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The X-Files – DeadAlive (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.

The X-Files is dead. Long live The X-Files.

What is dead may never die...

What is dead may never die…

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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 – The Host (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.

The Host and Little Green Men represent a fantastic one-two punch combination to open the second season of The X-Files. It’s very hard to think of two back-to-back standalone stories that most effectively sum up the show, capturing a lot of what makes the series so beautifully compelling and enduring. The two episodes are also quite surprising. It feels strange that Chris Carter didn’t write Little Green Men, given the importance of the premiere to the show. However, in light of that, it also feels strange that Carter did write The Host.

Working on The X-Files, Carter tends to gravitate towards “event” episodes. His name is frequently seen on episodes that push the show forward – in multiple senses. Carter is the architect of the show’s grand mythology, so his name pops up quite frequently on those scripts. However, Carter is also prone to write occasional “big” episodes of a given season. He wrote and directed The Post-Modern Prometheus and Triangle, for example, two of the more unique and distinctive episodes of the fifth and sixth seasons.

Through the looking glass...

Through the looking glass…

So, seeing Chris Carter’s name on the first “monster-of-the-week” of the new year rather than the all-important season premiere feels a little strange – particularly since The Host is an episode that seems a lot less ambitious than Little Green Men. After all, Little Green Men depicted Samantha Mulder’s abduction, revealed the show’s aliens and tried to make Vancouver look like Puerto Rico. In contrast, The Host is about an overgrown mutant worm.

And yet, perhaps that’s the point. The second season of The X-Files was a massively important year for the show. Along with the Fox Network itself, this was the year that The X-Files defined its own identity and really began to aggressively carve out a niche. The show did not make the top 100 shows of the 1993-1994 season, but almost reached the top 50 shows of the 1994-1995 season. That’s a meteoric rise, and the second season is very ruthlessly refining itself.

X marks the spot...

X marks the spot…

To describe The Host as a simple “monster-of-the-week” is to miss the point entirely. The show doesn’t exist yet another entry in a genre that the show established during its first year on the air. Instead, The Host is clearly constructed to be the monster-of-the-week episode. It’s an hour of television that is designed to get a reaction, to push buttons, to get people talking. This is an episode squarely aimed at anybody who heard the buzz over the summer hiatus and wanted to see what the fuss was about.

It works very well in this capacity. There is a reason that The Host as endured as a classic episode of The X-Files, packed with all manner of iconic and memorable imagery. Chris Carter constructed The Host as an example of what The X-Files does very well – and it’s a piece of science-fiction horror that sticks with people. It’s incredibly hard to forget. And that’s the beauty of it.

A monster mash-up...

A monster mash-up…

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The X-Files – Little Green Men (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.

“We wanted to believe,” Mulder’s opening monologue explains. In a way, The X-Files works best as a profound meditation on faith. Not just Scully’s traditional religious faith, but Mulder’s belief that the world must make sense – even a crazy conspiratorial sort of sense. While Scully is a practising Roman Catholic, Mulder’s officer poster proclaims “I want to believe.” It’s a show about faith in humanity. A show about two people with unshakeable faith in each other.

“Trust no one,” a dying Deep Throat advised Scully in The Erlenmeyer Flask, words impossible to live by. Unsurprisingly, while treated as a mantra and motto for the show, the agents seem to freely ignore that last warning. Mulder and Scully trust each other. Mulder trusts the Lone Gunmen, and Senator Matheson, along with just about everything he reads or is told that reinforces his faith. It’s telling that – despite his cynicism about the government and her religious faith – the show casts Scully (rather than Mulder) in the role of skeptic.

His darkest hour...

His darkest hour…

Little Green Men is effectively a second pilot for the show. While set in the new status quo established during the closing scene of The Erlenmeyer Flask, the episode is very much structured as a “jumping on” point for those who might want to start watching the series. After all, the first season had been a cult hit, but hadn’t quite set the world on fire. Offering an introduction to those attracted by the growing buzz surrounding the show over the summer hiatus makes sense.

And so Little Green Men is built around Mulder’s crisis of faith and his attempts to vindicate that faith, offering a thoughtful examination of a man who wants to believe. While Little Green Men doesn’t offer any large steps forward in the show’s mythology or story arcs, it is a moving and introspective piece.

Samantha gets carried away...

Samantha gets carried away…

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The X-Files – The Erlenmeyer Flask (Review)

When you think about it, The X-Files conspiracy mythology is just a fancy way of dressing up generational “daddy issues.” Both Mulder and Scully have problems with their fathers, and it plays into the show’s wider themes. The X-Files is, appropriately enough, a show that helps define what is known as “Generation X”, the generation born following the post war baby boom, as the afterglow from America’s ascent to global superpower began to wear off. Existing in the wake of the Cold War, in a unipolar world, The X-Files was a vehicle for introspection.

One of the recurring themes of the show, and one that has come up quite a bit in the first season, is the weight of history bearing down on the current generation. Living in the shadow of Watergate, dealing with the revelation of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments, coping the Vietnam and other skeletons, it’s little wonder that Generation X seemed completely disillusioned with their elders. Jamie Notter argued that “unlike their parents who challenged leaders with an intent to replace them, Generation Xers tend to ignore leaders.”

Christine Henseler would go further, suggesting that there’s something close to righteous anger in the attitude that Generation X holds to its parents, holding “a world view” that “is based on change, on the need to combat corruption, dictatorships, abuse, AIDS.” The Erlenmeyer Flask seems the perfect place to end this season then, pushing all this uncertainty to the fore and killing the series’ much-loved father figure.

Bodies of proof...

Bodies of proof…

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The X-Files – Fire (Review)

Well, Fire is probably Chris Carter’s strongest script since The Pilot. I suppose we should be grateful for that, at least.

All fired up...

All fired up…

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The X-Files – The Jersey Devil (Review)

And with The Jersey Devil, the first season of The X-Files hits its first major snag. The first four episodes have done an efficient job laying down the character arcs and the ground rules for this new conspiratorial series. The rest of the season – like a lot of first seasons – has a great deal of difficulty trying to figure out a formula that works using those elements.

The Jersey Devil is, by all accounts, an episode that should work. It has a nice pseudo-scientific premise. It is written by the creator of the show, and who – at this early stage – could claim a better idea of how the series works than Chris Carter? It gives us some personal insight into both of our protagonists, and it sort of clarifies that Squeeze is not going to be the exception – that there will be a lot of anthology-style episodes.

And yet, despite all that, it doesn’t quite work. The premise is never as interesting as it should be. Chris Carter confirms that while he is a fantastic ideas man, he is not the strongest writer on his own staff. The best of these insights into Mulder and Scully were already made much better in Squeeze, and the rest feel somewhat trite. Despite the fact that it’s only the show’s second anthology-style episode, The Jersey Devil feels like it’s trying to hard to stick to the framework outlined by the three UFO episodes in the series’ opening quartet.

Casting light...

Casting light…

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