Remember the time that backstory was just that? Backstory.
Many of the most successful TV shows and movies are specifically built on a sense of their own mythology and world building. Game of Thrones has a series of vast novels to draw on which detail an incredibly complicated social and political eco-system, for example. Backstory, the details of the universes of these tales and the histories of many characters within the stories, provide the unseen depth and ballast to the tale we are being told, the tale we are invested in.
In recent years, however, the trend of this has begun to shift. Our biggest stories within popular culture are now becoming obsessed with backstory not just being developed to enable the narrative, they are instead *becoming* the narrative. Storytellers are actively attempting to try and ‘plug gaps’, for want of a better term, in continuity and canon, believing it seems that audiences are as obsessed with these minor details as the writers of these properties appear to be. We are losing the element of ambiguity, surprise and mystery.
We are losing backstory by exploring too much of it.
For 25 years, FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully have been shining their flashlights into the shadows, searching for the truth. To celebrate this anniversary, IDW Publishing is launching a new series of The X-Files: Case Files!
Under this banner, faithful fans will see the release of numerous micro-series, featuring stories that explore X-Files of the past and present by top talent from comics and prose!
In “Florida Man…” Scully and Mulder are sent to a small Florida town to investigate a rash of bizarre crimes only to find themselves in the clutches of an alligator-worshipping cult…
The recent history of The X-Files in comic form has been an interesting one, informed in many respects by the revival of the show on FOX over the last three years. The first part of ‘Florida Man’ begins a new phase for IDW’s license of Chris Carter’s series called Case Files – an anthological approach to the adventures of Agents Mulder & Scully investigating the paranormal across America.
Joe Harris until last year had been carrying the torch for The X-Files under IDW, firstly with his originally-canonical ‘Seasons 10 and 11’, which picked up roughly from where second movie I Want to Believe left off, and later his own tie-in ongoing issue set within the continuity of the revival. His approach to The X-Files was frequently arcane, mythic and certainly in the ongoing issues set roughly during Season 10, highly political – indeed this caused his run on the series to draw criticism in certain quarters given how unashamedly anti-President Trump and the alt-right he was in his writing. While politics and The X-Files have always been key bedfellows, many wanted more of a streamlined take on Carter’s show. Case Files may well end up being what they wished for.
WILLIAM: I know the truth can only come from my father, a man I’ve only seen in my visions, but who I already know I hate…
How do you end The X-Files? This is a question fans have been asking themselves for quarter of a century, ever since Chris Carter’s show premiered in 1993 on the FOX network and helped define popular culture across the entire decade. ‘My Struggle IV’ proves, without any shadow of a doubt, that the truth is you don’t. The X-Files is a phenomenon that will never truly come to a close.
Season 11 of The X-Files has been overshadowed, to some degree, by Gillian Anderson’s announcement last October—with several months of shooting left to go—that this was her final go around playing FBI agent Dana Scully, the role she will be immortalised for, as much as David Duchovny will never truly escape her partner, FBI maverick Fox Mulder. Anderson stayed with the original series longer than Duchovny—who jumped ship as a forefront character at the end of the seventh season—so it’s difficult to truly blame her for deciding, after twenty-five years living the part even in the long period she didn’t play her, that Anderson wanted an end for Scully. The revival series, which arrived in 2016 on the trail of a nostalgic comeback tour for various TV shows which were iconic in the days before streaming and cable changed the paradigm of television, was one millions of fans hoped would provide some sense of closure.
The end of the original series, Season 9’s ‘The Truth’, came as a disappointment to many fans at the time. Contextualising a mythology many had (falsely) claimed made no sense, and reintroducing the long-absent Mulder, made what fans hoped was a climactic thrill ride for the alien mythology more like a clip show, with an ending that reflected the ‘Pilot’ but left Mulder & Scully in nebulous waters; were they fugitives? Were they out of the FBI? Were the X-Files shut down? What about Agents Doggett & Reyes, who had taken over the department and failed conceptually to replace the dynamic duo we had followed for seven seasons together? Were the aliens still about to invade? So many questions were left unanswered, far more indeed than ‘My Struggle IV’ has left unanswered – and this latest attempt at a finale is, in all honesty, no real *finale* at all.
SCULLY: “This is a mass phenomenon!”
MULDER: “Which is why you and I are gonna jump on I-95 south this morning and get back to our bread & butter…”
Bread and butter indeed. There is a strong argument brewing that ‘Plus One’, the third episode of The X-Files’ eleventh season, is the purest example of a ‘classic’ X-File since the year 2000.
I’ve discussed previously how we need to start thinking of the first nine seasons of The X-Files the way we do 1960’s Star Trek, as the ‘classic’ series of the show. The revival seasons have proven The X-Files, in order to adapt to an evolving and changing television landscape, has found for better or worse (and fandom are strictly divided as to the answer) the need to reinvent itself, to some degree. Season 10 was filled with episodes which reconceived the series’ legendary ‘mytharc’, indulged in the nostalgia of the show’s comedy episodes, and fused both ‘monster of the week’ stories with character journeys for Mulder and Dana Scully, alongside a bizarre experimental piece from creator Chris Carter. Not one of those episodes, truly, felt like the ‘classic’ series.
