The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
'The X-Files'
ends without
resolution


May 23, 2002
By Franklin Harris

I can't believe I let myself be suckered again.

As I tuned in to the two-hour finale of "The X-Files," part of me thought that maybe, just maybe, series creator Chris Carter would deliver the answers he's promised for nine seasons.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson star in ''The X-Files.''
Photo © Copyright 20th Century Fox
David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson star in ''The X-Files.''
Nope. Not a chance.

This is how Wile E. Coyote must feel when he realizes there's nothing beneath him but air.

"The X-Files" ends almost as it began. FBI agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) and former FBI agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) know for certain what Mulder suspected from the start: The aliens are coming. Only now doomsday has a date certain — Dec. 22, 2012.

The screen fades to black with our heroes on the run but clinging to their faith, and each other, despite of what they've learned.

The downbeat ending reflects a theme "The X-Files" has touched upon all along: We should never lose hope, even when darkness falls.

Unfortunately, I've lost all hope in Carter's storytelling abilities.

Carter spends the first hour of the finale putting Mulder on trial for murder.

It's one of the oldest narrative gimmicks around; when the story is so complex no one can follow it, simply have the characters tell the audience what happened, which is exactly what the witnesses at Mulder's trial do. They explain the vast extraterrestrial conspiracy to us.

It is bad storytelling to tell rather than show, and yet after all the exposition, parts of the story still don't make sense.

Carter went down so many dead ends over the years that unresolved subplots are everywhere. Are the extraterrestrial resistance fighters still out there? What happened to the surviving human conspirators in Tunisia? Why does the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) hate Mulder, anyway?

Questions like these are bound to crop up when you're making the story up as you go. Carter clearly never had an end game for "The X-Files," much less a master plan.

Where did "The X-Files" go wrong? Well, the last two seasons were virtually unwatchable. With Duchovny having only limited involvement in the show, "The X-Files" lost its heart and its sense of humor. Scully never shifted successfully from skeptic to believer, and Mulder's replacement, Agent John Doggett (Robert Patrick), only contributed to the general sense of gloom.

In later seasons, Robert Patrick, left, joins Anderson and Mitch Pileggi.
Photo © Copyright 20th Century Fox
In later seasons, Robert Patrick, left, joins Anderson and Mitch Pileggi.
Supporting characters suffered, too. The Lone Gunmen never recovered from their ill-conceived spin-off series.

By the end, even the monster-of-the-week stories, which kept "The X-Files" afloat as the ongoing conspiracy saga floundered, became tired rehashes of earlier episodes.

But the first real misstep came in 1998.

Carter could have used the "X-Files" feature film, set between the show's fifth and sixth seasons, to wrap up the conspiracy and put the show on a new course. Instead, he revealed nothing and added a new wrinkle to explain.

In TV lingo, this is when "The X-Files" "jumped the shark," a term derived from the "Happy Days" episode where Fonzie water-skis over a shark.

When a TV show jumps the shark, its best days are behind it.

Not every story should end with all of its mysteries revealed, but for years "The X-Files" promised some kind of resolution was just around the corner.

After nine years, we're still waiting for it.

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