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New Podcast! The X-Cast – Season 4, Episode 7 (“Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man”)

This was a surprise and a delight. Reteaming with Carl Sweeney, with whom I last discussed Unruhe, I’m back on The X-Cast this week covering Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man.

To tip my hand quite early, Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man is one of my favourite episodes of The X-Files. More than that, it’s one of my favourite pieces of nineties pop culture in general, the twisted evil twin of Forrest Gump and an exploration of the first half of the American Century through the lens of conspiracy theory. It’s a prime example of the sort of experimentation that made The X-Files such a great piece of nineties television, anchored in a playful and self-aware script from Glen Morgan and some great direction from James Wong.

So it was fantastic to get the chance to talk about it at length with Carl – even “Bad Carl” – on The X-Cast. You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Dragon’s Teeth (Review)

In many ways Dragon’s Teeth demonstrates the chaos that marked the start of the sixth season.

On paper, Dragon’s Teeth looks to be a big blockbuster episode of Star Trek: Voyager. It has top-notch production, a large guest cast, an impressive special effects set-up, a new alien menace, and an emphasis on momentum ahead of character or theme. Just looking at Dragon’s Teeth, it has the look and feel of an “event” story. It seems like an episode with a bold statement of purpose, from the opening teaser that suggests an epic scope by unfolding in the distant past of an alien world through to the ominous closing line that promises that Dragon’s Teeth is just the beginning.

Let sleeping dragons lie…

It seems like the sixth season’s answer to earlier mid-season two-parters like Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II, Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II, or Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II. It even broadcasts in roughly the same stretch of the season as Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II, Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II or Timeless. It is an early November episode, intended to help boost ratings during Sweeps.

However, what is most striking about Dragon’s Teeth is how much it feels like a non-event. The episode has all the markers of a big event story, from the promise of a shortcut home to the sight of the ship landing on a planet surface, but the story is actually incredibly generic. Dragon’s Teeth is not necessarily bad, it is simply competent. There is a strange sense watching Dragon’s Teeth that a phenomenal amount of effort has gone into ensuring that the episode works, rather than trying to make it excel.

Sweet dreams.

Of course, this makes a certain amount of sense. Dragon’s Teeth aired almost a third of the way through the season, but it was produced earlier. In terms of broadcast, it fell between Riddles and One Small Step. In terms of production, it came between Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy and Alice. As such, it was produced in the midst of the chaos following the sudden departure of Ronald D. Moore and the reinstatement of Kenneth Biller. More than that, it was the first episode of the season to be written by Brannon Braga since that behind the scenes shake-up. As a result, it makes sense it should feel “off.”

Dragon’s Teeth is an episode that spends so much of its energy trying to remain upright that it never manages to take flight.

Oh, mummy.

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The Lone Gunmen – Three Men and a Smoking Diaper (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.

Three Men and a Smoking Diaper might just be the worst episode of The Lone Gunmen.

It is also the only episode to be written solely by Chris Carter, who had also contributed to The Pilot.

Good advice...

Good advice…

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The X-Files – Three of a Kind (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

Unusual Suspects is perhaps an underrated episode.

The third episode broadcast of the fifth season is a light adventure that offers viewers an origin story of the Lone Gunman. Byers, Langley and Frohike have been around since E.B.E. towards the end of the first season, and have become an integral part of the show’s ensemble cast. Unusual Suspects is frequently written off as a piece of fluff designed to work around the limited availability of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson due to on-going production work on The X-Files: Fight the Future.

Viva Las Vegas...

Viva Las Vegas…

This seems dismissive of Vince Gilligan’s paranoid origin story, which is one of the few times that Gilligan engages directly with the themes that underpin the sprawling mythology at the heart of the show. Unusual Suspects is not a “mythology episode” in the way that gets episodes repackaged on DVD collections, but it does explore the idea of conspiracy and paranoia as a personal narrative. Unusual Suspects is a very sweet story about a lost and heartbroken man who builds a conspiracy mythology around himself because he has nothing else to do.

Three of a Kind is very much a sequel episode to Unusual Suspects, focusing again on the Lone Gunmen and bringing back Susanne Modeski. However, it is a much lighter and more disposable story. Barring the beautifully crafted prologue, Three of a Kind is an entirely disposable episode of television. It feels like filler. It is neither a beginning nor an end to the story of Byers or the Lone Gunmen. It is just a long middle, with the characters ending up back where they began. In a way, this makes it feel very much like a standard sixth season episode.

