Another audiobook has joined The X-Files library shelf. "The X-Files: Stolen Lives" was released by Audible on October 3rd. Based on the Season 10 comics from IDW, this continues the adventures of Mulder and Scully from "Cold Cases." The stories are written by Joe Harris, executive produced by Chris Carter, and produced for audible by Dirk Maggs. Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny, and Mitch Pileggi return to their roles, and other fan favorites lend their voices as well. As with the first audiobook, you don't need to be familiar with the comics to enjoy this audio version, but it does help. If you haven't yet listened to "Cold Cases" I'd suggest trying that first. The audio series does not follow the timeline established in the TV version of Season 10 so there are events and characters that would seem out of place to new listeners. "Stolen Lives" has some solid scares so if you're a monster of the week fan you're in luck. But it also dives into some mythology, though not quite as heavily as "Cold Cases."
Does "Stolen Lives" pass the bar set by "Cold Cases?" Hit the jump for our recap and review.
We start with Chapter 2, as Chapter 1 is opening credits. Chapter 2 is called "Immaculate" and follows Season 10 issues 16 and 17. The story begins outside an abortion clinic in North Carolina. A young woman is hassled by protesters and makes her way inside. As she approaches the woman is also hearing a voice in her head. She seems familiar to the clinic staff but before they recognize her she detonates a bomb she smuggled inside. The girl survives and convinces the protesters to follow her.
When looking over the evidence, the girl whose name is Joni Cartwright, apparently has a halo and that's how Mulder and Scully end up on the case. After interviewing a nurse who was burned in the explosion, Mulder and Scully decide to split up and investigate more of Joni's backstory. Joni's family is religious and Scully finds Joni's mother along with a creepy pastor. Being sensitive to cases involving religion has never been Mulder's strong suit, and we see that again when Mulder questions his first suspect. The mystery of the case leads us from victims who look like they died of fright, to a cliff in the woods where the possessed townspeople meet a tragic end. The good pastor is not exactly who he seems and we learn who Joni's baby-daddy really was through Scully's investigative tactics. And as usual, it's Mulder who sees the monster for what it really is.
“Stolen Lives” starts with a much more "monster of the week" tone than "Cold Cases" did, but there's no lack of controversy here. The X-Files has never shied away from religion or difficult subject matter and this is no different. "Cold Cases" featured a school shooting so tackling an abortion clinic bombing seems on par with the tone set there. The chapter reminds me a bit of Season 7's "Signs and Wonders" in that we're dealing with a pastor who is not what he seems. But "Immaculate" is much more violent than I remember that episode being. Listening to Scully dress down the pastor was one of my favorite parts of the chapter, with Mulder's interaction with a scared Sarabeth a close second. I appreciated the Frank Black joke, as I'm sure other "Millennium" fans did. I was also glad to hear them reference the missing Agents Doggett and Reyes at the beginning. We haven't heard much about them since the beginning of "Cold Cases" so it was a good reminder that part of the team is still missing. Mulder's sarcasm was about what you'd expect for any faith-based episode and I cracked up at the "moderately godless heathen requesting permission to enter."
I wasn't crazy about the fact that once again, Scully being a mother and how that might affect her was brought up at the beginning of the case. This story was written in 2014, and William would be 13 by then. He's been away from Mulder and Scully for a long time now and it just seemed weird to me to have Morales say "I hope this doesn't affect you." You notice no one ever asks Mulder that same question?
Chapter 3, called "Chitter" follows Issue 9 of the comics. This was Joe Harris' first original monster-of-the-week. And if you don't like bugs, I'm sorry. At the start, we're introduced to the "Chittering God" and a gross sounding swarm. Mulder and Scully are soon on the scene in Pennsylvania but the investigation doesn't start well for Scully. After some joking with Mulder and comments about a funny smell, she passes out. But Scully being Scully, when she recovers she insists on investigating the house anyway. They find a switch that leads them to the killing room.
As always with the X-Files, things are not what the seem and the initial suspect, Mr. Keansey, isn't the only guilty party. Once again Mulder and Scully's investigations take different directions with Mulder interrogating the suspect and Scully out in the field. The first suspect, and his bug friends, indicate the Chittering God is after Scully. Scully cases the neighborhood and visits with an old woman named Mrs. Hoynes who reads her tea leaves. Mrs. Hoynes tells Scully she knows she lost a child "recently." And that the chittering god feeds on that sorrow and "both grow stronger." As Scully tries to escape it seems the woman, or the god, is trying to get her to hurt herself. Mulder arrives in the nick of time and keeps any more violence from happening.
