In Defense Of Endings: Why The World Does Not Need Another “X-Files” Reboot
The texts came through in rapid succession. “OMG!” “Are you so excited?” “DID YOU HEAR!?!” “The X-Files” was returning to television and I, a superfan with an “I Want to Believe” poster tacked to my bedroom wall, could only muster a flutter of dread.
I love “The X-Files.” And I love that it’s over.
This is blasphemy. These days, shows end not with a bang, but a Netflix contract. Case in point: seven years after its cancellation, “Arrested Development” came back with a lackluster fourth season; soon, “Twin Peaks” will return to Showtime (David Lynch willing). Now, “The X-Files” will resurrect with a six-episode miniseries on Fox in January.
The “X-Files” team just released a 15-second teaser last week, with Mulder and Scully back in action, and of course the internet lost its shit. I felt the protests welling up in me as I hunched over my computer to take my throne as proverbial television Grinch. When I voice my anti-reboot opinions, I feel like I’m wearing a sign that says FIGHT ME. But we keep digging in the media graveyard, pulling up old bones. When will we let the dead stay dead?
People seem to forget that with “The X-Files,” we’ve already gone down this path. “I Want to Believe,” the 2008 reboot, was the film equivalent of someone you trust spitting into your mouth. Before that, the show sputtered to a lackluster stop in 2002 (already abandoned by Mulder and Scully—and most of its viewers).
And anyone who says, “Just don’t watch it, then,” doesn’t understand the all-encompassing obsession of THE CANON: the set of rules, timelines and characters specific to a fictional world. Something stays canonical if it follows the show’s established (and often complicated) rules. Invested fans go insane over memorizing the canon, endlessly rehashing old conspiracies, moments of character development and tiny, inconsequential pieces of trivia. To build up this fan side of things, you need that foundation. There are two kinds of fanfiction: the kind that fits into the pre-existing canon (what if Mulder and Scully found Slenderman?) and the kind that veers off into uncharted territory (what if Mulder and Scully opened an ice cream shop?) Self-respecting nerds hold the canon in religious reverence.
That’s because building on fandom framework is like a game. But to play the game, you have to know the rules — and every time a show reboots, those rules can change.
Most great fandoms give you the freedom to move around a little bit: to imagine the before and after, or even the in-between. For that to work, you need some information gaps to fill in on your own. I’m not necessarily against all spin-offs or reboots. I’m tentatively psyched for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, because it has the chance to expand the Harry Potter universe in unexpected ways — in direct opposition to JK’s constant, unnecessary Pottermore addendums, which seem to just box it in.The questions I ask when considering a reboot: Does it add something new? Does it take a different approach? Or does it just threaten to box things in?
Endings won’t always be perfect. Sometimes they’ll be rushed or convoluted or strike before anyone expects. That doesn’t mean shows should just wander on forever, stumbling from network to network to streaming service. The instant gratification of a beloved show’s rebirth doesn’t make up for the loss of a conclusion. Stories need endings.
It’s not just cult-classic TV shows, of course. Endings come in real life, too, in friendships and love affairs and broken-down cars and college degrees. That narrative arc will fit into your own life again and again. That doesn’t mean accepting conclusions is easy. When you love something, you want it to last forever—even if that means dragging it out.
My earliest memory of “The X-Files” ties into memories of the house where I grew up—the house my dad sold in 2013. As a little kid, I’d pretend to fall asleep on the living room floor so that my dad wouldn’t banish me when the eerie theme song began. It’s a very particular memory for me: the beige carpet scratchy beneath my cheek, my growing crush on David Duchovny (which thoroughly confused my prepubescent self). That feeling of being forgotten in plain sight; of knowing the way the room would feel if I wasn’t there.
By the time a For Sale sign went up in the front yard, I wanted the house gone. A lot of thing had shifted in a handful of years—my mom died, I graduated college, I got into some nasty fights with my dad. I was desperate to say goodbye to that house, because the longer I held onto it, the more it became this hulking symbol of my family’s grief.
That still didn’t make it easy the last time I walked through, storing the rooms in my mind, knowing I’d never be back.
In our lives, there are things that make up our own personal canon: A person, a place, a TV show. Nothing will last forever, no matter how much we scream or protest or post online petitions to our Facebook feeds. Better to let things end—if not with grace, then with finality.
With two years of space, I’m remembering the good things about that house along with the bad. I dream of walking through the rooms. I used to think “moving on” meant cutting something out of your life, but now I can see that it’s more like giving yourself freedom to constantly redefine. I carry those rooms with me, along with distinct moments dog-eared in my life: a little girl on the living room floor, breathing quiet, watching a sci-fi show through squinted eyes.
In a lot of ways, the shows we truly love become like the places we live. A safe place, a place of comfort.
There’s something special about the completion of things. The ability to experience something in its entirety: to know the ins-and-outs of its beginning, middle and end. Just because a series wraps doesn’t mean you’re done. An ending means it’s time to mourn, yeah. But it’s also time to celebrate–and rewatch. A chance to remember something important: Letting something end doesn’t mean letting it go.
Megan Kirby writes all over the Internet. You can follow her at @megankirb.