The Chris Carter Effect

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Named for Chris Carter, the creator of The X-Files, The Chris Carter Effect is a term used to describe something that has let its over-arching mythology, its plot twists and developments, become so convoluted that the mysteries can no longer be resolved with any amount of satisfaction.

Someone employing The Chris Carter Effect makes it up as she or he goes along, all the while promising a grand intelligent unification which, in the end, doesn't exist.

It is unclear when the first uses of the specific term appeared, but it was defined at TV Tropes in May of 2013.

Some Examples

Of course it depends upon who you ask, but some shows which have displayed The Chris Carter Effect are:

The Effect of the Chris Carter Effect

A fan's comment in 2001:
[This story] reminds me of what a rich source material for a wide variety of stories X-Files used to be, since this fandom had room for horror stories, comedies, war stories, Apocalypses, road trips, romances, sci-fi, and seemingly hundreds of others. And I damn Chris Carter all over again for fucking it up. [1]

From a fan in 2008:

Twin Peaks -> X-Files -> LOST. Every few years on TV, a new show appears that promises to spin out a giant epic mystery tale. The con is that they're just spinning out a story and have no idea how to wrap it up. [2]

In 2013, a fan wrote:
The Chris Carter Effect is the hesitancy to start watching a show (or whatever) because you cannot reasonably expect (1) the creators to tie up their loose threads. The second season of Lost is an example of this, when you realized at some point that the writers were making it up as they went along rather than revealing some grand mystery they had conceived.... See also: why I never started The Wheel of Time. [3]

A fan in 2014 compares two jauggernaut shows: The X-Files and Sherlock (BBC):

So there is this thread going around now based on a thing I posted sometime last week about something that bugged me about “The Empty Hearse” (the opening episode of Sherlock’s third season)....

I personally cannot put that kind of trust in Moffat and Gatiss. And why? Because Chris Carter, that’s why.

Because we all had this experience when we were watching The X-Files in the 1990s, before we knew how it would end. I, at any rate, was quite sure up through about season 6 that Chris Carter had a grand master narrative in mind and that all the inconsistencies and loose ends would one day come together. And in order to believe this, I had to put a lot of work into creating schemes and plots and explanations for things that would create sense and meaning where, in fact, none really existed. But we enjoyed doing it. For a while, it was fun coming up with theories and trying to figure out where the show was going next and imagining ways in which things that appear out of character were in fact totally in character and things that appear contradictory did in fact make perfect sense, in the expanded X-Files Universe that we the fans were constructing in our heads and online.

And then, at around season 7, it became impossible to sustain belief. It became pretty clear that there was no grand master narrative, just Chris Carter making shit up, and doing it less and less plausibly as time went on. And it was bitter.

As a reader, I think, I’ve never gotten over that. I am far less willing to give any showrunner the benefit of the doubt. I read inexplicabilities and incoherences as evidence of shoddy work and sloppy thinking, rather than as mysteries inviting my curiosity and creativity. I am always braced for that moment when it becomes clear that the showrunners are just making shit up, and the show begins its inevitable slide into the toilet. [4]

Further Reading/Meta


  1. ^ Viridian5 Fiction: The Green Room version 2.0 Fanfic Recommendations (pre-2002), Archived version
  2. ^ Lostpedia Forum
  3. ^ Chris Carter, Joss Whedon, Google, and NCsoft, March 22, 2013
  4. ^ The Chris Carter Effect, Or, How The X-Files Changed How I Watch Television, Plaidadder, October 27, 2014