The chapter gets points for the gross-out factor. The roaches in "War of the Coprophages" were bad enough but hearing the scratching on the headphones left me wanting to take a shower. The thought of being able to sic bugs on someone and call on a swarm makes me shiver. The story is definitely creepy and it's interesting that Keansey was just as much a victim of this crazy old lady and her "god" as Scully almost was. That Mulder and Scully were sharing a hotel room and discussing the case warmed my little shipper heart.
While I liked the story, I was again frustrated with the "Scully Mom Pain" angle. In the comics' chronology, this issue is further removed from "Immaculate" so it might not have seemed as repetitive. I'd also like to point out that Scully has technically lost two children. Emily seems to be forgotten a lot. I do think it's fair that Scully is a person who has faced a lot of despair, but Mulder has too, so why wasn't he a target as well? Perhaps in the off years, he's had a little more therapy? I thought Mulder seemed like a bigger jerk than usual in this episode too. We know he can be a jerk and love that about him at times, but he's usually not mean. And there was something about the way Mulder said "you think this is all about you?" that rubbed me the wrong way.
We return to our missing federal agents in Chapter 4, aptly titled "Monica and John." This mirrors Season 10 Issue 18. Our first glimpse of Monica Reyes shows she's been in captivity for a year. Held in a tiny cell, she describes the events that lead to her abduction. She was in Wyoming paying a visit to William's adoptive parents when she was taken. She believes she's being held by John Doggett, who leaves to go to a post office. That trip triggers the FBI and Skinner and Scully get involved. Mulder is apparently off testifying to keep Monty Props locked up so he misses the action.
Of course, the Doggett holding Monica captive isn't really Doggett all. The real Doggett is also being held captive. He manages to escape from his cell and goes to free Monica. Their captor returns and seems to be one of the Acolytes we met in "Cold Cases." In a twist, he asks Monica and John to kill him. Doggett resists because he wants evidence of what has happened to them, but Monica stabs him with the stiletto anyway because she believes the FBI has forgotten them. Just as the alien melts away Skinner and Scully arrive.
This was the shortest chapter of the book and one I'd like to have seen in more detail. I was so glad to see Doggett and Reyes again and the refresher on the "new" mythology was helpful. I can't imagine what it was like to have been held like that for so long. I would have liked to have heard more of their story. And we're left hanging about what's next for the two. Do they get to go back to the FBI? Does Monica quit and record her own best selling whale song album? I found this a good chapter, just too short! I also really missed Robert Patrick and Annabeth Gish voicing their characters. The woman doing Reyes was close at points, but Doggett's actor wasn't even close to Robert Patrick's memorable style.
Get ready for a little time travel in Chapter 5. G-23 follows comics issues 19 and 20. We dig up a few ghosts and Mulder gets sent on a wild trip that doesn't involve line dancing. The story begins in 1966 in Nevada at a military installation. Two young adults are smoking a cigarette laced with something called G-23 and they're getting progressively more freaked out. The young woman starts thinking she sees aliens. Shadowy men are observing the teens, none other than a young CGB Spender and Bill Mulder. In the present day, Mulder is waiting in D.C. to meet Scully for lunch but before she arrives the CSM crashes his party. After a round of 'who is my real dad?' with Mulder, the CSM presents him with a poster of the Nevada desert and a camper van with a G-23 plate. After a meeting with Scully and later the Lone Gunmen, this sends Mulder off on a wild goose chase into the desert.
Langly follows Mulder to what starts as a party in the desert but turns into a bad G-23-induced trip. In his hallucination, there’s a vamped up version of Scully in fishnets, heels, and Spender's trench coat. This vision calls herself "Red" and sounds more Spender than Scully. She leads Mulder through the remains of the old G-23 complex and on a trip down memory lane. They talk about what was the G-23 substance was really made of and of Bill Mulder's work fighting the alien colonists. In the end, the real Scully rescues Mulder but whatever proof he thought he had of the incident is gone.
I wasn't sure what to think of this chapter on first listen, and may give it another try. Anything that involves the Lone Gunmen makes me happy, and the actors always sound really in character. I laughed at Langly calling Frohike 'Jump Street' because Tom Braidwood was a first assistant director on that show back in the day. One has to feel for Mulder at the beginning that he keeps getting haunted by this zombie ghost from his past. And I thought it was interesting to dive more into Bill Mulder's background. It makes him out to be a slightly more sympathetic character that he was in the TV series. I felt like they were trying to redeem him a bit. Whether that succeeded, I'm not sure.
