Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Recuperatio Consilium: The X-Files Recovery Plan

I first got caught by The X-Files in 1997 and that show has never really lost it's grip on me. Sure, after the show's production moved to Los Angeles, the scripts seemed to get simpler (or made less sense, depending on your point of view), and it felt like Duchovny was just phoning-in his performance, things were never the same... but even in those lackluster years there were some instances of brilliance, that reminded fans of how great the show used to be. Of the final seasons I believe that the introduction of Doggett was one of the few good ideas the writers and producers made, but then the character was poorly written most of the time. The last season was pretty much a disaster, but they could have redeemed themselves with an incredible finale, a final episode so clever as to put all the naysayers to shame, but instead what we got was the opposite: an episode that reaffirmed all the worse aspects of the X-Files derailed mythology.

Finally, last year, fans got a second movie, and it was almost unwatchable. I Want to Believe (dumb name for a movie) needed to be a home run of a movie, to make the X-Files relevant again. If they wanted to make a small thriller movie, or were forced, due to budget restraints, not to make it an alien conspiracy movie, then movie had to be aiming to be as good as Silence of the Lambs. If I had to rate the movie compared to the tv episodes, I'd put it somewhere in the bottom 15% of the 200 episodes made.

It pains me to see how badly was this franchise screwed by its own creator's contempt for planning ahead, and for believing that his own BS that he was some sort of genius. It's hard to Believe -pun intended- that the same man that wrote "Irresistible" later wrote "Fight Club (not the movie)", that the same people that wrote "Anasazi/Paper Clip" later made "The Truth". A lot of fans ended up learning to hate the conspiracy episodes, because there was never a satisfying payoff, and they were all extremely contradictory to one another, but let's face it, it was these much maligned "mythology" episodes that helped set The X-Files apart from the rest of the television shows at the time.

Frank Spotnitz has said he, and Chris Carter, have plans to make a new movie about the "Invasion" in 2012. Horrible idea, if only because they will have to work with the current state The X-Files' continuity is in.

In a parallel universe where FOX cared at all about rescuing the series that put them on the map (along with the Simpsons), the same parallel universe where I would have any say on how things should happen, the new X-Files series would be a 13 episode mini-series (essentially a mid-season replacement). Long enough to answer all the unanswered questions of the original series, but short enough so that it will never lose it's focus. All episodes planned ahead of time, none of that "We make it up as we go" philosophy... this is how, if it was even remotely possible, I would pitch my idea:

Episode 1

The umpteenth re-opening of The X-Files division. This time the FBI, apparently, is the one sponsoring it. Cases with paranormal overtones that cannot be solved have been piling up for years, making them see the mistake of closing down the unit for such a long period of time.

Introduce a new pair of agents, male and female, because it works. They should be young, competent, but green FBI agents (not rookies). Instead of going for the believer/skeptic dynamic they should both approach the cases in an incredulous way at first, pretty much as a straight-forward detective work. After all, someone like Mulder would be an anomaly inside the FBI. As the series progresses, and the agents have seen enough they would be forced to learn something big and weird is going on. They should have opposite personalities tho, something to tell them apart, one should feel that working in The X-Files is a joke, an insult, a punishment, the other agent, more ambitious, should see this as the stepping stone onto bigger things.

Make their first case together, a stand-alone, end up with a non-paranormal, but instead a logical scientific solution. Avoid at all costs mentioning anything related to the original series' mythology. Mulder and Scully shouldn't be referenced or mentioned either. The new series should start by standing on it's own, and not alienating potential new viewers or casual fans of the original.

Episodes 2 - 5

All episodes should be stand-alone Monster of the Week. They should try to pull no punches and make them all spooky, scary, disturbing, controversial. There is a reason Squeeze, The Host, Irresistible, Home and Pusher are still memorable. Those episodes were well ahead of their time. While they are somewhat tame by today's standards, The X-Files was known to push the envelope back then.

Show that the current FBI agents have a social life, family and friends, maybe their respective boyfriend and girlfriend. Showing they had a normal life, will bring a greater impact to what will happen later. After all, by joining The X-Files they've put, inadvertently, all their loved ones in danger.

As much as I like the episodes written by Darin Morgan and Bad Blood or Small Potatoes, there is no room for a comedic episode in a 13-episode series. The X-Files was supposed to be scary, not lighthearted fluff, something that the show creators forgot along the way.

Every case wrap-up should point in the same direction: that something larger is at hand. Drop small hints (like in tv newscasts in the background, or newspaper front pages) that some worldwide mega-corporation is thriving in difficult economic times. Nothing too obvious.

By the end of the last MOTW episode a new informant should be introduced, telling the agent to look into The Union Systems (placeholder name) corporation. This informant should be intense as Mr. X, but trustworthy like Deep Throat.

Episodes 6 - 10

The old Mythology staples in original, exciting ways. The agents will be pretty much the eyes of the audience, so they will learn about the bees, the black oil, the alien-human hybrids, the bounty hunters, clones, et al, along with the uninitiated viewers. The sci-fi elements should be toned down a bit, and always filtered through the sieve that are the human conspirators. I believe the old Syndicate was more believable, and thus more scary, than when the aliens became the main antagonists. A political thriller first, science fiction show second.

