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25 Years of The X Files: The Best Storyarcs

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Common belief among veteran fans of The X Files is that when creating the show’s iconic opening theme, producer Mark Snow had accidentally come across the echo effect when he hummed, “The X Files by Mark Snow.” (Honestly, it works, try it.)

True or not, such chaotically beautiful compositions help build a show so quirky and entertaining. Of course, The X Files navigates over a decade of writing, what with the recent release of the reboot, somehow maintaining creative integrity where other long-running shows fail.

I believe this comes down to one factor: it actually has personality. There’s no formula to The X Files. Sure, it has season-long story arcs of discovery and monster-of-the-week episode formats. But with The X Files, you never knew what you were getting in style, characterization, content, or even what sort of reality, in some cases. We’ve seen Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) turn into a vampire, we’ve cringed as Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) watches Mulder with concern as he exhumes a potato, and we witnessed traumatising ‘abductions’ and violence and death, and sometimes even love, if we were lucky.

Intermittedly spanning twenty-five years, The X Files has truly had some triumphant ideas, some merely entertaining moments, and some moments where it’s execution just fell flat. Here we celebrate some of its best story arcs, in my opinion. Warning: spoilers ahead, at least for the original series.

5. Roswell, he loves you.

For a show that’s very premise walks along the complex precipice between enticing suspicion of governmental conspiracy and the rationality of empirical scientific investigation, The X Files does know how to instil within us a doubt: is there something else out there in the vastness of space, and do some of us already know? Simply put: Aliens, it’s aliens. Fox Mulder would – nearly does, far too many times to count – die to find answers for these questions.

And where else would a curious believer, searching for answers concerning the existence of aliens and their contact with our bodies of authority than Roswell, New Mexico? Fascination with this area of New Mexico is rampant in the conspiracy circles, and has been ever since the 1940’s. It’s no wonder then that Mulder makes many references to Roswell and similar ‘evidence’ throughout the series, but it is deeply relevant to the following episodes: “Deep Throat” 1x02; “Fallen Angel” 1x10; “The Erlenmeyer Flask” 1x24; “E.B.E” 1x17; “Dod Kalm” 2x19; “Requiem” 7x22; “The Truth” 9x19. Keep an eye out for other allusions to it as you watch.

4. Scully’s implants, abductions, pregnancy, kidnappings, hospitalisations…

Of course, neither Mulder nor Scully can navigate the dark web of the unexplainable without a few bumps and scrapes along the way. Dana Scully is an icon of resilience with many hailing her as a feminist figure. Over the series, Dana has been hospitalised countless times and her first experience of the spooky white-light flash occurs in the pilot: from the beginning, the stakes are high. She gains unexplained marks, small metal implants, lost time, odd memories, and a connection to a group of other women who claim abduction.

The most harrowing episode that really implements Scully’s abduction storyline is “Ascension” 2x06, wherein Scully is kidnapped and taken to a mountain top where the only trace of her left behind for Mulder to find is her cross necklace – with a brilliantly unforgettable shot of Mulder’s shaking hand grabbing the silver necklace from the grass where it lay. Repercussions of the incident, one that deeply effects Scully’s almost unwavering faith in science and natural laws, are felt throughout the second and third season, with significant recurring mentions even until “William” 9x16. It is a story arc that is not only prominent, but shapes the series, with Scully’s wellbeing and need for answers often surpassing the obsessiveness of Mulder’s quest. Growing up watching Dana Scully face brutal attacks from men and monsters was certainly a stressful time, but also reassuring. Scully was our heroine and she definitely fought back.

3. The Smoking Man, aka. Cancer Man

In the wartime period, a radio show that was popular on both sides of the Atlantic had a mysterious character host that told thrilling, frightening and sometimes downright gory tales to its listeners. The character host was called The Man in Black. As such is the effect of a mantel, one that takes a characteristic of a stranger and propels it into totality.

The Smoking Man, aka Cancer Man, is a mantel born early in the series that sticks throughout the character’s weaving in and out of the storyline. The Smoking Man can be seen at the end of long hallways filled with files. He’s seen in the dark alleyways, holding clandestine conversations. He rides in the back of black, shiny cars with places to go. He constantly taunts Mulder by withholding information he possesses, and often places Mulder and Scully in danger. His suit, his cigarettes, his chillingly rare smile, builds up this man to be a truly huge antagonist: for what is worse than a man who knows all and refuses you aid in your search?

The Smoking Man is a product of war, a spy clinging to the shadows, his reach far. Indeed, it isn’t until the sixth season that we (maybe) learn his name. Yet somehow, despite his anonymity, his personality is among the strongest in the show and his relevance to Mulder and Scully is often reiterated through various reveals and mysteries. He is the perfect enemy for Mulder to face and is a product exceptional of writing… even in the new reboot...

 

2. Krychek, he loves you.

Another recurring enemy is one Agent Alex Krychek (Nicholas Lea). Indeed, initially, Krychek acts as Mulder’s partner whilst Scully is off active duty in season two. This creates an odd rapport between the two men that lasts throughout the series, even during scenes where they are trying to kill each other. Krychek – of Russian-American descent - plays into the themes of Cold War espionage that embody the show’s tone and is linked to The Smoking Man on numerous occasions – Krychek is undefinable in his alliance.

Agent of who and what, that depends on the season, episode, and situation. Krychek is a force unto himself, both protecting and opposing Mulder at different times. The audience clearly resonated well with the character, with the early days of internet fans creating abundant works of fanfiction and fanart for the character’s relationship with Mulder, many claiming there was sexual subtext to their tension. One such example of this was the public reaction to a certain scene between the two in “The Red and The Black” 5x14: the conception of the scene, the cinematography alone is worth a watch. Whatever your opinion on their highly volatile relationship, Krychek’s ever unexpected presence on the show helped challenge our utter belief in Mulder’s convictions, and kept Mulder and Scully on their toes.

1. Eugene Victor Tooms: Monster of the Week reprised

A simple search of the name “Eugene Victor Tooms” will result in countless articles and polls and reviews citing Eugene as the best monster of the week in the entirety of The X Files anthology, and it’s easy to see why. One of only a few monsters to ever return to appear in later episodes, Eugene Victor Tooms terrified the 1993 audience. His manic, other-worldliness is executed perfectly by actor Doug Hutchinson (Lost, 24, The Green Mile). Eugene squeezing his body through miniscule gaps in the quest for food, his dietary requirement being the liver from living people, is an image all X Files fans remember well.

When investigating a murder, in the first appearance of the monster in 1x03, “Squeeze”, Mulder notices a black fingerprint mark near a grate opening. It doesn’t match any fingerprints on the database for one reason: it’s too elongated. Eventually, Mulder and Scully manage to identify their killer as one Eugene Victor Tooms, a simple, easy to overlook kind of person. In a horrific scene, Eugene is the first monster to directly threaten Scully’s life – ripping and clawing to grab her liver right from her. It’s no wonder then that Tooms made such an impression on both the audience and the writers – who let him escape his prison cell and continue a killing spree in “Tooms”, 1x21.

 

Tooms’s character received widespread positive feedback with the likes of Neil Gaiman and Entertainment Weekly singling out Tooms as a monster that helped define the show as more than generic alien conspiracy. The X Files is well-written, wacky and absolutely crazy: you never know what you’re going to get from watching. But for 25 years, the show, with Mulder and Scully at the helm, has captured the overactive imagination of millions of fans, and continues to do so. In fact, it’s just a little bit spooky.

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