"The End" is the 20th and final episode of the fifth season, and 117th overall of the science fiction television series The X-Files. The episode first aired in the United States and Canada on May 17, 1998. "The End" subsequently aired in the United Kingdom on March 17, 1999 on BBC One. The episode was written by executive producer Chris Carter, and directed by R. W. Goodwin. "The End" earned a Nielsen household rating of 11.9, being watched by 18.76 million people in its initial broadcast. The episode received mixed to positive reviews from television critics.
The show centers on FBI special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) who work on cases linked to the paranormal, called X-Files. Mulder is a believer in the paranormal, while the skeptical Scully has been assigned to debunk his work. In this episode, the assassination of a chess grandmaster leads Mulder and Scully into an investigation that they soon discover strikes at the heart of the X-Files; they learn that the real target was a telepathic boy named Gibson Praise.
The episode was originally supposed to be the series finale for the show, allowing the series to evolve into a film franchise following the release of the 1998 movie. However, the series proved too profitable for Fox and a sixth season was ordered. The episode would be the last to be filmed in Vancouver: production for the subsequent seasons moved to Los Angeles, California. "The End" features the first appearance of what would become the recurring character of Diana Fowley, portrayed by Mimi Rogers. As a season finale, it created loose ends for both the feature film and the subsequent season opener, "The Beginning".
In Vancouver, an international chess tournament is held at an arena between Anatole Klebanow, a Russian grandmaster, and Gibson Praise (Jeff Gulka), a young American prodigy. In the rafters, the Shooter, an MIB assassin, prepares to fire at Gibson. However, Gibson senses the Shooter's presence, and manages to discreetly dodge the shot, which kills Klebanow instead.
Elsewhere in Canada, the Smoking Man (William B. Davis) is found by Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea). At FBI Headquarters, Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) reveals to Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) that Jeffrey Spender (Chris Owens) is leading the case investigating the shooting. Despite Spender's request that Mulder not be involved, he bursts into the meeting and offers the explanation that the assassin was firing at Gibson, not the Russian. In the meeting is Diana Fowley (Mimi Rogers), an acquaintance from Mulder's past. The Smoking Man is reunited with the Syndicate members, including the First Elder and the Well-Manicured Man, who want him to help them with the situation concerning Gibson. Fowley accompanies Mulder and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) as they go visit Gibson in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Mulder believes that Gibson can read minds, hence why he is so good at chess. Scully learns that Mulder and Diana know each other from long ago.
Mulder goes to see the Shooter, despite Spender's objections. Mulder wants to give the Shooter immunity in exchange for testimony, which the Shooter refuses. Gibson proves his abilities to a group of clinicians while Scully and Fowley watch. The guard at the prison hands the Shooter a flattened Morley cigarette box that says he's a dead man. Scully visits the Lone Gunmen, wanting them to analyze the data from Gibson. She asks them who Diana is, and they tell her she worked closely with Mulder when he discovered the X-Files. The Smoking Man meets with Jeffrey in the FBI parking lot, but disappears when Mulder spots them talking. Scully and Mulder present to Skinner on Gibson, who displays extraordinary brain-activities. Mulder believes that Gibson is the key to everything in the X-Files, and wants to make a deal with the Shooter. Diana and Skinner think this may result in adverse attention from the attorney general, and that the X-Files could be closed down if things go wrong, but Mulder dismisses that risk.
Mulder meets with the Shooter again, who tells him that Gibson is a missing link. Mulder believes that Gibson has genes that are dormant in most humans. The Smoking Man dismisses the Well-Manicured Man's concerns about Mulder's actions. At the prison, the guard kills the Shooter. Diana Fowley, protecting Gibson in a hotel room, is shot shortly afterwards, and Gibson is captured by the Smoking Man's minions. Skinner tells Mulder of the Shooter's death, and that a flattened Morley cigarette box was found in his cell. Mulder confronts Spender, accusing him of working with the Smoking Man. The Smoking Man turns Gibson over to the Well-Manicured Man. Scully is informed by Skinner that the Justice Department is seeking to have the X-Files shut down. Mulder realizes that this was all part of a plan. The Smoking Man takes Samantha's X-File from Mulder's office, and lights the room on fire. As he leaves, he meets Jeffrey, and tells him that he's his father. By the time Mulder and Scully arrive, the X-Files are completely destroyed.
Originally, the fifth season of The X-Files was supposed to be the show's last. In this manner, the finale of season five would have segued the series into a movie franchise. David Duchovny explained, "we were saying, 'Okay, we're going to do five. We'll get out of here at five.' And then five came around, and no one was going anywhere." The series proved to be so lucrative for Fox that two additional seasons were ordered. Thus, "The End" was created to segue into The X-Files movie, as well as the sixth season premiere, "The Beginning".
