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New Podcast! The X-Cast X-Files Podwatch – Episode #82 (Je Souhaite/Requiem)

I’m thrilled to be a part of The X-Cast X-Files Podwatch, a daily snippet podcast rewatching the entirety of The X-Files between now and the launch of the new season. It is something of a spin-off of The X-Cast, a great X-Files podcast run by the charming Tony Black. Tony has assembled a fantastic array of guests and hosts to go through The X-Files episode-by-episodes. With the new season announced to be starting in early January, Tony’s doing two episodes of the podcast per day, so buckle up. We’re almost there at this point, now marking the end of the Duchovny era of the show.

My final appearance of the somewhat uneven seventh season reteams me with the fantastic Sarah Blair. We’re discussing the last two episodes of the seventh season, and the last two episodes of the show’s original cast configuration, Je Souhaite and Requiem. Two episodes that could in their own way have served as finales for The X-Files.

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New Podcast! The X-Cast X-Files Podwatch – Episode #70 (The Unnatural/Three of a Kind)

I’m thrilled to be a part of The X-Cast X-Files Podwatch, a daily snippet podcast rewatching the entirety of The X-Files between now and the launch of the new season. It is something of a spin-off of The X-Cast, a great X-Files podcast run by the charming Tony Black. Tony has assembled a fantastic array of guests and hosts to go through The X-Files episode-by-episodes. With the new season announced to be starting in early January, Tony’s doing two episodes of the podcast per day, so buckle up. We’re almost there at this point, approaching the end of the Duchovny era of the show.

My final appearance of the sixth season teams me up with writer Sarah L. Blair. I recorded a couple of episodes with Sarah, and I’m quite fond of this duology. We’re discussing two relatively late episodes of the season, The Unnatural and Three of a Kind. The Unnatural is the first episode to be written and directed by David Duchovny, who had collaborated on some earlier mythology stories with Chris Carter, and which marks out The X-Files as a delightfully unique television series with room for eccentric visions. Three of a Kind is the series’ second Lone-Gunmen-centric episode, paving the way for… well, The Lone Gunmen.

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The X-Files – William (Review)

This December, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the ninth season of The X-Files.

William was supposed to make things simpler for The X-Files going forward.

Although the pregnancy narrative of the eighth season had provided a solid arc across the year, it seemed like the production team had no idea what to do with William once the child actually arrived. Despite the fact that Essence and Existence insisted that William was a miracle completely unrelated to the alien colonists, Nothing Important Happened Today I and Nothing Important Happened Today II tried to tie William back into the mythology. Trust No 1 suggested William was part of prophecy. Provenance and Providence had the baby kidnapped.

Mulder cameo.

Mulder cameo.

One of the more frequent criticisms of the ninth season is that William served to handicap Scully as a character. Scully was suddenly relegated to the role of mother, with the scripts and the fans constantly wondering why Scully wasn’t spending more time with the baby. The mythology suggested that Scully was only relevant because of her connections to William and Mulder. Although William and Mulder were subject to a colonist prophecy, Scully was not mentioned. She was just a tether connecting the two, accessible because Gillian Anderson was still in the show.

The fact that the series was ending provided the perfect opportunity to clear William away. William is clearly designed to declutter the narrative of the show by disposing of a dangling loose end. Ironically, it only serves to create a whole lot more.

Taking his face... off.

Taking his face… off.

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The X-Files – Season 8 (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 eighth season of The X-Files would be the perfect last season of the show, and a pretty solid first season of a new show born from the ashes.

In many ways, television is a conservative medium – more in an artistic sense than a political one. Network television is largely built around churn, a conveyor belt model that is designed to generate product according to tight schedules and oppressive deadlines. Routine and familiarity make the production schedule easier to manage, particularly for shows with large season orders. More than that, if a show has figured out an approach that has worked, it makes no sense to deviate from that pattern.

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Why risk changing something that has been proven to work and to which the audience has responded? For all the (deserved) praise The X-Files gets for popularising (or repopularising) serialised storytelling in prime-time television, it was just as conservative as any other show. The production team were working under incredible pressure, so it makes sense they would not want to change a formula that made sense. As such, the really big changes to the show were largely driven by external factors.

The mythology largely developed from Scully’s abduction in Duane Barry and Ascension, an attempt by the writers to work around Scully’s abduction. The decision to film The X-Files: Fight the Future between the fourth and fifth seasons was at the behest of Fox rather than the production team. David Duchovny forces the move to Los Angeles in the sixth season. The eighth season represents the most seismic shift in the creative life of The X-Files, and – as with those other big decisions – it was largely driven by choices outside the production team.

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In hindsight, it seems obvious that the show could not continue forever. Duchovny and Anderson were headlining a show that filmed twenty-odd episodes a season. The show had begun diffusing its focus in the fourth and fifth seasons by focusing on members of the supporting cast, but it was still effectively a two-lead show. That is a tremendous strain. Something had to give. It turned out that something was Duchovny. At the end of the seventh season, with everything coming down to the wire, Duchovny made it clear he would not appear in a full eighth season.

