There exist some rare occasions when one single phenomenon can be of such an immense influence that it is able to shape the cultural discourse almost on its own merits. Of course, as things don't just happen in a vacuum, or without a history, there's a history of The X-Files also, it includes Twin Peaks as the direct predecessor having reinvigorated the field of television for the paranormal, it also includes the likes of The Twilight Zone and the sporadic instances of supernatural shows over the decades, like Tales From the Crypt.
But still, when you take a look at the sudden outbreak of genre shows after the emerging success of the The X-Files, there's an abundance of shows like Poltergeist: The Legacy, The Pretender, Profiler, Dark Skies, Psi Factor and the new Outer Limits, as well as Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Something happened out there. So what's the big deal?
There's more to The X-Files than just some new kind of horror show. Of the many shows starting in its wake, most were relatively short-lived or doomed to a secondary existence, with the exception of Buffy the Vampire Slayer which opened up a new direction again. But all the other shows took just elements out of The X-Files and tried to make them work, but it's not just those single plot elements, it's the combination that makes The X-Files what it is: it's the traditional horror and supernatural, it's science fiction with a strong insistence on biology and especially genetics, it's conspiracy theory, it's serial killers, aliens, demons without and within; it's all of those combined in the simple yet known setting of the FBI detective show, genderbending the main characters, switching around the traditional role play and choosing to downplay things if possible, preferring the minimalist path until some big revelation promising some new answers will only open up new questions.
Pleasure is consequently denied or at least delayed as long as possible on The X-Files: that concerns both sexual and amorous pleasure between Mulder and Scully, as well as the pleasure of finally finding the truth. There is no truth on The X-Files, there's just answers opening up whole new discourses of questions and fields. There's no finality, no solution, no big finish.
There are three breaks within the series, the first consisting of the Scully's abduction and thickening the conspiracy theory with the ominous phrase of "I've watched Presidents die" (2x08 "One Breath") rooting everything, of course, in the JFK phenomenon. The second break is the violent end of the group of conspirators in 6x12 "One Son", which serves as a big moment of general catharsis for the show; from there on, it's not just about finding answers, but about finding solutions to a problem that's become manifest and visible. The third break is Mulder's abduction in 7x22 "Requiem" and the ensuing introduction of agents Dogget and Rayes. That last break proved to invigorate the show with fresh ideas and characters, it also proved to be its death blow. With the conspiracy rather exposed, the central questions more concerning the "how" than the "if", the central appeal remained the couple of Mulder and Scully, with that gone, or diminished after Mulder's return and then transformed into a presence of absence during Mulder's hide-out, even the superb performances by Robert Patrick as John Dogget couldn't save the show from dying a slow death ratings-wise. The intended transition failed, and it was decided that the ninth season would be the end before it got canceled, providing a conclusion both to The X-Files and its shamefully short-lived spin-off The Lone Gunmen, after Millennium, too, had to be concluded in an The X-Files-episode.
One main component of The X-Files is its cinematic style and atmosphere. Set out from the beginning as something that should look more like a little movie each week than a television show, the standards enforced by the show would put up a heavy workload on other projects. The supernatural was supposed to look as "real" as possible, blurring the borders between the "normal" and the "abnormal" and "paranormal". Also, horror was removed from its niche existence somewhere in the realms of trashy self-parody, and elevated into the regions of serious entertainment and art. In addition to the stylish film noir look, Mark Snow's minimalist music, his eerie soundscapes and sparse use of melody became the ideal counterpart to story and visual execution. Add to that the talents of all actors involved; a sense of self-awareness and self-reflexivity starting with the second season episode 2x20 "Humbug" that would add the element of self-parody; and an immense suspense created by an ever-widening plot. The result is a hallmark show unlike any other, still waiting to be continued on the big screen.
January 25th, 1998 / February 25th, 2003