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Strange, wonderful TV journey of 'The X-Files' ends

Posted: Thursday, May 09, 2002

LOS ANGELES -- C'mon over here and let us plant a big farewell kiss on dark, droll, gory, sexy, devious, paranoid, sly, subversive, baffling, marvelous you -- ''The X-Files.''

The Fox drama about extraterrestrials, freakish terrestrial villains and the FBI agents driven to pursue them is ending its nine-year run, secure in its reputation as a television classic.

Chris Carter, its creator, dared to take the most orthodox of genres, the cop show, and transform it into a convention-busting, one-of-a-kind vehicle for thrilling and intelligent storytelling.

''The Truth,'' the two-hour finale, airs 8-10 p.m. EDT Sunday, May 19. David Duchovny returns as Fox Mulder, who faces a murder charge and military tribunal. Gillian Anderson co-stars as Dana Scully.

Since its Sept. 10, 1993, premiere, ''The X-Files'' has thrived on dichotomy. The feds were the good guys (Mulder and Scully and a few fellow FBI travelers) and the bad guys (just about everyone else in power).

It treated the convoluted ''mythology'' at its heart -- Mulder's quest to determine if his long-lost kid sister was kidnapped as part of an alien-invasion plot -- with intense solemnity and, when it felt like it, tongue-in-cheek affection. Other episodes, even those about murder and worse, often evinced a seriocomic tone; ''The X-Files'' was ''The Twilight Zone'' with continuity and more wicked wit.

The relationship between Mulder and Scully was sensuous and soulful and yet chaste and intellectual, save for a few kisses, a suggested one-night stand and a resulting baby, William.

(Says a bemused Carter: ''It just tickles me that in this day and age, when we have characters jumping into bed with each other at the drop of a hat, that there was so much anticipation and so much attention to what ultimately became a peck on the lips.'')

The cultural reach and influence of ''The X-Files'' outstripped its popularity. The series couldn't equal the numbers of, say, a top-rated '90s show like ''Seinfeld,'' which at one point lured nearly 40 million viewers. In 1997-98, at its peak, ''The X-Files'' drew 20 million viewers and ranked 19th.

But Duchovny and Anderson -- and sometimes even Carter -- decorated magazine covers and became gossip column material, a testament to their appeal and that of the series.

It earned a prestigious Peabody Award and received 61 Emmy nominations during its run, winning a best dramatic actress trophy for Anderson (but failing to nab a best drama award). The series became a cash cow for the network and 20th Century Fox through TV syndication, DVDs and a movie.

The catch phrases ''The truth is out there'' and ''Trust no one'' took on lives of their own as ''The X-Files'' became a cult phenomenon with mainstream impact. And the use of the letter ''X'' was enigmatic enough to mean just about anything -- especially anything cool, conflictedly sexy and disturbing to the status quo, the elements in which ''The X-Files'' trafficked.

The drama's psyche was steeped in anti-authoritarianism and alienation, with echoes of the Vietnam era in which the 45-year-old Carter came of age. Those themes managed, however, to resonate with younger as well as older viewers.

Then real-world events conspired to make ''The X-Files'' feel out of step in its final season.

In insecure, post-Sept. 11 America, citizens needed to have confidence in government. And there were a host of dramas ready to capitalize on the new zeitgeist, including ABC's ''Alias,'' in which there's conspiracy aplenty but the CIA is on the right side.

Carter, for the record, concedes only a brief moment when the show may have seemed out of step with society. The themes of ''The X-Files'' represent ''the heart and soul of this country,'' he argues.

''I think there will always need to be and will always be built into the government this need to police itself, and for the public to be distrustful of authority generally and of putting too much faith in it.''

Carter also disagrees with critics who said the series had faded, especially after Duchovny left last year and despite the valiant efforts of cast additions Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish (as agents John Doggett and Monica Reyes) to fill the void.

''I think the numbers make people say that,'' said Carter, referring to its 85th-place ranking for the season to date and a weekly audience that's dwindled to less than 9 million.

A viewership decline is inevitable for most aging series, and Carter admits to pondering the shift: ''Your audience over that time changes, the whole demographic changes. People's lives change. I don't know what happened to that audience, but only a portion of them came back this year.

''My sense is they felt something had been completed.''

Did Carter harbor any grudge toward Duchovny for not sticking it out? The actor who found stardom on ''The X-Files'' has focused on movies, including director Steven Soderbergh's upcoming ''Full Frontal.''

''No, I understood. He turned 40 years old, he's got things he wants to do. Eight years is a long time to be on a television show. I wished him the best and still do. It's just nice to have him back.''

Patrick, who co-starred in ''Terminator 2: Judgment Day'' and was making his first foray into regular series work, was glad to catch even a two-season piece of the ''X-Files.''

''The best part about it is that I know this is going to live on. I feel like I got involved in something great. When you think about the history of TV, you'll think about 'The X-Files,''' he said.

And more cases and conspiracies are ahead. With the success of the 1998 feature film, at least one more movie is planned. Carter is ready to start work on the script and hopes to begin filming as early as next summer.

''X-Philes,'' as fans became known, aren't the only target audience.

''We're looking at the movies as stand-alones. They're not necessarily going to have to deal with the mythology,'' he said.

Through the years, Carter maintained his goal was to provide audiences with a first-rate thrill ride. He acknowledges ''The X-Files'' also was thought-provoking and politically minded.

One more thing, he adds: ''It was tremendously romantic ... romantic in both the literary and more common sense in that it was about two people who were tremendously tender and caring for each other.''

A show like that deserves a hearty goodbye smooch. And that's the truth.



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