Leave it to Chris Carter and company to make the penultimate The X-Files episode of the season arguably the most viscerally gory of the whole series, and yet the most emotionally bare we’ve ever seen Mulder and Scully be toward each other.
“Nothing Lasts Forever” is the very first X-Files script written by Season 10 and Season 11 script coordinator Karen Nielsen. One of only six invited participants in the prestigious Canadian Film Centre's Bell Media Prime Time TV Writer's Program, Nielsen actually first worked with The X-Files executive producer Glen Morgan as his script coordinator on his series Tower Prep (2010) and Intruders (2014).
When The X-Files came back to TV in 2016, Morgan introduced Nielsen to Chris Carter, where they discovered a mutual appreciation for their beloved canines. “We both love dogs, and we both bring our dogs to the office, so we completely bonded,” Nielsen shares with us. “Our dogs became best friends during those seasons.” She became their script supervisor for The X-Files, which started her on the path to scripting this episode, which is directed by executive producer James (Jim) Wong.
We chatted with Nielson about more specifics, like how her short film, Grace, got included on the Season 10 Blu-ray, how the idea for this episode was birthed, and what Scully whispered to Mulder in the church scene.
Let’s start with Grace and how it ended up on The X-Files Season 10 Blu-ray.
Yeah, this shows how supportive these guys are. I'd just finished Grace when I started script coordinating for them. So I had this finished product. It was in a few film festivals. Glen had been supportive by giving me notes on the script. I did an Indiegogo campaign and he contributed to it. He's always been super supportive of me. But I was shy and real insecure, so I only showed it to a few people. I didn't want to bother Chris and all of them about it.
I was sharing offices with our visual effects guy and a few other people and they're like, “Let me see it!” And all of a sudden, they started calling everyone over, and Chris comes into my office and he's like, “I heard you made this amazing short film.” I'm like, “What?” (laughing)
How did that evolve into actual inclusion?
Sometime later, I remember Glen was in a rush, running down the hallway, and I was behind him. He looks to me, saying, “Karen, we’ve got to get your short film on the Blu-ray. Remember to talk to Chris about that.” Once things calmed down, I followed up with him and he's like, “Yeah, let’s do that!” So, even when they are crazy and manic and thinking about all the other things, they are still thinking of other people.
How did that incredible opportunity turn into you scripting an episode?
I got accepted into this program in Canada, they take six TV writers every year, called the Canadian Film Center's TV Writer's Program. So I was keeping in communication with the guys in case The X-Files got picked up. I was like, “Look guys, I'm really valuable.” (Laughs) I'm in Toronto doing that program, and I was keeping them up to date and sending them emails that a TV show of mine got picked up by ABC Signature Studios. When they got picked up, I was driving back to Vancouver on this massive road trip with my dog. They were trying to figure everything out. I knew I was script coordinating, but the day I landed in Vancouver, Gabe Rotter gave me a call. I thought we were just going to talk about coordinating, but he asked if I wanted to write an episode. Actually, we had a bad connection, so he said it twice before I understood what he was saying. He thought I was going to say no, just because I was not responding. I'm not going to say no. That was an amazing opportunity. (Laughs)
There’s no traditional writing room for the show, so what was your scripting process?
I made sure to keep in touch constantly to let them know what I was doing. Gabe and Darin Morgan would always read my scripts and give me feedback. So they have always been super supportive as well, keeping up on what I am writing and what I am doing. I had to stay in Canada to write it, so I only got to work with them when they came up to do their episodes. I talked to James Wong a lot on the phone. And Glen and Chris.
What were those initial episode talks about?
We first started off with what was important to me as a writer to say. I am not going to lie, I suffered a lot of pressure being a female writer. I let that get in my head a bit. It was intimidating, but then we just focused on what was important to me, and my voice, and what I wanted to say. We talked about that a lot. And I am really happy, because when I watch the complete episode now, all those things are in there. We made that happen, and I feel really proud of that.
What was your personal process coming into the story?
For me, I come to stories in a very character way. I need to have character moments because I know X-Files is very procedural sometimes, with the monster of the week. I love the monster of the week episodes, but I also love character stuff, so that was important to me, so we succeeded in merging those two.
So I've been fascinated with people that are very religious. My sister is very Catholic and I am not. (Laughs) It's always been fascinating to me that Scully is very Catholic and Mulder is not. I pitched that I think it would be interesting to have Scully reflect on her religion a bit, especially with what was going on in her life with William. And then Glen thought a cult would be a really interesting way to juxtapose that. And I was like, yes, you’re right. And Jim was super excited too. So Glen brought on the cult idea, and that is where I think the germ of the emotion journey came.
