterile until he came along), will he have any special powers?
For a while on the show, these guys were everywhere. Strong, remorseless and deadly, they went around killing folk for their alien masters and causing no end of trouble. So… what happened to them? Are they still alive? Are they still dangerous? Have they integrated into society as personal trainers, maybe?
The search for his sister was Mulder’s life-long mission, so when her death was apparently explained away as her being the victim of a serial killer in season seven, it was a bit disappointing. However, there were later hints that Mulder didn’t actually believe that explanation. So is Mulder still looking for her?
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