The Joy of Questions

Like most of the rest of the world I went and saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens last month, and like most of the world, I really, really liked it. I wrote about it here.

One of the things I liked so much about it is that I left with a lot of questions. Not the kind of questions like, “did he have to pay to get into the pie eating contest?” or “who is every single character in True Detective season two? and why did they do any of the things they did? and why did that guy kill that guy? My God, I have no idea what’s going on here! This is stupid!!!”

No, I had questions about character backstory, familial ties, why that one Storm Trooper hated Finn so much, how’d Rey get so awesome with the force, etc…

In other words, I had good questions. Engaged Questions. I-want-to-go-home-and-think-about-this-for-a-while questions.

And man, was that fun.

There is a joy in questions. Some of my favorite movies and TV shows have been built on a foundation of showing you crazy things with a little explanation and then leaving you to wonder about it, sometimes for years.

Questions are awesome, but often, answers are not.

That was part of the problem with Episodes I-III. There were no questions, just a bunch of unsatisfying answers to questions we’d been asking ourselves for years.

Anakin and Obi Wan fought together in the Clone Wars?

What the hell are the Clone Wars?

How did Luke and Leia get separated and Vader not know about them?

And they raised a few of the bad questions, like:

I get that C-3PO and R2-D2 had their memories erased, but why didn’t Obi Wan remember them when Luke showed up? That makes no sense.


How bad are the OB-GYN’s on Coruscant that they didn’t know Padme was having twins?

Twin Peaks had the greatest question ever: Who Killed Laura Palmer? And the search for the answer was amazing, and strange, and confusing.

The answer, and more importantly what came after the answer, was much less interesting and the show ended almost immediately.

Lost pretty much created the modern internet with the fan communities that sprang up all around it with people theorizing about the island, the polar bear, the others, the hatch, Jack’s dad. It was great!

And then people found out the answers and grumpiness ensued worldwide.

In fact, answers seem to only be better when you didn’t realize you had a question. The Usual Suspects, Fight Club, and Primal Fear all provide a twist at the end that you never saw coming because you weren’t really trying to figure out who Keyser Söze was. Agent Kujan was, but on first viewing that wasn’t the question. It was just about what happened on the boat.

And that brings me to last night’s episode of The X-Files.

I love The X-Files. It was my favorite show throughout all of the 1990s, and I loved me some TV in the 1990s. And here’s what I loved about it.

It was dark. It was creepy. You were never sure what was going on until the very end of the episode, and even then you weren’t 100% sure. It was funny and scary sometimes in the same scene. There were relationships you understood because you saw them grow and change. But most of all, I loved the questions.

What happened to Mulder’s sister?

Who is the Cigarette Smoking Man?

Bees? Black Oil? Faceless aliens? Scully’s implant? Krycek? Deep Throat? Mr. X? The Un-Blonde?

Something was always happening behind the scenes that we got little glimpses of, but could never fully see and was rarely fully explained.

And the questions always came out of a case, and active investigation. Something crazy happens, Mulder shows Scully a slide show, and they’re off to figure out what happened. Sometimes the cases were just crazy things that happened in a small town, or Mulder was being directed to look into something that might lead him closer to the truth, whatever the truth was.

But there was some things off about last night’s premiere.

It was too bright.

The X-Files is a show filled with super high-beam flashlights reflecting off of metallic surfaces to provide just enough light to scratch through the shadows.

We used to turn all the lights off in the dorm room in college. Only partially so we could sit in a dark room with lots of girls. Mostly it was because if you didn’t turn the lights off in the room, you’d never be able to see anything on the screen.

Last night Scully spent a lot of time squinting to keep the sun out of her eyes. That much light decreased the creepiness factor by a lot.

There was no mystery

Mulder and Scully weren’t brought back to the closed down X-Files because of a mysterious event or unexplained phenomenon. Scully called Mulder to have him google a talk show host/conspiracy theorist. If hearing Jesse Ventura give his 911-Truther conspiracies on Howard Stern was enough to reopen the X-Files, this conspiracy that’s lasted decades is being run by bozos.

I just didn’t see why seeing that clip did anything to get Mulder moving, or why hearing Nina from the KGB (seriously watch The Americans if you aren’t already) provide ploy exposition opened his eyes to a new way of seeing the world.

Until she disappeared, there was really no case to solve. It felt like an episode without a story.

Few Questions. Lots of Answers

There were a lot of scenes of people sitting in a room, or a car, or a room, telling other people about things that happened once somewhere that may have happened or may have been faked.

No one had to witness a strange event, or investigate a crime, or ask a probing question of an informant. People just told you whatever they needed to tell you, whether you wanted to know or not.

As a consequence, it all felt kind of hollow.

How Long Did This All Take?

From one scene to the next there were jumps in location and time of day that left me completely unsure where and when this all happened. Did Mulder live in the same house as Nina? Were they neighbors? Were both of their farm houses a ten minute drive from Scully’s hospital and Joel McHale’s TV studio?

I have no idea, but this either took days to happen or everyone lived and worked with walking distance of The Palm in downtown D.C.

It wasn’t all bad. I liked having The X-Files back and I like the attempt to bring the old paranoia into the next age of government surveillance, wiretapping, Snowden, and drones. And I liked he believes again (even if it’s in the complete opposite of everything he ever believed in before, except for that time in the 6th season when he was already convinced by Kritschgau that the alien stuff was a government hoax).

And I like that I’m not sure I trust Scully. It seems like she and Joel McHale have something going on and that maybe she didn’t call him on Skinner’s behalf, but I might be reading into that.

In the end, however, the premiere suffered from a lot of show me, don’t tell me, and so, to me anyway, none of the revelations felt earned.

This may all be a product of trying to squeeze a lot of stuff into six episodes that Chris Carter would have normally used three seasons to sprinkle in, but we’ve got six episodes. I’d love it if they felt like six tightly-constructed mythology episodes strung together. Who knows, maybe they will.

I want to believe they will.