Review: X-Files Revival, Episodes 1 and 2

Via The X-Files on Facebook

Despite Ginnis’ lack of cable, Kate and Gin finally got the chance to discuss what they have been waiting for ever since it was first announced: The X-Files revival.

Overall impression!

Ginnis Tonik: It was so fast! I mean it makes sense that the pacing would be pretty fast on a miniseries, but the 90s series has a languid quality to its pacing (like Twin Peaks), so the first episode of the two-part opener felt breakneck in comparison. The second part less so, but it was still pretty intense and quick. I am hoping for a little brevity as we go along in the rest of the revival.

Kate Tanski: Fast and intense, definitely. Also we started with Mulder’s monologue, and that was one of the things on my game knitting list, so that made me smile and also appreciate it more.

How did you feel seeing the credits?

Gin: At first, I thought the opening at the very beginning would of the first episode would be the new opening, and I didn’t hate it, but when the original opening played, I got tingly. It’s truly classic, and yeah, it’s totally fan service. I’m okay with that in this case.

Kate: I was so happy. That was one of my hopes for this series, but one I didn’t think was going to actually happen. It surprised me and the outpouring of love from every fan I’ve talked to about it is amazing.

Is Chris Carter jumping the shark with this arc? Is he retconning his own mythology? Or does this make sense for 2015?

Gin: The funny thing is that the first two episodes had the sort of inconsistency so common to The X-Files 90s show. I was expecting episode 2 to be a continuance of the very serious tonality of the first considering that this is a miniseries, but episode 2 was very much in the style of the monster-of-the-week with some references to the overarching themes of what was established in the first episode. But this makes sense since Carter wrote and directed the first episode and James Wong who wrote “Home” wrote and directed the second episode.

I don’t necessarily think he is retconning his own mythology. In fact, it almost felt too much like the 90s X-Files. I mean there were topical references to 9-11, and Snowden, and a very sharp reference to the continued challenge to reproductive rights (go Scully!), but so far, it doesn’t seem that these changes in surveillance, government interference, and autonomy have really been addressed—like Carter is reveling in the fact that his show predicted some of these contemporary concerns rather than exploring how this brave, new world impacts The X-Files mythology in the present day.

Kate: Yeah, the tone and narrative shift from mythology episodes to monster-of-the-week was basically invented in the 90s by shows like The X-Files and Buffy. I also expected this miniseries, since it’s just six episodes, to go whole hog with the mythology, and the fact that they’re not, that they’re calling this season 10, and that they made the decision to embrace that tonal shift makes me happy.

Gin: I had the same expectation—and some critics have even mentioned that maybe the show is better served by a sort of short story or vignette approach told by different writers and directors (and essentially leaving Carter out). But this shift was very welcomed by me.

Kate: I totally disagree that the show would be better without Chris Carter! Screw those guys. But I still haven’t decided if I think Carter is doing something interesting with his mythology, or just rehashing the same tricks. You nailed it that this questioning of is it aliens or is it the government or is it aliens and the government or the government and the aliens is a constant when you look back at the series as a whole. At first it was aliens. Then it was a government conspiracy about aliens. Then it was the government working with aliens. But now it’s a government conspiracy without aliens, it seems, and I’m not sure how that works with the alien bounty hunter, alien/human hybrid part of the mythology.

Gin: But that’s what I mean—like leaving Lucas out of the new Star Wars was a good move, and while I like how much they have brought back the same people, not just actors, but the composer, Mark Snow, and the writers who wrote some of the better X-Files episodes in the 90s, I want a little more freshness. But this was like Mentos freshness, you remember those commercials from the 90s? Do they still make those commercials?

Kate: They don’t, but they still air the originals sometimes. Do you really feel like the Chris Carter episode was a caricature and not sincere? I thought we agreed that the government conspiracy/surveillance stuff feels topical.

Gin: Lucas was totally sincere when he did that shitfest that was the Star Wars prequels!

Kate: I agree Star Wars is better without Lucas, but I will defend Chris Carter! He’s no George Lucas.

Gin: Okay, I do agree there, but I think the sentiment is similar, and fine, I will toss a bone that I think having Carter on gave it the weariness that I really liked about the first episode. Happy now, Mulder?

Kate: Yes, thank you, Scully.


