Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The X-Files raises a lot of questions

Not many people know this about me, but for a brief period in my youth I was big into The X-Files. I think it started when I saw the episode where Mulder has to stop the bank from blowing up over and over again a la Groundhog Day. As this fan video suggests, the episode was just as madcap and wacky as the Bill Murray film. Needless to say, I loved it, and I began watching the show pretty regularly. But then Mulder left and since I always had a little thing for David Duchovny, I set The X-Files aside. Until now.

With all 437 episodes available to watch on the Internet, I have decided to watch the series from the beginning. I'm currently nine episodes in, and this show has got me thinking about a few things.

First, Mulder really comes off as a crazy person. If this show weren't predicated on the assumption that supernatural things really exist, the whole thing would be like watching one man's slow, sad descent into madness. The way he uses logic to justify his insane theories only reinforces the impression that he is some sort of high-functioning schizophrenic. It doesn't help that the very organization for which he works essentially disregards and mocks everything he does. In the first episode, we learn that the FBI has relegated him to the basement and sent Dana Scully to be his partner for the sole purpose of "debunking the X-Files." So he's an FBI agent who spends all of his time investigating aliens and ghosts, but that's ok, because we the audience know it's all real.

But this brings me to my next point: what exactly is it that the FBI does? They investigate crimes, right? Solve murders, bust up drug rings, catch bad guys, yeah? So in the episode I'm watching right now, "Space," what are Mulder and Scully doing in Houston helping NASA? The premise of the episode as I understand it is that a scientist at NASA thinks someone is sabotaging the space shuttle and asks our dynamic duo to investigate. Ok, yes, the FBI investigates things, but is this really part of their jurisdiction? I suppose NASA is a government agency, so if someone were sabotaging it, the FBI might get involved. But of course, because it's the X-Files, it's not people sabotaging the shuttle, but some kind of alien ghost. (Aliens and ghosts are kind of their thing.) But of course, the NASA scientist who enlists their help doesn't know anything about the alien ghost. Most of their cases are just unsolved mysteries that Mulder has a hunch about. So in the end, they look around a bit, have an encounter with something weird or spooky, and then what? And this brings me to my last point...

They can't arrest anybody. Alien ghosts have diplomatic immunity, and as I've already mentioned, most of the FBI thinks Mulder is crazy. (Except, of course, the part of the FBI that's involved in the huge government conspiracy.) So in the end, what do they ever achieve? And I mean this on a professional level. On a personal level, they learn things about the secrets of the universe and they help the men and women who are being haunted or abducted or whatever, but professionally, what do they have to show for it? What do their case files say? "It got kind of dicey in Houston, but everything turned out ok, and I guess we'll never know who or what sabotaged the Space Shuttle." That's all they can say, really, because I just feel like if they wrote in their report what they really think happened they would get laughed out of their jobs.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that The X-Files, as a crime drama, leaves a bit to be desired. At the end of an episode you rarely get the satisfying "criminal brought to justice" scene that you usually expect from a police procedural. But The X-Files isn't exactly a police procedural, is it? It's an awesome, ground-breaking drama about the supernatural and one of the first mainstream long-running sci-fi shows. Plus, it's a delightful snapshot of early-90s fashion, bad acting, and pseudo-science. What's not to love about that?

As for my concerns about the FBI, I suspect that the only reason Mulder and Scully are agents at all is to give some legitimacy to what they're doing. Badges, guns, and Scully's level-headed skepticism allow them to continue doing what they do with government authorization. If they ran around as civilians investigating alien ghosts, NASA wouldn't let them in the front door. They would have no jobs, no money, and we likely would end up watching a show about a handsome hobo whom everyone believes to be a mental patient when he is, in fact, the only person who knows that the truth is out there.

And that would be a pretty depressing show to watch.

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