Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Interview with Chris Carter

If you boast any familiarity with my blog, you probably already know that -- across the last five years -- I have written frequently abut the TV and film productions of Chris Carter and Ten Thirteen Productions.

There are many reasons why I find myself continually drawn back to Carter's oeuvre
. In broad terms, these reasons involve television history, the artistry of the particular programs, philosophy, and of course, personal taste.

Historically speaking, The X-Files and Millennium have grown virtually synonymous with the decade of the 1990s. Carter's programs captured the Zeitgeist of that epoch in sometimes challenging, sometimes stunning fashion.

By the end of the decade, various Ten Thirteen productions had gazed at the teen culture ("Syzygy,") pondered the Human Genome Project ("Sense and Anti-Sense,") skewered nineties tabloid culture ("The Post-Modern Prometheus"), satirized Scientology ("Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense"), peeked behind the closed-door mores of our affluent gated, McMansion communities ("Arcadia," "Weeds"), considered domestic terrorism ("52266"), dissected the mentality of cults ("The Field Where I Died"), and much more. This is Who We Were.

In terms of my continued appreciation of these series, I find myself again relying on Roger Ebert's insightful and useful refrain -- that it isn't what a movie (or TV program) is about that's important; it's how that production is about the narrative that truly matters.

And the "how" of Chris Carter's genre programs -- The X-Files, Millennium, Harsh Realm, and The Lone Gunmen -- is also the thing that perpetually intrigues and fascinates me. Specifically, I enjoy that these productions invariably deploy symbolism and literary allusion to further their themes. I've written about that facet in regards to Millennium, specifically, in my essays: "Enemies Within: Chris Carter's Millennium and America's Suburban Apocalypse, and "Snakes in the Grass and Snakes in the Open: Animal Symbolism in Millennium's Second Season."

I also admire the unconventional and cinematic visuals forged on these series, which stand apart from the majority of dramatic programs in television history. Television tends be...visual radio.

But not The X-Files, Millennium or Ten Thirteen's other works. They regularly utilize expressive, unconventional camera-work and always seem to find a way for the image to marry theme. If you have any doubt of this fact, just go back and watch The X-Files episode "Triangle," a dizzying, audacious balancing of "real space and time" with "fantasy space and time" in the Bermuda Triangle. It's Alfred Hitchcock's Rope meets the split-screen climax of De Palma's Carrie meets The Wizard of Oz. And that's just one example.

Notably, Carter's programs were also at the vanguard of the movement in dramatic television towards multi-episode, multi-season story arcs. And gazing across nearly 300 hours of filmed entertainment, I find myself fascinated by the connections between Ten Thirteen's many works; and the consistency of world view I see across the spectrum of Carter's universe.

For shorthand, you might call this "the Chris Carter mystique," or his "brand." It's the same thing with Joss Whedon (another artist I deeply admire): the alert viewer will be aware within minutes that he has stepped into Chris Carter's world.

So, after I received a happy birthday note from Chris Carter last week (!), I decided this was a great opportunity to open a dialogue with him regarding some of these ideas. To my delight, he agreed to a wide-ranging interview, and that's what you see transcribed below. I re-arranged the interview to group my questions by themes to present, hopefully, a cohesive picture.

The Building Blocks: Symbolism, Story Arcs, and "The Chris Carter Man"

JKM: One of the threads I've noticed running throughout your work is your use of symbolism.

For example, the Yellow House as paradise and then paradise lost in Millennium. Or the Arthurian Chair in Harsh Realm. I guess my question is simply, why?

CARTER: I don't set out to throw these symbols in as anything other than what interests me.

It's done on a case-by-case basis, and then they only become symbols to everyone else. What I can say about everything that I've created or worked on is that it's been about what interests me at the time.

JKM: In terms of Millennium and the yellow house -- this perfect place of safety and happiness -- where did that idea came from?

CARTER: It came out of the bigger concept of a guy who was trying to paint away the darkness.

I had worked on X-Files for three to four years at that point, and we were dealing with some very dark subject matter. After awhile -- after writing about that dark subject matter and realizing how powerful it can really be -- you try to come up with remedies, yourself, for the darkness. It's not always fun to write about the darkness.

JKM: So the yellow house was a place of safety for you, as well as for Frank?

CARTER: It was. And it's funny, when I look back at Millennium now, I think, in a way, the concept was actually too complex. Especially when I look at shows that have become hits, like CSI, or other procedurals. They don't deal with ideas like the yellow house. They don't deal with things like family, necessarily.

JKM: But that's what made Millennium so great. It had all those elements. I know I wrote once that Millennium must be the most-often imitated show in TV history. But other series have sort of stripped it down to the component parts: the paranormal angle (Medium, Ghost Whisperer); the forensic (CSI) angle, the serial killer (Criminal Minds) angle. Everybody's taken a page from it, but nobody's been able to sort of re-assemble the totality of it.

