Maybe There’s Hope – Twenty Years of The X-Files : The Truth

Written by Chris Carter
Directed by Kim Manners
Original Air Date: 19th May 2002

There is an argument that one could make that The X-Files has had more than one finale. There’s I Want to Believe, the second movie that for seven and a half years was the last time we saw Mulder and Scully, and then there is season eleven’s My Struggle IV, the messy beast of an episode that, at the time of writing, is the final live-action X-Files to be produced. There was a possibility that season seven’s Requiem could have been the end, but an eighth season followed, eventually leading to a ninth that promised to be ‘the next generation of The X-Files’ by creator Chris Carter upon its premiere.

The season nine finale of The X-Files was believed, and very much accepted, as being the last time the franchise would produce an episode of television. Following the release of 1998’s first feature film, Fight the Future, there was always the belief that the future adventures of Mulder and Scully lay on the silver screen. The series itself was one of the most cinematic of the 1990s and early 2000s, combining superlative production values with genre material that was given depth and intelligence, along with an unwavering devotion to challenging the audience with science fiction and horror material on an emotional level not seen on the small screen since the days of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. All of this was combined with the intense procedural stylings of noted influence Kolchak: The Night Stalker, the ancestral parent of the iconic series that Carter himself name-checked in interviews.

Comparisons were frequently made with Twin Peaks when Carter’s series debuted, and yes there are aesthetic similarities (complex mythology, FBI agents, mysteries of a supernatural nature), but where David Lynch and Mark Frost’s definitive slice of cult television surrealism struggled to match the ratings its pilot episode gained going forward, Chris Carter’s more mainstream (although sometimes still challenging) pop-culturally defining series was a consistent rating smash from season two onwards, eventually becoming one of the Fox Network’s most-watched series when it moved timeslots during season four, even being picked for the post-Superbowl timeslot that same year. 

The massive success of the series tapered off in the second half of its run, while fan opinions on the seventh, eighth and ninth seasons were, and remain, highly divisive, more so with seasons eight and nine due to the less screen time afforded to star David Duchovny who was eager to jump to movies, as television stars frequently aimed for in the pre-peak TV period. When the two-hour finale The Truth aired, it did so to the biggest ratings that greeted the series’ ninth and (then) final season, and the open nature of its ending felt like an open door for future X-Files feature films to pick up from.

Except, that didn’t happen for a surprisingly lengthy six years. Litigation between 20th Century Fox Television and Chris Carter prevented The X-Files from coming back, and when it did, the second movie amazingly abandoned any heavier plot developments from the mythology to focus more on a stand-alone tale that involved kidnapping, organ harvesting and a surprisingly offensive depiction of an Eastern European gay couple whose devotion to each other and the ill health that befalls one of them leading them to a grisly body count amongst the icy snowy plains of Virginia that eventually reveals itself to be a grisly take on the Frankenstein story.

It was a long way from the epic conclusion that we were left with from the series finale six years previously, even if the episode itself was a contentious one that appeared to leave nobody happy. 

Gillian Anderson is wonderful as always in The Truth, but unforunately Carter’s script is all too ready to relegate Scully simply to ‘Mulder’s girlfriend’ throughout the season nine finale.

Amazingly, the other television finale that it’s reminiscent of is Seinfeld’s; the finale of The X-Files boils down to a court case, a plethora of previous recurring guest stars and clips. Lots of clips. For a series that avoided the ‘clip show’ trap, it was somewhat disappointing to see the series opt for a trip down memory lane, something that AD Skinner is shouted at for doing while defending Mulder on trumped-up murder charges. 

It’s an episode that wants to get into the gutter of the overarching mythology, a story arc that contained complex character dynamics, not to mention expansive plotting, but Chris Carter’s script struggles because, in the end, the mythology itself had become impossible to pin down into a cohesive narrative at this stage. It’s as if Carter’s script is bravely attempting to wrap up many of the dangling story and thematic threads in a nice bow, but it proves an impossible task. The clip show elements make the episode feel cheap. Hell, we’re not even in a proper courtroom for the majority of the episode. Because it’s a military tribunal of sorts, the entire court case, a sequence which eats up a considerable bulk of the finale’s ninety-minute run time, takes place in a bare room with three tables and a few chairs. 

While The Truth is far from the worst finale of any television series, what was most disappointing about it at the time (but which has perhaps allowed one to soften towards it given that it ended up not being the very end of the series) is the moments of brilliance dotted throughout. It opens promisingly on a James Bondian note as we watch a returning Mulder break into a DOD base and get into a prolonged chase with recurring villain Knowle Roher (Adam Baldwin) which culminates with the latter’s death. Then there’s the final action sequence. The X-Files always knew how to do ‘big’ in its mythology tales and the use of helicopters and copious amounts of explosions set to a bombastic piece of music from resident composer Mark Snow felt like a statement of intent for the series to go out on as it paved the way for its future on the silver screen. 

