One year ago today, The X-Files returned to our screens. It came back following a 14-year hiatus – broken only by a movie in 2008 – and brought us six new episodes. The reception to this mini-revival was lukewarm at best with even die-hard fans of the show, myself included, struggling to warm to the new episodes. Now, with plans for another season apparently stalled, I consider what that prospective season might look like if I were to take the reins. So here’s my list of eleven things I’m wishing for in season eleven.
1. Remove Chris Carter
My first wish is probably my harshest one of all. I have a lot to thank X-Files show creator Chris Carter for in my life: without him there would be no Mulder and Scully, no X-Files, no Millennium. But in recent years, his impact on my beloved show has gone a bit… George Lucas. Constant messing with the mythology that was complex enough twenty years ago, messed up characterization, and unwieldy dialogue that has moved beyond purple prose into downright nonsense – his recent contributions have done distinctly more harm than good. If the show is coming back, please, please, please can Chris let it spread its wings and fly from his nest?
2. Bring Back the Best, and Add in Some New Blood
Staying with the crew, my second wish has to do with the writing team. With Chris now gone, we have spaces to fill, and I have names. Most of all I would love to see some of the old guard back in play – particularly Frank Spotnitz (most recently behind The Man in the High Castle, Medici: Masters of Florence, and Ransom) and Vince Gilligan (he of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul). John Shiban, another X-Files alum who wrote some of the show’s standout episodes, has more recently written some of the best Supernatural had to offer and would be a credit to a modern day X-Files. I’d also love to see Darin Morgan back on the team (the only one of my dream team who worked on the 2016 revival), albeit with a bit more female editorial input so as to avoid any more sequences like the astonishingly awkward cell phone store scene from “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster.”
Sadly, my team is so far lacking in any female staff to provide that input, so let’s correct that. I would consider bringing in Jenn Kao (Lucifer) and the ubiquitous Jane Espenson who has written for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Warehouse 13, Torchwood and many other shows featuring awesome female characters. Finally, as something of a wildcard, I’d bring in Felicia Day. A modern day X-Files is necessarily built on stories related to technology, and who better to write that than the “Queen of Geek” herself? Plus, with Felicia on board, we might get to avoid any more painfully testosterone-fueled technology-based stories – I’m looking at you here, “First Person Shooter.”
3. Acknowledge the Episode Limit
In the run-up to season ten, I kept hearing soundbites about how the X-Files team had worked hard to bring the show back as it used to be. Comedy, horror, drama, mytharc, standalone, conspiracies… these new episodes would have it all! There’s only one slight problem there. In the old seasons of The X-Files, the writers had 22+ episodes to fit all those story tropes into; in season ten they had six. Just six. What resulted was a season tainted by the unshakable sensation that somebody was sat in the writer’s room with a checklist making sure every conceivable episode style from the good old days was accounted for. Stop! Stop cramming too much content and too many styles into too few episodes. The show doesn’t have to be all things to all people. By trying to do that it ends up going wide of the mark more times than it hits the target, which helps no one. If season eleven is to be another mini-series, acknowledge that limit and work with it – even if that means cutting out one or more writing styles.
4. Redemption for Reyes
One of the moments that hurt the most in season ten was the return of Monica Reyes. Previously on The X-Files, Reyes had worked with Scully, Doggett, and Mulder in the FBI basement office. She was the friendly, smiling antidote to John Doggett’s brooding scowl and became Scully’s one and only female confidant – and God knows that poor woman needed a friend. She helped Scully give birth by imitating whale song, shared Polish sausage with John, and was there for Scully during one of the hardest decisions she ever made, always offering a supporting shoulder and a unique perspective. All of this makes her 2016 reappearance especially galling, as we learned that Monica had thrown her lot in with the Cigarette Smoking Man to save her own skin. No. Absolutely not. Talk about utterly decimating a character’s legacy. Bring her back for season eleven, explain away that little blip (undercover, alien-controlled clone, whatever) and get Monica back to being the BAMF she always deserved to be.
