the x-files

“The X-Files” is the embodiment of a failed mythology show. Ambitiously, across a decade, creator Chris Carter threw thousands of provocative morsels at viewers hungry to understand his unique mind trip. But ultimately, he failed to assemble the pieces into a satisfying, sensible whole. He squandered his audience’s good faith. It was as though he’d extended the mythology beyond any possibility of cohesion in order to keep making money on it. Every sweeps period, it seemed, and with the theatrical release of the movie, “X-Files” ads were promising resolutions that never came. The series mythology began to feel relentlessly circular, like hearing a long game of “Dungeons & Dragons” on a tape loop.

— Matthew Gilbert, Boston Globe, 2004-10-27, “Getting ‘Lost’: Show pursues TV’s most elusive genre — mythology. Or maybe that’s not it at all.” (emphasis added)

Almost but not quite. “The X-Files” was at its best posing questions, not answering them. The core value of “The X-Files” core value was its mystery, its window into the unknown, and the potentially unknowable. Solving the mysteries made them boring.

Unfortunately, the longer a story or mythology goes on, the more one feels the need to stitch it into a comprehensible whole. The show was popular & making money, so folks kept it going. And since it continued, Carter and the show’s fans wanted a cohesive universe. But of course, every “answer”, every piece that actually slotted into another piece of the puzzle, sketched a little more clearly the outlines of the universe.

The problem with “The X-Files” wasn’t that its universe was incomprehensible — the problem was that it was too comprehensible. After 10 years, we know that the core mystery of “The X-Files” was a big government plot to hide aliens and alien-related power grabs. Once the structure was laid out, everything had to fit into it, and the mysteries and inconsistencies — the x-files — had to resolve to that structure. “The X-Files” would have, should have, stayed incomprehensible, full of mysteries and hints and no answers. In the terms of the Gilbert article, “The X-Files” should have stayed in the realm of mythology.