I Want to Believe?

Having purchased seasons 6 and 7 of The X Files on DVD, and thus been watching several episodes a day, I find these seasons a curiously bothersome experience. It's not that the episodes all seem derivative and tautological (well they do because they are), it's not that the episodes are rubbish (some of them are quite surprisingly good actually), it's that now the core and essence of the series is made so abundantly clear. There were hints, oh yes there were plenty of hints all along the way, but now there can be no doubt about it: it's all about faith and belief.

This is what the entire series is founded upon.

Mulder knows the way things are. Mulder knows what is what, he just cannot prove anything. So his sayings and claims have to be taken on faith.

We, the viewers, are given some glimpses of the truth. Sometimes these are explained away, sometimes they aren't. But clearly we are given to understand that Mulder is right. He holds the truth.

Fair enough.

But this doesn't seem to satisfy the powers that be. This is the point where The X Files ceases to be science fiction, falls flat on its face and becomes soap opera. Or religious soap opera, which is much worse. Not to say embarrassingly banal.

Mulder isn't simply the fellow who tries to get to the bottom of things and expose the corruption. Oh no. Mulder is given saint like properties. Mulder is a Holy Prophet. And to underline this, to make it clear as a bell, he, time and again, dies and comes back through resurrection. He suffers for our sins. He is crucified. He preaches the truth but no one will listen to him. He is mocked. He is ridiculed. He is silenced. But he will not, cannot be silenced. He will suffer any consequence, withstand any torture, to get his truth out. His truth. The truth.

Believe and ye shall be saved. Question and ye shall perish.

Mulder is, to put it quite bluntly, Messiah. Even Scully, who's supposed to be the rational partner, isn't really convinced that science can provide any real answers. She relies on religion. "Are you asking me to pray?"Belief is the key. Believe and ye shall be saved.

This makes me right miffed.

It's cheating. I don't want my science fiction to be sugar-coated religion masquerading as bold, independent and intellectually valid art.

I'm perfectly willing to accept the core truth of almost all religions, that essential truth that is akin to mythology and must be understood as a metaphor of the soul and mankind's spiritual journey, and I'm quite willing to accept the theological framework that lies at the heart of The X Files as a perfectly legitimate and indeed compelling dramaturgical and emotional construction. But when it comes down to a question or rather a demand of personal and unquestioned and blind belief I tend to get extremely irritated. Sometimes even hostile. And when it comes to scientific thought having to yield to faith I am at a loss for words.

It offends my sense of rationality, it offends everything I hold true. It offends common sense.

And, this is the cruncher, it makes for poor art. The religious undertones in The X Files completely ruin any chance of it being taken seriously, its hubristic Messianic tendencies only serve to make it a piece of juvenile and unsound propaganda. Propaganda is never good art. Propaganda is never art at all.

"You're not Christ," says the Smoking Man to Mulder in an early season 7 episode. But of course the opposite is true and this is the way we are to understand it. He is Christ and meant to be seen as such. The Smoking man is of course Satan - "May I offer you a cigarette?" - and the ominous red glow of his ever present cigarette tip a little piece of Hell. He tries to lead Mulder astray with his lies and mendacious rationalizations, and by showing him a false picture of how life could be if only he gave up his foolish quest. He could have a normal life, just like anybody else. Mulder remains strong in his faith, with a little help fron Scully.

Mulder is the one man who stands between us and extinction. He cannot waver. He must believe or else comes the Apocalypse. The Smoking Man crucifies Mulder, literally, and on his head Mulder wears the Crown of Thorns - suitably updated for a cyber age. Behold the man.

Good stuff, powerful imagery. But. This is what it comes down to and this is what makes me rather less than happy - the preaching. What The X Files preaches is: belief is good, science and rationality are bad. I'll repeat: belief good, science and rationality bad.

And now I see Mulder's motto and the motto of the entire series - "I want to believe" - in a totally new light and it gives me the shivers. Was it this blatant from the start?

Any work of art that preaches such truths is rubbish, complete and utter, not to say intellectually dishonest. No further explanations necessary.

I'm not entirely certain this is Chris Carter's intention. But - if it isn't he's a pretty confused fellow and doesn't quite know what he's up to. Any which way it doesn't make him look particularly good.

What really amazes me is that it took so long for me to spot the obvious. I suppose I just didn't want to believe.

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