The X-Files was a defining moment for me, coming at just the right time in my life. It offered a great deal of validation for someone who had, and continues to be, a conspiracy theorist to have the ideas mainstreamed in this way. I have never believed in aliens, but UFO’s? You bet. Government conspiracies, coverups and downright strange goings on that can’t be explained? Definitely. From the first moment we got a look at Fox Mulder’s basement office, with its pinned up clippings and photos, its poster and collection of interesting books and journals, I felt right at home. It could so easily be me down there.
Over the years I’ve re-watched the X-Files countless times. Originally I had them all on VHS tapes, taken on the night they aired, and that was okay for a while, but those tapes really suck after about 5 years or so and all the screwing around with the tracking isn’t doing a damned thing but making you annoyed. I stuck with it though. The warbled sound, the screwy picture. I told myself that I had watched them so many times that it was like a well-read book: I knew what was coming with every page, so if that page was a bit blurry? Well, that was the story I told myself. Just this year, the notion that I was ever going to get another year out of those tapes was binned and now I have all 9 seasons on disc. How better to celebrate than a re-watch?
I’ll be going through every episode, picking out favorite points and likely rambling a bit…enjoy
“THE FOLLOWING STORY IS INSPIRED BY ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNTS”
Unlike the tag-lines “The truth is out there” and others found at the end of the theme, this is singular. Which doesn’t mean that it isn’t important. For me, this may as well be a statement about the series as a whole. Much like when a writer offers up something as fiction but it’s true enough, just the names changed to protect the guilty. There is enough in the X-Files that is true. There are documents on so many of the cases that it’s good to keep in mind, throughout the whole series, that any number of the events could be true.
Billy Miles and this first case is one of those threads that weaves its way throughout this whole series and I really like this strong start. It’s a defining storyline that helps to hold the series together. No mean feat when the series is 9 years old and as far-flung as the X-Files.
Scully: Am I to understand that you want me to debunk the X-Files project, sir?
Through Scully, we get our first impression of Fox Mulder:
SCULLY: By reputation. He’s an Oxford educated Psychologist, who wrote a monograph on serial killers and the occult, that helped to catch Monty Props in 1988. Generally thought of as the best analyst in the violent crimes section. He had a nickname at the academy… Spooky Mulder.
She offers up a balanced description of Mulder but more than that, she goes toe to toe with some of the scarier characters in the series and manages to come out intact. That’s not a small thing. It also gets at the hidden forces in the background that have already lined up against Mulder’s work.
Mulder: Sorry, nobody down here but the FBI’s most unwanted.
The moment I got my first look at Mulder’s basement office, I knew I was in love. A man with Mulder’s credentials could very easily have any position in the FBI that he wanted but instead he is in the basement, following the truth. There’s a nobility in that that stays with him for the whole series, making it completely understandable why he garners the respect he does. Not only from friends but from enemies. Later on, when we learn who Mulder’s father is, it’s interesting to me that in their own way, both men have served in the darkness, in a form of self-exile, in order to serve the particular truths they believe. I have no idea if Carter planned this particular story arc but if he did, well done.
Missing time, alien implants and other goodies
In the very beginning of any series, there is a need to define the essence of what that show will be. In the X-Files, it’s done masterfully through the selection of a small handful of related phenomena such as the concept of missing time, the alien implants, and the strange corpse, painted against a backdrop of great theme music and Vancouver’s wilderness and weather. Mulder doesn’t explain everything, believing that she isn’t really there to investigate so much as spy on him. It would be easy to bog the first episode down with explanations of phenomena. Instead, we get to see that phenomena through the eyes of Dana Scully. First hand and new. We come to believe as she comes to believe, with our own eyes.
MULDER: I don’t think you’re ready for what I think.
SCULLY: I’m here to solve this case, Mulder, I want the truth.
I believe that this is where the deep respect between the two characters really begins. They’re both after the truth. Maybe not always the same truth but they both want the truth and she’s willing to stand up and fight for it. Not only against some very scary people at the FBI but against Mulder as well. In her own way, she’s as principled and determined as Mulder himself and it makes them play off each other so well. Which only makes me respect even more how their relationship was handled. It would have been easy, and fitting with other shows that aired at the time, to have a love relationship bloom between the two main characters. The two characters remain professional, even when Scully has to come to his room about the spots that turned out to be mosquito bites. It could very easily have been turned into a sexually charged moment, and was not. This is a defining feature of the series, that even later on when we know there has been a sexual interest, that we’re not dragged through the middle of it. They remain professional, and the work remains the work. The series remains about the X-Files, the work, and not the sexual relationship. I believe that this is one of the defining features of this series, one that has been echoed by many others afterwards, such as Bones, Criminal Minds, and others.
MULDER: At first, it looked like a garbage dump for UFO sightings, alien abduction reports, the kind of stuff that most people laugh at as being ridiculous. But I was fascinated. I read all the cases I could get my hands on, hundreds of them. I read everything I could about paranormal phenomenon, about the occult and… There’s classified government information I’ve being trying to access, but someone has been blocking my attempts to get at it.
It’s easy to laugh at these kinds of reports. We’ve been trained by the media and those very same people in power to laugh at it. Conspiracy theorist is a dirty word. But once you start to read, not only one small piece but all the connected pieces, it gets harder and harder to laugh, harder and harder to dismiss. Ther IS truth there. Lies as well, of course, but there is a lot of truth.
MULDER: All right, but I just want you to understand what it is you’re saying.
SCULLY: You said it yourself.
MULDER: Yeah, but you have to write it down in your report.
I like how they both keep each other honest. Scully is the scientific filter for Mulder but in this instance, Mulder fulfils that role for Scully: keeping her well-grounded.
The government’s hidden files in deep rooms that we’ll never have access to, going on for miles and miles, are a recurring theme. That all this secret evidence is hidden there and that a man like the Cancer Man has the freedom to walk in and out as he pleases just adds to how much power he has. The sheer scope of it further justifies Mulder’s work. Clearly, there’s SOMETHING there. It’s getting it out that’s the thing.
All in all, a masterful pilot episode, doing a fantastic job of setting the scene, defining the universe in quick, broad strokes, and sketching in the characters, both good and not so good. Although the subject matter would have interested me in any case, parallelling my own interests so closely, I believe the X-Files pilot would have roped me in anyway. Even setting aside the subject matter, the atmosphere would be enough to keep me coming back for more.
Original Air Date—10 September 1993
Director: Robert Mandel
Writers: Chris Carter
A young F.B.I. agent is assigned watchdog duty over a fellow agent, but finds herself drawn into his investigations of paranormal and unexplained phenomena.
- The location of the “Knoll Graveyard” was Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver.
- The road leading to the park was also used for the scene where Mulder and Scully find that Peggy O’Dell has died.
- Riverview Hospital in Port Coquitlam, Vancouver was used as Oregon Memorial Psychiatric Hospital.
- The locations for the FBI Boardroom and the Pentagon Warehouse was a site in Burnaby at a complex called The Knowledge Network.
- The FBI bullpen, Mulder’s office and the FBI hallway were interior locations that were found in the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s office in Vancouver. Eventually, the bullpen and Mulder’s office would be built on a stage at North Shore Studios.
- Another FBI lobby as well as Scully’s laboratory location were filmed at B.C. Hydro Headquarters in Vancouver.
- The forest location was found in North Vancouver at Seymour Demonstration Forest.
- The Rural Motel location featured Cedar Lane Motel in White Rock.
- The exterior of Scully’s apartment was 610 Jervis Street in Vancouver.