[All TV stills from X-Files, 20th Century Fox Television]
When The X-Files TV show premiered in 1993, cutting-edge technology included cell phones, the computer game Doom, and the Internet (yes! The Internet!). It's been 24 years since Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully first tackled the strangest situations in the FBI caseload. Since then, we've seen the invention of the DVD, the iPhone, social networking platforms, and the Internet of Things.
But what if X-Files hadn't premiered until this year? How would the show have unfolded its complex storyline? Plenty of the scrapes Mulder and Scully landed themselves in wouldn’t have turned out the way Chris Carter intended. After all, the 2016 reboot showed us that Mulder and Scully's world would have been vastly different with modern technology.
Let's take a look at five episodes that would have ended much differently if Mulder and Scully were first cracking cases today.
1) Pilot (1993)
In the very first episode, Mulder and Scully fly to Bellefleur, Oregon to investigate the deaths of four teenagers from the same high school class. When the two agents find an unknown chemical compound on some of the victims’ bodies, Mulder becomes convinced that aliens are to blame. Scully isn’t so sure (and Gillian Anderson first uses the skeptical pursed lips/raised eyebrow combo that fans have come to love).
In the middle of the night, Scully tries to write to her bosses in D.C. to tell them that she can’t find evidence behind Mulder’s theory. But Bellefleur is the kind of town where nine minutes quite literally go missing, so it’s no surprise when the power goes out. Some locals who have it in for the FBI agents show up right after, and Scully can’t call for help.
If Scully had been frantically trying to place a call in 2017, she wouldn’t have had a problem. She could have emailed her report even without power. And, since landline phones are going the way of the VHS tape, Scully probably would have had a cell phone so that she could check in with the D.C. office at all times.
An iPhone is much handier for an FBI agent on the go, don’t you agree?
2) Humbug (1995)
This episode, which is set in the real-world town of Gibsonton, Florida, was the first intentionally comedic of the show’s run. It will make you laugh, but it can turn terrifying and grotesque on a dime, just like many of the show’s other episodes. That’s because “Humbug” is about a series of murders in a town made up of retired circus performers. The Alligator Man, Jim Jim the Dogface Boy, and conjoined twins Lanny and Leonard all call Gibsonton home.
Mulder and Scully are immediately suspicious of the sideshow performers, a prejudice which hotel manager Mr. Nutt shoots down. Just because they have genetic abnormalities, he says, doesn’t make them evil. Mr. Nutt is upset about the disappearance of circus culture - of the people like him.
You can still visit Gibsonton today, but what you’ll find conforms to what Mr. Nutt predicted. It’s not necessarily due to the disappearance of genetic abnormalities, though modern medical science has affected that, too. The real reason why Gibsonton isn’t “Carny Town” any longer is because technology killed the carnival. Since the Internet is so widespread, going to the carnival is no longer a popular pastime.
The story of Gibsonton is as sad as it’s fascinating - which is probably why it fits so well within the world of The X-Files.
3) Anasazi (1995)
“Anasazi” is the finale of Season 2, as well as the first episode in which Mulder receives confirmation of his far-out theories. A computer hacker steals sensitive information from the Defense Department database, then gives it to Mulder (who’s thrilled) and Scully (who’s intrigued). Only problem? The info that Mulder and Scully want so much to understand is in Navajo.
In 1995, this was a tricky puzzle indeed. These days, the Navajo language has 170,000 native speakers and is classified as “in trouble” (that is, it’s in danger of going extinct). In “Anasazi,” Scully has to search hard for the right person to translate the tape she’s received. As she and Mulder wait, the situation grows so complicated that Mulder almost loses his position at the FBI.
If Scully had had access to the Internet, though, she could have searched “Navajo dictionary” and found thousands of results in seconds. What’s more, the proliferation of online language forums means that Scully could have been on the phone with a native Navajo speaker doing freelance translation work in hours.
Would it have been a perfect translation? Maybe not. But Mulder and Scully were only looking for broad strokes - just enough to lead them to the extraterrestrial treasure at the end of the rainbow.
4) Bad Blood (1998)
Leave to The X-Files to make pizza delivery a crucial part of its bizarre vampire mythology. In this buck-wild episode, Mulder and Scully head to Chaney, Texas to investigate a murder Mulder is certain has been committed by vampires. Though Scully doubts him, there’s more than a little truth to Mulder’s story (surprise, surprise).
The surprising part is how the vampires corner their victims: when residents of Chaney call up Domino’s or Papa John’s for a large cheese pizza with pepperoni, the delivery boys drug the food. Then they insert fake fangs (which they need to puncture the skin) to suck their victims’ blood. Though Scully gets a craving only pizza can fix and has one delivered partway through the episode, she and Mulder manage to escape the vampires’ clutches and stake one through the heart.
Pizza delivery isn’t all that common these days, though. Not common enough for a vampire gang to rely on as their sole gambit, that is. Apps like Seamless and UberEats have taken a chunk out of the pizza delivery pie, and since those apps are founded on ratings and convenience, it’d be much harder for the vampires to get away with their shenanigans. Imagine the reviews:
“last night I ordered a Hawaiian from the Pizza Pub. pizza was great but the deliveryman had glowing green eyes. wtf?? will not order again.”
“fast delivery, pizza little greasy but pretty good. problem is I blacked out afterwards and I haven’t seen my roommate since wednesday. not great service! two stars.”
5) First Person Shooter (2000)
One of the rare X-Files episodes that received mostly negative reviews, “First Person Shooter” explores the potential dangers of shooter games from the perspective of someone who, well, doesn’t seem to know the first thing about video games. The episode also revolves around virtual reality technology, which is available today but wasn’t anywhere close to market-ready in 2000.
In this souped-up version of Grand Theft Auto, players enter a VR world but die real deaths if they encounter a mysterious woman named Maitreya. Eventually, Scully figures out that one of the game’s programmers, Phoebe, created Maitreya in a Frankenstein-like accident. Phoebe was so sick of the boy’s club that is game design that she made an actual assassin straight out of Kill Bill - an irrational, cliched solution for a rational problem.
While representation in video games isn’t worlds better in 2017, Maitreya’s character probably would have been criticized right away as ludicrous. (She’s a literal representation of male fear about women’s capabilities!) Also, VR tech doesn’t look nearly as cool as whatever Mulder and Scully get to wear. Today’s headsets are clunky bricks, and what they’re capable of producing is a shadow of “First Person Shooter.”
Sorry, 2000 X-Files… 2017 hasn’t caught up to your technological vision just yet.
In need of more X-Files? Check out The X-Files: Earth Children Are Weird for the youngest fan in your life!