Judge Patrick Bromley has been calling The Truth from the porch for eight seasons now, and even tried shaking its bag of Truth Chow to get it to come, but it's still out there...
Our review of The X-Files Mythology: Colonization (Volume 3), published March 29th, 2006, is also available.
"If I am a guilty man, my crime is in daring to believe; that the truth will out and that no one lie can live forever. I believe it still. Much as you try to bury it, the truth is out there. Greater than your lies, the truth wants to be known."—Fox Mulder in "The Truth"
Chris Carter's long-running sci-fi/conspiracy paranoia series The X-Files takes its final bow after nine seasons. A lot has changed in nine years: Mulder and Scully finally hooked up; Scully had a baby; Mulder left the show, causing Scully to take a back seat and opening the door for two new agents—John Doggett (Robert Patrick, Terminator 2: Judgment Day) and Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish, Mystic Pizza, Beautiful Girls). The biggest change, however, is the apparent decline in the quality of the writing—never more evident than in this final season. The fact that the writers titled one episode "Jump the Shark" suggests that they were either keenly self-aware or eerily prescient; either way, that pretty much sums up The X-Files: Season Nine.
Facts of the Case
• "Nothing Important Happened Today, Part 1"
• "Nothing Important Happened Today, Part 2"
• "Lord of the Flies"
• "Trust No. 1"
• "John Doe"
• "Hell Bound"
• "Providence, Conclusion"
• "Audrey Pauley"
• "Scary Monsters"
• "Jump the Shark"
• "Sunshine Days"
• "The Truth"
The X-Files isn't a show like Friends, or even CSI—shows that reach a wide audience and on which you can casually drop in from time to time. No, it's more along the lines of Star Trek or Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and not just because of its sci-fi/horror content); if you like it, you really like it, to the point that you become protective of it. Its appeal can't be explained to an outsider—either you get it or you don't. This makes reviewing it a tricky endeavor, because while one wants to make things accessible to any reader, fans of the show have to be acknowledged and recognized. With that in mind, I should let it be known that I am an X-Files fan, but not a purist—I'm willing to accept change, as long as it seems to be in the best interest of the series. With Season Nine, I'm not sure that's the case.
There appears to be a general consensus among fans of The X-Files that the series showed a steady decline in quality in its last few seasons; while I can't speak for the masses, I'd argue that it's a fair assessment. I wouldn't even call X-Files: Season Nine uneven, because that would imply that some episodes are really good. They aren't—some are just worse than others. It's not that the season is god-awful; it's just not up to par with previous years. It's the show's own fault—it set too high a standard for itself.
The show never quite overcame the change in lineup—Doggett and Reyes are just no substitute for Mulder and Scully, and what pieces of Scully there are remaining in the show suggest that perhaps she should have left with her co-star. In nearly every scene of her screen time, Gillian Anderson, left behind (not necessarily by choice) after the departure of Duchovny, exhibits an aura of "I'd rather not be here." For the most part, she's been relegated to the sidelines, appearing more often in her new roles as medical examiner and academy instructor than as a field agent—the scenes are often so awkward they smack of spin-off: "Let's go get some advice from our old pal Dana Scully over at The X-Files!"
More than just pushing Gillian Anderson aside, what hurts Season Nine (and the season before it) is that the character created to take her place doesn't work—I just don't buy Agent Monica Reyes. That may be because Annabeth Gish—a talented actress and one I've always liked—feels miscast; what's more, though, is that the character as matched up with the actress doesn't make sense. Duchovny was always convincing because of his innate oddness—of course he would dedicate his life to the paranormal. Anderson was believable because of the intelligence she projected—Scully's a geek, bookish enough that if she's unconvinced of something, she'd most likely pursue more knowledge on the matter. Within the new cast, only Robert Patrick finds ways to be effective—he's a man of action, a guy who will throw his body and mind into the task ahead of him, regardless of what it might be; even the fact that he doesn't necessarily believe in the supernatural doesn't stop him from doing his job. The name "Doggett" suits him perfectly. So, if Mulder's the heart, Scully the brain and Doggett the muscle, what does that leave for Monica Reyes? Unfortunately, neither Gish nor the writers have an answer. What she ultimately becomes, then, is a convenient expediter of story: these killings might have a link to numerology? Reyes just happens to be an expert! You say there's a connection to The Brady Bunch? Reyes knows every episode by heart!! She's more plot device than character—it may work for one episode, but not for an entire season.
