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The X-Files 103: Ten Spin-Off/Tie-In Stories

Next week sees the release of The X-Files on blu ray for the first time, just over a month before the new six-episode series premieres on Fox in January. We’re running daily reviews of the show (and its spin-offs) between now and the end of the year, but we thought it might be worth compiling some guides for newer viewers who are looking to experience the length and breadth of what The X-Files has to offer. Every day this week, we’ll be publishing one quick list of recommended stories every day, that should offer a good place to start for those looking to dive into the show.

Although the bulk of discussion around and attention paid to The X-Files focuses on the two-hundred-and-two episodes (and two movies) tied to the series itself, it is worth commenting on the rich world of spin-offs and tie-ins that Chris Carter and his production team built up around the show. The X-Files was not just a nineties television show, it was a multimedia phenomenon. However, these aspects of the show are frequently overlooked in discussions of the show’s legacy and cultural impact.

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This makes a certain amount of sense. None of the spin-offs and tie-ins had the sort of cultural impact of The X-Files. The names of characters like “Mulder”, “Scully” and “Cigarette-Smoking Man” evoke images that have latched into the popular imagination; even television audiences who have never actually watched an episode of The X-Files understand those archetypes and their context. The same could not be said of “Frank Black” or “Frohike” or “Harsh Realm.” Simply put, none of the spin-offs and tie-ins were as successful as The X-Files.

This is not to say that the spin-offs were terrible or unworthy by any measure. At their best, the spin-offs matched and even surpassed The X-Files. In particular, the second season of Millennium, which unfolded parallel to the fifth season of The X-Files, might just be the best season of television that Ten Thirteen ever produced. It intertwines and connects with The X-Files, offering its own twisted take on many of the core themes of The X-Files, of family and conspiracy theory and the end of the world.

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The X-Files launched comic books and video games. It came to share a sense of identity with other Ten Thirteen television shows, whether its awkward sibling relationship with Millennium or the parent-child dynamic with The Lone Gunmen. Even though Harsh Realm did not last long enough to codify its relationship with The X-Files, beyond a brief joke in Sein und Zeit, it is still part of the family. Tellingly, when comic book company IDW acquired the rights to The X-Files, they began to cultivate a shared universe around the show.

The following is a list of ten recommendations from assorted tie-ins and spin-offs. Glen Morgan and James Wong’s Space: Above and Beyond was produced in parallel to the third season of The X-Files, and – although it shares a sizable overlap in terms of themes and talent with The X-Files – has been omitted from this list. However, viewers looking to get a sample of what the show can offer would do worse than Who Monitors the Birds?, an experimental piece of television that set the tone for the duo’s later work on The X-Files and Millennium.

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(Extra Credit: The two late season two-parters are both spectacular in their own right. Never No More and The Angriest Angel capture the show’s “World War II in space” aesthetic perfectly, with the latter featuring an amazing performance from James Morrison and some of the duo’s best dialogue. The season finalé, And If They Lay Us Down to Rest… and … Tell Our Moms We Done Our Best, is bold and provocative; very much a warm-up for what they would do with Millennium.)

Because the spin-offs and tie-ins were never as successful as The X-Files itself, none of them are available in high definition. However, they are available in various DVD box sets that are reasonably affordable. It would be great to see a high-definition remaster of some of this material; this is especially true of Millennium, which was a very dark television show (visually and thematically) with the sort of atmosphere that just “pops” in high definition. Given the current obsession with “shared universes”, there would be no better time for a remaster.

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Stefan Petrucha and Charles Adlard’s Run on The X-Files (Topps)

Writer: Stefan Petrucha

Artist: Charles Adlard

Original Release: #1-16 (January 1995 – May 1996)

Back Context: Topps launched a tie-in comic book during the show’s second season. By all accounts, Ten Thirteen were very difficult to work with, refusing to allow writer Stefan Petrucha access to certain characters or the show’s mythology. He responded by creating his own.

How does this tie back to The X-Files? Unlike every other item on this list (barring maybe Lamentation), these comics actually feature the characters of Mulder and Scully investigating paranormal cases and conspiracies.

What makes it so good? Petrucha and Adlard are a great combination. Petrucha brings a very “Vertigo” sensibility to his sixteen issues on the book, building an overarching study about human nature and the illusory nature of reality. In many respects, the comic was ahead of the television show, touching on conspiracy lore like the Tunguska incident and the militia movement years before the show got around to them. There’s also a lot of engagement with the idea of conspiracy theory that would make episodes like Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” and Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man so fun.

