Hello readers. It’s time for us to cut through the red tape and alien intestines in our search for the truth (and our opinions) regarding X-Files Season 10. It likely goes without statement, but much of the following content is classified and formerly redacted. Read on at your own risk. – Editor
Michael Berquam: Agents Koontz and Berquam reporting for debrief, regarding case XFSEASON10. Perhaps we should give a little bit of background, to help our directors here understand why we are qualified to speak on this?
Brandon Koontz: I started watching The X-Files with some VHS copies of select episodes of the first two seasons that I bought from a local Hastings retail store. It was right around the time the first movie was coming out (Fight The Future) so I managed to catch it before it left theaters, after binging on VHS tapes and a few DVD sets. My weekly TV exposure first started with season six’s second episode “Drive” and I never missed an episode after that. I eventually hooked my wife and mom onto the show, and I have many happy memories of my family all sitting down to watch episodes together. My mom passed away in early January after a bout with cancer, right before season 10 started. We’d made plans to watch this season together as well, so this relaunch took on a new and poignant resonance to me as a result.
MB: For a kid growing up in a small fishing and logging town in the 90s, TV was a gateway to all the excitement my life was lacking. Fridays after school were spent watching Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, waiting for pizza delivery, and eagerly anticipating what weirdness would occur on the X-Files. For a budding sci-fi enthusiast, this was incredibly impactful, and set me on a course that took me deeper into the genre in all it’s formats.
BK: X-Files as gateway drug…I like it.
MB: It was perfect for that purpose in the 90s. I mean, we had ST:TNG, but that was the bright future. This showed the promise of dark secrets and conspiracies in a modern setting that was somewhat easier to relate to.
BK: This could branch into a whole different discussion about Star Trek as visionary sci-fi (or not), but I agree – I enjoy ST but X-Files seemed to be more plausible sci-fi, and it hit the skeptic in me where Star Trek did not.
What makes X-Files season 10 so special?
BK: When you think about what had to happen for season 10 to get greenlit, it’s pretty remarkable. The second movie (I Want To Believe) basically tanked in the box office, and both main stars went on to other projects, both of which were successful and merited multiple-season runs. On top of it, it’s been almost 15 years since the season 9 finale aired. Fox took a big risk, but I feel like a certain amount of fan interest had been building. I still think though that it was remarkable we got a season ten at all.
MB: You got that right. I think this is the result of an interesting combination of factors. We are starting to see a fair number of IPs being re-tooled and re-released in the last few years, the culmination of high television viewership and penetration, new mediums for content delivery, and growing nostalgia. What would have been an impossibility even a decade ago is quickly becoming par for the course, as TV executives see the lasting power and monetary contributions that established IPs can have, and looking to bolster those revenue streams with new content to fan favorites.
BK: If only that’d work for Firefly.
MB: … and queue the sad violins and angry fans.
What is with the new format?
MB: The short season did not work out, at all. I understand this is likely what they could sell a boardroom on, and it’s not terrible, but it could have been much, much better.
BK: No it didn’t. Personally I felt it really needed the British “series” concept of eight to ten 90 minute episodes.
MB: That or a traditional 20ish episode season would have performed better
BK: Both options would have had similar run times and flowed much better.
MB: As is, they simply did not have time to explore anything at length.
Is there a best/worst episode?
BK: I am really curious what you have to say here. I think we may differ some on this, but maybe not. For me, the best episode of season 10 was “Home Again,” an episode that sees Agent Scully dealing with a very personal tragedy and reminiscing about her success (or failure) as a parent. I could have done without the main plot of that episode actually, an Occupy Wall Street rif that mixed Banksy and street art with the plight of the homeless in America. Maybe it’s just that Mr. Robot does it better. But the sub-plot…that was easily Anderson’s best acting of the season.
MB: I am actually in full agreement with you here, but for different reasons. I am a sucker for the monster-of-the-week episodes that pepper the X-Files mythos. This season potentially has 2 of those, but one is done with a humorous bent. While it was well done for what it was, it was not my cup of tea. I did enjoy Home Again though, and I think your call-outs regarding the inclusion of current social topics (with income inequality being a driving force for discussion this year) are spot on. Scully has a rough run in the episode, and seeing her and Mulder together reinforces yet again the strength of their partnership, both as agents and more.
BK: Isn’t that the truth…I think one of the main reasons we as fans come back to the show is because of the chemistry of the two leads. More on that in a minute, to me that plays a part in the overall success or failure of this season…
BK: “Mulder and Scully Meet The Were-Monster” was a close runner up for me because of its meta-commentary and a rather funny shift in perspective from the usual “human turned into a monster” plotline, but I think you didn’t care for it as much, correct?
