Conventional wisdom says "The X-Files" should have ended its prime-time run in May. That was my sense after a season of mostly lousy episodes and a mythology that grew too convoluted to follow.
My feeling about the show became less sure while watching the season finale's question-raising last scene.
Just after FBI Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) was the victim of an (alien?) abduction, his partner, Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), dropped a bombshell: She's pregnant. It was a terrific surprise, one that re-ignited my long-dormant interest in Fox's signature sci-fi series.
Tonight's eighth season premiere (the first of a two-parter) opens with scenes of amniotic fluid and the tiny body parts of a fetus. The teaser closes with a quick shot of Mulder in what is presumably alien goop.
Then, for the first time in the show's history, the credits begin and they're different. The FBI badges bear updated photos of the stars (Duchovny looks strangely bloated), but more importantly, Duchovny and Anderson are joined by a third top-lining star: Robert Patrick as FBI Agent John Doggett.
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When: 9 p.m. Nov. 5 on Fox.
Starring: Gillian Anderson, Robert Patrick, Mitch Pileggi, David Duchovny
Tonight's episode, written by series creator Chris Carter, picks up the day after the season finale.
Scully and assistant director Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) are still reeling from Mulder's disappearance. Add to that the FBI's new deputy director - Mulder and Scully's old nemesis, Kersh (James Pickens Jr.) - who orders an investigation into Mulder's disappearance.
Here the role reversal begins. Scully, long the skeptic, takes over the Mulder "believer" role as by-the-book, disbelieving Doggett leads the search for Mulder.
Scully and Doggett don't get off to a good start, as he tries to make her doubt her relationship with Mulder.
"I always took the rumors with a grain of salt," Doggett says, baiting Scully, who naturally asks what the rumors were. "That from the beginning he never felt a real trust in you, that you were ambitious."
Fans are sure to have a negative first impression of Doggett, too. But this new combative relationship gives Anderson an opportunity for some nostril-flaring rants, especially when Doggett questions how "a scientist, a serious person," could believe Mulder was taken by aliens.
"I have seen things I cannot explain. I have observed phenomena that I cannot deny," she nearly seethes. "As a scientist and serious person, it is a badge of honor not to dismiss these things because someone thinks they're b.s."
Tell him, Scully!
Though Scully distrusts Doggett and especially Kersh, she's troubled by evidence that Mulder may not have been taken by aliens, that he may simply be a crazy man on the run. She has her doubts until the return of an "X-Files" character last seen at the start of the sixth season hiding in a power plant that also contained aliens.
Patrick plays Doggett as necessarily hard-headed and antagonistic. He's not droll like Mulder, either. I just worry that Carter will soften him up too quickly. By next week's episode, he begins to doubt some of his steadfast beliefs about the existence of aliens.
Tonight's premiere is a more suspenseful, exciting hour than next week's conclusion, which relies too heavily on doppelgangers for predictable friction.
Should "The X-Files" have ended a few seasons ago? Probably so. Duchovny is only signed for 11 episodes this season, and after that, he's probably gone. Woe unto Carter if he dares to make Scully and Doggett romantic partners. X-Philes will defect as quickly as "Beauty and the Beast" fans did when that series jumped the shark by trying to pair the beast with a new beauty.
Until Fox milks every last ratings drop out of "X-Files," at least Carter can tantalize fans with two more intriguing mysteries: Who impregnated Agent Scully? Where's Agent Mulder?
No, this isn't quite "Who shot J.R.?" But "The X-Files" still poses questions whose answers will cause a stir among long-time fans who haven't completely given up on this aging series.
You can reach Rob Owen at email@example.com@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.