Lexicon Exclusive

"Belief and Skepticism 2"

The X-Files Lexicon’s exclusive interview with Author John Kenneth Muir, part 2 (click here for part 1)


Conducted by Christopher Irish (11/5/2015)

Introduction By Matt Allair

Page Editor: A.M.D.

I had the privilege of speaking with Mr. John Muir about his new book The X-Files FAQ. For more information about this book, see my review posted to the X-Files Lexicon Blog.

Below is an hour-long interview I conducted with John. We covered a wide range of subjects. He was easy to talk to, and our mutual interest in the show and all things Chris Carter made for a very fun conversation! –Christopher Irish
 

Chris: I really enjoyed reading the “Monsters of the Week” chapter. As a kid those episodes really resonated with me, and when I was an adult re-watching the series, I got a deeper appreciation for the conspiracy. How much do you think the Monster of the Week episodes guided the series itself? How would it have been with more of these stand-alone episodes?

John: Yeah, I think the stand-alone episodes were really necessary. If you’re looking at the greater sort of sweep of TV history for all these years, you had shows like Star Trek or Lost in Space where it was just one stand-alone adventure after another with characters that you like. As we got into the 90s, serialized or novelized—whatever you want to call it—storytelling started to take hold, and now we’re at the point where everything is serialized, where it all connects and they’re like chapters in a bigger novel, like in Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, 24, what-have-you. And so I actually really like how The X-Files does it because I think it was forecasting the serialized stories, but it also gave us room to kind of breathe, and that’s why I like to call it a hybrid. And of course that’s sort of the subject of the series “Hybrids,” you know. Sometimes it’s these stand-alones, and sometimes it’s the interconnected storytelling, and I actually prefer that as somebody who had a child six or seven years into the run of 24. Even though I liked it I sort of lost the thread and never went back. It was too much having to follow that week after week for eight years. Like, “Man, I can’t keep up anymore. I can’t commit to it!” So I like how The X-Files is a little of this and a little of that, and you can miss a couple episodes and leap back in and know that there’s more going on and there’s a larger world and a larger story. But personally, in my life, I love the monster stories the most because if I’m not writing a book on The X-Files and I don’t have much time and can’t go through the whole arc or even a mini-arc, I can just get my fix of The X-Files, and boom! I’ll put in “Home” or “Detour” or “The Host” or any sort of monster show and get my fill of it! Like, “I have 45 minutes and I want to watch The X-Files!” And I know if I put in a mytharc story, I know I’ll be in for six or seven episodes, and I don’t always have time to get to them. But that’s just my life! It was different in the 90s before my wife and I had kids, like on a Sunday afternoon we could sit and watch some Millennium episodes or a run of X-Files and go through a mini-arc, like the season three mytharc. So I guess it’s good that it appeals to both people who have more time and people who just want that fix.

Chris: In the chapter “Do You Want Children, or The Nobel Prize?” you highlight the episode “Ghost in the Machine.” I like how you said it’s almost prophetic at this point in our society because everything is connected and we have smart houses. Are there any other episodes you think predicted the future?

John: Well, I think that is a key episode, which is funny because I guess a lot of people who created it didn’t like that episode, thought it was too much like 2001 or something like that, but I agree with you on that because that’s one that I really think of from the first season that I really like that was really forward thinking. I mean, it’s like 20 or 30 years ahead of it’s time, talking about a system that can go in and control every aspect of your work and home life. To me that’s a key X-File episode because it’s so predictive of the world we’re going to have, or the one we’re well on our way to having at this point, I guess I should say. As far as other episodes, let me think about that. Well, to me that’s the one, that’s a key one from the first season as far as other first season stories. I’ll go ahead and say it, the ones that get me and really scare me and are on the fringe of being true—whether we know they are or not, it’s hard to say—but there’s these stories that look at the underside of our society, like the episode in the chicken factory where the food is poisoned, you know? I guess that’s “Our Town.” And then there’s “The Host” episode, and that’s about human waste and what happens to waste and all this understructure of society. And we know because, how many times are food products recalled because they’ve been poisoned or something? I think The X-Files sort of gets at—some of the episodes get at the idea where the things we ignore but underline in our culture are not always as safe as we think they are or assume they are. Clearly, and I’ll be interested in seeing how Chris Carter handles this, but this “Anti-Vaxxer” movement in the culture, I’m sorry to say I think is ridiculous, but there’s people who fear the government is watching them by putting chips in the vaccines and are cataloguing, and there are people who believe that, and that is a key X-Files story line! From the middle of the season, from the third, fourth, fifth season, that’s part of how the conspiracy can track people. So I think there’s some people who can’t tell between fact and fiction or took those episodes too seriously! I don’t know, but that might be one way. I’ll be curious to see how he follows up on that, and if he picks up on that thread, because in the culture with the outbreak of Measles in Disneyland last year and things like that and people refusing vaccines, which are part of community health, because they fear the government, those are all key X-File issues.