I also wasn't particularly thrilled with the "Scully as vixen" bit. If Scully herself makes the choice to don that outfit and say "sweet dreams baby" I'm all for it if it's her idea. But for that to be a fantasy and not her personal choice gets old. In this version, at least, it's insinuated at the very end that CSM was dressed that way himself all along, but that's not the case in the comic. There's no doubt Scully is a beautiful woman but we love her for her intelligence and what her brains bring to the case. This struck me as more of an excuse for the guys to write her as sexy than as something meaningful to the plot. It also strikes me as funny that once again Mulder gets himself into trouble because he runs off on his own.
It's back to the mytharc in Chapter 6 with 'Elders." This is the longest of the chapters and covers issues and ground from New York to D.C. to Cuba and finds Mulder in a whole new mess of trouble. We start with Prime Elder talking to the CSM about the ability to read minds and the scars on his head. If that doesn't tip you off to who he is, it should have. He meets with the Syndicate group who are all clones like the CSM. Elsewhere in Virginia, Scully and Mulder are playing hooky at a county fair that turns tragic. A woman claiming to be someone from Mulder's past shoots three people and turns the gun on herself. This launches an investigation of Mulder that digs deep into his past involving something called the Chilmark Project.
As part of the Chilmark project, Mulder spoke with a woman named Caroline Ross who looked oddly similar to the woman who attacked him at the fair. But it's not possible because Ross hanged herself in 1991. As they leave the FBI Mulder is hounded by reporters. Scully stays behind to defend him but as soon as Mulder clears the pack he's abducted by another group of men.
Mulder ends up a prisoner in a cloning facility hidden in the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba where Prime Elder reveals himself as Gibson. While he's at the facility Scully is working with the CSM who hints to her that Gibson is the one who has taken Mulder. But he's not the only CSM in this episode. Another version is helping Mulder at the base in Cuba. Skinner also finds himself in the crosshairs of the Syndicate, who kidnap him and torch his apartment.
Back in Cuba, the CSM helps Mulder escape and gives him a memory stick with evidence of Gibson's treachery. Not only has Gibson created this facility but he's been working to frame Mulder as well. No sooner does Mulder escape than Scully ends up in Gibson's clutches herself. With some help from the Lone Gunmen, we learn more about what exactly Gibson was up to and how he plans to move his creepy clone creating operation back to the U.S. Yet another CSM clone this time helps Scully escape. A quick meeting between her and Mulder sends Mulder looking for a way to escape and Scully heading back to deal with Gibson once and for all.
Gibson claims he was only protecting Mulder and that he will only be hunted further even after the allegations are cleared. Scully fears Gibson continued to do to himself what the Syndicate had in the past. While they argue Gibson tries to lead a ship into port using telekinesis. That's the ship he will use to move his cloning operation and continue the project. Scully dispatches the threat and races off to find Mulder.
Mulder and Scully reunite just as he's about to board a smuggling ship. Scully is rattled by her encounter with Gibson but Mulder reminds her they will get through whatever Gibson did together. Scully encourages Mulder to leave with the smugglers and that she'll go back to the FBI to clear things up. And just when Scully thinks she can get a drink to clear her head, she realizes she's surrounded by multiples of the person she thought she killed just moments ago. And there, we end. This also marks the end of the Season 10 comics series.
I love mytharc eps and was glad to see it back in this new form again. And poor Gibson Praise makes for a great villain. It was interesting to see how they expanded on what was done to him, and the flashbacks of the time he and Mulder spent together back in 2001. I also loved how often we got to see Scully fiercely defending Mulder. After all this time she knows him like no one else does. I got a particular thrill watching her tell off A.D. Morales at the beginning. I would have loved to see Skinner more in on the action instead of being pushed around by the Syndicate or Morales. But I'm glad he was included in a smaller way at least.
A few overall thoughts now that we've finished the series: I feel like Mulder and Scully spend way too much time apart in this series. I know they split up a lot in the TV show but it felt like they were working without each other most of the time. I did enjoy that Scully got to be more of an active investigator than in "Cold Cases." She wasn’t stuck doing autopsies as much. And clearly, Mulder has never learned that when he runs off on his own bad things are going to happen. Mulder’s dry humor is captured well and the banter when Mulder and Scully are together is pretty funny in parts.
As far as the stories themselves, if you find them hard to follow at times, paging through the comics again can help with that. The audio version does work to flesh them out a little more but they're close to what we saw on the page. I made the comment after finishing "Cold Cases" that the acting can come across as a little wooden at times and that's also the case here. Though I do think it was a bit better this time.
Overall, I do think the series is worth your time and an interesting listen. There's no perfect substitute for the TV show but these audio adventures are entertaining and make the wait for a new season a little easier. While we've now made our way through the Season 10 comics, we don't yet know if they'll continue the audiobooks with the Season 11 series from IDW, which is also different from the upcoming TV series. We'll keep you posted as soon as we hear something!