Friday, January 22, 2016

I Want to Believe


January is such a dry, dull month - back to work, back to school (for my students), back to healthy eating and exercising both financial prudence and eye-rolling patience in the face of the approaching Chinese New Year. At least this year I can look forward to the revival of the X-Files. (Thank God I've finally reached the age when my nostalgia is tall enough to reach into my pocket and extract my wallet. Those VPN subscriptions don't pay themselves.)

The X-Files were the highlight of my secondary school years. Wednesdays, 10pm, Channel 5. My dad - in a fit of bad decision-making - had fitted out my PC with a TV card so I could watch local programming in the privacy of my own bedroom. I often fell asleep in class, on the bus home, at tuition in the evening, but by 9.55pm I'd be wide awake and preparing my X-Files watching pod - high-backed office chair with leatherette arms I could lean against, pillow to clutch during hair-raising moments (and to hide the screen from sight, if things got really gory), lights switched off so that the room was only illuminated by the glow of my PC screen and Scully's red hair. 

The best feeling in the world was at 10pm sharp: snuggled into my nest in front of the screen with the opening credits playing - that ominous duh-duh-duh-duh starting up, heralding that iconic six-note whistle (I think the correct term is "threnody", according to the A.V. Club). Anticipation is the most exquisite form of pleasure, and that's how I learnt it was so. Everything else goes necessarily downhill in comparison.

On Thursday mornings, sleepy-eyed and even paler from exhaustion, I would look around hopefully for someone, anyone, who might have seen last night's episode and wanted to talk about it. But nobody in school had heard of the X-Files - let's just say it was more of a Channel 8 audience - save for one boy, who confessed he had only watched two episodes and wasn't really into it. 

"But you don't have to follow the alien mythology at all," I pointed out earnestly (probably pushing up my glasses with one hand). "The monster-of-the-week episodes are really the show's core strength." 

No dice, not convinced. Actually, if I had been savvier at pitching TV shows, I should have guessed that boys back then would prefer the complicated, under-lit plot mess that was the alien conspiracy Mulder worked so hard to uncover. It made people feel smart to keep track of all the ends and beginnings, Mulder's sister and Scully's pregnancy and the black oil and the Syndicate and Cigarette Smoking Man. All it did was bore me and give me a sneaking suspicion that there was very little payoff in following that storyline all the way to its inevitable rabbit-hole of dead-ends, dead characters and zero resolution. I was happy to let it provide the overall propulsion of the show's arc and Mulder and Scully's relationship, but the real fun of the X-Files was always the feral, dripping-wet monster hiding in the wall, the water, the sewers, inside a human being. The shrieks of the mother-thing under the bed from Home haunted me for days and nights afterwards. (That episode was all kinds of fucked up!) 

I stopped watching once David Duchovny quit. Of the two rather underwhelming movies, I skipped Fight the Future (alien mythology) and quite enjoyed I Want To Believe (shades of homophobia aside). I've seen early reviews of the six-episode revival and they aren't great - more of the same, dated vibes, unbalanced story-telling, etc - but I don't mind. I know that what people want is not really to see the X-Files come back to life, but to see their youth alive again, with all of the same hedonistic pleasures and dreamy, anticipatory excitement for the coming years. (Surprise - stock market crashes, global inequity, pandemics, climate change, ISIS.) People want to relive who they were when the X-Files was still on TV and wide-eyed Mulder and Scully had new adventures every week, flashlights in hand, peering into the dark unknown of age and death. There's no mystery left in the long night, but still, I want to believe. 

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