“Sorry, nobody down here, but the FBI’s most unwanted.” – Fox Mulder
Our heroes are introduced (to us and each other), with Special Agent Dana Scully assigned to work with Special Agent Fox “Spooky” Mulder in order to debunk his work on paranormal activities. Their first case involves apparent alien abductions — what else? —in Oregon, when members of a specific high school class keep dying under mysterious circumstances.
WHILE WE WATCHED
Max: And PLAY.
Radhika: Oh man. This is going to be fun.
Max: [noting the disclaimer] This is real you guys! Actual documented accounts!
Radhika: [noting female victim’s outfit] Shallow thought: The night gown always made me sad. Were people really sleeping in those things in 1993?
Max: Only if they were sexually repressed teenagers.
[scene shifts to the girl, dead] And here we are starting out with a dead female teenager. Twin Peaks leaving an early mark on the proceedings, given the popularity of the program paved the way for The X-Files to exist.
Radhika: With just a trace of blood by the nose. It’s always the nosebleeds.
[At FBI Headquarters] And now we have Scully. Hello, fuddy-duddy pantsuits.
Max: Got to love temporary pilot sets that will be totally redone. And Scully’s hairstyle, unique for this episode, still more auburn than red.
Radhika: Cigarette Smoking Man alert!
Max: I don’t believe he spoke a word until the end of the season…
Radhika: So we’re actually introduced to all of that, including background on Mulder, in less than five minutes of the episode starting. Very to the point.
Max: Good info-dump.[Heading downstairs to the basement] Mulder, meet Scully.
Radhika: And the “I Want to Believe” poster. Or rather, Scully, meet the poster.
Max: Interesting shift going from physics to medicine for Scully.
Radhika: Eventually to autopsies and paranormal activity!
Max: And our first slideshow. This conversation is classic 1990s.
Radhika: You know what else was classic 1990s? The alien necklace I wore from 98-99. This show definitely left its mark on the decade.
Max: Oh god, I could picture those.
Radhika: “That’s why they put the I in FBI.” – I just said that with Mulder. So they worked pretty hard to establish those “kooky believer,” “straight-laced skeptic” stereotypes right off the bat.
Max: Naturally, for character types. I must give credit to Mark Snow for crafting the best music for this program. Sets the mood enormously.
Radhika: And he wound up being pretty recognizable with his later work. I’m pretty sure he scored Smallville… at least up until the point where I kept watching it before giving up
Max: And they have a playful rapport already, conjuring up that sexual tension, which will be a hallmark.
Radhika: I never wanted them to get together. But that’s for future episodes. Sigh.
Max: Scully’s arc is for her to have all these experiences and evidence that it will become undeniable for her to not believe.
Radhika: You can turn her “That’s not plausible….” reaction into a drinking game. Just like everything else on this show
Max: [Exhuming the body of Ray Soames] That’s one pretty corpse.
Radhika: One of many pretty corpses to come on the show. Sidebar, I just got a push alert for my crossword app across the screen. That wouldn’t have happened 20 years ago.
Max: Twenty years ago, there wasn’t even an alt.tv.x-files yet.
Radhika: That’s some food for thought. Mulder in a backwards baseball cap. Hello nineties.
Max: Fox is trying way too hard. Another thing that distinguishes this show, it just looks different…. they still shot on film as opposed to digital
Radhika: Did they switch in the later seasons? I just know it eventually got prettier and sleeker and sunnier.
Max: They went widescreen in season 5, and then the move to LA in season 6 changed the color palette considerably.
Radhika: Well, Vancouver years, low budget, yada yada yada.
[After their encounter with Billy and Peggy] And here we go: Mulder is now telling Scully that the teens in this case have been abducted. Classic Mulder and Scully argument.
Max: It actually took a while for him to say that outright.
Radhika: True. It’s like he was trying to hold in the “spooky”.
[Investigating in the woods] And now: Mulder and Scully in the woods with flashlights. They established nearly every trope that became associated with this show in the first episode. Not a whole lot of pilots come with that built-in sense of identity.
Max: Yes, I mean the show still finds what works and what doesn’t over this season, but the X-Files vibe is strong.
Radhika: Definitely. The pilot, in some ways, is stronger than some of the episodes to come. But it’s commendable that Chris Carter and company knew what they wanted the show to be about at its core.
