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New Podcast! The X-Cast X-Files Podwatch – Episode #91 (Empedocles/Vienen)

I’m thrilled to be a part of The X-Cast X-Files Podwatch, a daily snippet podcast rewatching the entirety of The X-Files between now and the launch of the new season. It is something of a spin-off of The X-Cast, a great X-Files podcast run by the charming Tony Black. Tony has assembled a fantastic array of guests and hosts to go through The X-Files episode-by-episodes. With the new season announced to be starting in early January, Tony’s doing two episodes of the podcast per day, so buckle up. We’re in the home stretch.

Indeed, reteaming with Tony Black, we’re in the home stretch of the home stretch. Empedocles and Vienen are both episodes about the future of the X-files, about Mulder passing the baton to Doggett and both characters making peace with where their lives have taken them. They are also both very good episodes on their own terms.

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The X-Files: Season 10 (IDW) #11-15 – Pilgrims (Review)

This June, we’re going to be taking a look at the current run of The X-Files, beginning with the IDW comic book revival and perhaps taking some detours along the way. Check back daily for the latest review.

Pilgrims is essentially an attempt to do a mid-season mythology episode in the style of Colony and End Game or Tunguska and Terma, a big sprawling epic populated by familiar faces and impossible scale that is driven more by questions and mysteries than by answers or revelations. It is in many ways a testament to writer Joe Harris’ desire to emulate the basic structure and framework of The X-Files, right down to the manner in which he structures The X-Files: Season 10.

There are a lot of obvious markers and touches that help Pilgrims to feel like a classic mid-season mythology episode. There is an international scope, as seen in the trip to the Arctic in End Game or to Hong Kong in Piper Maru or to Russia in Terma. The first half of Pilgrims unfolds in Saudi Arabia, with Mulder and Scully dispatched to investigate what initially appears to be a terrorist attack on an oil operation but is promptly revealed to be something far more sinister.

The red and the black.

The red and the black.

Similarly, in keeping with the style and tone of many of the best mythology two-parters, the basic plot is relatively straightforward even as complications appear at the edge of the frame. In End Game, Mulder is racing to recover his lost sister as details about secret cloning experiments spill out around him. In Nisei, Mulder is trapped in a traincar with a ticking time bomb and a dangerous assassin as he digs away at the conspiracy. In Apocrypha, the black oil just wants to go home. The same is true in Pilgrims, which follows an alien trying to escape.

Even the structure of the five-issue arc recalls that of many X-Files two-parters, with a massive pivot coming between the third and fourth issues in the same way that many two-parters would switch premises at the half-way point. The Saudi Arabia plot wraps up at the end of the third issue, while Gibson Praise is introduced at the start of the fourth. The first three issues focus on the mystery of the Saudi attack, while the final two put a much greater emphasis on the traditional trappings of the X-Files mythology including the conspirators and Skyland Mountain.

Lone survivors.

Lone survivors.

It is remarkable how faithful Joe Harris is to the format of those classic X-Files mythology episodes. Of course, this is something of a double-edged sword. As with a lot of The X-Files: Season 10, the biggest weakness of Pilgrims is the fact that it all feels a little overly familiar and a little too indulgent. Krycek was one of the most popular supporting characters from the nine-season run of The X-Files, but bringing him back at the centre of a five-part epic mythology story feels like pandering and fan service. Harris is not inventing his own mythology, but resurrecting an old one.

Then again, that might seem to be the point. The black oil discovered in Pilgrims is compared to the oil resting beneath Saudia Arabia. In that respect, it is the remains of long-dead organisms compressed and decayed and converted into fuel. There is something more than a little appropriate about that.

Eye see.

Eye see.

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The X-Files – Resist or Serve (Review)

This January, to prepare for the release of the new six-part season of The X-Files, we’re wrapping up our coverage of the show, particularly handling the various odds and ends between the show’s last episode and the launch of the revival.

The X-Files disappeared rather quietly from television.

Despite the talk of launching a film series, the franchise was allowed to lie fallow for a couple of years. There were a number of reasons for this. Immediately following the broadcast of The Truth, Chris Carter disappeared out into the world. The creator and executive producer had worked for almost a decade without any real break. It made sense for the writer to avail of the opportunity to get away from it for an extended period of time. A breather felt more than justified after overseeing more than two hundred episodes of television.

Game on...

Game on…

The band broke up. Members of the production team took jobs elsewhere. Frank Spotnitz and Vince Gilligan worked with veteran director Michael Mann on Robbery Homicide Division. John Shiban joined the writing staff on the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise. There was a sense that The X-Files had faded into the ambient background radiation of popular culture, its constituent elements – whether writers or directors or even themes or storytelling techniques – ready to flavour a new generation of television production.

However, there were signs that the show might linger on. Even if the sequel to The X-Files: Fight the Future had yet to materialise, it lurked just over the horizon. Critical and fan consensus was starting to form around the show. Although The X-Files might have been finished, its legend was still being solidified. Resist or Serve is very much a part of this process. Released on Playstation 2 in March 2004, Resist or Serve was a very disappointing video game. However, it was also a very instructive insight into just how the legend of The X-Files was shaping up.

Feels like going home...

Feels like going home…

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The X-Files – Vienen (Review)

This October/November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the eighth season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of The Lone Gunmen.

It feels strange to see the black oil after such a long time.

