I’ll never forget the first time I saw The X-Files. I was in the sixth grade, at a sleepover at my friend Chelsea’s house, and she and I snuck away from the rest of the group to watch the show with her dad. She warned me it was scary but I liked scary things, and besides, it was a television show and I came from an anti-TV family, so I would have happily watched a telethon or a chess match or static. I could handle the scary.
The episode – “Quagmire,” I would eventually learn it was called, from the third season of the show’s original nine-season run – was about a small town local legend of a Lochness monster-like prehistoric creature known as “Big Blue” that may have been the reason behind two seemingly unrelated missing persons cases. Mulder believed, Scully didn’t. What I remember striking me most in this episode was the dark, moody lighting, the eerie score, and the strong dynamic between the two stubborn and passionate FBI agents that I picked up instantly from an infamous scene in which the two have a philosophical conversation while sitting on a rock. And also that Scully’s dog got eaten by the monster. Like I said, I could handle the scary.
My family didn’t have cable television at the time and we didn’t get FOX either, and while watching that one episode at my friend’s house had made an instant and indelible impression, my enthusiasm waned as I forgot about the existence of The X-Files. I found myself instead distracted by the trials and tribulations of middle school, all of which I recorded in my Lisa Frank diary. According to my random and infrequent journaling, I spent the rest of middle school having crushes on the same three boys, playing field hockey, and stressing out over how many people I would invite to my birthday parties.
However, in the winter of 1998, about a year and a half after having first watched The X-Files at Chelsea’s house, I rediscovered the show on my parents’ obsolete black-and-white TV, using the relic’s outdated preset dial to pick up FOX. It was a momentous occasion and I wrote about it in my diary, casually remarking that I really liked the show and I got the TV to work. But several months later, as a newly-minted high school freshmen, in between a complaint about homework and an update on my latest crush, I declared: “I’m obsessed with The X-Files. I LOVE IT! It rules! I could watch The X-Files all day long!” And from then on out, that’s pretty much what I did. I caught up on old episodes of the show thanks to reruns that I taped with our very high tech (for the time) VCR or, if I was able to convince my mom to buy them, watching the occasional VHS episode bundle that the cool video store downtown sold. I obsessed over storylines and speculated future episodes on AOL message boards – I made my first Internet friends while discussing the latest interaction between Mulder and Scully.
In fact, I distinctly remember when the notion of “shipping” first came about, thanks to so-called X-Philes who devoted a lot of bandwidth to over-analyzing every little detail about the Mulder-Scully Relationship, aka the MSR, those in favor were deemed shippers on message boards and online fandoms. For example, in another diary entry from 1999, I wrote: “I just watched a great episode of The X-Files. Mulder and Scully posed as a married couple to investigate murders. It was a very “shippy” episode. Mulder and Scully were very flirty. And he was all over her, it was funny. Of course, I taped it!” I often wonder if today’s YouTubers have any idea that the concept of “shipping” originated with The X-Files well before many who so casually use the term today were even born!
I continued to sporadically write entries in my diary for the rest of high school, and in every single one after that first mention of The X-Files I devoted long paragraphs to Mulder and Scully. There’s an entire page dedicated to wishing Chris Carter, the show’s creator, a happy birthday. Another entry includes my own outline for an episode that I wanted to write and that I hilariously wrote myself into (I described the character “Allie” as being “young, quick-witted, and dressed like Sporty Spice.” Yes. I really did that). In another entry I mention Gillian Anderson presenting at an awards show and how it made me want to, “work in the movies.” Looking at the diary now, it’s evident how The X-Files was a crucial part of my upbringing, as important as boys and school, and birthday party planning. Now, almost 20 years later, I can point to that moment of first watching The X-Files with Chelsea and her dad as the start of my journey here, to Los Angeles and the entertainment industry, where I now live and work. The seeds of wonder that The X-Files first planted are still present in my daily life.
I’ll never forget the most recent time I saw The X-Files either. It was at the California Science Center, in a room with Chris Carter, David Duchovny, and Gillian Anderson. In fact, Duchovny was sitting two rows immediately in front of me, and seeing as it was my second time watching the first episode of the show’s imminent six-episode revival on FOX, I spent the majority of the episode staring at the back of his head, getting a little thrill every time he turned to smile at the guy sitting next to him, who just so happened to be former X-Files writer (and Breaking Bad creator) Vince Gilligan. My 14-year-old self would have never dreamed that one day she’d be at the Hollywood premiere for the much-heralded return of her favorite show, sharing the same breathing space as her favorite stars, and yet there I was, and even somehow able to keep my cool.
