Sunday, October 4, 2015

Sinking Into The Mythology (and Marathon Madness)

I'm probably at the height of my X-Files rewatch right now. Nearing the end of season four, I'm thoroughly entrenched in the series, during what was probably the peak of its run. Many of my favorite episodes are behind me, but there are still a lot more to come that I am looking forward to watching. In particular, I am only days away now from the big season 4 finale that I can't seem to help mentioning every chance I get. Plus, I'm looking forward to the run-up to the first movie that will occur at the end of next season, which I plan to reach by the end of this month (look for my review around Halloween!).

So far, I've managed to stick to my schedule (plus or minus no more than a day or two) of watching an episode a day, which is just the rate I need to go to finish the series by the time the new episodes premiere at the end of January. I've noticed that my reviews have evolved along with the series (some of those season 1 reviews are pretty skimpy looking back), which is a good thing, although it means more work for me and more time spent analyzing each episode. There were a couple occasions when I binged three monster-of-the-week episodes in season 1 to get a leg up on my calendar, but these days it's all I can do to pull off a mythology two-parter in any given 24 hour period (you'd think that'd earn me a day's reprieve, but I like to save those up for when I really need them).

Now there's this Myth Tracker thing I've started, which has grown into a monster I hadn't anticipated it being (and I've only put one out so far!). Originally, it started as a list of brief notes on the most salient points of each of the mythology episodes I'd rewatched, recalled from memory. (Basically, the summary sections of what's now there). I had it in mind that I would, perhaps, review certain parts of select episodes, to clarify some of the evidence and explanations as needed. But that turned into me binging season 1's mythology episodes over a weekend, partly because the episodes are just that captivating, and partly because every piece of evidence I picked up left me thinking, what else could I be missing?

And I'm nothing if not thorough. It's just the way my mind works. If this 200 day marathon wasn't enough to convince you, when I go in on something, I tend to go in all the way. And to make matters worse, I figured that, in trying to piece together the mythology in as consistent a manner as possible (so as to stand the best chance of untying this Gordian knot), there might be cases where what we learn in one episode is contradicted later, only to reveal that what we had learned wasn't actually the truth, but some kind of cover story - or maybe that what we thought we learned was just a theory that was never conclusively proven in the first place.

This is The X-Files, after all. So it occurred to me that I should not only document the findings of each episode (in detail), but that I should also consider the context in which the evidence is discovered, as well as whether or not or how conclusively it can be proven to be what it's actually claimed to be. (Can you see how it might be that X-Philes become as obsessed as they are)? Let me give you some examples:

Warning: Scroll down to skip spoilers from season 1's mythology (and maybe some brief spoilers from seasons 2, 3, and 4).

Deep Throat's story about killing an E.B.E. in the episode of that title, for example, is highly suggestive, but ultimately entirely circumstantial (and the "verification" we seem to get in the later episode Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man is similarly circumstantial, as the veracity of all of the events of that episode are called into question by the ambiguity of the framing story - that we are likely viewing a glorification, if not outright fabrication, of the Smoking Man's life and experiences). If it turns out later on in the mythology that no such killing occurred, and/or the international agreement that Deep Throat references never happened, it won't technically be a contradiction, since Deep Throat is a liar by his own admission.

The ET virus in The Erlenmeyer Flask, on the other hand, was tested by a microbiologist and related to Scully to be highly likely to be of extraterrestrial origin. That doesn't explain exactly where it came from, or whether it was really being used in ET gene therapy to create human-alien hybrids (let alone successfully) - but if nothing else, the evidence heavily supports that conclusion, and the fact is, whatever it is, whether ET or even synthetically man-made, it's not like anything else that occurs naturally on Earth, which is in and of itself pretty remarkable.

Also, we must consider the degree to which the government goes to cover up all of this more and less conclusive evidence. If the events in the pilot episode, for example, were truly just the result of a homicidal schizophrenic listening to voices in his head (as opposed to aliens communicating to him through an implant), the government would have no reason to bury the case. But they do. The fact that the microbiologist that identified the ET virus in The Erlenmeyer Flask was killed in an "accident" that involved her entire family highly suggests that she was onto something significant. And the fact that the conspirators killed Deep Throat for helping Mulder lends weight to the secrets he revealed, even if it doesn't corroborate the exact details of what Deep Throat chose to let out.

Ultimately, none of this is entirely conclusive, however, as one of the major mythology arcs in the series involves the idea that the whole extraterrestrial conspiracy is indeed a hoax, perpetrated to cover up less absurd but no less incriminating secrets that the government doesn't want to be held accountable for (such as inhumane experiments conducted by Axis power scientists given amnesty after WWII, as suggested in Paper Clip and 731). Hard as it might be to believe that the government would go to such great lengths, it's not impossible, especially given how elaborate the conspiracy would have to be, even if it's not all just a hoax.

Note: The rest of this discussion does not contain spoilers.

I think those are enough examples for you to get an idea of how easily this can all get way more complicated than anyone intended it to be at the start. (In light of this, I think the writers deserve some slack). Suffice to say, I got into the habit of not simply summarizing the important events of each mythology episode, but recording the context in which they were experienced, seeing as just because something turns up on the screen, doesn't necessarily mean you can take it for granted. So, questions like "who witnessed it", and "how trustworthy are they" (have they had a history of psychosis, for example) become important, and I find myself recording something more akin to an episode transcript.

It has its advantages (did I mention being thorough?), but it also takes a lot more time and effort, both of which I have in limited supply. It doesn't help that, while the mythology episodes in season 1 were relatively small and simple, I'm moving into much more complex and advanced arcs into the second season and beyond, when the mythology jumps from typically featuring one-off episodes to adopting a new tradition of two- (if not sometimes three-) parters. I wonder if I shouldn't scale back, and revert to a more simplistic approach, just to maintain my sanity (if nothing else), but I'm having a hard time backing down from the challenge of tackling this colossal beast known as The X-Files' mythology.

It doesn't help, either, that it's October now, and I'd like to spend some time watching horror movies and reviewing some of them, too. (I also have some Edgar Allan Poe stories, and the last of H.P. Lovecraft's recorded works on the menu). All the while watching and reviewing at least one episode of The X-Files a day. One episode a day doesn't sound bad at all. But there are no breaks. You can't take the weekends off. You can't put it aside for a couple weeks, rest, and then come back to it. I've got a deadline to beat. Keeping it up for a month or even two isn't too bad. But after nearly 100 days, it becomes a routine, and it's either do or die. But I don't intend to die.

(You know, come to think of it, I'm nearing the halfway point, on account of the last five seasons consisting of fewer episodes than the first four. Actually, thinking of it that way helps. I'm almost halfway done already! If I can just pull through October, I think my workload will ease up then. Soldier on, mate).

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