Change of Scenery: The X-Files

“Change of Scenery” is a series in which Nathan and Jordan watch something that neither of them has seen before, and write their reactions to it. Some entries will be old stuff that they should definitely have seen by now; some will be new or relatively obscure things. Jordan’s response will come out on Tuesday, and Nathan’s comes out on Friday. In honor of its brand new miniseries, this week’s show is The X-Files.

Welcome to X-Files week here at Window Seat! Neither of us has ever seen this show before, which is mostly tragic and also a bit impressive, but we are here to remedy that. It seems like one of those shows that you don’t get a good sense of from the first two or three episodes, so we got some episode recommendations from the first few seasons, and went with those. Without any further ado, here are my first thoughts.

Gillian Anderson (left) and David Duchovny The X-Files The first thing I have to say that I really enjoyed this show. Some shows from the ‘90s move so slowly that it’s hard to pay attention to them, and others have aged really poorly, but 20 years after these episodes first aired, they are still as exciting, scary, and affecting as they were meant to be. A lot of that is due to David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson and their phenomenal chemistry, but it’s also thanks to the writing (one of the episodes we watched was written by Vince Gilligan of Breaking Bad, so that didn’t hurt) and the production values, which were surprisingly good for the time, partly because they do a good job of just not showing things that they couldn’t afford to execute well.

The first episode we watched was episode 3.17, “Pusher.” It’s the story of a man who can “push” people’s minds with the power of suggestion, but he is slowly being killed by the brain tumor that gave him this power. I was mostly surprised by how dark this episode was. The Pusher makes a cop set himself on fire, and makes a woman attack an FBI agent. I was also struck by how much modern day superhero movies and shows must owe to The X-Files. Stories like Jessica Jones and Thor have an easier time of convincing their audience that superpowers are real because Fox Mulder did so much of their work for them. In addition to these more meta considerations, the episode’s storyline is also very effective. Scully summarizes the motives of the Pusher (and so many other criminals) with one line: “He’s just a little man who wishes he were big.” This episode was basically the plot of Jessica Jones in 45 minutes, which is impressive and wonderful.

Next, we queued up episode 2.20, “Humbug,” which I was told would be funnier and lighter, but turned out to be even darker. Mulder and Scully investigate a string of murders in a Florida town that is a refuge for so-called “freaks,” people with physical abnormalities or strange proclivities, like a human blockhead, an old-school geek (man who eats live animals), and a man whose conjoined twin’s head is lodged inside his torso. Michael J. Anderson shows up, which is just great, and the mystery takes some turns and is overall very twisted and freakish. I was impressed, though, by just how funny this show can be. Duchovny and Anderson have fantastic chemistry, both dramatic and comedic, and the writing of the dialogue is very witty and often surprisingly sarcastic. They have great range as performers, and they bring a lot of heart and humor to some fairly (based on two episodes, don’t shoot me) thinly sketched characters. It also reminded me a bit of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer (which I mean as the highest of praise), in that it does a really good job of bringing its sci-fi concepts down to earth, and making them relatable. The Pusher from the first episode had a supernatural ability, but he was motivated by the desire to be exceptional that everyone feels. The characters from “Humbug” had unique physical characteristics and superhuman abilities, but they were looking for a place to belong and people to understand them. Mulder and Scully don’t just stop the bad guys, they work to understand them. That was an element that I didn’t expect to find in The X-Files, but I’m very glad I did.

Conclusion: I need to watch more of this show.

Check back on Friday for Nathan’s reaction to the same episodes!

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