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The X-Files – Soft Light (Review)

This August (and a little of September), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the second season of The X-Files. In November, we’ll be looking at the third season. And maybe more.

Soft Light is a bit of an oddity. It’s primarily notable for being Vince Gilligan’s first credit on The X-Files, coming a few years after the release of Wilder Napalm, a film based on his screenplay.

Gilligan, of course, would go on to become a wildly influential television writer. He would join the staff in the show’s third year and produce some of the series’ most memorable episodes. He would also manage the day-to-day running of The Lone Gunmen spin-off. Although, at the moment, Gilligan is probably best known for creating and producing Breaking Bad, which has already been ranked among the best television series ever produced.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

It is very tempting to look at a writer’s early work and to try to retroactively over-analyse it – to spot familiar themes and images, as if to incorporate it into a large oeuvre. That becomes a bit more complicated in television, where an early screenplay is quite likely to have been written and re-written several times before it reaches the screen. As a freelance writer submitting a script, Gilligan’s work would have been heavily reworked to make it fit within the context of The X-Files.

While there are traces of Gilligan’s later work to be found here, Soft Light is a rather awkward late-season episode, one that seems a little out of place.

Shadows on the wall...

Shadows on the wall…

Soft Light is only Gilligan’s second produced teleplay, and it was produced following a meeting with Chris Carter during the first season of The X-Files. Not working on the production, and not having extensive experience in the industry, Gilligan’s initial script didn’t acknowledge the limitations of a weekly television show, as he has conceded:

“I wrote this one BEFORE I was on staff,” VG says, “and it was the one I had the least to do with. When I did my first draft, I didn’t really understand the TV budget. I thought, from watching the show and being a fan, that they could do anything. The first draft I turned in probably would have cost $13 million to produce. TXF regularly costs between $2 million and $2.5 million a week.

“My first draft had the shadow growing and growing. It moved independently of the guy, and it would go after people. In the end, in the big neutron accelerator room, this thing went crazy and grew even larger, and Mulder had to jump from a chair and hang from a pipe in the ceiling to avoid it. The Cancer Man locked it up in that Pentagon storage area. It was sort of crazy. Chris Carter and the other guys did a good job of reeling it back in to reality.”

This is a fairly common problem for writers unfamiliar with the realities of television production. Gene Roddenberry and Robert Justman frequently found themselves facing the same problem on Star Trek, receiving scripts from noted science-fiction writers like Theodore Sturgeon or Harlan Ellison that grossly over-estimated the show’s production budget.



Watching Soft Light, it’s easy to get a sense that the show is struggling to keep up with Gilligan’s concept. The show’s special effects make a valiant attempt to realise the demands of the script, but a lot of Soft Light looks quite goofy. Characters “swallowed” by the black hole frequently simply throw themselves off the bottom of the screen. Those who are consumed on screen are victim to some very nineties special effects work.

Soft Light continues the very “science-fiction-y” theme that runs through the second half of the second season. Colony and End Game gave us shape-shifting alien bounty hunters. Fearful Symmetry gave us aliens designing Noah’s Ark. Død Kälm had Mulder and Scully undergoing accelerated aging. In keeping with that sort of overtly science-fiction plotting, Soft Light featured a character whose shadow had been replaced by a black hole.

Let there be light...

Let there be light…

To be fair, the idea of a killer shadow isn’t an overtly science-fiction plot element. (Indeed, one suspects there’s very little actual science at work here at all.) After all, the idea of a disembodied killer shadow feels like something more at home in a horror story – it evokes tales of shades and wraiths from folklore, or even the umbra from Roman mythology. “Shadow people” have even developed into their own branch of modern paranormal folklore. So the basic premise of Soft Light isn’t what makes it feel like science-fiction.

