Opening the X-Files – Book Review

We dug into Opening the X-Files, an insightful new book talking the history & influences of The X-Files...

Confession time, folks – I consider Darren Mooney, the author of Opening the X-Files: A Critical History of the Original Series, a friend. I’ve been a fan of his peerless blog, The M0vie Blog, for quite some time. He has lent his voice to my X-Files podcast, The X-Cast, on numerous occasions and become a firm fan favourite of our audience. He also happens to be a lovely, funny bloke around all his talents.

In short, I’m a fan. I approached the book he’d told me about for months and kindly sent me a copy of *as* a fan, both of the writer and his subject matter. And yet, putting on my critical hat, I can say with absolute, confident certainty, you don’t have to be Mooney’s pal to see that Opening the X-Files is one of the most confident, assured and enlightening reads on Chris Carter’s seminal show ever produced.

At this point, trust me, go and read Darren’s blog reviews on The X-Files. Seriously. Not only does he break down all two hundred and seven episodes (plus both movies) in forensic detail, they serve as a much more detailed primer as to the content of his debut academic book, talking about the cultural and sociological contexts in which the entire series of The X-Files was made, and how it fits within the pop culture landscape. The book cannot possibly go into the same intricate level of detail as episodic reviews but it takes the major scholarly analysis in those pieces and fits them under a concise, supremely accessible umbrella.

Mooney breaks down the entire Ten Thirteen universe (following a generous and delightful foreword by Kumail Nanjiani, creator of The X-Files Files podcast and eventual guest star in the tenth season) by chapters chronologically discussing The X-Files in a number of insightful and enlightening ways, from the first season through to I Want to Believe, the second movie – sadly the book went to print before the debut of Season Ten but with Season Eleven on the way, there’s hope Mooney might well add modern cultural context of the revival series to any second edition he gets to write.

As a keen fan of the broader universe of television shows created by Chris Carter and his stable, it’s terrific to see Mooney manages to include treatises on all three seasons of Millennium, what became The X-Files spin-off series retroactively, *actual* imagined spin-off series The Lone Gunmen, and the ill-fated Harsh Realm, intended to be Carter’s Next Big Thing, until fate had other plans.

Mooney manages to bring genuine insight not just to the creative decisions behind these shows and seasons, and how they fit into the televisual landscape, but also the objective semiotics surrounding the writing, directing and conceptual ideas of each show. You’ll end up looking at them in fresh, interesting ways.

The same can be said for each season of The X-Files, because Mooney manages to weave the same mix of commentary, analysis and fact, fusing his own musings with plenty of additional quotes from a range of sources (many from people who created and worked on the show) and pre-existing theories and analysis to paint a picture of Carter’s series as a show indicative of the age it was made in, yet evolving and expanding as the Nineties gave way to a very different 21st century landscape, both in the real world and the one of television, and indeed movies. Would The X-Files have been different had it been made with more of a modern day aesthetic? Mooney absolutely believes so.

I almost don’t want to go into much detail about his specific analyses for each of the show’s years because the fun is discovering the connections and parallels Mooney uncovers, but he makes some striking and fascinating points about some of the inspirations, literary devices and cultural reference points Carter and his team use; from the influence of Native American mythology and World War Two legacy on the third season, all the way through to how the eighth season was fashioned and crafted to befit an encroaching, serialised style of storytelling as the new millennium took a bow. Mooney’s points differ but he brings the whole narrative of the show, creatively and contextually, together neatly.

Honestly, if you’re a fan of The X-Files, this is like manna from heaven. Even if you already know plenty of facts and examination points in Opening the X-Files, you will still be engrossed by Darren Mooney’s insightful reading of the show you love, with lots of superbly researched tidbits into the history of the series itself (seriously, reading the bibliography is almost as fun at times as reading the prose!).

Honestly, even if you’re not a die hard fan, this is nonetheless a genuinely involving examination of one of the 20th century’s most important TV shows and how it changed, and was changed, by television. A marvellous read.

Opening The X-Files: A Critical History of the Original Series is now available from all good booksellers and on Amazon.

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