A man alone...

A man alone…

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Millennium – Darwin’s Eye (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

There is a reckless abandon to the the late third season of Millennium that is oddly endearing.

The first half of the year seemed almost cautious and conservative, as if trying to smooth the rough edges off the show in the hopes of turning it into a more generic piece of television. That approach failed spectacularly, and hobbled the rest of the season. Towards the end of the third season, Millennium allowed itself to become a bit bolder and more abstract, proudly flying its freak flag high. The show found an energy and verve, throwing crazy concepts into scripts with reckless abandon and little regard for how they fit together.

Shady theories...

Shady theories…

It doesn’t entirely work. If anything, it underscores just how skilfully the second season had integrated these crazy ideas with a clear creative direction and a solid thematic foundation. The second season know roughly where it wanted to go, and so embarked on an epic journey towards that point. While the third season has its own thematic underpinnings, these feel more like recurring visual motifs and ideas than a clear purpose. As a result, the weirdness can seem detached and purposeless, abstract and surreal.

However, even when the late third season episodes don’t quite work, they remain interesting. There is a breathless energy to these stories that was sadly missing in the first stretch of the year. Darwin’s Eye is a prime example. It is not an episode that could be described as a success by any measure, but it is still ambitious and dynamic in a way that mitigates its failings. Somewhat.

That's one way to get a head in love...

That’s one way to get a head in love…

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Millennium – Skull and Bones (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

Skull and Bones brings a lot of the problems with the third season of Millennium to the fore.

Most obviously, the third season of Millennium is making a conscious effort to return to the aesthetic and style of the first season, with an emphasis on horrific crimes and abhorrent psychologies. In interviews around the launch of the third season, Chris Carter repeatedly suggested that something had been lost in the second season. TEOTWAWKI was an issue-driven episode about school shootings and Y2K. Closure was a story about how spree killers can engage in random patterns of violence and there is no way to reliably discern a pattern of logic in truly evil behaviour.

The hole in things...

The hole in things…

At the same time, the third season is struggling to deal with the legacy and impact of the second season. The Innocents and Exegesis rather clumsily attempted to write their way out of The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now by downplaying the impact of the end of the world at the end of the second season. However, the third cannot completely erase what happened. The absence of Catherine Black and the presence of Peter Watts are constant reminders. The Millennium Group itself cannot revert back to its first season self.

Skull and Bones plays out this conflict, creating an impression of a show trapped at a crossroads with a problem it cannot resolve. Skull and Bones is an episode that attempts to both minimise the impact of the second season of Millennium while still acknowledging and building upon it. It is not an approach that lends itself to satisfactory or fulfilling storytelling. However, it does articulate just how confused the show must be at this point in its life cycle.

There are going to be a lot of Yorrick captions this time...

There are going to be a lot of Yorrick captions this time…

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The X-Files – Travelers (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.

For all that the fifth season of The X-Files is building towards a major summer movie release, the production team seem surprisingly relaxed about it.

The fifth season is as experimental and as loose as the show ever got. Patient X and The Red and the Black suggested that Chris Carter didn’t even feel beholden to the continuity of The X-Files: Fight the Future, introducing new characters and concepts to the mythology that could not possibly be inserted into the film at this late stage. Similarly, the show was willing to play around with special guest writers like Stephen King and William Gibson, film an entire episode in black and white, focus on relatively minor characters, and reveal two separate secret histories of the X-files.

What do you call a baby Fox?

What do you call a baby Fox?

Of course, some of these innovations were driven by necessity or large goals. Patient X and The Red and the Black represent the beginning of the end for this stage of the mythology. Stories like Unusual Suspects and Travelers focus on characters other than Mulder or Scully because David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were otherwise engaged. Nevertheless, there is a very relaxed vibe to the fifth season, as if the show is taking an extended moment to enjoy the peak of its popularity. As well it should.

Travelers is an episode that is far from essential in many respects. It is clunky in places, indulgent in others. It feels like the production teams are just happy to root through the old costuming wardrobe and prop departments, delighted to compose over-written monologues and stock characters. Travelers is light and fun, with its indulgence and its relative lack of substance making it more enjoyable than it would otherwise be.

He'll (Garret Dilla)hunt you down...

He’ll (Garret Dilla)hunt you down…

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