Instead, the story itself feels like it is steeped in the language (verbal and visual) of science-fiction television. The killer shadow is grounded in quantum physics, with Mulder and Scully even visiting a pretty fancy-looking laboratory. Davey tells the agents that he and Chester were “researching dark matter, quantum particles, neutrinos, gluons, mesons, quarks.” He rhymes off the physics terms as if they were techno-babble on Star Trek: Voyager, struggling to justify the episode’s plot. (It is no surprise to discover that Gilligan concedes he is a “big” Star Trek fan.)

A shady character...

A shady character…

Despite the fact that this is Gilligan’s first script for The X-Files, there’s a sense of fatigue to the episode. Soft Light comes towards the end of the second season, and there’s a sense that the production staff are quite exhausted. This isn’t surprising – twenty-five shows a year is a phenomenal output. Gilligan concedes as much in his interview with The Archive of American Television:

At that time, little did I know, they were suffering through the early going of their second season at that point. They had had an order of twenty-six episodes that year because the show had actually done pretty well in the first season. So, long story short, they needed a freelance episode to round out their season. So they were looking high and low. They were looking for anyone who could pull it off, and he had the writer of Wilder Napalm here. Chris says, as I’m talking to him, “Do you have any ideas for an episode?” The night before in the hotel room, I’d been watching TV and I noticed my shadow on the wall next to me. And I thought, wouldn’t it be creepy if my shadow came to life? It’s a kinda dip-sh!t idea, you know? But I just blurted that out. “It’d be cool if shadow came to life and started killing people.” And he said, “How?” And I said, “I don’t know… maybe it’s like dark matter.”

Discussing Gilligan’s episode, Carter has conceded that the fact “that he actually wanted to do an episode was something attractive and sorely needed at that point.” It seems like the show is running on fumes a little bit here, exhausted by a long year.

Lighten up...

Lighten up…

It’s easy to understand why the production team would be so worn out. The second season was the only season of The X-Files to broadcast twenty-five episodes. The show did twenty-four episodes for the first, third and fourth seasons, before dropping to twenty in the fifth to account for the feature film, and climbing back to twenty-two for the sixth and seventh seasons. Twenty-five episodes is a fairly significant commitment.

The biggest problem with Soft Light is that it feels like it is treading water. It exists in the same grey area as F. Emasculata or Eve, a show that is a hybrid of “monster of the week” and mythology storytelling. It worked very well for F. Emasculata, but it doesn’t work as well here. It seems like Soft Light doesn’t trust its central premise to carry a full episode, and so the conspiracy mytholgoy has been drawn in to pick up the slack.

X stay true to (in)form(ant)...

X stay true to (in)form(ant)…

All of this feels very familiar. It seems as if Soft Light is designed to evoke E.B.E., the late first season episode that created a sense of ambiguity around Deep Throat. With the character popping up in episodes like Ghost in the Machine and Young at Heart to help move the plot along, there was an understandable feeling that Jerry Hardin’s paternal informant was a storytelling crutch. E.B.E. tried to compensate by having Deep Throat actively lie to Mulder, as if to make the audience question him.

E.B.E. was great because it rather cleverly upset audience expectations around Deep Throat. The character had seemed so supportive of Mulder’s quest, and so keen to assist the agent in his quest, that the betrayal came out of left-field. The problem with Soft Light is that Mr. X is not Deep Throat. The audience already knows this. Soft Light feels like it is treading well-worn ground, as if trapped in a holding pattern.

"Everything really wrapped up nicely... Hmm, much quicker than usual."

“Everything really wrapped up nicely… Hmm, much quicker than usual.”

After all, the character has already been effectively distinguished from his predecessor. The audience doesn’t need to reminded that he may have his own agenda. In his first proper appearance in Sleepless, Mr. X made it clear that he was more paranoid and self-interested than Deep Throat. In One Breath, he executes a witness to protect his identity and tries to turn Mulder into a murderer. In End Game, Skinner has to beat Mulder’s location out of him.

