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New Podcast! The X-Cast Season 11 #39 – William, Skinner, Smoking Man & Everyone Else! (“My Struggle IV”)

Returning to The X-Cast this morning to continue my discussion of the eleventh season finale of The X-Files.

In this installment, we’re discussing the various supporting characters of My Struggle IV, from William (or Jackson) through to Monica Reyes through to creepy possibly-child-abusing car-driving guy! It’s a packed instalment, befitting a packed episode. Thrilled to be joining Tony to discuss the episode in question.

Click here, or check it out below. The final part of our discussion, talking about Chris Carter, will be landing tomorrow morning.

 

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The X-Files – The Truth (Review)

This December, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the ninth season of The X-Files.

It is interesting how the popular memory of a thing can differ from the actual thing itself.

Memory was always a key theme of The X-Files, particularly in the early years of the show. Although the aliens and the conspirators were plucked from the demented imaginations of the most paranoid tinfoil hat enthusiasts, a surprising amount of the show was rooted in real history that had been allowed to slip by under the radar: the genocide of the Native Americans; the resettlement of German and Japanese war criminals after the Second World War; radiation experiments upon prisoners; the Tuskegee syphilis experiment.

Daddy's home.

Daddy’s home.

The truth is contained in the gap between memory and history. In a way, then, it feels entirely appropriate that the popular memory of The X-Files should remain quite distinct from the show itself. The popular memory of The X-Files tends to suggest that the mythology makes no sense, that it does not fit together in any tangible form. This is an opinion repeated so often that it has become a critical shorthand when discussing the end of the show; much like the assertion “they were dead all along” tends to come when discussing Lost.

The truth is that the mythology of The X-Files largely made sense. Sure, there were lacunas and contradictions, inconsistencies and illogicalities, but the vast majority of the mythology was fairly linear and straightforward. It had been fairly straightforward for quite some time. The show had been decidedly ambiguous in its first few seasons, only confirming that colonisation was the conspiracy’s end game in Talitha Cumi at the end of the third season. Elements like the black oil and the bees tended to cloud matters, but the internal logic was clear.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

Significant portions of both The X-Files: Fight the Future and Two Fathers and One Son had been dedicated to spelling out the finer details of the mythology in great detail. Mankind were not the original inhabitants of Earth; the former occupants had returned and were making a rightful claim; the conspirators had agreed to help them, selling out mankind for a chance to extend their own lives. Everything else was window dressing. The production team had laid everything out during the fifth and sixth seasons.

Still, the general consensus of The X-Files was that it was a show driven by mysteries that was always more interested in questions than answers. This was certainly true, but it was somewhat exaggerated. When the cancellation was announced, the media immediately demanded answers. A month before The Truth was broadcast, Tim Goodman complained about how the show offered “precious few answers to Carter’s riddles.” Two days before the broadcast, Aaron Kinney wondered of the conspirators, “Who are these people and what is their agenda?”

The Truth on trial...

The Truth on trial…

It does not matter that these answers have mostly been provided and that the truth is mostly know. This was the context of the conversation unfolding around The Truth, and it likely explains a number of the creative decisions taken during the production of the episode. The Truth plays as an extended video essay dedicated to providing answers that were offered three or four seasons earlier in relation to mysteries that are no longer part of the show. The Truth is a passionate and intense argument that the mythology of The X-Files does make sense.

For viewers tuning back into the show for the first time in years, this means long expository monologues and skilfully edited montages that do not tie into the plot of the episode in any significant way. For those who stuck with the show for these past few seasons, it means rehashing everything that the show has taken for granted since the fifth or sixth season. While it feels like The Truth is desperately longing for vindication, to the extent where the show puts itself on trial in the person of Fox Mulder, this does not make for compelling viewing.

Happy ending.

Happy ending.

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The X-Files – William (Review)

This December, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the ninth season of The X-Files.

William was supposed to make things simpler for The X-Files going forward.

Although the pregnancy narrative of the eighth season had provided a solid arc across the year, it seemed like the production team had no idea what to do with William once the child actually arrived. Despite the fact that Essence and Existence insisted that William was a miracle completely unrelated to the alien colonists, Nothing Important Happened Today I and Nothing Important Happened Today II tried to tie William back into the mythology. Trust No 1 suggested William was part of prophecy. Provenance and Providence had the baby kidnapped.

Mulder cameo.

Mulder cameo.

One of the more frequent criticisms of the ninth season is that William served to handicap Scully as a character. Scully was suddenly relegated to the role of mother, with the scripts and the fans constantly wondering why Scully wasn’t spending more time with the baby. The mythology suggested that Scully was only relevant because of her connections to William and Mulder. Although William and Mulder were subject to a colonist prophecy, Scully was not mentioned. She was just a tether connecting the two, accessible because Gillian Anderson was still in the show.

The fact that the series was ending provided the perfect opportunity to clear William away. William is clearly designed to declutter the narrative of the show by disposing of a dangling loose end. Ironically, it only serves to create a whole lot more.

Taking his face... off.

Taking his face… off.

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The X-Files – En Ami (Review)

This September, 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.

The seventh season mythology has a weird hazy feeling to it. It feels almost like a postscript.

It is hard to explain what is happening with the mythology at this point. Two Fathers and One Son had promised an end to the over-arching conspiracy narrative, but it felt like something of a half-measure. The First Elder and the Second Elder were killed off, but most of the other major players remained. Although Scully congratulated Mulder on toppling the conspiracy in Biogenesis, the same episode seemed to off-handedly suggest that the Cigarette-Smoking Man was still working on it. He was still talking hybrids in The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati.

