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New Podcast! The X-Cast – Season 2, Episode 5 (“Duane Barry”)

Just a quick link to another recent guest appearance over on The X-Cast, a great X-Files podcast run by the prolific Tony Black.

I had the privilege of guesting on the show to talk about the first two-part episode of the series in the first two-part episode of the podcast. First up, Duane Barry. Wherein we discuss the directorial debut of Chris Carter, the point of intersection between The X-Files and regular procedurals, and the vandalism of supermarket scanners. Once again, it was a joy to appear on the show, and Tony was as gracious a host as ever. Check it out the episode here, or click the link below.

To be continued…

podcast-duanebarry

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The X-Files Deviations (IDW) #1 – Being and Time (Review)

This June, we’re going to be taking a look at the current run of The X-Files, beginning with the IDW comic book revival and perhaps taking some detours along the way. Check back daily for the latest review.

Being and Time is not a good comic book.

There are a number of reasons why the comic doesn’t work, but the simple fact of the matter is that it has an interesting premise but does little of interest with that premise. Nevertheless, there is something quite intriguing the set-up, an “out-of-continuity” tale that offers a glimpse of a parallel universe where Fox Mulder was abducted in the place of his sister Samantha. More to the point, it seems entirely telling that the only supplemental X-Files comic to be published by IDW during the entirety of The X-Files: Season 11 was one entirely outside continuity.

What might have been.

What might have been.

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The X-Files – Small Potatoes (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.

Darin Morgan’s absence haunts the fourth season of The X-Files.

According to Frank Spotnitz, Darin Morgan had originally hoped to contribute a script in the middle of the season. Unfortunately, that idea fell through. The scramble to fill that gap in the schedule led to Memento Mori, which ultimately became the centre of the fourth season’s mythology arc, for better or worse. Scully’s cancer arc was just one result of the Darin-Morgan-shaped hole in the fourth season. Small Potatoes is another, the show’s first real “comedy” episode since Morgan departed the staff at the end of the third season.

A sting in the tale...

A sting in the tail…

Darin Morgan often gets credit for introducing the concept of comedy to The X-Files. That is not entirely fair; Glen Morgan and James Wong wrote Die Hand Die Verletzt shortly before Darin Morgan wrote Humbug. However, Morgan did refine the idea of comedy on The X-Files. Darin Morgan won an Emmy for writing Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, and he still considers Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” to be among the best things that he has ever written.

Despite Morgan’s departure, it was clear that The X-Files could not completely avoid comedy. Once a show has demonstrated that it can do something particularly well, it becomes very difficult to stop doing that thing. Comedy episodes became something of a staple on The X-Files, with the show regularly churning out light-hearted and funny episodes (with varying degrees of success) until the show was finally cancelled after its ninth season. However, there was a long stretch after Morgan departed where the series seemed quite grim. Somebody would have to go first.

The inside, looking out...

The inside, looking out…

So Vince Gilligan stepped up to bat. Gilligan had been on staff for a bout a year at this point. He had quickly established himself as one of the most promising young writers in the room. While his first script for the show – Soft Light – was arguably more interesting than successful, Gilligan enjoyed an incredible hot streak when he joined the staff. Pusher, Unruhe and Paper Hearts are among the best scripts of the third and fourth seasons. With Small Potatoes, he seemed to position himself as the logical successor to Darin Morgan.

Darin Morgan even appears in Small Potatoes to pass the metaphorical baton.

"Here's Mulder!"

“Here’s Mulder!”

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The X-Files – Paper Hearts (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.

Paper Hearts is one of the best scripts that Vince Gilligan would write for The X-Files, and one of the best episodes of the fourth season. This is enough to put it in the frontrunners of any possible “best episode ever” ranking.

The episode is spectacular. It works on just about every conceivable level. It has a great script from a great young staff writer. It has a great guest star in Tom Noonan. It features a great performance from David Duchovny. Rob Bowman does a spectacular job directing. Mark Snow is one of the most consistent composers working in nineties television, and his score for Paper Hearts manages to be simple, effective and memorable. It is thoughtful, atmospheric, emotional and compelling. It is the perfect storm.

The truth is buried...

