The series’ first season is good, but it doesn’t reach the heights of later years. The first sign that this show had a shot at really being something special came in this riff on The Thing From Another World, which strands Mulder and Scully in an Arctic research station with scientists and an alien worm that infects people and causes them to erupt in homicidal rage.
Writer Darin Morgan was responsible for only four X-Files scripts, but his erudite, witty writing both invented a new, comedic mode for the series and gained him the acclimation and adoration of TV writers throughout the industry. This episode is his most immediately accessible accomplishment: a melancholic, funny story of an old psychic who can see without fail when and how every person alive will die.
The X-Files has always been slightly overrated as TV horror. It primarily provided “shock” scares, with monsters lunging out of the dark, rather than the building unease more typical of series like Twin Peaks. Yet this episode is as scary an hour as TV has produced. The conceit? A small town is haunted by three grotesque brothers, the products of incest, and Mulder and Scully are trapped in their haunted house, Texas Chainsaw Massacre style.
The X-Files is back, but the fight for the future is over
It’s a shame that a show that once dealt so well with symbols of cultural anxiety has retreated into trying to figure out how to fit aliens into the modern consciousness. The point of The X-Files was never the aliens, not really; it was the inexplicable phenomena of ordinary life, the feeling you never quite knew your neighbors or your own family as well as you might like, that the world was even stranger than you had imagined. The humdrum components of paranormal activity were what made Mulder and Scully’s adventures so rich and resonant. It was the anxiety about our new technology but also about nature and faith. The first episode of this miniseries is far more limited in scope, and doesn’t have the same resonant pull; we see a replica of an alien spacecraft and we’re told Scully has “alien DNA.” (What does this mean? She’s got a letter other than A, T, G, or C as part of a base pair?) It’s not clear to me how this addresses our numerous anxieties about the way our culture is changing.