The X-Files is an important series in the televisual medium, its alternating narratives (an ongoing alien invasion mythology arc typically interrupted by a string of monster-of-the-week standalones) caught somewhere between the heady soap-opera surreality of Twin Peaks and the semi-fun/semi-pandering family spy theatrics of Alias. Yet as much as the series has its clear precursors, and though its influence is still felt in the television narratives of today, The X-Files nonetheless inhabits a no-man’s land all its own, a world of confusion, obfuscation, and eventual transcendence that requires of its viewers a willing submission to its uniquely repetitive rhythms.
In the relationship between F.B.I. agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), creator Chris Carter found the perfect stoic representations to offset his coitus interruptus philosophy of life. Mulder and Scully’s search for an ever-elusive “Truth” is a journey first and foremost, with little time allotted for the satisfying trappings of a “normal” life. In the early, platonic years of their partnership the two agents are in rigidly defined opposition, with their distinct points of view (believer vs. skeptic) always orbiting cautiously and argumentatively, one around the other. Possessing few personal attachments beyond a tenuous connection with their respective parents (and a hilarious first season non-date for Scully in the essential Carter-penned episode “The Jersey Devil”), Mulder and Scully spend the first three seasons of The X-Files driven by external action, with each individual installment of their adventures defined by a searing, devil-may-care momentum.
Perhaps this is one reason the show became less popular as it went along, for—after a tentative hand-hold in the climactic moments of the third season standalone “Pusher”—Mulder and Scully became increasingly more introspective and reflective characters, as much concerned with where they had been as where they were going. The alien conspiracy narrative effectively spiraled in on itself and the show eventually morphed into a melodramatic and romanticized tale of personal desires, selfish sacrifices, and of survival in the face of a dour and depressing certainty (with the eponymous “Truth” of the show’s subtitle revealed during a primary villain’s showstopping encore appearance).
Fox Home Entertainment now releases some of the early, more aesthetically optimist episodes of the series in a new box set entitled The X-Files Mythology: Abduction. It gathers 15 of the show’s mythology episodes from the first three seasons (from the “Pilot” episode through “Paper Clip”), offering what was initially interrupted by standalone stories and commercial breaks as one free-flowing continuum. No doubt this helps to explicate certain key plot points, while also maintaining an emotional consistency of character that the standalone episodes often hindered. I never noticed until now, for example, that the flat, subtly malicious line readings of the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) in the second season ender, “Anasazi,” allow for one familiar with the entire story arc to apply a few retrospective layers of meaning. Watch, especially, as he talks to Mulder’s “father” (Peter Donat) and tell me he isn’t cruelly hinting—however unconsciously on Davis’s part—at a few unspoken issues of paternity on which later seasons explicate.
Nonetheless, this new DVD package feels somewhat underfed, a half-eaten plate of steak and potatoes offered as a full five-course meal. I think this has to do with The X-Files being ultimately less of a plot-driven show than a dual character study. In the final analysis, the story arc is incidental to the Mulder/Scully relationship and to the varied individuals who come in and out of their lives through the years. The aforementioned first season episode, “The Jersey Devil,” is not included here because it is ostensibly a standalone and—many would say of the Bigfoot-inspired narrative—a poor one at that. Yet it should be seen in the context of The X-Files mythos because of its character moments, especially the personal-life scenes of Scully as she navigates both a disastrous date and a young family member’s birthday party. These sequences are less about the surface action than they are about Scully’s burgeoning desires, and they touch on issues of love and motherhood that are often returned to and come to fruition over the course of the series.
Minus moments such as these (in addition to the inexplicable exclusion of the first season mythology episode “Conduit,” which deals with the abduction of Mulder’s sister Samantha) The X-Files Mythology DVD set is left to more shakily stand on the show’s numinous twists of plot and the, fortunately, still potent performances of Duchovny and Anderson, both of whose manner and physicality somehow convey even the unseen tragedies and triumphs of their respective characters’ lives. Make no mistake, there is much to love in this package: if not some newly produced special features, then the episodes themselves, which many X-Philes would consider a compilation of the series’s finest hours. This dyed-in-the-wool X-Files fanatic, then, can only hope that those who partake of The X-Files Mythology collection will have their appetites sufficiently whetted, so that they might soon after delve a little deeper (via the already available full season DVD collections) into the twisted and engrossing world of one of television’s seminal works of art.
All episodes of The X-Files Mythology: Abduction are presented in the original 1.33:1 full frame broadcast aspect ratio. They look about the same as on the full season box sets, which is to say tremendously inconsistent as grain and pixellation (typically apparent in the show's many, many night or nighttime-inspired sequences) combat with the frequently crisp and colorful daylight exteriors. I harbor a fantasy that the show will one day be transferred-Battlestar Galactica-style-from film negatives as opposed to video masters, though I suspect that the series's post-production was always finished on video, hence relegating my burden of dreams to an overflowing abyss of unrequited desires. Three soundtracks are offered for all episodes: English Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround, and French Stereo, though it should be noted that the Spanish track for the second season opener "Little Green Men" is only offered in Stereo.
Five audio commentaries are spread over the four disc set, each a solo track with either creator/writer Chris Carter, producer/director R.W. Goodwin, or producer/writer Frank Spotnitz. The tracks follow a pretty consistent pattern: Carter at first has a lot to say over his two sessions, but he quickly peters out into long, silent stretches at each episode's mid-point. Goodwin, meanwhile, offers a continual narration of onscreen action in his two audio contributions, while Spotnitz proves the most talkative of the group on his commentary for "End Game," which he notes, with a rather ingratiating humbleness, was his first written and produced screenplay of any kind. Carter, too, has some humorous anecdotes to relate, especially regarding some of the first season's wardrobe malfunctions (he quickly put a stop to Mulder wearing Polo shirts) and crude special effects (he hilariously describes the hilltop spaceship light show in the first season episode "Deep Throat" as a "high-tech Pong game.") A new documentary entitled "Threads of the Mythology: Abduction" gathers together most of The X-Files' behind-the-scenes crew for individual interviews in which they offer their own explanations of the show's labyrinthine mythology and offer testament to the profound sense of family perpetuated on set. Carter has a particularly astute observation where he states that every episode of the show is a mythology story, which furthers the idea that watching The X-Files piecemeal does it something of a disservice. A collectible mythology timeline is also included with the package.
A 15-episode appetizer for those wary of the 202-episode main course.