Are you feeling Mulder and Scully?

Gin: These two just have such damn good chemistry, and they look their age! They have lines and crevices in their faces. While Duchovny’s (55), face has gotten slightly plumper, Anderson’s (47) has grown more severe as often happens with slim women with her kind of facial structure. Further, having Duchovny disheveled and unshaven in the first episode in comparison to Anderson’s low-key, but polished look helped highlight their current mental states, as well as their relationship to one another. It made sense to me that where they are at now is where Mulder and Scully would be, 13 years after the X-Files closed. It’s not a happily-ever-after relationship, it never will be with their personalities. They both seem weary, and their voices are gravelier with age which also conveys this weariness. I am all for it. Some critics felt this was “joyless,” but to me it did feel fitting, at least for now.


And hey, we can’t leave out Skinner! Anderson, Duchovny, and Pileggi have always had great chemistry together, in a way that sends fandom spiraling into fantasies of nerdy threeways, and that chemistry is still present. Now, when will Skinner take off his shirt?

Kate: I love that they’re older, and I love that we don’t know exactly what their relationship status is. All we get are hints, like when Mulder echoes Scully’s use of the phrase “for better or for worse.” Did they get married? Did they get divorced? A friend of mine mentioned that Gillian Anderson seemed expressionless and flat, but to me that read as a deliberate choice. She’s weary of all of this. She’s been weary of this for 15 years. She was weary of this during the X-Files. So I think that makes sense for her character. Also, I noticed that she is doing some of the driving, now, and that when they walked up to that house in the second episode, they walked up side by side. That was something that Gillian Anderson has commented on quite a bit since The X-Files went off the air—the way the network wouldn’t let her walk side by side with Mulder up to the house, and that she always had to walk behind him.


Gin: I noticed that, too, and rock on Gillian Anderson. She’s a badass in real life, too!

Kate: Definitely. I love that she came out and said that Fox offered half of what they were going to pay Duchovny. Half. Like, what the hell?? And I love that we know Duchovny and Anderson have been fighting Hollywood pay disparity since the 90s.

Gin: Now that would make for a great superhero show/story/comic: Anderson and Duchovny vs. Hollywood Pay Disparity!

A lot of critics seemed to read the weariness of Mulder and Scully as the weariness of the actors themselves which I don’t think is necessarily fair. While The X-Files had many fun, goofy episodes, overall it’s got a pretty bleak worldview, and I just can’t imagine Mulder or Scully as any other way in the revival. I think their weariness is one of the spots where the first episode doesn’t crumble under its own nostalgia.

Kate: P.S. I am definitely feeling Mulder and Skinner. I was too young for the Skinner/Mulder slash fandom when the show was airing, but I noticed it during my rewatch. And when they had their face-to-face confrontation in the first episode the intensity and chemistry was unreal. The one change they made to the opening credits was to include Mitch Pileggi, and I am so glad they did. He’s a part of the show and the Mulder/Scully dynamic in ways I didn’t appreciate when I was younger.


Joel McHale as Tad—best casting or worst casting? 

Gin: I had no idea who that was, so my opinion is not as influenced by prior roles the actor has played (I vaguely remember him from The Soup).

Kate: I watched all six seasons of Community and I loved him on that show, but I will admit a little mistrust—but also a mistrust of the show. Where did he come from? Was he a double bluff on the part of the government to try to draw Mulder and Scully out? Or was he a legitimate fanatic?

Gin: Either way, I do give the show props for drawing similarities between Mulder and Tad’s radicalism, even if it is seemingly ideologically oppositional.

The critics were disappointed by this episode. Were you?

Gin: Maybe? I can’t imagine someone not being disappointed by any revival of The X-Files when you consider its history (which Elizabeth Lopatto at The Verge nails). I mean hell, Kate, we both tried our damndest to finish Seasons 8 and 9 and never did…even after coming up with a drinking/knitting game.

First of all, it’s very hard to get past the nostalgia for me and the revival indulges that. How can it not? That being said: where is the interest in how data collection and social media has impacted surveillance and privacy? That shit is ripe for a world where the X-files are reopened. Seriously, they need the Lone Gunmen more than ever in The X-Files 2016. Retcon that shit, pronto, Carter!

