First to Last: Watching The X-Files' Pilot and Finale

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First to Last is a biweekly column where the pilot episode and series finale of a TV show are examined. But there’s a catch—the author has never seen a single episode of the show before viewing these two episodes! This week’s show: The X-Files.

The X-Files is everyone’s favorite ‘90s show about aliens—except it’s not always about aliens—but pretty much still mostly about aliens. I’ve been considering writing about the show ever since I started this column, because it’s a show that I’ve always been interested in. But there was a dilemma: should I write about it now, or write about it after next year’s revival mini-series? I decided to write about it now, because as it turns out, I have absolutely no patience or self-control (which should be apparent from the fact that I won’t even watch the second episode of a show before diving into the series finale). So I watched it now. Here’s my thoughts:

The X-Files is the story of FBI agent Fox Mulder, a man who believes in the existence of aliens, finds proof of such, and then decides to believe in God. Equally important is his battle with a government conspiracy to deny such information, which leads to the FBI just getting rid of the X-Files (a solution that probably shouldn’t have taken nine years to come up with).
It is also about agent Dana Scully’s path: At first a skeptic sent to stifle Mulder, but eventually a believer in the conspiracy, as well as Mulder’s lover.

Season 1 Episode 1: “Pilot” (1993)

Agent Fox Mulder has become obsessed with a collection of paranormal cases that the FBI has dubbed the “X-Files.” Dana Scully is assigned as his partner essentially to prove him wrong and shut him up. She is indeed rational, and provides realistic explanations to counter Mulder’s spooky theories, which is good, because we have no reason to trust Mulder yet. His story of his little sister being abducted is, to put it in FBI terms, “flimsy as shit.” He only “remembers” the alien abduction aspect due to recovered-memory therapy, which is a less reliable treatment than cutting off your hand to cure your athlete’s foot.

That aside, he doesn’t claim to know it all or have specific crazy ideas. He’s kinda grasping at staws and making it up on the go. He’s more like: “It’s aliens! Or uh… conspiracy? Perhaps a different spooky thing!?” and less like: “It was Mr. Alien, in the dining room, with the lead pipe.” He’s just willing to believe that maybe it’s something supernatural. I mean, somebody has to try crazy wild shit, or else humanity never make any advancements, right?
He’s whimsical. He’s also completely right. The two witness extraterrestrial activity, and the little evidence they have is confiscated and put into a vault in the Pentagon. By the end of the episode it is established that there are aliens, and there is a government conspiracy going on. The show is not asking “Are there aliens?” but rather “What’s up with all these aliens?”

Season 9 Episodes 19 & 20: “The Truth” (2002)

…and the final episode answers “Here’s what’s up with all those aliens!”
The military frames Mulder for murder and the majority of the (hour and a half long) finale focuses on the resulting trial. Several of Mulder’s colleagues testify, and explain and connect many details of the aliens and the conspiracy. The panel of judges were all FBI higher ups, i.e. the people behind the conspiracy. I’m not sure why he was trying to prove to the conspirators that they were conspiring, but it did provide ample opportunity for tying up loose ends and bringing together all the separate story arcs the show must have had over the course of nine years.

Anyway, he’s sentenced to death but his friends break him out of jail. He and Scully flee, he finds out the real truth about aliens, and it devastates him so much that he turns to God.

Also worth noting is that when he first sees Scully in this episode, they begin making out almost immediately. I found it interesting as there were no signs of sexual tension in the first episode. I get it though. If I were jailed, I’d probably try to bang a co-worker too.

The contrast between the premier and the finale is vast. The first episode is all “X” and the last episode is all “Files.” In 1993 Mulder was a man looking for answers. Not only did he have them in 2002, but he was hellbent on shoving them in the face of those who attempted to cover it up. Even the settings are on opposite ends of the spectrum. The Pilot spends a lot of time in the woods, providing lush green backgrounds during the day, and yet a spooky, secured atmosphere at night. The finale is spent almost entirely in jail cells and court rooms. Things feel new and unknown in the first episode, with a mystery waiting to unravel itself. In the end the mystery is revealed but not resolved.

Mulder laments that he failed on his mission to solve the mysteries of alien life and uncover the government conspiracy. He finds out the truth but there’s nothing he can do about it. The FBI removes the X-Files, so nobody will ever get the chance to revisit them. Alien colonization of Earth will occur on December 12, 2012, and there’s nothing for Mulder to do but pray to God. The good news is that his prayers, unlike his truth crusade, were apparently successful, unless of course next year’s X-Files mini-series is about Mulder and Scully’s lives as a slave race.

Verdict: While the final episode was a bit lifeless, the first one was thrilling enough that I will be watching the second episode.

I’d also like to add that Mulder didn’t fuck any aliens in these episodes, which makes this role quite different than the ones David Duchovny played in Californication and in real life.

Have a suggestion for next week’s show? Contact Matt Pass on Twitter @mattpasscomedy!