A man smoking a cigarette attempts to blend into the background, just another company guy enforcing the rules. He never says a word; in fact, he’s pretty forgettable. Until the closing shot, that is. As the man who will eventually come to be known as the Cigarette Smoking Man shuts the door of a warehouse inside the Pentagon, sealing away the only piece of evidence left from Mulder and Scully’s first investigation, The X-Files makes one thing clear: we won’t get every answer.
It’s been 25 years since Mulder and Scully first met and worked on their first case together. In Oregon, members of the same graduating class are being found dead in the forest with two strange mosquito bite-looking marks on their backs. Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) insists it’s aliens. As a medical doctor and woman of science, Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) uses logical reasoning to counter his hypothesis. But as the two dive deeper into their investigation, local and national forces are destroying their evidence.
As a first case, the abductions in Oregon are ultimately unsatisfying. It’s not the case that makes this first dip into Mulder and Scully’s investigations fascinating, though. It’s the paranormal phenomenons at every turn, the idea that our government is controlling the truth, and how we might not be alone in the universe. All these big ideas find a home in these first 45 minutes of The X-Files, but that’s not all the show was good at.
There’s not a duo more iconic than Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. Ship them all you want, but The X-Files valued their friendship first and foremost, bringing them beyond just “the believer” and “the skeptic,” cemented beautifully in the pilot episode. That instant connection, that respect for each other’s differing perspective; in a world conspiring against them, Mulder and Scully’s friendship grounded their work. Those larger than life, truth-defying revelations only graspable through their eyes. Though Scully has been sent by the higher ups to spy on Mulder’s work with the x-files, a lesser show would have made their dynamic antagonistic, but Scully goes to Mulder when she does find mosquito bites on her, getting caught up in the “what if” of it all. What if those kids are being abducted? What if the sheriff is covering for his son? What if Mulder is right?
And there’s Mulder confiding in Scully about his past, how his sister’s abduction when he was a kid prompted his interest when he discovered the x-files years later. Moments of vulnerability, of levity, followed by the intelligent, thoughtful dialogue you couldn’t hear anywhere else, gave The X-Files, a show essentially about aliens, but not, a level of sophistication not often found in network television.
After that Pentagon door closes, the show goes on to even bigger and better places, complicated government conspiracies, a genuine picture of a character struggling to balance her faith with the facts, some Darin Morgan meta episodes, more philosophical musings by Mulder, in David Duchovny’s signature monotone. The show would go on, and on, and on… and on one more time throughout its 25 year history, officially ending with season 11’s cancellation earlier this year. But nothing beats going back to the beginning, watching a young Scully walk through the halls of the FBI, unfamiliar with how autopsies work, or the very first glimpse of Mulder’s I Want To Believe poster.
Before I watched The X-Files, I watched Fringe and Supernatural and a variety of crime dramas. I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Lost and plenty of other sci-fi shows. When I eventually got around to watching The X-Files, I felt like I was watching the genesis of what shapes sci-fi television today. Indeed, I was watching the very reason my other favorite shows exist. That’s The X-Files’ legacy today.