• Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives









  • Awards & Nominations

The X-Files – The Pine Bluff Variant (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

The Pine Bluff Variant is probably John Shiban’s best solo script for The X-Files.

It is the kind of story that the show does very well, a taut conspiracy thriller packed with sharp twists and turns. Not all of those twists and turns make a great deal of sense, but there is an incredible momentum to the episode that keeps it moving forward. John Shiban’s script is beautifully brought to life by Rob Bowman’s direction, with Bowman demonstrating once again why he was the perfect choice to direct The X-Files: Fight the Future. The Pine Bluff Variant is a well-constructed piece of television.

He who hunts monsters...

He who hunts monsters…

It also fits quite comfortably in the context of where the show is at this point in time. The fourth and fifth seasons of The X-Files saw the show really engaging with the dark underbelly of conspiracy culture just as Mulder when through his own dark midnight of the soul. After three seasons of endorsing paranoia and skepticism, The X-Files was ready to deal with the sorts of organised groups that believed in such conspiracies. The Pine Bluff Variant has Mulder infiltrating a militia a few months before the release of Fight the Future would recreate the Oklahoma City Bombing.

It is a thread with which the show had been playing since The Field Where I Died early in the fourth season. The Pine Bluff Variant is the last time that the series pushes these sorts of militia groups to the fore, with Mulder reaffirming and regaining his faith at the climax of Fight the Future. It is a suitably satisfying farewell to this recurring thematic motif.

Fleshing out the threat...

Fleshing out the threat…

Continue reading

Millennium – Sense and Antisense (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

Sense and Antisense is a misfire.

It is an episode with far too much going on, and no time to unpack it all. Sense and Antisense moves like a rocket ship, jumping from one crazy idea to the next crazy idea. It opens with the threat of a viral contagion, but quickly escalates into the realm of conspiracy theories and mind control. It is an episode that is almost impossible to summarise without sounding as crazy as some of the characters populating the narrative. It is unsatisfying and disjointed, but not in a way that makes those sentiments seem part of the plan.

The pupil has become the master...

The pupil has become the master…

At the same time, it is an incredibly ambitious misfire. The biggest problem with Sense and Antisense is that it tries to cram too much in there. It is constructed almost writer Chip Johannessen tried to condense down contemporary conspiracy theory into a single forty-five minute story that winds up connecting the Department of Energy to the Rwandan Genocide. There is a breathless enthusiasm to all this that would make Fox Mulder blush. As much as Sense and Antisense doesn’t work, it is hard not to admire it’s sheer gumption.

The second season of Millennium might not be the most consistent season in the history of the medium, but even its failures are bold and energetic. Sense and Antisense is not The Curse of Frank Black, Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” or Luminary, but it is a far cry from something like Unrequited, Synchrony or Schizogeny.

A stain on the record...

A stain on the record…

Continue reading

The X-Files – F. Emasculata (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.

The wonderful thing about the second season of The X-Files is the spirit of experimentation. There’s a sense that the show is consciously pushing itself to try new things, to figure out what works. Watching the second season of the show, you can see the series’ outline beginning to take shape, even if it’s not full developed yet. The third season of The X-Files would seem a lot stronger and more cohesive, but it was building off the lessons learned during the second season.

Sometimes those experiments worked well. For example, the first stretch of the season demonstrated that the show could do an arc spanning multiple episodes. Colony and End Game established the foundations of the larger “colonisation” mythology even beyond “the government knows about aliens and they sometimes abduct people.” Episodes like Die Hand Die Verletzt and Humbug demonstrated that the show could do comedy stories and step outside its comfort zones.

Has everybody caught the Ebola bug?

Has everybody caught the Ebola bug?

Of course, there were a few narrative dead-ends as well, a few experiments that did not work as well as they might. Most notably, the tail end of the season leans rather heavily on science-fiction high-concepts. The elements introduced in Colony and End Game work well enough, but shows like Soft Light and Død Kälm feel almost like episodes of some other science-fiction anthology show. Still, there’s a sense that the show is trying to figure out what exactly it wants to be.

F. Emasculata is a wonderful example of that spirit of experimentation, effectively tapping into nineties health scares within the framework of a conspiracy thriller.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

Continue reading