The X-Files: Pilot

As with most of my adventures in narrative since 2005 my re-introduction to The X Files has been fairly serendipitous, mostly owing to the fact that I am nearly finished it's immediate predecessor Twin Peaks which ended two years before the pilot of The X Files aired. What makes Twin Peaks so significant to the X Files is that despite it's spiral into oblivion into the second season, David Lynch's first foray into television broke a great deal of ground in terms of what mainstream television audiences considered compelling as well as how malleable the standard genres of television truly are.

One hypothesis that I want to explore during the course of my X Files viewing is that the continued presence and guidance by series creator Chris Carpenter is what ultimately not only kept the series from spiraling out of control but allowed it to reach a point where it not only grew out of the fertile soil left behind by Twin Peaks, but flourished to create an even more enduring and influential series.

My first thought in approaching the pilot- which I did not originally see in 1993, but as a re-run somewhere in the late nineties after having seen several other episodes- was to make a mental note of how it compares to other Fox pilots over the intervening years; most notably Fringe, Firefly, Dollhouse, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Curiously there are no motorcycles present and the pilot was in fact aired first. But seriously it appears to be uncharacteristically untrammeled, which is seriously welcome considering my current familiarity with the kind of interference Fox is famous for saddling Joss Whedon with.

Curiously the pilot suggests to us that Scully is to be the protagonist (which had been Carter's original intent) but from the moment that we are introduced to "Spooky" Fox Mulder onwards, the episode takes place firmly in his world. While I felt pounded over the head by the initial cascade of spooky things that happen to Mulder and Scully before they even reach the Oregon town where their case is based and many of the details of the case reached a bit too far and presented this huge orgy of bizarre things from apes with metal things up their noses in coffins where there should be people to strange scars and time distortion, it still did a fantastic job of setting the tone for the series, establish the dynamic between Mulder and Scully, and clearly establish just what the series was going to be.

I can understand Marty's perspective that they made it a little too clear what the conspiracy was from the very beginning, but approaching it from my perspective of having just finished Twin Peaks, I think it was fairly important that they clearly establish that fact. I knew going in what Twin Peaks was going to be; that it was going to be really strange and that I would have to put my David Lynch hat on. The problem with that is of course that the original audience of Twin Peaks did not have the benefit of having seen Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive, or Inland Empire and so the actual basis for what was happening in terms of Bob, the owls, and the other more esoteric elements were a complete surprise to the audience and something that contributed to it's downfall. Of course at this point we know that it's a government conspiracy. What we do not know is if there are real aliens involved, what they want, what the government has to do with it, and what the government's goals are which leaves us at about the same place that the Fringe pilot did in that we knew that there was a company called Massive Dynamic with connections to the DHS that run even deeper than Olivia's.

Continue the comparison between those two shows and you can see how much better and clearer we can see the protagonists in the X Files. Olivia is curious, she wants to understand why John Scott died and what he was up to. Well that's just dandy. With Mulder we have this life long obsession driven by his sister's abduction (that goes on to become central to the most electrifying revelations in the entire series) and this very sinister game that the FBI appears to be playing with one of it's own agents. Why does it make any sense to task Scully- who is suggested to be overqualified for her role at the FBI within the first five minutes of the pilot- with observing and assisting what appears to be a waste of departmental resources? We still have no idea who the factions in play are and how many there are.

Overall, it really is one of the best pilots I've ever seen but The Wire still takes the gold medal.


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