CARTER: It was also a show set on a specific schedule, which was the countdown to the Millennium, and of course nobody can duplicate that in this decade. It had...complexity.

And it's funny, when it went off the air it did so with ratings that are better than many of the shows that are on the air right now. In a weird way, if you look at Millennium and Harsh Realm, you can say that Harsh Realm kind of booted Millennium off the air, which now -- looking back -- is very unfortunate.

JKM: It would have been good to have them simultaneously.

CARTER: That would have been my preference as well.

JKM: Another aspect of your work that I see repeated throughout is the depiction of men. My wife is a therapist,and as much as she enjoys the way Joss Whedon writes women, she likes the way you write men. She's suggested a clinical classification: The Chris Carter male.

In short, the leading men in your programs are chivalrous and heroic, but essentially unavailable emotionally to the women in their lives. Frank Black blocks himself off from Katherine in the act of protecting her. To save his Sophie, Hobbes elects to stay permanently separated from her in Harsh Realm, and so on. Is this representative of your view of men, or just something that you find dramatically interesting?

CARTER: I'd have to say it's dramatically-interesting to me. It's what's withheld that counts, or that is important.

If the character is remote or unable to speak about these things -- because it's series television we're talking about here -- it becomes something that needs to be discovered. So if you discover these things too quickly; if a person is too emotionally available, it actually takes away from the interest in the character. It makes that character less dramatically interesting.

JKM: And less tragic?

CARTER: The characters are tragic. That's what makes them interesting. Their flaws and their weaknesses. And also their strengths. By not telling his wife about the darkness, Frank is painting it away. By not telling her about the polaroids, he's painting it away. It's a strength, but one which could be viewed as a weakness in terms of how men relate to women.

JKM: Not to push a point, but it does seem that your men seem to suffer from this quality, but the women don't have that level of remoteness.

CARTER: I think that's the women's strength. They stay there. They don't shy away from the entanglement. From the darkness. That says a lot about the women. Look at Scully. She's a very, very independent person. Her strength is measured against Mulder's; it's not measured by Mulder.

JKM: There's a period of rebellion against Mulder, by Scully. Like she's rejecting in a sense, his control, his remoteness.

CARTER: In season five you can say that for sure. They really have a falling out. They're of two different minds. Scully actually pursues Mulder's path, and Mulder, in a weird way, pursues Scully's. That was all a plan.

JKM: You don't see relationships go up and down and back and forth like that on many of the dramatic series today. Take CSI For example.

CARTER: Well, they are murder mysteries and they work very well as that. I think that programs that are character pieces work on an additional level.

JKM: Which brings us to another topic. In terms of genre history -- Star Trek, Kolchak, programs like that -- they were not able feature a story arc.

CARTER: That arc -- which arcs over nine years -- has been the subject of a lot of debate.

JKM: Does that mean you long for the days when TV stories were simpler? When you could just say, "next week, we start over."

CARTER: You look at Law & Order. It's an amazing television series. It really has what you're talking about. It starts anew each week, and it doesn't feature characters' personal lives over and over again. That is not part of the series. It's a luxury. I never figured out how to create something that would interest me that would be as simple as that.

JKM: And that may be the very thing that precludes a series like Millennium from running for nine years. Some people can't take that journey, but the people who do take the journey usually end up feeling very rewarded.

CARTER: We did an X-Files charity day recently, and we had a lot of people there from all over the world. One of the things that someone said to me -- and pointed out as a regular watcher of the show -- she said: "people say the mytharc of the show is complicated. It's not complicated. You just have to pay attention to it."

I think one of the things that happened, certainly -- and this is part of it being a nine year show - is people say that it got too complicated. I think that what it did -- rather than becoming overly complicated -- it became stretched-out. It took on a complexity given there were 202 episodes.

JKM: In some sense, broadcast television in the 1990s -- before DVD box sets -- worked against you there, I think. It's very difficult when you have to stop your story momentum for Thanksgiving, or play-off games, week-in and week-out. This was the case with Twin Peaks as well. But when you watch a season on DVD -- in a week or two weeks -- it's easier to see how it all makes sense. I don't know what this fact says about our attention span, but it seems that series like Millennium and X-Files are much preferable to watch on DVD, back-to-back, rather than with weeks of interruption in-between.

CARTER: Of course, when you're producing the series, it is a week-by-week experience. So you're not thinking about the DVDs. I never thought about the DVDs. You really are thinking about what it is-- week-to-week -- that interests you. You do it simply on that basis. So when you hear that people watch it from beginning to end, it's very satisfying that what you were pondering, and working out carefully, elaborately, and painstakingly plays out on a grander scale.

