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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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The X-Files – Within (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.

What is The X-Files without Mulder? Can it even exist without Mulder?

The show entered its eighth season facing an existential dilemma. David Duchovny had renewed his contract with Fox at the last possible minute, three days before Requiem consigned his character to limbo. However, it was not necessarily the renewal that Fox would have wanted. Duchovny had agreed to reprise the role of Mulder in the eighth season of The X-Files, but only for eleven of the season’s twenty-one episodes. This meant that the character of Mulder could only actually appear in just over half of the season’s episodes.

Eye see...

Eye see…

This was a pretty significant blow to The X-Files. The title of the show referred to the procedural cases investigated by Mulder and Scully, but the series had long abandoned any pretense of focusing on those cases ahead of Mulder and Scully. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson had elevated the characters to pop culture icons, with any pop savvy person capable of easily slipping a reference to Mulder and/or Scully into casual conversation. The chemistry between the two was so strong it forced the global conspiracy to second billing in The X-Files: Fight the Future.

Attempting The X-Files without Mulder (or with “just under fifty percent less Mulder”) was perhaps the most daring and ambitious decision of the show’s entire nine-season run.

"And introducing Robert Patrick."

“And introducing Robert Patrick.”

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The X-Files – Season 7 (Review)

This September, 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 seventh season of The X-Files feels like the end.

Indeed, going into the season, the production team were quite certain that it was going to be the end. Chris Carter and David Duchovny had signed two-year extensions to their initial five-year contracts that would expire at the end of the season. David Duchovny had signalled that he was unlikely to return for an eighth season. Frank Spotnitz suggested that the writing staff were approaching the seventh season like it was their last time working with these characters on this show.

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Gradually, however, things changed. As the seventh season continued, it became more and more likely that it wouldn’t be the seventh season of the show. Most obviously, Fox endured one of its worst seasons on record; there was simply no show that could hope to replace The X-Files in the network’s line-up. As a result, there was a clear urge to continue the show into an eighth season. However, the production team could not commit to the possibility because David Duchovny was in the midst of an on-going lawsuit against Fox.

As a result, the entire seventh season occupies a hazily-defined realm between life and death. As the season goes on, it feels more and more like the seventh season is hedging its bets; that the production team might be happy to move on to other projects, but are not entirely ready to give up on The X-Files yet. Watching the season in hindsight feels weird; it often feels like the production team want to bring the curtain down, but are unwilling to definitively or conclusive wrap up all the threads.

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If the sixth season of The X-Files fixated on the show’s immortality and timelessness, the seventh season plays as a reaction against that. The seventh season is very keenly aware that everything must end and that The X-Files‘ cultural moment might be fading. There is something mournful and morose about the seventh season, as if The X-Files is watching itself slip away into history. After all, this was the point where the show became readily available on DVD and where Duchovny was engaged in a lawsuit over syndication; The X-Files was becoming a legacy concern.

The seventh season is about death and undeath.

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The X-Files – Requiem (Review)

This September, 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.

As with a lot of the seventh season, Requiem is an oddity.

It is an episode that exists in a weird limbo state, carefully designed and calibrated so that it might serve two – if not three – very different purposes. Requiem was written and filmed at a point where nobody knew what was going to happen next. Requiem could have been either a season or a series finalé; it could have been the last episode of the seventh season, the last episode of the series before the launch of a movie franchise, or even just the last episode ever. That is a lot of weight to put on a single episode.

"X" marks the spot where it all began...

“X” marks the spot where it all began…

In essence, Requiem existed in a state of ambiguity and flux. It was never entirely sure what Requiem would be when Chris Carter wrote it or when Kim Manners directed it. Requiem had to be designed to be fluid and malleable; it had to support any context that might be heaped upon it in the editing suite or on broadcast. Stories like Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” and Bad Blood had explored the blurred boundaries of reality and perception; Requiem is perhaps that idea applied to the show itself.

Chris Carter could tell you what happened in Requiem as it went through production. He could explain plot details and character motivation; he could outline the chain of events that bind Requiem together. However, it was impossible for anybody working on Requiem to actually assert what the episode was until three days before the episode aired. Until that point, Requiem was a shadow or a blur, just waiting for some larger context to bring it into proper focus.

