The X Factor: The X Files on the rise

The X Files
The X Files

This article was originally published in Frontier Issue 1, April 1996. This version was edited May 2024.

For a television show that was initially dismissed by critics and second-graded by its own US network, The X Files has come a long way. Now a huge force, with merchandising of Paramount proportions, it moves into its highly anticipated third season riding high on success. Those critics who panned it now adore it. Legions of fans across the globe tune in every week. It has its own official fan club. Most of all, it collected a coveted Golden Globe for Best Drama, the first sci-fi show to do so. What more could a show want from its third season?

“I’d like to hit a thousand,” says creator Chris Carter in Sci-Fi Channel magazine. “I’d like to have every episode be a winner, so that we actually make the show better.”

In the opinion of fans, season two was very solid. However the departure of several writers (epsecially Glen Morgan and James Wong, the writers behind such great episodes as “Tooms” and who have moved on to produce their own TV venture Space: Above & Beyond) has led some to believe that perhaps the show is at a turning point, ready for that slide to oblivion.

Carter obviously does not believe so. Work has begun on the long-rumoured “spin-off” (which Carter calls “more of a complimentary piece”) and there is even a move to the big screen in the works, though that has to be delayed due to star David Duchovny’s decision to spend his summer making the film Playing God, receiving a cool US$2million for the effort. Merchandising for The X Files has gone into overdrive, with everything from caps, t-shirts and posters to comics, a computer game and action figures.

It’s been three years since Carter sold his idea, loosely based upon the earlier series The Night Stalker, to the Fox Network. Two FBI agents, investigating the unknown and the paranormal; one a believer, one a sceptic. Add a solid grounding in real science and stories from the headlines, a production of motion picture quality, dense atmosphere and wonderful acting, and the result is a series that has exceeded expectations. Duchovny has referred to how he believed the series would run for only a little while and he would quickly move on.

Fast foward to Golden Globe night. The X Files is nominated for Best Drama, up against heavyweights such as ER and Picket Fences. No one thinks a sci-fi show could win. To everyone’s surprise and joy, The X Files comes away a winner.

People ask why.

Forceful, believable acting is one reason. Both Duchovny and co-star Gillian Anderson bring realism to their roles, so much that viewers not only feel for them but really do want to believe. The relationship between Mulder and Scully is one of respect, admiration for dedication, and like almost all TV male-female pairing, heavy in sexual tension. Atmosphere is another reason: Mark Snow’s excellent score brings just the right touch to scenes, and the forever night in which the two agents work gives the show a claustophobic feel. Add to this tight scripting of plots drawn from the pages of the news. 

Perhaps beyond this though is one more factor: timing. As the twentieth century winds down there is increasing disillusionment with government. Conspiratorial thinking spreads. More people believe the government has something to hide, and that the system doesn’t treat people fairly. When the show is at its best, it feeds upon this distrust. While a self-contained episode might leave one chilled, episodes like season one’s “Deep Throat” (and the character) and season two’s nail biting climax “Anasazi” leave veiwers to speculate that the government knows much more than they reveal.

Have aliens been here, as Deep Throat tells Mulder, “for a very long time”? Are the governments of the world in a huge conspiracy to hide the existence of extraterrestrials?

The X Files says yes. And we want to believe.