The Cars of The X-Files: 20th Anniversary
I WANT TO CAN'T
. . . .that it's been 20 years since The X-Files debuted on television. Actually, at the time of this writing it's been 20 years and a few days, but who's counting after this long? It was September 10, 1993 (a Friday) that the longest-running science fiction television show (9 seasons) brought its own brand of creepiness into our homes on a weekly basis. IIRC, except for Twin Peaks this was probably one of the darkest of programs (literally and figuratively), although imbued with a strong sense of (again, dark) humor as well. Between Twin Peaks, The X-Files, and its spinoff, Millennium, viewers in the 1990s not only got a weekly dose of paranormal criminality, they also got a firm sense of what sort of place the Pacific Northwest was: cloudy, dark, and rainy for 9 months out of the year (all were filmed, in part, around the Seattle/Vancouver, B.C. area).
And The Cars of The X-Files? Creepy? Cool? Quirky? Errr, no. Not even close most of the time. As a matter of fact, when contemplating this post I was rather hard pressed to find something interesting to say about them, some "hook" to highlight an unusual or interesting feature of the automobiles used in the show and what they implied about the collective Car Lust zeitgeist in the 1990s. In truth, and with few exceptions, there is a dearth of really neat cars presented to pique our Car Lust interest.
So why does this post even exist? Because despite a relative lack of noteworthy rides throughout its 9-year run, there is still a lesson or two to be learned from how automobiles were used and presented in this show and others of the period (and before and since for that matter). A lesson that I try to keep in mind even while I write soaring prose to famous and not so famous cars that capture my attention and that I develop strong feelings about, whether positive or negative. And a lesson we might all keep in mind when looking at, drooling over, and sometimes even dropping some major coin on a car of our dreams:
Sometimes a car is just a car.
But back to the subject at hand. For those unaffiliated with all things X-Files, the premise of the program was fairly simple: a couple of FBI agents -- Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) -- investigating cases involving seemingly paranormal phenomena. For those of a certain (i.e., older) age, it was somewhat similar to a show from the 1970s called Kolchak: The Night Stalker. This was entirely deliberate on the part of Chris Carter, and both programs offered something of a "Monster of the Week" format with the protagonists battling everything from A (aliens) to Z (zombies). The X-Files also had an overarching storyline that ran through all nine seasons, that of a massive government conspiracy involving aliens attempting to colonize the planet.
The show had a certain feel to it, usually very dark and gloomy with nothing being entirely what it seemed. One of the bylines introduced early on was the mantra "Trust no one" and in a lot of ways the story arcs had a certain soap opera feel to them -- a dark and creepy soap opera, but the analogy is apt, I think. Interestingly, and somewhat ground-breaking at the time, the scientific skeptic was the female character (Scully). This seems to have played well with the female audience and I've seen more than one "WWSD: What Would Scully Do?" bumper sticker on a car driven by a woman.
Ah yes, the cars. As I indicated earlier, for the most part the cars were a fairly bland collection of domestic 4-door sedans driven by the two agents. One assumes that, for the most part, they were meant to be field rentals or Agency vehicles. The very first vehicle we see Mulder and Scully driving was a Ford Taurus, supposedly a rental for their initial investigation out in "coastal Oregon". The majority of those afterward tended to be GM sedans, no doubt due to a placement agreement with Fox (the network). They are a nice example of what was going on with The General back in the 1990s, a batch of re-branded sedans that never really excited anyone's imagination:
First up, the Ford Taurus from the pilot episode (supposedly a 1993):
An Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera from ca. 1989-1996:
And an Intrigue:
And just to get off the Oldsmobile kick, a Buick Century:
Not to mention the usual panoply of law enforcement Crown Victorias:
A few notable exceptions made an appearance at various times.Two Plymouth Barracudas were used a '68 and a '65, the latter from one of my favorite episodes, "Jose Chung's From Outer Space":
Non-fans of the show might want to check that particular episode out as it's a marvelous example of how Chris Carter and company could combine paranormal creepiness with a really dry sense of humor, not to mention one of Charles Nelson Reilly's best performances and cameo appearances by Jesse Ventura and Alex Trebek ("the game show host!?") as infamous Men in Black.
Another cameo was made by a perennial Car Lust favorite, the AMC Gremlin. . .
. . .in this case driven by a teenaged vampire working a pizza delivery job -- another of the 'comedy' episodes about a community of vampires that "just want to live like normal folks". In this case, the car fit the character perfectly: well-meaning but kinda dorky and, dare I say. . . .sinister? And don't forget its erstwhile stablemate, the Pacer (photo below) which was -- I'm not making this up -- crushed by an invisible elephant.
Many more can be found at The X-Files' IMDBC page which has a veritable parade of 1990s-vintage cars along with quite a few others that have graced the pages of Car Lust.
So what's the lesson I mentioned at the start of this missive? One of the main themes running through the entire run of the show was the utter dedication of Mulder and Scully at "finding the truth". Neither had much of a family or social life, although much of what drove Mulder in his quest was the abduction of his sister as a young girl. Their romantic entanglements are few and far between, although (disappointingly for me) Mulder and Scully eventually "get together" in the last season. On the whole, however, they were dedicated and tenacious in their work, without seeming to be that way out of any weird OCD type of thing. They pursued their goals and looked out for each other despite enormous obstacles. They had their quirks, but remained likable throughout. This is, perhaps, a bit unrealistic -- people that dedicated to their jobs often leave a lot of social wreckage behind (I know quite a few academics like that) -- but here it's presented in a way that made the enterprise laudable. One can't help but admire that sort of dedication, misdirected though it may ultimately be. That really resonated with me at the time, as I was in the midst of pursuing a PhD and was at that stage where a lot of people peter out and never finish: ABD, or All But Dissertation. Coincidentally, I managed to finish my degree about the same time as the show ended, putting something of a finishing touch on life and art at the same time.
At first glance, then, the cars of The X-Files are largely bland and uninteresting. . .and, to be honest, at second and third glance as well. But therein lies the lesson: as much as we here at Car Lust celebrate cars as both extensions of our own personalities and often, as far as TV is concerned, as characters in and of themselves, they are, in the end, simply a means to an end: getting from one place to another to carry on the business of life. We celebrate certain cars, make fun of others, and label others as Most Boring, and often forget that cars are, at base, agglomerations of metal and plastic and fabric that perform a specific function: moving people and their belongings around to where they want to go for exciting or not so exciting purposes. The cars Mulder and Scully drove weren't particularly interesting, but that didn't make what they did with them any less interesting. As I argued in my post praising the base model, it's often the most overlooked cars that have the most interesting stories behind them. Some of the most fun I've had in my life was in the totally uninteresting 4-door AMC Hornet I drove in college. Hence, for me a large part of the appeal of the Cars of The X-Files lies in the reminder that the automobile should take a back seat (pun intended) to the life that takes place in and around them.
So next time you see someone driving a blasé 4-door sedan, don't immediately write him or her off as a boring old sot with no life. After all, they might be on the trail of shape-shifting alien bounty hunters. . . . .
The "I Want To Believe" poster image (found all over) is from StarHusckster.com and the "Truth Is Out There" image (also all over the place) is from http://www.screened.com. The remainder are from The X-Files' IMDBC page. The Pacer photo is also on the IMDBC page, but I got this one from AMCPacer.com just so I could provide a link to the site.