I'll drink to that...

I’ll drink to that…

At the same time, Two Fathers and One Son marked the end of the mythology as an on-going concern. The particulars of colonisation and the nature of the Cigarette-Smoking Man’s work were confined to limbo, some sort of bizarre twilight realm where they might exist or they might not; they simply drift around the show like ghosts. Whether or not Two Fathers and One Son actually resolved any aspect of the show’s overarching plot is open to debate; however, they very clearly suggested that the mythology was not the show’s central story going forward.

In the seventh season, it frequently feels like the mythology is a hazy backdrop against which character-driven stories might unfold. In The Sixth Extinction, an alien ship becomes a gateway to meditations on the nature of human existence while Krycek blackmails Skinner and Fowley still works with the Cigarette-Smoking Man. In The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati, the Cigarette-Smoking Man is making hybrids and murders Fowley, but the heart of the story is Mulder’s flirtation with temptation. Sein und Ziet and Closure have nothing to do with colonisation.

Smokey and the bandit...

Smokey and the bandit…

To be fair, this was arguably always the case with mythology episodes. In hindsight, it can seem like the mythology episodes were less part of an on-going story and more meditations on common themes tied into a shared continuity. Colony and End Game are spectacular pieces of television, but they are hard to reconcile with later revelations. The End arguably has more in common with Biogenesis than it does with the feature film into which it is supposed to tie. However, the mythology always held the promise of revelations and twists to propel it forward.

The principal effect of Two Fathers and One Son seems to have been to take away that sense of purpose and destination. The mythology is no longer building towards something or racing forward. Instead, the mythology stories seem to take place in the wasteland; a world in ruins, with only the fractured semblance of internal logic. En Ami continues the trend of setting character-driven stories amid the hazily defined unreality. Scully and the Cigarette-Smoking Man take a road-trip together through whatever is still standing.

Peering through an open door...

Peering through an open door…

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The X-Files – Redux II (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.

Redux II would be a lot better if the audience believed anything that the episode was saying.

In fact, Redux II would be a lot better if it seemed like the show itself believed anything that the episode was saying.

"Hm. That resolution is unsatisfying. Deeply unsatisfying."

“Hm. That resolution is unsatisfying. Deeply unsatisfying.”

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The X-Files – Zero Sum (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.

For all that The X-Files exists in a murky shadow world populated by ambiguous figures and a government conspiracy dating back generations, the show has a pretty straightforward sense of morality. No good can stem from evil, the show seems to suggest; the show’s central mythology repeatedly has Mulder and Scully confront the legacy of sins committed by their forefathers. Even the title of Zero Sum alludes to the hollowness of Walter Skinner’s deal with the devil, his moral compromise that has no demonstrable benefit and severe demonstrable harm.

In Memento Mori, Walter Skinner compromised himself. He made a deal with the Cigarette-Smoking Man, in return for Agent Scully’s continued well-being. “What’ll it take?” Skinner asked, desperate for a chance to save Dana Scully. Ever ambiguous, the Cigarette-Smoking Man offered, “Well, I’ll have to get back to you on that.” Unfolding a few months later, Zero Sum is essentially about paying the piper. It is Walter Skinner settling up with the Cigarette-Smoking Man. He rolls up his sleeves and jumps into the dirty work.

Fire and brimstone...

Fire and brimstone…

Zero Sum is a story that you could not tell with Mulder. Although Mulder never faces the same choice as Skinner, the show has been quite consistent in its portrayal of Mulder’s morality. Mulder does not compromise; Mulder does not subscribe to the theory that a deal with the devil could ever pay dividends. In contrast, Skinner is a more ambiguous and pragmatic figure. Skinner spent significant sections of the second season caught between Mulder and the Cigarette-Smoking Man. The show only firmly committed him to Mulder and Scully in Paper Clip.

Zero Sum is a fantastic example of how the world of The X-Files has really grown and expanded around the lead characters. While the show will never quite develop into an ensemble, it is a series with a broad cast. It makes sense that it should begin to use them in a productive manner.

"Walter Skinner, F.B.I."

“Walter Skinner, F.B.I.”

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The X-Files – Memento Mori (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.

It is easy to see why Scully’s cancer arc is so fondly remembered.

It arrived at a point where the show was at the very top of its game. Scully’s cancer arc comes amid a slew of beloved and classic episodes, in the middle of a season that contains Home, Unruhe, Paper Hearts and many more. It is the defining mythology plot point for the show’s fourth season, which was the point at which The X-Files just exploded into the centre of popular consciousness. More than that, the episode introducing Scully’s cancer – Leonard Betts – was the most-watched episode of The X-Files ever broadcast.

What's in your head?

What’s in your head?

Memento Mori has its own endearing aspects. If Leonard Betts was the show’s highest profile and most populist success, Memento Mori counts as one of the show’s biggest critical successes. The episode is largely responsible for winning Gillian Anderson her Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. It also took home the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Art Direction for a Series and received a nomination for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series. It is perhaps the most prestigious episode of the fourth season.

However, in spite of all of that, Memento Mori remains something of a mess. It feels like a clumsy retread of One Breath, a story that worked much better in the show’s second season.

Send in the clones...

Send in the clones…

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