As such, we already know that Mr. X is not a boy scout. We know that he probably has his own agenda and objectives, and is probably playing a very different game than Mulder. We never find out too much about him, but Mr. X is not a character who inspires trust or faith. So his betrayal of Mulder and capture of Chester doesn’t pack the same punch as Deep Throat’s behaviour in E.B.E. It feels like the show is telling us something we already know about the character.

The "X" factor...

The “X” factor…

That’s not to suggest that Mr. X is an unwelcome presence. If anything, the show never does enough with his character. Steven Williams is as great as ever, playing the short-tempered no-nonsense informant. “I’m not at your beck and call, Agent Mulder,” he curtly informs our lead. “I have nothing to gain and everything to lose by helping you.” He later states, “You seem to be mistaken about the amount of control you exercise over this arrangement.”

Although there’s a sense Soft Light was heavily re-written before it was filmed – after all, when Gilligan pitched the idea in the first season, Mr. X didn’t exist yet – it does retain a few of the writer’s pet themes. They aren’t as strong as they would become in Pusher, his second script for the show, but one can detect a faint trace of Gilligan’s later work in his handling of the characters at the heart of Soft Light.

A bright spot...

A bright spot…

There’s a faint sense of moral decay at work here. Arrogance and pride play a key part of the plot. While Chester is hardly Robert Modell or Walter White, there is a sense that his ego is at least partially responsible for his situation. After all, Chester could just have turned off the device to make that last-minute change, rather than trying to do it before the machine went active. While Davey ultimately betrays Chester, there’s no sense that his initial exposure was anybody else’s fault.

Chester also seems to be corrupted by the power that he holds. While he’s initially wary (and terrified) of the power he wields, he is willing to use it tactically by the climax of the episode. His murder of Kelly Ryan isn’t an unfortunate accident, it’s a calculate accident that he justifies by his own desire to be free of his shadow. “We found the dark matter!” he boasts to Davey. “Don’t you understand? I’m it.” Perhaps he’s speaking metaphorically, as well as literally.

Light of his life...

Light of his life…

Pride and arrogance also play a role in Ryan’s character arc. One of Scully’s former students, Ryan has a bit of a chip on her shoulder. The episode concedes that it is at least partially justified. “She’s a woman trying to survive the boys’ club, Mulder,” Scully offers in her defense at one point. “Believe me, I know how she feels.” It feels like a piece of character development that deserves more than just a couple of expository sentences from Scully.

While Ryan is never fully developed, the episode does make sure to give the audience an outline of her character, and to make sure her actions and decisions are grounded in something other than “because the plot demands it.” Ryan’s decision to send Mulder and Scully away, rather than conceding to her superior that she requested outside assistance with the case, seems like a decision motivated by pride that causes a great deal of harm to everybody involved. There’s a sense that Mulder and Scully would have been much better equipped to handle Chester.

"If you don't cooperate, we'll make you watch 3 on loop..."

“If you don’t cooperate, we’ll make you watch 3 on loop…”

Still, these feel like rough drafts of ideas that Gilligan would hone over the course of his writing career. Indeed, the characters in Pusher would arguably deal with these themes in a much more compelling way. Still, it’s not a terrible start for Gilligan – turning a casual unplanned pitch into a reasonably solid, if unexceptional, episode. While Soft Light might not be a classic, it is easy to see why Carter invited Gilligan to join the writing staff based on the strength of his work here.

Soft Light is not one of the stronger episodes of the season, but it’s also not one of the weaker. There’s a sense that the production team are winding down a bit, looking forward to the coming hiatus.

You might be interested in our other reviews of the second season of The X-Files:

6 Responses

  1. I’ve always had a soft spot (see what I did there?) for Soft Light. Admittedly it’s not a classic, but Chester is an interesting character and Mr. X is brilliant as always. And the central concept, a shadow that eats matter, is so unique and off-the-wall that I can’t help but love it!

