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The X-Files – Never Again (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.

Not everything is about you, Mulder. This is my life.

Yes but it’s m–

– Glen Morgan and James Wong take their bow; David Chase eat your heart out

...

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The X-Files – Season 1 (Review)

Trying to appraise the first season of any show is quite different from judging any other season. While all subsequent seasons have some measure of continuity to build off, some experience to guide the cast and crew, some familiarity to play into or away from, the first season literally starts with nothing. Even when there’s a sizeable gap between the production of the pilot and the start of work on the series proper (with over a year between the filming of The Pilot and Deep Throat), there’s still a sense we’re watching the production team settle into their roles.

All of this is a round-about way of saying that the first season of The X-Files is not a great season of television, judged on its own merits. It’s certainly not the strongest season of the show, which would go from strength-to-strength over the next three years, while also having an ambitious (if not entirely successful) fifth season. The first season of The X-Files is probably the weakest of the first five years of the show, but to express it in those terms is to miss the point.

The first season does a pretty great job laying the ground rules for the franchise, and offers a pretty solid indication of the talent involved in the show, if they can figure out what they want to do. (With quite a few episodes serving as examples of what the show doesn’t want to do.)

xfiles-deepthroat7

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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 – Tooms (Review)

Tooms offers us the show’s first returning monster, not counting the recurring alien menace that has appeared in episodes like Deep Throat or Fallen Angel or E.B.E. In fact, it arguably offers us two recurring monsters, with Eugene Victor Tooms putting in his second appearance, but also featuring the second official (but third possible) appearance of the Cigarette-Smoking Man.

Appropriately enough, Tooms doesn’t just bring back the eponymous serial killer, it begins to tie various loose ends together, and to fashion a sense of continuity and development from the various character moments and implications of the first season, suggesting that forces are moving in the background, behind the scenes of everything we’ve watched unfold.

They've got him boxed in...

They’ve got him boxed in…

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The X-Files – Darkness Falls (Review)

Darkness Falls is the best script Chris Carter has written so far. It it is far superior to Fire or Space or Young at Heart or The Jersey Devil or even The Pilot. It’s quite possibly the strongest normal “monster-of-the-week” episode that Carter ever wrote, discounting his work on “special” episodes (like Post-Modern Prometheus or Triangle) or even some mythology stories (I’m quite fond of Redux).

Darkness Falls is – at its most basic – just a very strong monster-of-the-week installment, hitting all the right buttons to provide an atmospheric horror thriller.

If a tree falls in the woods...

If a tree falls in the woods…

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The X-Files – Miracle Man (Review)

The biggest problem with Miracle Man is that it’s a Howard Gordon script. I don’t mean to diminish Gordon’s contributions to the show. Gordon is one of the strongest contributors to this rocky first season (only Morgan and Wong can claim to be stronger, and they also have their misfires), and he – along with frequent partner Alex Gansa – seems to have the strongest grip on Mulder as a character. And therein lies the most fundamental problem with Miracle Man, the horribly clumsy and muddled ending aside.

Miracle Man feels like it focuses on the wrong lead. It tackles themes and subject matter the show would revisit more successfully in the years ahead, in episodes like Revelations and All Souls. However, the religion-themed episodes in the years ahead would typically focus on Scully – contrasting her religious faith with her scientific skepticism to provide Anderson with some of the best work she’d do on the show.

Instead, Miracle Man digs its character hooks into Mulder, tying back to the disappearance of Samantha for no reason other than “well, this story needs to be about Mulder for some reason.”

Symbolism!

Symbolism!

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The X-Files – E.B.E. (Review)

While the show was on the air, it seemed like the series’ “mythology arc” – the on-going recurring story arc concerning the government and the Syndicate and the aliens and the colonists and Samantha Mulder – was the best part of the show. Given how The Truth bungled tying up all the loose ends generated over nine years of mythology, hindsight has been somewhat harsh to these episodes. It’s a lot harder to get caught up in Mulder’s cat-and-mouse game against the government when you know the show won’t bother to offer a satisfying conclusion.

And yet, perhaps that isn’t the appeal of these conspiracy episodes. Perhaps these over-arching mythology episodes didn’t grab our attention because they promised long-form storytelling with set-up and pay-off. Certainly, there’s little direct connective tissue between The Pilot, Deep Throat, Fallen Angel and E.B.E., barring the appearance of Deep Throat, who has also guested in shows like Eve or Ghost in the Machine or Young at Heart. At this point in the run, there’s no hint of Mulder’s convoluted familial ties this stretched secret conspiracy, no suggestion the government was complicit in the abduction of Mulder’s sister.

Instead, E.B.E. offers another clever and interesting suggestion about why this government conspiracy plot line appeals to us. It’s nothing to do with a developing story arc, at least not in this place. It’s just a wonderful channel through which we may express our mistrust of authority, the most direct way to focus our well-honed paranoia against those in government, the most straight-forward expression of post Cold War anxiety.

The truth was in here...

The truth was in here…

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