MB: You are correct sir. It was an odd episode for me. As I stated, you give me a horror movie monster/paranormal episode, and I’m normally a really happy X-phile. It’s use of humor, however, didn’t do it for me. The episode isn’t bad, per se; it simply wasn’t to my tastes. I love a good groan-inducing Mulder joke as much as anyone (Mulder being the original Horatio Cain in my book), but I usually want my monsters a bit more blood-curdling than what was presented. Having said all that, I suspect that I am potentially the odd-man out here, and from a conceptual standpoint the episode was very interesting and has merit.
BK: Don’t get me wrong, either. While I thought it was the second-best episode of the season, it still had a whiff of eau de trying-too-hard about it. The best comedic episodes of the previous run seemed effortless (“Small Potatoes,” “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” “Bad Blood,” and my all time favorite, “Humbug,” all come to mind as examples when the comedy was firing on all cylinders). With this episode, all the meta-references and in-jokes seemed a little shoehorned in, rendered more surprising because Darin Morgan, who wrote this episode, was also responsible for two of the aforementioned successes from the previous run so it’s not like he doesn’t know how to write a comedic hour of the X-Files.
BK: So…bad episodes…this is where things pick up unfortunately. Want to lead things off?
MB: Want is a strong word, but yeah, we best address the elephant(s) in the 10th season. To my mind there are 2; episode 5, “Babylon,” as well as season finale “My Struggle II.”
Babylon to me was a disappointment on most fronts. The plot is weak, relying heavily on a “ripped from the headlines” style that is both thoughtless and classless, and for many might even be inflammatory. It does little to further the goals of the season as whole, and the resolution doesn’t follow logic of actions taken in any sort of meaningful way. If not for a handful of cameos and the introduction of 2 new agents (whom I personally like, even as I acknowledged the “hold-up-a-time-bending-mirror-to-our-heroes” schtick that it truly is), I don’t think there would be a single redeeming quality to the episode. In its pursuit of topical content, all they have done is fan the flames of fear and xenophobia, and it shows to any viewer of sound mind. All this, in pursuit of a conservative fanbase that, to my mind, is most likely not watching anyways.
Does that sync with your opinion as well?
BK: Babylon is absolutely the worst episode of season 10, no question. I would even suggest it may be one of the worst of all time (although “Teso Dos Bichos,” which is a blast to say aloud, at least to my simple 4th-grade-level humoristic sensibilities, is probably still the absolute worst). What I found most frustrating about it is that ultimately it had nothing to add to the already well-mined topic of terrorism. If you’re going to cover a sensitive topic, you should have some point to walking an already well-trod path. There were some loose thematic elements about a quest to hear God’s voice, or feel a touch from the beyond, including an is-he-or-isn’t-he-tripping-on-’shrooms vision of the river Styx (complete with a whip-wielding Cigarette Smoking Man as the ferryman Charon), but ultimately the episode was just too muddied to clearly articulate a point. However, the episode is somewhat buoyed by Duchovny’s acting, as he gets the opportunity to cut loose from the typical Agent Mulder monotone when his character apparently ingests some psychotropic mushrooms. The sight of Mulder channeling his inner Hank Moody and dancing to Achy Breaky Heart in a cowboy hat will stick in my memory a long, long time and is ALMOST worth sitting through the rest of the episode. Almost. I think I am going to hold on sharing my thoughts about the two agents until our overall review of the season as a whole.
Was the season a success or a failure as a whole? And what WERE its central themes/arcs exactly?
BK: Looking back on this season objectively is really tough for me. I WANT to believe. I feel that The X-Files is absolutely still relevant today and can still touch on the zeitgeist of the general public as it did so well in the mid-90s. I’m just not sure it did so in the most effective way this time around. I’m not in ANY way calling for Chris Carter’s head like some fans are (I saw some comparing his season 10 run to George Lucas’s prequel work, which is wildly inaccurate). I think Carter still is the heart and soul of the series, and when he connects, he is still one of the best writers on television (episodes like “The Erlenmeyer Flask,” “The Post-Modern Prometheus” and “Triangle” just to name a few). But clearly season 10 was lacking something…Vince Gilligan’s involvement perhaps?
MB: I think you’ve touched on some important points there. While the season has it’s missteps, I think as a whole, it shook off more than a decade’s worth of rust and offered some solid entertainment for both new and returning fans, which is no easy feat. Is it the primetime dominating Friday night presence it was in the 90s? Surely not. That, however, is to be expected, as viewership for that coveted spot has changed greatly in the intervening time. Does that make it less of a success? Not to my mind.
BK: Certainly Fox had to like the ratings (8-10 million viewers on average per episode). As you said, it’s no Friday night anchor like it used to be but nowadays that is still a very high market share.