    • It is a great science-fiction concept. It’s probably the most science-fiction-y concept between here and Synchronicity towards the end of the fourth season, if not Kill Switch in the fifth. I don’t know, the Mr. X stuff just felt like stuff the show had already established with the character in One Breath, and had made par for the course for informants in E.B.E. But it’s not terrible. It’s just not as good – I’d argue – as Gilligan’s later stuff.

  2. Soft Light is one of the most memorable, moving and absurd standalone episodes in the entire series. It is not only Vince Gilligan’s first X-Files episode, it’s his best one, at least until Small Potatoes and Bad Blood. It’s certainly the best straight-up, uncompromised, non-parodic X-File he ever wrote for the show. Breaking Bad is an important TV series, to say the least. It’s also true that after season five, Gilligan was by far the best writer on The X-Files staff, indeed, the only decent writer left. Even so, this should not blind us to the fact those later seasons were mostly terrible- it was easy for Gilligan to outshine hacks like Frank Spotnitz and John Shiban, neither of whom contributed more than one or two half decent solo scripts in the entire run of the series. This is not even to mention the even worse new writers hired after the move to LA. Gilligan was, obviously, more of a writer than those guys or even Chris Carter (who ceased to do any good work after the condescending but enjoyable gimmick of Triangle, and seemed to acquiesce to allowing Fox to do whatever it wanted to lighten the tone of the series- an effort that backfired completely, reducing The X-Files’ ratings) but it’s really stacking the deck to say that alone makes him the best X-Files writer. Indeed, those fans who do say this tend to have only a passing familiarity with seasons one, two, three and four. Morgan and Wong and Darin Morgan (upon whose ideas for The X-Files most of Gilligan’s work was based, with his serious stories usually nodding at specific Morgan and Wong predecessors, and his comedies echoing Darin Morgan) had managed to outshine other key writers on the series even when those writers, like Chris Carter and Howard Gordon, were doing really great work themselves in early seasons at the same time Morgan and Wong were working. This is a much greater achievement than Gilligan becoming the most ambitious writer by default at a time when nobody else was even trying to be an artist anymore. The idea of Gilligan being anywhere close to the best X-Files writer is a cliche usually spouted by people who never watched much of The X-Files. Even on Kumail Nanjiani’s X-Files podcast reddit, I noticed that someone’s request for a Darin Morgan interview (an unprecedented proposition, even regardless of the quality of his work) was only upvoted three times, whereas a request for Vince Gilligan received massive numbers of votes and comments. It’s easier, of course, for new fans to focus on an already-familiar writer. Going forward, Gilligan’s X-Files reputation is likely to get even more inflated, unless Morgan and Wong or Darin Morgan can come up with a post-X Files hit on the level of Breaking Bad, which is unlikely.

