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New Podcast! The X-Cast X-Files Podwatch – Episode #41 (Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man/Tunguska)

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.

My first appearance of the fourth season is covering the episodes Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man and Tunguska with the fantastic Zach Moore. It’s actually the last hurrah of this particular pairing, but talk about going out on a high note. Well, half a high note. Half a high note and a really weird Senate-driven cliffhanger.

 

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The X-Files: Season One (Topps) #2 – Deep Throat (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.

Season One feels like a very odd way to franchise The X-Files.

Topps had enjoyed tremendous success with their licensed tie-in comic book, so it made a certain amount of sense to try to milk the franchise as much as possible. After all, they had already tried a number of other promotions, like releasing “digests” to supplement that monthly series and releasing tie-in comics to appear with magazines like Wizard. So offering another series that would publish on a regular basis starring Mulder and Scully made perfectly logical sense.

The truth is up there...

The truth is up there…

About a year after the release of their adaptation of The Pilot, Topps decided to push ahead with a series of regular adaptations of first season episodes of The X-Files. They reissued their adaptation of The Pilot as the first comic in the series, and then began publishing new adaptations of those early episodes written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by a rotating team of artists. The comics would be about twice as long as the issues of the monthly series, but would only publish once every two months. The monthly series was priced a $2.50, with Season One priced at $4.95.

It is hard not to feel quite cynical about Season One, particularly in an era where these classic episodes of The X-Files stream of Netflix and entire seasons are available to purchase at very low prices.

The shape of things to come...

The shape of things to come…

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The X-Files (Topps) #27-29 – Remote Control (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.

In many respects, Remote Control is a very “big” story.

It is the biggest story that writer John Rozum has told to date on the comic book, one that spans three issues and seems to brush against the edge of the mythology most associated with The X-Files. Not only does Remote Control feature secret CIA experiments into psychic phenomenon, it also involves a UFO that is being transported through the United States and is hijacked by a foreign power. To top it all off, there is a super-soldier who can render himself invisible and make himself immune to bullets.

Everything is under control...

Everything is under control…

There is a very clear sense of scale to Remote Control, one that suggests this is a blockbuster adventure. This is the comic book equivalent of those mythology episodes that air during sweeps. At the same time, however, Remote Control brushes up against the limitations imposed upon the comic book by Topps and Ten Thirteen. While Remote Control offers the highest stakes that the comic book has seen since Feelings of Unreality, the script is quite clear that this is a story separate and divorced from anything happening in the show.

There are points where it feels like Remote Control goes out of its way to remind readers that this is just a tie-in comic book, and is thus secondary to the television show.

Mulder is a little tied up right now...

Mulder is a little tied up right now…

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The X-Files – Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man (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.

“No great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biography of great men.”

– Thomas Carlyle, On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History

Light 'em up...

Light ’em up…

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The X-Files – The Blessing Way (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.

The Blessing Way is the first mythology episode of The X-Files that doesn’t really work.

And it doesn’t really work for a lot of the same reasons that some of the later mythology episodes don’t really work. Its pacing is terrible. It wallows in new age mysticism, allocating characters thoughtful monologues that awkwardly state themes and render subtext as supratext. It plays into the deification of Mulder, trying to bend Mulder’s story to fit into an archetypal “chosen one” narrative. More than that, it is very clearly a holding pattern, an effort to eat up time without moving forward.

Wiping it all out...

Wiping it all out…

However, despite the fact that The Blessing Way really doesn’t work, it is still a fascinating episode. It’s a wonderful demonstration of how The X-Files has developed a fleshed-out world inhabited by compelling characters. The best moments in The Blessing Way are character-focused, with Skinner caught between his duty to the government and his loyalty to his agents, the Cigarette-Smoking Man revealed to be middle-management at best, and the implication that even vast sinister government conspiracies are hostage to chaos.

The Blessing Way is an oddity, a rather strange piece of television that is almost endearing in its stubborn refusal to deliver what the audience wants and expects. That doesn’t make it good, but it does make it interesting.

The truth is up there...

The truth is up there…

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The X-Files – Red Museum (Review)

This August (and a little of September), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the second season of The X-Files. In November, we’ll be looking at the third season. And maybe more.

While Firewalker is a solid episode ill-served by its position in the schedule and its similarity to an early episode of the show, Red Museum is just a mess.

The production issues with Red Museum are infamous. It was intended as the first part of a crossover between The X-Files and Picket Fences, both airing on Friday nights. The idea was that fans could tune into The X-Files on Fox for the first part of the story, and then move over to CBS after the credits rolled to pick up the case on Picket Fences. It was an ambitious effort – too ambitious. Although showrunners Chris Carter and David E. Kelley agreed on the idea, CBS vetoed it. It resulted in two orphaned hours of television, Red Museum and Away in the Manger.

Well, not quite. The result is something of a malformed two-parter composed of two individual malformed episodes.

He likes to watch...

He likes to watch…

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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.)

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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 – 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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