The truth is buried…

However, the real cherry on Paper Hearts is just how easy it would be to mess up an episode like this. On paper, Paper Hearts seems like a disaster waiting to happen. It is an episode that teases the audience with a potentially massive reversal of one of the show’s core truths. It posits an alternative theory for the abduction of Samantha Mulder that would shake the show to its very core. If Paper Hearts followed through on that basic premise, everything would change. Much like Never Again, this is an episode with the potential to poison the show.

Which makes it inevitable that Paper Hearts will back away from its potentially game-changing premise, which brings its own challenges. It is one thing to up-end the apple cart; it is another to pretend to up-end the apple cart only to restore the status quo at the end of the hour. On paper, and from any synopsis, Paper Hearts seems like the biggest cheat imaginable. “Everything is different!” it seems to yell. “And then it’s not!” The real beauty of Paper Hearts is the way that the episode works almost perfectly even with these huge hurdles to clear.

The heart of the matter...

The heart of the matter…

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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 – Miracle Man (Review)

The biggest problem with Miracle Man is that it’s a Howard Gordon script. I don’t mean to diminish Gordon’s contributions to the show. Gordon is one of the strongest contributors to this rocky first season (only Morgan and Wong can claim to be stronger, and they also have their misfires), and he – along with frequent partner Alex Gansa – seems to have the strongest grip on Mulder as a character. And therein lies the most fundamental problem with Miracle Man, the horribly clumsy and muddled ending aside.

Miracle Man feels like it focuses on the wrong lead. It tackles themes and subject matter the show would revisit more successfully in the years ahead, in episodes like Revelations and All Souls. However, the religion-themed episodes in the years ahead would typically focus on Scully – contrasting her religious faith with her scientific skepticism to provide Anderson with some of the best work she’d do on the show.

Instead, Miracle Man digs its character hooks into Mulder, tying back to the disappearance of Samantha for no reason other than “well, this story needs to be about Mulder for some reason.”

Symbolism!

Symbolism!

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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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The X-Files – Young at Heart (Review)

Continuing on from Lazarus, there’s something about Young at Heart that feels very rote, very paint-by-numbers. It’s as if the show has worked so hard to define itself in the first half of the season that the second half of the first season has been dedicated to settling into routine. As far as Chris Carter scripts go, Young at Heart is roughly on par with Fire, and nowhere near as bad as Space, although that’s damning with faint praise. At this rate, Carter should begin to turn out episodes worth watching at some point in the fifth season.

Featuring yet another blast from the past, more gratuitous use of Deep Throat and reckless placing of Scully in danger, Young at Heart feels more like it was assembled from a rough blueprint of what an episode of The X-Files should look like, rather than because it was a story worth telling.

Keep it handy...

Keep it handy…

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The X-Files – Lazarus (Review)

And, with Lazarus, we enter a long mediocre stretch in the second half of the first season of The X-Files. To be fair, none of the episodes in this run are anywhere near as bad as Space, but – with the exception of E.B.E., Tombs and The Erlenmeyer Flask – they all feel a little flat. It’s as if the first half of the season was more experimental, as The X-Files tried to figure out what it wanted to be, with the second half dedicated to settling into its particular groove.

Lazarus isn’t terrible. It just feels a little rote, a little paint-by-numbers, a littler average and safe. It’s a conventional enough supernatural (or psychological) thriller, but it lacks that extra “umph” to make it something particularly worthy of a viewer’s time.

The mask is slipping...

The mask is slipping…

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The X-Files – Beyond the Sea (Review)

Ah, Beyond the Sea. My favourite episode of the first season. Maybe my favourite episode of the first two seasons, although I’ll confess that my opinion is prone to change. I’m in good company. Darin Morgan points to it as his favourite episode. Chris Carter has (again and again) singled it out as the best episode of the show’s first season – a piece of television that works “on every level.”

It’s easy to point out all the exceptional stuff in Beyond the Sea. Gillian Anderson is phenomenal, as we’ve come to suspect from spending half a season with her. David Duchovny is quite happily relegated to a supporting role, willing to allow his co-star room to breathe. Brad Dourif is sensational. Glenn Morgan and James Wong’s script is phenomenal. David Nutter’s direction is absolutely top-notch.

However, what always struck me about Beyond the Sea was just how incredibly confident and casual it was. It was bold and clever and provocative, but it was also tight and controlled. It’s brilliant, but it never feels like this isn’t a level of craft the show can’t consistently hit.

We are the dead...

We are the dead…

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