Friday, April 4, 2008

Television: X Marks the Spot

The philosophy-on-film craze of the late nineties had its beginning earlier in the decade with the airing of a strange new show called The X-Files. TV has never been the same since. It brought sci-fi and horror into the mainstream. It created a whole “supernatural” wave in television that continues to this day. It had the courage to blend humor with horror. It paved the way for shows like CSI to show those gut-wrenching autopsy scenes. All that, and it blended the normal “stand alone” episodic drama with an ongoing series “mythology.” So many series do this today that it has almost become the standard practice.

But the real genius behind the show’s success and effectiveness lies in the main characters: Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. He is the faith; she is the reason. Their approach to investigation is a reflection of the show itself. It presents the supernatural as something real, and demonstrable up to a point, but it never allows the mysteries to be fully explained. To cloud the issue even more, Mulder is the atheist, and Scully the questioning Catholic who in spite of it all keeps her faith in God.

The best episodes are too many to list, but a couple deserve special mention in that they deal with epistemology from a postmodern perspective. Jose Chung’s From Outer Space is a tour-de-force, presenting a story from multiple perspectives. In the end no one, not even the viewer, knows what really happened. In Bad Blood, Mulder and Scully give their own conflicting reports of an incident in a small Texas town involving vampires.

The episodes that don’t quite work make you think, but the ones that do… are some of the best television ever made. The scary ones are terrifying, the comedies are laugh-out-loud funny, and some manage to be both.

2 comments:

  1. From a spiritual perspective, I think you are dead on. X-files created some of the most haunting, thought-provoking peeks at a world we all know is there, but just can't see without proper "faith lenses" like Mulder always wore. The anchor of the show however is the undeniable chemistry between Mulder and Scully. (Ok, so I'm a girl...). Without people we care about in the mix, the ideas might've gotten lost. That's why story and not lecture is the way to get your point across to a post-modern audience.

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  2. You are right about the Scully-Mulder relationship. I must admit I haven't (yet) watched seasons 8 and 9 even though I have been through the rest of the series in order 3 times. Once Mulder was gone, what was the point? That being said, I liked that they didn't get "involved" either. Once they did late in season 7, the show lost something I think.

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