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The X-Files – Essence (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 mythology of The X-Files is a strange beast.

In the show’s declining years, it frequently became a stick with which the show might be beaten by critics and fans who had grown exhausted of ambiguity and labyrinthine plotting. Steven King lamented the fact that the show “blundered off into a swamp of black oil, and in that swamp it died.” In assessing the impact of the series, Joyce Millman described the mythology as a “sadistically convoluted plot line.” Juliette Harrisson complained that the entire mythology ended up “so twisted and incomprehensible by the end.”

Oh, baby.

Oh, baby.

In hindsight, it seems like history has not been kind to the mythology. In the years since the show went off the air, it seems that fans have come to value the episodic “monster of the week” stories ahead of the central story arc about aliens plotting to colonise the planet. This is ironic, given the attention devoted to the mythology while the show was on the air. The mythology dominated season premieres and finalés, taking the limelight during Sweeps and commanding impressive production values.

This assessment of the mythology is at once fair and unfair. Examined from far enough away, the mythology was linear and logical: alien colonists were coming back to reclaim the planet and enslave (or exterminate) mankind. Everything else was just window-dressing, with the mythology exploring the compromise and collaboration that facilitated this plan. The mythology was, at its best, an exploration of human weakness and the corruption of authority; a timeless (and almost Shakespearean) tragedy. From a sufficient distance, it was not hard to follow.

Oh, alien baby.

Oh, alien baby.

However, the details tend to create confusion, with everything getting a little muddled as The X-Files piles compelling and memorable visuals on top of one another. Are the bees intended to spread smallpox to thin the population as Zero Sum suggests, or to spread the black oil to aid in repopulation as The X-Files: Fight the Future implies? Is the black oil a sinister body-hopping parasite as suggested in Piper Maru and Vienen, or is it an organism that turns the body into a host for a gestating alien organism like in Fight the Future or The Beginning?

The eighth season does a lot to simplify the mythology by stripping out the conspirators and the vaccine and the rebels and the hybrids, replacing them with a more blunt central narrative about “alien replicants” mounting a stealth invasion. That said, things begin to get a bit cluttered and crowded as the season reaches its conclusion. Essence and Existence have a very clear structure and clear objectives, but there is a sense that that the narrative could still be streamlined a bit.

Oh, blood-splattered alien babies...

Oh, blood-splattered alien babies…

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The X-Files – The Red and the Black (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.

“Before the exploration of space, of the moon and the planets, man hailed that the heavens were the home and province of powerful gods who controlled not just the vast firmament, but the earthly fate of man himself and that the pantheon of powerful, warring deities, was the cause and reason for the human condition, for the past and the future, and for which great monuments would be created on earth as in heaven. But in time man replaced these gods with new gods and new religions that provided no more certain or greater answers than those worshipped by his Greek or Roman or Egyptian ancestors. And while we’ve chosen now our monolithic and benevolent gods and found our certainties in science, believers all, we wait for a sign, a revelation. Our eyes turn skyward ready to accept the truly incredible to find our destiny written in the stars.”

Lift me up...

Lift me up…

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The X-Files – Patient X (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.

This should not work.

There are lots of reasons why Patient X and The Red and the Black should simply implode under their own weight. Most obviously, they are scripts that are rather blatantly just piling more and more back story and convolution onto a framework that is already overloaded and over-stretched. They are introducing new characters at a late stage of the game. They rely on contrivance and sketchy character development. They seem to exist at odds with the script for The X-Files: Fight the Future, which had been written and shot, but was awaiting release.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

However, despite all this, Patient X and The Red and the Black work very well together. They are the strongest story-driven mythology two-parter since Nisei and 731 at the start of the third season. There is an energy and drive to Patient X and The Red and the Black that has been largely absent from the show’s big blockbuster two-parters since Herrenvolk at the start of the fourth season. After a year-and-a-half treading water as the release date of the movie draws ever closer, it is nice to see Chris Carter cut completely loose.

Patient X and The Red and the Black form a story which doesn’t seem at all worried about what any of this means for the summer realise of Fight the Future. Parts of it become quite difficult to reconcile with the film as released. However, the two-parter is all the stronger for it.

Fog of war...

Fog of war…

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The X-Files – Herrenvolk (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.