Extra Credit: The comic lost a lot of its character after Petrucha left, but some individual arcs are well worth checking out. (Donor, Be Prepared and Remote Control come to mind.) However, Petrucha would also collaborate with Jill Thompson on Afterflight, a touching and intimate graphic novel that came out a year after his run concluded.

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The Pilot

(Millennium, Season 1, Episode 1)

Writer: Chris Carter

Director: David Nutter

Original Airdate: 25 October 1996

Back Context: Having spent a season trying to mimic The X-Files with little success, Fox allowed Chris Carter to press ahead with a second television series that would run in parallel with the fourth season of The X-Files. It worked, for a while. The Pilot was the highest-rated show to air on Fox to that point.

How does this tie back to The X-Files? It is written by Chris Carter and directed by David Nutter. It also includes a host of imagery that Chris Carter would backport into The X-Files, particularly as part of the two-parter Patient X and The Red and the Black.

What makes it so good? It is visually stunning and emotionally powerful. It is a spectacular piece of television, albeit one that looks like it might be difficult to emulate on a weekly basis. (Indeed, the first half of the first season arguably suffered from trying to emulate the tone and depth of The Pilot with a tighter budget and a smaller turnaround time.) It is as cinematic as any episode of The X-Files, anchored in a superb performance from Lance Henriksen. Darker and moodier than The X-Files, this is Chris Carter as auteur.

Extra Credit: The first half of the first season of Millennium can be tough going. The best bet is to watch the episodes written by Glen Morgan and James Wong before jumping in at around the half-way point. Force Majeure and The Thin White Line represents a major upswing in the quality and the consistency of the show.

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Lamentation/Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions

(Millennium, Season 1, Episode 18 & 19)

Writers: Chris Carter/Ted Mann & Harold Rosenthal

Directors: Winrich Kolbe/Thomas J. Wright

Original Airdates: 18/25 April 1997

Back Context: Having spent the bulk of the first season investigating cases with a fairly consistent “serial killer of the week” format, Frank Black brushes up against something a little… stranger.

How does this tie back to The X-Files? While walking around Quantico in Lamentation, Frank very briefly passes a tall dark-haired male agent and a short red-haired female agent. However, Lamentation and Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominion play with the “war in heaven” motif that bubbles through the mythology of The X-Files, in two-parters like Colony and End Game or Patient X and The Red and the Black.

What makes it so good? One of the more salient criticisms of the first season of Millennium was that the show could get a little repetitive and predictable. After all “serial killer of the week” is a concept with a lot less elasticity than “monster of the week.” So Lamentation and Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions serve to open up the world of Millennium in a very real and tangible way. It helps that they are also just two superbly written and directed episodes of television that are structured as a transition from a traditional serial killer tale into something a lot weirder.

Extra Credit: If you enjoy the weirder and more abstract aspects of Lamentation and Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions, then Chip Johannessen’s first season scripts all come highly recommended: Blood Relatives, Force Majeure, Maranatha.

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The Curse of Frank Black

(Millennium, Season 2, Episode 6)

Writers: Glen Morgan and James Wong

Director: Ralph Hemecker

Original Airdate: 31 October 1997

Back Context: When Chris Carter left Millennium to focus on the fifth season of The X-Files and the looming release of The X-Files: Fight the Future, Fox entrusted the show to Glen Morgan and James Wong. What followed was a bold and experimental reimagining the show.

How does this tie back to The X-Files? During the fourth season of The X-Files, writers Glen Morgan and James Wong had been responsible for some of the most divisive and daring episodes of the show’s nine-season run. Their work on Millennium continues that trend.

What makes it so good? It is essentially “The Millennium Halloween Special.” It is an atmospheric and moody piece of television with relatively little dialogue all anchored in a mesmerising central performance from Lance Henriksen. Although Morgan and Wong wasted no time putting their stamp on the second season of Millennium, infamously (and controversially) eschewing the “serial killer of the week” format, The Curse of Frank Black is utterly unlike anything the show had attempted up until this point. It is a stunning piece of television.

Extra Credit: If you feel the need for more “Frank Black holiday specials”, Glen Morgan and James Wong have you covered. Midnight of the Century is a surprisingly upbeat Christmas special from a show that is usually so dour, right down to Lance Henriksen riffing on Jingle All the Way. Writers Kay Reindl and Erin Maher pitched an Easter episode to complete the triptych that never came to pass, but their script for Anamnesis comes close.