This forced the show to change, but in a way that afforded some measure of stability. The idea of doing The X-Files without either Mulder or Scully was horrifying to the production team and horrifying to certain sections of fandom, but Duchovny’s willingness to stick around for half of the eighth season afforded some measure of compromise. The change did not need to be jarring. Easing David Duchovny out of the show would allow for a smoother transition. It would allow the show to say a proper (and extended) farewell to Mulder.

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This is perhaps the strongest aspect of the eighth season, the sense that it has a certainty and finality that the seventh season lacked. Even during the post-production of Requiem, the production team had no idea whether the seventh season would be the final season of the show. As a result, the seventh season is decidedly non-committal on the issue of closure. The eighth season is a lot more enthusiastic about the prospect of wrapping things up, once and for all. There is a sense that this is the final season of a version of the show, at the very least.

The eighth season finds itself in the impossible position of having to imagine The X-Files without Mulder. The only real issue is that it succeeds all too well. The biggest problem with the eighth season is that it is followed by a ninth season.

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The X-Files – Existence (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.

This is not the end.

But it really should be. At least for Mulder and Scully.

There was no season nine. What are you talking about?

There was no season nine.
What are you talking about?

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The Lone Gunmen – All About Yves (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 broad consensus would seem to suggest that All About Yves is the best episode of The Lone Gunmen.

While this is perhaps unfair to Madam, I’m Adam and Tango de los Pistoleros, it is certainly a defensible position. All About Yves is one of the tightest shows of the season, and marks the first time since The Pilot that a plot has managed to actually build momentum and tension across its run-time. As effective as the climaxes of Madam, I’m Adam and Tango de los Pistoleros might have been, the first season of The Lone Gunmen doesn’t really offer much in the way of dramatic stakes.

"This looks familiar..."

“This looks familiar…”

In a way, that is to be expected. The Lone Gunmen is, first and foremost, a comedy. There are points in the first season where it feels like The Lone Gunmen exists primarily as a silo to store all the displaced comedy that the production team stripped out of the sombre eighth season of The X-Files. (Cynics might suggest that there wasn’t quite thirteen episodes’ worth of comedy to be re-homed.) It is hard to feel too stressed when Langly is threatened in Bond, Jimmy Bond or when a poacher points a gun at Byers in Diagnosis: Jimmy.

That is the beauty of All About Yves, managing to create a growing sense of tension and unease without sacrificing any of the show’s humour. Indeed, with the addition of guest star Michael McKean to the cast, All About Yves winds up funnier than about half of the preceding season.

The truth is out there...

The truth is out there…

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The X-Files – Empedocles (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.

Empedocles returns to one of the most enduring Ten Thirteen themes: the idea of evil as contagion.

Both The X-Files and Millennium have touched upon this theme. On The X-Files, episodes like Aubrey and Grotesque suggested that evil was something that could be passed from person to person. Despite the fact that Millennium was based around a forensic profiler, Chris Carter described it as a show about “the limits of psychology”; it seemed like evil could often be traced to sinister forces at work in the world. Looking at Ten Thirteen’s output as a whole, it seems that Carter believes wholeheartedly in the idea of evil as an external force.

Man on fire...

Man on fire…

Empedocles offers perhaps the most straightforward example of this recurring theme. Reyes describes the case as “a thread of evil… connecting through time, through men, through opportunity.” It is a narrative thread that connects from the murder of Luke Doggett in New York to a workplace shooting in New Orleans. Evil is at work in the world, in a way that is palpable and discernible. Empedocles is not a subtle episode of television, linking this contagion of evil images of hellfire and burning.

There is undoubtedly something just a little simplistic about all of this. One of the luxuries of conspiracy theory, as The X-Files has repeatedly suggested, is the way that it serves to impose a logical and linear narrative on trauma; to make sense of acts and events that would otherwise suggest a brutally random universe. The mythology running through the first six seasons of the show suggested a conspiracy of powerful men might provide such a nexus of causation, but Empedocles offers something a bit broader.

It burns...

Burn with me.

As with a lot of the eighth season mythology, Empedocles cuts out the middle-man. The eighth season largely eschews the blending of “self” and “other” that run through first seven seasons of the show, largely rejecting the narrative of collaboration and complicity implied by the Syndicate. The eighth season of The X-Files repeatedly suggests that evil is inhuman, presenting its antagonists as distinctly “other” forms that infiltrate and pervert the body in perhaps the purest distillation of the show’s many viral metaphors.

In its own way, Empedocles is just as much a mythology or conspiracy episode as Three Words or Vienen. Like those episodes, Empedocles posits a conspiracy theory based upon the subversion of human identity by something alien and external. Empedocles posits a conspiracy of evil.

Crispy...

Crispy…

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The X-Files – Three Words (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.

There is no “to be continued…” explicitly linking DeadAlive to Three Words, but there doesn’t have to be.