After Talitha Cumi, Herrenvolk cannot help but seem like a little bit of a disappointment.

Towards the end of the episode, the Alien Bounty Hunter hunts down Jeremiah Smith. Mulder begs for mercy, but the Bounty Hunter will hear nothing of it. “He shows you pieces, but tells you nothing of the whole,” the Bounty Hunter remarks to Mulder. It feels like that sentiment encapsulates Herrenvolk in a nutshell. Mulder goes on the run with Jeremiah Smith and sees a collection of vague but compelling things that may or may not tie into colonisation.

"Now you're thinking, 'I hope that's shepherd's pie in my knickers!'"

“Now you’re thinking, ‘I hope that’s shepherd’s pie in my knickers!'”

Like a lot of the mythology in the fourth and fifth seasons, it feels like a holding pattern. Talitha Cumi was surprisingly candid in its revelations. The aliens were plotting to colonise Earth in collaboration with the human conspirators. The date had been set, the plot was in motion. That was a pretty big bombshell, confirmed in unequivocal terms. It was arguably the clearest and most transparent that the conspiracy arc would ever be. There was a clear goal, a deadline, and a sense of purpose.

Almost immediately, Herrenvolk works to muddy the water. It stalls, it procrastinates, it delays, it evades. It is a plot structured around a collection of ominous conspiracy buzz words (DNA, smallpox, colonies, clones) without a clear purpose or objective.

A bloody mess...

A bloody mess…

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The X-Files – Talitha Cumi (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.

Talitha Cumi is a staggeringly confident piece of television, the kind of episode casually produced by a show at (or approaching) the top of its game.

It is interesting just how much this season finalé seems to promise business as usual. It is perhaps the least radical of the show’s season-ending cliffhangers, with the third season closing on an immediate rather than a conceptual threat to our leads and to The X-Files as a show. The Erlenmeyer Flask ended with the death of Deep Throat and the closing of the X-files. Anasazi ended with Mulder being burnt alive in a boxcar filled with alien bodies. Gethsemane ups the ante further.

A stab in the dark...

A stab in the dark…

In contrast, Talitha Cumi ends with the Alien Bounty Hunter walking towards Mulder and Scully in a rather menacing fashion. It is very effective television – and a solidly suspenseful cliffhanger – but it also feels rather low-key when compared to other season-ending episodes. Talitha Cumi feels like a pretty effective hook, rather than a game-changer. There’s an immediacy to the cliffhanger, but nothing that threatens to upend the show as a whole.

Then again, one suspects that is entirely the point. The third season has been largely about consolidation of The X-Files. It makes sense that it wouldn’t throw everything up into the air at the end of the season.

It's been a long year...

It’s been a long year…

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The X-Files – Colony (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.

Colony is another second season game changer. As with other episodes in the second season, there’s a sense that the production team are really getting to grips with what works with the show – laying groundwork and defining a template that they can work with into the show’s third season. While the Duane Barry and Ascension two-parter had been an act of desperation to work around Gillian Anderson’s pregnancy, Colony and End Game is a two-parter that the show embraced entirely of its own volition.

These two two-part episodes really set the template for the show going forward. There’s a sense that Chris Carter and his team were really defining what a season of The X-Files should look like, giving them a blueprint that they might build on in the years ahead. From the second season through to the sixth, the show would stick quite rigidly to the idea of two big two-parters in the middle of the season, quite apart from any multi-part stories bridging the seasons.

Lights in the sky...

Lights in the sky…

These two parters were typically broadcast as part of the “sweeps”, and inevitably focused on the show’s alien conspiracy mythology. Even the more stand-alone two-parters like A Christmas Carol and Emily or Dreamland Part I and Dreamland Part II still build off the series’ central mythology. Given those were the points at which the show got the highest exposure, and the point where the show worked hardest to draw in an audience, it’s no surprise that the mythology arc rose to such prominence.

Duane Barry and Ascension undoubtedly set a precedent, but those episodes were prompted by factors outside the control of the creative team. However, Colony and End Game really solidified that precedent into a guiding principle for the show. This two-parter comes to codify and cement a lot of the things that the show’s mythology comes to take for granted. For better and worse.

Quite pointed...

Quite pointed…

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