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Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense”

(Millennium, Season 2, Episode 9)

Writer: Darin Morgan

Director: Darin Morgan

Original Airdate: 21 November 1997

Back Context: Darin Morgan wrote some of the best episodes of The X-Files, including Humbug, Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose and Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space.” He also joined the writing staff for the second season of Millennium.

How does this tie back to The X-Files? Charles Nelson Reilly reprises his role as Jose Chung from Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space”, the most direct crossover between The X-Files and Millennium while the latter was on the air. He earned an Emmy nomination for the guest spot. David Duchovny also cameos.

What makes it so good? Darin Morgan was one of the most inspired creative voices to work on The X-Files, and he brings his talents to Millennium. The result is a fascinating and clever script, reconciling the heart of Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose with the postmodernism of Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space.” It is worth watching for the novelty of a “Millennium comedy episode” alone, but is particularly notable for serving as a very early (and very effective) skewering of the Church of Scientology, beating The Joy of Sect to air by a few months.

Extra Credit: Darin Morgan worked on the full season, and most of the writing staff acknowledge his influence on other episodes. Chip Johannessen notes that some of the imagery of Luminary came from Morgan while Kay Reindl and Erin Maher credit him for pointing out that Frank Black didn’t have to actually appear in Anamnesis. Glen Morgan and James Wong also credit him for the idea of the static in The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now.

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Owls/Roosters

(Millennium, Season 2, Episodes 15 & 16)

Writers: Glen Morgan and James Wong

Director: Thomas J. Wright

Original Airdates: 6/13 March 1998

Back Context: Glen Morgan and James Wong cultivated a rich mythology for the second season of Millennium, drawing on a whole host of esoteria to fashion a back story drawing from sources as diverse as Freemasonry, Nazi occultism, Christian eschatology. They all come to a head in Owls and Roosters.

How does this tie back to The X-Files? This two-parter aired at the same point as Patient X and The Red and the Black, suggesting a nice parallelism between the exploration of apocalyptic conspiracy theory on both The X-Files and Millennium. The two shows ran alongside each other.

What makes it so good? The mythology of The X-Files was always anchored in a union of UFO and New World Order conspiracy theories, offering a singular unifying conspiracy theory that stretched back to the Second World War and beyond. In contrast, Glen Morgan and James Wong embraced a much broader approach to conspiracy theory, suggesting that there was not a single conspiracy theory that could explain everything, but complex interconnecting and conflicting narratives of history playing out in the shadow of the millennium. Bold, brilliant, utterly unlike anything else on television.

Extra Credit: Glen Morgan and James Wong do a lot of work to establish their themes early in the season, particularly in episodes like 19:19 and The Hand of St. Sebastian. Those set an effective tone for the year ahead, along the lines of “Indiana Jones meets The Seventh Seal.” How is that not intriguing?

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Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me

(Millennium, Season 2, Episode 21)

Writer: Darin Morgan

Director: Darin Morgan

Original Airdate: 1 May 1998

Back Context: One of the distinguishing features of Millennium as compared to The X-Files was the way that its mythology explicitly embraced Christian iconography. The X-Files used aliens as metaphors for the divine. Millennium used literal angels and demons.

How does this tie back to The X-Files? Perennial Darin Morgan supporting cast member Alex Diakun (Humbug, Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” pops up as one of four demons trading stories over coffee. His story includes an obvious homage to The X-Files.

What makes it so good? Darin Morgan constructs something of a short story anthology. The quality of the story (and the density of the humour) varies from story to story, but the real knock-out is the final story. Tapping into Morgan’s core themes of isolation and loneliness, the final story serves as a heart-breaking cap to the career of one of Ten Thirteen’s best writers; well, at least until he returns to The X-Files in 2016.

Extra Credit: The episode that aired directly before Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me is also very good. A Room With No View is an unsettling existential horror story about the death of the spirit as much as the body, and so makes a fitting companion piece.

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The Fourth Horseman/The Time is Now

(Millennium, Season 2, Episodes 22 & 23)

Writers: Glen Morgan and James Wong

Director: Dwight Little/Thomas J. Wright

Original Airdates: 8/15 March 1998

Back Context: The culmination of a season-long character arc for central character Frank Black, and a conclusion to the apocalyptic theme seeded (and repeated) throughout the second season of Millennium.

How does this tie back to The X-Files? It is fun to imagine the events of The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now unfolding in parallel to the turmoil of The X-Files: Fight the Future. The Time is Now also suggests that the conspirators from The X-Files might share  a connection to the Millennium Group.

