Is there in truth no beauty? The final, devastating season of The X-Files

Across about 25 years and hundreds of episodes The X-Files (Thursdays, 8.30pm, Showcase) always played a safe game weaving through three genres: traditional monster-in-the-woods horror, arched-eyebrow not-quite-serious comedy and, the most enduring of the three, institutional conspiracy.

What makes its 11th (and likely final) season so unusual is how the last of those three genres emerges as the weakest, perhaps made weary by a complex mythology that only the diehard fans properly grasp, while the other two seem to flower like they have found their own eleventh-hour spring.

When the series began in 1993 it was driven by a kind of tension - first, professional, and later, sexual - between the two lead characters, the conspiracy-believing Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and the sceptical Dr Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) who was, essentially, assigned to the "X-Files" to debunk them.

Alchemy in television is truly rare, but it's fair to say that The X-Files found something, in the chemistry between Duchovny and Anderson, in its (mostly) clinical approach to storytelling, in Scully's typed and narrated assignment summaries and even in there's-evil-in-the-woods storytelling.

At times it didn't seem like the recipe was too precise, but the execution was flawless.

The series was exhumed for six episodes in 2016, a grasp at reviving what had become an iconic piece of '90s popular culture, which was both amplified and left short by so brief an order. The 11th season - by all reckoning its final - comes in at a much more usable 10 hours.

What makes it tough for The X-Files to be The X-Files in 2018 is that from its inception it stood on the fringes, a sort of fictional, conspiratorial middle finger to the sense of establishment order that big government represents.

As the fringe has lurched into the centre and the institution of government - American government, at least - looks hollow and shambolic, it breaks the audience's suspension of disbelief. How could a government barely able to organise a chook raffle wield control over a global conspiracy? How indeed.

So it takes a little forgiveness, and an affection for the narrative and the 25-year investment the writers and actors have made in it, to take the best leap into this return to The X-Files but the dive is worth it.

It dances with more skill than before between genres, sets up a mystery around Mulder and Scully's son William that is fairly easy to follow - 2?? decades of mythology notwithstanding - and uses its strongest pieces on the board, such as Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) to devastating effect.

It even manages, in a later episode, The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat, to step outside itself and make some wry observations about the notion of believing "the truth is out there" in a world where "fake news" has become both a manufactured thing to make you distrust real things, and an actual thing.

Is this the end of The X-Files? The show's epitaph has been written on Anderson's assurance that she will not return, and the prevailing belief that without both Duchovny and Anderson there is no show. That said, both Duchovny and Anderson have cried "no more" before and returned, and The X-Files itself has, on at least two occasions, test-driven potential new agent pairings within the format.

Goodbye? Or hello, goodbye, hello? The truth, apparently, is out there.

This story Is there in truth no beauty? The final, devastating season of The X-Files first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.