You also thread in the seasonal theme of aging and reflecting on where the characters have been, and are now.
Yes, the aging thing came from Glen and Jim a lot too, like with Mulder and the eyeglasses, because I think one of them had that experience. (Laughs) Also, David ad-libbed some of that stuff too. I think he really related to that and went with it.
How was it working with Jim Wong as a collaborator? He definitely leaned into the body horror with the cult!
Well, I was lucky that I had James Wong directing the episode. I felt I was in very safe hands. I knew him before, from when he directed on Tower Prep and from Season 10 of The X-Files. So I trusted him, and he was just so kind and mentoring. And he does like to push it. I would be on the phone with S&P [Standards and Practices] and Fox, and I would shield Jim from all of that. I already had a relationship with S&P from all the other episodes. So I would talk to S&P, then he would just push it as far as he could. I think there was probably another cut that would have been a lot gorier. Because the organ stuff at the very beginning, when he licked the organ, was disgusting, and we had way grosser stuff than that shot. (Laughs)
Since The X-Files went off the air, horror TV has really carved its place in the landscape. Was there any thought that it would be fun to assert the show’s place in that new space with this episode?
I think when you're telling (the story) not from a shock value place and you're telling it from a character place, then it's not gratuitous, so it’s not so bad. I think for me that's the best approach. Gratuitous and shock value is boring, and then it just looks gross. So, when this guy can't even keep his hands off this body part, it's a little bit more interesting.
Actress Fiona Vroom, who plays Barbara Beaumon, was on Tower Prep. Is that how she got cast in this episode?
No, but the guys do love working with the same people again. They brought her on to be CSM’s wife in a flashback. That was such a tiny scene so we could use her again, and she was at the top of our minds. She nailed it and is so eerie.
It was great to see actor Jere Burns as Dr. Randolph Luvenis in such a departure role.
Yes! Sometimes I think even he was like, “Oh my God. This is crazy.”
Were you provided any notes that allowed you to thematically match other episodes so you could take the baton with your script?
I think it came more organically, because that is what our characters are dealing with right now. Especially when you see the young guys on the crime scene and they are looking at these old folks thinking they don't know what the hell they're doing, which is what young people think of old people most of the time. (Laughs) And I think it's truly a response to where the writers are as well, and these characters. So no, we never really had a conversation about it. I think it’s more of just the journey that we see Mulder and Scully going through. They'd been away from the X-Files for a while and they'd come back to it, and I think that just brings reflection, wondering, are we too old for this shit? And now they’re coming back as a couple again. That stopped for a while, now we're back together as business partners, asking, can we be romantic partners again? It’s reflecting on that and their life together and what their life could be like together. I think that's beautiful.
That conversation in the church at the end of the episode is the first time Mulder and Scully have really had a grown-up conversation about their relationship that we, as the audience, have been privy to. How did that come into being?
I would definitely look at Jim and Glen’s architecture of knowing these characters really well. And it's just organic. That's why I think it works so well, because you're not forcing anything. You're just going with what these characters are feeling, and going through, and reflecting on. It just felt true and honest to where they were in their journey at that time. Yes, there was some architecture to it, and Jim and Glen did orchestrate that, but I think the reason it's going to resonate with people is because its honest.
When Scully whispers to Mulder, was that a moment that you actually scripted or did you let Gillian and David run with whatever they wanted to say?
It was a David and Gillian moment. Only they know. (Laughs)
Traditionally, The X-Files penultimate episodes tend to be standalone and have nothing to do with the finale. But sometimes they tip up to the finale. You could read this one as going both ways, prepping for a William return, or just being a meditation on their relationship. How is it supposed to be taken?
I think it's a bit of both. I don't think its orchestrated to be like we’ve got to set up for the finale. But at the same time, when you're being honest with the character’s journey, you're inevitably setting up for the finale. Everything is leading to William. Their emotions are so high right now when it comes to William so their reflection comes from that, so we are inevitably setting up for it. The momentum was there so we needed to organically go with it so I think that's kind of awesome.
When can we see your writing in action next?
My ABC Signature Studios series is called Parker's Fall. The other one's called Kin, A Modern Tale of Hansel and Gretel. I’m just trying to create shows and see who is going to pick either up!