overthinking the idiot box

September 19, 2005

The X-Files: "Mythology"

by Mike Celestino

About a dozen years ago a little sci-fi show popped up in the supposed "dumping ground" of FOX Friday nights, partnered with the ill-fated Bruce Campbell vehicle The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., which FOX had ironically pegged as the potential breakout hit of the two. Upon its arrival, many critics predicted The X-Files would never last past its first season, and knowing FOX's recent cancel-happy trigger finger, if the show had premiered later in the decade it probably wouldn't have even made it that far. Still, the series managed to find its audience (most notably dateless teens and twenty-somethings who found themselves home and bored on weekend evenings) and gradually built a dedicated-to-the-point-of-obsession cult following before being moved to Sunday nights four years later and consequently breaking out as a full-fledged hit, still regarded as one of the most popular shows in FOX's history.

Cut to the summer of 2000, when The X-Files became one of the very first television series to be released in a full-season DVD box set. Fans were ecstatic to be able to plunk down a hundred bucks a pop and replace their meticulously recorded VHS copies of episodes with higher-quality compilations peppered tastily with audio commentaries by the show's creators and the occasionally redundant promotional materials. Of course, subsequent seasons followed regularly and all nine years of The X-Files were eventually released on DVD with largely the same thorough treatment. Fans were satisfied, newbies had a brand-new way to catch up with the series before it even ended, and nobody really complained about much beyond FOX's skewed price points.

Which brings us to this year: 2005, and the release of four new The X-Files box sets, collectively titled Mythology, and ostensibly collecting all the episodes concerning the series-spanning alien invasion story arc. The first of these sets, sub-titled Abduction, focuses on the mythology of the first two seasons and spills over into the third. The remaining sets, Black Oil, Colonization, and Super Soldier (the last two of which are both due to be released in the coming months,) follow pretty much the same pattern. When the set is complete, FOX will have collected most (not all, and I'll get to that later) of the show's biggest plot twists and cliffhangers, while simultaneously omitting all the stand-alone "Monster of the Week" episodes in-between. My question is "Why?"

David Duchovny: Making ongoing quests look good since 1993.
Sure, The X-Files was about aliens. I'll grant you that much. I mean, everyone knows Mulder's sister was abducted and that it was his ongoing quest (for the bulk of the series, anyway) to find her alien captors and bring them to justice and return her safely home. But The X-Files was also about Flukemen. And The X-Files was also about psychics, and vampires, and Dog-Faced Boys. And liver-eating mutants, and fat-eating mutants, and cancer-eating mutants. And inbred cannibals. Let's not forget the inbred cannibals. My point is that the ongoing mythology, as complex and compelling as it was, was merely the show's backbone. Even though the show's most detail-oriented fanatics (I'm proud to include myself in that category) hung on every word ever uttered by Cancer Man and Krycek in the "mytharc" episodes, we always knew that the "stand-alones" were the real meat and potatoes of the series. Those were the ones with the well-known character actor guest stars. Those were the ones we showed our friends and family members to try to get them hooked. Those were the ones you knew some novice might catch on a rerun, not be completely baffled by, and decide that it was indeed a pretty good show.

My point here is this: if you watch these new sets and only these new sets, you are missing something. In fact, you're missing quite a bit. If some future fan is weaned on The X-Files: Mythology, he or she will know only the broadest plot points and none of the really breathtaking moments in-between. Besides, upon closer examination of the episodes included in these sets, it seems as though someone may have dropped the ball in the research department. There are several rather obvious omissions here: episodes that may not be devoted to little green men, but which contain key story elements with long-term impact on the characters and mythology as a whole. Case in point: where is "Wetwired," in which we learn of the mysterious Mr. X's involvement with the Cigarette-Smoking Man? Where's "Leonard Betts," the post-Super Bowl episode wherein Scully is revealed to have cancer? What has become of "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," "War of the Copraphages," and "Quagmire," three episodes that, when combined, relate the sad, strange tale of Scully's dog Queequeg? Well, that last one's probably not the best example. But I think you get my drift.

In the end, I think we know what these sets are about: FOX wants to milk more money out of a flailing franchise. With the second X-Files feature film stuck in developmental hell, who knows when we'll see our favorite Federal Agents probing mysterious deaths once again? In the meantime, we X-Philes will have to make do with their existing exploits. And I for one will only be omitting the bad ones.

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