Chris: Yeah, it almost writes itself!

John: Yeah it does, it really does! So I can’t wait to see if that becomes a piece of it going forward.

Chris: Yeah, I remember watching “Ghost in the Machine,” and ten years ago I thought it was kind of silly, but now I watch it again and think it’s pretty accurate!

John: Right! Wow, you just said something that really nears my experience watching The X-Files. There was a period where I was really immersed in it, and it was so awesome and forward thinking, and then there was a period where I could see it was kind of getting older, but then I’d come back to it again and say, “No, wow, this is so forward thinking! This is amazing!” It was so far ahead of it’s time that you couldn’t see it! But yeah, I agree with you, you watch that episode and think it’s just about a machine out of control, and you think no, it’s about turning over control of your life to a machine, and we all do that every day now. We’re all around the hub of our iPhone, right? We get text messages, we take pictures, you can pay bills, so it’s not hard to see that they were predicting something.

Chris: The X-Files has the military perform various functions, like with cover-ups or detaining Agent Mulder at the secret base in “Deep throat” or running refugee camps in “Fresh Bones.” The military is usually portrayed as antagonistic or the subject of Mulder and Scully’s investigations. Do you think the public opinion about the military over the last fifteen years would alter the way it’s used in the future of The X-Files?

John: You know, I hope not, because I feel like the gift and the great thing about The X-Files is it looks at America and all our institutions, and it looks at government and looks at military and big business, like in episodes like the one with the Ebola-like outbreak, “F. Emasculata”—so it looks at all these elements in our culture and can be critical of them, and I think that’s the role of art, so I would hope that they don’t change that. But I do know that people today get very angry if you criticize the military. You know, back in the 70s and 80s, they went too far, and people would spit on Vietnam vets, and that’s awful, you know, you shouldn’t do that. But now it’s the opposite, where you can’t dare criticize the troops. But being the smart guy he is, I’m sure Chris Carter will figure out a way to continue to make his critiques without making them personal. Just telling us about who we are now as opposed to making the attacks personal or partisan, you know? That’s what I love about The X-Files: people don’t know if Chris Carter is conservative? Is he liberal? He doesn’t tell you; you don’t know where he is! You can look at some evidence and see it one way and see some other thing and see it another way, but it’s not like a partisan show. It’s just about who we are as Americans, and I really like that.

Chris: I really like the “Fact or Fiction” chapter. Which episode or episodes would be the most terrifying if they were real world?


