Revisiting The X-Files – Pilot

With the recent announcement that Scully and Mulder will be returning for a 6 episode stint in the 10th season of the X-Files, it seems like a great time to  rewatch the series. The show has had an important place in my life, with it becoming somewhat of an obsession of mine at the end of grade school when it was first on. It spawned many all night watching marathons, inspired me to draw its stylized X on pretty much anything from school desks to my jeans with magic marker, caused me to dye my hair red for the first time, and may have influenced me into sneaking around industrial parks once or twice, in search of government conspiracies.

So grab a cup of coffee, maybe some sunflower seeds or a mushroom pizza, and let’s revisit The X-Files together.

The opening shot is dark. Fade into the lush British Colombia woods, a sight we’ll become quite familiar with over the next 5 seasons. A young woman scrambles through the forest, afraid. Running from something. The wind picks up and an unnaturally bright light appears over the horizon, framing the shape of a man approaching her. She looks up at him as the light overtakes the shot. The next morning the woman is found dead with two marks on her back and identified as one of the members of the class of ’89. It’s happening again.

Dana Scully with the Cigarette Smoking Man in the background

Cut to Washington and we see the first star of the show, Gillian Anderson as Agent Dana Scully, here to lay down some science and set hearts aflutter. I even love her in shoulder pads. Scully’s first scene tells us a lot. She’s eager, informed, well-spoken, proud. She’s not afraid to crack some jokes in front of her stuffed suit superiors, including CSM (Cigarette Smoking Man) who lurks silently on the sidelines, smoking as always. At her first meeting with David Duchovny’s Mulder the chemistry is instantaneous. Though I find the scripted dialogue of their first encounter a bit stilted, there’s a wonderful tension between the two actors which only approves throughout the episode. Once the nature of each of the agents is established – Scully is a skeptic, Mulder an enthusiastic believer in the paranormal – they’re off to the very plausible state of Oregon to investigate a death and possible alien abduction.

The actual story of this episode isn’t what most appeals to me. As is common with network television, the pilot is usually one of the weaker episodes of the series because it has to spend so much time setting up what’s to come. There’s unexplained phenomena, possible alien abduction, lost time, and hints of conspiracy at both local and very high levels.

Dana Scully and Fox Mulder talking in a motel room

The best thing about the episode is how quickly yet naturally it develops the relationship between Scully and Mulder that will drive the entire series. There’s a point midway through the episode where Scully goes to Mulder’s room, concerned that she has marks on her back similar to those found on the dead girl. Though the decision to show Scully in her bra during the pilot episode was gratuitous, it leads to a delightful moment between her and Mulder. After Scully’s brief moment of vulnerability and the trust she places in her new partner, Mulder offers some vulnerability of his own and opens up about why the x-files mean so much to him. When he was a child his younger sister was abducted, unassumingly by aliens and he’s been chasing the truth ever since. It’s a great way to both deliver some exposition and show how quickly the two agents begin to trust either other despite their different perspectives on the job at hand. It’s a great relationship, and one which will remain platonic for quite a while, much to the chagrin of shippers everywhere. Though honestly I was always more likely to ship Scully and Skinner. Or Scully and me. Or Mulder and me.

Once the case is wrapped up, the only physical evidence of abduction (or of anything) that remains is an implant of unknown origins found in the sinus cavity of one of the victims. The last shot shows CSM storing it among thousands of hidden evidence boxes deep within the Pentagon. Likely beside the Ark of the Covenant. It seems this conspiracy rabbit hole runs deep.

3 responses to “Revisiting The X-Files – Pilot

  1. If you’re going to go through each episode separately then I am fine, but I am watching this show for the first time! I’ve just started season 4, and am loving it more with each passing season.

    Spoiler alert – discussion of season 1 ahead:
    I had very mixed feelings about the first season. I found the writing to be terrible at the micro level (scenes, dialogue especially) yet really fascinating at the macro (meta-plot) level. I cannot believe that I had never experienced this before, but David Duchovny really demonstrated the meaning of “wooden” acting.
    I also was put off by Mulder’s eagerness to get up in the personal space of the women in the show. Especially Scully, whom he had known for very little time. I didn’t get the impression that Scully’s stripping down to her bra in the pilot was an act of vulnerability – both of them seemed very professional and matter-of-fact about it, given the circumstances. But then, I’m not a woman so it may actually have been a bigger deal to her than I thought.
    The terrible writing includes the dialogue, of course, but also things that don’t make any sense, like a few cases where there is a wound or body and Mulder is the first and only one to examine it. Never mind that Scully is the medical doctor, not even a quick examination and then “hey Scully, look at this”, just Mulder doing all the cool detective stuff.

    They have fixed those faux pas up a lot in later seasons, to be fair. And I really liked the ambiguity of the first season, where sometimes there was a scientific explanation, and sometimes there wasn’t, and you never knew which ending you’d get until the end of the episode.

    I’ve also been shocked at how many recognisable actors have had guest appearances on the show! Seems like half the cast of SG-1 has been in the X-Files, Jack Black, Jewel Staite, the list goes on.

    Oops, rambling now.
    Dahakha recently posted..Steam Challenge – Cave Story +

    • I agree, season 1 is not so strong. There are some standout episodes like Ice or Beyond the Sea, but there are also a bunch of mediocre ones or real clunkers like Space.

      Even this episode had some poor dialogue as well. Like when Mulder asks Scully if she’s squeamish when they’re about to exhume a body. She’s a medical examiner! Of course she’s not squeamish about dead bodies. And some of the science they talk about at the start is some real first year science kind of stuff, like the mystery molecule being exclaimed to be organic. Duh.

      As for Scully showing vulnerability, she’s professional, Mulder is her brand new partner. If I were to go into a man’s hotel room at night (when the power’s out) and strip down to my bra the main thought in my head would be that he’s going to think I’m coming on to him, which obviously wasn’t the intent. They both did handle it well, but even the hug she gives him at the end when she’s relieved is probably not he way she’d usually choose to act with a colleague she just met.

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