Technically, the last time that the black oil was brought up was in Two Fathers and One Son, where it was retroactively confirmed to be the “Purity” alluded to in The Erlenmeyer Flask. However, the last time it was an active plot element was really The X-Files: Fight the Future. After that, it lost amid plot developments involving gestating aliens and faceless rebels. So, in a way, putting the black oil at the centre of Vienen feels just a little surreal against the backdrop of “super soldiers” and other more immediate concerns.

Explosive action!

Explosive action!

Vienen feels very old-fashioned. Even the structure of the episode harks back to the first season mythology episodes, when the show was allowed to use aliens and conspiracies without the burden of tying them to a larger narrative. It features the black oil, but Vienen feels closer to Fallen Angel or E.B.E. than Tunguska or Terma. Trying to tie it into the larger plot of the mythology is an exercise in futility, but that is not the point here. Vienen is no more or less a mythology episode than Empedocles, despite its inclusion in the “mythology” DVD collections.

It is an excuse to bring back an iconic baddie for one last run-around with Mulder, continuing the orderly transition of power from the what the show was to what it might be in the future.

You should really use a dipstick for that...

You should really use a dipstick for that…

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The X-Files – Terma (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.

Tunguska and Terma borrows the structure that made the show’s early mythology episodes so effective. Tunguska is full of intriguing and compelling questions, implications that would seem to broaden or deepen the mythology. However, instead of resolving any of the major threads, Terma simply turns itself into a roller-coaster thrill ride. A cynical observer might compare the weaker mythology episodes to a shell-game: the potential of an interesting premise, lost in a shuffle designed to disorientate and catch the viewer off-guard.

It is an approach that has served the show well. Ascension avoided answering too many of the questions posed by Duane Barry, barrelling along with the momentum of a runaway freight train. Similarly, End Game did not dwell too heavily on the questions posed by Colony, instead serving as a series of high-momentum chase sequences with Mulder following the Alien Bounty Hunter to the ends of the Earth. Paper Clip moved so quickly that the viewers never wondered why the documents recovered in Anasazi were no longer earth-shattering, but merely macguffins.

Things are really heating up...

Things are really heating up…

The X-Files is very good at this sort of dynamic mile-a-minute plotting. The production team are very good at what they do. There is a sleek professionalism to these episodes that makes them easy to watch. Although filmed in Vancouver, there were few shows in the nineties ambitious enough to send their character to a Russian gulag for human experimentation. However, the cracks are starting to show. Herrenvolk demonstrated how frustrating a lack of answers could become. Terma struggles to balance a number of potentially interesting plot threads.

There are a lot of elements of Terma that might have worked well, if they had been given more room to breath. Sadly, the episode spends most of its run time trying to build up momentum towards the inevitable scene where proof narrow slips through Mulder’s fingers one more time.

Evil oil...

Evil oil…

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The X-Files – Apocrypha (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.

Eyes are a major recurring motif in Apocrypha.

To be fair, eyes were a frequently recurring motif throughout The X-Files. Rob Bowman managed a couple of beautiful shots of reflections and peeping in 731, for example. It makes sense that The X-Files should place such emphasis on eyes – it is a saga about truth and belief and faith, all of which must be explored through perception. “I want to believe,” Mulder’s iconic poster proclaims. As the cliché goes, seeing is believing.

Iconic Mulder/Scully pose!

Iconic Mulder/Scully pose!

That is definitely the case here, with Apocrypha built to a climax where both the audience and the characters are explicitly refused the opportunity to see key moments. Mulder and Scully are escorted out of the North Dakota silo before they can see anything incriminating. The audience doesn’t even get to see the space ship taking off. Even the death of Luis Cardinal takes place off-screen, with Mulder revealing it in a throwaway line in the show’s penultimate scene.

With all of this going on, it makes sense that so much of the imagery in Apocrypha should be built around eyes – with the black oil infection manifesting in its hosts’ eyes, the shooting of the silo as a giant eye staring into space, and even the design of the alien space ship evoking the Eye of Providence.

Up in the sky!

Up in the sky!

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The X-Files – Piper Maru (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.

Piper Maru and Apocrypha continue a pretty clear thematic throughline for the show’s third season mythology episodes.

As with The Blessing Way/Paper Clip and Nisei/731, Piper Maru and Apocrypha tell a story about how we relate to the past. In particular, in keeping with the rest of the third season mythology, it is a show about the legacy of the Second World War. The X-Files is a show that is sceptical of the decisions made by the American government towards the end of the Second World War, particularly as those decisions shaped and moulded the present. In many ways, The X-Files is a show about history and legacy, trauma and consequence.

A fish out of water...

A fish out of water…

Piper Maru and Apocrypha are less direct about this connection than the earlier mythology episodes. They aren’t about the war criminals given safe habour after the Second World War in return for scientific knowledge or tactical advantages. Instead, Piper Maru and Apocrypha are shows about dredging up the past and confronting the consequences of past actions. These two episodes are not only steeped in American popular history, but also in the show’s internal continuity. The majority of what happens here is driven by events we’ve seen in the show.

At the same time, Piper Maru and Apocrypha represent an attempt to boldly expand and push the mythos forward in the same way that Colony and End Game did at this point in the second season. The result is an intriguing two-parter that feels a little muddled and messy, an example of the show stumbling slightly as it tries to grow outwards. Although the mythology is still working a lot more efficiently than it would in later seasons, there is a sense of clutter beginning to filter in.

The eyes have it...

The eyes have it…

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