An X-Files note.

by waxbanks

I posted this at Metafilter this morning:

I started watching the original show last year. You can easily see what’s compelling and groundbreaking about it, but in a number of elementary craft areas it’s mediocre — for one thing, the dialogue is embarrassing most of the time, which is largely Carter’s fault. And Duchovny’s performance is a mixed blessing. When he gets into it, as in ‘Paper Hearts’ (a season-4 peak), he’s excellent, but his flat-of-affect delivery is… Well, I’m not his director. He has charisma and intelligence, but they’re not enough, as the hardworking Gillian Anderson demonstrates. Well, whatever.

But I gotta say, people who moan about the ‘mytharc’ eps are much more tedious than the episodes themselves.

Complaints about coherence are misplaced; unlike (say) Lost, which turned out to be a fantasy show after promising in and out of the text to be something else, The X-Files is pretty clearly a fever dream shot in (what Chris Knowles, to whom I linked above, refers to as) a documentary style. One of the producers said in an interview that ‘every episode is a mythology episode.’ The stuff about aliens — ancient and otherwise — is just one way the writers played on, to borrow a phrase from Tricky, ‘pre-millennium tension.’ Taking the show’s content literally, even as a dramatic provision within a single episode, is a mistake: it’s a Fortean show, which doesn’t mean ‘rains of frogs’ but rather radical epistemology and a celebration of deeply Weird marginal Americana. Hence ‘Humbug,’ and ‘Home,’ and the Jersey Devil played for melancholy, and the whole hamfistedly creepy tong episode, and the gorgeous image of Mulder cradling Max Fenig’s head during a seizure.

That last image, by the way, is why I’ll give the overrated Carter a pass every time — Max Fenig (a season one ‘NPC’) talking about his utter loneliness is the heart of the show.

So I don’t find the mytharc ‘tedious.’ Predictable, yes, but I’m free of the need to pat myself on the back for that. What it is, to me, is ‘visionary’ — which in this case also means clumsy, fragmentary, richly ramifying, of its time and very much not, expressionistic, weirdly personal, its reach exceeding its grasp, its high points (e.g. S1’s ‘Duane Barry’) often literally twinned with its low points (the following episode, ‘Ascension,’ simply hapless).

Basically, you’ll get way way way more out of the show if you read the goofy/sinister eliptonic source materials, Charles Fort most of all. To do so may disincline you to bitch about the mytharc. Or it may not, I dunno. It’s only television, it doesn’t matter really.

To put that another way: the ‘mythology’ of The X-Files is correctly named, and has nothing whatsoever to do with the logistics of government conspiracy. Your enjoyment of the show depends upon your ability to understand that it’s far more deeply engaged with occult/conspiracist nonsense than everyone assumed, and far less interested in plotwise coherence. It is, in other words, High Weirdness with an FX budget.