Some of the questions that were not entirely resolved in the original series, should find their answers now: Why was it that the black oil had different behaviours, that sometimes it would gestate a violent alien, and other it would just control it's host? What happened to the human-alien hybrid program? Who are the gray aliens? Who are the faceless aliens? Who do the bounty hunters really work for? How many alien factions are there? What do they want? How was the Syndicate, and by default The Union Systems, related to Majestic 12, Blue Book, The Illuminati, the Freemasons, the Illuminati, etc.? No more guess work, half-truths or implied answers, just concrete facts.

Which brings me to one aspect of the mythology I was never happy with was the alien replicants or supersoldiers. Instead of ignoring that, it should be explained that after it was discovered that magnetite was lethal to them, The Union Systems has spent the last 6 years hunting them down and eradicating them, to the point they are not a threat anymore.

By this point, as the agents investigate the X-Files history, it would be okay to have cameos from characters from The X-Files' past.

Monica Reyes: She now works as a behavioral analyst for the private sector, having quit the FBI shortly after The X-Files were closed in 2002. She isn't very forthcoming with information to the new agents, alleging she was only there for little over a year. She also has a family now, and is not willing to put them at risk.

John Doggett: After The X-Files were shut down, Doggett tried to go after the Supersoldiers on his own. He saw and learned of things that ended up shattering his belief system, and made him lost his marbles. The new agents end up finding him in a mental institution where he would warn them to look at him as a cautionary tale. While mentally unstable, he is certain that his current condition was brought up to him by what the Union did to his brain.

Skinner and Kersh: Both might still be working for the FBI, but they are not the direct supervisors of the X-Files anymore. The new series should have it's own set of supporting characters.

Krycek and Covarrubias: 2 familiar (and somewhat surprising) faces in the The Union's board of directors. Krycek is supposed to be dead, and a gunshot to the head doesn't leave that many options to bring him back, so I guess he preemptively cloned himself or something. Marita always crossed back and forth the line dividing good from evil, so she can be a bad girl again. They should not be the focus of The Union, merely 2 among many talking heads.

With the help of their informant, the new guys will slowly uncover what The Union Systems truly is, the origins, and the extent of their power. After The Syndicate's demise in 1999, someone or something had to step in and fill the void left, amass the power they left behind. Many of the companies that provided services to the Syndicate merged, forming a mega-corporation that has it's tentacles in everything ranging from defense contractors to telecommunications; from record labels to pharmaceuticals and genetics; from news networks to cybernetics... effectively influencing, and even controlling, the lives of every man, woman and child on this planet.

Of course the closer the agents get to the truth, the conspirators will make them pay dearly on a personal level. An old, but solid tactic, to make the good guys waver.

Episodes 11 - 13

The new agents go investigate the murders of a couple in rural Wyoming. Prime suspects are an extremist cult that had already sent threatening mail to the couple, threats concerning their child and how this cult wanted the child dead. It happens that the child is able to do things that defy logic, special powers not unlike those of Gibson Praise only bigger. The agents learn the kid was adopted and those were not his real parents.

Enter Mulder and Scully. Tipped by Skinner, Mulder and Scully would've been monitoring the new agents' every move. When they realize that their child, who they had no idea of his whereabouts, has been discovered, it's only a matter of time before the dark forces put his life in danger. That would be more that enough to force them out from hiding again, and reveal themselves to their succesors at the FBI.

During these episodes, it would finally be explained why did the replicants wanted to kill William at one point, but then they wanted to protect him... why did the cult in Canada thought he was a messiah at one point, but then they wanted him dead. Is William a threat to the aliens? The saviour of mankind? Why all the contradictions?

Of course there would be some pull and tug between Mulder and Scully versus the new guys. The former wanting to protect the child as the parents they are, while the latter seeing him as the key to defeat the conspiracy and stop the alien invasion from happening (pretty much mirroring Mulder and Scully's position in the early days of the series).

Things will turn into a big cat and mouse game between The Union and the agents, having to protect Mulder, Scully and William.

Ultimately there should be a fair share of twist endings. Say that the agents were hand picked by The Union and had been used as pawns all along, and because of them Mulder and Scully were lured out to the open. A big reveal of the true identity of the informant, as the CEO of The Union, who was fighting his own creation after the rest of the board of directors began perverting the original mission of the corporation. Krycek overthrowing the CEO, and seizing power for himself.

The biggest twist ending would be Mulder and Scully accepting Krycek's offer to join the conspiracy, to keep their child safe and secure. An ending like that would be sooo controversial. While many fans (shippers) would get their wish of having their heroes retire as a family, it would be at the expense of betraying their ideals. I think it would be a bleak, downbeat, very "x-filish" finale.

In the meantime, that would leave the new agents feeling betrayed and with very little to go on with. Maybe they'd be able to bring a few of the Union directors to justice, on corruption charges, but not able to expose anything about the impending alien invasion. This would shake Wall Street and leave thousands and thousands of people without jobs, and damage the economy (think Enron or the current economy crisis). So in the end what was meant to be a victory, ends as a moral loss.

Finally, as long as The X-Files remains open (and it will remain open, since everyone's interest now is that in does), there will be a fighting chance that the aliens will be stopped. With their old informant dead, the agents get new friends from inside the Union that will feed them information, but they will never know it's Mulder and Scully, secretly working to destroy the conspiracy from within.

This will pretty much leave all the pieces in place for a self-contained "Conspiracy Movie", alá Fight the Future, about the Invasion... that I believe it should be about how the invasion was prevented in the nick of time, while no one on Earth even noticed it... in true X-Files fashion.


Woah, this was long and pointless!