The X-Files Retro Review: The Pilot

“Pilot” S1E1

At the FBI, a young nubile 25 year old Special Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), reminiscent of Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs, struts into the office to receive her new orders. She is to shadow Special Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovany) and take detailed notes of his activity. He is described as a brilliant psychologist and investigator, so brilliant that most people don’t mind when he works on his pet project, the X-files, a collection of cases that were deemed as unexplainable. Watching over her first meeting is the brooding, silent smoking man (William B. Davis), who will become more important as the show progresses.

The X-Files

Smoking Man looms over Scully

Bill Hicks has a joke. He says that after the President’s inauguration, he is taken to a dark room full of smoking men. He is shown a video of the JFK assassination from an angle that has never been shared with the media. The smoking men ask, “Any questions?”

“Just one! What do you want my agenda to be?”

The idea that the machinations of the United States government is run by creepy old men in suits smoking in the darkest corners of the Pentagon is a long-standing conspiracy birthed from an era that gave us the tricky JFK assassination and the Watergate scandal. Add a big helping of alien mythology, and you have a classic American fable and the backbone for a series that lasted an impressive 9 seasons.

Mulder and Scully meet for the first time

Mulder and Scully meet for the first time

The series is not just a story of paranoia and terror. It is about knowing that there is more to this world waiting to be explained and the manifest destiny that pushes us to discover those things. “Trust No One” is a nice creepy phrase to attach to the story, but Mulder’s poster “I Want to Believe” is so much more fitting. As Agent Mulder, Duchovany embodies that feeling. We first see him tinkering with slides surrounded by walls of half-baked ideas and said poster. At this point Anderson is still just a rigid federal agent stand-in, but Mulder is a lively sarcastic anti-drone. He is expecting Scully to fight back and eventually give up, and they just got started. What he doesn’t know is Scully is the foil he has been waiting for. She is curious enough to help him investigate, but skeptic enough to not roll over with every out-there idea he might have. Unfortunately, that lively tone takes a backseat when it is time for Mulder to open up about why he is obsessed with the X-files in the first place. Mulder believes he was already a victim of a close encounter where his sister was abducted while he was powerless to stop it.

The rest of the episode follows what would eventually be recognized as a typical episode of The X-Files. The two investigate an unexplained phenomena in Anywhere, USA to find an impossible, but not implausible by science fiction standards, answer leaving Mulder with enough proof to keep looking and Scully with not enough proof to be convinced. In this particular episode, Mulder and Scully are running down a possible lead on alien abduction in Oregon. A teenager is found dead in the forest with strange marking on her back which Scully identifies as possible needle marks. Mulder has seen those types of wounds before and finds that there are a group of teenagers all of whom where possibly abducted. They also experience electrical disturbances and loss of time (key signals of an close encounter) and find a deformed corpse in a coffin and a metallic implant in one of the victims. We never get to see any aliens, but this is just the kind of carrot that the universe likes to tempt Mulder with. The scene is than punctuated with a nice homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark

Rating: 9/10

My plan is to try and review EVERY EPISODE of the series. Some of them will be long. Some of them will be short. I am probably going to try to do more than one episode an article. I’ll try to remind people of spoilers at the time, but I am not going to hold back moving forward. This will be a real REview, not a PREview. Hopefully, people will follow along whether they can dig up their old DVDs. They are available streaming on Netflix. That is how I am watching them.

Squint and you'll see the arc

Squint and you’ll see the arc