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The X-Files: Season One (Topps) #8 – Beyond the Sea (Review)

We’ve recently finished our reviews of the nine seasons of The X-Files. Along the way, we tried to do tie-ins and crossovers and spin-offs. However, some of those materials weren’t available at the right time. So this week will be spent finishing Topps’ line of “Season One” comics, published during the fifth season in the lead up to The X-Files: Fight the Future.

Beyond the Sea is more than just the best episode of the first season.

Beyond the Sea is one of the best episodes that the show ever produced. Airing half-way through the first season of The X-Files, Beyond the Sea demonstrated exactly what the show was capable of doing at that point in its run. It was a television masterpiece, and remains one of the very best episodes of an extended nine-season run. More than Ice, more than E.B.E., more than Darkness Falls, Beyond the Sea is the unqualified success story of the show’s first season.

Sea change...

Sea change…

This makes the decision to adapt it as part of the Season One line a relatively risky endeavour. The last two episodes adapted as part of the series – Space and Fire – are unlikely to rank highly on any fan’s assessment of the show’s first year. This was not a bad strategy. If the comic book adaptations were good, like the adaptation of Space had been, then it was a success story for everybody involved. If the comic book adaptations were not great, as was the case with Fire, then it seemed unlikely that anybody would care too much.

Adapting the season’s strongest episode was a bold creative decision. It seemed highly unlikely that writer Roy Thomas and artist Sean Scofield could compete with the episode written by Glen Morgan and James Wong and directed by David Nutter. The best case scenario for an adaptation of Beyond the Sea would be to serve as a reminder of just how wonderful the television episode had been, rather than a comic book that was memorable in its own right. It was very much a situation where the best possible outcome was not messing it up.

Haunting visit...

Haunting visit…

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Millennium – Gehenna (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.

Written by Chris Carter and directed by David Nutter, Gehenna feels very much like a continuation of The Pilot.

More to the point, it feels like a restatement of many of the key themes of The Pilot, an attempt to reinforce many of the core ideas in that first episode, and hint at something larger. In many ways, it is about ensuring that Millennium retains its identity as it transitions from a pilot that had a relatively relaxed schedule and high budget into a weekly (well, eight-day) production schedule. Gehenna is about Carter and Nutter proving that Millennium can do what it wants and needs to do week-in and week-out, while also indicating towards larger threads.

Touching (or, at least, seeing) evil...

Touching (or, at least, seeing) evil…

This isn’t a bad way to approach the first regular episode of a television series. Indeed, Carter had done something similar with The Pilot and Deep Throat on The X-Files, structuring the episodes as a one-two punch of reinforced themes and world-building. Gehenna is very much about convincing the audience that The Pilot was not just a flash in the pan, and that the series has a long clear arc ahead of it. Much like Deep Throat really sketched the outline of the alien conspiracy only hinted at in The Pilot, Gehenna features more than a few nods towards a larger evil at work in Frank’s world.

There are points where Gehenna feels a little bit too forced, and a little bit too eager to restate and repeat the themes and ideas of The Pilot. However, it is an interesting episode that does hint towards the show’s future in a number of interesting ways.

Ear today...

Ear today…

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Millennium – Pilot (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.

You think you’re protecting me but you make it worse, Frank. You can’t shut the world out for me. You can’t ask me to pretend that I don’t know what you do.

Everyone pretends. We all make believe. These men I help catch – make us.

We’re raising a daughter, Frank. The real world starts to seep in. You can’t stop it.

I want you to make believe that I can.

Fade to Black...

Fade to Black…

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The X-Files – Revelations (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Religion, eh?

In the mid-nineties, religion was a very difficult subject to navigate on network television. The so-called “culture wars” were in full swing at the middle of the decade, with religious values serving as a particularly brutal battleground. Religion is a very thorny and contentious subject. As recently as 2012, more than 40% of polled Americans stated they would not vote for an atheist candidate in a presidential election. Pete Stark would admit to being an atheist in 2007, becoming the first self-identified atheist in the United States Congress.

Mulder's got a taste for adventure...

