It’s X-Files Week here on Panels And Pixels, which means there’s a new X-Files article every day. First up is this personal piece about how I’ve related to the series at two very different points in my life.
I mostly missed the X-Files the first time around. It was something always floating in the background of my childhood, but thematically I was right in the centre of it. As a kid I loved all kinds of unexplained stories, but especially UFOs. I’d watch documentaries where a doctor with questionable credentials would explain how it was all but certain that aliens were spying on us, perhaps this very instant. I’d go to bed and dream that aliens were observing the planet with utterly unknown motives. There was something frighteningly exciting about the idea of aliens that I felt inexplicably drawn to.
Meanwhile the X-Files was a show about Mulder and Scully, two FBI agents who investigated unusual phenomena across America. They touched on all kinds of conspiracies. But like my own fascination the main theme of the show was about aliens. The main recurring plotline dealt with the alien related stories, while the rest of the show was monster-of-the-week episodes.
I’d catch occasional episodes of the X-Files and found it creepily fantastic. The government conspiracies and secrets that the show would often hint at fit very snuggly into my worldview, a place where undiscovered creatures lurked in the barren wilderness while the government were hiding away files on UFO sightings. I believed wholeheartedly that the truth was out there.
As I got older my imagination and paranoia faded. By the time I entered my teens I had long left behind every supernatural theory I had and was left with lifeless scientific logic. As far as I was concerned aliens didn’t exist and the government weren’t hiding anything, they were just as boring and useless as they seemed. There was nothing to believe. We already had the truth, and it was completely mundane.
Meanwhile the X-Files was still on TV, but now nearing its end. I still caught the occasional episode but I now saw it as another TV show that I’d failed to get onto the ground floor of. There was no point watching it now and spoiling the concluding episodes. The almost mystical allure it once had was dead.
For years I had an ongoing desire to watch the show properly, while my memories of it faded into obscure images and bits of miss-remembered information. It wasn’t until recently, over a decade since it ended, that I sat down and watched the entire thing. I loved it.
Mulder is a character that reminded me of my child self; pulling nuggets of information together and coming up with fantastic and impossible answers. Meanwhile Scully represented who I am today, a person that only accepts science and logic, dismissing anything that doesn’t fit her worldview.
Throughout the series I grew to love both characters. I began to realise that, just like the famous poster says in his office, Mulder really did want to believe. It wasn’t simply that he did believe in the extraordinary, it was also a desire to. Which made me recall why I used to believe, I also wanted to because the alternative was just so depressing.
When I believed the world was much more enchanting. There was a mystery to it with an almost impossible question, a question that could keep me eternally interested in trying to answer it. What was really out there? What was the truth behind famous UFO sightings? Was the government conducting some secret tests? Was it really alien life? What crept in the quiet corners of the globe?
When that veil was lifted the world left behind was dull and simple. There were no questions left, life was as scarily bland as I feared. There was nothing to discover.
There is a moment around the middle of the series where Mulder is told that he’s been played. There are no aliens, there’s no big secret or higher power. Instead the government use him and other believers to mask illegal experiments they run on the public. Mulder then later sits at home in absolute misery.
In a strange way it reminded me of myself. Unlike Mulder I had no defining moment that shattered my belief, I just grew up and began to see the world for what it really was. It’s no coincidence that my belief left along with my childhood, I was no longer in a blissful bubble of ignorance and immortality where the status quo would forever protect me. It was just a gradual shift as I approached becoming a teenager. I saw it as a natural unavoidable change.
But I could still drawl parallels with myself and Mulder. The lack of the fantastic left me a much emptier person, more cynical. There was a void left behind that used to be filled by exciting wonder.
Later in the series, well after Mulder has become re-energised in his belief, Scully begins to believe as well. Leaving behind her almost derisive dismissal of Mulder’s theories she forms her own and becomes open to new possibilities. I began to think how liberating it would be to have my mind so open again, as it was when I was a child. I realised if I could click my heels and instantly return to that mindset, where anything is possible, I would do it.
End of spoilers
Upon rewatching it I realised the X-Files taps into a type of wish fulfilment. That the world has an underbelly that goes largely unnoticed, while society marches on as normal there’s a wealth of undiscovered intrigue. The general public don’t notice or care, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s there.
Where as a child I believed the unknown was a threat, something to fear, I now realise the unknown provides security. It challenges us with questions. It teases that there’s much, much more than what we know. Isn’t that a much better place to be? Questions give us motivation, desires to investigate. When we have all the answers there’s an emptiness in the finality.
The X-Files is 200 episodes of questions. An entire series where the single truth is that there is more to life, more to what we know. There will never be a definitive end to the franchise because there can always be more questions.
It reminds me why as a child I had such exotic and implausible theories, because the alternative is just horrifying. I don’t want to be reminded that there is nothing more to life.
I want to believe.