Even the supporting cast of Season Nine is a letdown. Missing are the great villains worthy of The X-Files lineage of antagonists—where is the Eugene Toombs, or even the Cigarette Smoking Man of today? (P.S.—the answer to that second example is actually provided in Season Nine; but, like everything else, it leaves you scratching your head.) The only real addition on the side of the Good Guys is Assistant Director Brad Follmer (Cary Elwes, The Princess Bride), but he's about as big a drip as Monica Reyes. Plus, like Reyes, Follmer is most often used as a story catalyst rather than as a character—he's so morally and motivationally grey that the writers can use him in whatever way suits the episode at hand. And while we're on the subject of annoying peripheral characters, I should point out that I've never been a fan of the comic-relief-driven Lone Gunmen; there's a reason their spin-off series (unseen by me) was cancelled fairly quickly. I was, however, almost sorry to see them go—especially in their moment of Wrath of Khan nobility.
Most of the episodes contained within The X-Files: Season Nine aren't just dispensable, they're forgettable. They're reasonably entertaining while you're watching them, but have no lasting power once they've ended. Not one show achieves the kind of "instant classic" status found in earlier seasons—it's strictly standard "X-Files of the Week" stuff. The main story arc for the season—about the true nature of Scully's son and his connection to the lazily-named Super Soldiers—is about the only thing that holds Season Nine together, but even that feels a bit repetitive and directionless. Too many episodes are devoted to the story without moving it forward or presenting new information—we try and try, but typically end up right back where we started. When we finally do get some answers, the season-long buildup can't help but lead to disappointment. It's too bad that more thought didn't go into the resolution—it seems to have gotten too easy for the writers to answer every question with "Umm…aliens?"
The penultimate episodes do manage to build up some momentum, delivering extremely satisfying emotional payoffs for Scully and Doggett (both involve their respective children), but most of that goodwill is diminished by the series's final episode. It's good to have Duchovny back—the show was worse for his absence—but putting him on "trial for his life" is too hackneyed a construct to work, existing solely as an excuse to walk through the show from the beginning with a series of flashbacks. Leaving things deliberately vague was probably a wise decision, since providing decisive answers would most likely have led to even further disappointment, but even the grey areas feel tacked-on and forced. The resolutions to both the seasons' arc and The X-Files mythology feel like an afterthought—things wrap up because they have to, not because they progress towards a logical (that's story logic, not logic logic) conclusion.
For all of the progress made by The X-Files in terms of its mythology, there's one element that the writers have not yet learned should have been done away with years ago—the "I'm not sure if I believe that" scene present in every episode of the show's nine-year run. Call it beating a skeptic horse, but it's frustrating that nine years have gone by and we still have to sit through the perfunctory "disbelief" conversation, wherein at least one of the characters (including even Scully, who's been around since Day One and has seen pretty much everything…et tu, Dana?) refuses to accept the possibility of supernatural circumstances in the case at hand. I'm reminded of the scene near the end of Independence Day, where Randy Quaid recounts being abducted by aliens to a group of men. Their response? They roll their eyes and shake their heads in "here we go again" disbelief, regardless of the fact that they are all on their way to fight the alien spaceships flying overhead. Sooner or later, you've gotta come around.
Fox caps off their run of X-Files box sets with this seven-disc The X-Files: Season Nine collection. All twenty episodes are presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer of 1.78:1; the images are solid, but often far too dark—luckily, colors are deep and black levels hold strong. The audio is presented in a Dolby 2.0 surround format which, while still making use of the side and rear channels, gives more of a bleeding effect than any kind of direct dimensional separation; the result is serviceable, but hardly notable. At times, I found myself having to activate the subtitle option to pick up on what was being said—much of the dialogue is delivered in hushed whispers and low tones; the decidedly average audio track doesn't help.
There are a larger-than-usual number of extras included on The X-Files: Season Nine. In addition to the usual television spots and international language clips (scenes from shows broadcast in countries outside of the U.S.), Season Nine gives us a plethora of documentaries and featurettes (over three hours' worth) covering everything to the making of the series's final episode to the run of The X-Files as a whole. Several episodes feature deleted scenes, with the option to view them either independently or in their correct placement within the episode through branching. There are also three commentary tracks: for "Jump the Shark," "Improbable" (by series creator Chris Carter), and the series finale, "The Truth." Most of the supplements exist strictly for the most diehard fans of The X-Files, and even they might find it difficult to make their way through the exhaustive amount of bonus material included here. Fox's work with their X-Files sets send devotees some mixed messages: on the one hand, they seem to be rewarded with well-produced sets and lots of extras, but on the other they're being taken advantage of by the same sets' astronomical retail price. What are the fans supposed to think?
There's very little to recommend about this box set—even the most devoted fans are likely to be disappointed by The X-Files: Season Nine. The only reason to pick it up would be if you've got the first eight seasons and you're determined to have them all; at least by now Fox has finally gotten the message and priced Season Nine lower than previous sets (not by much, but it is under $100). And though The X-Files isn't the first series to have overstayed its welcome, it seems a little bit sadder in this case—perhaps because it had more potential to squander in the first place.
The Court finds The X-Files: Season Nine guilty of Big Disappointment. They should have gotten out before the cast changeover, or at least one season earlier—and that's The Truth.
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