    Nevertheless, Gilligan at his best on The X-Files, though not in any way on par with his later self on Breaking Bad, was not a *bad* writer by any means- he was actually a very good one for the most part. But after Soft Light, a number of flaws begin to affect his work. In The X-Files later seasons he was often asked to collaborate (or did so due to time limitations) with uninspired writers. His ideas were routinely watered or dumbed down, to the point Breaking Bad, coming from this guy eight years after his weak directorial debut about a genie, was a genuine shock. But even earlier than that, when Gilligan was doing mostly solo scripts, there are still are a lot of problems with Gilligan’s X-Files writing. In season three and four where he is doing solid efforts like Pusher, Paper Hearts and Unruhe, these popular episodes have a certain forced quality, as if taking a page from Chris Carter’s Irresistible, where the episode seems to exist only in order to fulfill a necessary narrative function or flesh out a certain side of the character. The thing works well to a point, but feels premeditated and unnatural. The viewer is constantly aware of the writer thinking “now I need to do *this*, now I need to say *this*.” This kind of writing falls short of truly moving me. It apparently impresses a lot of people, but I feel it is too “high concept” or to use a popular phrase of yours, it is just too “on the nose.” Morgan and Wong and indeed every X-Files writer did write episodes to fulfill certain functions, but Carter was a less energetic and inspired writer who, after his brilliant peak with Duane Barry, found it harder and harder to disguise the fact he was doing so, whereas any conceptual intentions of Morgan and Wong’s episodes seem to actually escape these writers as they write- once they really get going, their writing goes in so many directions at once, escaping a premeditated artistic plan and instead, reflecting the complexity, humor and horror of life. That tends to happen less in Gilligan’s work on The X-Files. Gilligan, as noted, took a page in his “serious” work from Morgan and Wong’s ideas for plotting and monsters (Pusher is basically Tooms: The More Intentionally Mundane Suburban Reboot, and works well enough on that level) but unfortunately, Gilligan was more like Carter is his actual writing of these episodes. Pusher, Paper Hearts and Unruhe constantly call attention to what they are doing. The “look, I’m writing a Serious X-Files Episode” syndrome. Morgan and Wong’s work was, actually, more serious because it seemed less concerned with the viewer thinking of it as serious- more unashamed of being “genre” stuff- thereby able to execute more radical moves under the surface. Pusher, by contrast, is just an effective blockbuster. It deals with very troubling themes- but, unlike Breaking Bad, or Morgan and Wong’s X-File work to a lesser extent, Pusher does not really explore its themes deeply, but only raises them in order that they can quickly and artificially be overcome. One has the sense Gilligan would’ve wanted to further explore the theme, but was censoring himself in order to integrate into an anthology show. This is interesting in a way on a formal level- as if Gilligan is teaching himself classical Hollywood storytelling via The X-Files- but the classicism of, say, Pusher is so extreme that it just feels forced. Unruhe is actually Gilligan’s best “serious” episode from seasons three and four because it is his *least* serious- his most unhinged, genre based one. It is really quite tasteless and exploitative, under the patina of psychological seriousness. Definitely a good thing. Yet even Unruhe still has a bit of that forced Gilligan quality. With later solid and at times inspired entries like Folie a Deux and Unusual Suspects, the seams start to show even more- both episodes don’t really know how to end effectively, a problem which, let’s be honest, also afflicts the hilarious but these days overrated Bad Blood, which is nowhere near the greatest X-Files episode ever- although it is one of the more likable ones for new fans.

    In any case, by comparison, the earlier story of Soft Light retains more of the off-the-wall qualities of Gilligan at his later uncensored best on Breaking Bad. The story is uncompromising, like Morgan and Wong’s best X-Files work, in presenting moral decay- the difference is that Gilligan and director James Charleston proved, for perhaps the only time in X-Files history, that one could craft a stunning and emotionally devastating episode around a case that seemed only to affect Mulder and Scully in an indirect way. The (welcome) presence of X, as well as the friend of Scully’s dealing with bureau sexism, are just enough of a personal hook to make up for the fact that, really, this is not an episode about Mulder and Scully and their quest, it is about Chester Banton and his quest- which parallels Mulder and Scully’s quest in season two (and comments indirectly on the abduction and events soon to follow in the Anasazi arc), in the way truth for Chester Banton- that to which he is obsessively committed as a brilliant and once rather cocky scientist- seems to come at an ever-increasing personal cost. Chester Banton, scientific implausibility included, is simply a classic superhero antihero villain- someone who, if treated in comic books or movies, could’ve possibly sustained an entire franchise. He is a tragic victim of his own hubris. That Vince Gilligan came up with the idea all of a sudden out of desperation does not negate the brilliance. Banton is interesting on the level of Walter White- arguably more interesting. They are similarly complex characters, though. Modell in Pusher is comparatively uninteresting because he is an amoral character who doesn’t see much difference between right and wrong. Roche in Paper Hearts is comparatively uninteresting because he is an immoral character who enjoys being evil, and is possibly also insane. Schnauz in Unruhe is a comparatively uninteresting character because he is undoubtedly crazy. But Chester Banton is neither crazy, nor amoral, nor the type of evil character that delights in doing evil. He derives no pleasure from being bad- at first- and indeed is tormented by the wrongs he has done accidentally. When he comes to the turning point where those wrongs are so difficult to face that the only solution is to “break bad,” he almost goes that way, is tempted to use his powers, but then, does not. He tries instead to kill himself. And fails. And he ends up being imprisoned, exploited. It is a genuinely horrifying image- perhaps more than any other in The X-Files- that single tear rolling down Shalhoub’s face. And those experiments being overseen by X. Sure, we knew X was a liar, a killer, a manipulator. But we did not know X was a US government man. *That* is why this episode is so devastating. We thought of X as a badass who went his own way, broke the rules when necessary, and had little personal affinity for Mulder, unlike Deep Throat who had seen Mulder as a surrogate son. But we *liked* X. In this episode, we are reminded of what X does for a living. Does X enjoy torturing and experimenting on humans? I doubt X enjoys much of anything anymore. But he does it. What else can he do? It adds complexity to X, to see that his entire existence not only does not center around Mulder and Scully, it centers on perpetuating the exact sorts of injustices that he allegedly works with Mulder and Scully to stop, in other cases. It is exactly like EBE- except that torturing Tony Shalhoub is on a different order of moral magnitude from doctoring a UFO photo.