5. Stop Bringing Characters Back From the Dead
‘Nuff said really. Oh, go on then, I’ll elaborate. We all know that TV has a habit of bringing back characters from the dead, and that sci-fi, in particular, is known for contributing more than its fair share to that particular trope. Even Mulder himself has “died” three times. But there’s a problem with constantly resurrecting characters, in that frequently doing so soon diminishes the emotional impact of deaths.
A few years ago, I read a blog post by Sarah Siegel regarding Stephen Moffat’s inability to understand grief and it stuck with me. In it, she says, “When you have no death, when nothing truly has weight or scale, when decisions don’t stick and nobody feels the consequences… it’s hard to care about anything.” She’s absolutely right, and while it was fairly obviously to audiences that Mulder wasn’t really dead most of those times (no one kills off their lead character at the end of a season like that – well no one except George R. R. Martin – plus Duchovny’s contract was renewed), bringing other characters back changes how their earlier deaths are felt.
I’m talking, of course, about the moronic decision to bring back the Cigarette Smoking Man for season ten. We watched him get blown up by a missile in the original show finale. Literally. We saw his skull as he burned away like something from the finale of Raiders of the Lost Ark. That is not an injury overcome by some facial reconstruction surgery and a tracheotomy. Admit the man is dead, that whatever we saw in season ten was a clone or some other alien/government shenanigans, and move on.
Once upon a time, there was an amazing female character called Dana Scully. She had concerns about her career, her family, and saving the world. She had powerful character arcs of her own, interesting episodes, and amazing dialogue. She had a baby against the odds, and she broke her own heart by giving him away to save his life. She has been, and forever will be, my favorite female character. Which is why I get so annoyed when writers (canon or fanfic) pull what I call the William Stunt.
The William Stunt involves requiring Scully to be emotional or vulnerable in a scene, so rather than write her an interesting premise, they simply dangle William in front of her, et voila, instant guilt/misery/fear/insert emotion here. Season ten was effectively one giant William Stunt with the specter of her long-lost child looming over everything like some cartoon Ghost of Christmas Future. It wasn’t enough for Scully to lose her mother in one episode, Maggie Scully’s dying words had to be about William. Of course, they did.
I want the whole William saga tied up as much as anyone. My fanfic-reading shipper heart wants to see Mulder, Scully, and their son reunited and living happily ever after, but until the time that such redemption actually happens, please stop dangling threads of William in front of Scully every time you want her to open up.
7. Fill in the Blanks
When we left Mulder and Scully at the end of season nine, they were on the run. Mulder had been accused, and convicted, of murdering a man (who turned out to be an indestructible super soldier, but try getting a conspiracy-laden, illegal, military court to buy that one), Scully had given up their baby in an attempt to stop him being used as a pawn by dark government forces, and the two of them had set off with just the contents of their car to their names.
Fast forward six years later to the second movie, I Want to Believe, and Scully is now a surgeon at a Catholic hospital, apparently specializing in experimental pediatric brain surgery while Mulder is a bearded hermit. They’ve somehow managed to settle down in a house, and she at least is going under her own name – having also retrained to a new medical specialty in the intervening years. Fast forward another eight years to season ten and Mulder’s still in the house while the pair of them have split up (don’t even get me started on that)… So, what on Earth has been going on? How long were they on the run? Where did they go? Was Scully still in contact with her family? What did they do for money? Why did they (deep breaths) split up? Right now, the only answers I have are my own headcanon, and fanfiction. I want answers, dammit! I don’t expect season eleven to be the season of “fill in the blanks of the last fourteen years,” but the odd hint or subtle indication of not-so-recent events would at least be a start.
