Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The X-Files Pilot: 20 Years Later

The X-Files are twenty years old this week. Everyone here at Stellar Four was all aflutter over that revelation. Everyone except one very lame, awful, no good person. That person would be me, Meghan B. You see, I didn't like the X-Files.

Before you stone me to death and make it look like aliens did it, let me explain. The X-Files largely passed me by. I was in middle school at the time and more focused on books and basic middle school survival. I had a friend of mine who was completely obsessed with the X-Files (she even went as Scully for Halloween one year) and it was her crusade to get me into the show. Any sleepover I attended involved watching some VHS tapes of the show that she had recorded from the TV broadcast. I was apathetic to say the least.

I don't remember much of what I saw. There was one episode with people who had black inky gunk coming out of their eyes (I think?) and one about a shapeshifter who had convinced a woman he was Luke Skywalker. Other then that, I was a blank slate. I was pretty sure I had only ever watched maybe five or six episodes in total and none were the pilot. I've never been into aliens and, at that point in my life, I was full speed ahead into a blossoming vampire addiction.

When the other Stellar Four girls put their heads together to discuss the absolute and undying love they had for the show, I raised my hand and, feeling like the biggest dork in the universe, said I wasn't an X-Files fan and hadn't watched the series. I know it was a cultural milestone for television and the waves it made can still be felt in pop culture today. And I had completely missed that boat. So I was given an assignment by the other girls. Watch the X-Files pilot and review it.

Well, I'm game. I want to believe! I dutifully fired up Netflix and sat back for some wacky alien hijinks.

Scully's "are you fucking serious?" face.
The first, and most shallow, thing I noticed was just how PRETTY Gillian Anderson was in the 90s. Little business dress suit. Perfect hair. Absolutely adorable. And, David Duchovny? Damn. Just, damn. Shockingly handsome. Well, okay then!

The second thing I noticed was how incredibly dated everything looked and felt. Despite the valiant efforts of my PS3 and HDTV, the video was still grainy, the colors were muted and everything looked very... well, 90s. The clothing and the cars weren't as bad as the culture shock of seeing an old blocky 90s TV set or hulking big computer monitor, or Scully typing up a word document on a blue screen with white text. Holy blast from the past, Batman!

I immediately liked Scully. She was smart, methodical and didn't take any of Mulder's aliens crap. Mulder reminded me of your run of the mill crazy guy, the type who gives out a certain vibe who you don't want to be stuck sitting next to on a crowded bus. I'm sure the Mulder of 2013 is hunched over a MacBook, lurking on reddit and 4chan and using Twitter to gather intel about alien sightings. He seemed smart but, at the same time, he felt one mental break away from being a serial killer. I never warmed up to him. I spent a lot of the episode giving him the side eye and going "really?".

Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy...
The episode itself was surprisingly interesting. Scully is sent by some FBI bigwigs to go see what the hell Mulder is doing. Mulder has found some evidence of weird things happening in Oregon (because it's ALWAYS places like Oregon) and he and Scully went to go poke the town with a stick. The townspeople were predictably shady and it featured terrified teenagers, weird corpses, arson and your usual run of the mill alien abduction stuff.

I'll admit, I didn't clue into "whodunnit" until almost the end of the episode because it just seemed so silly. The kid in the coma did it? Because he had been experimented on by aliens? Just randomly? Okay then. But that's what happened. I would have been much more interested if they found out it was some shrink who was hypnotizing people or something (which is what I thought would happen). But no. Aliens.

But I believe in aliens, so trust me maybe?
I have to step back for a moment and wrestle with my preconceived notions. For some reason, I was under the impression that the X-Files kind of debunked aliens and Mothmen and wendigos and witches and the occult or whatever. I thought it was more akin to a grown up Scooby Doo where the villain of the episode would be revealed to be a guy in a mask pretending to be a Big Foot and not actually Big Foot himself. So, the X-Files totally goes along with the idea that there are aliens and huge government conspiracies to keep that secret? That was a shock to me.

The episode ended with a strange tall guy who spent the whole episode smoking (oh, the 90s!) going down to the FBI's own version of that warehouse in Indiana Jones and hiding the evidence that Scully had found. When Netflix asked me if I wanted another episode, I firmly told it no. This show just wasn't my cup of tea. Even after twenty years.

Related to Fox Mulder?
My take away from watching the pilot? After twenty years, it does feel dated but that didn't detract from the overall feel and enjoyment of the episode itself. I adored Scully and felt so betrayed when she started falling for Mulder's alien theories. I felt even worse when they turned out to be correct. I was very "eh" on Mulder. I don't see how he'd even be possible. Surely the FBI just wouldn't let anyone snoop around their "x-files" and then just go investigate the ones that interested him (with federal money, I imagine!). I guess I can suspend my disbelief for a British school for wizards or a trope of harry-footed short people going to throw a magic ring into a volcano or even an airhead high school cheerleader who fights vampires, but I can't suspend it for aliens.

I can see why people love the show though. The writing was sharp, the pacing was great and it even managed to be rather funny in places. Scully was a bright shining beacon, a mix of badass and pragmatist with awesome hair. I can even see the appeal of Mulder. He seeks out the truth, he wants to know what is going on. It's admirable if he wasn't so... bad at all. And cocky. "Oh, look, I said it was aliens and you didn't believe me but it was TOTALLY aliens". Does Scully ever punch him? Someone tell me she punches him. I also saw zero romantic chemistry between them, but apparently that happens as well.

I'm sad to say the X-Files pilot didn't win me over but I can easily see why it's still so adored even twenty years later.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm just going to stand behind this bullet and flame proof wall...
Pin It


  1. Actually, I kinda agree. The only episode I remember actually watching was one with these tiny spiders you could only actually see when it was dark...? Anyway, they were hanging dried up human corpses in trees. I already have a spider squick so that was the end for me.
    But then, I've never been one for TV and I missed the Buffy thing too. But wait, don't crucify me yet! I'm making up for that one and love it now that there is Netflix and I don't have to be in the same place and the same time every week to watch! Whew. Maybe I'll have to give X-Files another chance... I'll just skip that spider episode if you don't mind.