Season 2 is one of my favorite seasons as a whole. I can watch any episode confident that I’m going to see stranger and stranger things unfold over the next hour, like a grotesque Alice in Wonderland. It gives us a long string of episodes that are all dark and disturbing, much more so than the first season. The writers aren’t afraid to “go there” with their subject matter. Child rape, teenage suicide… nothing’s taboo. Ghosts don’t just haunt you this season, they rape you. People aren’t just murdered, their bodies are desecrated. Is it too much? Not for me. I enjoy the fact that The X-Files can go boldly in this direction with intelligence and, dare I say, taste.
Think of Season 2 as the Stretch Armstrong of The X-Files.
Here’s a reference for the pop culturally challenged:
Every element of the show is pulled, twisted and bent out of shape, just not to the point that it’s unrecognizable. Let’s start with our leads, shall we?
Both Mulder and Scully’s families take on a more substantial role in the series. We meet the entire Mulder clan, well, except for Samantha. We only met her clone and if we’re keeping score, she probably only counts for half a person. The Scully family is revisited with Captain Bill Scully coming from beyond the grave to finally say goodbye to his daughter and Maggie and Melissa Scully giving a memorable turn during Scully’s abduction.
Why is family life coming up and why now? For one, it shows us that Mulder and Scully don’t exist in a vacuum. They have histories and loved ones and when not chasing aliens, it’s possible that they even go home for Thanksgiving. You see, it’s really not about the families it’s about delving more deeply into Mulder and Scully’s characters.
And delve we do. Scully gave us a glimpse of her inner workings in “Beyond the Sea” (1×12) but Season 2 is Mulder’s turn. He runs the emotional gamut what with the X-Files being ripped from him, Scully’s abduction, his sister’s return and then final mental breakdown in the season finale “Anasazi” (2×23). Scully mostly stares doe-eyed up at Mulder this season, but she also has an incredible emotional moment in “Irresistible” (2×13) and downright steals the show in “Anasazi.” Season 3 will be her season to grow a few flaws. Right now she’s still Mulder’s idealized Samantha stand-in.
Another reason Mulder and Scully get to shine is that they have new friends to play with. Krycek and Mr. X join the party while Skinner and CSM get upgraded to First Class and the Lone Gunman crawl out of the storage compartment. The X-Files still isn’t an ensemble show but the cast of characters is phenomenal and there’s combustive chemistry to go around. I’m just waiting for Skinner to stick it to CSM. Fortunately, I won’t have to wait very long.
This is where Gillian Anderson’s unexpected pregnancy and Scully’s abduction turned out to be brilliant: it allowed these minor characters to take on a major role and breathe new dynamics into the show. I find myself looking forward to which surprise guest is going to show up for the next episode. Skinner in particular I can’t get over this season. Dude is bad.
The content of the show was also stretching the boundaries of good taste. If “Eve” (1×10) gave us murderous children, “The Calusari” (2×21) gives us a child murdering a child. Well, it was a ghost child. Same difference. To continue, the ghost stalker of “Shadows” (1×5) gives way to ghost rapists in “Excelsis Dei” (2x). Then, of course, The X-Files has completely outdone itself in the gross department. How can a liver-eating mutant shock us when there are giant sewer worms on the loose and these humongous, pus-filled boils are spouting off in people’s faces like mini volcanoes? But it’s not just in extremes that the show grew, it’s also covering new ground. “Irresistible” proves The X-Files can successfully give us a non-paranormal story while “Humbug” (2×20) proves it can be utterly hilarious.
My personal highlights were, as ever, “Irresistible” and “Humbug”. A pleasant surprise this time around was the Duane Barry arc, which I previously found 70% boring. (No stones, please.) The lowlight was “3” (2×7), not because I’m a shipper, but just because it’s “3”.
There are also quite a few episodes in the “Better Than I Remembered” category such as “Little Green Men” (2×1), “Sleepless” (2×4) and “Red Museum” (2×10). The mythology is worlds better than most of Season 1 because, well, it actually exists! There’s a rhyme, reason, and backstory to the conspiracy now that gives it substance. Season 1 was full of Roswell-like isolated events almost to the very end. It’s certainly more satisfying to see a single thread spun into a recognizable picture. While this is Chris Carter’s baby and all credit is due, I also think the new mythology collaborations between Chris Carter and David Duchovny have something to do with it. It certainly explains Mulder’s character having more to do.
Even while all this expansion is happening, in comparison, Season 2 is relatively low key; it doesn’t have the cinematic grandeur of later seasons. But that’s what’s so charming about it. This is classic X-Files before anyone knew they had a classic on their hands.
The word “classic” would indicate that something has consistently recognizable and desirable traits and that’s certainly true here; the less loving among us would call it a rut. I personally don’t mind the classic formula, it’s familiar and comforting and it goes a little something like this: Mulder presents details of an inexplicable event, Scully informs him of how explicable it actually is, Mulder surprises her with an even more inexplicable anomaly, Scully is shocked into silence, Mulder and Scully set out on the case and Mulder proposes a wild theory, Scully shoots down his theory, events occur that make Mulder revise his theory, Scully finds a scientific certainty that she can’t explain, Mulder intuitively figures out the truth, one or both of our leads ends up in mortal peril, they escape by the skin of their teeth and the case remains unsolved. The End.
Basic? Yes. Effective? YES.
The question remains, why doesn’t the audience get bored when they essentially already know how the story is going to go down? The answer: Mulder and Scully. Mulder and Scully’s relationship is in the middle of developing from touching to powerful. We knew that they were deeply attached to each other by the end of last season and that was expressly confirmed in “Little Green Men”. But over the course of Season 2 we’ve watched them grow from friends and confidants, allies even, to something much more difficult to define.
I said earlier that Scully has become a replacement Samantha for Mulder, but that’s only part of it. Mulder is almost like family to Scully, but at the same time he’s on the outside of it as evidenced in “One Breath” where he’s often invited to join the Scullys but purposefully refuses to intrude on certain moments. That doesn’t mean, of course, that he feels any less strongly than they do. It’s as though Mulder and Scully’s relationship exists outside of family, friends and even work. That’s why no one in Scully’s family, besides the all-wise Maggie Scully, understands who Mulder is to Scully. Their relationship resists definition.
Now to the meaty stuff: Are they in love? No, but they are infatuated. They’ve romanticized each other without being romantic. Honestly, they barely have one real disagreement the whole season up until the finale and that last one doesn’t count since Mulder is drugged out of his mind. They’re getting along like mayo and mustard in chicken salad. I daresay if we could pull Season 2’s Agent Mulder out of the TV screen and asked him to name just one fault that Scully has he wouldn’t be able to do it. The writers are quickly getting bored with this love fest, though, as we’ll see in Season 3.
Whatever they are, Mulder and Scully have reached that level where they wouldn’t just sacrifice for each other in theory, they’ve done it in fact. Throw in the subtle smirks and glances and we have TV gold. They were good together in Season 1 but now they’re just pure joy to watch.
So, I gotta ask. Who is your favorite recurring character of Season 2?
Is there some aspect of Season 2 that I missed either out of human error or gross negligence? Are you ready to sue me for malpractice or lock me up like Dr. Conrad Murray? Right the wrongs of the universe and fill in your opinion below.