Did The X-Files MythArc Lose Its Way?

When The X-Files premiered in the fall of 1993, the series brilliantly captured what was capable when vivid imagination collided with the staid and often boring confines of a weekly procedural. Mulder and Scully were FBI agents, but each week they would investigate mysteries of the paranormal in one classic “monster-of-the-week” episode after the next. But Chris Carter’s series was also revolutionary in another way–it perfected the craft of serialized storylines at a time when only cops and doctors dominated network primetime. The X-Files’ serial storyline involved an alien conspiracy that popped up every few episodes and lasted, at last in its original interpretation, until the sixth season. This long-running continuing story became known as the “mytharc,” and it was thrilling, illuminating, mysterious, and incredibly complex. It was even the focus of the canonical first film released in the summer of 1998 that quickly became a box office hit. After what was initially believed to be the mytharc finale in season 6, Carter and Co. decided to revamp the alien storyline in the final three seasons, and once again in the recent revival of seasons 10 and 11–but the results and reception was understandably mixed.  So, what went wrong?

The Original MythArc (Seasons 1-5; The First Movie; Season 6)

In the first season, beginning with the pilot episode, the mytharc is launched. We meet the mysterious Smoking Man, who may or may not be a special liaison to a shadow government that exists behind the scenes in D.C. to contain the existence of aliens and direct the government around the issues. They later became known as the “Syndicate”, and are merely part of an extension of secret government officials with ties all the way to the United Nations. As Mulder and Scully eventually discover that part of the Syndicate’s plan is to create a race of alien-human hybrids, which is part of a wider plan for a full alien colonization of the Earth. With the events depicted in the first movie also being key to the story, the mytharc concludes with the Syndicate being dismantled. It can be easy to see why Carter likely wanted to bring the serialized aspects of the show to a close. It had been six seasons and a feature film solely dedicated to this long-running mystery of the show, which would feature in about half of each season’s total episodes. Carter was facing pressure from FOX executives to resolve the story, similar to how David Lynch and Mark Frost were ordered by ABC to resolve the Laura Palmer mystery early in the second season of Twin Peaks. Carter also wished to completely revamp the mytharc with season 7. But the first run of the mythology of The X-Files will always remain its best.

Seasons 7-9

The sixth season finale, titled “Biogenesis,” presented the second phase of the mytharc. Phase two started off as an origin story of sorts by depicting how alien beings were likely part of Earth’s many past extinctions–even going so far as to suggest that aliens may have in fact created human beings. This was no doubt intriguing, and a great way to relaunch the mytharc, but then things went awry. Initially, once the suggestions that aliens may have created the human race are established, things progress intriguing across the rest of season 7. The Cigarette Smoking Man returns to the proceedings to reveal…many things that the first phase of the mytharc already established–the main detail being that aliens are intent on colonizing the planet. We also learn about the true faith of Mulder’s long lost sister, Samantha, and Scully learns new secrets about alien technology and their eventual plans for humanity. The season culminates with Mulder’s abduction by a UFO, and although some elements of the new mytharc seem redundant, the way forward is proving to be at least watchable and somewhat enjoyable. Then season 8 arrives. The best way to describe the mytharc in season 8 is to list its highlights: Mulder returns, something about a bounty hunter, alien pregnancies, alien babies, super soldiers, and Scully’s newborn baby named William. Things got convoluted and messy very quickly. Season 9 does nothing to add anything worthwhile to the revamp of the mytharc; just a lot of storylines involving super soldiers, William, and the Cigarette Smoking Man’s intent to have the planet colonized by aliens.

The Revival: Seasons 10 and 11

When it was announced that The X-Files would return in January 2016, if even for only 6 episodes, fans like myself were overjoyed. The 6-episode 10th season as it became known was indeed great, minus the two episodes that open and close it that marked phase three of the mytharc. “My Struggle I” and “My Struggle II” are pure dumpster fire badness wrapped inside of a brilliant series and what should have been a grand homecoming. In the first episode, we now learn that the alien colonization plan from vintage X-Files was actually just a smokescreen put out by the U.S. government to cover up…some other boneheaded plot device now being passed off as the new conspiracy. “My Struggle II” attempts to tell a story about a possible plague threat from alien DNA and how the Cigarette Smoking Man is still (after years and years) planning on initiating an alien colonization on Earth. Season 11, which may very well be the final season ever of The X-Files, serves as the final iteration of the mytharc. In “My Struggle III, “Ghouli,” and “My Struggle IV,” the mytharc is revealed to be a planned apocalypse of the Earth and not just some problematic future co-existence with aliens. But those assertions are just visions given to Scully by William, who turns out to be nothing more than a cruel experiment created by the Cigarette Smoking Man who (impregnated?) Scully with William’s DNA to bring him to term. The series ends with practically nothing in terms of alien invasions, colonization, whatever. If all of this sounds confusing, that’s because it is. The first phase of the mytharc is the true mytharc of The X-Files. Phases two and three are forgettable.

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