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You want to give a murderer a free ride for the secrets to the pyramids?

The X-Files
5.20: The End

The final episode prior to a big-screen outing that didn’t exactly rock the foundations of world (at least partly because it pulled its punches) is a mixture of the intriguing and the all-too-familiar. Leading the latter is the return-proper of CSM, possibly the most singular example of the rot that would afflict the ongoing mythology arc from now on – most acutely of all with the series’ return – in that Chris Carter appeared to believe it couldn’t survive without him. Perhaps fans were responsible, greeting his every suck on a Morley with a whoop (or a shot); if so, they were wrong.

Mulder: There’s a long-held but unpopular theory tied to prehistoric evidence of alien astronauts.
Spender: You’re not going to go out there and say the kid’s part alien.

On the other hand, as far as alien-human hybrids are concerned, the idea of Gibson Praise (a commendably low-key performance from young Jeff Gulka), and the ramifications of his existence, present potentiality that would sadly (as ever) be largely unexplored. It might have been more intriguing had Gibson simply been a next leap towards humanity’s destiny, irrespective of aliens, although that would surely have been deemed unacceptable, vis-à-vis propelling the myth arc forward. Regardless, Carter’s scene setting, of an assassin (Martin Ferrero) attempting to kill Gibson during a chess tournament is one of his best; Gibson is able to avoid the bullet through mind reading, just as it enabled him to become a chess prodigy (I especially like Gibson’s matter-of-factness in calling out CSM and Well-Manicured Man as liars, and his very mature recognition that Scully’s promise doesn’t make him safe).

Diana: Sometimes I hear about you ... about the work you’re doing. And I think how it might have been if I’d stayed.
Mulder: Ah, we’d all be blown up by some terrorist bomb, no doubt, huh?

And – at least the first or second time, but after that… – his suggestive remarks about the newly established love triangle between Mulder, Scully and scientologist Agent Diana Fowley (Mimi Rogers) are quite canny, as is his response to Mulder’s appreciation of Baywatch (“You’ve got a dirty mind”). Under these circumstances, we’re back to sceptical Scully (and Mulder defending his partner to a like mind – “I’ve done okay with her, actually”). That is, until science establishes that something verifiable is going on. As for Diana, she’s inherently untrustworthy, but I like the implication that following Arab terrorists is a waste of time, and a distraction from what’s important (despite Mulder’s validation).

The problems, as is often the case, are less the set ups than the predictable responses thereto. The Syndicate want the boy, and the assassin disposed of, and CSM is the (ex) inside man to do it (why Krycek is back on the payroll is… well if you’re to excuse the choice, it’s “Keep your enemies closer”). Gibson is abducted, Fowley having stepped in front of the window she just told Gibson to get away from, the one Gibson has told her a man is aiming a gun at her through (consequently, she is unsurprisingly shot).

Mulder, who as ever surely knows better by this point, wades knee-deep into guff about trying to get the assassin to fess up through copping a plea with the attorney general. Except, this is vague blathery. Mulder suggests only the shooter can define Gibson’s abilities/status. Why does he think this is the case? What can the assassin possibly add to the equation that he and Scully haven’t already surmised? This is one of Carter’s ill-constructed rabbit holes, leading nowhere because its designed to produce – artlessly, it must be said – the desired result of shutting down the X-Files. Only this time, since they’ve already done that once, they’re burnt to a frazzle. And as Rob Shearman notes, he’s another of those “all the answers” characters who are worthless if you’re going to squeal on the deal (Jeremiah Smith)

Mulder: Who do you work for?! You work for him – you and Old Smokey. Is that who put this together?! You’re going down for this! I’m going to see you prosecuted for murder! You watch me! Watch it happen! Your days are numbered!

Mulder has some unjustified rage to foist upon unsuspecting Agent Spender this time – so a reversal of previous angry Spender form – which might be quite clever if it weren’t so banal (he sees Spender talking to CSM, who is clueless as to who CSM is). As it is, we can already see that poor Owen’s part is going up in smoke as quickly as Mulder’s I Want to Believe poster.

Scully: Nobody’s going to do anything to you, Gibson. I promise.
Gibson: I know you do.

Thematically, the predictive programming element would be one of human augmentation, but not in the sense of the hive homunculi we’ve seen in previous episodes; rather, Gibson is very much an autonomous individual, so any downside will have to be incoming; perhaps the subtle takeaway is that this (transcendent, rather than transhumanist) strain may be a boon, as he will be fine the last time we see him. Who doesn’t want to be able to read people’s thoughts? Hilarious too that Mulder extols the likes of Einstein and Hawking as responsible for great leaps forward in science, but that’s the show’s way with layering in the lies as fact.

As finales go, The End isn’t so bad – it’s the best since Season Two’s – but the emphasis on formula abductions, murders and cliffhangers leaves you feeling this isn’t going anywhere essential or revelatory; we’ve been on this train for five years now. The series was a victim of its own success.

Well-Manicured Man: Your work is done now.
CSM: My work is just beginning.

How would it have gone had it ended with Season Five – as originally planned – and continued forward in movies for a good few years? I’m tempted to say it would be in much better shape, and we would have avoided Duchovny bowing out and Mulder and Scully spawning, but anything miraculous was surely going to be elusive with Chris Carter still steering the ship in a teetering, circular fashion. The increasing fatigue at this point wasn’t necessarily a problem – Season Six would be the best in several years – but a run of movies might have allowed a chance to take stock and make more decisive, irreversible decisions, rather than the subsequent two decades of hedging bets (when anything was going on with the franchise, that is).

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