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Harsh Realm – Leviathan (Review)

This November, 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 first three episodes of Harsh Realm are an interesting combination, and not just because they were the only three episodes of the show to air before cancellation.

All three episodes are written by Chris Carter. The first two are directed by Daniel Sackheim. Taken together, they form a loose triptych. They are effectively three separate stories that come together to form a three-part pilot for the show. It is only by the end of Inga Fossa that Thomas Hobbes (and the audience) fully accept the virtual world into which they have been placed, embracing the hero’s journey that lies ahead. It isn’t until Kein Ausgang that the show really offers the audience a sense of how it might work on a weekly basis.

Fading out...

Fading out…

This is not to suggest that the events of The Pilot flow elegantly into Leviathan, nor that the events of Leviathan bleed over into Inga Fossa. All three episodes of television are discreet and individual; foreshadowing the format that the show would take in its relatively brief life. Interestingly, Carter does not take advantage of the show’s video game structure to enforce more rigid serialisation. If anything, most the nine episodes (particularly the back six) are rigidly episodic.

Leviathan is particularly relaxed in its structure. The Pilot offered all the spectacle and exposition necessary to establish Harsh Realm. In contrast, Leviathan is a bit more focused on mood and atmosphere. There is an impressive action sequence to close out the episode, but there is a larger sense that Leviathan is about establishing what day-to-day existence must be like in this virtual world.

General problems...

General problems…

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Harsh Realm – Pilot (Review)

This November, 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.

Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man.

– Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, The First Part, Chapter XIII

Harsh Realm is essentially a war story, or a collection of war stories.

To be fair, there are other themes that bleed through the show’s short nine-episode run; a critique of late-stage capitalism, a healthy dose of Chris Carter’s patented nineties existential spirituality, an exploration of American masculinity. The show plays on all sorts of genres across its short lifespan, from horror story to western to modern noir film. However, all of these unfold against the backdrop of a world locked in total warfare. The opening scenes of The Pilot unfold against the Siege of Sarajevo, setting the tone for the rest of the series.

Tom's not here, man...

Tom’s not here, man…

Carter tends to wear his cinematic and televisual influences on his sleeves. The X-Files was a spiritual successor to Kolchak: The Night Stalker, with a little bit of The Parallax View and The Silence of the Lambs thrown in for good measure. Millennium launched in 1996 and owed a lot to the look and feel of David Fincher’s work on se7en. Harsh Realm owes a lot to the resurgence in war movies towards the end of the twentieth century, coming less than a year after Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line both scored Best Picture nominations.

On the commentary for The Pilot, Chris Carter notes that the show’s protagonist was named for the philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Carter cites that Hobbes’ most famous observation is that life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” The same might be said of the life of Harsh Realm.

Fading out...

Fading out…

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The X-Files – S.R. 819 (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.

And we’re back on familiar ground.

The first half of sixth season of The X-Files is perhaps the weirdest that the show ever really became. It seemed like the series transformed into a goofy workplace romantic comedy, as Mulder and Scully worked at boring desk jobs during the day before investigating paranormal activity together in their spare time. It was utterly unlike anything that the show had done before or anything that it would do after. It is very strange to see so many oddities packed together so tightly.

He survived by the Skin(ner) of his teeth...

He survived by the Skin(ner) of his teeth…

Triangle, Dreamland I, Dreamland II, How the Ghosts Stole Christmas and The Rain King have enough surreal content to sustain two or three seasons of The X-Files. Broadcasting them almost back-to-back left some fans a little shell-shocked. At the time, it must have seemed like The X-Files had become a completely different television show than it had been only five or six months earlier. However, with the benefit of hindsight, it becomes clear that those episodes were just a very strange blip in the larger context of the series.

S.R. 819 is the episode that marks the clear return to the classic “tried and tested” model of The X-Files. It has everything from ambiguous conspiracies to body horror to car park confrontations. It is very much business as usual. Which is both the best and worst thing about it.

Do the Mathes, son...

Do the Mathes, son…

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