Hello Interwebs! All fans of TPM’s webseries The X. Files ought to know that introduction. This week’s article goes out to all the X. Philes out there, and anyone curious to know more about the show. Learn fun behind-the-scenes stories and get some clarification on certain aspects of the narrative (it’s a pretty plot-dense story, so I wouldn’t blame anyone for missing some details)! Read on comrades, for the truth behind The X. Files is in here…
Also: ***SPOILERS AHEAD FOR The X.Files Season 1***
For those who don’t know: what is the X. Files? Well, I’m gonna stop you right away before you start telling me about that 90s show where the FBI agents hunt for monsters/ aliens and uncover conspiracies. I freaking love that show by the way. Seen every season (except the ones that came out a few years ago). But this isn’t that.
Thought Plane Media’s The X. Files has a dot in the name instead of a hyphen, for one thing. The idea is similar though: a believer in conspiracies teams up with a skeptic to reveal truths about said conspiracies. However, our believer is a paranoid fanatic named Francis X. Files (hence the title: it’s based on his name) who starts a conspiracy web-series on the internet, and our skeptic is his roommate, Sampson, who can’t help but debate the validity of Francis’ outlandish claims. Most episodes revolve around their arguments concerning the theory of the week, and there’s an animated section in the middle called “The Conspiracy Corner” which delves deep into the theory.
With that background out of the way, I’d like to begin this series analysis/ behind-the-scenes in earnest with the story of how Justin Church and I came up with the idea for this web-series. At the time (2016), he and I were living together in a tiny college dorm room, and we spent a large amount of our free time creating and brainstorming video ideas. He and I spent pretty much every waking moment together (when we weren’t in class), so there was plenty of time for such pursuits.
One idea we came up with was a skit revolving around a character frustrated with his lisp. I would go further into the idea, but we still kinda want to make it someday… Anyway, Justin improvised this character with such energy and humor that we both realized quickly this guy couldn’t be a one-off bit. The idea was taken further when I noted that the character sounded like one of those tin-foil hat-wearing conspiracy guys on the internet.
So we decided to make a web-series where this over-the-top dude with a lisp discussed conspiracies. But we knew there had to be more to the idea than that. There’s way too many of those kinds of shows already, afterall. Our solution: give this character a foil– someone who would call out his conspiracies on the show and debate him. In this way, Sampson was born. I would be the Scully to Justin’s Mulder, and the skeptic-believer dynamic of the X-Files would translate to the age of internet conspiracies.
Now we needed a name for this conspiracy guy. I suggested making some kind of anagram for the name Fox Mulder (the co-main character of The X-Files), and that was our starting point. Justin randomly started filling in the letters before getting stuck at the X and making a joke to cover up his lack of ideas. It went something like: “Francis Osgoode X… Files”. At that point we both burst out laughing and determined that would be the character’s name (minus the Osgoode, by the way).
So now we had a concept, characters and some rough ideas for conspiracies to cover. After this the show just sort of built itself. Sampson and Francis’ on-screen dynamic in the series is largely based on my real-life friendship with Justin. We were both playing exaggerated versions of ourselves and the comedy flowed naturally. We could even rattle off entire conversations, improvising in character without skipping a beat. It was a little too easy sometimes, but it felt right. And I’m so glad our natural chemistry came through on camera. I’ve always thought the heart of this series was the relationship between Sampson and Francis, and that it wouldn’t have delivered in the same way had Justin and I not spent 3 years beforehand honing our skills as a comedic duo.
While the Global Cooling Theory was a solid start to the series, it was episode 2 where the ball really got rolling. And we knew this one had to be something special. The JFK assassination is a treasure trove for conspiracy theories, but it’s also cliched and well-worn ground at this point. We needed something wholly original– something nobody else would have ever considered. No joke– this is how it happened:
I was typing the script on my computer, turned around to look at Justin said, “Give me an original Kennedy assassination theory”.
Here Justin paused to think for a moment before declaring: “He shot himself…”
Aaaaand the idea spiraled from there… I can’t even explain that theory in short form. Just watch the episode and see for yourself (actually, go ahead and give the whole series a watch/ rewatch if you’d like). Some people might have thought we came up with the whole Doctor Who angle for Jacques F. Kennedienne first, considering that amazing coincidence we uncovered in the episode (the first episode of DW premiered the day after the Kennedy assassination), but that was honestly just a coincidence. We intentionally made Kennedienne a parody of the Doctor, but the fact that DW is so closely related to the assassination added a great layer to the joke we never even considered. I just so happened to remember that the show premiered around the same time, but I never would have imagined it was the day after…
Skipping back a little bit– most of our conspiracies were actually conceived like the JFK one: I would ask Justin for a rough and outlandish concept revolving around an actual conspiracy (global warming, JFK, Shakespeare and the Dark Ages not existing, celebrities, government mind control and the Illuminati), he would give me something off-the-wall, and I would flesh it out. This got harder as the show went on though. The X. Files wasn’t supposed to be a cohesive universe. Originally we were going to go one episode at a time and say whatever we wanted. The Francis/ Sampson agent paranoia arc was the through-line. That’s why the pilot, Global Cooling Theory, doesn’t connect to the others as much. But from episode 2 on, we tried to build a hard set of rules and maintain narrative consistency as it went. The history of humanity, from thousands of years ago to present, is mostly covered, and multiple famous historical figures play important roles for both the Resistance and the Illuminati. There’s a lot of info and almost everything’s consistent. We did our best to make sure of that.
