In it’s day, in the first couple of seasons, the X-files was mezmerizing. It didn’t matter that it was shot in my home town, that the production values were modest, that plot lines were improbable. There was something captivating there. Fox Mulder was tortured, complicated and wry, qualities never before given a TV character. And of course Scully was the quiet siren, every thinking man’s idea of a bit of alright.
But this episode was appallingly bad. Poor Duchovny (Mulder) was pallid, Anderson (Scully) overwrought. And the problem, I fell to thinking was that this was a late season and by this time the plot line was so fantastically complicated that what made the X-Files ineffably interesting, indefinably mysterious had been burdened and broken. The show was over. I had this vision of Chris Carter pinioned like Gulliver by plots lines, rendered incapable of creative freedom by the promissory notes he had issued with each passing season.
Surely, it’s time to get rid of the idea of consistency. Plot lines, let’s think of these as sight lines, a general indication of where we are going, nothing more. Now that we live in an era of what Henry Jenkins calls transmedia, there are necessarily many versions of the narrative in play. Who thinks that new narrative should be found by the details of old narrative. Let us treat every season as a variation on the theme. We would expect to see themes that resonate, but surely the pressure of each new season should be see not the slavish consistency but the departures.
We had the happy opportunity of listening to the producers of Heroes at MIT not so long ago and it’s clear that consistency is a tyranny. It gives power to rapid fans who define their fandom by their knowledge of the narrative. Some of these people are not cocreators of the narratives. They are jailers, constantly vigilant for any, even unimportant inconsistency. On the other side, the newcomers look at the detail of a narrative enterprise like Lost and think to themselves, "there’s no way I can catch up."
Consistency, surely this is a cultural relic up with which we should no longer have to put.
See Rick Liebling’s very interesting contemplation of this theme here.