Things are looking up...

Things are looking up…

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The X-Files – Fight Club (Review)

This September, 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.

Fight Club is an unpleasant episode of The X-Files.

It’s not “unpleasant” in a good way, like (arguably) Signs and Wonders or (definitely) Theef. It is “unpleasant” in a way that feels ill-judged and tone-deaf. Following on the charm and whimsy of Hollywood A.D., the script for Fight Club seems packed with forced charm and staged whimsy. At its most basic level, Fight Club is a comedy episode that simply isn’t funny. More than that, it’s an episode that isn’t particularly funny or clever to begin with, but then spends forty-five minutes insisting upon its own wit.

"Some of us are looking at the stars..."

“Some of us are looking at the stars…”

There is also a sense of unpleasantness about the themes and content of the episode in the context of the late seventh season. After all, it is no secret that the production team were facing considerable internal and external pressure. These pressures included a lawsuit involving the show’s lead actor and the show’s creator (not to mention the show’s network) and the fact that everybody on the production team was waiting for David Duchovny to determine if they would have a job the following season.

With all of this going on in the background, maybe an episode the implicitly features the show’s two lead actors knocking the stuffing out of each other for no good reason is not the best idea in the world.

"Hm..."

“Hm…”

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The X-Files – Hollywood A.D. (Review)

This September, 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.

And now as we drift off the laughing agents and back to the graveyard , we see the Lazarus Bowl lying discarded beneath a tree.

A SWITCH, a broken tipped branch of the tree gets blown by the fan’s wind force down toward the plastic grooves of the replica as we move down toward it, we can read a “MADE IN ISRAEL” sticker on its bottom – the branch reaching toward the plastic,  like a woman’s arms to her lover —

Close on the splintered wood making contact on the colored plastic like a phonograph needle on vinyl —

And now MUSIC COMES UP – scratchy like an old record, the fourth track from BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB, in a superior interpretation rendered by Mark Snow, called “PUEBLO NUEVO” – a beautiful stately cha cha instrumental —

We pull back wide as APPARITIONS appear to rise from their graves, rotting, but standing at atte ntion and then —

When the music kicks in, they begin to dance, all of them, in the round – dignified, changing partners… we hear the bones creaking, we see the gentlemanly half skulls smiling…

And now by the magic of Bill Millar & Co., the GREEN SCREEN becomes the rest of a HUGE GRAVEYARD with corpses dancing  stately and dignified upon it as we begin a slow pull out to a heavenly perspective…

This is what life’s about. This is what the dead would do if only they could. As we slowly fade to black, the band plays on.

And we end.

 – David Duchovny takes his bow

Everything ends.

Everything ends.

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The X-Files – Brand X (Review)

This September, 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.

Watching the seventh season of The X-Files only reinforces the sense that the production team got extremely lucky with the casting of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. The chemistry between the two actors has carried more than a few weak scripts across the seventh season. Lighter shows like Rush, The Goldberg Variation and The Amazing Maleeni were all able to coast off the charm of the pair. It doesn’t matter that the plot resolution in an exposition dump from Mulder when you end on Scully attempting a magic trick. However, this works both ways.

It the seventh season coasts of the charisma of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, this means that their inevitable absences are keenly felt. As The X-Files had become more popular, the demand upon Duchovny and Anderson had grown greater; most obviously, the show had dropped its production order from twenty-four to twenty-two episodes. Even allowing for that, the show could no longer make the same demands of Duchovny and Anderson that it had made in the first four seasons. Nor could they simply produce less television.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em...

Smoke ’em if you got ’em…

As a result, there are points in the show’s run when either (or both) David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are unavailable. There are extended periods of the final two seasons that do not feature David Duchovny in any significant capacity. However, even within the seventh season, there are episodes where both leads are unable to fill the narrative space allocated to the lead characters. Gillian Anderson was largely absent from Chimera while working on all things; David Duchovny was largely absent from all things while working on Hollywood A.D.