Near the beginning of the episode, Praise plays a Russian grandmaster at chess. The Complete X-Files notes that the "chess motif" was carried on throughout the episode, most notably in the fact that The Smoking Man "plays Mulder to a checkmate, using Jeffrey as a pawn." Because of this, and his past actions, many perceived The Smoking Man as the true villain of the story. William B. Davis, who played The Smoking Man, however, felt that the character was the hero of the story. He noted, "I used to go to conventions and try to convince everyone that I was the hero of the series and Mulder was the bad guy. […] I got a lot of laughs, but it's certainly true of how one plays the character. Nobody thinks they're evil."
The episode introduced two new characters in Gibson Praise, played by Jeff Gulka, and Diana Fowley, portrayed by Mimi Rogers. Kim Manners later said of Gulka, "There was something about that kid's personality that really came off on screen. He really exuded an intelligence that was pretty special. Chris saw what Bob Goodwin did with him and he knew that this kid was a special storytelling tool for the chronicle of the X-Files". Chris Carter said that Fowley "was a character you were destined to hate because she was a competitor for Mulder's affection with Scully. Gillian Anderson said, "She didn't make it easy on Scully. I think she was aware of her effect on Mulder and on the situation."
This episode was the last episode of the series to be filmed in Vancouver, Canada prior to production moving to Los Angeles, California. The move was influenced in part by David Duchovny, who after five years of filming wanted to be closer to his wife. The audience at the chess match was made up of local fans as a "thank you" to the city for hosting the production during its first five years. The chess match was filmed at Rogers Arena— then known as GM Place—the home of the Vancouver Canucks as well as the Vancouver Grizzlies at the time. While the producers expected five thousand people to show up, twelve thousand appeared. Instructions were given to the crowd by director R. W. Goodwin using giant video screens attached to the scoreboard. During breaks between shooting concession stands, music and videos were made available to the attendees. Actors Duchovny and Anderson also answered questions for the audience and over $20,000 worth of equipment was raffled off. Chris Carter directed the second unit filming for the episode in order to be with the show's Canadian crew members.
"The End" premiered on the Fox network on May 17, 1998, and was first broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC One on March 17, 1999. The episode earned a Nielsen household rating of 11.9 with an 18 share, meaning that roughly 11.9 percent of all television-equipped households, and 18 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode. A total of 18.76 million viewers watched this episode during its original airing. The episode was later included on The X-Files Mythology, Volume 3 – Colonization, a DVD collection that contains episodes involved with the alien Colonist's plans to take over the earth.
"The End" received mixed to positive reviews from critics. Lon Grahnke of Chicago Sun-Times reacted positively towards the episode, describing it as "pivotal". Paula Vitaris from Cinefantastique gave the episode a positive review and awarded it three stars out of four. She wrote that the episode "is an effective, sometimes even moving, conclusion to a scattershot season." Vitaris wrote that the entry was "far superior" to the season four season finale "Gethsemane" and praised the various character introductions, most notably that of Gibson Praise and Diana Fowley. She did, however, criticize the reappearance of Krycek and the fact that The Smoking Man was again working for the Syndicate. Critical Myth reviewer John Keegan gave the episode a 9 out 10 rating and wrote that, "Overall, this episode was a very good season finale, making sense of the season’s character arcs while setting the stage for the feature film. While the effect was somewhat mitigated by the fact that the episode also had to set up situations for the sixth season, it highlights Cancer Man’s strategic strengths in a way that previous episodes didn’t fully exploit." In a 2000 review of season five for the New Straits Times, Francis Dass called "The End" a "gem" and praised the acting of Jeff Gulka, noting that he was a "great child actor".
Other reviews were more mixed. Zack Handlen of The A.V. Club gave the episode a mixed review and grade it a C+. Handlen criticized the episode's lack of resolution, noting that "The show can feed our social paranoia […] but when it comes time to deliver on all this, to finally pull back the curtain and move on to the next stage, it fumbles things." Furthermore, he called the Mulder/Scully/Fowley love triangle "immediately off-putting" and criticized Mimi Rogers's characterization. However, Handlen did call The Smoking Man's return "thrilling" and wrote that the burning of Mulder's office was "arguably one of the most iconic visuals in the run of the series". Robert Shearman and Lars Pearson, in their book Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium & The Lone Gunmen, rated the episode three-and-a-half stars out of five. The two criticized the closing down of the X-Files division, due largely to the fact that "we've seen [it] before", a reference to the divisions's closing at the conclusion of the show's first season. However, Shearman and Pearson wrote that "'The End' works in spite of itself", citing the arrival of Diana Fowley and the confrontation between The Smoking Man and Jeffrey Spender as positive points in the episode.