‘Plus One’ is the first episode since the show returned to buck that trend. Season premiere ‘My Struggle III’ bravely took the mythology to controversial new places and ‘This’, Glen Morgan’s follow up, pitched Mulder & Scully in the middle of a breakneck Hitchcockian conspiracy thriller with shades of that same mytharc. ‘This’ had plenty of touches to please any ‘classic series’ fan but equally engaged in action stylistics and storytelling choices which kept it firmly in the realm of ‘revival series’. You can see why Carter would have wanted to write ‘Plus One’, because for the first time in years he has the space, breathing room and position to create a true ‘monster of the week’ tale, even if that term can sometimes be used too broadly. ‘Plus One’ doesn’t have a Tooms or a Pusher or even a Rob Roberts. Yet at the same time it’s the most standalone piece The X-Files has given us in a long time.
As the much-anticipated eleventh and almost certainly final season of The X-Files kicks off 2018, a remarkable fan theory has begun to arise in certain social media groups from the first two episodes: that The X-Files has slipped into an alternate universe. On the face of it, the notion sounds as crazy as the kind of cases Agent Fox Mulder has in his basement office, but could some nugget of possibility ripple beneath this theory?
A major factor backing up the assertion was confirmed in season premiere ‘My Struggle III’ (thoughts on which are espoused here in depth), in the fact Agent Dana Scully imagined the previous Season 10 finale ‘My Struggle II’ in her mind’s eye, a remarkable twist eradicating the events of an entire episode only sold to the audience by virtue of Scully having been gifted of it thanks to a vision from her long-lost son William. The catastrophic, world-ending, apocalyptic events of the Season 10 finale ended up simply as information for Scully to understand, a warning perhaps of knowledge to help she & Mulder prevent the release of the deadly Spartan Virus that wipes out humanity. So the theory goes, however, Scully’s vision wasn’t just a prophetic warning of terrible events to come, but rather an entire alternate reality she, and we, have experienced since The X-Files returned to our screens.
The main reason this theory interests me is because of the underpinning factors about The X-Files‘ return which is giving the idea significant ballast for some fans; principally how some fans would love nothing more than to see Season 10 essentially erased from canon. There is a growing feeling amongst a fraction of The X-Files fandom that a chance could have arisen to handily ignore some of the missteps considered to have arisen during the six-part revival season, principally the significant changes to established series mythology and problems & inconsistencies about the portrayal of Mulder & Scully. The theory to my mind seems less about having a cogent, satisfying narrative reason for two timelines being in play and rather looking for an excuse to pretend certain original creative choices in 2015 didn’t happen.
Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files, is apparently a misogynist. It’s an opinion which has been circulating for some years in certain corners of X-Files fandom, of which I consider myself a part given my contributions to the podcasting sphere with The X-Cast.
I’ve been writing a lot about fandom recently because it currently seems to be operating at its most pervasive and toxic on social media – whether in the case of Star Wars fans calling for Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi to be struck from very canon because it dares to try new approaches, or in this case a Reddit AMA in advance of the premiere of ‘My Struggle III’, the opening episode of The X-Files Season 11, in which Chris Carter opened himself up to questions from fans about the new season and became, once again, the victim of a different strand of online toxicity: agenda fandom. In this case a core, collected, organised group of fans who targeted Carter with questions deliberately designed to establish his misogynist credentials. As some commentators on social media subsequently opined, Carter didn’t disappoint, in their eyes.
This piece isn’t going to see me defend Carter in terms of this apparent misogyny. My opinion on this, simply, is that he isn’t sexist. That a man who helped devise a character like Dana Scully, an empowered, rational, scientist and doctor who has subsequently inspired at least one generation of young women to follow career and life paths which are hugely beneficial to diversity, being described as a misogynist seems antithetical to common sense. That’s where I stand. What interests me more is the rise, increasingly, of militant agenda fandom. Of a collectivisation of fans who come together not to help build up the property they love, but instead tear it down.
When you apply the word mythology to the fabric of modern television, you have to pay a great deal of lip service to The X-Files, because it was really the first TV show to couch its storytelling in that terminology. Chris Carter’s seminal 1990’s series, one of the most significant pop-culture features of the decade, invented what became known as the ‘mytharc’ – not just a continuing narrative regarding the presence of extra-terrestrial life on Earth and a sinister, global conspiracy to cover their existence up, but a veritable mythological template on which to tell a story, depict archetypal character journeys, and immerse viewers in a world where they could theorise, suppose and contemplate.
The X-Files built its entire success around its sense of mythology, alongside the chord struck by its partnership duo, FBI agents Fox Mulder & Dana Scully, and those fans who didn’t show up to see Mulder & Scully get it on, almost certainly were there to enjoy the kind of continuity, richness and adherence to ‘canon’ with almost the fervour of the Star Trek or Star Wars fanbases. Which is why, when The X-Files finally returned to TV after almost a fifteen year break, it was almost for many fans baffling to see Carter seemingly contradict and downright reject the mythology he had so painstakingly created.