John: Thank you! Umm, the one that still bothers me is the one with the bugs that come out of the trees. “Darkness Falls”—you know, where the flesh eating bugs come out—and I think that’s the one where they mentioned the brain sucking amoeba in the light, if memory serves. Some of those things are really creepy, and you hear stories every summer of children who have died from these things crawling up their nose and literally eating their brains. It is horrible, horrible. I read that and think it’s horrible, and I know that the chances of that is in the millions, but it happens to a couple people in America, a couple kids in America every year, and I kind of think about that sometimes. I think about episodes like “Ice” or “Darkness Falls,” where these Lazarus species, these things we think are dead and can’t harm us, somehow we release them. Somehow they still exist, and we release them, and they end up damaging us. Maybe that’s where that fear is of the bubonic plague coming back or tuberculosis or these things we put away and think they can’t harm us come back to harm us, and that’s the dramatic underpinning of the Lazarus species episodes like “Agua Mala.” So that idea sort of scares me. I don’t expect aliens in ice to come up and get us, but there are stories everyday you can find on Google about scientists finding a virus in the ice and they’re going to thaw it out! Like, “Is that really a good idea? Is that something we need to do?” Or maybe it is, I don’t know! I’m not a scientist, but that’s scary! Like, the earth has secrets buried in it, and what secret are we going to dig up? I guess that secret scares me a little bit.

Chris: I almost want to send these episodes to these scientists!

John: Right! I’m sure if I read more about it we’d find that there’s no harm, you’re just being paranoid, but that’s what I love about horror, is we just dwell in the paranoia!

Chris: In “The X-Files Feature Films” chapter you discuss chatter about a possible third movie. With the limited series drawing near and excitement building, do you think it’s more possible that we’ll get a third movie, or will we have to wait and see what happens in the new episodes first?


John: I think with everything I’m seeing is that there’s this groundswell of anticipation for the revival series, and I would love to have an X-Files III feature film, but if it was between a limited series every year with six to ten episodes or a feature film, I’ll take the episodes. To me, I compare The X-Files a lot to Star Trek: I love them both, and they’re both these phenomenons that started on TV. I feel that Star Trek works best on TV, though I like a lot of the movies. I also think The X-Files works best on television as well, because they need a great story. I know in I Want to Believe, when nobody liked it, if that had just been an episode and the next week you get an alien episode, people would be like, “Oh yeah, that was a really interesting episode, let’s move on.” But everyone hated the second movie because somehow that was supposed to be an “event,” instead of saying, “This is a very intriguing story. I’m so glad they did it!” I always say episodic television gives people the freedom to be ambitious and the freedom to fail, and I think that’s why The X-Files is so successful. There’s going to be some way-out ideas, and sure, not every episode is perfect, but they had the freedom to try something different, and they knew they would be back the next week, so they would really go for it. And maybe they wouldn’t reach it in some of the seasons, but more often than not, they did! But if it’s a movie, boom! If you don’t hit it, you’re gone in a week, and you’re a failure and the franchise dies. So I’d rather not have those stakes. So yeah, if there’s an X-Files III, of course I’d go to it, but I’d love for us to get a series of episodes every year. I think that’d be great.

Chris: Yeah, I agree with you. See, I kind of liked the other movie, even when I went to see it. I guess I’m the minority, but I thought it was good.

John: Yeah, I thought it was great, and I thought it had a lot of important things to say about how our culture looks at faith and redemption and second chances and forgiveness and stuff like that. But that was the summer of The Dark Knight, so no one wanted to go there, but I did! I loved it! But again, if that was a two-hour episode of The X-Files, and you knew there was an episode before it and one after it, people would have said, “Oh wow, that was so different, and I loved it, but now let’s move on to something I’m more comfortable with next week.” So, you see how that works? Kind of like your expectations and what we can accommodate on TV, because there’s going to be a lot of episodes we might not love, and maybe one might miss the mark a little but it’ll make us think, and I think that’s the gift of The X-Files is that it always makes us think, and it challenges us with these different kinds of stories.

Chris: That’s true. I’ve been following The X-Files for years, but it was interesting when they were trying to push for a new movie, and there was a lot of fan chatter about getting a new movie, and when they came out with the new limited series everyone was pleasantly surprised.

John: I think so too. Certainly the generation that came up with The X-Files and watched on TV. I mean, there was rarely a bad episode, and we know that it works! On a weekly basis it works. There are two feature films, but that’s not enough of a pattern to see if that works. I don’t know if they’ve figured out how to do The X-Files as a movie in a way that is truthful and represents what it was as a series, because we do have the two components, we have the mytharc and the monster, so how do you do that, you know? So, is everyone going to hate the Monster of the Week one? What I saw was people didn’t understand that it had that heritage and were wondering, “Well, where are the aliens?” And we’re like, you know, there weren’t always aliens in The X-Files! Not every story was about UFOs and aliens. So everyone who was saying, “I don’t get it, where are the aliens?” I asked, well, did you ever watch the show?

