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The X-Files – Je Souhaite (Review)

This September, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

The late seventh season has something of a twilight quality to it.

Even the show’s production staff are unsure whether the show will be coming back for an eighth season, so every episode takes on a special significance. Could this episode be “the last time that…”? Is Brand X the last time that the show does a traditional monster of the week? Is Hollywood A.D. the last time that David Duchovny writes and/or directs? Is Fight Club the last time that Chris Carter writes a non-mythology episode? Is Je Souhaite the last time that Mulder and Scully just investigate a weird standalone case together? There is a weight to it all.

"I'll drink to that."

“I’ll drink to that.”

Of course, the show would come back for an eighth season. There would be lots of traditional monster of the week stories after Brand X. David Duchovny would enjoy another story and directorial credit after Hollywood A.D. Chris Carter would get to write non-mythology episodes after Fight Club, and even get to direct a much more successful whimsical adventure. Mulder and Scully would get to hang out together in the late eighth season and even at the very end of the ninth. In a very real way, this is not the end.

However, in an equally real way, this is the end. It has become hyperbole to suggest that something “… will never be the same again.” Even The X-Files has reinvented itself at least twice by this point, at the start of the third and sixth seasons. However, it is also perfectly reasonable to argue that The X-Files actually will never be the same again. The show changes on a very fundamental level after this point, with Je Souhaite serving as the very last glimpse of the show as it was. In many ways, this is the end of the road.

"So... meet up in about fifteen years?"

“So… meet up in about fifteen years?”

Gilligan would get to write and direct another episode of The X-Files before the show finally came to an end. In fact, there are a few thematic similarities between Je Souhaite and Sunshine Days, with both stories serving as affectionate and romantic finalés to Vince Gilligan’s version of The X-Files. There are still two full seasons ahead. Indeed, it is interesting to wonder what it would be like had Je Souhaite come earlier in the season, or even during the sixth season; it would be a light and fun episode, but would have the same heft and weight?

However, there is something different about Je Souhaite. In hindsight, it feels like a snapshot of an extended (seven-year-long) moment coming to end; it is a picture in an photo album that captures Mulder and Scully right on the edge of a transition. It is innocuous, yet profound. It is a picture of college friends sharing a drink at the end of the last term, unaware (or silently aware) of how things will change in the coming months. It is a picture of friends just hanging out before one gets married or has children.

"I am outta here!"

“I am outta here!”

Of course, Mulder and Scully see each other after this point; there is the second half of season eight and the revival hanging in the future. (To say nothing of The X-Files: I Want to Believe or the comics.) College buddies still hang out. People with families maintain friendships. Still, those dynamics change. They are never quite the same. Not better, not worse. Just different. As weird as it is to describe an episode where Mulder encounters a genie as “the point before things got weird”, that’s exactly what Je Souhaite feels like.

What is most striking about Je Souhaite is how much the episode accepts that reality. It is not morose or melancholy; it is practically celebratory. Instead of eulogising the good times, it decides to have a good time. There is something very sweet about that.

"I'm still here for two seasons..."

“I’m still here for two seasons…”

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Non-Review Review: Macbeth

Justin Kurzel understands Macbeth.

A lot of Shakespeare’s work is viewed through the lens of cultural importance, and quite rightly. His plays codified a phenomenal amount of the English language in use today, incorporation and amalgamating words and phrases that people use without even thinking. Shakespeare codified drama and storytelling in the English language, to the point where any number of his plays can be cited as the defining example of particular styles of dramaturgy. There is no other figure who can cast such a shadow over English-language culture.

A Field in Scotland...

A Field in Scotland…

However, the tendency to treat Shakespeare’s works as priceless artefacts – an attitude engrained by the (rightful) reverence they receive and the way that they are taught in schools – is to miss the vitality and excitement of his work. Shakespeare might have endured as the defining wordsmith of the English-language, but before that he was just a really popular writer with an incredibly populist touch. His plays existed as spectacle before they became holy relics. The jokes played to the galleries packed with punters wanting both high and low culture.

As much as Macbeth might be a searing and insightful exploration of the relationship between violence and masculine identity, it was also pure unadulterated pulp. Justin Kurzel plays up this pulpy spectacle, crafting a version of Macbeth that anchors apocalyptic horror in two amazing central performances. Macbeth is a joyous and horrific piece of cinema, brutal and beautiful in a way that befits its source material.

Oh I just can't wait to be king...

Oh I just can’t wait to be king…

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Harsh Realm – Cincinnati (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

Cincinnati finally gives Terry O’Quinn something to do.

Despite the fact that O’Quinn is credited as a series regular on Harsh Realm, he has appeared about as frequently in the first nine episodes as he did during the equivalent episodes of Millennium. With his “and…” credit at the end of the opening title sequence, it felt like O’Quinn might be forgotten by the show. His face might appear on posters and propaganda, but he was not going to play a particularly dynamic role in the events of the first season. After all, Hobbes is trying to assassinate Santiago; there are reasons why the writers would want to keep them separate.

Walk softly, but carry a big stick...

Walk softly, but carry a big stick…

Nevertheless, Cincinnati is a story that unfolds from Santiago’s perspective. Hobbes and Pinochio play a major part in unfolding events, but they largely reacting. The bulk of Cincinnati concerns a conflict between Santiago’s forces and the Native American population of Ohio. When a military strike goes horribly wrong, Santiago is forced to survive on his own terms. He infiltrates the eponymous city and sets about furthering his own agenda with ruthless efficiency.

