'I Want to Believe' will leave 'X-Files' series fans with same questions

Jon Chesto

When we last saw agents Mulder and Scully, they shared the darkness of a hotel room, reflecting on a nine-year quest for truth and trust that remained very much unresolved as “The X-Files” faded to black one last time.

That was May 19, 2002.

However, the return to that world with this weekend’s release of “I Want to Believe” won’t bring us many of the answers that Mulder and Scully sought.

Writer and director Chris Carter deliberately wanted the second movie based on the groundbreaking science fiction show he created to be a standalone story separate from the show’s labyrinthine conspiracy plot. He wanted the reunion of his star-crossed heroes to be one that would be appreciated by fans yet easily accessible to newbies.

To be sure, most of the strongest episodes of the series were in fact those “mythology” episodes. Favorite characters would return, some mysteries would be answered, while even more questions would be posed. The show’s storylines, arcing over multiple seasons, would set the pace for a recent resurgence in episodic TV, and in particular would lay the groundwork for the enigmatic plots that drove shows like “Alias” and “Lost.” While the “X-Files” mythology unraveled a bit in its last seasons under the weight of inconsistencies and tangents, the tactic of sporadically revealing only small glimpses of the back story made for satisfying storytelling.

That said, the unique chemistry between Fox Mulder and Dana Scully was the most important aspect to the show – long before the series became steeped in green blood and black oil under a rain-soaked sky trafficked by black helicopters and gray aliens.

Carter knew how crucial this relationship would be from the start. That’s why he created two characters who would be perfect foils.

David Duchovny’s Mulder starts the series as a paranormal investigator who believes in extreme possibilities and events on the edge of scientific explanation. Meanwhile, Gillian Anderson’s Scully relies on her medical expertise and her stubborn adherence to logic to challenge Mulder’s theories and approaches. Sometimes, the roles would reverse, as Scully’s Catholic faith and repeated encounters with the supernatural caused her to question the simple black-and-white world view espoused in med school. Mulder, meanwhile, would lose faith in the value of his quests, as he counted the costs and realized his sacrifices.

You could count on the prickly-turned-tender banter between the two to offer some reason for watching even the most uneven episodes.

The characters’ relationship gradually changed over the course of the show, with off-handed quips and jealous side-glances evolving into knowing in-jokes and desperate embraces. But even after the series revealed that the two had a child together, elements of their relationship remained as ambiguous as the shadowy conspiracy they were chasing.

An oft-held notion is that “The X-Files” is an anachronism in a post-9/11 age, a throwback to a time when the public enjoyed the hunt for skullduggery in the corridors of government power.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Now is as good a time as any to open up that X-Files drawer and flip through the files. The show’s depictions of cloning, nanotechnology, military experiments and Martian rocks may have seemed a bit far-fetched at the time. Those same topics make for regular headlines today.

The show offered a lens to view crazy-quick advances in technology by reminding us that pursuing science without spirituality creates a soulless world. Our myths and religions reflect issues that have been confronted by our predecessors. The best science fiction confronts the issues that our children will be left to face.

Most importantly, though, “The X-Files” gave us a smart and sexy romance for our times. This is romance of the grandest sort: Two people try to make sense of the world as the ground constantly shifts beneath their feet, their beliefs are always put to the test, and in the end the only people they can trust are each other.

‘X’-Fact Files

  • ‘X-Files” spawned the slogans “The Truth Is Out There”; “Trust No One”; and “I Want to Believe”
  • It was the first TV show to be released on DVD.
  • Actor Luke Wilson guest-starred in a role as a young Texas sheriff.
  • The series was shot in Vancouver.
  • The Foo Fighter’s Dave Grohl had a cameo role in the 1996 episode “The Pusher.”

Episode picks

  • The Pilot - Season 1, Sept., 10, 1993
  • Squeeze - Season 1, Sept. 24, 1993
  • Ice - Season 1, Nov. 5, 1993
  • Beyond the Sea - Season 1, Jan 7, 1994
  • Tooms - Season 1, April 22, 1994
  • Die Hand Die Verletzt - Season 2, Jan. 27, 1995
  • Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose – Season 3, Oct., 13,1995
  • The List - Season 3, Oct. 20, 1995
  • Revelations - Season 3, Dec. 15, 1995
  • Bad Blood – Season 5, Feb., 22, 1998
  • Pine Bluff Variant - Season 5, May 3, 1998
  • Drive – Season 6, Nov. 15, 1998

Jon Chesto may be reached at