"The X-Files FAQ" Book Review
Written by Karin Crighton
Published by Applause Theatre & Cinema Books
Written by John Kenneth Muir
2015, 368 pages, Reference
Released on August 1st, 2015
The X-Files FAQ: All That's Left to Know About Global Conspiracy, Aliens, Lazarus Species, and Monsters of the Week delivers on its title. This book tackles everything, from the political climate that set the stage for Chris Carter's inspiration to Fox Mulder and Dana Scully action figure sets still available for diehard fans. Muir chronicles every season, pulling out the important details and episodes and deconstructing the "Mytharc" as it was slowly revealed over the nine years The X-Files was on the air.
Muir is very organised in his presentation; he opens with the past that led up the X-Files: Watergate, NAFTA, even referencing Pax Britannica to explain our own mini-era of Pax America. Muir's knowledge after a career in politics in DC makes him the perfect historian for a show revolving around federal agents. Kolchak, Twin Peaks, and Night Gallery are all credited with assisting in the creation of The X-Files, and Muir explains what each of these series contribute. From there he heads into explaining the underlying conspiracy that threatened Mulder and Scully's work, what he termed the "Mytharc" and its major characters. He also details the Monster of the Week format that frequently filled the gaps between Mytharc episodes. From there we move into breaking down each season, the monsters of week discussed and the advancement of the conspiracy story over the year.
Muir doesn't stop there, either. He goes into theology, ecology, sociology; everything you might not have considered watching The X-Files on your sofa on Friday or Sunday night. He explains the beloved and reviled characters that kept returning, the remarkable characters of Mulder and Scully, and most importantly of all, just how much the X-Files changed television for the better.
Muir loves the X-Files. Perhaps a little too much. I was in middle school when the X-Files premiered and I seem to remember coming across it sometime in 1995. On Fridays when I had plans ice skating, I had my dad set the VCR to record episodes on FOX so I could watch Saturday morning. When they moved to Sundays, I was thrilled I would be home since it was a school night. I bought an X-Files calendar and taped up the photos on my walls. I read the novels. I bought magazines where Gillian was interviewed. I got my hair cut like hers. I kept the TV Guide with her and Duchovny in my keepsake box. I had the soundtrack. I lost my mind when Fight the Future came to theatres. I loved the X-Files. But I can admit it was terrible plenty of times. It lost its way when Duchovny decided to leave the show and the Samantha mystery faltered to a disappointing end. I never even saw I Want to Believe, I had been so disillusioned.
The X-Files was certainly revolutionary, especially for female characters on television. Scully created a slew of roles for female medical professionals and smart women in general. Muir doesn't mention it, but the Scully Effect was a real-life phenomenon where female enrollment in science and engineering schools spiked after the X-Files aired. The X-Files was, and is still, a big deal. It's completely re-watchable and holds up just as well today as it did twenty years ago.
But it is still a television show. What it represents was wonderful and sacred but the way Muir refuses to say anything against the show is very frustrating. He defends the replacement cast (and yes, they're lovely, but we showed up for Mulder and Scully) and even argues that I Want to Believe is a great movie and no one gave it a chance. Muir cites shows that "inspired" the X-Files but refers to shows inspired by the X-Files as "knockoffs and ripoffs". It's pretty unfair to anyone that admires Carter the way that Carter admired Rod Serling or Alfred Hitchcock. They're treated as cheap imitators while he's a god in Muir's eyes. We all make mistakes and the X-Files made plenty of them. I'm watching “Fire” right now, for example.
The X-Files FAQ is worth a read just for the breadth of knowledge, but it must be taken with a grain of salt. I find listening to the X-Files Files podcast hosted by Kumail Nanjiani is a good counterpart. While Muir provides the hard science and history, Nanjiani and his guests provide you with the down-to-earth experience of the episode. And they admit that if you hated an episode, it's valid. Nothing is above reproach, even a show as amazing the X-Files was as a whole when it came into this world.
The Truth – if I might borrow a favorite phrase of Mulder's – is that we can all still appreciate that there was nothing quite like it before, and hasn't been since. It's still special and wonderful. And we can hope together the coming 2016 miniseries will be the show we loved so many years ago.