‘The X-Files’ finale marks likely end to long search for truth
Warning: The following contains spoilers about “The X-Files” season finale.
“The X-Files” has been a hard franchise to kill over the last 25 years, so when it comes to “X” marking “the end,” well, never say never. But with Gillian Anderson having served notice that she’s done — no, honestly, really this time — Wednesday’s season finale likely spells the finish for the show as we’ve known it, and provided welcome elements of closure, however rushed and flat-out goofy some of them felt.
Delving into the show’s dense mythology, series creator Chris Carter (who wrote and directed the episode) turned it into a frenzied search by FBI agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) to find William, the teenager he thought to be his son with colleague Dana Scully (Anderson). But the boy was in fact a product of alien experimentation that gave him extraordinary powers, which he put to use first by literally blowing up his tormentors a la “The Fury,” and finally, faking his own death.
After Mulder’s earlier Rambo scene — in which he dispatched a number of armed assailants — the episode closed with Mulder facing off against his own father, the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis), and in a cathartic moment for longtime fans, killing him.
Of course, that entire encounter, which was actually pretty well-telegraphed by William’s morphing-into-Mulder shtick, followed an inordinate amount of collateral damage involving peripheral players. The most upsetting of those casualties involved, seemingly, Mulder and Scully’s beloved boss Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), amid what felt as much like a hasty clearing of the decks as anything else.
Carter did close the hour on a slightly incongruous ray of hope, with William revealed as having survived his apparent suicide by Smoking Man, and Scully informing Mulder that she was pregnant with what amounted to a miracle baby. As for that alien pathogen that was going to be released and end life as we know it, presumably the threat died along with the its carcinogen-inhaling architect.
Given “X-Files'” cat-like number of lives over the years, one is tempted to qualify any of these observations with “at least for now.” Still, there was a finality to the episode, and indeed to this season, which, despite a few modest highlights, simply felt worn out.
While “The X-Files” had its roots in Watergate, Roswell, and everything else built around the notion of what the government might be concealing from us, even that has grown tired. Tellingly, both “X-Files” and “Homeland” have come to feature a conspiracy-theory-spouting blowhard (here played by Joel McHale) whose inflammatory rantings, improbably, are actually tinged with truth.
In its heyday, “The X-Files” had a bracing quality to it, mixing old-fashioned scares and the supernatural with an ongoing plot devoted to the alien threat, and the shadowy cabal of humans who were complicit in it. (Disclosure: I wrote two authorized “X-Files” companion guides early in the program’s run.)
People will always enjoy being frightened by things that go bump in the night, just one of the extremely durable aspects of the themes that Carter and his collaborators have explored. Even so, after 11 seasons and a pair of movies, the latest finale ultimately reinforced a sense that “The X-Files” has already lived past its logical expiration date.