The premiere obviously won’t be the last time I watch an episode of The X-Files – I know I’ll watch each of these next six episodes multiple times, but it feels like the perfect way to bookend the near 20 years I’ve spent as fan of the show. I never expected a day when all of a sudden there would be new X-Files episodes on TV again, and yet here we are.
The first of the six episodes of the upcoming limited run, “My Struggle,” has been getting mixed reviews thus far but I liked this episode. In fact, I liked it a lot. Sure, seeing it twice confirmed that for me, and I’ll admit that seeing it on an IMAX screen with the stars and creator present likely heightened the excitement of the moment, but I was struck by how perfectly X-Files this first episode back happens to be. Semi-pretentious Mulder monologues. Scully doubting everything. Cornfields. The return of AD Skinner, the Cigarette Smoking Man, and a grand sweeping conspiracy theory, that frankly, doesn’t sound too crazy in this day and age. Unresolved sexual tension. The eerie score paired with the blunt imagery of the iconic main credits. It’s all there. Is there clunky dialogue for the sake of exposition? Yes. Does Scully still not know how to Google things? Also yes, but that’s because The X-Files seems to exist in its own universe where Google does not exist, (although Uber, apparently does!). But then again, The X-Files was never great at handling technological advances – especially ironic considering the growth of the show’s popularity in the ‘90s seemed to directly correspond to the growth of the Internet. But I’m happy to look past these imperfections. In a way, these flawed details feel just as classic X-Files as Mulder and Scully interviewing a victim of an alien abduction or screaming each other’s names into the phone.
Something that today’s nostalgia obsessed Internet culture seems quick to forget is that The X-Files was never perfect. There were plenty of episodes that I recall being lackluster when they first aired, and then others, when viewed in retrospect, are especially problematic (Vulture recently ran a great article addressing that point exactly – “The 10 Most Embarrassing X-Files Episodes“). And while the first movie was very good, the second was not, but even then it didn’t matter to me, because I will always welcome another chance to live new stories with these characters. “My Struggle” is not necessarily an amazing episode of television, but at the same time, it is certainly wonderful, and it left me feeling full of joy, like a giddy teenager who’s just discovered something really, really cool all over again.
Ultimately I think that most X-Files fans will enjoy this first episode, and they will, like me, feel especially excited for the five to come after. I’ve been able to see the second and third episodes, and can say that while the second episode is similar in quality to the first, the third episode, “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-monster” written by one of the original writer-producers, Darin Morgan, known for his consistently excellent monster-of-the-week episodes, is an especially enjoyable new take on an old X-Files formula. I have a feeling these episodes, and the rest to come, will be more critically acclaimed than the premiere, likely because similar to a pilot, this first episode out of the gate has the more difficult task of reintroducing the world and setting up the scope of the show. Chris Carter took on the writing duties for the first episode, and historically, his episodes haven’t always been as strong (his direction, however, remains wonderful). But let me be honest: one of these new episodes could be Mulder and Scully reading the phone book for an hour and I’d still be happy. I’m that kind of fangirl. At the end of the day I love this show, these characters, and the complicated sometimes-imperfect stories it tells. The X-Files makes me happy, and it reminds me who I am and the journey I’ve taken to get here, because we grew up together. It also reminds me that we all look a lot better now than we did in the ’90s. Seriously. At the premiere Gillian Anderson looked like she was single-handedly draining the Fountain of Youth.
In the spring of 2002, around the same time I graduated high school I once again poured my thoughts out to my diary, writing, “The last X-Files episode aired May 19th and with it came the end of an era. After 9 years and over 200 episodes my obsession has lost its driving force. So long Mulder and Scully. Thank you.” I can’t help but laugh at my stoic commentary, my sincere farewell. After that entry, there are only two more, but it is clear that when The X-Files went off the air, I moved on to discovering new things about myself and the world and my obsession waned in its fervor. But it inspired something in me, something I carried on as I came into my own. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself all sorts of things, like maybe to not pluck my eyebrows so much, and that I would eventually get over the boy I crushed on for all of high school, and also that one day there would new episodes of The X-Files on TV again, and that I might even watch one of those episodes with the stars who played Mulder and Scully themselves. But for now, I’ll have to delight in the serendipity of not knowing the future, not knowing that I would end up where I am now, working and living in Hollywood, so many years later still a fan, an adult enjoying the show with the same giddy fervor of a lovesick teen. And besides, there are six new X-Files episodes to watch and several remaining blank pages of my diary to fill. Thanks to Mulder and Scully indeed.
Be sure to watch the new season of The X-Files starting Sunday Jan. 24 at 10 pm EST on FOX.
(All images via the author)