JKM: It does. Millennium, in my opinion, is one of the most pure works of art I've ever seen on television. It holds so many resonances of things half-spoken and suggested. It's a beautiful puzzle.

CARTER: I appreciate you saying that. That was what it set out to be, and I know that's what the writers set out for it to be. In the second season -- which I had so little involvement in because I was working on The X-Files and The X-Files movie -- Glen Morgan and James Wong came in and put their stamp on it. They added layers to it. It was truly a collaboration of points-of-view, and of I guess you would call it an artistic approach to what was I think, an interesting subject matter.

JKM: Taken together, all the seasons lead you to this inevitable conclusion about what is going to occur at the Millennium. You almost have three meditations from three perspectives-- in three seasons -- on the same subject, about the same man, the same organization, and the same situation.

CARTER: If there is a mystique, it's truly collaborative. On The X-Files it was also truly collaborative. There were so many good people that came to work on the show: who wrote the show, who directed the show, and who became involved in the show. It's one of those things where you have to spread out the accolades for what the series became; and what they did

JKM: I think Millennium is the first time I heard on network television the descriptor "the culture of fear" as applied to the United States. In the last decade, we've certainly become well-acquainted with the culture of fear in this country. But not many of us were thinking about that in the 1990s. But you were. And your shows were. All of your programs feature this brand of "anticipatory anxiety." You know, there's going to be a doomsday. An alien invasion in 2012. Millennium went through many end of the world scenarios. Even Harsh Realm. What were you seeing that other people weren't seeing? How did you tap into this?

CARTER: I don't know. That is a sensibility of mine. I just sensed that there was something bad coming. Probably, the combination of Y2K and the Millennium; the Millennial anxiety everyone was feeling. The word "Millennium" wasn't actually a popular coinage. People didn't know what Millennium meant, by and large, so while there was nervousness, it was truly an instinctual gut nervousness. There wasn't a whole lot of intellectual effort being put into the decade, into the turn of the century.

JKM: But you started doing this in 1993, even before people started talking about Y2K or the Millennium. The Cold War was over. We had peace and prosperity. We had no enemy. We had all this technology, and the economy was booming. But you still found this underlying uneasiness. If you look at it today, your programs are even more timely. People wondering about vaccinations, the government, etc...

CARTER: Oh, there's much more paranoia today.

JKM: In a decade in which a lot of people seem to think nothing happened, your shows were saying a lot's happening. You even issued a challenge in the opening credits of Millennium when you flashed up the words, "who cares?"

CARTER: Right. "Who cares" came up, and then the question mark came up a moment later. It really was a two-edged sword. Frank Black represented the people who had the weight of that worry on their shoulders. The few people who actually were looking forward; or feeling the anxiety. Who weren't lost in, as you say, the good times.

JKM: If you look across Millennium, X-Files, Lone Gunmen, and Harsh Realm, you also see that in addition to the anticipatory anxiety, you return again and again to the idea of the unelected privileged -- a small group, a cabal -- whether it be the Syndicate, the Millennium Group of the military industrial complex in Harsh Realm dominating the many. Is that something really interests you?

CARTER: Yes, it interests me, and it's continuing to interest me. Sometimes, I don't even stop to consider these things, but I'll find something of interest. A conversation with someone, for instance. I'm looking at the Zeitgeist of today and trying to make sense of it in what I'm doing. Sometimes these things are commercial, and sometimes they aren't.

JKM: That's the tragedy of Harsh Realm. The show got better and better and better, but only three episodes actually aired. At the end, you're left mourning what could have been.

CARTER: I feel the same way. I look at a show like Dollhouse, and if we would have been given the opportunity that Dollhouse had...we might have lasted. The same thing happened to Joss Whedon with Firefly. He had a great idea and didn't get a chance to develop it.

JKM: In creating your shows, you had to research the paranormal, conspiracy theories, Scripture, forensic science. Are these all interests of yours?

CARTER: I always had this question that I would ask myself and I would ask the writers as we went forward. Why this story? And why this story now? Those questions set the bar high, and they were relevant philosophically and dramatically to their times. It's important, as a television writer, to ask yourself that question. It deepens the work. That's not to say it's always a good thing. Sometimes it makes it less accessible or more intellectual than it needs to be.

JKM: Which brings up the end of the X-Files series. I'm sure you're aware of the conventional wisdom: that the series sort of petered-out in the last two years and was not so good. But I watched Season 8 recently and it is incredibly creative; it can stand up beside any other season of the X-Files.

CARTER: Thank you.

JKM: Was it just that we had gotten so attached to Mulder that we couldn't make the leap to a new leading man? Or did the culture move beyond The X-Files at that time?

