The X-Files Origins: Agent of Chaos
The return of “The X-Files” to broadcast television last winter was an exciting event for series fans, bringing the search for truth into an era awash in information and technology, and showing us that there are still many dark corners left in our otherwise illuminated world. Along with a return to television, X-Files will now also be able to follow the lives of Mulder and Scully before they were agents and learn exactly what made them into the top-notch investigators they would eventually become. Kami Garcia’s AGENT OF CHAOS follows a 17-year-old Fox Mulder in the summer between high school and college, as he’s living with his father in in D.C. and facing pressure to attend Georgetown University.
"AGENT OF CHAOS very smartly weaves its references to the source material through the story to not alienate newcomers, either, so if this is your first encounter with “The X-Files” you won’t feel lost or left behind."
It’s not hard to imagine Fox Mulder as a teenager, as one of his more endearing qualities on the show was his youthful clowning and disrespect of authority, but to approach such a formative period in the life of a beloved character, definitively, is no small task. Happily, Kami Garcia meets it with aplomb and consistency. AGENT OF CHAOS doesn’t try and explain away everything about Fox Mulder, nor does it do so bluntly (like Mulder actually saying, “I want to believe!”), but we do get to witness the start of a handful of Mulder-isms in ways that are both natural and satisfying. AGENT OF CHAOS very smartly weaves its references to the source material through the story to not alienate newcomers, either, so if this is your first encounter with “The X-Files” you won’t feel lost or left behind.
Another task AGENT OF CHAOS has to accomplish is one that even the source material struggled with: how do you do “The X-Files” without a Mulder & Scully team-up? Since the book is set in the late 1970s, Mulder has not yet met Scully, and will not meet her for another 20 years or so. One of the biggest draws of the show, however, was the repartee between the two agents, the romantic tension and their conflicts over science and faith. Garcia approaches this in a way that is both respectful of the show’s mythos and unique to book. In trying to solve the central mystery in AGENT OF CHAOS, Mulder joins forces with his friend Gimble --- a sarcastic nerd who goes by his D&D character’s name --- and an old friend from his last high school, Phoebe --- a whip smart and supremely rational girl who isn’t ashamed of her princess Leia hair knots. The three teens’ dynamic can’t quite live up to the original pairing, but it works well in the context of the book and allows for some great moments of sleuthing.
With all that in place, it’s now time to discuss AGENT OF CHAOS’ central mystery. Like any good “X-Files” episode, the overall quality of AGENT OF CHAOS will hinge on its contribution to the greater mythos, or by its introducing an especially creepy monster of the week. In this case, we get both. Our team of teenage mystery-solvers is confronted with a crime that’s truly grisly and occult: the body of a missing child is discovered in a cemetery, adorned ritualistically with a dead bird pierced by an arrow made of bone. Boxcar kids this ain’t. Unlike the source material, though, Mulder doesn’t have the FBI credentials to demand an autopsy, or to access police records. He’s gotta do this on his own. Thankfully, his friends Phoebe and Gimble are there to help. Phoebe is wickedly intelligent and persuasive---she manages to out charm Mulder on several occasions, which speaks to the strength of her abilities. And while Gimble’s loyalty isn’t to be overlooked, his biggest asset to the investigation is his father---a retired military man up to his gills in conspiracy theories (and, possibly, drowning in them).
I can’t talk too much more about the central plot without ruining some of the fun twists and turns the story doles out, as the mystery unravels, but here are a few things you can expect to encounter: government hitmen, Chaos Magick, an isolated farmhouse with something sinister in its basement, Star Trek, serial killers, a fantasy novel with coded truths hidden in its pages and a mysterious cigarette smoking gentleman. Does that sound like a mystery you’d want to get to the bottom of? Because the truth...is out there.
Reviewed by Killian Walsh on January 25, 2017