Popdose at Kirkus Reviews: Cancer Man, Still Blowing Smoke

Written by Books, Kirkus Reviews

Every week, a rotating crew of your favorite Popdose writers takes to the virtual pages of Kirkus Reviews Online, taking on the best — and sometimes the worst — in pop-culture and celebrity books. From coffee-table studies to quickie unauthorized bios, if it’s about show biz, it’s fair game.

This week one of TV’s greatest villains gives us his side of the story — and it’s not pretty…

Bill Davis is a perfectly delightful fellow. Now, that’s the kind of thing I’d usually mention in passing, as a disclaimer — usually in a sentence beginning “I’m sure Bill Davis is a perfectly delightful fellow, but…” — but a good writer never buries the lede. And one cannot discuss Davis’s new memoir, Where There’s Smoke: Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man, without noting the man’s delightfulness. He is perfectly, utterly goddamned delightful throughout. Relentlessly, bloody-mindedly, punishingly delightful.

Davis, of course, is the actor, theatre director, and teacher best-known (for a while, anyway) for his portrayal of the lead villain — variously known as Cancer Man or the Smoking Man — on The X-Files. That his memoir comes about fifteen years after anyone might still care about The X-Files concerns him not a whit. Indeed, he himself points out the near-instant disappearance of the show from our pop-culture discourse: “[T]he popularity of the show in the nineties was huge; it was a global phenomenon. But as time went on … its impact certainly receded,” he writes — adding, in a characteristic aside, “Not to diminish [showrunner] Chris Carter’s talent, but none of his other television ventures had similar success.”

Note that passive-aggressive, half-apologetic (but not really) mode; it really gets a workout when he talks about The X-Files. Chris Carter’s writing, the professionalism of his co-stars, and the anti-rationalist worldview of the show are all dismissed in weary tones, more in sorrow than in anger. A typical assessment: “Gillian [Anderson] is certainly aloof, but it may be that she is more shy than arrogant, that she only seems arrogant.” To which I would add that Mr. Davis is most assuredly eating his cake, but he is perhaps more having it than eating it, though he certainly seems to find it delicious.

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