Review: THE X-FILES series finale

“What is the point of all this? To destroy a man who seeks the truth, or to destroy the truth so that no man can seek it?”

“I am a failure. I am a guilty man. I’ve failed in every respect, and I deserve the harshest punishment for my crimes.” Fox Mulder says it in the series finale of THE X-FILES, but in some respects those words could have come directly from the lips of series creator Chris Carter.

We last saw Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) together in the Season Eight finale “Existence,” kissing and cradling their newborn son between them. Everything was in place for a new beginning. Mulder, Scully and baby William could live happily ever after. Perpetual villain Krycek (Nicholas Lea) had taken a fatal bullet to the face from Assistant Director Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), leaving new X-Files agents John Doggett (Robert Patrick) and Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) to uncover a new “super soldier” conspiracy and investigate shady Deputy Director Kersh (James Pickens, Jr.).

But it didn’t happen that way. Duchovny left when Twentieth Century Fox renewed the show for a ninth season, but the network held Anderson to her contract. And so the show continued with Scully and the baby, but no Mulder. From the start of the season it was painfully obvious that Carter had no idea how to handle the baby or Duchovny’s absence. Mulder had been forced into hiding by the bio-engineered super soldiers, leaving Scully to play third wheel to Doggett and Reyes. Mulder was gone yet again and baby William was still the target of one incomprehensible conspiracy after another. If Mulder was being hunted by super soldiers who wanted to kill him, why weren’t his friends tearing apart the FBI to save him? No one seemed too concerned. Scully, apparently too busy doing autopsies for Doggett and Reyes to worry about the man she loved, was written as a shadow of her former self. The fiercely talented Anderson had little to do but stand around and be beautiful.

Patrick and Gish were treated just as unfairly. As the writers tried to figure out how to work Scully into each episode, they took too much of the show’s focus away from Doggett and Reyes. The season’s best episode, the hospital ghost story “Audrey Pauley,” was the only one that got it right. In addition to being a great X-File, the episode deeply examined the strong emotional bond between the new agents with powerful performances by Patrick and Gish. Spooky, suspenseful, and beautifully acted, “Audrey Pauley” was everything the new season could have been and should have been.

Meanwhile, the worst crimes of the season had yet to be committed. In “Jump the Shark,” which aired just four weeks before the finale, the Lone Gunmen (Bruce Harwood, Tom Braidwood and Dean Haglund) died heroically to stop the release of a deadly bio-toxin that would have killed thousands. Killing three of the show’s most loved characters with just a few episodes to go would have been bad enough if they’d somehow died protecting Scully or Mulder, but their frivolous death was senseless and cruel. One week later, in the episode “William,” Scully gave up her son for adoption after realizing she could no longer protect him from the various forces of evil that still sought to harm him. But if Scully couldn’t protect him, how could a family of complete strangers keep William safe? Fans hoped the adoption was some kind of ruse. But William didn’t appear in the finale, which made it painfully clear that this episode was the last appearance of the baby that dominated two seasons of awkward storytelling. The miracle child of Mulder and Scully was reduced to just another plot device that Chris Carter couldn’t figure out how to develop. Carter’s decision was both despicable and unforgivable. At least the next two episodes provided closure for Doggett and Reyes.

And that brings us up to “The Truth,” which features the return of Duchovny. Mulder is on trial for the murder of super soldier Knowle Rohrer, but Scully and the gang know that he’s on trial for the murder of a man who can’t be killed. Lots of dead characters appear to Mulder as ghosts of plot points past, while even more long-lost characters show up to testify on Mulder’s behalf. When Mulder is found guilty and sentenced to die, Skinner, Doggett and Reyes orchestrate a jail break. Mulder and Scully flee to the New Mexico desert, where they find themselves face to face with an unexpected harbinger of a truth that not even Mulder is ready to face.

Duchovny and Anderson make “The Truth” come alive with a chemistry more intense than all their years together combined. The scene where Scully tells Mulder that she had to give up “our son” is every bit as heartbreaking and believable as it should have been, while their reunion kiss is hotter than anything the hopelessly romantic fans could have expected. Particularly when Mulder keeps kissing Scully’s fingers and can’t take his eyes off of her even while he’s talking to Skinner.

(The best Mulder/Scully kiss happened at the end of the Season Seven masterpiece “Millennium,” when Mulder gave Scully a New Year’s kiss after staring at her lips during the Dick Clark countdown.)

Mulder doesn’t want Reyes and Doggett to put themselves in danger on his behalf, but Reyes says to him, “We came to this job to give it our best. It’s the way we’re going to leave.” That’s a perfect way to sum up the immense contribution of Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish to THE X-FILES. They weren’t Mulder and Scully, but in their own way they were just as good. Patrick was the best actor on the show this season, and “The Truth” features some of Gish’s finest work when Reyes delivers a fiery courtroom speech about the sacrifices Mulder and Scully have had to make. As Skinner, Pileggi proves yet again that he was always one of the show’s most valuable secret weapons.

Acting and emotion in “The Truth” are impeccable. But though Carter promised to reveal big secrets, he does little more than connect a few dots. Did the Lone Gunmen really have to die in “Jump the Shark” just so they could appear as ghosts for thirty seconds in the finale? It would have been much funnier if Carter had kept them alive to testify in Mulder’s trial. It’s also disappointing that Sheila Larken, who played Scully’s mother for years on the show, wasn’t featured in “William” or the finale. (Then again, maybe it’s a good thing; if Larken had appeared in these episodes, Carter probably would have killed her character, too.)

If you can bring yourself to accept the unforgivably ridiculous dismissal of baby William, most of the rest of “The Truth” hovers in the vicinity of delivering. An explosive desert helicopter chase looks great, but dramatically it’s only a whimper masquerading as a bang. The true spark is the quiet moment Mulder and Scully share in a Roswell hotel room. Mulder thinks he’s failed, but Scully reassures him. “You only fail if you give up. And I know you. You can’t give up. It’s what I saw in you when we first met. It’s what made me follow you. And it’s why I’d do it all over again.” Mulder crawls into bed with Scully, holding her as she gently nuzzles his face against hers. “Maybe there’s hope,” he says. (And maybe I’ll just keep on pretending “Existence” was the true series finale.)

And so THE X-FILES ends as it began, the story of two people who have nothing but each other in the fight against the future. Was it worth it? The truth is still out there. And until they make another movie, so is the verdict.