Is there a human being alive who doesn’t get slightly unnerved by The X-Files theme song? It’s one of the most spine-chilling of all television themes, and sets the tone perfectly for what the show contains. Started in the early 90’s, the Chris Carter created X-Files sought to finally crack the formula for creating an adult television show that had strong horror, sci-fi and fantasy leanings, have strong characters and story-telling AND manage to maintain the monster-of-the-week style of story-telling. Since this is being written some 20 years after its premiere, its safe to say they succeeded.
The simple fact of the matter is this; without X-Files, Supernatural, Hannibal, American Horror Story, basically any of the serial horror-tinged television shows we know and love now, would not exist. The X-Files was when the tables turned and the game was changed. Not only was it easy to pick-up because of its reliance on strong, strange, wacky one episode monster stories, but it had good characters worth caring about, over-arching narrative themes worth following and made a point to have 20 episodes out of a season be completely spine-chilling. If you ask any X-Files fan, they’ll probably tell you that the first five seasons are the ones worth REALLY seeing and everything else can be seen leisurely, and this is true, for the most part, but the truth remains that those first five seasons are completely untouchable.
Headed by the pairing of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, Mulder and Scully respectively, the show follows these two investigators as they solve the unsolvable and attempt to do battle with the supernatural and super-ridiculous. Fox Mulder is the free-minded of the two, always looking to the idea that what they’re dealing with is something that is beyond their human shells and completely new, while Dana Scully is the investigator assigned to ground him and try and turn him towards more tangible explanations. Of course, the opposite happens as proof mounts that we are not alone and everything is not quite as it seems.
A season one twist on the myth, this flips Mulder and Scully’s dynamic early on, with Dana choosing to believe in a death-row inmate’s supposed psychic abilities. Its not the case itself that makes this interesting, though that part of it is the usual slice of weird fried gold. Instead, its the icy warmth the show is famed for that comes from Scully’s parents, her father being an ex-military man who exudes disappointment upon her. Its the first big window we get into the depth of these characters, and the first time Mulder and Scully’s archetypes are challenged successfully. Nevermind one of the closing scenes features Scully having a vision of her father muttering towards her. Because even in an episode hinged on some emotional depth, there’s gotta be some scares.
Take a show with strong horror elements, and put in an episode about people dying seemingly by cockroach infestation. Its brilliant, in parts funny, and more than a little bit disgusting. Splitting Mulder and Scully up for one of the first times in the show’s at that point 3 season run, the story here has a lot of hallmarks of classic horror and sci-fi. A small town full of strange people, a mysterious that goes deeper the more investigation is done, and a new doctor, Dr. Bambi Berenbaum, who anchors Mulder while he and Scully are seeing separate investigations. If you weren’t afraid of cockroaches before, you will be after this.
One of the most integral parts of Mulder’s make-up, and of the overall narrative of the show, is Mulder’s sister’s disappearance when he was a child. Not only much of what motivates him, many of the extra-terrestrial findings relate back to her kidnapping, making sure Mulder and Scully are always completely at the center of what happens. In Paper Hearts, we learn just how much Mulder’s sister affects him, with a mystery that lacks supernatural depth, but more than makes up for it with a nail-biting dive intro true human evil and a look into how much David Duchovny gave to create the iconic Mulder. From the pen of Vince Gilligan, Breaking Bad creator, Paper Hearts is has Mulder and Scully put on the path of a child-murdering serial killer. John Lee Roche is a disturbing villain on an almost surreal level, even by this show’s standards, and coupling the his insanity with the mental anguish Mulder has got pent up makes for some nail-bitingly great entertainment.
Taking a very obvious and direct cue from The Hills Have Eyes, Home is a deeply, deeply unsettling piece of television. I’d even go so far as to say that this simply wouldn’t pass for a season of TV today, in fact it would probably need to be relegated to indie horror cinema to find a home. But that’s where the X-Files was utterly brilliant, giving a home to these twisted stories to a wider audience, no doubt spurring many to go deeper into the cavities of horror and disgust to find more stories of a similar ilk. Deformed mutants hold themselves up in a house in an all too quiet country neighbourhood, and when our favorite FBI pairing come a-knockin’, they don’t respond too kindly. Mutation, disease, babies born with every rare birth defect known to man, its all here. Then it culminates with incest. With a limbless mother held under the bed and used as a reproductive tool to keep the family alive.
Told you it was twisted.
By all rights, Home is the quintessential pantheon of the X-Files. It symbolizes most of what makes the show so very timeless and worthy of praise and of taking inspiration. But, my introduction to the series is signified in my memory banks by one episode, indeed one scene. When Eugene Victor Tooms squeezes his stretchy limb down a chimney. The set-piece is legendary, and not only looked terrifying, but holds up on context and sound and graphic design. Only the third episode of the show ever, it was the first monster-of-the-week, and what an incredible one it is. Tooms is a serial killer, and a rather slippery one at that. Mulder’s brazen belief in the supernatural is demonstrated here in droves, and the marriage between science and the unexplainable is made very solid in how Mulder proves the case and makes the capture. Grim, surrealist and horrifying, Squeeze is disturbing in all the right ways, and dam do those ways still hold up.
Tell me, have you seen The X-Files? Do you want to? What’s your favorite episodes? Let us know in the comments!