A lot of Cincinnati is pure nonsense; the plot is barely held together by contrivance and coincidence, hinging on a final twist that manages to be both obvious and completely unearned. At the same time, it is hard to hate an episode that is carried by Terry O’Quinn and offers the actor a chance to sink his teeth into a juicy part.

It's all in ruins...

It’s all in ruins…

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The X-Files – Fight Club (Review)

This September, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

Fight Club is an unpleasant episode of The X-Files.

It’s not “unpleasant” in a good way, like (arguably) Signs and Wonders or (definitely) Theef. It is “unpleasant” in a way that feels ill-judged and tone-deaf. Following on the charm and whimsy of Hollywood A.D., the script for Fight Club seems packed with forced charm and staged whimsy. At its most basic level, Fight Club is a comedy episode that simply isn’t funny. More than that, it’s an episode that isn’t particularly funny or clever to begin with, but then spends forty-five minutes insisting upon its own wit.

"Some of us are looking at the stars..."

“Some of us are looking at the stars…”

There is also a sense of unpleasantness about the themes and content of the episode in the context of the late seventh season. After all, it is no secret that the production team were facing considerable internal and external pressure. These pressures included a lawsuit involving the show’s lead actor and the show’s creator (not to mention the show’s network) and the fact that everybody on the production team was waiting for David Duchovny to determine if they would have a job the following season.

With all of this going on in the background, maybe an episode the implicitly features the show’s two lead actors knocking the stuffing out of each other for no good reason is not the best idea in the world.



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Harsh Realm – Manus Domini (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

Manus Domini continues the influx of assistance from the writing staff on The X-Files, with John Shiban contributing a script to the first season of Harsh Realm.

Manus Domini is a very strange episode. In a way, it feels more keenly aligned with the sensibilities of Chris Carter than those of John Shiban. It is the most overtly religious episode from the short run of Harsh Realm, with characters contemplating faith and spirituality in an otherwise cruel world. It is the logical continuation of themes seeded and developed across the rest of the season, bringing the religious subtext of the show to the fore so that it might be acknowledged and explored.

Florence in the machine...

Florence in the machine…

To be fair, there are elements that fit comfortably within Shiban’s oeuvre. Shiban is very much a fan of classic horror tropes, so it makes sense that his script should feature a monstrous supporting character whose complete moral decay is symbolised through grotesque facial deformities. (The element recurs in Camera Obscura, but is not as pronounced as it in this episode.) There are elements of Manus Domini that feel like they might have been lifted from classic seventies horror.

Nevertheless, Manus Domini is defined by its religious components, making it clear that the show retains the same core moral perspective that runs through Carter’s work; there is a recurring sense that faith and spirituality are essential to survive and endure in an increasingly faithless world.

A literal mine field...

A literal mine field…

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The X-Files – Hollywood A.D. (Review)

This September, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

And now as we drift off the laughing agents and back to the graveyard , we see the Lazarus Bowl lying discarded beneath a tree.

A SWITCH, a broken tipped branch of the tree gets blown by the fan’s wind force down toward the plastic grooves of the replica as we move down toward it, we can read a “MADE IN ISRAEL” sticker on its bottom – the branch reaching toward the plastic,  like a woman’s arms to her lover —

Close on the splintered wood making contact on the colored plastic like a phonograph needle on vinyl —

And now MUSIC COMES UP – scratchy like an old record, the fourth track from BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB, in a superior interpretation rendered by Mark Snow, called “PUEBLO NUEVO” – a beautiful stately cha cha instrumental —

We pull back wide as APPARITIONS appear to rise from their graves, rotting, but standing at atte ntion and then —

When the music kicks in, they begin to dance, all of them, in the round – dignified, changing partners… we hear the bones creaking, we see the gentlemanly half skulls smiling…

And now by the magic of Bill Millar & Co., the GREEN SCREEN becomes the rest of a HUGE GRAVEYARD with corpses dancing  stately and dignified upon it as we begin a slow pull out to a heavenly perspective…

This is what life’s about. This is what the dead would do if only they could. As we slowly fade to black, the band plays on.

And we end.

 – David Duchovny takes his bow

Everything ends.

Everything ends.

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Doctor Who: Under the Lake (Review)

You’re going to go back in time? How can you do that?

Extremely well.

– Bennett and the Doctor lay down some ground rules

Part of the thrill of the ninth season is the ambition and experimentation involved.

As a rule, the Moffat era has tended towards compression, favouring individual episodes over epic two parters. While the final stories of Davies-era seasons tended to burst at the seams, with extended runtimes pushing stories beyond even the generous runtimes of two- (or even three-) part episodes, the Moffat era has favoured the standalone story. Moffat finalés are packed tight, with episodes like The Wedding of River Song and The Name of the Doctor feeling like they might come off the rails if they moved any faster.

An axe to grind...

An axe to grind…

Constructed an entire season of two-part episodes represents a very clear change in how Doctor Who is telling stories. The change in the type of story alters both the fundamental structure of the episodes and the underlying rhythm of the season. There is no precedent for this in the ten years since the show came back, which makes it all very exciting. The show has told multi-part stories before, but always as events rather than as default. It feels entirely appropriate that Under the Lake sets up quite a distinct and delineated two-part adventure.

Toby Whithouse is one of the most traditionalist writers working on Doctor Who, give or take Mark Gatiss. After all, it was Whithouse who was assigned to bring Sarah Jane into the present with School Reunion during the second season. With that in mind, it makes sense that Under the Lake and Before the Flood feel a little bit like an attempt to bring a very classic multi-part structure into the twenty-first century.

Siege the moment...

Siege the moment…

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