For the last decade and change, I’ve had an occasional recurring dream: not a nightmare per se but the kind of too-obvious subconscious excavation that leaves one restless and edgy upon waking, sleep spent in the company of what-ifs and might-have-beens. In my dream I don’t revisit scenes from my own life but rather those of fictional characters – Mulder and Scully, to be precise, or Doggett and Reyes to be more precise; the “X-Files” of this nocturnal grappling is like that of the show’s ninth and final season, starring Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish, with Gillian Anderson dropping in now and again and David Duchovny conspicuously absent. The dream is always the same: I turn on the television and find the series in its eleventh or fifteenth or twentieth season, and even though I haven’t seen it in years I can’t turn it off. It’s not very good anymore, which is why my dream-self stopped watching, but yet to wake up from this dream I’m still filled with guilt at having abandoned it.
The truth is that I never abandoned “The X-Files.” The show’s final year was my first year of college and I used to stake out the Ricketts House lounge hours before airtime, to be sure I’d get my necessary weekly dose of Mulder and Scully. Despite the flaws of the ninth season, I watched every episode; I saw “I Want to Believe” at a midnight showing and pre-ordered the DVD; I started a podcast about the show, in 2012, but gave it up when someone better came along.
There will officially be a tenth season of the show that has, more than any other piece of fiction or art or entertainment, defined my life. I should be excited, and I thought I would be.
The truth is, I’m not excited at all.
The first episode I ever saw was “Darkness Falls,” late season one (episode 21, I want to say?). I was ten years old and my friend Alison was sleeping over. She and my older brother weren’t scared by the episode but I was freaked out, and later that night, when I got into bed, I shrieked in terror: they’d conspired to fill my sheets with glow-in-the-dark plastic bugs, just like the ones that had cocooned Mulder and Scully nearly to death.
By season three I’d matured enough to watch it regularly with my brother on Friday nights, sandwiched in between the first hour of ABC’s “TGIF” lineup and “20/20”. Phil had to talk me out of fear when an episode was set in Cleveland (“2Shy”) but otherwise the show’s third year was a slow burn, and the summer in between seventh and eighth grade I began to miss it, to fill the gap by checking out books from the library and searching on the nascent Internet (we had just gotten a modem in the house). Soon I was lost: ATXF, X-Ville, the OBSSE, Gossamer, Scullyfic – I had discovered my community of fellow obsessives, more accommodating than the junior high classmates with whom I never quite found social traction, and so I met my tribe online instead, at least until I went to high school (season five) and got some real-life ‘phile friends. Most of them have respectable adult jobs now, DoJ attorneys and museum curators and up-and-coming comedy writers, and kids too; I’ll spare them the name-checking but together we wore out VHS tapes of favorite episodes and built out a battery of in-jokes (“Woodcock!” and “Full bore!” and “David Duchovny’s Reading with Inflection”). Some of them were already superfans and some of them I converted, with quotes and videos and my incessant evangelical fervor, but we were all weirdos, theater geeks and sci-fi nerds both at once; but we were weirdos together so it didn’t matter that other kids scoffed at our TV shows and our Halloween costumes and our fanfic.
Because, dear god, the fanfic.
“X-Files” fanfic existed in two primary epochs: Before “Iolokus” (a more innocent time, when Paula Graves/Anne Haynes was the peak of MSR (Mulder/Scully Romance)), and Post-“Iolokus,” which blew open the fanfic landscape with the same ferocity and angsty melodrama that the anti-hero has brought to cable television. At the beginning, I read it all – I remember my confusion at an adventure story that devolved into a sappy romance scored by Celine Dion (what happened?, my thirteen-year-old self wondered) and the glee that my social circle took in the frequently ridiculous romances by the likes of MacSpooky. We laughed and scrolled – the textual version of covering your eyes – through NC-17 stories like “Sweet Smell of X-Cess,” which revolved around some kind of pheromonal conspiracy; I don’t remember any details except a scene in an elevator which introduced me to the concept of a gangbang, for as surely as we were scrolling past the dirty stuff we were reading it, too, peeking at the luridness from behind our youthful covered eyes. "He flicked it" became a catchphrase, taken from a sex scene in a story called “Pizza and a Beer” by an author named Leyla Harrison, who died of cancer and was later memorialized by the show itself, appearing as a young agent in two episodes in season 8 and 9.
I wrote fanfic: a porn parody series that interwove a sketch from MTV’s “The State” in its debauchery, and some serious things, too – with one friend I began penning an “Iolokus”-style epic, from which I can still recall one sublime sentence: “In a bullish pose that was vaguely reminiscient of a Gestapo subjugation tactic, Kersh leaned forward with hands folded in deceptive innocuity.”
I’ve been the editor of an online humor magazine for five years now, but the truth is that I reached my absurdist peak at fifteen.
I dyed my hair red for seven years. It grew out of a deal that I made with my parents for Halloween in my sophomore year of high school. I had planned to dress as a character listed officially as “Fat Man,” a member of the nefarious Syndicate who my friends and I had taken to calling “Cheeks,” but my parents – concerned that I was not displaying sufficient femininity – begged me to dress as my idol, Special Agent Doctor Dana Scully, and I took advantage of their eagerness to go full-on DKS: only, I said, if I could dye my hair for it. They consented immediately, I looked great as a redhead, and it became my new look until I graduated from college (with the exception of my freshman year, when I shaved my head).
