By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
McGrath calls Mulder a zombie, but that's a mistake. If anything, he's the modern reincarnation of the postwar lonely man, an alienated company man who clocks in for an organization he can neither quit nor believe in. Scully, in turn, as with so many countless single women, buries herself in work and may or may not be in love with the wrong man (in another life, she'd be a nun). They're solitary searchers whose deepest emotional connections are with each other, their co-workers, which makes them two of the more realistic characters inhabiting prime time.
The low-frequency hum that passes for emotion on The X-Files may seem almost Bressonian when compared to the overheated style of most TV acting, but over the years Mulder and Scully have found plenty of cause to tear away their masks. It's noteworthy that Mulder, who lost his father, and Scully, whose sister was killed and who herself was stricken by a mysterious cancer, are the show's most important casualties. That the two often operate at an emotionally low register indicates their professionalism (big agents don't cry), but, critically, their blankness also serves as a reminder that Mulder and Scully are more spectators to the surrounding madness than active participants. Which, more than anything else, explains their appeal to the some 20 million Americans who every week hitch a ride on their tribulations.
Unlike The Twilight Zone, the show to which it is most often compared, The X-Files conveys no great moral urgency; nothing ever seems really at stake - the environment, civil liberties, nuclear proliferation, freedom. You never get a sense that Chris Carter or any of the other writers are particularly passionate about anything outside of goosing the audience and telling a ripping great story. That disinterestedness might serve as a warning sign for a deeply imbedded political conservatism, but The X-Files, with its confusion of right, left and crackpot-think, is beyond ideology. (Often it's often beyond sense.) In the end, the most radical thing about the show is its refusal to adhere to the inherent precepts in mass culture that everything be understandable and remediable: stasis, crisis, group hug.
Week after week, nothing is understandable on The X-Files and nothing is remediable - at times, one senses, even to the program's writers. This, as well as the show's rejection of easy solutions, allows The X-Files to push into the marvelous, the grotesque and, on occasion, the sublime. An episode starring Peter Boyle counts as some of the best television I've ever seen; the episode with the three inbred brothers ranks among the best E.C. Comics ever written. It's that not knowing, far more than the show's apparent gift for surfing the edge of our collective consciousness, that seizes the imagination. For all their focus on the machinations of power, the creators of The X-Files aren't all that interested in global conspiracies or nostalgia for the same. They just want our attention.
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