BK: So, I’ve been waiting to discuss this one – central themes. One of the things that made The X-Files successful in prior seasons was its ability to tell several kinds of stories in the same season with the same characters (monster of the week, mytharc, humorous, etc). But there seemed to be a common thread or theme throughout many of the seasons. Season one was about trust, season four dealt with loss as Scully faced possibly dying from cancer and Mulder frantically searched for a cure, and season seven dealt almost entirely with technology and its affect on our daily lives.
MB: Yes, Chris Carter and the X-Files writing team historically have been great at taking these seemingly unrelated cases, and putting them against backdrops or filling them with events that did have a certain amount of commonality. Do you feel like there were able to do the same with this abridged season?
BK: I think part of what I struggled with as I watched season 10 was that the characters didn’t seem to have a reason to exist (within the confines of the series, not as people). Why, after all this time, would Scully return to the daily zaniness of the X-Files? I suppose the argument could be made that she simply cares for Mulder that much. Surely though she no longer has any real investment in discovering the truth of the unknown. In “I Want To Believe,” we saw a changed Scully, one who lost (and then regained) her belief in God. By the end of the episode (whose final moments share more than a passing similarity to the final moments in “Babylon,” as the camera pans up into the sky, looking down on Mulder and Scully as if from a higher power), Scully has reaffirmed her belief in a guiding power and seems more at peace than ever. But in season 10, I didn’t feel that she had the same peace and self-assurance. Maybe that can be explained away as the passage of a few years of time, which brings us to certainly one of the main themes of the season…parenthood. We see this through Scully’s feelings about her son, William (given up for adoption during the events of season 9). She struggles with coming to terms with her decision, wondering if she’s abandoned him and reflecting on the nature of parenting.
MB: I agree, although I might extend your theme from “parenting” to family. Scully’s interactions with Mulder quite often have more of the tone familiarity you would associate with longtime friends, family, or lovers. Her interactions with her mother and brothers reinforce this as well. Mulder draws parallels between his sister, Scully, and Sveta in My Struggle I which seem to highlight this theme as well, and you could likely even stretch to include A.D. Skinner and the Lone Gunmen as extensions of the themes of family.
BK: Definitely – good catch about Sveta and his sister as well. I think another theme Chris Carter drove home this time around was how social media and YouTube have changed how we disseminate the news. Throughout the X-Files, Carter has always focused on technology and how it impacts our lives, and he uses an Internet/YouTube news character (Tad O’Malley, played by Joel McHale) as that mouthpiece in several season 10 episodes.
MB: Yes, that was a perfect way to showcase how much has changed since the agents were in regular circulation for the bureau.
BK: Speaking of agents, I had one last thought here…regarding the meta aspect of this season. I was very torn but ultimately felt like they went a little too heavy-handed with it. To whit: the inclusion of the, as you called it, time-bending mirror image agents, the winks and nods to previous episodes (references to Mulder’s Knicks shirt, his red speedo, and even Scully’s dog, Queequeg, gets a nod), and the way they handled CSM (who in one gruesome scene in the finale removes pieces of fake flesh to reveal what amounts to a Red Skull mask of ravaged and burned skin due to taking a direct hit…direct hit mind you…from a rocket in the season 9 finale back in 2002). All these things can be really neat nods to the long-time fans if done right. I just felt that Carter and Co. went a little heavy with the meta stuff, almost like they were acknowledging just how impactful X-Files has been to pop culture. Maybe this is personal preference, but to me that works for an episode but not for almost an entire season.
Should we expect the series to return with an 11th season?
BK: Two words. Actor availability. If their schedules open up, I think Fox would be crazy NOT to.
MB: I Want to Believe. Mostly because we cannot leave the series hanging mid-way through jumping the shark.
Any Final Thoughts?
BK: I have to say when I heard that the X-Files was coming back for a season 10, I was the most excited I’d been since Arrested Development season 4 (but let’s not talk about that). Just like Arrested, X-Files is required viewing for me. But there is no question I was let down. I am re-watching The X-Files series from the beginning with my wife and two boys right now, and we’re about halfway through season three at the moment. The pacing, tone, everything about it was clicking during this point in the show’s run and it just serves to remind me how great it can be at the top of its game. Something was just…not quite right this time around.
MB: I agree. Considering the circumstances, I think this was a reasonable offering. Not perfect, not X-Files on 11, but worth the time spent watching. I am hopeful that Carter and Team get another (longer) season to show what they can really do.
I think that about wraps it up here. What did you think of season 10? Comment below and share your thoughts. But remember, X-Philes – Trust No One.
You can still watch X-Files Season 10 in it’s entirety online. Catch full episodes streaming online over at FOX.