Saturday, October 8, 2011


Thanks to the miracle of Netflix streaming, this year I watched every single "X-Files" episode, from the pilot to the finale. My main conclusion — not a groundbreaking one — is that the show was incredible. My second is that, for me, it's also incredibly nostalgic.

This surprised me, as I didn't start watching the show until the first movie came out, and even after that I wasn't the most loyal viewer. But I did love the series, and my brain apparently hosts a thick tangle of memories related to it.

For me, it started on Martha's Vineyard island. Yes, just like Mulder! Well, not exactly, though I did have a charge named Samantha (my dog, not named for the ill-fated girl).

I had gone to the island in the fall of 1994 to report for one of the papers there. It was my first time living in New England, and I knew only one person within a thousand-mile radius. The island at that time of year is quiet, a bit lonely, and incredibly beautiful. Or it was in those years. I lived in a one-bedroom in Katama, near the south shore. The apartment rented for $2,000 a week in-season, but I had it for $350 a month through April. It was furnished, beautifully: there was a huge bed, a table that was the perfect size for my chess set, and a big-screen TV hidden in a tasteful wooden armoire. It was probably the nicest apartment I've ever lived in. I still remember my friend Kate, who's usually reluctant to show she's impressed, saying, "oh my god, it's glamorous!"

I didn't really watch TV then, but I used to come home, open the armoire, and turn on the set for background noise. I was just getting to know the island — still figuring out that Aquinnah is technically the town of Gay Head, and Vineyard Haven is really Tisbury, but it's not West Tisbury, and by the way West Tisbury is just a small town that people from off-island tend not to know and so on. So I was confused to occasionally glance at this show and see a label printed
across the screen, saying "West Tisbury." I remember thinking absently once, "This is a local show? ... Surely not." Someone at work cleared things up for me, but I didn't start watching the show then.

The next winter I was home for the holidays in the Midwest, and my dad said we should watch this sci-fi show that he liked. The X file in that case had to do with an invisible elephant, and I didn't really get it. I basically tuned it out but sat there for its duration, probably drawing or doing something crafty. I remember my dad saying that he really liked the show, though he complained that "she never believes him." Over the course of time, there have probably been countless evenings when I sat with my dad like that me drawing, he fixing a watch or fiddling with a car part, all while a movie or TV show played but this is the only specific night that lives in my memory.

Back on the island, the paper kept me busy, and though I was off the clock occasionally, I didn't go to the movies much back then. In fact, the island had only a few movie theaters at that time — in Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs. Both had painfully uncomfortable chairs, and the Vineyard Haven cinema was reputed for its elderly projector operator, who tended to get tired and make mistakes. He was known for once having played "The Usual Suspects" reels out of order, and for failing to keep movies focused if they went on longer than two hours. (The first time I saw "Titanic," poor Jack was pretty blurry by the time he finally slipped underwater.)

Sometime around 1997, a new cinema opened in Edgartown, which was pretty exciting for those of us who lived and worked on that end of the island. The Edgartown cinema had comfy chairs and was actually able to show more than one or two movies at a time! An actual cineplex. It was there that I saw the trailer for "Fight the Future." At first, it wasn't obvious the trailer was related to a TV show — for a minute or so, you saw no actors. I was into it until spotting the black-haired guy and the red-haired woman from that nichey TV show.

Luckily, I had a friend who saw the error in my thinking.

I had met Lila a few years earlier, when she was a clerk at my then-roommate's clothing store on Water Street. We connected when I walked through the store, not taken with anything until Lila said, "I know what you should try on." She directed me to a pair of pants that fit like they'd been tailored for me, and I bought two pairs.

Lila was not someone you would think of as the typical genre-TV fan. For one thing, I can't remember her watching any TV, outside of "The X-Files." In general, I think her tastes ran more to things like classical music and horseback riding. She had glorious long blonde hair, absolutely no ambition, and an obsession with Johnny Depp. She seemed committed to living a high-brow life, yet she lived on a shoestring, working for an inn in Oak Bluffs, in part for her lodging. Still, somehow she was always J. Crewed or Neiman-Marcused out and didn't understand why everyone else wasn't. She couldn't abide incorrect fashion choices, and she couldn't accept that I didn't want to see "Fight the Future." Her instincts were right — we went to see it at the new cinema, and I loved everything about it.

After that, it was our hobby to convene for "X-Files" reruns at the inn where Lila worked. On the way, we'd get takeout from Zapotec or Jimmy Seas. I remember once the Zapotec waitress brought us complimentary sangria while we waited for our food. The takeout arrived quicker than expected, and Lila said we had to leave immediately to catch the show. When I protested that I wasn't done with the drink, she didn't miss a beat, gathering her things and commanding "chug it!"

