Fourteen years after going off the air, Mulder and Scully re-unite in six new episodes of The X-Files beginning this Sunday on Fox. Show creator Chris Carter has one request: Please don’t call it a reboot. “That sounds like something you’d do to an old computer you have lying around in the closet to see if you can get it started again,” says Carter, speaking from a Pasadena hotel where he’s just addressed a gathering of television critics. “I don’t think of this as a reboot. It’s not an exercise in nostalgia. I think of this as the latest chapter in The X Files. I’d be very happy to think of it as Season 10.”
Seasons one through nine famously channeled ’90’s-era malaise, paranoia and government distrust through the inspired casting of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson as star-crossed FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. Charged with investigating alien abductions, monstrous mutations and extra-terrestrial weirdness, Mulder and Scully forged one the greatest ying-yang partnerships in television history while unraveling horrible secrets concealed by a shadowy network of malicious operatives.
That was then. Now, Carter’s heroes are feeling the wear and tear of passing years. “I imagine Mulder as this character who’s sitting at home in his underwear on the Internet,” Carter says. “He’a dealing with depression and doesn’t know who to trust or who to believe. It’s the world we all live in now, but his world in particular has been transformed by technology.”
Anderson’s Scully appears in 2016 as an accomplished surgeon who rarely speaks to the man she shared her home with in the 2008 movie The X-Files: I Want to Believe. “To pursue her interests as a scientist and doctor, Dana could never be under the same roof with Mulder and his obsessions for too long without the roof being blown off, and that’s what happened.”
To reflect the characters’ regrets over missed opportunities and questionable choices, Carter named the opening and closing episodes after Norwegian novelist Karl Ove Knausgård’s angst-filled character study My Struggle. “I love the Knausgård book, so I wrote ‘My Struggle’ and ‘My Struggle 2’ to reference that title,” Carter says. “Both of those episodes deal with Mulder and Scully wrestling with in the minutiae of those lives, both separately and together.”
The idea to revisit The X-Files as a limited series originated with Fox Television Group co-CEO Dana Walden, who’d already secured “If Chris does it, we’ll do it” commitments from Duchovny and Anderson when she reached out to Carter in October 2014. A month later, the writer-director-producer had breakfast with his stars at a Beverly Hills hotel. “We’ve worked together spanning three decades of our life so we’re all friends and there’s a familiarity and respect we all have for one another,” Carter says. Beyond the good vibes, Carter says, “David and Gillian wanted what any good actor wants. They want meat. They want to know there will be interesting things to play as their characters and new ground to break artistically, as actors. I was mindful of that heading into the new X–Files.”
Anderson lives mainly in England and stars in her own UK limited series The Fall while Duchovny leads NBC series Aquarius. The actors shared only a narrow window of opportunity to shoot in Vancouver last summer, so Carter quickly assembled X-Files braintrust James Wong, Glen Morgan and Darin Morgan. “We plotted our stories on big bulletin boards with three-by-five cards, pitched them, got notes, tailored them and re-pitched.”
One key priority: scaring the hell out of viewers. Carter explains, “We don’t really use arcane terminology when we’re breaking a story, but we do have a shorthand that has come to be known as the ‘boo’–as in scare. We always want to make sure we have our ‘boos’ placed appropriately in the story. And then went off to write.”
The X-Files‘ jaundiced view of government good intentions fell out of favor following 9/11, but Carter believes the show’s profoundly skeptical perspective has actually regained traction in more recent years. “The Edward Snowden story changed everything for me,” he says. “I believe very deeply that we’re now living in a CITIZENFOUR world. We rolled back and rights and liberties in the name of Homeland Security and personal safety, and now our government has taken advantage of that opportunity to spy on us.
“Mulder’s quest had been to uncover a conspiracy that kept the truth about aliens and UFO’s from the American public,” Carter continues. “But now The X-Files has taken a big right turn into an even bigger conspiracy. It’s a world that should be familiar to people who have their ear to the ground.”
To rope in new viewers and remind longtime fans about The X-Files‘ underlying mythology, Carter kicks off the short season with a flashback exposing a 1947 government cover-up of a flying saucer that allegedly crash-landed in Roswell, New Mexico. Flashing forward, Mulder comes out of grumpy seclusion at the behest of right-wing pundit Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale). Carter says. “We’re living in a highly politicized age and Tad’s an amalgam of Internet personalities. Like Alex Jones, he’s a media force whom you cannot deny. Tad has certain fringe views but there’s enough plausibility in things he says that I feel like you have to give him his due.”
Even in compressed form, The X-Files encompasses the series’ full tonal range, complete with a “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-monster” comedy episode that begins when dope-smoking campers encounter what appears to be a man dressed in a Halloween monster costume.
But the core X-Files mystery centers, as always, on alien abduction. Mulder believes “The key to everything” can be found in the person of Sveta, played by Annet Mahendru (The Americans), whose torso is riddled with punctures supposedly caused by alien probes. Carter says, “Sveta’s a familiar character if you read a lot about this subject matter, which I do. No one believes her when Sveta says she’s been abducted. She has suspicions about the government that go beyond aliens and extra-terrestrials, but she’s afraid to spell them out.”