'The X-Files' finale: the show's future and a look at TV cliffhangers

The newest episode of 'X-Files' left viewers in suspense. Will the show return? 'The X-Files' has long embraced the cliffhanger, but what is the plot device's place on TV right now?

Ed Araquel/Fox/AP
'The X-Files' stars David Duchovny (l.) and Gillian Anderson (r.).

 Viewers hoping for a resolution to the story on the newest and final episode of “The X-Files” were most likely disappointed. 

The sixth episode of “X-Files,” which aired on Feb. 22, concluded with what appeared to be a UFO hovering over Washington, D.C. “X-Files” main characters Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) were illuminated in light and the episode was over. 

So “X-Files” fans most likely want to know, will this story be wrapped up anytime soon? 

Yes, says “X-Files” creator Chris Carter – he’s just not sure of when. 

“They're going to ask for more,” Carter said of “X-Files” network Fox in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter. “The ratings were very good. They were happy with the show. I talked to [Fox Television Group co-chairman] Dana Walden today. She said they'd very much like more, but nothing's being negotiated yet… The last negotiations took about five months, so it could be a while before we figure out how to do this.”

As for his stars, Carter said, “I have been speaking with David pretty regularly. I think he's game. I have spoken to Gillian less frequently, but I believe she would be game.”

“The X-Files” originally aired from 1993 to 2002 and included two movies, including a 2008 film that was released in between the original TV series and these new episodes.

Ending on a suspenseful note is nothing new for “X-Files” – as Carter noted in an interview with The New York Times, “’The X-Files’ has traditionally ended with a cliffhanger, and people who know us well would expect nothing less.”

And cliffhangers are of course about as old as TV itself. There are famous instances like the “Who shot J.R.?” plotline that occurred on “Dallas” and a reveal of a “flash-forward” device on the more recent TV show “Lost.” 

BBC writer Hephzibah Anderson writes that with acclaimed dramas using the cliffhanger, the device isn’t always regarded as a cheap way to tell a story. 

“The current glut of good scripted television has made us less snobby about the cliffhanger,” Anderson wrote. “Surrendering to shows like ‘Breaking Bad’ and ‘Homeland,’ we’re reminded that it can be about something more haunting, not just egregious audience manipulation.” 

Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker also points to “Bad” as a show that did cliffhangers well.

“While not every show embraced cliffhangers (David Simon’s ‘The Wire’ resisted them), many series, like ‘24,’ made a fetish of them or used them selectively, as elements of a primal cinematic universe, like ‘Breaking Bad,’ a deep meditation on morality that was also a throwback to movie serials,” Nussbaum wrote. Season three of “Bad” ended on a cliffhanger, but “Vince Gilligan, the show’s creator, had built his story skillfully enough that those thirteen months welled up with meaning. The show’s heart-in-throat suspense had become inseparable from its resonant themes, from the cruel calculus of modern capitalism to the American fantasy of masculine autonomy.” 

More recently, TV has also seen a boom of plot devices beyond the cliffhanger: a surprising twist that may not end a season finale or even an episode but which showrunners no doubt hope will get viewers talking and turning to social media to express their surprise.

International Business Times writer Chancellor Agard points to, for example, the recent popularity of main characters being killed on a show – protagonists that are normally regarded as safe from any plot development. 

“Killing off a main character – and a mega-star – almost seemed less weird than bringing him back the next week,” Agard wrote of a recent fake-out on HBO's "True Detective." “That's because we've been conditioned by the major purveyors of high-end TV to expect main characters will die, pretty much any time.” Some of Agard’s examples included the HBO show “Game of Thrones,” the ABC program “Grey’s Anatomy,” Netflix’s “House of Cards,” and many more.

“Now there are more scripted shows on the air than ever before, so it's even harder to find ways to cut through the clutter, especially for broadcast network shows,” Agard wrote. “The death of a major character, then, becomes a can’t-miss event that’s meant to shock the audience and re-energize them.”

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.