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human nature, Religion

X-Files and the Inscrutable Invisible Force

I confess that I only half watched the X-Files when it was in first runs.  I probably only caught a third of the episodes at most.  But over the last two weeks I’ve been watching on Netflix, which means I don’t have to watch ads (score!) and more importantly, I’ve seen the episodes in order.  Today, I had an epiphany.  The X-Files is a lot like the Bible.

Stay with me on this.  See if you can figure out which I’m talking about:  The Bible, or X-Files.

  • A rambling, seemingly unconnected series of stories which seem incredibly implausible
  • Running through the whole thing are semi-coherent narratives of an immensely powerful, unseen force which occasionally manifests itself — but never in a scientifically verifiable way.
  • When there is an event of such magnitude that there ought to be overwhelming physical evidence for it, there’s a convenient excuse for the complete lack of evidence.
  • When we find logical inconsistencies in the story, we are encouraged to believe anyway, since the immensely powerful force knows far more than we do, and we can’t possibly imagine the complexity, subtlety, and long vision of it all.

Here’s what put me onto this line of thinking.  The last episode of season 6 and the first two of season 7 bring the ongoing plot line of an impending alien apocalypse to something of a head.  Mulder has unwittingly become a kind of savior by developing an immunity to the virus which the aliens planned to use against us.  Cancer Man and several accomplices from the super-secret conspiracy organization capture him and take him to a hospital to perform some kind of procedure which will probably kill him, but will somehow save the world.

At the last second, Scully walks into the operating room and rescues him.  (Implausible, but I suppose it’s possible.)  I was pretty ok with things up to this point, but then in the next scene, Mulder is recovering happily.  In his apartment.

Ok… Why in the world wouldn’t the super-secret conspiracy organization just come to his apartment, get him back, and take him back to the operating room?  Seriously?  They killed the FBI agent that told Scully where he was.  A couple of episodes earlier, they told Skinner the precise global coordinates — in the Arctic — where Mulder had gone off in secret.  They know everything.

But they just let him go back and do more X-Files for the rest of season 7.

IT JUST DOESN’T MAKE ANY SENSE!

Now… here’s the thing.  Right now, somebody is dying to tell me why it actually makes sense.  In fact, I’m sure this has been covered by the bulletin board fans.  There’s a story that works, even if it’s incredibly implausible.  And that is the primary psychological phenomenon that makes both the X-Files and the Bible work — and not just work, but work incredibly well…

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Discussion

3 thoughts on “X-Files and the Inscrutable Invisible Force

  1. My wife and I are also watching the X-Files on Netflix. We’re only on season 3 right now, but what you say sums up almost every episode, let alone the entire “arc.” (Not that there’s a Bablylon-5 style coherent arc of any kind — more a “Lost” sort of rambling narrative with no sense of actual direction, other than that given by the lodestone of weirdness.)

    I wonder if the Bible was the X-Files of its day? A kind of multi-century SF soap opera. If so, they certainly weren’t able to maintain any kind of continuity or coherence. It’s like they didn’t have a single book to which they could refer for character descriptions, plot points, important events, and so on.

    Isn’t that ironic? The writers of the Bible coulda used a Bible.

    Posted by nigelTheBold | August 3, 2010, 8:36 am
  2. Adding to all that Biblical-type inscrutability is the fact that “The X-Files”‘ cast of paranormal beings and events was drawn from different genres of fiction that don’t typically mix. A story full of extraterrestrials and hand fired laser weapons and hyperdrives doesn’t typically feature ghosts and magically summoned lightning (I’m deliberately describing “Star Wars”, here, mind you). Read the classics of the Sci-Fi and Fantasy genres and you’ll see a clear delineation of what’s allowed and not allowed to appear in each–and most writers today still follow those rules.

    Since the stories of the Bible are pre-scientific, that delineation did not exist. God and his angels (including Satan, here) sometimes look and act like oddly detached humans, not unlike some descriptions of extraterrestrials in fiction, whose powers are beyond our ken and therefore not necessarily supernatural. Then again they sometimes manifest as monstrously powerful forces of nature and through a totemistic power source like the Ark of the Covenant. There are also prophets with wizard-like powers and spiritual mediums and supernaturally strong or large humans (Samson, Goliath).

    The “X-Files” ignored this delineation, too. Mulder and Scully faced up against an alien incursion whose powers were purely drawn from their advanced technology, as far as anyone knows, but there were also demons (from the Satanist cult/demonic schoolteacher episode), vampires, pyrokinetics, poltergeists and more traditional ghosts. On rare occasions, you’d get some monster of the week who was described as purely natural, but cryptozoological (like the Jersey Devil episode or the conjoined twin in the Freaks episode or the Fluke), but those episodes were mostly compelling for their horror/ gross out factor.

    And its kinda for the same reason. In the case of the Bible, you basically have several sets of authors who were dipping from different mythological sources owing to which cultures they rubbed up against the most. The redactors who came later probably saw the inconsistencies and still included all they could because the people around the campfire demanded the stories, no matter how incongruous they seemed. In the case of the X-Files, you had a gang of dumbass writers trying to churn out something sexy/violent/gross/scary that Chris Carter could throw to executives at Fox in between the episodes he wrote himself and actually cared about. Ever notice how the series regulars would catch horrible diseases or get pregnant as a result of the events in the alien episodes but just have some scrapes and bruises after fighting a den of werewolf nazi grampas?

    Posted by Clint | August 3, 2010, 12:30 pm
  3. The same can be said for evolution!
    he he he…

    Posted by PG | August 3, 2010, 3:36 pm

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