UK Release Date:
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Picking just eight representative episodes from a series that ran for nine full seasons is no easy feat; especially, one would imagine, for the show’s creator Chris Carter and longtime writer/producer Frank Spotnitz. After all, theses aren’t just a pair of fanboys arguing about their top tens over a beer – this is their baby.
Whatever the rationale behind the choices – stirring up a bit of nostalgia and anticipation before the release of the new movie is my guess – and seem to mirror the spirit of the forthcoming film, avoiding the elaborate mythology of the show’s conspiracy/UFO arc and picking a handful of standalone stories that showcase the variety of approaches and genres The X-Files was capable of tackling in its heyday. So, the only UFO episode is the classic Pilot, which by its very nature as an introduction to the series’ themes and characters works perfectly well in isolation; it remains one of the great TV debuts, with Anderson and Duchovny already shaping up as a splendid double act and hinting at a dark nexus of UFO cover-ups and shadowy conspiracies to come.
Beyond the Sea is one of the first season’s best efforts, an early character piece focusing on Scully and boasting a memorably creepy performance from Brad Dourif as psycho-killer clairvoyant Luther Lee Boggs.
By contrast, Season Two’s The Host is a ‘monster of the week’ show, and one of the most memorable, featuring the disgusting ‘Flukeman’ dwelling in the New Jersey sewers like an urban legendary alligator and surely putting viewers off using portaloos for life.
The first disc of the set is rounded out with the wonderful Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose from Season Three, an episode dominated by Peter Boyle’s performance in the titular role as a psychic obsessed with his own death, which manages to be both deeply funny and darkly melancholic at the same time; it hinted at just how far off the beaten track of standard TV treatments of the supernatural and paranormal The X-Files would be prepared, over the years, to go, and is still one of its all-time best efforts.
Disc Two kicks off with Season Four’s Memento Mori, the one in which Scully has to come to terms with having cancer; admittedly an excellent episode, but one which can’t really recreate its original impact when removed from the specific flow of weekly episodic television and the equally good episodes leading up to it.
Season Five’s Post-Modern Prometheus, says Chris Carter in his introduction, remains a personal favourite; it’s a left-field gem, featuring a Frankenstein’s monster obsessed with Cher, references to Twin Peaks and a satire of the infamous ‘alien autopsy’ video. Odd that Carter – who gave us ‘The Truth is Out There’ – should have written and directed an instalment whose multiple layers of irony and oddity suggest very strongly that if it is, it’s probably inseparable from myth, media, and discourse itself.
A similar obsession with the elusive nature of truth dominates the amusing Bad Blood, also from Season Five, in which a tale of modern day vampires becomes a comedy Rashomon, while final pick Milagro, from Season Six, takes us back into darker territory with its tales of a homicidal writer who weaves Scully into his dangerous fictional world.
All in all, it’s a strong selection of episodes that probably functions as a ‘taster’ as well as any other eight you might pick; but one wonders just who the set is aimed at. In the popular consciousness, The X-Files was (and, I’d guess, still is) surely linked to UFO/conspiracy themes, and perhaps this set plays down the spectacular mythology shows a little too much in favouring the more ‘writerly’ episodes. These, to me, were ultimately what made the series so wonderfully smart and unpredictable, but may not have been the real conspiratorial crowd-pleasers of the 1990s. That said, many of the elements that made The X-Files one of the all-time TV greats are on display here, from the central Mulder/Scully relationship and the nicely judged performances from Duchovny and Anderson that made it work so well, to the show’s clever writing, its unrivalled and deeply knowing treatment of fortean topics and its increasingly baroque iterations of just what a genre television series, in loving hands, could become.
If you’re a newbie, this is well worth a punt – but, unless you’re prepared to sign up for the whole nine seasons, you’ll at best be getting a rather partial précis of a much longer, stranger trip.
Frank Spotnitz on The X-Files Essentials