[On their way back from the woods] So here we’ve got Mulder and Scully, driving in the rain – they lose power and 9 minutes! So of course Mulder has to cheer like a loon because he’s “right” about aliens.
Max: This is one of my favorite scenes of the series. “Not in this zipcode”….
Radhika: “Time just can’t disappear,” Scully says. One of many statements she’ll make, only to be proven wrong, in years to come.
[Scully goes to Mulder to see about some suspicious “marks”] OK, here’s the real “Oh no they didn’t” sexual tension moment of the show.
Max: Given Mulder’s proclivity for porn, he’s surely enjoying this.
Radhika: Scully must have really been worried. Mosquito bites, and she’s stripping down to her underwear in front of her new partner?
And Mulder’s sister’s abduction story! It’s all in the pilot!
Max: The structure of the mythology is worked out on a primordial level, all these elements will reappear in different forms over 9 years.
[The duo are talking to Theresa, who asks for their help] They can’t even protect their evidence!
Radhika: That is some seriously stilted delivery.
Max: Girl is shaken up.
Radhika: And here we go: Nosebleed. Well, Scully might not believe in aliens, but after their evidence is destroyed and Theresa’s dad shows up to hide her away, she’s definitely on the conspiracy boat.
Max: Some evidence is undeniable.
Radhika: [Arguing at the cemetery] Scully looks incredibly young in this scene. And she was. She’s younger than I am here.
Max: One of my favorite bloopers is of Gillian flubbing lines in this scene.
Radhika: Haha. X-Files bloopers (always the worst quality) were always fun.
Max: [Billy is abducting Theresa] Another nightgown!!!!
Max: I had more stylish pajamas!
Radhika: I probably wore Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pajamas at that point, hella stylish. All right, so we’ve had bright lights, whirling leaves and a vegetative state boy who’s perfectly okay now. What happened?
Max: Something spooky! It must have been a real treat to watch this live.
Radhika: [Back at HQ] “Agent Mulder believes we are not alone” – classic Scully report to “the shadowy figures” in the early years.
Max: Sadly, this wasn’t my first episode. I didn’t know this show existed until season 2.
Radhika: I knew this show existed in season 2 as well, but I was too damn chicken to start watching it until much later. But I also used to be afraid of the Joker on Batman once, and look at how Batman obsessed I am now.
Max: Oy vey.
Radhika: I was afraid of clowns!
[At the Pentagon] And here’s the classic closing shot: CSM filing something away in a mysterious room full of boxes, locking it up. Also very Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Max: Very. And so began a show that would go on for 9 seasons and mutate so many times.
Max: A common theme in our rewatch of the pilot is how so much of the lore of the series was already there on day one. Aliens, a genuine rapport despite the differing worldviews, Samantha, a conspiracy to suppress information and a campaign to discredit Mulder’s work, and the way we would enter into and explore each of the stories we would see on a weekly basis.
In terms of episodic television, The X-Files would become a marker on the road to the increasing serialization of a program’s story. While the hybrid model our show settled on would be used in everything from Buffy to Burn Notice, one cannot overlook the impact shows like Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere had on the way stories were told in the next decade to come. The radical vision of Twin Peaks, and it’s ascendant watercooler popularity gave Chris Carter license to do the things he did in this first season, dropping us into spectacularly vivid and eerie landscapes.
While everything is in its protean form, I like to think of what we will be talking about over the next few weeks as we plow through the freshman season as the cast and crew collecting the puzzle pieces that they dumped on our dining room table. I’ll get into more of this holistic meta-theory of the show in a post a bit down the line.
Radhika: As a whole, I’m on the same page. I’m most struck by is how solid and true-to-the-show this is for a pilot episode. It’s not like there haven’t been solid pilots or first seasons before. (Heroes comes to mind, but then again, that is a show that devolved fast.). But there are also a ton of shows where you always have to warn viewers, “I promise it gets better. Just get through those first episodes. Then you’ll love it.”
This pilot isn’t perfect, but there’s enough for it to be compelling. The budget is low, the wardrobe is far from glamorous, but the characters are interesting with an already promising rapport, and there’s enough mystery to make a viewer wonder what’s next.
On the other hand, I can’t help but think that this might have been the type of show that would have been pulled from the rotation within weeks of airing in today’s TV landscape. A sobering thought when you think about how gargantuan this show would become.