Perhaps the most interesting new character on television is the enigmatic informant on The X-Files, a strange but marvellous program that intertwines imagination, suspense and sexual tension.
The informant, modelled after the “Deep Throat” who helped unravel Watergate, appears every few episodes to offer guidance to the Fox show’s hero, an FBI agent with a Lone Ranger complex.
The agent pursues unsolved cases that seem to prove the existence of UFOs and paranormal forces. The informant is cryptic, but apparently aware of government coverups. Each has credibility, but each also tests the willingness of viewers to accept concepts such as contact with intelligent extraterrestrial life. David Duchovny plays the agent, Fox Mulder. Jerry Hardin, a veteran movie and TV character actor, has the role of the unnamed informant. And Gillian Anderson co-stars as Dana Scully, Mulder’s highly professional partner and potential romantic interest.
The informant is special because he epitomizes the show’s captivating ambiguity. Although he’s extraordinarily mysterious, he symbolizes proof that Mulder is on the right track.
On one level, The X-Files is simply science-fiction, even though creator and executive producer Chris Carter avoids that term. It wouldn’t be too far off to describe the show as an oddly successful cross between Star Trek and Hunter.
But there’s another level that ties the show to “real” examples of people’s fascination with UFOs and the supernatural. The plots are inspired by accounts of unexplained and fantastically described events, plus research that indicates many Americans believe in either aliens or psychic phenomena.
Indeed, Mulder’s obsessive behavior is attributed to a childhood experience that he describes as the abduction of his sister by aliens.
“We’re doing what (Jurassic Park author) Michael Crichton does,” says Carter. “We’re doing stories within the realm of extreme possibility.”
The informant draws in viewers by casting doubt on the trustworthiness of government – hardly a tough sell these days. Mulder constantly finds other agents and officials blocking his investigations while Scully – skeptical and rigorously scientific by training – tags along on one weird encounter after another. There are no definitive answers, not even from the informant.
“It’s very elliptical,” says Hardin, “and I think that’s wonderful. He (the informant) seldom comes directly to the point. He’s always around the corner.”
That description applies to the informant’s arrivals and departures, as well as to his conversation. He can show up out of nowhere and disappear in the blink of an eye. Some viewers have wondered if that’s a hint of alien powers, but Carter says that wasn’t his intent.
Carter is exceedingly coy about his plans for The X-Files, which has an order from Fox for at least 22 episodes this season. But he has already shown he can blend subtle, complicated elements with heart-pounding action. Somehow, he makes each instalment of the show satisfying, even though so many themes are open-ended.
The relationship between Mulder and Scully is particularly promising. So far, it’s a low-voltage attraction. If it gets stronger, it won’t be because that’s the standard TV formula.
“It’s a relationship I’m not seeing on television,” says Carter. “It’s based on mutual respect, not something overtly sexual.”
Nothing is obvious about The X-Files, in fact, except its quality. Thanks to the season-long commitment from Fox, it’s not going to disappear before you have plenty of chances to check it out.
Well, not unless something strange and unexplained happens.