Chris: Yeah, the monsters outnumber the aliens, really!


John: Right, exactly, exactly.

Chris: Do you have a favorite series that Chris Carter worked on aside from The X-Files, and would you like to see one of them return?

John: I absolutely love Millennium. I love it. I think it’s just genius. I think it’s a work of art. You know, I think The X-Files is a work of art too. I love The X-Files and Millennium. I would love to see Millennium return in some way. I think it deserves the chance to return. You know, The X-Files, when it started out, it took to being a hybrid, and it also had a lot of stories in the first couple seasons about these monsters in human nature, stories like “Irresistible” or “Grotesque” or what-have-you, and Millennium sort of inherited that as it’s main theme when The X-Files sort of went more into science fiction and monster horror, which is cool because I love that stuff. But I also love Millennium and how Millennium looks at the darkness inside people, and you also have some supernatural monsters, but by and large it’s about human evil. And I love the symbol of Frank’s yellow house and how it’s used in Millennium, and I love Lance Henricksen in that role. I’m crossing my fingers and crossing my toes and anything else I can cross that the limited series for The X-Files brings us more X-Files, but also that it will bring attention back to Millennium and we can see that there’s still an opportunity even though the millennium has passed to tell stories of that nature. You know, every cult has a doomsday, and just because the year 2000 passed doesn’t mean there can’t be another doomsday in a couple years or 30 years. I think they can still tell stories of Frank Black. I love Millennium. I mean, having Millennium on and The X-Files on at the same time in the 90s was magical. When I think about TV in the 90s, I think about The X-Files and Millennium and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and that stuff all comes back, but The X-Files and Millennium were a key piece of pop culture in the 90s.

Chris: In “The X-Files Unbound” chapter, you mention other series that capitalized on the paranormal genre that The X-Files broke open in the 90s. Are there any of these shows that you really enjoyed?

John: I did. I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer—that was a fun show. I loved it. I pretty much watched every rip off, good or bad, of The X-Files in the 90s! There was one called The Burning Zone, which was purely awful, but I watched all of them, all the episodes. There was the conspiracy show Nowhere Man, which I loved. Strange World and Brimstone, you know. The X-Files sort of broke open horror television, and there are so many examples of it in the 90s. And you know, like, “Buffy is a rip off,” but the success of The X-Files allowed for a show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer to exist because people saw there was an audience for that kind of storytelling, that kind of horror storytelling.

That’s why we have so many shows like American Gothic, Prey—I’m sure I’m missing a bunch, like Sleepwalker. I know a lot of them folded after one season, but some lasted a long time. Millennium lasted for three seasons, Buffy lasted for what—seven seasons?—and most of them didn’t last one season. But I just love those shows. I think they’re all very interesting to watch, and I can’t think of another show that inspired so much horror storytelling than The X-Files did in the 90s. I mean, we’ve got what, seven or eight shows like that, if you go down the line of all of them? So midway through The X-Files you’ve got Dark Skies—there’s another one. There’s a good show! I mentioned American Gothic, so there are like seven or eight shows that tried to capitalize on the kind of paranoia, aliens, and monsters milieu that The X-Files created.

Chris: That’s another chapter where I learned about a lot of new shows I have to watch now.

John: Yeah, some of them are on DVD. Dark Skies is on DVD and lasted only one season. Some of them aren’t. I don’t think The Burning Zone will ever come out on DVD. I don’t know, maybe. That was such a bad show.

Chris: Well, maybe on Netflix now.

John: That’s right, or maybe on Youtube!

Chris: My last question is, how has The X-Files impacted your life?