That first year, I dressed as Suit!Scully. The following year, I put on a lab coat and went as Science!Scully. My favorite “X-Files” costume, though, was undoubtedly the one I wore my freshman year, when I dressed as John Shiban, one of the show’s writers. My BFF, Rachel, dressed as fellow scribe Frank Spotnitz, although to most of our classmates we just looked like boys (an acceptably exotic costume choice at our all-girls Catholic school). I put olive oil in my hair to emulate Shiban’s follicular sheen and, oblivious to proper makeup techniques, used a mascara brush to give myself a scratchy soul patch. Ten years later, in the lead-up to the release of “I Want to Believe,” Frank Spotnitz – co-writer and co-producer of the film – began publishing selected fan emails on his blog. I sent him a message about Rachel and my sartorial homage, and we made it on the site; I was homeless at the time, squatting in a Caltech basement not far from where I’d camped out to watch the final season of “The X-Files” six years earlier, eating ramen and searching out spoilers for the upcoming movie just to have something to look forward to. Spotsy and Shibes, the post was titled, just what Rachel and I called ourselves back when we were fourteen.
When the movie finally did come out, I flew from Los Angeles to Cleveland to see it with Rachel, honoring the many adolescent hours spent watching episodes in her basement. The Foo Fighters had a show in Cleveland the night before the midnight premiere and it was my ideal lineup, Dave Grohl and then Dana Scully; Rachel and I were two of three people in the movie theater and though I expected us to see the movie again together before I returned to the West Coast I was rebuffed – “I think I’ve outgrown it,” Rachel told me, and a year and a half later I learned that “it” referred not only to the series but to our friendship as well. "I never want to speak to you again,“ she wrote in a blindsiding email, and when I could think again what I thought was: but what if one of us finally figures out who Clarissa McPeck, byline at the end of "Fight the Future” and a mystery that we’d devoted fruitless years to unraveling, really is?
Wouldn’t the other deserve to know?
One year after that Rachel emailed me again, conciliatory. We’ve made up, I guess, or at least we’re civil if not close – I wasn’t invited to her wedding and I don’t know if she has kids yet or if her elderly father is still alive, but I suppose it wouldn’t be horribly awkward to run into one another on the street someday, or to drop her a line if I ever solve the mystery of McPeck.
I wonder if she’s heard the news about Season Ten.
I wonder if she thought about Spotsy and Shibes.
Here’s why I’m not excited about Season Ten: because once the series ended, there was a second movie. It was called “I Want to Believe” and it did not do well at the box office. Its plot was thin but it had Skinner and Xzibit and the gruesome death of Amanda Peet – all good things – and featured Mulder and Scully in a full-fledged adult romance. And while, once upon a time, Mulder wiping barbecue sauce from Scully’s cheek or their first, chaste kiss was enough to make incoherent episodes like “Red Museum” and “Millennium” eminently watchable, the relationship presented in “I Want to Believe” – in which they live together, in which they make out twice, in which Dr. Dana Katherine Scully, that latter-day template for female emotional dormancy, actually declares that she is in love with Mulder (as she is breaking up with him; DKS giveth, and DKS taketh away) and which ends with the Dynamic Duo swimsuit-clad and paddling through pristine waters, fanfic-like – earned nothing but ire from fans. On my newsfeed today, someone referred to it as an “abomination.”
So what the fuck do we, the fandom, want or expect from Season Ten? There is a certain appeal to the idea of breaking out the Kry-Chex Mix and Doritos Covarrubias and traveling back in time to the mid-to-late 90s, to a time when I typed Spanish captions under photos from the show so that I could pretend they were for an assignment when I printed them out at the school computer lab or made my own Scully action figure out of clay before the official ones came out or somehow transported a four-foot-tall cardboard Scully cut-out on a Southwest flight from Cleveland to Los Angeles to accompany me to college – but the truth is that I have aged, and so have Duchovny and Anderson. They’re older now than they were in 2008, during “I Want to Believe,” and we still haven’t forgiven them for it. After seven more years of wear and tear and life, why do we think we’ll be any kinder now?
The renewal can’t be to entice a new generation – the young ‘uns of today can discover the original series in full, commercial-free glory on Netflix and Hulu, and the intervening years of vampire slayers and supernatural brothers have rendered even first-season Mulder and Scully old by contemporary standards of sexy paranormal investigators. It’s not for a happy ending – “I Want to Believe” gave us that, and beautifully – and it’s not for an extension of the show’s convoluted mythology (for that, there are the official “X-Files” season ten comics, which resurrect damn near everyone and introduce a whole slew of new villains and aliens). We can’t go back to the days of the Cigarette-Smoking Man; he was blown up in the series finale, in a shot which showed flesh burning from his skeleton (although he numbers among the alive-after-all of the comics).
And that’s the crux of it, really: why do we need to uproot the show, except to prove that we can, except for the impossible belief that it’ll be just like it was the first time around? Even if Rachel and I were still best friends, even if we still spoke regularly, her parents moved to Florida years ago; I can never revisit the comfort and familiarity of that basement couch, and so it is too with the basement office. Mulder and Scully have already given us all they have to offer, and it’s time to be the heroes of our own lives now.
If Mulder was right and a dream is, in fact, an answer to a question we haven’t yet learned to ask, maybe my subconscious has been awaiting this scenario for years. Despite my trepidation, I’ll give it a chance, because I don’t know how not to watch “The X-Files” – I know exactly with whom I’ll be texting back and forth about each new episode (damn her East Coast time zone advantage!) but much like she-who-would-have-starred-in-my-vision-board-if-vision-boards-had-been-a-thing-in-the-90s (aka Scully), I’m skeptical.
In the immortal words of the SRSG, not everything dies. But everything must end somehow, and we should learn to let go.