CARTER: It was easier to say, it's not the X-Files anymore, because it had changed. The characters changed. Mulder became the absent center, which was an interesting approach, I think, and made for an interesting season. It changed, though, and so -- like it or not -- people who would tune in to see Mulder and Scully wouldn't see them anymore. But creatively, the show sort of took on a new life. The stories were interesting, and the new characters made the stories interesting.

JKM: Robert Patrick was terrific. And in Doggett you suddenly had a non-veteran set of eyes on these X-Files cases. You saw someone with vulnerability in "Via Negativa," for instance. We always knew after seven years that Mulder and Scully would be there for each other, but we didn't know yet about Doggett. He was alone, in a way, and suddenly you had this new uncertainty, which the show got a lot of mileage out of, in my opinion.

CARTER: It was kind of meta-X-Files because it was commenting on itself at the same time, and the show turned inward, in a way. The characters deepened. The concept deepened. And I think for some people that was interesting and for some people it became inaccessible.

Expressing Terror and Mystery: The Visuals of The X-Files and Millennium

JKM: One thing that's important to me as a viewer and a critic is the visual component of television. Not all TV looks like the X-Files or Millennium. They're very cinematic. Why is that important to you?

CARTER: First of all, in television people haven't quite been given the opportunity to produce things that were so visual. It was sort of by demand on our part. We had to tell these really scary thriller stories, and they couldn't be done from one angle, two-shots. They needed to be done in a multi-faceted, delivery-of-information way. So we got to emulate a lot of what I loved about film, and we got to do it on a television schedule.

It didn't happen right away, but not long after we started, we were given what I call respectable budgets. We needed to tell these stories in interesting visual ways; we took an artistic approach. We were one of the first shows to give credit to the director of photography and the production designer, and other people up front in a television show. So we had the budget and the desire to push the limits. I always say "we didn't understand what we didn't understand" about producing a TV show like this. We tried everything.

I point to something like the conning tower coming out of the ice in season two ("Colony"/"Endgame.") We refrigerated a sound stage, brought in tons of snow and ice and built this conning tower. I didn't know you couldn't do that. So we just started doing things.

JKM: It seemed as if we were watching a movie every week. So much so, that I must hold you responsible for the fact that horror movies in the 1990s didn't do particularly well. Every Friday night, for many years, you could get a better experience at home watching The X-Files or Millennium instead of going to the theater and being disappointed.

CARTER: I always said that we weren't doing horror and couldn't do horror based on the standards-and-practices that were applied to the shows. We did an episode like "Home," and the day after we did it I was given a very stern lecture about never, ever pushing those limits again.

And you see where horror went after The X-Files. The Saw series for instance. It had to push limits that we couldn't push on television.

JKM: Given those limitations, would it be possible to do another series like The X-Files today?

CARTER: I don't think so. I mean, we had 22 days to shoot "Kill Switch" -- that's including second unit work too -- but 22 days. That's just unheard of. That's why I don't think there will ever be another series like The X-Files. People ask me that, and I just don't think there can be in today's climate.

: In general terms, what are some of your film inspirations?

: For The X-Files, I point to Silence of the Lambs (1991). Another movie that I love -- which is horror in a certain kind of way -- is the David Lean version of Great Expectations (1946).

The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008)

JKM: I want to talk to you about I Want to Believe. Although critics including Roger Ebert, The Flick Filosopher, Whitney Pastorek, Stephanie Zacharek, and myself all appreciated the film, by and large it was met with savage, dismissive reviews. I mean, people -- including critics -- just categorically refused to engage with it.

Do you think this was because it was not at all the typical summer blockbuster -- it featured few big special effects and almost no gunfire --- or because the subject matter was so dark that people just weren't willing to engage with it?

CARTER: I think it was about as you say, the summer blockbuster mentality, and what we delivered and what was expected. What we attempted to do; and what the audience expected.

All these things played into how I Want to Believe was received. It's funny, but on the series, we prided ourselves each week with making a little movie. Then, when it came time to do the second X-Files movie, we were given the money and the opportunity to make, literally, a little movie. That's what we did. We realized we had no money for big special effects. We had to come up with a story that didn't rely on those special effects, and hence wasn't a summer blockbuster kind of movie.

So we came up with a movie that was about faith and forgiveness and redemption. And then you put it up against The Dark Knight in late July, in the heat of the summer, and what happened to us was that we met with some valid criticism, and also what I call lazy criticism.

But we also met with box office results that showed there was a hardcore X-Files audience out there, six years after the series had been off the air. The people who had hoped for another X-Files movie -- or were willing to see another X-Files movie -- were probably hoping to see something bigger than the first X-Files movie.

JKM: In a way what you gave us was bigger emotionally than what you gave us in the first X-Files movie.

CARTER: That's a feature of not having a money to do anything else that was bigger than the first X-Files movie.