However, I am not quite so put out by the superficial topicality of the first two episodes. I think the first episode was largely fan service, which as a fan doesn’t necessarily bug me because it felt more like a character study than anything. Matt Fowler at IGN complained about this, feeling the first episode was “plodding,” but more than anything, The X-Files has always been about Mulder and Scully (though mostly Mulder) even after the two mostly left the show, and character studies are slow—which really showcases an actor’s skills.

I think Duchovny nailed portraying depression in a way a lot of actors can’t—he’s disheveled and slightly flat which can be read as bad acting instead of a good portrayal of depression. Scully is carrying on with her life as would be expected, but she’s weary, and she’s always been more resilient than Mulder. Anderson has a talent for subtlety in her acting that The X-Files doesn’t always serve well (but is also why she is amazing in The Fall), and I think the first episode showcased this…as did now watching The X-Files in HD.

And the second episode was in the tradition of Monster-of-the-Week which gives me hope for the direction the show will take since I think that is where The X-Files shines. Watching this first episode of the revival really crystalized how The X-Files often did horror mixed with sci-fi better than pure sci-fi.

Kate: I wasn’t disappointed, but I went into it expecting to be. You can’t go home again, as the saying goes, and the movie after the series ended was a major disappointment. But what I experienced was everything that made The X-Files great. I also watched the first episode live, livetweeting with friends and strangers in a shared nostalgia that is greater than anything I’ve ever experienced. I’ve livetweeted shows before, and I’ve even livetweeted revivals. This past fall, NBC revived Heroes, and that was a complete disaster and utter disappointment—partly because they couldn’t get many of the actors back, but also partly because they somehow couldn’t manage to recapture their own aesthetic, that je ne sais quoi that made the original Heroes resonate with people. I’ve seen a few people say they’ve been disappointed, but so many more have been echoing the same joy that I feel.

Gin: That sounds like the only reason I can think of for ever getting cable again—nerding out with X-files fans.

Kate: During my freshman year of college, I would sometimes join the group in my dorm that watched the episodes in the basement on the one cable television, and that was always fun, so being able to watch “virtually” through social media is definitely the 2016 version of that for me.

Any critiques at all?

Gin: Right now, it feels like the show is more nostalgia than situating The X-Files within a modern context, and it already feels like it might be going towards what made the last few seasons and movies so unbearable—there’s never any closure, no gratification, the mythology is a snake eating its own tail/tale, which funnily enough is what sustains conspiracy narratives—but I don’t know if I want that reflected in the revival. It’s not meta—it’s just self-indulgence.

I am sounding so critical here, but I can’t deny the show made me giddy. That same self-indulgence I critique did make me tingly, but I think the first two episodes missed the mark on the great potential for the relevancy of The X-Files in 2016.

Kate: I couldn’t disagree more. I love the way that the first two episodes feel like seasons 1-7—a heavy mythology ep for the first episode, and a monster-of-the-week for the second. It gives me hope that maybe this won’t be the only miniseries that we get. That maybe we’ll get season 11 too.

Gin: I agree with the feel, I wholeheartedly agree with the feel, but I don’t know if the feel gets enough at where The X-Files could go, or if that is even possible. Especially, in context of the fact that in hindsight, the paranoia surrounding government surveillance that the 90s show capitalized on is no longer so easily written off as paranoia. That, all that, is just so ripe for exploration, and I want to see that more. And that critique is actually making me look differently at the comics which I think actually do go there.

Kate: Obviously calling this miniseries Season 10 completely jossed IDW’s Season 10, but I think we haven’t seen the end of the government conspiracy yet. We still have to see what the Lone Gunmen are up to, and I don’t think we’ve seen the end of Tad either.

Gin: It makes me wonder even more now what Joe Harris had to leave out of the comics because Chris Carter, who gets the final word on the comics from what I understand, was saving it for the revival. Harris has mentioned this in interviews so that fascinates me.

Anyway, the reviews for those lucky enough to preview next week’s episode are pretty good, even the word “hysterical” was thrown around, so I am pretty jazzed for the next one.

Kate: I can’t wait. This is the best birthday week present ever.


Ginnis Tonik

Ginnis Tonik

Smashing the patriarchy with glitter, pink lipstick, and cowboy boots. You can follow her on Instagram @ginnistonik