Speaking of the theories, I can’t discuss those without talking about “The Conspiracy Corner”. The animated section of our show was a labour of love by Justin. He spent a ridiculous amount of time on those things. In fact, Conspiracy Corner was so much work that it was a key reason in our decision to only make 8 episodes. Though deceptively basic in aesthetic, they are dense with visual gags. Even I, as a co-creator, discovered new jokes in the animations each time I watched the show for maybe the first 5-6 times (and I’m STILL not sure I’ve caught them all). You’d have to comb by them frame by frame to catch everything. Seriously, there’s one joke that only lasts a couple of frames and you’d literally never see it, even if you simply slowed the footage down. I put the challenge out to anyone who wants to take it: if you can find the hidden detail within one of the Conspiracy Corners, I’ll give you a prize. I honestly don’t know what it would be yet, but you’ll get something. The joke is tiny, but noticeable. It’s not impossible.
As a side-note I feel the need to mention that Justin pulled off a solid job on these animations considering he’s severely colour blind. So maybe sometimes people’s skin looks a little green, and the water is occasionally purple, but that’s why (also, I was semi-unobservant and didn’t correct such details). Just a fun fact for anyone who wondered why the colours seem a little weird sometimes.
One of my favourite things about the X. Files is the running gags. We decided on some of these early in the show, such as Francis’ lack of knowledge about pop culture and Sampson’s need to remind Francis that Francis steals everything; some we came up with some later, like Tom Cruise running the Illuminati. That one was just supposed to be a 1-episode joke, but it was too good to never bring up again. We even bought a poster of Cruise and put it up for the following episode (cause even though he’s “evil”, Francis still loves the guy). Unrelated: Justin and I actually both bought the same poster at a sale (not even for the show), but it seemed appropriate to hang one of them on our set background considering the previous gag. Going back to running gags, I also love the recurring Men In Black characters and their side adventures in the Conspiracy Corner.
Those are some of the most important stories behind the creation and production of The X. Files, but now let’s move on to analyze the show itself. There’ll still be more stories interspersed where appropriate, but now I’ll be discussing the narrative and filmmaking of the series.
Narrative/ Filmmaking Analysis
Beyond the comedy, the cartoons and the characters, The X. Files season 1 is, at its core, about a singular conspiracy: is Sampson Brown a government agent plotting to take down Francis? The answer to that question is… murky. At least, it’s murky if Season 1 is the only season of this show we ever make. We intend to make more. But for right now, you can still read into the story how you’d like.
The series is constructed to make you question whether Sampson is really suspicious/ hiding something, or Francis is just paranoid/ actually insane. There’s decent evidence for both. Most people assume Sampson is up to something at some point, but I feel like it’s not so clear by the end. Sampson is objectively a suspicious guy, whether or not he’s hiding anything, and his increasingly strange behaviour as the series progresses doesn’t help his case. However, The X. Files is ultimately a show edited and produced by Francis, so he can show whatever clips he wants of Sampson. And Francis even admits that he might just be paranoid (he thinks the government is out to get him and that Sampson might be a spy).
The last episode in particular presents Francis in an unstable light. He admits he’s been a fraud this entire time (all his information is based out of someone else’s journal, obtained at a conspiracy convention, and he doesn’t even have a lisp); he later pulls a gun on Sampson, convinced Sampson is a danger (even though Sampson is acting perfectly normal, if not a bit too friendly), and spews out an insane monologue about joining JFK’s time war. Even though Sampson is shown to “flash” Francis and take the journal, the final sequence casts doubt upon even that moment. The asylum section not only forces you to question the validity of the final episode, but of the entire series. Was Francis just a mentally ill patient, or is he being held captive and gaslighted into thinking he’s insane? In the season’s final moments, Francis repeats the show’s regular closing statements: “This has been another episode of the X. Files. I’m Francis X. Files. Remember: The truth is in here”. He then points to his temples as per usual. At this moment you ought to wonder if “truth” has simply been in his head this entire time or if the truth is what keeps him sane now that he’s been captured.
And then there’s the extra ambiguous addition of the post-credits scene with the Nicotine Man. When “Doctor” Sampson tells the Nicotine Man that Francis will eventually come to see the truth, what truth is Sampson referring to? The “truth” the Illuminati is trying to feed him, or the real-world truth brought about by psychiatrists? Everything Sampson says in that final sentence works for both assumptions.
Funny enough, that asylum ending actually wasn’t supposed to happen. Justin and I planned on making an official “alternate endings” video for episode 8 (check it out on our Facebook page) but, when we filmed the scene and edited it together, we quickly agreed it had to be the legitimate end of the season. In case you’re wondering, the original ending was simply the scene where Sampson steals the journal and flashes Francis with the pen. It was supposed to be a cliffhanger. We figured a more definitive ending was better though, as we had no immediate plans to make a season 2 (and we still don’t, even though I’ve had drafts written for over a year now).