It is these absences which suggest an uncomfortable truth about The X-Files. The show might have its own chemical dependencies. In a metaphor stretched in an effort to tie it all back to Brand X, the audience might rely on Duchovny and Anderson as surely as a smoker relies on their quick nicotine fix. Any attempt to genetically reengineer the show to ensure a healthier and longer life could easily end up creating a monster.

Talk about a looming legal face-off...

Talk about a looming legal face-off…

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The X-Files – First Person Shooter (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.

On paper, this should be a slam dunk.

X-Cops was an incredibly risky and experimental episode of The X-Files that really pushed the show in an unexpected direction. The idea of crossing over into Cops was strange and surreal; it seemed like a gimmick that could backfire spectacularly. How could an episode of The X-Files adopt many of the identifiers and signifiers of Cops while still managing to tell its own story? It was a risky proposition, but writer Vince Gilligan and director Michael Watkins managed to pull it off, producing a definite highlight of the seventh season. (If not the final three seasons.)

Game on.

Game on.

First Person Shooter is a similarly ambitious episode, but one that should be a much safer bet. While it pushes the show outside its comfort zone in terms of setting and concept, it does not stray too far from the basic X-Files template. It is written by outsider writers William Gibson and Tom Maddox, but could logically be seen an extension of their superlative script for Kill Switch. In fact, Kill Switch wasn’t even the show’s first “killer artificial intelligence” story; Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa had written Ghost in the Machine as the series’ eighth episode.

On paper, First Person Shooter is ambitious without being entirely unprecedented. Still, the script bends the show too far out of shape. The episode seems to warp and distort the series around it. Despite the fact that First Person Shooter contains far more of the trappings and structures of The X-Files than X-Cops, the episode feels far less comfortable in its own skin. First Person Shooter plays almost like an episode of The X-Files filtered through a lens of unreality; it feels like a textured wireframe model of an X-Files episode, wandering lost in the uncanny valley.

Game over.

Game over.

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The X-Files – The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati (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.

My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary—but love it.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

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The X-Files – Season 6 (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.

The sixth season of The X-Files is notable for many different reasons. It was the first season after the release of The X-Files: Fight the Future. It was the first season following the move to Los Angeles. It saw the “end” (at least nominally) of the show’s conspiracy mythology in the massive Two Fathers and One Son two-parter. It was the first season to begin closer to the end of the show’s nine-year run than to the beginning. It was also the first season to open past the hundred-episode mark.

That last landmark is important, because it marks the point at which The X-Files could effectively be sold into syndication. One hundred episodes meant that a network could air the show five nights a week for twenty weeks, filling up almost half a year’s worth of broadcasting slots. Reaching the one hundred episode mark meant that a show was a bona fides success, and that anything else was really just gravy on top. The bulk of the work had been done. The X-Files would be a rare prime-time drama to pass two hundred episodes.

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Of course, times have changed. By 2011, the number of episodes required for a syndication deal had slipped from one hundred to a mere eighty-eight, with the goal being four seasons of twenty-two episodes. (This trend happened while The X-Files was on the air, with the show dropping from twenty-four or twenty-five episodes in a season at the start of its run to twenty-two or twenty towards the end.) Even then, streaming has changed the media landscape, making it more possible than ever to syndicate show with shorter runs, like Community.

So syndication beckoned for The X-Files. In fact, syndication would pose no shortage of trouble for the show in the years ahead. During the seventh season, David Duchovny would file a lawsuit against Fox alleging that the company’s syndication policy had cost him financially. After the show went off the air, Carter would find himself embroiled in a similar lawsuit over syndication rights, delaying production of The X-Files: I Want to Believe. There are worse ways to argue that The X-Files was a victim of its own success than to look at the syndication of the show.

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Nevertheless, it was clear that The X-Files had accomplished everything that it could ever want by the start of the sixth season. Chris Carter had his five seasons and a movie. Fox had a show they could syndicate. David Duchovny had forced the production to move to Los Angeles so that he could spend time with his family. Although nobody knew it at the time, the fifth season secured the highest rankings that a season of The X-Files would enjoy in the Nielsen Ratings. So going into the sixth season of The X-Files, there was only one question hanging in the air.

What now?

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