JKM: Father Joe is a really fascinating character in the film. And how you use him in I Want to Believe really challenges the audience. You tell us this is someone society has judged as irreedemable, and yet on the other hand, as the film points out, we have this little work called the Bible that preaches forgiveness and redemption. And our culture says it believes in those things. And so Father Joe is looking to be redeemed, and is doing positive things, so why can't people take that extra step and at least try to forgive him?

CARTER: It's an idea I've been holding onto for a long time; the idea that Father Joe lived in this complex with these other men, where they sort of policed each other. I had read about that a long time ago, and I always thought that was so intriguing and relevant to the idea of redemption, the idea of forgiveness, of living life after the point of judgment.

Another thing that wasn't talked about much in the criticism of the film was the Frankenstein idea. I had run across something on the Internet: a Russian doctor creating two-headed dogs. I mean he was really doing this...creating two-headed monsters. It's a Frankenstein story, yet nobody really reviewed it as a kind of modern Frankenstein story.

JKM: Some critics also suggested the film was homophobic or anti-gay.

CARTER: It was the opposite.

JKM: That's how I read it. It was about going to extreme possibilities to save the life of someone you care about. Whether it was the sick boy, Christian, Mulder's obsession with the case, or the villain's obsession...he was going to do anything to save his lover's life....

CARTER: Don't give up. He wasn't giving up. I always said that the film was really a multi-layered love story. There was the love between Mulder and Scully. Then there was the Russian character who had been collecting these body parts and his love for his partner. So the love stories reflected each other. But again, I just want to say that some criticism of the film was valid.

More Millennium? More X-Files? The Truth is Out There...

JKM: Bottom line, did I Want to Believe make enough money to ensure production of a third X-Files movie?

CARTER: I wouldn't use the word ensure. But because of the business the movie did, especially the international business, it is a possibility.

JKM: I know that you're paying attention to this. There's been this fantastic movement, and a group, called Back to Frank Black, dedicated to the resurrection of Millennium. The show seems more popular now than ever. Is a Millennium feature film something you are interested in pursuing?

CARTER: I would like to do it. But it is going to take interest on the studio side for it to happen. Everyone involved with Millennium has left the studio. The people there now know it ran for three years and that it starred Lance Henriksen, and that's all. You have to find reasons to interest them.

JKM: Given that the Millennium is passed -- and without giving away specifics -- what kind of storyline would interest you for a Millennium motion picture?

CARTER: Considering we're engaged in a War on Terror that is ongoing, I'd like to see Frank and the Millennium Group distill something from that war that is...interesting.

JKM: If you could take one episode from any one of your shows and put it away in a time capsule for 100 years...and say this is who we wre in the 1990s, this is who Chris Carter was, what episode would it be?

CARTER: Well, I think maybe "Post-Modern Prometheus." In a weird way, it captures so much. And I really like that moment at the end with Mulder and Scully dancing together. It's just a sweet moment.

JKM: I wouldn't presume to tell you your answer is wrong, but I also really liked The Millennium pilot.

CARTER: David Nutter did a great job shooting that. I love the final moment with the polaroids, when Frank realizes this isn't over. That it's just beginning...

JKM: Thank you so much for sharing your time with me today.

: Thank you.


  1. Anonymous6:47 AM

    In the interest of both fairness and context, I should say first : X-Files is really the only of Carter's that I even halfway followed (there's life for you). Regardless, I find interviews such as this to be absolutely fascinating. Thank you -very- much for sharing this with us.

    Let me also add this here, because it applies: One of the things I appreciate and enjoy about this blog so much is that even if the topic in question is one that I am unfamiliar with, or have never given a fair chance to, I often find myself intrigued enough to reboot the mind, as it were, and give things a shot that I wouldn't have, or find time for something that I haven't. Thank you for that.

  2. Awesome, insightful interview; I especially enjoyed hearing Mr. Carter's take on the studio imposed challenges of getting "I Want to Believe" made. I was a devout follower of the X-Files from beginning to end (genius) but only watched Millenium casually. Now I'm inspired to go back and revisit the whole series. Thanks, Adam

  3. Woodchuckgod: thank you for that comment about the interview, and about my blog in general. It's a great compliment, and means so much to me. Thank you!

    And Adam: Ditto! I'm glad you enjoyed the interview. Millennium is AMAZING. If you get the time and the inclination, go season-by-season on DVD. You're in for a treat.


  4. dave starry12:36 PM

    Great interview; thanks for conducting and posting this. Chris Carter was such a television institution in the 90s, but seems to have mostly faded from the public eye these days. It was good to catch up to his current views looking back on the shows he created that were so much a part of our lives in the past decade. This also reminded me that I really need to pick up the Millenium DVDs and re-visit the show one of these days. Our family bought the X-Files "super box" last year and have been watching the first two seasons (although we've been temporarily side-tracked with "Lost" recently), and the show is still as great as I have always remembered it.