Going back to the main conspiracy, let’s assume Sampson is an agent. What was he doing with Francis in the first place? Why would he be roommates with Francis BEFORE Francis started a random web-series if the series was the actual threat? And why would he play a reluctant skeptic only to lean into the role of sidekick later? Well, here’s the explanation as I’ve always seen it: Sampson is a government agent under the supervision of the mysterious Nicotine Man. Though Francis is potentially crazy, he’s also harmless, but he carries vital information about a legitimate terrorist group whom he idolizes as freedom fighters. Though Sampson begins skeptical of his assignment and must endure these stupid conspiracies, he slowly becomes convinced that there’s more to Francis’ show than he initially thinks.
By the end of the 5th episode, Francis reveals potentially important information about JFK’s plans to start a worldwide revolution using deeply placed terrorist cells. Sampson immediately rushes to his bosses, assuming there is an imminent threat to national security. Sampson is now asked to “play ball” with Francis and work with him to encourage more discussion about JFK’s plans. That’s why Sampson is a lot friendlier from episode 6 on (and maybe he’s also somewhat flattered by the fact he’s got a small fandom now). Not long after, Francis lets slip that he’s got a journal. Assuming there may be vital information in the journal about the terrorists, Sampson is asked to uncover the journal’s location. He then recovers the journal and officially brings Francis into government custody. There, they attempt to brainwash him into believing The X. Files was all in his head so that he won’t try to escape.
One fun piece of trivia: to show Sampson’s gradual reveal into a possible Man in Black, I altered my costume every episode. In the first few episodes I wear all casual clothes, but by episode 3 I’m wearing a dress shirt, then dress pants in the next, a tie after that, then a white shirt and black tie, a full suit and, finally, a suit with shades. Sampson’s attire acts as a visual segue into his season-long arc.
Now let’s go over what Francis thought he was doing over the season… From a young age, Francis never saw the world the same way as others. He always knew there was more to it than meets the eye. Conspiracy became his way to make sense of everything. One fateful day, at a gathering of conspiracy theorists, Francis was handed a book by a man with a thick French accent, and the man told him “the truth is in here”. This was Abraham Lincoln’s personal journal– a detailed account of the world’s true history up to the present day and the exploits of one Jacques F. Kennedienne.
Francis grew convinced he was chosen by Kennedienne himself to bear this information and spread truth to the masses in the most direct way possible: the internet. Francis also became convinced that he was chosen because he is the latest vessel for the Spirit of Sotunde (the spirit which possesses some of the smartest people of their time). His dream was for JFK to notice his good work and take him away to fight in the resistance. But he also knew that spreading the truth would be dangerous and that the Illuminati would not take his show too kindly (considering it’s their business to keep such truths under wraps).
This all begs another question: why didn’t the Illuminati ever shut the show down and take in Francis earlier? Especially if everything he was saying was for real? One possible answer: keeping the show running was a necessary risk to get information about JFK. Although that doesn’t hold much water considering they “allegedly” kidnapped Francis in the end anyway… My personal theory: Sampson’s boss, the Nicotine Man, was legitimately a fan of the show (as Sampson mentioned) and didn’t think it would ever gain enough serious traction to be harmful.
Before I wrap up, here’s some more tidbits about production:
-The background board behind Sampson always gave a hint to the next episode or something about the current episode.
Episode 3 had a list of known time machines: Flux capacitor (presumably for a Delorean), Time arch (for Star Gates) and a Phone booth (for Kennedienne).
Episode 4: Blueprints to Mooneliminator Base
Episode 5: JFK and Shakespeare are the Illuminati’s “most wanted”
Episode 6: Apple = Evil, Google = Evil, Microsoft = Good
Episode 7: MIB (Men in Black) upside down
-The Sampson and Francis fan art from Episode 5 was actually made by friends of ours and given to us. I also think it speaks to Francis’ ego that he has fan art of himself posted in the background from that point on.
-Finally: our theme song is literally just The X-Files theme played backwards, and the title sequence is a shot-for-shot remake of that show’s opening. We filmed the whole thing in our dorm room. It’s way more accurate than it had any right to be…
Well, I think I’ve covered just about everything I can think of. Justin, Matteo and I have done a lot of crazy and creatively rewarding work in our collaborations over the years (separately too) but this is still my all-time favourite project when taken as a whole. I often look back on some of my older videos and judge them harshly but I think this series holds up better than most. I had a great experience creating the show and I still laugh out loud basically every time I re-watch it.
For me the beauty of the series is its relative simplicity. Justin and I had no budget or any lofty expectations of what this thing would be. We were just two guys in their dorm room with an old camera, playing exaggerated versions of ourselves and letting our imaginations run wild. The show was something we looked forward to doing every couple weeks during our first year of University, and we’re glad people enjoyed it.
What’s your favourite X. Files conspiracy? What did you think was happening between Sampson and Francis when you first watched? Also, if you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know that as well. Be sure to like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!
This has been an article on The X. Files. I’m Joseph Morin. Remember: The Truth is in here…