Mulder’s got a taste for adventure…

As a result, it is very difficult to have a meaningful and thoughtful conversation about it. “There’s a man that I work with – a friend – and usually I’m able to discuss these things with him… but not this,” Scully confesses at the end of the episode. While undoubtedly a comment on Mulder’s stubborn refusal to engage with Scully on the topic, it also feels like a commentary on the awkwardness of any public discussion about religious beliefs or values, which was prone to become highly charged and contentious.

The conventional wisdom was that you didn’t talk about religion at the dinner table. It wasn’t much easier on television. This puts Revelations in a very awkward position.

A bloody business...

A bloody business…

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The X-Files – 2Shy (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

A lot of the success of the third season of The X-Files came for learning what had worked earlier, and trying to hone that.

So, for example, the epic mythology of Colony and End Game enabled episodes like Nisei and 731 along with Piper Maru and Apocrypha. Shows like Die Hand Die Verletzt and Humbug had proven that the show could do comedy, so it wasn’t as big a risk to commit to stories like Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose or Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space.” Even episodes like Fresh Bones had helped to define what a standard “monster of the week” should look like.

Freak like me...

Freak like me…

This approach to the third season had its drawbacks. It seemed like the first chunk of the first season was stuffed with supernatural revenge stories, to the point where it is surprisingly easy to confuse The List and The Walk on the basis of title and theme alone. However, it was a very effective way of producing television. It is very hard to fault any approach towards television production that could turn “fat-sucking vampire” into a premise that works.

The genealogy of 2Shy is quite easy to trace. It is the obvious synthesis of Tooms and Irresistible, two of the more memorable and effective monster stories of the first two seasons. 2Shy may have some very serious problems, but it does what it says on the tin.

Fresh bones...

Fresh bones…

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The X-Files – Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose is a masterpiece.

It is one of the best episodes that The X-Files ever produced. It is the only episode of The X-Files to win the Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series. It was the first episode to take home an Emmy for a performance on the show, with Peter Boyle winning the Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series. It was Boyle’s only Emmy win of ten nominations. It was the only episode of The X-Files to air on the 13th October, a symbolically important date for Carter (“1013”). It was also Friday the 13th.

No bones about it...

No bones about it…

As part of the recent resurgence in interest in The X-Files, the story has enjoyed even more focus. It was one of three episodes voted by fans to air as part of the Los Angeles Times Hero Complex Film Festival in 2013 as part of the series’ twentieth anniversary celebrations. Chris Carter himself chose it to represent The X-Files at the Austin Film Festival in 2012. It is very frequently ranked among the best the show ever produced.

And all of that praise is very well earned.

Crystal clear...

Crystal clear…

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Space: Above and Beyond – The Farthest Man From Home (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Due to network anxiety about the investment in Space: Above and Beyond, The Pilot had a very clear three-act structure building to a very explicit resolution. Not only did The Pilot figure the beginning of the war with the aliens, it also featured a crucial moral-boosting victory. It ended with the squad fully-formed and ready for action. It packed a lot of stuff in, and worked quite well as its own self-contained story; even if it left a host of broad narrative threads for the rest of the series to follow.

The Farthest Man From Home is pretty solid as far as first standalone episodes go. Free from the constraints of having to work as a potential movie-of-the-week, The Farthest Man From Home is free to do a little development and foreshadowing, but doesn’t have to wrap up everything in a neat bow by the time that the closing credits role. It’s also spared a lot of the exposition that made The Pilot feel so heavy – Hawkes’ status as an InVitro is fleetingly mentioned, and the Silicates don’t come up.

It's a wasteland out there...

It’s a wasteland out there…

Instead, The Farthest Man From Home is free to focus on the story that it wants to tell, and in marking out narrative space  for the development of both the larger war arc and West’s own personal journey. The Farthest Man From Home is a rather loose episode, but it’s loose in a way that makes sense for a second episode. It eases the audience into the world of Space: Above and Beyond a lot more fluidly than The Pilot did.

That said, there’s still an awkwardness here as Morgan and Wong struggle to figure out what the show is about and the form that it will eventually take. Examined in hindsight, while The Farthest Man From Home establishes a lot of important stuff for the show, it is also clearly a work in progress for the series – an early iteration of a show that would grow and change over the course of its first season. This is perhaps the second draft of Space: Above and Beyond, a solid base to build on for what lies ahead.

Tag it and move on...

Tag it and move on…

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