  5. John, thank you for being so kind as to mention the Back To Frank Black campaign to Mr. Carter. It seems like aeons ago that I first wrote to you, when Jim and I were first assembling the campaign, and the support you have shown us and your evident admiration for Millennium has resulted in your Blog being one of my favourite haunts on the web. I was, therefore, overjoyed to see a Chris Carter interview and one which is evidently conducted by someone with a in-depth knowledge and love of Carter's work. I hate to sound churlish but there are plenty of interviews that speak of his relationships with the cast and whether Mulder loved Scully in season so-and-so and this was an absolute breath of fresh air for fans of his work and no doubt a joy for Chris Carter too. All the best to you John and may you and yours have a wonderful Christmas. This is who we are!

  6. John, congratulations on not only getting to interview someone I know you've wanted to speak to for a long time, but also for coming up with amazing questions and bringing out so much from Chris Carter. I'm just surprised you didn't ask if he had ever considered using Frank Black as Mulder's replacement.

  7. Thank you for this very insightful interview, Mr. Muir!

    I've always admired Chris Carter's work so it was a real pleasure to learn more about his thoughts about his own shows.

    And I couldn't agree more with his words about meta-X-Files in Season 8! that's what I've always thought!

    Anyway, I have one question for you and I hope you'll give me an answer. In his interview with you, did Chris Carter mention anything (just a little tiny bit) about his next supersecret project called "Fencewalker"? It's a movie he filmed in spring and summer 2008 and there's little known about it. I know there are many people curious about it but Chris seems to be very secretive about it. :( So I wonder maybe he mentioned something about "Fencewalker"?

  8. Anonymous3:26 PM

    Thank both of you for the fascinating interview! Chris Carter is a wonderful artistic mind and a very sweet person.

  9. Mark: I totally support your campaign, and it has been a pleasure to see the success it has already had. Thank you for the comment, and a happy holiday to you as well!

    Howard: Thank you! I appreciate your comments, and I wish I had thought to ask that question, since it came up during our interviews together on Destinies regarding Millennium and X-Files. And you're right about this being an interview I'd hoped for a long time...

    Aliatope: We didn't talk Fencewalker, alas, but we did talk about some current projects that are still hush-hush. I know we can expect more great things from Carter in the future...


  10. What a fantastic interview! I have fond memories of getting into THE X-FILES back in the day and how much of a breath of fresh air it was! I was never a huge fan of MILLENIUM or some of Carter's other projects but I respect what he tries to do and his skill as a storyteller. You really asked some great questions and got Carter to open up which is always fascinating to read. Thanks!

  11. As the other commenters have already stated, this was a fantastic interview and, in my opinion, the most insightful since IWTB's release. Having been a daily visitor to your blog since your IWTB review, it comes as no surprise that you have presented us with such an intimate look into the show, as well as the views of its creator. For that I thank you.

    And I have to completely agree with woodchuckgod, that even when you discuss a topic of which I have little to no knowledge, your presentation of the material always sparks an interest to investigate it. I'm still trying to get my hands on a copy of 'Sorcerer', which is proving a bit difficult in AU.

    There is something I've always wondered about the X-Files episodes Two Fathers / One Son, for which perhaps you might have some insight. These episodes primarily brought a close to 'the syndicate', which had been a critical component of the mythology episodes up to that point. This may have already been answered somewhere, but I'm wondering if (particularly since these were mid-season episodes) Chris Carter felt obliged to take this turn in the storyline as there were many comments following Fight the Future, as far as I can recall, that it did not present the grand revelations which many of the shows followers had expected in the first film. These episodes almost felt like an epilogue to Fight the Future. Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed these episodes, but with no disrespect they felt somewhat forced, much like the 'Closure' episodes regarding Mulder's sister. Obviously one can only speculate to what extent FOX played in a hand in guiding the direction of the story. Particularly with 'Closure', although the episodes in themselves are an excellent addition to the X-Files catalogue and a joy to watch on their own, they felt at the time like a slightly disappointing end to such a key part of the mythology. Not sure if I'm alone on this.

    Thanks again for the excellent interview, John, and my apologies for the extended comment!

    A very happy holidays to you and yours.


  12. This was such a fantastic interview, JKM. It was a very interesting back and forth between the two of you. All I can say is, "Can we have more?" Thanks for this.

  13. J.D. and Le0pard13: Thank you for the supportive comments, my friends. I'm glad you both enjoyed the interview! I wish I had more to offer -- but I'll try to catch up with Chris Carter again!

    Henry: I didn't ask -- and maybe should have -- Chris Carter about the extent to which the network interfered/didn't interfere with the arc progress/development.