    How the hell do you write so much about Soft Light and never even mention Tony Shalhoub? The reason this episode is an X-Files masterpiece, for once, has nothing to do with Mulder/Scully interaction (Vince was new to that game) or the sense (or not) that there was anything real in the science. Rather, it’s a stunning piece of science fiction because it tells the story of another character interesting enough almost to deserve an entire show of his own, but whose tragic fall parallels the possibility of what might happen to Mulder (with his pursuit of a quest for truth regardless of the consequences to his loved ones) and Scully (with her unfailing belief in science). Before I’d ever heard of Shalhoub as an actor outside this episode, before I ever saw that movie The Siege that weirdly predicted the response to 9/11 and starred Shalhoub as a proto-Guantanano prisoner in New York, I remembered the tragic figure of Chester Banton. His performance is the best guest performance in the series, and Soft Light is in the top tier of X-Files episodes. The episode would not work, however, without its beautiful cinematic qualities- Mark Snow’s second greatest score of the entire series, after 3 (another masterful episode you underrate), its pleasing and fun effects work (not at all “dated,” because it does not even try to look “realistic” but rather, suits the comic book, suspended-disbelief-required nature of this story, without feeling condescending to those genre origins) and its even better than usual cinematography by John Bartley. But all of this style exists only to lead up to that final moment with the tear rolling down a scientist’s face as he realizes the costs of his belief in progress. And the worst part is, we almost sympathize with his torturer. That moment *is* The X-Files.

    • Thanks for the detailed response.

      You’re right, I should have discussed Shalhoub a bit. I will try to address that when I come back to revise or update the review.

      You raise a lot of good and valid points. That said, I would argue that Mr. X had shown what he was capable of at least as early as One Breath. Not just in the sense of executing two government assassins in a hospital basement, but it trying to convince Mulder to assassinate a bunch of random government operatives in his own apartment – without any proof or evidence. X always seemed like a character with his own agenda, which perhaps lined up less than perfectly with that of Mulder.

      Still, it’s great to hear some recognition for Morgan and Wong – who are often overshadowed in their contributions to shaping and defining the larger world of The X-Files. (The second season of Millennium is one of my favourite television seasons of all time, and certainly stronger than any 1013 season of television that followed, at the very least.) I was surprised to hear that about Darin Morgan. I thought the cache of Clyde Bruckman and Jose Chung would have assured him a place in the hearts of fans. But you’re right, Breaking Bad is more current and more popular and more well-loved at the moment than anything that aired on The X-Files.

