He wants to believe – more of why I love sf/f

THE X-FILES: L-R: Mitch Pileggi, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and William B. Davis.

THE X-FILES: L-R: Mitch Pileggi, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and William B. Davis. ©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Frank Ockenfels/FOX

In September of 1993 I tuned in with some hope, but also some trepidation, to the first episode of The X-Files. A show that was going to be about FBI agents looking into mysterious, unexplained, possibly paranormal happenings. The first episode was framed around Special Agent Dana Scully, who was a medical doctor as well as an FBI agent, who was being assigned as much to investigate Special Agent Fox “Spooky” Mulder as to assist him in handling the strange cases—the so-called X Files.

I enjoyed the show. So did my (now late) husband, Ray. We tuned in faithfully each week, chatting about various aspects of the show as we watched. I’d been such a big fan of Kolchak: The Night Stalker that of course I was interested in this show. Ray, on the other hand, barely remembered the other series (and he wasn’t sure if it was because he was a few years younger than I, or if maybe his family simply hadn’t watched it), but he was a fan of mysteries and sci fi and “spooky stuff” so was just as interested in the concept of the show before we had even seen it.

The show’s mysteries were interesting. Sometimes very creepy, sometimes sad. There was just the right amount of human and pathos in the most serious shows to keep you hooked. And then occasionally there were episodes that were primarily funny.

They avoiding the obvious “she’s always a cold-hearted skeptic”/”he’s a passionate true believer” dynamic that he seemed implied from the beginning. Mulder wasn’t a true believer. He frequently repeated the line, “I want to believe.” As we learned about the childhood disappearance of his sister, and the mysterious circumstances surrounding it, we understood why he needed to believe that there were things happening beyond the simple, rational explanations with which so many mysteries are dismissed. And Scully, of course, wasn’t cold-hearted, and while she remained skeptical, she wasn’t close-minded.

The show did a really good job of portraying different ways that a sense of wonder (and sometimes dread) could manifest when we are confronted with situations that don’t have an obvious, simple, and safe explanation.

I really loved the show in the early seasons. I recall especially being on the edge of my seat at the end of the season two finale, barely able to contain myself waiting to learn what the answer to the cliffhanger would be the next fall. Things started to go awry, for me, during the third season, and by the fifth or sixth I was finding myself irritated by the show more often then entertained. I might have given up if not for a friend who suggested this way of looking at it: “I’ve decided to think of it as two completely separate shows happening in parallel universes. They happen to have identically named characters played by the same actors, but they are other wise unconnected. One is the quirky, cool ‘there are more things than are dreamt of in your philosophy’ mystery of the week show that I adore; and the other is the awful, poorly written, contradictory, batshit alien conspiracy/maybe we’re all crazy show that I hate—and I have to put up with the latter in order to keep watching the former.”

And that helped a lot. Don’t get me wrong, the conspiracy related to aliens was there from the very beginning, and I was onboard with watching them confront and explore that. The problem, from my perspective, was that unlike their monster of the week kinds of episodes, they never seemed to have a clear idea of what was actually happening with the conspiracy. Years later we might call their problem the “Lost syndrome,” because like that more recent show, the writers seemed to be throwing contradictory and confusingly cryptic clues at us without a clear idea of what the “real” explanation was.

I think that the show’s original creator did have an idea of what the explanation was, but either he allowed other writers who didn’t know to go off on misleading tangents that couldn’t be reconciled as simply red herrings, or perhaps he didn’t know how to keep the series going if he ever revealed the answer.

So it was with a bit of trepidation that I watched the first episode of the new mini series a few weeks ago. And I have to admit, that opener left me with a lot more dread than hope. Then the second episode was a bit better, like one of the typical mystery of the week shows I used to love.

And then we got to the third episode, “Scully & Mulder Meet the Were-monster” and I was in heaven. It was funny. And with a lot of Easter Eggs that weren’t annoying. Two actors who played stoned teen-agers who witnessed a mysterious event back in the very first season, returned to play the same characters, no longer teens, who are out in the woods huffing spray paint when they witness another event. There was a homage the Kolchak in the story, an incredible amount of humor, yet it was an incredibly dark commentary on real life at the same time. It was really, really good, and included everything I had loved about the best of the earliest episodes. And I was incredibly happy to see, online over the next several days, the number of review sites and sci fi/fantasy enthusiasts who had enjoyed the episode the same as I had.

At its best, the X-Files was about things in life—sometimes awful, tragic things—that don’t fit neatly into our preconceptions of how the world can be. More importantly, it is about the way we try to understand those things—how we confront mystery, tragedy, disappointment, horror, and betrayal—and how we cling to meaning and hope in spite of it. It’s about finding the human connection, finding the reasons to hope, finding the things to cherish, and never losing our curiosity.

And it’s also, sometimes, about really creepy monsters.

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About fontfolly

I've loved reading for as long as I can remember. I write fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and nonfiction. For more than 20 years I edited and published an anthropomorphic sci-fi/space opera literary fanzine. I attend and work on the staff for several anthropormorphics, anime, and science fiction conventions. I live near Seattle with my wonderful husband, still completely amazed that he puts up with me at all.

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