    I tend to see "Fight the Future" as a turning point for the alien mytharc: that's the point where we learn that colonization involves not slavery, but actual gestation. In other words, the Syndicate has been duped. There's no way to survive the alien virus.

    After that, we head into more personal directions, in some senses, about what involvement in this conspiracy has meant in human terms for CSM, Agent Spender, etc. The story becomes more intimate.

    And regarding "Closure," -- when I first watched it I didn't care for it because I felt so many of the specific details of Samantha's life, disappearance and death were still left unexplained. I was confused and a little disappointed that it ended with so little explanation of the mystery.

    After watching the episode many times over the years, however, I find it one of the most touching and involving of the show. I realized it reflects our human condition: we lose our loved ones, and there is no answer why; that's what we're left to search on an individual, internal basis.

    The "Closure" isn't about what happened to Samantha; it's about, at Mulder's state of mind. His acceptance of his loss. About putting aside the obsession that has, really, prevented him from accepting that Samantha is gone.

    That moment on the hill -- with the ghosts; with that emotional music playing -- it's a point where Mulder reaches the end of his journey; at least for the time being.

    And in typical, wonderful Chris Carter fashion, he doesn't explain a lot with words; he leave it to the cinematic visuals to explain. We know how we feel watching it. This is so much why I like Chris Carter's work: he takes something huge (like an alien abduction) and brings it down to human truths.

    I don't know if I'm doing a good job of explaining this. But The X-Files, in many ways, went from being about the alien conspiracy (at the beginning of the show) to the way that alien conspiracy affected the main characters, by the end of the show.

    What started out as a major storyline came to be deployed over the years as an excavation of the characters' emotionality; their humanity.

    I need to be able to explain this better. Maybe at some point, I need to do an essay on this...


  14. John, I think you articulated exactly what is it that I enjoy about "Closure" after watching it multiple times. On first viewing, it was about adding pieces to the puzzle that we had become so invested in over the years. But after the passing of time and subsequent distancing from the puzzle, it became clear that we cared more about the heroes than the journey. And I think that is the key to this particular part of the arc. It's not about the abduction, but about the loss of a sister, and Mulder's ultimate need to silence his demons, if only temporarily as you say. In reality, there is never any understanding or profound meaning in the loss of a loved one.

    Thanks again for your insights John.


  15. Henry:

    You just said it EXACTLY (and far more succinctly than I did). Yep, that's it!

    It got me thinking about a future essay topic -- about how Carter uses the paranormal (in episodes like "Beyond the Sea" and "Closure") to commentnot on the paranormal; but the human condition...


  16. I couldn't help but watch the episodes "Sein Und Zeit" and "Closure" today. Wow, everything we discussed was staring me right in the face. The writing is literally on the wall, with the tagline "Trust No One" removed from the start of "Closure", to be replaced by "Believe To Understand". I'll look forward to reading the essay you mentioned.

    In terms of the story arc, I think there were just enough pieces added to the Samantha puzzle to fit within the X-Files narrative style. I've strayed pretty far from your original topic here, but I've thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this chapter in the X-Files and bringing my own closure to the original uneasiness I felt for it.

    Oh, and in case you may not recall, there are a couple of "Harsh Realm" references in "Sein Und Zeit" which I think you'll appreciate.


  17. John thank you for for what is undoubtedly one of the finest interviews with Chris Carter that I've been fortunate enough to read.

    Thank you for asking such insightful and considered questions and thank you to Chris for such wonderful answers and in particular his reply concerning the staffing at Fox, in reference to the B2FB campaign.

    Warmest regards,
    Graham Smith

    Millennium - This Is Who We Are

  18. Fantastic interview- one of the best ones with Chris I've seen, certainly as applies to Millennium and IWTB.

    As to the reception IWTB got, I think the Dark Knight factor can't possibly be understated. That movie was so incredibly overhyped and Ledger's death gave both the fans and the critics (who are mostly from fandom themselves these days) a tremendous sense of emotional investment in the film. Dark Knight was going to the unstoppable juggernaut of summer 2008 and nothing would be allowed to stand in its way. Any other time of the year that film would have gotten a much better reception.

  19. Christopher: I totally agree with you. The Dark Knight was the IT film of 2008. Strange, however, that a film so critically appreciated in that season has failed to make so many "best of the decade" lists this season. I think everybody sort of collectively woke up from that delusion that it was such a great film; perhaps it was the opportunity to see it again after the hype, on DVD.

    And The X-Files: I Want to Believe keeps looking better and better the further it gets from the vicious reviews of the day and more people see it.


  20. I loved IWTB the first time I saw it! Fans can be such a confused lot- they'd complain about the mytharc during the show's run and complian FTF was a myth ep and then complain that IWTB wasn't a myth ep! The fact it was about "aliens" (from Russia, in this case) abducting people for genetic manipulation (making a literal hybrid) seemed to escape everyone's attention!

