Given America’s insatiable appetite for political paranoia and conspiracy theories, it makes perfect, if perverse, sense that the Fox television network would bring The X-Files back after a 13-year hiatus in cryogenic deep freeze.
The X-Files, the creation of 30-year Santa Barbara resident and surfer Chris Carter, emerged the ultimate television event of the 1990s, providing weekly exaltations of the weird, the creepy, and the paranoid. As witnessed by the intimately charged yin-and-yang of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully — the world’s most unlikely G-men — “they” were definitely out there, and “they” were going to get you.
The X-Files shut down in 2002, done in as much by 9/11 as it was by the bone-weary exhaustion of its creators. In the intervening years, popular paranoia has increased exponentially, and conspiracy theories have grown more desperately outlandish. More disturbingly, some have been revealed to be true. Whether Chris Carter and his X-Files can keep pace with current trends will be seen January 24, when the first of the show’s six new episodes airs.
Carter spent a soggy Monday morning chewing the fat with Independent editor Nick Welsh. The following is a highly expurgated version of their conversation.
What was your lightbulb moment to bring the show back? I got a call out of the blue from someone at 20th Century Fox whom I’ve worked with for 25 years. She asked me, and she told me the actors wanted to do it. Really, that’s all it took for me. If the actors were going to be enthusiastic participants in the exercise, I would too.
Any trepidation? Thirteen years is a long time. We’re coming back as if we never went off the air. We’re playing the drama in real time, and we’re not pretending the actors are younger than they are.
How did the chemistry between Mulder and Scully survive? I don’t know if it will ever go away. We’ve all been through our ups and downs, but they just get it. They’ve gotten it from the very beginning. That’s something you can’t manufacture. So for me, it’s the magic of the show.
There was a lot made about all the sexual tension between them, and whether they’d wind up in bed. I’m struck more by the sense of tenderness and intimacy. That’s unusual. They had respect for one another. And trust. And understanding. Even though they were polar opposites in terms of philosophical and professional bents, they were always tender. In real life they’re the opposite of their characters. The funny thing is, I busted the stereotype by making him the believer and her the scientist.
How self-conscious was that? It just made sense to me that the woman doctor would be a strong character. It’s her show. If it weren’t for the science to ground Mulder’s loopy pursuit, it would just be a kind of a loopy show.
Who came up with the line “I want to believe?” That’s from me. I’m a skeptic by nature. But I’m looking for a religious experience. I’m looking for a paranormal experience. I want to believe in this stuff.
Although the show is all about conspiracies and paranoia and all kinds of creepy stuff, it was still very optimistic. The idea that you’d have government agents investigating schemes hatched by the government is almost sweet and naïve. How have you kept up with everything that’s happened since you went off the air in 2002 — all the revelations about government spying and big brother? I think we live in a Citizenfour world now. Edward Snowden was right. The government doesn’t deny that they’re spying on us. There seems to be very little public outrage because now everyone is willing and happy to give up their privacy on the Internet. Everyone thinks they have nothing to hide, that there’s nothing there that could be used against them. Of course, I think this is naïveté.
You yourself are not a big one for social media. Are you afraid they’re listening? I have an Instagram account, and I think I’ve posted two photos. That’s about it. I think it’s a time suck. I try to keep a low profile on all fronts.
How has this changed life for Scully and Mulder? They’re very much of this world. Mulder used to have to go out and pound the pavement to do his research. Now he can sit at home in his underwear on his computer.
Do you have teams of researchers reading weird news for your ideas? The show is only as scary as it is believable. It works best if you take interesting science and apply the question “What if?” We used to have a team of researchers, but now like Mulder I can sit in my office, push a button, and have more information than I can possibly digest.
Where did the idea come from for the flukeman monster who swam about sewers killing people? My dog had worms, and I found out that you can contract hook worms yourself if you step on dog poop. My parents also told me a story about a guy who used to cover himself with plastic garbage bags and crawl down inside the Porta-Potties to somehow get his jollies.
That actually happened in Montaña de Oro state park. It’s a real story. Any ideas so creepy even you wouldn’t do them? The story about the mutant humanoids who bury a baby alive just seconds after it’s born was pretty out there. That episode passed through the censors, but when it aired, I got a screaming phone call from the head of the network saying we had gone too far. That’s got to be one of the most beloved X-File episodes ever.
Things have gotten so much more raw and in your face. Will your show seem wimpy? I don’t think so. I still think the scariest things are the things you imagine, you hear, that lurk in the shadows. There’s no end to the computer-generated monsters these days and the gore and violence perpetrated on the screen. But I still think this show works best in the less permissive format of television.
What would the censors draw the line at? I couldn’t show someone getting a shot with a needle going into the arm, but then I could show someone getting shot in the head. There’s a catalog of things you can’t do or see or say. You can say “bastard,” you can say “BS,” but you can’t say “bullshit.” You can say “pissed off.” You can say “dammit,” but you can’t say “god dammit.” There are lines you can’t cross. There was an episode I wrote in season three about a necrophiliac. I wrote the script and turned it in. I got this one line rejection — “No necrophilia.” The clock is running, and I didn’t have time to change the story, so I had to think of something fast. I changed it to a “death fetishist.” Went right through the censors.
You’ve talked about all the ideas you are constantly gathering that could make X-File episodes. Was it hard when the show ended in 2002 and you had no outlet for those ideas? In 2002, no one was much interested in government conspiracies. They were interested in government providing them safety and security from terrorists. It was a good time for us to bow out and leave the stage.
What do you think of the conspiracy theory that the government set up the 9/11 attack so they’d have an excuse to invade Iraq? I watched the documentaries. I’ve read big fat books on how it was a false flag operation. There are certain things that make you wonder. But I also have no good reason to believe in these theories. A lot of the conspiracy theories go to great lengths to explain themselves. You have to be open-minded. You can’t just refute them out of hand. If you’re a serious person, you must pay attention to the theories on both sides.
Are there any theories you think are right? The government is spying on us. That was a conspiracy that was true. Watergate was a conspiracy. Personally, I believe conspiracies are very hard to pull off. Someone always comes clean, someone has some kind of grudge, somebody always rats. It’s very hard to conduct successful conspiracies. But you know, Mark Felt, who was Deep Throat, kept it secret all these years. So people actually can keep secrets.
When Mulder said, “I want to believe,” what did he want to believe? He wants to believe there is something beyond the pale, that there are answers that lie beyond the pale of extreme possibilities.