'The X-Files' Recruits King and Gibson for Sweeps | EW.com


'The X-Files' Recruits King and Gibson for Sweeps

Here's a couple of sweeps stunts that paid off: hiring big-gun writers Stephen King and William Gibson to pen two 'X-Files.'

Well, at least Mulder finally asked Scully to marry him.

That is, if they stick with the script I read (alas, no tape was available at press time). These are giddy days on The X-Files — or as giddy as a series predicated on a cancer-spreading, government/alien conspiracy to take over the world can be. There’s a zing to the old thing these days, and no wonder: With Files in its fifth season, the original episodes are at least as popular as ever; it’s doing gangbusters in cable and syndicated reruns; and stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are locked in for two more seasons, with the production moving from Vancouver to Los Angeles — the better, perhaps, for Duchovny to punch out a Naked Truth producer the next time it is suggested that his wife Téa Leoni strut around in a Wonder Woman costume (a recent, last-ditch effort to boost her show’s numbers. But, I ask you, will Leoni do the same to X-Files creator Chris Carter when, in some final, ratings-sagging X season, Duchovny is asked to don an Aquaman bathing suit?).

That Mulder and Scully marriage proposal was a little joke, of course, one of the more overt ones in an extremely sly, effective Feb. 8 episode written by horror master Stephen King — then rewritten by Chris Carter. The tale, entitled “Chinga,” is about an innocent child in thrall to a spooky, murderous doll. The script takes witty advantage of King’s knowledge of his home state of Maine, right down to having the vacationing Scully (a stay-at-home Mulder barely appears in this one) wear a common souvenir T-shirt bearing the legend “Maine — The Way Life Should Be,” a jovial slogan that quickly takes on ominous overtones. But the nudgy nuances of the main characters, and the show’s trademark tone of dry eeriness, were clearly supplied by Carter. (Apparently King is a good sport about rewrites; he’s agreed to pen another Files.)

The Feb. 15 edition of X, “Kill Switch,” is the work of another guest writer of literary distinction, William Gibson. The cyberpunk godfather — working in collaboration with sci-fi writer Tom Maddox, author of the underrated 1991 novel Halo — has come up with a corker of an Internet-obsessed show. It manages to satirize the CD-ROM smash Tomb Raider heroine Lara Croft (I predict an instant slew of Esther Nairn Web pages) and to imagine what might have happened if Bill Gates had become an embittered, hard-driven loser instead of hitting it Microsoft big.

As with all of Gibson’s work since his seminal Neuromancer (1984), I couldn’t follow 95 percent of the techno-sci-fi mumbo jumbo in this episode, but the genius part is, neither can Mulder and Scully! The fun and suspense derive from the FBI agents’ attempts to understand cutting-edge computer technology and the deeper meaning of the Platters’ unfathomably beautiful 1958 R&B hit “Twilight Time.”

One might speculate that inviting in guest writers was a matter of expediency, to give Carter and director Rob Bowman more time to finish polishing this summer’s X-Files feature film. However, Carter has obviously been closely involved in the weekly show this season (he wrote and directed last November’s gorgeous Frankenstein homage) and Bowman directed the Gibson episode.

What’s more likely is that Carter and company are doing the shrewdest job possible of working out the TV version of a jigsaw puzzle. They have to give us enough pieces of the “mythology” story line for a coherent fifth season ender, which, in turn, will lead into the June theatrical film. But they also must provide enough scary-monster episodes to keep the Mulder-Scully chemistry boiling.

So far, the plan is working. The gentle comic relief of shows like the Frankenstein parody, the November “prequel” about the origin of the Lone Gunmen, and even that Jan. 11 show about bleeding trees (which neatly skewered the jargon of a therapist’s — literal — psychobabble) have served to cool down the temperature of a series that had become overheated with paranoia and the all-too-obviously hollow threat that Scully might die of cancer.

Employing King and Gibson as X writers is as close as the series has come to stunt casting (shoving Richard Belzer into the Gunmen prequel doesn’t count: Homicide is a lower-rated show). Still, it suggests that at this point, The X-Files can get away with almost anything. Just don’t get too cocky, boys — I don’t wanna see Mulder boogying down with no dancing digitized baby in some David E. Kelley first draft.