The Good: Interesting characters, Decent stories, Genuine tension; mood
The Bad: Uncertain acting, Episodic nature
The Basics: Essential for any die hard fan of science fiction or horror television, The X-Files Season One is a decent start to a groundbreaking series that may be enjoyed by any television buff.
I need to pre-empt my opening to this review by saying I am a fan of The X-Files. In fact, I like a lot of the early The X-Files, before it lost the core of what it truly was. That said, it is only because Fox Home Video lowered the exorbitant original price on The Complete First Season of The X-Files on DVD that makes it worth buying. Even so, there is one question just about any viewer will ask upon completing it; "How did this show survive the first season?!"
Don't get me wrong, I love The X-Files, especially the early seasons. You know the ones, where there is actual sexual tension, Scully's hair is a natural red, and Mulder is a porn-loving nerd. But, c'mon, have you seen any of these first season episodes lately? They are so different, so innovative from anything that is on television NOW, how in hell did they survive back then? I mean, look at television now, if you don't rock in the first three episodes, you're off the air. And if your ratings decline in the middle of the season, you'll be lucky to get a proper season finale, much less a second season.
There is one sure answer for how The X-Files survived; the Geeks had found their champion and they communicated a LOT about this series. It was different, it was fresh, it was scary and the protagonist is an asocial nerd who believes in UFOs, little gray men and government conspiracies. Give geeks a positive image on television and they'll support you for a long time (in the case of The X-Files, nine years!)!
The X-Files starts here as the story of Dana Scully, an FBI agent and medical doctor who is very intelligent and very grounded in the real world and science. She is assigned by leaders in the FBI and shadow individuals from the Pentagon to work with Agent Fox Mulder, a nerd working in the basement at the FBI's least desirable job, on a project called X-Files. The X-Files are cases from the FBI that have never been solved and are lumped together because their circumstances were often bizarre.
The season follows Mulder and Scully traveling around the United States piecing together evidence to solve crimes and mysteries sometimes over a century old. They begin with a case of younger people living in assisted living who appear to have been abducted by aliens and Scully witnesses many things, like U.S. flying machines doing incredible maneuvers that defy physics, that cause her agree with Mulder that there are more explanations for things that go on on Earth than the standard boring reasons.
A lot of people have a problem with the first season of The X-Files because the character of Scully seems unfathomable to them. Mulder believes from well before the first episode (from a childhood incident wherein his sister was abducted by aliens) in the existence of extraterrestrials, mystic forces and psychic abilities. Scully does not. At best, she believes in the randomness of genetics (in "Squeeze" she is forced to accept a villain that has strange abilities due to DNA differences) and in the strength of science to solve problems. This upsets many people, as they cannot figure out why - by the end of the first season - Scully is not as invested in believing all of Mulder's wild premises.
But the show's creator, Chris Carter, was wise to do it this way. Scully has lived about thirty years of her life not believing any of this stuff; one year of her life tracking down anomalies like Eugene Victor Tooms or ancient werewolf creatures (that she almost never sees), is hardly long enough for her to drop all of her skepticism. Scully's character arc throughout the first season progresses with a natural feeling that makes it seem real. And the viewer easily empathizes with Scully; most of us don't believe aliens are among us or that the dead take control little girls to get revenge on their ex-lovers. Focusing The X-Files on Scully makes the show very accessible to those who would not be attracted to science fiction or paranormal stories.
The low point of the first season of The X-Files is an episode called "Genderbender," and even that is hard to disparage. The problem is, the episode deals with strange Amish-style people who can change gender. That's cool, that's interesting. The episode climaxes with a ridiculous, out of the ether conclusion that completely guts the intensity of the rest of the episode.
But "Genderbender" is the exception in season one and most of the episodes are tight, well-paced and intriguing. There's a terrifying episode about psychopathic clones children ("Eve") and another about alien worms that cause their victims to go insane ("Ice"). Two of the series' best episodes (though this series does have an especially strong pilot episode), are in the first season; the creepy story of bugs who capture loggers ("Darkness Falls") and the season finale that launches the essential alien race story that will come over the next eight seasons, "The Erlenmeyer Flask."
What makes the episodes sometimes problematic to watch is the acting and the nature of the series at this point. The acting goes through many of the usual first season jitters with David Duchovny seeming awkward at times with the kooky role he plays as Mulder. There is a natural quality to Duchovny in the first few seasons that is lost later on, a pause here, a look there, that sometimes takes us out of the show.
Similarly, actress Gillian Anderson, who plays Scully, seems like it takes her a few episodes to get into the stride of working network television. That said, Anderson is a real gem and her acting is very believable. She plays skeptical well. The problem with her performances comes in only when she is forced to deliver lines of disbelief after ample scientific proof of whatever is being investigated is made.
The only other real problem with the first season of The X-Files is in the overall story. This is episodic television, so there is little sense over the first season that either Mulder or Scully have grown in any significant way. The ramifications of seeing something weird in the previous episode does not seem to inform Scully this week, for example. This is especially problematic in the timeline of the series as Mulder is shot and nearly killed ("Beyond the Sea") and both Mulder and Scully are severely wounded in another episode, yet they start the next episode unscathed.
This is not as major a problem in the first season as it will become as the series progresses. Later on, especially in the sixth through ninth seasons, it becomes explosively clear that Chris Carter and his team had no idea where they were taking the story, resulting in a great deal of conflict in the mythology, the core alien episodes of The X-Files.
But all that is for later on. Here, with the first season, there is a lot to enjoy for anyone who likes to watch an underdog investigating odd phenomenon with a skeptical sidekick. The DVD set, while expensive, has some nice extras, like previews for all of the episodes, some discussions by Chris Carter about twelve of the episodes (identical to the preambles to the video releases) and a few featurettes. Unfortunately, no commentary.
For a better idea of what this boxed set entails, please check out my reviews of some of the episodes from it at:
Pilot / Deep Throat
Conduit / Ice
Squeeze / Tooms
Fallen Angel / Eve
Beyond The Sea / E.B.E.
Darkness Falls / The Erlenmeyer Flask
For other television boxed set reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.