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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.

 

New Podcast! The X-Cast – Season 2, Episode 17 (“End Game”)

Just a quick link to a recent (unscheduled) guest appearance over on The X-Cast, a great X-Files podcast run by the prolific Tony Black.

Following on from last week, I had the pleasure of an extended conversation with Tony about End Game. It was a joy, given the my own fondness for the episode and its place in the large X-Files canon. It was a fun to talk through the episode, from what Mulder really wants to whether the show’s popularity drove the mythology or the mythology’s popularity drove the show to Mister X’s appreciation for the fine arts. Check it out the episode here, or click the link below.

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The X-Files – My Struggle I (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.

This is journey that began for me – I’m sorry if I get emotional – twenty-three years ago. Things just don’t last in culture, these days. They… culture gobbles them up and they go away. It’s… it’s rare when something sticks around. Thanks for being part of the journey. The idea is that this is not the end. This is maybe a new beginning. And maybe we’ll do more of these if we do a really good job.

– Chris Carter’s opening remarks at the first production meeting on My Struggle I

The truth is still out there...

The truth is still out there…

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The X-Files: Season 10 (IDW) #21-25 – Elders (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.

One of the more disappointing aspects of The X-Files: Season 10 and The X-Files: Season 11 is that it does very little to adapt the mythology to the twenty-first century.

The X-Files is very much a show rooted in the political and cultural context of the nineties. Everything about the show’s first seven seasons reflects the Clinton era, with the series perfectly capturing the zeitgeist in the weird lacuna between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the destruction of the World Trade Centre. At its peak, the show touched on underlying anxieties that are social, political and existential; it asked tough questions about identity in the final days of the twentieth century. As much as Friends or The Simpsons, The X-Files embodied the nineties.

The son becomes the father... And the pseudo-son...

The son becomes the father…
And the pseudo-son…

As such, any revival of The X-Files must face questions of relevance. The X-Files so perfectly captured the spirit of the nineties that removing the series from that context runs the risk of severely damaging it. What makes now such a perfect time for The X-Files? What does The X-Files have to say about contemporary culture? How will the show be tweaked for modern audiences and sensibilities? These are not trivial questions. Any X-Files revival should be more than just a nostalgic “victory lap.”

This question of relevance faced the revival miniseries, but it also faced The X-Files: Season 10. What does The X-Files mean in the modern world? Harris had broached the question in a number of different ways, perhaps most skilfully in his approach to the classic “small town horror stories” that populated the show’s nine-season run. Whereas those stories tended to touch upon themes of globalisation and the erosion of so-called eccentric spaces, Harris used stories like Chitter and Immaculate to explore a growing cultural divide in twenty-first century America.

Cuba libre...

Cuba libre…

However, The X-Files: Season 10 does not work quite as well when it comes to updating the mythology for the twenty-first century. A lot of this is down to the strong nostalgic pull of the nineties mythology. Harris employs a lot of the same elements that were in play while the show was on the air; the same characters, the same dynamics, the same story beats. There were occasional nods towards the changing geopolitical realities, such as the use of black-oil-as-oil in Pilgrims. However, the revived mythology never engaged with the twenty-first century as well as it might.

Effectively serving as the season “finale”, Elders makes the strongest play for relevance yet. It consciously references and evokes the imagery of the War on Terror in its exploration of Gibson Praise’s revived conspiracy. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work.

Cross to bear...

Cross to bear…

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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: Conspiracy (IDW) (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.

IDW is quite different from Topps and Wildstorm, the two prior comic book companies to hold the license for The X-Files.

Part of that simply reflects changes in the comic book industry over time, with a greater fixation on concepts like shared universes and continuity, along with an increased emphasis on the importance of “the canon.” Part of that is simply down to the way that IDW operates as a publisher. The company is the fourth-largest comic book publisher in America, behind Marvel, DC and Image. While the company publishes a number of creator-owned properties, its success has largely been based around licensing properties.

A mutant phenomenon...

A mutant phenomenon…

In doing so, the company has adopted a model quite close to that of Marvel or DC. It tends to organise its books around these properties in the same way that Marvel or DC might organise themselves around the so-called “families.” Much like books like Detective Comics, Nightwing or Batgirl are considered part of the “Batman” family or books like Wolverine, Namor and X-Force fall under the X-Men banner, IDW tends to group its books into familiar families based around licensed properties. Transformers, G.I. Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

It is not uncommon for each of those lines to support multiple books. For example, the company would publish a number of miniseries as companion pieces to their monthly Star Trek or Doctor Who comics. The same would be true of The X-Files: Season 1o, with the company publishing a number of tie-in books around that. Year Zero and Millennium are the most obvious example, providing the company with the opportunity to publish several branded X-Files books within the same month.

I bet super soldiers wish that they could do this.

I bet super soldiers wish that they could do this.

At the same time, the company engages with its properties in much the same way that Marvel or DC might. Marvel and DC tend to fall into a pattern of massive so-called “events” that serve to draw particular books away from their own internal narratives and towards a more “epic” story. Civil War focused on a fight between Captain America and Iron Man, but crossed over into over one hundred comic book issues published over seven months. There are countless other examples, from House of M to Crisis on Infinite Earths to Siege to Final Crisis.