      That said, I suspect I am fonder of later-season Gilligan than you are. I adore Paper Hearts, for a number of reasons. The most obvious is – and we can probably get more in-depth about this when we get there – the heavy Morgan and Wong influence you cite. The show spent years trying to do a “Beyond the Sea” for David Duchovny, with “Little Green Men” and “One Breath” cited explicitly. However, Morgan and Wong were much more sympathetic (for lack of a better word) to Scully, so it didn’t quite work. I think Gilligan made it work, and it may be one of my favourite Mulder episodes and probably my favourite episode of the fourth season not written by Wong and Morgan.

      (While I’ll readily admit to loving Pusher or Unruhe or Bad Blood or even later-show episodes like Roadrunners or (and this is possibly controversial) John Doe, I think you’re right to point out the clear connection between Gilligan and the Wong/Morgan team. Perhaps the most effective criticism of mid-X-Files Gilligan is the fact that he was doing a lot of the material that Morgan and Wong had been doing in the first season, even as they (and the show) had grown a great deal past that. As much as I love it, Paper Hearts is practically a fossil compared to something like The Field Where I Died or Never Again. By the fourth season, perhaps the show should have moved past “doing Beyond the Sea for Mulder”, but that’s probably something we’ll talk about when we get there.)

      (Also, while I’m making crazy statements about Gilligan, I kinda liked his “weak directorial debut about a genie.” Then again, coming near the top of the seventh season is hardly something to boast about, and it certainly isn’t an all-time classic. Nevertheless, it’s a pre-cursor to Sunshine Days as a “goodbye to all of this” romantic farewell to a particular version of the show. Neither Je Souhaite or Sunshine Days is a classic, but they fit their niche quite well as the last stories of a particular iteration of the show not featuring the large mytharc. Then again, it has been years since I’ve seen them, so I am prepared to be proven wrong. Also: I like Ghost in the Machine, so any X-Files credibility I have is automatically suspect!)

      I also feel the need to stand up to bat a little bit for Carter and Spotnitz. Shiban, on the other hand, I got nothing on. I can understand why he’d stay on staff, and I know what makes him a solid writer from a “we’ve got to get a script in front of a camera” sense, but… yeah. Shiban is not a writer afraid of low-hanging fruit.

      In contrast, I think that Carter and Spotnitz have some merit to their approaches and styles. I think Carter was a much better producer and director than a writer. You reference Triangle, which you rightly identify as comfort food. I am also quite fond of Improbable, with some very heavy caveats. With regards to Spotnitz… I think Spotnitz was one of the stronger mythology writers on the show, which means that he got stuck co-piloting that train when it came off the tracks. But I think he was very good at momentum and structure in the same way that Howard Gordon was. A Spotnitz or Gordon script seems to live or die by how quickly it gets running, because if it stands still it tends to fall apart. For better in the short term and worse in the long-term, Spotnitz’ End Game script really became the template for a mythology script. Throw out ideas and keep running so we don’t worry too much about how they fit together yet.

      Thanks again for the long and well-thought-out comment. I may not agree with all of it, but there’s a lot of very thoughtful stuff there. I appreciate it, and even if my review wasn’t necessarily as good as it should have been (and I’ll admit that Soft Light is one of the second season reviews I’m least happy with, probably along with Fearful Symmetry or Ascension), I’m proud that it did generate this sort of comment. Cheers!

  3. I was only 5 when I first saw this episode, it was the first real X-Files episode that haunted me and stuck with me. But weirdly, when I re-watched it later in my life, I misremembered the details. For some reason, I thought the episode ended with the guy existing only as a shadow in that chamber, and the shadow would keep moving as if he was still there, trapped in that sealed room. The very idea of being trapped in a room as only a shadow scared me, but this is completely different from how the episode actually ended so I don’t know what to think about this episode.

    • I can see why you’d remember the ending that way. (I recently rewatched Once Upon a Time in the West, and discovered that I completely misremembered the ending.)

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