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THE X-FILES RE-OPENED: Pilot/Deep Throat

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Premiering on the 10th of September 1993, The X-Files arrived quietly and yet, its quiet arrival hid a bang that was to expand ever outward over the course of its first season, cementing itself into the realms of popular culture, one that was to prove influential over the years. From its lighting, evocative music score, high production values more akin to a feature film, naturalistic performances and emphasis on intelligent story telling, things would never be the same again.

Essentially the first two episodes of the show are both pilots in a way. The Pilot itself is a beautifully crafted introduction to the show, with stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson walking into their roles with charm and likeability. You can see them still finding their characters throughout, but there is a quiet confidence there that would build and build as the first batch of twenty-four episodes would play out.

I’ve written about the Pilot episode before, but it bears repeating that it is a brilliant introduction to the show. There is a confidence here that is hard to deny and for all the roughness (which isn’t that rough to be honest), there is still a great deal to admire. Mulder and Scully are very easy characters to fall in love with, Duchovny’s first run out of the gate as Mulder is all charm and quirkiness for the most part, until he reveals to Scully the motives for his life’s work, which conveys a more emotionally damaged side, a quality that only pushes him to try to reveal “the truth”. The quirks and charm and humour, not to mention Steven Spielberg references, only hiding the tragic drive in his quest.

Gillian Anderson, a relative unknown whom creator and executive producer Chris Carter had to fight hard for to cast, as Fox executives wanted a more Pamela Anderson type in the role, excels in what is one of her first roles. There is very little here to suggest this is only one of her first times performing on camera and the famed chemistry between the two leads is there for all to see. Her sly smiles at Mulder’s jokes, her anger at his insistence of UFO involvement, through to her embarrassment when she has to strip down to her underwear when she finds marks on her back similar to those of the dead kids whose murders they are investigating, are all conveyed wonderfully in her performance.

Most brilliantly of all, the episode ends on an unresolved note, the evidence at the heart of their investigation having disappeared into a secret vault by the strange man smoking cigarettes throughout, a moment that not only suggests the epic, expansive struggle at the heart of the series, but is a brilliant reference to the final shot in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

x-files-pilot

Many aspects of its production, as well as the deleted scenes of Scully’s boyfriend, have passed into X-Files lore, to the extent that one cannot wonder what sort of show would await you if you passed into a parallel universe where those changes were never made.  The lack of personal lives was a good choice, and the episode never gets bogged down in potential and unnecessary romances.

The romance comes from the mystery and suspense, the lights in the sky, the wonder of the unknown, but also, it isn’t afraid to be scary. The strange figure in the light coming for Sarah Swanson in the teaser, after the episode claims to be “inspired by actual documented events” is chilling. Mark Snow’s music becomes another character in these moments, and the lack of his comforting theme tune when re-watching it just makes it all feel all the more special, in a strange way.

Once the series was picked up, the second episode, Deep Throat, would be another UFO centred tale, and feels like a second pilot in many respects before Glen Morgan and James Wong would show another side to the show, one that would ensure its longevity. If the Pilot episode is a Silence of the Lambs style FBI driven mystery with bright lights and UFO’s in the centre of it, then Deep Throat is Close Encounters of the Third Kind by way of All The President’s Men.

How could it not be with the introduction of a regular informant character to help Mulder every so often? Jerry Hardin’s character would be a strangely comforting and regular presence throughout season one, a father figure to Mulder until Walter Skinner and Bill Mulder would show up in season two, the links between the latter and Deep Throat not planned yet between them, but one which would eventually play a large part in the show’s mythology, still to be perfectly formed in Chris Carter’s mind, but something that the series was in the early stages of playing with.

Although Scully’s field report at the end of the episode, complete with Gillian Anderson voice-over, was a concession to Fox, who were afraid the lack of closure would be alienating to audiences, the strangest thing is that this was a note from the network that actually worked, and the image of Scully in front of a laptop typing up her report would be one that would be a frequent visual hallmark of the show.

Strangely enough the image of her doing this in the next episode would be one the series would recycle throughout season one, as if she needed the same clothes, the same table and sitting style when she got ready to write her accounting of her and Mulder’s investigations.

Not only does Scully’s reiteration in typing her report make the lack of answers or conclusion actually all the more powerful, it hammers home the point that in only the second episode, Mulder has had a legitimate close encounter, albeit with a military made UFO, and has had the memory stolen from him. Not only are the military and the government hiding the truth, but they’ll steal it from you if ever discover it and this makes The X-Files, in only its second episode, unafraid to go to legitimately disturbing places if you begin to think about it long enough, something the series will become famous for. In retrospect as well, Scully’s line of dialogue that the government is not above the law feels like some dark, twisted joke.

Let's take this moment to say hello to Seth Green.
Let’s take this moment to say hello to Seth Green.

Behind the scenes, a lot of the pieces are set in place for one of the best production crews on television to make their mark on pop culture history. John S Bartley’s photography is unafraid to go dark, literally, while Mat Beck would push the boundaries of visual effects on television at the time, frequently on limited budgets, and Mark Snow, returning from the Pilot, makes his music a constant presence, a third character scoring the story with a haunting visceral quality and eerie sounds that are hard to forget.

The iconic theme music appears for the first time, along with that title sequence which, for my entire youth, would connote the show’s frightening, yet romantic brand of mystery, suspense and adventure.  It is the perfect accompaniment to those images, along with Mulder and Scully’s shocked expressions as they kick down that door, armed with their weapons and ever handy flashlight.

I never had a chance to watch these two episodes when they first aired on the BBC in September of 1994. I didn’t get into the show until later in the season. As a ten-year old discovering the show for the first time, there was something beguiling and intoxicatingly scary about the show and the dark mysteries it promised, but re-watching these season one episodes when the series was on hiatus between seasons two and three during the spring/summer of 1996 was like seeing the beginning of something great.

There was a novelty to seeing Mulder and Scully feeling their away along before they trusted each other implicitly. Mulder had never worn glasses in any of the other episodes I had seen so the moment he turned around, spectacles perched right on his face was a different sight of him than I was used to and one I strangely loved because I too wore glasses. Seeing how he first met Deep Throat was also wonderful. I already had seen how this relationship would become severed, so seeing their first meeting, in a restroom no less, was quite wonderful.

“Mr Mulder, they’ve been here for a long time.” Has there ever been a more brilliant last line of dialogue in a television episode? It hints at a bigger mystery and adventure to come and one that is hard to turn away from. It was a like a promise from the show to stick with it, that there are more mysteries out to there to find, to be revealed, if never solved. After all, the truth was out there.

EPISODE INFORMATION

Pilot-1X79
Written by Chris Carter
Directed by Robert Mandel
Premiere Date:10th September 1993
Rating/Share-7.9/15

Deep Throat-1X01
Written by Chris Carter
Directed by Daniel Sackheim
Premiere Date:17th September 1993
Rating/Share-7.3/14

Possibly the geekiest man in all of Ireland, I have consumed too many television shows, movies, books and comics to know the difference any more between being geeky and not geeky. Very proud of my geekdom, it brought me together with my one true love, and if that’s not a great reason to be geeky, I don’t know what is. Could also beat anybody in an X Files trivia contest. True scientific fact.