Over the years, we have enjoyed a litany of tie-in material for The X-Files, principally across the 1990s but again recently thanks to the return of Chris Carter’s iconic series.
Fans will remember Brian Lowry’s essential episode guide books back when the show aired – basic by today’s standard but a touchstone in the pre-online era of limited investigative or behind the scenes information. Ditto Jane Goldman’s two-volume Book of the Unexplained, much more of an expansive ‘coffee table tome’. Aside from the novelisation tie-ins from writers such as Charles Grant & Kevin J. Anderson, these materials expanded our knowledge and enjoyment of the television series, paving the way for the multimedia onslaught of additional material that would appear around shows and movies to come, and following in the footsteps of mega franchises such as Star Wars and Star Trek, who had already been doing it for years.
In the modern 2020s, what can resources such as this offer us? Back in the ‘90s, without access to information or images or contextualisation, such books would inform and enrich our knowledge of the movies and shows we loved. Now, everything in those books is available thanks to a cursory Google search. This forces books such as The Official Archives to be a touch more inventive in how they engage with the property they’re playing with.
Paul Terry is clearly someone who adores The X-Files and knows it well, and such enthusiasm emerges in a book that is part coffee-table resource filled with arcanum and part investigative journal, playfully adding new details and lore to The X-Files mythos.
While billed as a Breaking Bad movie, El Camino falls between two stools. With a two hour running time and a solo Netflix slot, along with an element of theatrical release, Vince Gilligan’s film technically fits the bill of a motion picture but, ultimately, El Camino never misses a step in how it syncs up with its parent show.
Gilligan reputedly had the idea of how to continue the story of Jesse Pinkman, Aaron Paul’s hapless dropout turned meth-cooking, streetwise junkie, while shooting the final season of Breaking Bad back in 2013. He kept it under wraps until they approached the 10th anniversary of the series before electing to push ahead and make it happen, alongside production of still-airing prequel series Better Call Saul. Gilligan has consistently now played in his Breaking Bad universe for over a decade and while Better Call Saul is yet to reach an end point, El Camino very much draws a line under the post-Season 5 future of Breaking Bad. This is the coda you never imagined you needed.
Or perhaps you may have thought along the same lines as Gilligan, who always wanted to know what happened to Jesse after he escaped Neo-Nazi captivity thanks to his old mentor Walter White in series finale Felina, screaming away in torment at the wheel of the titular Camino to an uncertain, open-ended future. Walt’s fate had long been sealed as Breaking Bad’s complicated anti-hero protagonist but Jesse, often, served as the vulnerable, manipulated humanity at the heart of the series. To have him escape horrendous suffering and deep psychological trauma and not find out what became of him does, in retrospect, feel like a lost opportunity. El Camino very much takes advantage of that.
As a result, Gilligan gives us closure, maybe as much for himself as Jesse Pinkman.
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.
While on the surface, Q&A may be Alias falling back on a tried and tested televisual trope, this epilogue of an episode is remarkably concentrated around testing philosophical concepts of fate, destiny and free will.
Alias has experienced a succession of earth-shattering revelations since the climax of The Confession that Sydney Bristow has been increasingly struggling to digest. She pulled back from quitting her life as a double agent in The Box, only for the stakes to infinitely rise as ‘The Man’ aka Alexander Khasinau emerged on the scene as a direct challenger to the Alliance and SD-6, before Page 47 and The Prophecy personalised the central Rambaldi mythology for her in a way which added a further reason why escaping this life in the short term would be impossible. Q&A may appear to be a time out from these escalating narratives but in real terms it serves more as a point to pause and take stock of where we have ended up over the last sixteen episodes.
It dispenses with Alias’ uncommon ‘double previously’ sequence, which for the entire season has reminded viewers of the complicated central concept of the series before segueing into a more immediate reminder of recent events. Q&A throws us straight into the action using the tried and tested J J. Abrams trope of ‘in media res’ storytelling, which he used to fine strategic effect in pilot episode Truth Be Told, as we see a bewigged Sydney—in full Thelma & Louise-mode—on the run from a flotilla of cops before barrelling into dockside water in either an apparent escape or suicide attempt. Q&A doesn’t need a contextual reminder because the entire episode is structured as one big ‘previously’.
Welcome to Alias’ first, and indeed last, ‘bottle episode’.