X-Files Flashback: ‘Pilot’

Season 1, Episode 1
Director: Robert Mandel
Writer: Chris Carter

When I woke this morning, I had no idea that, by the end of the day, I would be embarking on a geek quest with The X-Files‘ “Pilot.” One of those quests you read about in blogs or humor pieces elsewhere. The kind where people sit in front of a television for 36-hours straight eating only what’s in their immediate grasp and peeing into a (hopefully) empty bottle of Mountain Dew. Like that Simpsons marathon people tried on last summer. It’s funny when someone else does it. Funny in a kind of lunatic way that would never be me. Certainly not me. And definitely not over The X-Files.

Today, FOX announced a massive publicity campaign for its January 2016 revival of The X-Files, appropriately titled “201 Days of The X-Files.” Later, I was chatting with a friend about the event, one of us (I’ll say it was me. Could have been him, but that’s irrelevant. Focus.) commented that it would actually be quite fantastic to relive the series from beginning to end and on to a new beginning. He, you see, had already seen them all. I, on the other hand, have only seen one episode – 1996’s gruesome fourth-season entry “Home.” It’s not the only gaping hole in my 90s-era television viewing habits. I’d only recently watched any episode of Twin Peaks, and there are series, famous series, of which I’d only seen a handful of episodes. I grew up worshiping at the altar of cinema. Television was for philistines. Unless it was 80s soaps. That was my weird pre-teen jam (see “Moldavian Massacre” from Dynasty).

So, this is all a very long-winded way of telling you why I’m embarking on this quest to accept the challenge that FOX did not specifically lay at my feet. I am responding to their marketing as only a bingeing geek like me can. I’m going to watch every episode of The X-Files one a day until the series returns on January 24, 2016. I’ll be posting my reviews and thoughts here about each episode. I have no idea if I even have the stamina to maintain this for 201 days. I have no idea what I’ll have to say about each and every episode of the series. Surely, some will bear more fruit than others. I’m a bit of a (SQUIRREL!) bright shiny object guy. Also, I am mostly ignorant of the overall mythology, but I do know a few things here and there. Be kind as you read this. We all know it’s tough losing  your virginity (that dalliance with “Home” didn’t really count).


The X-Files starts with a (humorous?) tag line basically claiming the episode was “based on actual events” after which a young woman is seen running through the forest, fleeing something behind her. A light shines just over a ridge as the wind begins to howl. A mysterious figure appears within the light as she tumbles to the ground, helpless at its feet. A flash of light, and the scene continues the next day – the girl is dead – and we learn… this has happened before.

Cut to the introduction of FBI Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) who has been assigned to partner Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) in his various investigations and obsession with the “X-Files,” a collection of unexplained and mysterious events logged by the FBI. Right off the bat, we have the scientific versus belief. Hard data versus blind faith. While Scully’s belief system is described by two lines of dialogue (“The answers are there. You just have to know where to look.”), Mulder’s basement office has a now iconic poster hanging on the wall of a UFO with the tag line “I want to believe” written under it. Subtle character development. Still, what I find very interesting from the early moments of their interactions is that Scully is a “show me” type of woman. She finds solace in evidence and details. She’s a skeptic, yet (in one scene) she wears a tiny gold cross around her neck. Mulder, on the other hand, clearly has no issues in accepting things blindly and in hiding his raw passion for believing in the existence of something out there. No mention is made of his religious beliefs in the pilot episode.

The pilot is a very accomplished episode on its own, even judging by today’s standards. It’s filmed in that matter-of-fact, no-nonsense style Johnathan Demme applied to the Oscar-winning Silence of the Lambs. It’s also no coincidence that Dana Scully is styled to resemble Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling. She’s only missing that West Virginian accent that brands her “not more than one generation from poor white trash.” The focus of the pilot is on a series of murders in the same Oregon town where the opening scene takes place. A series of young adults are dying one by one, all with the same mole-like markings on their lower back. Chances are you’ve already seen the episode, so it’s not really a spoiler to reveal that, yes indeed, these kids were kidnapped by aliens, and the government moves to conceal the evidence. It’s interesting to see that the series right away confronts Scully with the much-discussed alien mythology. The show revels in the Mulder viewpoint, leaving no subtlety as to whether or not “we are not alone,” as Scully says later in the episode when describing Mulder’s beliefs.

The Anderson and Duchovny performances aren’t quiet fully formed yet, but they do a fine job of keeping us engaged in the material. Even from the first episode, Anderson clearly has the chops to take the character much further despite seeming ill-at-ease with Scully in the early moments of the episode. By the end, she has already started to inhabit Scully and externalize the blossoming internal conflict between science and faith (in aliens). Duchovny, in the opening moments, seems to have taken his acting queues from Harold Ramis’s Dr. Egon Spengler character in Ghostbusters. Over time, he too grows into the character, softening the harder edges of his delivery.

For now, I’m hooked on the show, and I can already see the seeds of the overall mythology take hold. Speaking of which, the two big mythology moments I picked up on where the introduction of The Smoking Man (apparently also known as The Cigarette Smoking Man) and Mulder’s back story about the potential abduction of his sister by aliens, something that clearly spawned his career obsession. I’m also curious as to whether or not the “missing nine minutes” Mulder claims to have experienced will be referenced again in the upcoming episodes. I’ll guess I’ll wait to see this and more play out over the next 200 days.

So, am I crazy? Wait, don’t answer that. Instead, join me on this quest. Share my joy and pain.

The Truth is out there, but am I just too lazy to find it?

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