X-Files the Smoking Man: A Force for Good or Evil?

TL;DR: The Smoking Man is a complex character who is portrayed as a villain but is revealed to be a hero. This is a 2022 retrospect.

Photo by Rooners CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I was a senior in high school when X-Files first aired in 1993. Whenever it came on, my dad would watch it. Although I was never as big of a fan as he was, I’d always come running over to sit down and watch it with him whenever I heard the opening theme song. I have very little memory of most of the series. I never became obsessed with the show like I did with all things Star Trek. Therefore, much of what follows is based on internet research, forums, and conversations with friends who have a better memory of the show than I have.

I write this Medium story for you now because of my fascination with one of its characters and how relatable I have found him in certain aspects of my life. I also recognize how I may have been influenced by this type of character in my writing over the years. In fact, as I read the following aloud to my 10-year-old son during the final draft, he told me that he found it relatable as well. Perhaps you will too. After all, my son is often depicted as the bully in school when all he ever seems to do is protect the people who are important to him. Is he bullied first? That’s the story he tells himself. And that’s the story he tells everyone, including me. His ostracism from the other kids and lack of popularity do little to protect his reputation, except for the thanks and admiration of his one and only friend who knows the whole truth.

Perhaps instead of looking at things in terms of good and evil, we should consider that there is more than one angle to every story. No angle of a story creates a complete picture of the truth without considering all the others.

One of the most enigmatic characters on television

One thing that stuck with me while watching that series was the Smoking Man (a.k.a. Cigarette Smoking Man, Cancer Man, or CSM). I’ve been drawn to revisit this series just to get a handle on this complicated character. The Smoking Man seems to be one of the most enigmatic characters on television to this day. He’s clearly intelligent and powerful, but his motivations are always written to seem murky. Is he a force for good or evil? Watching the show, it’s sometimes confusing to say with certainty, because the show’s protagonists are clearly Scully and Mulder, who the writers want us to root for. But we learn things throughout the series that cause us to understand and even sympathize with the Smoking Man. Regardless, it is clear that he is always several steps ahead of everyone else. He always knows more than he’s letting on, and he always has a hidden agenda. Mainly, I think, because he’s forced to keep it secret for the greater good. Watching the Smoking Man is like trying to solve a puzzle; you know there’s an answer there, but it’s just out of reach. And that’s what always kept a lot of fans like me coming back for more.

Hero or villain?

Again, superficially, the Smoking Man is portrayed as a villain in the series. He’s supposed to be the main antagonist to FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder. He is a cunning mastermind who opposes Mulder at every turn. However, he is slowly revealed as an unsung hero. Fans argue that he is only trying to prevent the annihilation of the human race by the alien Colonists, and spends his life consumed with a drive to prevent human extinction. Furthermore, fans point out that he never kills anyone. In one episode, he claims that he “never killed another person or thing,” and talks about how he wants to continue living without having to take a life. It can be argued that he is lying in this scene, however, there is nothing to support this argument. If he were a ruthless killer, there would be no need to lie. Instead, he resorts to flipping a coin, perhaps even using the coin toss to manipulate his partner into killing the alien. In any case, whether you see the Smoking Man as a villain or a hero is up to you. However, there’s no denying that he is one of the most complex and intriguing characters on the show.

The master planner of the Syndicate

As portrayed, the Smoking Man is a master blueprint of history’s arch-conspirator. If the aliens invaded early, The Syndicate, a secretive organization that represents certain global interests, threatened to destroy humanity with nuclear weapons. This was the ultimate act of defiance against a technologically advanced, superior enemy for the Smoking Man, who was a key member of the Syndicate. Although some may be critical of his plans for hybridization, it’s important to remember that the aliens were not concerned with democracy or who was worthy or not worthy. They just wanted to destroy humanity. At least the Syndicate’s plan gave some hope to humanity. In the end, the Smoking Man did what he thought was right for all humankind, regardless of how unorthodox his methods were.

A complex and fascinating character

The Smoking Man is someone who has been dealt a difficult hand in life and has had to make tough choices. Additionally, he also understands a dark truth that most people are unwilling to face: that the aliens are actually the Earth’s first inhabitants, who were conquerors of aliens in space. In other words, not only was he sticking it to a superior, technologically advanced society, but he was also sticking it to Earth’s original inhabitants. He was saying, “We control this place now, not you. Deal with it.” The Smoking Man is a complex and fascinating character and is one of the most important players in The X-Files universe.

A man of many emotions

Then again, the Smoking Man seems to be a man with a heart of gold, trying to protect his loved ones. He is an intriguing character study. He may seem to be a heartless pragmatist, but he is easily redeemed. He regrets not seizing the chance when alien rebels came calling. And he could have finally gotten rid of the aliens if he had formed an alliance with them. Having never killed anyone or anything his entire life, the Smoking Man would have been celebrated as heroes if he ever exposed the conspiracy. He is a complex character that will continue to fascinate for years to come.

A controversial character

Despite the Smoking Man’s many seemingly evil portrayals throughout the show, he remains a conflicted hero. In an episode of “Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man,” it’s implied that he’s responsible for several of the world’s most infamous events, such as the assassinations of JFK and MLK. Upon unveiling the story, it’s revealed that it’s loosely based on actual events in the Smoking Man’s life, but written under a pen name in which he gave up creative control to an unscrupulous publisher. Mulder believes he is a bad guy, but in reality, he is just a man who is willing to do whatever it takes to protect the human race.

A complex hero

So, what is the Smoking Man really like? Is he a villainous mastermind or someone who has been dealt a difficult hand in life? In my opinion, even though it wasn’t their intention, the show’s writing staff eventually portrays him as a mischaracterized, complex hero who is obsessed with protecting humanity by making tough choices and incurring life-long personal sacrifices. However, I would love to hear your thoughts on this controversial character. Is the Smoking Man good or evil? Please comment!

If you like this post, another cup of joe from a fan like you would certainly go a long way towards encouraging me to write another one like it. Drop by, say “Hi,” and let me know your ideas about topics you might like to read about. You could be the spark of inspiration I need to write about something even more awesome!

Mark Havens is the Founder and Executive Director of Dallas Maker Community (DMC), a nonprofit organized to bootstrap Dallas Makerspace, the largest all-volunteer makerspace in the United States. DMC continues reformed efforts to provide maker-focused marketing and makerspace leadership education to other maker-centric organizations throughout North Texas.

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Mark Randall Havens

Mark Randall Havens

Executive Director of Dallas Maker Community; Founder & Founding Director of Dallas Makerspace. https://markhavens.us