Monsters of the Week X-Files critical companion

Mulder's happy ending, 'Humbug' origins and more secrets we learned from The X-Files' critical companion

Contributed by
Oct 10, 2018

The new book Monsters of the Week: The Complete Critical Companion to The X-Files, delves into the long history, deep lore, and behind the scenes developments of one of the most popular cult series of all time. 

Written by Zack Handlen and Todd VanDerWerff, the two meticulously dissect the entire run of The X-Files episode-by-episode, as well as the feature films and revival series, alternating between a back-and-forth dialogue and joint synopsis. 

Throughout the book are breakout passages where the two share their conversations with creator Chris Carter, the former writing staff, as well as the cast and crew to help round out their critical insights, and give some surprising insight to the world of The X-Files. Here are a few of those surprising revelations before Monsters of the Week drops on October 16. 

The-X-Files-mulderscully.jpg

The Mulder/Scully dynamic was immediate

At its core, it was the shared charisma between the X-Files' two lead actors that drove the show, and Carter credits David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, who didn't learn these characters so much as they "just stepped right into" them. 

"They just understood these roles immediately," Carter explains in the book. "There's sexual tension. There's a kind of built-in romantic tension. There's mutual affection, agree to disagree. These people were always at odds with each other. It provided the argument, and the conflict, and the tension, and the... I'll call it the entertainment value that became the show."  

Among all the vast alien conspiracies, cover-ups, and revolving door of weekly monsters, the Mulder/Scully dynamic was at its heart. A believer and a skeptic, respectively, their on-screen relationship served as the audience's gateway to their world.  

The X-Files Squeeze S1 E3

An Oscar-winner helped inform the first ever 'Monster of the week' episode

At first, Carter's vision was going to be an 'all aliens, all the time' approach. It didn't take long before he and his writing staff decided to explore other phenomena outside of the overarching extraterrestrial mythology. 

That first endeavor came early on in Season 1 with "Squeeze," which was about a sewer-dwelling monster that ate human livers. In doing so, it pushed the limits of how scary the X-Files could be. To get around network censors, Carter says he got some advice from Oscar-winning set designer Rick Carter, who told him "if you really want to scare people, do it by not showing what's scary instead of showing them what's scary." This way, the audience was left to fill-in-the-blanks by conjuring up their own worst fears, which the X-Files creator "took to heart." 

Not to mention that episodes like "Squeeze" were so good that they'd become cornerstones in the never-ending debate between X-Files fans: Team Aliens or Team MotW. 

The X-Files Skinner Mitch Pileggi

Mitch Pileggi booked the role of Agent Skinner because he was in a bad mood

FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner was something of an adversary-turned-ally. He first appeared late in Season 1, and was critical of Mulder and his whole aliens hooey. That all started to change over the course of the series, which turned Skinner into a staunch protector of the work Mulder and Scully were doing. 

But it was Skinner's no-nonsense attitude that made him a fan favorite, which Pileggi says resulted from his impatience with the lengthy audition process.

"[I] was actually being kind of obstinant and kind of a jerk," Pileggi explained. "I was like, 'You've seen me twice, you don't need to see me again, you could hire me or whatever.'"

Pileggi only went back for a third audition after being talked into it by his agent. It turned out, his bad attitude was something Carter was looking for when he wrote the character, so he booked the gig. 

X-Files Humbug

The infamous "Humbug" almost didn't make it to air, but ushered in a new class episodes

Near the end of the second season, The X-Files veered into new territory: humor. While previous episodes like "Squeeze" proved the show could not only be atmospheric, but downright scary, "Humbug" proved it could be funny, too. 

The script was written by Darin Morgan, his first for the series, who would later add his unique voice to episodes like "War of the Coprophages" and "Jose Chung's From Outer Space." And it almost never saw the light of day.

"'Humbug' came out of left field," Carter said, adding "it was something that the network and studio were terrified of." They felt that the episode's self-referential humor would alienate the show's growing fanbase. Instead, it proved to endear itself to the audience, who welcomed the more lighthearted tone that still felt at home in the larger X-Files canon. 

Morgan, though a member of the writer's room, tended to work in isolation. Throughout his contributions to the series, managed to subvert, and even poke fun of, the show's tropes, while never stooping to condescension.  

X-Files Soft Light Tony Shalhoub

Vince Gilligan was hired on the strength of his freelance submission 

Between Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, Vince Gilligan has become one of the most prominent voices in television. One of his earliest gigs writing for episodic TV was on The X-Files, a job he landed after his freelance submission for the monster of the week installment "Soft Light," which starred Tony Shalhoub.  

"His episode, which did not go untouched, was nonetheless extraordinarily good for somebody who wasn't in the writer's room and didn't know where all the trip wires were," said fellow X-Files writer Frank Spotnitz. 

Gilligan would be asked to join the writer's room for Season 3, and ended up contributing some of the series most beloved episodes, including "Unusual Suspects" and "Memento Mori," just to name a few.  

Of course, it was Gilligan's season six episode "Drive" which starred a barely known actor named Bryan Cranston, whose performance as a sympathetic racist blew away the crew. That performance would stick in Gilligan's mind, eventually leading to Cranston being cast as the nefarious Walter White in the writer's wildly successful series Breaking Bad

X-Files Home

The writers wanted to go back 'Home' for the spin-off series Millennium

Easily one of the most memorable monster-of-the-week episodes, "Home" followed Mulder and Scully into rural Pennsylvania, where they met the Peacock family. A reclusive group who "raised their own stock," it proved to be deeply unsettling. So much so that it was pulled from syndication for years after it first aired. 

X-Files alum Glen Morgan and James Wong wanted to bring the Peacock family back for Millennium, the spin-off series that focused on Lance Henricksen's Frank Black, but the network was not open to the idea. At all. 

After pitching it to then-Fox Studio head Peter Lock, he replied simply "Never. The Peacocks are never going to be on the air again," adding "the reason we have a V-chip is because of your show!" 

"Home," which first aired in 1996, was later aired as a rerun on Halloween in 1999, where it was advertised in TV Guide as "an episode so controversial it’s been banned from television for three years."

X-Files Requiem

Christ Carter originally planned to give Mulder a happy ending

After seven seasons as Fox Mulder, Duchovny had left the show at the end of the seventh season when his character was abducted by aliens. While Duchovny would return in a limited capacity in the series, as well as 2008's feature film I Want To Believe and the revival series, it changed the dynamic of the show considerably. 

Part of writing Mulder out of the show involved the resolution of his quest to find out what happened to his sister, Samantha, which drove his obsession with paranormal phenomena — aliens in particular. Though it was revealed that Samantha had died long ago, Chris Carter was going to give Mulder a relatively happier ending at first. 

Not anticipating the show's success, Carter had a five-year plan, which would end with Mulder finding Samantha. Writer Frank Spotnitz recalled telling Carter that they needed to resolve the storyline before the Mulder-less eighth season.

"It felt like the more honest and unexpected ending to that storyline — that she was dead and had been dead for a long time. It felt like that would be more resonant for people who lost loved ones for extended periods of time. You're not going to find them alive 20 years on. So that was — we knew that was a deeply unexpected and probably unpopular choice, but felt more honest." 

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