What makes it so good? This is, quite simply, one of the finest season finalés in television history. Using the lessons that Glen Morgan and James Wong learned on Space: Above and Beyond, the second season finalé is uncompromisingly brutal piece of television. It helps that the two-parter is one of the most boldly experimental works in the entire Ten Thirteen oeuvre, not to mention the last script written by Glen Morgan and James Wong for the production company until 2015. Plus it has a great soundtrack.

Extra Credit: In case this list hasn’t made the point clearly enough, you should really just watch the second season of Millennium. It is one of the finest twenty-odd-episodes seasons of television ever produced.

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The Pilot/Leviathan/Inga Fossa

(Harsh Realm, Season 1, Episodes 1, 2 & 3)

Writer: Chris Carter

Directors: Daniel Sackheim/Bryan Spicer

Original Airdates: 8/15/22 October 1999

Back Context: Produced as part of Chris Carter’s $30m deal to develop new shows at Fox, Harsh Realm arrived at the peak of the late nineties’ fascination with simulated reality. It arrived shortly after The Matrix. It’s a little movie. You might have heard about it.

How does this tie back to The X-Files? Barely. Harsh Realm remains the only Ten Thirteen series not to directly overlap with The X-Files, although one character is watching it in Sein und Zeit later in the season. The Pilot features cameos from Lance Henriksen and Gillian Anderson.

What makes it so good? These were (in)famously the only three episodes of Harsh Realm to air before the show was brutally and suddenly cancelled by Fox during what has been described as the network’s worst season ever. There were only eight episodes of the show produced at all, so Harsh Realm never gets a chance to properly develop into a show with its own character or identity. However, the series has a lot of raw potential, and that potential is best explored in the loose three-part opening episode that tells its own mini-story as it introduces the world.

Extra Credit: Well, there are only eight episodes. You could watch it all in a single binge. However, if you only want to watch the highlights, Steven Maeda’s two scripts (Kein Ausgang and Camera Obscura) offer the strange genre hybrid at its best. Although flawed, Chris Carter’s Cincinnati does offer a showcase for actor Terry O’Quinn.

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Tango De Los Pistoleros

(The Lone Gunmen, Season 1, Episode 10)

Writer: Thomas Schnauz

Director: Bryan Spicer

Original Airdate: 27 April 2001

Back Context: Although Chris Carter is credited as an executive producer, The Lone Gunmen was overseen on a day-to-day basis by the trio of Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan and John Shiban. As such, it proved a fertile training ground for the showrunners of tomorrow.

How does this tie back to The X-Files? Well, the show is called The Lone Gunmen. It centres around the three eponymous hackers created by James Wong and Glen Morgan for E.B.E. during the first season of The X-Files. It was also written by a writer who would join The X-Files in its final season.

What makes it so good? Another show cancelled before it could find its own voice, The Lone Gunmen worked best when it played as a wry tragedy rather than an out-and-out comedy. The show’s best episodes balanced absurdity with pathos, offering a glimpse of tragic lives etched out in quiet desperation. Tango De Los Pistoleros is the story of an arms deal at a tango competition, but it is also a story of loneliness and isolation. It is confident and smart, but also oddly affecting.

Extra Credit: The show’s thirteen episodes are of variable quality. The Pilot has become infamous, and is probably worth watching for its cultural cache. Vince Gilligan’s Planet of the Frohikes is the funniest script of the season and stars Edward Woodward as a hyper-intelligent chimp, with a fantastic closing scene. Tom Schnauz hits another home run with Madam, I’m Adam, which also stars Stephen Tobolowsky. The finalé, All About Yves, hints that the show might have finally figured out what it wanted to be. Right in time to be cancelled.

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6 Responses

  1. I’m just glad you’re putting off the season 9 reviews for now. Unless you have some kind of book deal I don’t think they would be too missed.

    • Only kidding of course. I haven’t read your 4D review yet but that was one of my favorites of what I saw of season 9.

    • Actually, they’re publishing now! They’ve been publishing from Monday in addition to these lists!

      • When I first read this I thought you were referring to a book. You certainly have enough content for one. xfilesposterproject.tumblr.com apparently got a deal with 20th century fox on his art. But a lot of your reviews are more suited to the internet. The links to all your sources are a nice feature.

      • Well, it doesn’t directly involve Fox. I can tell you that. I’m just spending December getting all my ducks in a row. Should be announcing in early January, if all goes to plan.

      • Good to hear. I haven’t read a single comic and only a couple of other “reviews” of the show. I think I had one of those “official guides” way back when the show was on but that’s about it. At some point I stumbled onto eatthecorn and through them, found this site. But during the rewatch your analysis and insight kept me coming back to check out your reviews.

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