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The X-Files: Season One (Topps) #4 – Conduit (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

Conduit is an interesting choice for a Season One comic.

It is the last of the first season mythology episodes to be adapted by Roy Thomas as part of the Season One brand. The Pilot and Deep Throat had launched both The X-Files and the mythology, but Conduit was really the show that emphasised that The X-Files would be returning to the idea of alien abduction quite frequently in the months and years ahead. Conduit paved the way for later first season episodes like Fallen Angel or E.B.E. Neither Fallen Angel nor E.B.E. were ever adapted for the Topps Season One range. Neither was solicited when the line was cancelled.

Myth-making...

Myth-making…

At the same time, Conduit is an episode that has not dated particularly well. As the fourth episode of the first season, it was quite effective at spelling out who Mulder was and how the abduction of Samantha motivated him to do what it was that he was doing. It was not subtle or nuanced character development, but there was a certain blunt appeal to it. Viewers had only just been introduced to Fox Mulder, so it was perfectly reasonable to bludgeon them over the head with his motivation and his back story.

However, the show has marched on. Mulder has developed and grown into a multifaceted character. Samantha will always be an essential part of his character arc, but she is no longer the only motivating factor. Indeed, David Duchovny even improvised a line into Oubliette that criticised Scully for behaving like Samantha was the only motivating factor in Mulder’s life. As such, it feels strange to go back to Conduit after all this time, and to see a very basic and early take on Mulder’s character. It underscores how far the show has come.

Far afield...

Far afield…

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The X-Files – Paper Hearts (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

Paper Hearts is one of the best scripts that Vince Gilligan would write for The X-Files, and one of the best episodes of the fourth season. This is enough to put it in the frontrunners of any possible “best episode ever” ranking.

The episode is spectacular. It works on just about every conceivable level. It has a great script from a great young staff writer. It has a great guest star in Tom Noonan. It features a great performance from David Duchovny. Rob Bowman does a spectacular job directing. Mark Snow is one of the most consistent composers working in nineties television, and his score for Paper Hearts manages to be simple, effective and memorable. It is thoughtful, atmospheric, emotional and compelling. It is the perfect storm.

The truth is buried...

The truth is buried…

However, the real cherry on Paper Hearts is just how easy it would be to mess up an episode like this. On paper, Paper Hearts seems like a disaster waiting to happen. It is an episode that teases the audience with a potentially massive reversal of one of the show’s core truths. It posits an alternative theory for the abduction of Samantha Mulder that would shake the show to its very core. If Paper Hearts followed through on that basic premise, everything would change. Much like Never Again, this is an episode with the potential to poison the show.

Which makes it inevitable that Paper Hearts will back away from its potentially game-changing premise, which brings its own challenges. It is one thing to up-end the apple cart; it is another to pretend to up-end the apple cart only to restore the status quo at the end of the hour. On paper, and from any synopsis, Paper Hearts seems like the biggest cheat imaginable. “Everything is different!” it seems to yell. “And then it’s not!” The real beauty of Paper Hearts is the way that the episode works almost perfectly even with these huge hurdles to clear.

The heart of the matter...

The heart of the matter…

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The X-Files – Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Then there are those who care not about extraterrestrials, searching for meaning in other human beings. Rare or lucky are those who find it. For although we may not be alone in the universe, in our own separate ways, on this planet, we are all alone.

– Darin Morgan takes his bow

It came from beyond the stars...

It came from beyond the stars…

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The X-Files – One Breath (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.

If there were ever any doubt that The X-Files is fundamentally about faith in the nineties, One Breath should put the matter to rest.

An astounding, moving, staggering and thoughtful piece of work, One Breath not only wraps up the arc that opened the second season, it also provides closure to the themes that writers Glen Morgan and James Wong had been seeding throughout this first stretch of the season. One Breath bookends the meditation on faith that began in Little Green Men and serves as a counterpoint to the paranoia of Blood and the nihilism of 3.

One Breath is a tremendous piece of work, the best episode of the season and one that deserves to be mentioned among the very best the show ever produced.

Grave stakes...

Grave stakes…

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The X-Files – Ascension (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.

Ascension is effectively a giant chase sequence and an epilogue to the first six episodes of the second season. While lacking the tight focus of Duane Barry, Ascension moves fast enough and provides enough plot momentum that it feels like a satisfactory conclusion. For an episode that was essentially written to deal with a cast member’s unexpected pregnancy, it’s a pretty fantastic piece of television.

Keep watching the skiis... er, skies!

Keep watching the skiis… er, skies!

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The X-Files – Duane Barry (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.

Duane Barry is Chris Carter’s directorial début on The X-Files, and it’s a staggering confident piece of work. From the opening scene where Carter’s camera stalks through Duane Barry’s run-down house through to the memorable abduction sequences and decision to play the episode’s big action sequence against a black screen, Duane Barry looks very impressive. It’s an episode that stays with the viewer, one that is every bit as visually distinctive as Blood earlier in the year.

It’s also a demonstration of how versatile The X-Files actually is. The show has already proven its horror bona fides, carving out a niche for itself on the Friday night line-up on Fox with a variety of spine-tingling adventures. While Duane Barry retains the show’s alien mythology, it arguably works best as a straight-up hostage suspense thriller. Mulder is drafted in to assist with a hostage crisis, and then finds himself getting more and more caught up in the story told by the raving gun man.

Duane's world...

Duane’s world…

This is pretty far outside the “procedural” format that has been loosely established by the show, and Duane Barry plays out rather differently than any of the earlier cases-of-the-week. Of course, The X-Files would go on to get more and more experimental in later seasons, but Duane Barry sees the show consciously stepping outside the box. This is a demonstration of how strong the show’s foundations are, proof that it can carry itself as a legitimate drama. Duane Barry is an episode that argues The X-Files is not cult television, but just good television.

It’s no wonder that Duane Barry picked up the show’s first two Primetime Emmy nominations and a significant number of Creative Emmy nominations on top. It’s also a damn fine piece of television.

The Truth is up there...

The Truth is up there…

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