Essays, The X-Files

The X-Men Files: Disney, the future, and William

If you’re a fan of The X-Files, there’s a very good chance you’ve now seen how it ends. The eleventh season, at any rate. To suggest The X-Files has truly ended with any kind of assurance is to suggest maybe Santa won’t be back next Christmas. By now, and as I’ve discussed previously, The X-Files doesn’t end. It’s always going to be with us, somehow.

What is now interesting is the fallout from the Season 11 finale, ‘My Struggle IV’, and what people are starting to look at as being the continuation of The X-Files. As I stated in a previous piece, we are at a crossroads in terms of where Chris Carter takes his beloved half a century old property. The season finale—which we’ll call it until Carter or anyone else confirms this iteration of the series is over—left Agents Mulder & Scully in the position where they can either pick up their work in some fashion and continue on, or walk away and begin a new life as the family unit millions of ‘shippers’ have always wanted them to be. However, what is interesting in fan circles is not Mulder & Scully’s future, but that of their son William.

Some in The X-Files fan community are now calling for the future of the show to be placed in the hands of William, played by Miles Robbins (who is from an interesting parentage himself) in ‘Ghouli’ and ‘My Struggle IV’ this season. William has, as I’ve discussed in my previous writing on Season 11, been a double-edged sword for Carter and The X-Files; after Scully became pregnant with the boy way back at the very end of Season 7 in the year 2000, William has dominated the long-running mythology of the series, culminating in ‘My Struggle IV’ which completed William’s protracted transformation from weird baby with creepy powers into wayward young adult with super powers.

‘My Struggle IV’ sees William shape-shift into different people, project visions into the mind of his birth mother, explode bad guys with the power of his mind (that is *literally* explode them, Scanners-style), and survive a gunshot wound to the head while having shape-shifted into Mulder, his possible biological father (who the heck knows on that score by now?). William, in other words, is an immortal God-child by the end of The X-Files – still out there for a future season, emotionally let go of by a pregnant Scully who in theory can ride off into the sunset and have a family with Mulder, and, as astutely noted by Chris Knowles on a recent episode of The X-Cast, having essentially become the very alien, paranormal truth Mulder spent a lifetime searching for across the run of the show.

Placing a character such as that, a character with immense power, a character who is by definition the ‘truth’ that lies at the heart of The X-Files, as a steward for the future incarnation of the show, to me is a troubling prospect. Quite apart from the fact Robbins, despite improving in the role for ‘My Struggle IV’, does not necessarily at this stage have the dramatic range or gravitas to front load such a beloved property on his shoulders, by making William the lead you fundamentally take away what made The X-Files as a concept: very *human* investigators travelling strange, anxiety-wrought America looking into the dark, spooky corners of civilisation, exploring questions they will never fully gain the answers to. William *is* those answers. You may as well, with him as the protagonist, change the name of the show from The X-Files to The X-Man.

While this may be flippant, Carter has displayed some awareness following the season finale that the mythology central to his show has undergone a significant gear change over the revival seasons, moving more steadily into an action-thriller with mythic, science-fiction overtones, not to mention a bent which tags onto the superhero and comic book zeitgeist which cinema and television has been experiencing over the last decade, and with Avengers: Infinity War weeks away, plus the revival of the entire CW slate of Arrowverse TV shows, looks nowhere near abating; indeed Carter cheekily references X-Men in the script of ‘My Struggle IV’, aware William is less an alien super-child, more the origin of either a future super-hero or super-villain.

Does Carter have designs on radically changing the tone and texture of The X-Files to make the series about William’s exploration of his new powers? It seems unlikely, but given the recent acquisition of 21st Century Fox by Disney, The X-Files in terms of ownership now rests in the same licensing warehouse as the Marvel Cinematic Universe *and* the X-Men franchise. Recent rumours have suggested that the delays of The New Mutants and X-Men: Dark Phoenix to 2019 are, certainly in the latter’s case, to facilitate significant reshoots that will begin the process of tethering the X-Men into the sprawling MCU. This may of course just be the internet rumour mill, and you’ll never see Mulder & Scully popping up in Hell’s Kitchen to help The Defenders investigate the Hand, but it suggests Carter is acutely aware of the changing tide of creative trends not a million miles away from the genre he is playing in.

Much as I joke about Mulder & Scully not popping up in a Marvel-Netflix superhero show, is the tone of Season 11 in particular all that far apart from, say, Jessica Jones? Particularly the ’Struggles’ which have made up the mythology episodes. The recent session of Jessica Jones, which I discuss in more detail here, reveals how Jessica gained her powers as the result of nefarious experiments by a scientist looking to create people with super-human abilities. How different, truly, is that from the experiments Skinner tells Mulder about in ‘Ghouli’, the so-called ‘Project Crossroads’ which the Cigarette-Smoking Man remains involved with? These kind of shows once would have been thematically and texturally worlds apart, but today? They feel like next door neighbours.

This does not mean The X-Files should venture down a similar road, even if Carter is dipping his toe in very close waters. Disney may now own 21st Century Fox, and by default own the future of The X-Files, but there will be no edict the series must turn itself into a show which will appeal to the superhero fan market. Nevertheless, considerations about mass market appeal will be a discussion had by the powers that be who decide whether Carter gets to continue the series in some form; ratings have been much lower for Season 11 than the original six-part Season 10 revival, suggesting only die-hard fans have returned in their droves for what most have considered is probably the last hurrah. Only as the finale has hovered into view have Carter, David Duchovny et al (Gillian Anderson aside) shown interest in keeping the franchise going.

There seems no doubt the property will linger on, in some form. IDW Games are about to release a tie-in card game, X-Files: Deep State the online game app shows no sign of folding, and IDW Publishing are about to start releasing a new wave of one-shot tie-in comics featuring Mulder & Scully at classic points in The Original Series. The X-Files has a recognisable, global brand with a still-passionate fanbase rabid for new material. I should know, I am one of them, and I run a community filled with such excited core lovers of everything concerned with The X-Files. Most of them will be around whatever form the show takes, whatever material is released around it, and whatever direction Disney, Fox and Chris Carter agree to steer the ship.

As for William, maybe he should be left to go his own way. Or, you know, write him into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Stranger things have happened…

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