In this final stretch of the eighth season, The X-Files adapts a somewhat serialised narrative model. Although stories like Empedocles and Vienen technically serve as “monster of the week” stories that stand alone, they feel very particular to this moment in the show’s history. Mulder’s return to the land of the living in DeadAlive does not mark a return to the status quo, despite his best efforts. Instead, it creates a highly volatile (and, by its nature, transitory) set-up that cannot be maintained over an extended period.

Howard Salt was willing to go to any lengths to return the President's copy of The X-Files film.

Howard Salt was willing to go to any lengths to return the President’s copy of The X-Files film.

This is not a sustainable status quo. This is not “business as usual.” This is not what the ninth season will look like. This is not like those other changes to the status quo that occurred at the start of the second and sixth seasons, when Mulder and Scully were taken off the X-files but continued to investigate cases that were X-files in all but name. Episodes like Blood or How the Ghosts Stole Christmas could be transitioned into a regular season order with a minimum of changes, but these episodes all feel uniquely tailored to this point in the show’s history.

As such, the end of the eighth season takes on a loosely serialised quality, and not just in the story of the new mythology or the so-called “super soldiers.” The character dynamics evolve and grow, with the individual episodes seeding character development leading the season finalé. Episodes like Three Words and Vienen make it increasingly clear that Mulder is not back in an permanent sense by first pushing him away from the X-files and then firing him from the FBI. Scully’s pregnancy is actually allowed to progress at this point in the season.

He's back!

He’s back!

This serialisation is apparent in the discrepancies between the production and broadcast order. As with extended sections of the fourth season, the final stretch of the eighth season was produced in a different order than it was broadcast. Unlike the fourth season, however, this shift does not create any dissonance as significant as the conflict between the version of Never Again that was filmed and the one that was broadcast. Despite being produced in a different order, these stories could not work in any order other than the broadcast order.

Although The X-Files frequently gets credit for pioneering and popularising (or, at the very least, re-popularising) serialised narratives on prime-time television, the final stretch of the eighth season is perhaps the serialised stretch of the entire nine-year run.

A touching reunion...

A touching reunion…

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The X-Files – This is Not Happening (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 eighth season of The X-Files is remarkable in a number of ways.

It accomplishes a lot of things, and does them in a very logical and linear way. The departure of David Duchovny at the end of the seventh season set an agenda for the season ahead, and gave the production team a very clear set of goals. The eighth season required more discipline and planning than any of the previous seven seasons, with less room for improvisation or error. If Chris Carter and his team were to succeed at bringing the eighth season to life, it would require even more care and discipline than the show usually required.

"Nooooo!"

“Nooooo!”

One of the least discussed aspects of the eighth season is the care that the production team took to structure it. The eighth season of The X-Files is the most meticulously and carefully structured season of The X-Files, clearly adhering to an internal three act structure. The first seven or eight episodes (Within to Via Negativa or Per Manum) are all set-up. The next five (Surekill to Medusa) explored that new set-up. The final eight (This is Not Happening to Existence) closed out the plots and threads of the season, leaving the show in a very different place.

The decision to shift Per Manum around in the broadcast order changes things slightly, but there is still a sense that the eighth season was entering its end game in late February 2001. Positioned at the start of the season’s third act, This is Not Happening offers perhaps the bleakest cliffhanger and puts our heroes at their lowest possible point. Adhering to the classic three-act structure, This is Not Happening serves as the emotional climax of the season. With a five week gap between the broadcast of This is Not Happening and DeadAlive, this is one hell of a cliffhanger.

"Have you seen this devilishly handsome man?"

“Have you seen this devilishly handsome man?”

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The X-Files – Without (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.

Taken as a whole, the eighth season of The X-Files is remarkable.

It is not a perfect season of television, by any stretch. The eighth season doesn’t hit as many highs as the fourth, fifth or sixth seasons. As great as Robert Patrick is as John Doggett, and as skilfully as he is introduced, it is impossible to replace the easy dynamic between Mulder and Scully. The actual mythology of the season feels overcrowded and convoluted, with “supersoldiers” feeling a tad cliché and Mulder’s terminal illness going nowhere of note. The season’s recurring motifs of darkness, death and body horror are not for everybody.

I bet David Duchovny really missed working on The X-Files...

I bet David Duchovny really missed working on The X-Files

At the same time, there is a staggering consistency and reliability to the season. From the outset, the eighth season seems to know what it wants to be and where it wants to go. There is a stronger sense of purpose to the eighth season than to any other season of the show, with the possible exception of the third. Even the lead-up to the release of The X-Files: Fight the Future did not feel this single-minded and focused. In terms of consistency of theme and imagery, this is the closest the show ever came to pulling off a season-long arc.

It is tempting to credit this renewed vigour and energy to the absence of David Duchovny; the search for Mulder provides a solid and compelling hook for the season ahead. However, there is more to it than that. Mulder’s disappearance is a part of it, but the big thematic bow wrapped around the eighth season is Scully’s pregnancy. After all, David Duchovny returns to the show two-thirds of way through the season; it is Scully’s pregnancy that provides the season’s finalé.

"Thank goodness we all wore different ties. That might have been awkward."

“Thank goodness we all wore different ties. That might have been awkward.”

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