Creator: Chris Carter; Producer: Frank Spotnitz
With David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Available Nov. 6, List Price $329.98
For many fans of The X Files, the biggest mystery about this mammoth box set of the TV show's 202 episodes and its 1998 spinoff movie is how to get the damn drawer open. The 61 discs are in cardboard booklets a bad idea, since the cardboard can cause scratches to the discs in a large compartment resting on a slip-out drawer containing a program guide and comic book. But in my set and many others, the drawer doesn't slip out; it's crushed by the weight of the discs and booklets. I could have tried jimmying the thing open but I feared ripping it. (You'll find similar complaints on Amazon.com, where the set is selling for $99 under list price). So for now, the contains of that drawer remain secret: my own redacted X file.
Anyway, this was a terrific series, at least for the first five of its nine seasons, when it was filmed in Vancouver, B.C., and the visuals had a misty, Sherlock-Holmesian dankness to them. The show's twin, seemingly contradictory mantras "The truth is out there" and "Trust no one" were the ideal ingredients for a sci-fi cocktail with a 90s twist. The paranormal and the paranoiac joined hands through a pop-cultural wormhole; they met and multiplied. It wasn't so much science as psychic or psychoanalytic fiction. Psy-fi.
Like Star Trek, this was fantasy played straight. Agents Fox Mulder (Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Anderson) pursued their odd quarry with wide eyes and dead pans. But the aliens in Star Trek were often benign, intellectually curious the image of mid-20th-century American liberals, only with pointy ears or exposed frontal lobes. In The X Files, the aliens look like some ordinary gray federal bureaucrat (FEMA was a prime suspect) or Russian sailor; their only hint of weirdness is the oozy alien life form known as "black oil" that washes across their pupils. And they are not benign. They are in league with, or in the thrall of, the omnipotent extraterrestrial enemy. And they are us. As in U.S.
For the show's truest fans all those X-philes the box set is a lavish holding action for the X Files movie scheduled to be released next summer. The set also houses a reunion of that old gang of suspects: the informant Deep Throat (who tells Mulder that the aliens have "been here for a long, long time"), the Cigarette Smoking Man, the Well-Manicured Man, the alien bounty hunter, that trio of conspirator-dweebs known as the Lone Gunmen and Krycek, the villain who wouldn't die. We welcome back distinguished character actors like Charles Nelson Reilly (the episode "Jose Chung from Outer Space"), Peter Boyle ("Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose") and Veronica Cartwright (in four episodes as Cassandra Spender).
The show was a perfect fit for the 90s, when, really, nothing was happening in America when things were going so well, and so placidly, that people had to invent their own fears: not al-Qaeda blowing up Manhattan but aliens residing in Roswell, N.M. And what was going on in the Nevada military installation known as Area 51? In a 1996 TIME cover story on psy-fi, Mystery Science Theater 2000's Kevin Murphy japishly speculated that "All those socks from all those dryers get sucked through your dryer vents into a porthole, and they end up in Area 51. The government scrapes some of your DNA off the socks to get a genetic encoding. It then puts it into a huge computer so that it always knows what you are doing. Of course, I might be just a little paranoid." Not paranoid. Prescient. A few years later, The X Files revealed a similar conspiracy: that for decades aliens built up a database of Americans' genetic material through the vaccinations they received as kids!
Among the box-set extras is a very helpful 1 hr. 52 min. documentary, Threads of the Mythology, in which Carter, Spotnitz, directors Rob Bowman and Kim Manners and other ex-Filers discuss the themes of abduction, black oil, colonization and the alien troops known as "super soldiers." It'd be more helpful if there were a chronology of the Mythology the five or six shows each season about Mulder's search for his possibly abducted sister detailing what was revealed in each episode. But all that might be in the box-set drawer. I'll let you know if I pry it open.
Next John Ford at Fox