The X-Files and Alternate Universes

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As the much-anticipated eleventh and almost certainly final season of The X-Files kicks off 2018, a remarkable fan theory has begun to arise in certain social media groups from the first two episodes: that The X-Files has slipped into an alternate universe. On the face of it, the notion sounds as crazy as the kind of cases Agent Fox Mulder has in his basement office, but could some nugget of possibility ripple beneath this theory?

A major factor backing up the assertion was confirmed in season premiere ‘My Struggle III’ (thoughts on which are espoused here in depth), in the fact Agent Dana Scully imagined the previous Season 10 finale ‘My Struggle II’ in her mind’s eye, a remarkable twist eradicating the events of an entire episode only sold to the audience by virtue of Scully having been gifted of it thanks to a vision from her long-lost son William. The catastrophic, world-ending, apocalyptic events of the Season 10 finale ended up simply as information for Scully to understand, a warning perhaps of knowledge to help she & Mulder prevent the release of the deadly Spartan Virus that wipes out humanity. So the theory goes, however, Scully’s vision wasn’t just a prophetic warning of terrible events to come, but rather an entire alternate reality she, and we, have experienced since The X-Files returned to our screens.

The main reason this theory interests me is because of the underpinning factors about The X-Files‘ return which is giving the idea significant ballast for some fans; principally how some fans would love nothing more than to see Season 10 essentially erased from canon. There is a growing feeling amongst a fraction of The X-Files fandom that a chance could have arisen to handily ignore some of the missteps considered to have arisen during the six-part revival season, principally the significant changes to established series mythology and problems & inconsistencies about the portrayal of Mulder & Scully. The theory to my mind seems less about having a cogent, satisfying narrative reason for two timelines being in play and rather looking for an excuse to pretend certain original creative choices in 2015 didn’t happen.

The bigger question then needs to be posed – if the theory is true, is Chris Carter intentionally trying to find a way to undo Season 10 based on fan reaction? Honestly, this doesn’t seem at all likely. There is no direct evidence to suggest this has been a master plan by Carter and his writing team. Carter has stated how he mapped out the four ‘Struggle’ episodes which bookend both seasons (as we’re presuming at this stage that the Season 11 finale is called ‘My Struggle IV’) in advance and deliberately placed clues inside ‘My Struggle II’ which indicated this may not have been ‘reality’, or at least our reality, but the evidence Scully may have imagined everything we’ve seen post the second movie I Want to Believe is based on scant evidence.

One of the main citations for this theory concerns the characters of Agents Miller & Einstein, introduced in ‘Babylon’ at the end of Season 10, who played an important role in the imagined events of ‘My Struggle II’. Fans have suggested that when they briefly appear in ‘My Struggle III’, neither seem to know who Scully is, despite both working with Mulder & Scully in the previous two episodes quite closely. Moreover, according to IMDB, neither are set to reappear in the rest of Season 11, perhaps further suggesting ‘Babylon’ and possibly everything before it only happened in Scully’s vision. The reality here, almost certainly, is that Carter listened to the hugely negative fan reaction about Miller & Einstein after Season 10 and decided to effectively write them out.

Other suggestions seem to indicate the reason we experienced scenes in which Mulder & Scully both experienced their own visions and dream-sequences in Season 10 are because the events around those sequences never took place. In ‘Founder’s Mutation’, we see both Mulder & Scully experience imagined scenarios whereby they create an ‘alternate’ life where both were parents to William. Going back to ‘Babylon’, Mulder experiences a powerful psychedelic trip in which he imagines seeing abstract versions of the Smoking Man and the Lone Gunmen, all of whom at this point are very much dead in Mulder’s frame of vision. Some fans believe William could have projected these abstractions and dream-sequences into Scully’s mind as part of his confused attempts to understand his parentage.

Equally, fans are using this to explain certain other aberrations within Season 10. The relationship of Mulder & Scully, for a start, which has cooled significantly since I Want to Believe effectively had them playing house. Carter and his team have explained this was an attempt to return to the platonic friendship which defined the first six or seven seasons of the series’ run, but many struggle (no pun intended) to believe they could have reverted to this position. Season 11’s second episode ‘This’ has only strengthened these assertions, given how Glen Morgan writes Mulder & Scully in a much closer, familial way and explains, indeed, how the X-Files which vanished at the end of Season 9 survived, when Season 10 didn’t mention them at all. More on ‘This’ here.

The mythology is also a major sticking point for these theories. Many fans struggled deeply with the reconceptualisation of the ‘mytharc’ in ‘My Struggle’, which I discussed in greater depth here. ‘My Struggle III’ specifically mentions elements Season 10 entirely seemed to ignore or push past – alien colonisation, the backstory of the Syndicate etc… and fans are coming to believe the mythology that Scully imagined in Season 10 is some kind of deliberate misdirection, attempting to reimagine the modern mytharc as a fearful, dystopian warning against ‘Deep State’ and totalitarian control. This, too, ignores Carter’s approach as a writer and creative to keep The X-Files relevant in the cultural consciousness, for better or worse when it comes to continuity and canon.

So when you add all of these elements together, what do you come up with? There are some very interesting points of discussion to take from these observations, but it still feels a long way from proving Season 10 was an alternate universe imagined by Scully thanks to a vision experience. Alternate universes and visions are quite a different concept as entities anyway. We know William projected the vision of ‘My Struggle II’ onto Scully (‘My Struggle III’ makes that pretty clear), but does a vision equate to another reality anyway? If anything, the vision feels more like a premonition of what *might* happen in the future, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine ‘My Struggle IV’ deals with a similar narrative under different circumstances.

There are, of course, alternate reality precedents in recent fiction, and indeed The X-Files itself. Fringe, a show which prided itself on being a modern successor to Carter’s show, built its entire mythology around alternate realities intersecting with one another. Joe Harris’ comics from IDW, originally considered ‘canon’ by Carter when he helped develop them before Season 10 became a TV reality, eventually were restyled as an ‘alternate’ Season 10/11 in comic form, to the point Harris adapted his original plan for the Season 11 comic into a truncated finale which very much suggested the comics were aware of their place as an alternate reality adjacent to the ‘prime’ X-Files timeline. That wasn’t originally, however, the plan at all.

From what we know, Carter’s plan was to have Scully experience a premonition ‘warning’ from her super-powered, long-lost son of the apocalypse, essentially. Why or for what purpose, we don’t yet know. Anything else beyond this remains supposition and guess work and, despite some enticing theories, we should caution against jumping ahead and erasing an entire season of The X-Files from canon just yet. The reality is almost certainly that Season 10 was planned as a canonical revival of The X-Files but simply didn’t get the mixture quite right. That’s a much more likely truth than a convoluted, retrospective vision throwing those six episodes into question of whether they actually took place.

What’s thrilling about The X-Files right now, mind you, is that we’re even wondering about this. The truth certainly remains out there.

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