8. Big Up the Relationship
This one will be controversial, I know, but I am a shipper so please bear with me. I was more than a little upset when I first heard that Mulder and Scully would be split up in season ten, but what annoyed me more was the reasoning given for that choice. According to Chris Carter, he decided to break up Mulder and Scully in order to “put some of the tension back in that was relieved by them being together. It added to the storytelling opportunities.”
OK, I agree that there certainly is more tension generated by a broken-up couple than by one that is happily together, BUT, it’s the same tension we saw for seven. Long. Seasons. I already watched Mulder and Scully dance around their unspoken feelings for literally years of my life. Then we finally got the reveal that they were together, only for Mulder to get abducted, die, get resurrected, and run off again to help keep Scully safe. I’m done with watching these two pine over each other from a distance.
You know what would be different, what would present new opportunities to tell new stories from a (forgive me if I’m repeating myself here) new angle? Seeing them together! I’m not asking for the show to be suddenly filled with sex scenes (not that I’d complain…) or scenes with the two of them picking out new bed linens, but shift the dynamic. How would these two work these cases as a couple? How different would their methods be if they were able to chat about their latest mystery across a pillow, rather than brooding at their respective kitchen tables? Not to mention the fact that very few TV shows actually feature established couples who work well together at their heart. Give us something new!
9. Stop Messing With the Mythology
Do you understand the mythology on The X-Files? Do the writers of The X-Files understand the mythology of The X-Files? Does anybody? At this point, the show’s central conspiracy plotline has become so convoluted, filled with black oil, vaccines, faceless rebel aliens, super soldiers, and ARV’s that I doubt there are more than a handful of people on the planet who can fully understand what is going on. So what do you think would be the best approach to handling this complex history when bringing the show back to air after a fourteen-year break? My guess is that your answer is not going to be: change dozens of elements, tip everything upside down, add in multiple new layers and characters, and throw in as many modern day conspiracy theorist buzzwords as possible in a futile attempt to sound relevant. Right?
Up until season ten, I was about 90% fluent in X-Files mytharc. Today, I don’t have the first clue what’s supposed to be going on. I watched “My Struggle I” multiple times and never once managed to follow its spider’s web of tangled plot developments. Were we supposed to just believe that the entire mytharc of the previous nine seasons wasn’t real? If so, that’s only one step short of season ten opening with the “…and they woke up and it was all a dream” method of storytelling we were all warned away from in grade school. My point is that in season eleven I’d like to see the mythology straightened out and…
10. End the Mytharc
It might seem strange for a die-hard fan to call for a show’s life support to be effectively taken away, but the mytharc has become so messy at this point that it really needs ending once and for all. Back in the day, we believed that the alien invasion storyline would come to a head on December 21st, 2012. With that date long in the past, it’s high time these plot bunnies were laid to rest. No more layers, no more “oh well actually, this is the truth” moments that retroactively dispel years of interesting storytelling in the pursuit of a new twist, just a solid, well-written end.
The original mytharc, the one that came to its head with the “Two Fathers”/”One Son” double episode way back in 1999, was fantastic. It was twisted and at times horrifying, and it made the history up until that point make sense. That’s what we need again in season eleven. There are ample opportunities to tell other, equally interesting, stories if the show wants to continue into the future, but continuing to add to a mytharc that is currently lost in its own labyrinth will simply turn people away.
11. More Mark Snow
I wanted to end this on a positive note, and so I wanted to turn to the one thing that has been consistently spectacular from the pilot episode, right up until the arrival of the ARV in “My Struggle II,” and that is the music of Mark Snow. I admit to being a soundtracks fangirl in general with hundreds of hours of scores clogging up my hard drives, but Snow’s X-Files scores continue to thrill me in a way few other pieces do, even into season ten.
In turns heart wrenching (the finale of “Home Again”), dramatic (Scully’s race to Mulder in “My Struggle II”) and funny (Daggoo!), Snow’s music always adds to a scene, turning great scenes into unforgettable moments and making the most of the worst that appeared on our screens. If I could only have one wish on this list granted, it would be this one without question.