IDW has organised several of its own blockbuster events to tie together its own licensed properties; Infestation and and Infes2ation come to mind. To celebrate the landing of the license, it was decided that the 2014 crossover would be themed around The X-Files. It is just a shame that the result was terrible.

We ain't afraid of no ghosts...

We ain’t afraid of no ghosts…

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The X-Files: Season 10 (IDW) #8 – Being for the Benefit of Mr. X (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.

Being for the Benefit of Mr. X is effectively another origin story, following on from Hosts.

While Hosts explained exactly how the Fluke Man came to be, and even gave the character tangible motivation, Being for the Benefit of Mr. X is largely driven by flashbacks that proceed to explain and elaborate upon Mulder’s second informant. Mister X has long been one of the franchise’s most interesting and underdeveloped character, in part owing to the fact that the show fleshed out very little about him and in part due to Steven Williams’ performance. While the show revealed a lot about Deep Throat or the Cigarette-Smoking Man, Mister X remains a mystery.

Marking the spot.

Marking the spot.

The question, of course, is what this actually adds to the story being told. It is fun to revisit the origin of Mister X, but he is very much an outdated concern at this point in the show’s life. In fact, the character’s last appearance was in flashback in Unusual Suspects at the start of the fifth season, following his death in Herrenvolk at the start of the fourth season. Unlike the Cigarette-Smoking Man, Mister X was never literally resurrected. Unlike Deep Throat, he never turned up to haunt Mulder in episodes like The Blessing Way or The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati.

It is not as if writer Joe Harris has constructed a particularly compelling origin story for Mister X. The story told in Being for the Benefit of Mr. X is solid and sturdy, integrating quite smoothly with the continuity of the show and the character as we understand it. However, there are no real surprises or tangents, no twists or surprises. Being for the Benefit of Mr. X is a solid “done in one” story. It just feels a tad unnecessary.

In too Deep (Throat)...

In too Deep (Throat)…

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The X-Files: Season 10 (IDW) #1-5 – Believers (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.

Five years can be a long time.

To be fair, there was a six-year gap between the broadcast of The Truth and the release of The X-Files: I Want to Believe, so the gap was not unprecedented. Nevertheless, the fact is that Mulder and Scully had been retired for five years since their last film and eleven years since their last television episodes. Even the most hardcore fans of The X-Files had begun to doubt that the show would ever return in any tangible form. However, the show was entering its twentieth anniversary year, and forces were stirring in the background.

X-appeal.

X-appeal.

Occasionally interviews would surface with David Duchovny or Gillian Anderson mooting the possibility of doing a third feature film. After all, despite the promise made in the opening of The Truth, 2012 had come and gone without an alien invasion or a global apocalypse. The franchise had set its own alarm clock and slept through it. There were still fitful stirrings, suggestions of possible future developments. As the franchise passed what many regarded as its “best before” date, Frank Spotnitz even speculated that fans might be treated to a reboot.

In many ways, the revival of The X-Files began somewhat innocuously. In January 2013, comics publisher IDW announced that they would be publishing a monthly series focusing on the continuing adventures of Mulder and Scully. This was not necessarily news of itself. IDW had a long history of managing licensed properties, such as the JJ Abrams Star Trek reboot and the Russell T. Davies Doctor Who relaunch. That was very much their market niche in the comic book industry, especially with nostalgic titles like Ghostbusters or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

How the years 'shroom by...

How the years ‘shroom by…

While the launch of the title did suggest that there was an audience for stories featuring Mulder and Scully, it did not necessarily lead to the promise of greater things. Indeed, the announcement that IDW would be publishing The X-Files: Season 10 consciously and clearly evoked the approach that the publisher Dark Horse had adopted towards Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Angel, running entire seasons of comic book stories that served as the new “canon” for the characters. But nobody was expecting Sarah Michelle Gellar to reprise the role of Buffy Summers.

However, the IDW comic book launch served to bring Chris Carter out of semi-retirement and back into the media spotlight. Joss Whedon had consulted with Dark Horse on Buffy: Season Eight, the prolific television writer and producer was also working on his own concurrent projects that included directing episodes of The Office and preparing Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. In contrast, Chris Carter had been largely silent since the release of I Want to Believe. The launch of the comic book brought him back.

Where there's smoke...

Where there’s smoke…

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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 102: Ten “Mythology” Episodes

Next week sees the release of The X-Files on blu ray for the first time, just over a month before the new six-episode series premieres on Fox in January. We’re running daily reviews of the show (and its spin-offs) between now and the end of the year, but we thought it might be worth compiling some guides for newer viewers who are looking to experience the length and breadth of what The X-Files has to offer. Every day this week, we’ll be publishing one quick list of recommended episodes every day, that should offer a good place to start for those looking to dive into the show.

There is no getting around the shadow of the “mythology”, the serialised central narrative of The X-Files which explored a sinister conspiracy between the United States government and alien forces building towards a sinister end. While the show was on the air, the mythology was a focal point for discussion and debate around the show, with many viewers speculating about the particulars of the allegiance between the shadowy syndicate and the mysterious visitors from outer space. It was one of the boldest and most distinctive features of the show.

xfiles-oneson4

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