Although the FBI denies their existence, it has long been rumored that the Bureau had a name for cases which, due to the involvement of unexplainable phenomena, could not be solved. Until a lucky break or reasonable explanation came around, those cases were filed away under the letter “X.”
In 1992, television writer Chris Carter, sensing a renewed curiosity in paranormal entertainment, used the legendary FBI paranormal investigation department as a springboard for a new television series called The X Files. Carter combined his obsession for conspiracy with his love of the cult favorite 1970’s series Kolchak: The Night Stalker in making his long-running series. Unlike Kolchak, however, The X Files exploded out of its initial “cult” status to become a runaway hit for the Fox network.
Carter, banking on his audience’s obsession for unsolvable mysteries and complex conspiracies, immediately teased viewers in the opening sequence of every show with one of two enigmatic taglines, “The Truth Is Out There,” and “Trust No One.” Both phrases quickly became show mantras.
The pilot for The X Files did what a good pilot should, setting the tone for what would be the rest of the show. Agent Dana Scully, a young FBI agent forensics specialist and super-cynic, was assigned to work with maverick agent Fox Mulder (nicknamed “Spooky” by his colleagues) on a series of unsolvable cases. To Mulder, Scully was an interloper, sent by the forces-that-be to debunk his work. Scully, though she maintained she was there to add an element of scientific legitimacy to Mulder’s investigations, was really there to perform the exact function that Mulder had feared. The FBI hierarchy, afraid of what Mulder might discover, sent Scully in to keep watch over and wreak havoc on the investigations of Mulder. Slowly but surely, however, Scully was won over by Mulder, due to episode after episode of evidence that suggested the paranormal did in fact exist and that Mulder might not be crazy after all.
Also learned in the pilot episode was the force that drove Mulder to the FBI in the first place. Believing his sister to have been abducted by aliens, Mulder was obsessed with finding her, and had to investigate the paranormal to achieve that goal. A man on a mission.
Standing in the path of Mulder’s quest was the ever-present Cigarette-Smoking Man (a.k.a. Cancer Man), aptly named for the ubiquitous presence of cigarettes in his possession. Cigarette-Smoking Man’s pan-optic surveillance of Mulder’s activities gave him dominion over every investigation. If Mulder got too close to discovering something that made his bosses feel uncomfortable, Cigarette-Smoking Man simply pulled the rug out from under him.
Mulder and Scully made nice foils for each other, a right-brain and left-brain combination of personalities that made them perfectly complementary, and it wasn’t long before the characters developed a deep friendship (and a subtle romantic tension). But the agenting duo wasn’t completely alone in conspiracy-land. They had occasional help from their irritatingly ineffectual supervisor, Skinner, and were always able to garner obscure information from a trio of high-tech computer geeks known as The Lone Gunmen. Never the kind of gents that would be particularly busy with dates or any other sort of common social activity, the Gunmen seemed to be available day or night, ready to go with conspiracy info. In the early going, Mulder also got tantalizing insider info from a mysterious figure whom he aptly (and amusingly) nicknamed “Deep Throat.”
The first season had a very similar flavor to Kolchak, moving from episode to episode with little in the way of common story threads connecting them. In “Jersey Devil,” Mulder and Scully investigated a half-man/half-beast that had a taste for gnawing on human flesh. They went after werewolves, spooky preachers, teenagers gone haywire, chupachabras, modern-day vampires and dudes what had a taste for human livers (sans favre beans). Entertaining though these episodes were, Carter quickly discovered that establishing bigger and bigger conspiracies that ran from episode to episode, month to month, year to year, even the entire length of the series—this was the irresistible bait that would keep audiences coming back for more.
By the second and third seasons, most episodes contained threads that were all connected to a common web of conspiracy. Men in Black, the “greys” (a cute name for aliens), genetic experiments, a new breed of supermen gone wild—everything seemed to be pieces of a large mosaic mystery that would eventually reveal itself in its entirety. Though these long-running story arcs made The X-Files a success, they may have also fueled critics of the show that complain that the truth is out there, but where?? As a result of this multi-year tease, The X-Files has come down with a case of the Gilligan’s Island Syndrome—if Mulder and Scully ever finally got to the bottom of it all (i.e. get off the island), the series would be over.
After six seasons (and one X-Files movie) of shocks, enigmas and conspiracies, star David Duchovny (Mulder) decided to leave his The X-Files role. In the fall of 2000, Mulder was abducted himself, and though he would make occasional appearances in the episodes to come, Gillian Anderson’s Scully needed a new partner. Robert Patrick, of Terminator 2 fame, stepped into Spooky’s shoes as Special Agent John Dogget, now partly consumed with the search for Mulder.
There was a surprise 6 part revival of the series by Fox in 2016. It generated huge interest and hype but sadly failed to live up to expectations. Another short run series is planned for 2017.
“The Truth Is Out There” – Tagline.
USA / Fox – Ten Thirteen / x50 minute episodes / 10 September 1993 – 2002
Creator and Executive Producer: Chris Carter / Music: Mark Snow
David Duchovny as Fox Mulder
Gillian Anderson as Dana Scully
Robert Patrick as Agent John Doggett
Annabeth Gish as Agent Monica Reyes
Mitch Pileggi as Assistant Director Walter Skinner
Bruce Harwood as John Byers
Dean Haglund as Richard Langly
Tom Braidwood as Melvin Frohike
Bernie Coulson as Kenneth Soona
Mimi Rogers as Agent Diana Fowley
James Pickens, Jr. as Assistant Director Kersh
Charles Cioffi as Section Chief Scott Blevins