The quiet epilogue involving Mulder and Scully in a motel room, a call back to a similar moment in the pilot episode, manages to say more thematically in the space of about three minutes than the entire court case sequence, but it only ended up making you wish that the entire episode had the ability to do what that scene does so well. 

While season nine was very much a Mulder-less season, the original finale of the series repositions the story back to one involving the pencil throwing, sunflower seed-munching hero, which is both a blessing and a curse; Mulder being back is a good thing, but for all the faults and criticisms levelled at the ninth season (and to a certain extent the eighth which has always been far better than its reputation would have you believe), the additions of Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish were high points. Yes, the gender representation of belief vs sceptic reverted to a typical male/female dynamic (Doggett was the sceptic, Reyes the believer), but they were fantastic additions that ended up getting sidelined in the series finale of a television show that had become as much theirs as it had David Duchovny who had scaled back his involvement to the point of leaving at the end of season eight. 

Both get their moments to shine, but their roles in the story feel seriously undercooked. Even Scully feels like she’s has been relegated to ‘girlfriend’ status throughout the episode while Mulder and Skinner get the major beats of the drama to play off in the trial scenes. The absense of Mulder had led Scully to being positioned as the lead of the series and yet Carter’s script simply has her talk at length about her relationship with Mulder and the abandonment of their child a few episodes back as if that’s really all she has to bring to the table at this stage, a sad development given the character has pretty much been a central figure throughout its entire nine year run.

There are some genuinely lovely callbacks and guest appearances from old faces, and one of the best parts of the episode involves the Dickensian use of ghostly apparitions in the shape of the previously dead Krycek and X, which is a welcome reminder of not only of their roles in the series, but also of the best parts of its complex history.

David Duchovny made a highly publicised return to the series for what appeared to be the series finale, but it comes at the detriment to the other cast members, such as Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish, who are pushed aside very easily.

Looking back on it, the episode still remains something of a messy one, but it feels more complete in a way than the actual series finale would in season eleven. My Struggle IV is, Carter claims, something that can act as both finale and cliffhanger, but it leaves a sour taste in the mouth in a way that The Truth doesn’t. It may lack some sort of concrete emotional note to close on which I Want to Believe achieved pretty well, but the seeming fear of closure that Carter has for the series as a whole and the mythology itself plays in direct contrast to how the series has usually managed to feel more emotionally concluded when it comes to the stand-alone episodes.

When the series was facing the possibility of concluding in season seven, Vince Gilligan made his directorial debut with Je Souhaite, a lovely piece of fluff which concludes with the pleasing image of our two heroes sharing a beer on Mulder’s couch watching Caddyshack. Gilligan again delivered what was very nearly the final stand-alone episode of the series with season nine’s Sunshine Days, another gentle piece of comedy fantasy that uses The Brady Bunch as a proxy for The X-Files itself and which actually gives Doggett and Reyes something more substantial and lovely to do than they would in The Truth (and the less said about the character assassination that Carter delivered in regards to Reyes in seasons ten and eleven the better). 

Even if you flash forward to season eleven, the final stand-alone episode, Nothing Lasts Forever, is another knowing tale involving television stars, ageing and immortality and which ends with a truly lovely final scene in a church with its two lead characters pretty much telling the other they are devoted to each other whatever may come. It’s not a wedding scene but it’s as close as shippers will ever get and sums up the central relationship in the series perfectly without overegging the shipping pudding. 

Perhaps we weren’t appreciative of it at the time, and maybe it’s easy to be more so in light of what Carter did to Mulder, Scully, Skinner, Reyes and William when he had his chance to bring the series back in 2016 and 2018, but it’s easier to look back on The Truth and appreciate more the things it got right than the things it got wrong. 

It was never going to make the mythology truly make sense, not when the series went beyond seasons five, six and the first movie when those threads did make sense but had to expand beyond what maybe Carter originally intended, but it does find some tenderness and a sense of closure for Mulder and Scully going forward. ‘Maybe there’s hope’, Mulder says just before the episode fades to black on what was an unknown future for the series. Back then at least there was hope. It may not have been the greatest ending for what was once the mightiest piece of pop culture on television, but at least it left you a little eager to see what might have happened next and didn’t leave the series and the story on a note that felt like it was scorching the earth for the hell of it. 

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