John: Oh, that is such a huge question, and I don’t want to get too crazy, but it’s been a huge factor in my life! I don’t think I expected to see this sort of phenomenon since I came after Star Trek. I was born in ‘69 when Star Trek was already cancelled, and I watched the movies and I watched Star Trek, but for the phenomenon to catch on and be an adult being part of it? I mean, I liked it, but I never really expected there was going to be another pop culture sci-fi to take off in my lifetime that would take off right when I’d be into it. So The X-Files was that. It came up with the rise of the Internet, and obviously I was taking on more responsibilities in my life. I was married when The X-Files was first on, I bought my first house when The X-Files was on, and all these things. And I feel like it was just this thing that was there, and I really loved and still love, and one of the things that I really liked about it then and now was this sort of idea of people having nuances to their character. I mean, you think about Scully and Mulder and their two viewpoints. You have Mulder with his beliefs and Scully with her skepticism and her science, right? And that’s such an easy way to refer to the series, but the series got so deep that there were times where the characters would flip, like any time Christianity is mentioned of any type, and suddenly Mulder is a flaming skeptic, and any time the Catholic faith is brought up Scully is willing to believe it all! And it just, that whole idea to me says something about the nuance to life where we all have blind spots as people; we all have biases. Even Mulder and Scully, who we hold up to be these amazing people, we view more as real people because even they have their blind spots. So I love that, and I try to be cognizant of that in my own life.
I probably have blind spots, you know, and I might be aware of some, and not be aware of others! And that’s actually a good thing for relationships, to be aware that you have these sort of biases and ones you’re not aware of! So I think that’s sort of the worldview of The X-Files, and it’s fascinating to me, and the characters are endlessly fascinating to me because they’re not just black and white, not just belief and skepticism. Sometimes nihilism is thrown in there in the Glen Morgan episodes! Sometimes the characters are exactly the opposite of who we would think they would be, and that just tells me that Chris Carter and his table of writers were able to get a lot of depth out of these shows, and for me that’s why I love to keep watching!
 
Chris: Yeah, I think Chris Carter really touched a nerve in culture in general.

John: I think so too, and so many of these stories even in Millennium are just really, I don’t want to say predicting, because then it just sounds crazy, but they were sort of leading us to the post-9/11 world. They kind of anticipate that the good times in the 90s weren’t always going to last, and of course they didn’t. Scary, right?

Chris: One of the episodes of The Lone Gunmen dealt with an attack on the Twin Towers before it happened.

John: It’s crazy! I think about that often, where the whole plot was to fly planes into the World Trade Centers and guessed what the impact would be because of that, so, wow. So all these series were tapping this nerve, getting to the zeitgeist, and you think how could they have done that on such a regular basis? But they did. You add up three years of Millennium, nine years of The X-Files, one year of Harsh Realm and a year of Lone Gunmen. I mean, Harsh Realm had an episode centered on Ground Zero, where a bomb had gone off in Manhattan, and there was a post-apocalyptic terrorist world, and that too I think was before 9/11 or very close to it. They were really sort of looking through the looking glass, where now you sort of look back and think, “Wow, that was eerily real.”

Chris: Chris Carter must have some sort of special talent for that sort of thing.

John: I need to ask him if he has a crystal ball!

Chris: He probably wouldn’t divulge.

John: Probably not! I think he’s just a really good writer. He’s a really good speculative writer, and I think because he came up through the era that he did, where he was looking at things that were happening in our country like the Vietnam War, Watergate, and Three Mile Island, and everyone was talking about peace and prosperity in the 90s, so maybe he was thinking, “Well, not so fast, I grew up in an era where we had all these things and they could all happen again.” Maybe that’s what it was.

Mr. Muir was a great sport with his interactions with Chris Irish, and I must thank him for such a generous amount of time. The X-Files FAQ is a great resource for X-Philes, and a great primer for anyone unfamiliar with the basics of the series. You can find our review of the book on The X-Files Lexicon Blog. Once again, special thanks must got to the editors at Applause Books, and to Mr. Muir for his generosity. –Matt Allair


Please click here to read the first part of this interview.

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