    The plain fact of the matter is that when a pop culture icon dominates one decade it usually has to sit out the next one- Queen, the Bee Gees, ABBA and the Batman TV show are living proof of that (at least in America). But look at Doctor Who- who would have ever predicted that show's comeback? I'm confident fans will rediscover the movie- and as you mention Season 8 which is by far my favorite of the LA years.

    I'll have to keep my eye out for the Dark Knight accolades- it seems to have fallen down a very deep memory hole, as I wrote about here: http://bit.ly/zyxLv

    Not only did it knock out IWTB, but I think the post-DK hangover hurt Watchmen which in my opinion is about a hundred trillion times better.

    Keep it up, Ken!

  21. Wonderful interview. He's a fascinating man Mr Carter. I wish we'd had your questions when we interviewed him for B2FB!

    I loved one particular answer:

    "Glen Morgan and James Wong came in and put their stamp on it. They added layers to it. It was truly a collaboration of points-of-view, and of I guess you would call it an artistic approach to what was I think, an interesting subject matter."

    That's a beautiful line from Chris. Very perceptive.

  22. Anonymous9:30 AM

    Thanks John for this AMAZING gift. I am so grateful for everything you have written about 1013, and I see this interview, in a sense, as the icing on the cake. If you ever write a book on 1013 I imagine it would be utterly fantastic. (It's something I would love to do as well, but the 1013 universe is so vast and rich that it becomes overwhelming.)

    I was gladly surprised that you brought up the chivalric aspect of Chris's heroes. I'm a devout reader of Don Quixote and have of late began to find many aspects in Mulder and Frank's journeys that resemble that of Alonso Quijano. (When IWTB was still titled "Done One" 1013 used an image of a windmill in the logo, bringing infinite joy to my heart.)

    I agree with Jim about Chris's answer. Chris is always mentioning how the shows were a collaborative effort. As you say, John, the *how* is essential, and I think that much of Chris's philosophy can be seen in how the shows were made.

    Chris Carter is a true artist, period. As much as he may tell us in his answers, it's impossible not to feel there is much, much more behind his sparse words. You know how poets don't need to *explain* their metaphors or images, well that's how I see Chris's work: it's all there, in the images themselves. The images are laden with poetic, philosophical and symbolical meaning. So part of the beauty of his work is that any exegesis of it will discover these meanings but there will always be more to decipher, so we will always go back to the images.

    IWTB is the perfect example of this. So mysteriously dense it's no wonder only few paid it any attention. It's the fate of most great works of art...

    Finally, I was very glad to read Chris' comment on season 8. For me, having Mulder as the missing center (and the way it was done) was so poignantly beautiful, it was such a natural progression of all the themes of the show...


  23. Anonymous10:04 AM

    Thank you kindly for sharing such a wonderful interview. I always admired Chris Carter's work, especially The X-Files; there has not been another series since The X-Files that has given the audience such creative storytelling.


  24. gabriel4:16 AM

    Fantastic interview. I really hope a Millennium project gets greenlit in the near future.

  25. Hello JKM.
    I thoroughly enjoyed your interview. Some terrific questions were posed that garnered some fascinating perspectives and depths to those series.

    I can't wait to watch Millenmium based on everthing I read at your site.

    The X-Files was my kind of horror and your conversation about the cinematic qualities of the series made for informative reading.

    I also agree with Carter and embraced the final seasons with an open mind. I always felt they were maligned unfairly for their changes. You cover this area in good detail. Tku.

    I was also pleased to see you cover the reception of the new film.

    Your terrific interview reminds me of one thing: television is worse off without Chris Carter.

    You're a class writer/interviewer JKM.

  26. Anonymous9:20 PM

    Dear Mr. Muir,

    I loved your interview, you had questions and stuck with them. I was a total x-phile, this was due to syndication, that Millenium didn't get this same benefit. 1999 I don't know if fox punished Carter for all the lawsuits flying. I am just discovering Millenium on chiller by fluke, it would be helpful if it was on tbs/tnt, something more mainstream, and not at 6a.m./6p.m. if people saw it now it would help to bring Frank Black back! I don't know if Carter realizes how ahead of his time he was, and I say that as a Social Worker who witnessed many of the atrocities he portrayed so far in 1st season, and its the only show EVER to give a reason for our how our human monsters are made. It is a dark show not because its dark, but because Carter put light on real issues, that still no one wants to look at, and the show dares you to understand perhaps do something about it, making people uncomfortable and wanting to turn away in many cases. His answer made me think Millenium is dead, his answer was grim, a tiny bit more hope given his x-file answer. Hope I am wrong.


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