I don't recall what channel these reruns were on, but I do remember that they weren't in order, so Lila had to spend a lot of time during commercials explaining things like alien bounty hunters and black oil — every week a different topic, and not necessarily having much to do with whatever we'd been over last time. One of her most memorable explanations was of Krycek, whom she described as "Not as hot as Mulder, but hot. There's this one scene where Krycek gets up in Mulder's face and you just really want them to kiss — you've gotta see it."

Unfortunately, watching "The X-Files" out of order isn't really the right way to watch, so I was glad a brand-new season kicked off that fall, and I could finally start watching some episodes in the proper sequence. After the movie, Season Six was a bit of a letdown, but I stuck with it. By myself, this time. Lila was seasonal, usually not around in the fall and winter.

As it turned out, my time on the island was winding down, too. I decided to leave that next spring. I had about a month left on the job when one of my editors approached me and said, "You like 'The X-Files,' right?" When I answered in the affirmative, he explained that the next issue of our magazine was on track to have a few big empty pages in it — either a freelancer had flaked out, or an ad had gotten dropped or something like that. Anyway, long story short, he had an idea that we could fill the empty space with something about "The X-Files," a piece explaining why Mulder was an islander. My editor said it could be short and we could always fill it with art as needed. He figured I could just call up Chris Carter and get some insight into why the Vineyard figures so prominently in the show.

Well, surprise surprise, Chris Carter never called me back, and I couldn't get a word out of even the lowliest flack at Fox. My editor told me not to worry about it, but now I was interested in this question myself. I decided to query fans of the show about why they thought Mulder had been imagined as an Islander.

I started by looking for fans on the island, but I didn't get anything good that way — most local people just wanted to whine about all the inaccuracies in the show ("There is no Vine Street in Chilmark"). One exception was a guy up-Island who tried to show me a crazy mystical chamber on his farm where real ghosts or reincarnated spirits or walk-ins or some crap like that lived. I'm not sure he'd actually seen the show, despite his claims to the contrary.

Instead, I took to the Internet, visiting fan sites, e-mailing authors of fanfiction, and actually getting some interesting responses.

In those days, our paper had only one PC that was wired to the Internet (not mine), and I wasn't connected at home, so I came into the office at all hours to do my research. Since I was getting ready to move to Boston after four and a half years on the island, those were bittersweet evenings during which I'd do a little work, and a little packing up of my desk, sometimes wondering whether it was right to leave. I agonized over the story, too, driving my editors crazy with last-minute tweaks. I was reminded of this recently when going through a box of old stuff from that era. I actually came across a hard copy of one of my drafts that had been printed out for a proofreader, with my editor's scrawled comment: "The latest, and I hope last version of Sasha's masterpiece."

So the story was published, my things were packed, and I finally got off the rock. Season Seven of "The X-Files" saw me, at last, in the city, trying to get into the tech business, nickel-and-diming it, and renting a room from an elderly New Englander, Cora, who was fond of offering opinions on, well, everything. I still remember the night Cora joined me to watch the episode in which Scully wears a slinky black dress while dining out with Cancer Man. My septuagenarian roommate, speaking slowly and deliberately — as if making a very serious point she'd been meaning to articulate for some time — informed me, "If she was going to wear a dress like that, she really should have done something with her hair." Harsh words! Although, in reality, probably not as hypercritical as they sound. Cora felt obligated to offer guidance on such things: fashion, etiquette — how to have success in dining rooms and everywhere.

I was busy in those days, but I did still want to go back and watch the early episodes the way they were meant to be watched. Sadly our Blockbuster had only a "greatest hits" selection of about 16 episodes. I watched them all but didn't feel filled in on the mythology.

Eventually I dropped off. I caught one or two later-season episodes but didn't retain much about them, other than that I'd recognized Annabeth Gish bringing a wide-eyed optimism to the show.

A few years later, I tried to watch the whole series on Netflix DVDs, but about 20 million people must have had the same idea, because almost every "X-Files" disc looked like it had been pounded with a meat tenderizer. I got through most of the first season, but eventually became weary of sending scratched discs back only to get replacements were equally unplayable, and I gave up.

Then, several months ago I figured out that Netflix has the entire series available for streaming, and now — finally — I am all caught up. And after having watched the series finale yesterday, I find myself strangely preoccupied with all these past associations. What's really odd is that I wasn't nostalgic until after watching the finale. During the past several months of actually viewing all those old shows, I barely gave these memories a passing thought. I guess maybe now that I'm done with the series, I feel like I'm really done with all those things from the past as well, or a lot of them anyway.

Of course, the real tragedy is that I have no more of this brilliant series left to watch! I realize that this post has said absolutely nothing about why "The X-Files" is great, but if you don't already know, then I suggest that you navigate to and start watching. It'll be clear soon! Then you can join me in hoping that rumors of a third movie are true. I don't even care of it's good — I just want more.

Copyright 2009-2010 by Sasha Sark. Please don't reuse without permission.
"West African Dark Blue Cloth" image is displayed courtesy of the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery at St. Lawrence University.