Two FBI agents, Mulder and Scully, were introduced to the airwaves in 1993 with little fanfare and virtually no expectations. The same can’t be said six years later. Expectations for The X-Files are as high as ever, even as outside dramas swirl around the series (a pending lawsuit against Twentieth Century Fox brought by star David Duchovny; the cancellation of series creator Chris Carter’s new show, Harsh Realm; uncertainty whether or not there will be an eighth season).While the long-term future of The X-Files and its intrepid agents (played by Duchovny and Gillian Anderson) remains unknown, executive producer Frank Spotnitz offers some thoughts going into the seventh season.
What directions do you plan on taking the series, after having resolved much of The X-Files’ mythology last year in the episodes “Two Fathers” and “One Son”?
Spotnitz: Our feeling was that the mythology was becoming an awful lot for people to continue to keep track of. And by definition every time you tell a new story you have to complicate [that mythology]; you can’t just keep repeating the same old information. As we sat down to the mythology episodes for February, [we felt that] we’d reached a critical mass. And so we [decided to] just bring it all to a head. Everybody in the syndicate is dead now except for Cigarette Smoking Man; that chapter is closed. But the consequences of what happened in “Two Fathers”/”One Son” certainly won’t be dropped; in fact, it’s the starting point now for the Cigarette Smoking Man’s actions in the coming season.
Even though we close the conspiracy, the events of the first six seasons will still reverberate through what happens in the final season of the show. I just think there is a lot less baggage that has to be carried now. You don’t need to keep track of all the complicated layers that had been involved in the conspiracy that we had destroyed.
Have you already been considering how the series is going to end?
Spotnitz: We’ve all been thinking about it, in anticipation of this being the last year–what’s the best way to send off Skinner, Krycek, Marita Covarrubias, the CSM, and all of these characters that we have come to care so much about? And we’re working out the story lines that will lead to the series finale, and to the place where we leave all these characters as the TV series ends. So that’s very exciting, while also a huge responsibility, because it’s a farewell, and we want to do it just right.
Mulder and Scully’s relationship is the core dynamic of the series. Yet there are aspects of their relationship that have been danced around for seven years. Are we going to see any new developments on that front?
Spotnitz: There was the near-kiss in the movie, which indicated their desire, even though they did not consummate their kiss, and I think we played with that mostly humorously last year. And there will be a more direct examination of their relationship in the coming year. But aside from the personal, sexual tension side of the relationship, such big things are going to be happening in the mythology that their relationship is going to change in other ways, too. It’s not all just will they kiss, won’t they kiss: There are other, bigger, more profound things about their relationship that come into play–big ideas about why they’re together or why they’re not together. And I don’t mean romantically, I just mean as people, in the universe, why they’re together. Especially in the first two episodes of the year, there’re some big things about the role they fulfill in each other’s lives and the universe.
Last season featured a higher quotient of light-hearted episodes than usual. What can we expect from this season?
Spotnitz: Every year I’ve been on the show–this will be my sixth year–and every season I always hear from fans and critics, you know the show is changed this year, the show is changed this year, and it’s true actually, every year. And I think the most obvious change that was apparent to everyone, critics or casual viewers alike, was the number of lighter episodes, and that was not a conscious choice on our part, and the movie was so big and important and so hyped that we all just wanted to push away from that for a little while, so I think that was our emotional response to where we had been. The series and then the movie. [As I] approach our final season I think there will be some, but not nearly as many as there were last year. I think there are going to be a lot of scary ones. We want to be telling scary stories.
What are some of the stories coming up this season?
Spotnitz: There will be a millennial episode of The X-Files, about the end of the century. Vince Gilligan [wrote] a story from the point of view of the monster, which we’ve never done before. The hunted will be telling the story, and you’ll really be seeing Mulder and Scully through the monster’s eyes. Jeff Bell is writing one, it’s not one of the darker, scarier ones, but it’s about luck, which is one of the few X-Files that everyone has experienced, so it will be interesting. And there will be [another episode written by author] William Gibson. It’s not a sequel [to the fifth season's "Kill Switch"], it’s a completely different story.
So much fuss was made in the press about the series’ move from Vancouver, B.C., to Los Angeles, Calif. In retrospect, what did the move mean for the series?
Spotnitz: I think everyone was anticipating the look of the show would be ruined by the move. But I really think that criticism evaporated very quickly. Even though we do some night shooting, for most of the show, it’s really the way the interiors are lit. The move to L.A., I think, was actually invigorating for a lot of people, especially David and Gillian, who I thought were just terrific [last] year. And going into the season we all thought it was such a great experience being here, creatively, because it was just like a new set of batteries.
There’s also been a lot of discussion about The X-Files’ ratings in the past year.
Spotnitz: The truth is, our percentage decline is roughly consistent with all the other top hit shows. And where we have ranked, in the ratings, is essentially where we ranked last year. Where we’ve been hurt is in our repeats. The number of people that come back to watch the shows on the second broadcast is much lower. The obvious explanation for that is that we are on FX twice a night, five times a week, and we are on in syndication every weekend. So if you want to watch reruns of The X-Files, there’s just so many places to get them that I think it’s inevitable our network reruns would get smaller numbers.
Are there any episodes from the sixth season that you look at and realize you missed your target?
Spotnitz: Oh probably. I don’t want to single them out; they’re all my fault, ultimately, because I’m the guy that approves all of these stories for the writers. There were a couple that I don’t think were what we wanted them to be, but there always are every season. It’s just what happens when you’re doing 20, 22 hour sets of television. I look at The Sopranos, which is a great show, and I just think how I wish we were in their shoes, because they only have to do 13 episodes; that would be a more pleasant and rational working process. Even though there are some [episodes] that I don’t think were our best effort, I still think on the whole it was a very consistent season. I look back at some of the clunkers in years past, and I think we did pretty well.
The question on everyone’s mind: Is this the last season of The X-Files?
Spotnitz: I love the series, I could go on forever, but I just think the time is right. There is a point in time when I thought five seasons was going to be it, and then we got two more years of life. And I think it feels right [to finish] at the end of this season. I think there will probably be enormous pressure put on all of us to continue. Honestly, it doesn’t depend on me; it depends on Chris [Carter] and David [Duchovny] and Gillian [Anderson], and what they decide.
What about the future of The X-Files in feature films?
Spotnitz: We are just in the early discussions about what the next movie would be and when we would shoot it. So we are pretty far off, still. It really won’t be until after the series ends.