Of all the times that, as an “X-Files” fan, I’ve had to say goodbye to the show, the first time was probably the best.
When Fox officially canceled the show in 2002, creator Chris Carter crafted a finale that played as a pretty solid series finale, given the show’s legacy. Two-parter “The Truth” brought back David Duchovny (after his season-long absence), attempted to explain the show’s entire mythology through a courtroom trial format, brought back long-deceased guest stars in the form of visions, and let Mulder and Scully make out at least once. Plus, it ended with a scene that served as a beautiful callback to the very first episode of the series: Mulder and Scully talking quietly together about the past and the future in a motel room.
In the pilot, that conversation was all about how Mulder’s quest had driven him into a life of loneliness and isolation, but this new edition ended with Mulder and Scully in each others’ arms, ready to face whatever might be coming down the line.
“My Struggle IV” also ended with Mulder and Scully holding each other, but in a much different context: They believe their now-teenage son to be dead, Mulder just shot their longtime nemesis the Cigarette-Smoking Man (fatally, by all evidence provided), and also Scully is pregnant again. But as they hugged on the deserted pier, and the camera pulled away, they looked tired. Almost as tired as I feel.
Which is why, as much as I love the show — have loved the show, for more than half of my life — I’ve embraced the idea that if Season 11 is the last time we see Mulder and Scully on screen together, it’s a good thing.
For one thing, it’s a good idea to embrace the inevitable. Gillian Anderson has been pretty firm on the fact that she’s done playing Scully forever. It’s something that both she and Duchovny have implied to be the case since the show’s original end, but this time it’s something I’ve heard her say enough over the past few months to believe — especially once she tweeted this, two days after the finale aired:
Oh boy oh boy do I ever hear you. pic.twitter.com/8aiFXfrX1V
— Gillian Anderson (@GillianA) March 23, 2018
I’ll definitely miss this show, for so many reasons — not the least of which is that, as Anderson demonstrated above, a good Scully GIF can say so very much. But being an “X-Files” fan gives you a real understanding of the nature of unconditional love, in some sense, because this show has frankly struggled for decades to reach its original peaks, and in this latest season those struggles remained.
What could be more unconditional than forgiving a show for actively choosing to retroactively change a massive part of the narrative — specifically, that Mulder and Scully’s son was never biologically Mulder’s, but technically a product of experiments conducted by Cancer Man, making him William’s biological child? To be completely frank, I withheld judgement on this revelation for the entire season because a) it felt like bullshit that would be retconned once again by the finale, and b) I wanted to see exactly how the show handled it.
The answer: badly. It is technically pretty unforgivable, the fact that the show actively took away Scully’s sense of motherhood over her son, and never gave the character a real chance to process the discovery that she was basically raped (not for the first time) as a result of being caught up in the conspiracy. Even the fact that she now is pregnant with a child she feels confident is Mulder’s, as revealed by the final scene, fails to serve as anything less than a consolation prize.
And yet, will I still be able to re-watch early episodes and the movies (including “I Want to Believe,” a movie I’m on the record labeling as, essentially, a disaster)? Absolutely. I’ll even be able to re-watch Season 11, and enjoy many of the solid character beats, thanks to the forever great chemistry between Anderson and Duchovny.
In fact, I’ll always be grateful for Season 11. As silly as it was to watch the season premiere actively subvert the Season 10 finale, there’s no denying that Season 11 provided a more satisfying ending, as well as a few standout installments: Both “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” and “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” (a.k.a. “Followers”) were solid, fun standalone episodes. That said, the fact that the season finale was far better than our expectations says a lot, because it wasn’t a great episode of television. And it’s time to stop applauding this show for not disappointing us to the degree it has in the past.
That said, it’s hard to write a story with a headline like this. As I and IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers explore during this week’s Very Good Television Podcast, saying goodbye to “The X-Files” isn’t the easiest of things — especially since one of us doesn’t believe it’s really gone for good. (Lord help us all.) Find out why by listening below, and hear the pain in both voices as another revival demands we consider an ending without guaranteeing we’ve been given one.
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