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Millennium (IDW) #1-5 (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.

One of the more interesting aspects of IDW holding the X-Files license has been watching the company try to franchise the brand.

During the production of the show, Chris Carter was notably wary of stretching the show’s brand. He turned down lucrative branding opportunities because he didn’t want to see his show attached to “doo-dads” and “gee-haws.” It was an understandable impulse. When Fox approached Carter to launch a new show during the third season of The X-Files, he did not build a spin-off in the conventional sense. He did not launch The X-Files: Miami or The X-Files: New Orleans, although Fox might have wanted something like that.

Time goes by so slowly... And time can do so much...

Time goes by so slowly…
And time can do so much…

When Carter launched Millennium, he was adamant that it should stand on its own two feet. Carter wanted the show “to succeed on its own terms, rather than on some kind of gimmick.” There were a few sly nods in episodes like Lamentation, but it mostly stood on its own two feet. Glen Morgan and James Wong got a little bit more adventurous in the second season, with Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” and The Time is Now offering clear crossover of supporting cast. However, Frank Black would not meet Mulder and Scully until Millennium, after his show was cancelled.

To be fair to Carter, there is a sense that the later mellowed when it came to the concept of a broader shared universe. During the third season of Millennium, Carter acknowledged that he had been throwing around ideas for a crossover between The X-Files and Millennium. Although his short-lived Harsh Realm never directly crossed over with any of his other work, it is possible that the series was cancelled before Carter had the opportunity; he has talked about having plans to bring Mulder and Scully into Harsh Realm.

Father of the year...

Father of the year…

Carter’s fourth television series, The Lone Gunmen, was by all accounts a fairly conventional spin-off of The X-Files. It focused on three characters who originated (and continued to guest star) on The X-Files. It featured a major guest appearance from Mitch Pileggi as Walter Skinner in The Lying Game. It featured a cameo from David Duchovny in All About Yves. It was perhaps the most conventional piece of franchise-building in the history of Ten Thirteen, with characters and concepts moving freely between shows.

However, it should also be noted that Carter was a lot less involved in the day-to-day running of The Lone Gunmen as compared to Millennium or Harsh Realm. Carter created the show, but the management of the series was left to the trio of Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan and John Shiban. Carter was only credited as writer on two of the show’s thirteen episodes, The Pilot and Three Men and a Smoking Diaper. It seems fair to say that Carter was an executive producer not particularly interested in building a shared universe as modern audiences understand it.

By Jordan!

By Jordan!

This is part of what is so intriguing about watching IDW trying to build a brand around their X-Files license. The company is very interested in turning the show into a much more tightly interwoven shared universe. Millennium is proof of that, a five-issue miniseries focusing on Frank Black that consciously builds off The X-Files to relaunch the cult nineties television series. In many ways, it represents a truer crossover between The X-Files and Millennium than that infamous seventh season episode.

Millennium is very much integrated into a shared Ten Thirteen universe.

We all have our demons.

We all have our demons.

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The X-Files: Season 10 (IDW) #16-17 – Immaculate (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.

Immaculate is perhaps most notable for reintroducing the character of Frank Black.

One of the more interesting ironies of Millennium is the fact that show had a smaller fanbase than The X-Files, but also a much more vocal campaign to resurrect the series. Outside of a few die-hards eagerly hoping for a third film, X-Files fans had only really begun to clamour for the series to return following the hype around the show’s twentieth anniversary. In contrast, fans of Millennium had been angling for a continuation of their beloved series for years in a number of high-profile ventures.

Familiar demons...

Familiar demons…

Perhaps the most obvious of these campaigns was the Back to Frank Black campaign, which was even endorsed by series star Lance Henriksen providing an introductory voiceover to the Millennium Group Session podcasts urging listeners that “the time is now” and which put out a wonderful series of critical essays and interviews concerning the series in October 2012. As recently as August 2015, they were organising a campaign to bring a revival to Netflix. When the return of The X-Files was announced, one of the big recurring questions was “what about Frank Black?”

As such, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before Frank Black turned up in IDW’s monthly X-Files comic book series.

Baby on board.

Baby on board.

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The X-Files – Release (Review)

This December, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the ninth season of The X-Files.

Release is a breath of fresh air.

There are problems with the episode, serious problems. The plotting is incredibly loose, with Release relying upon a series of incredible contrivances even once you get past the supernaturally-gifted crime-solver who only joined the FBI so he could solve a murder that happens to connect back to Luke Doggett. At best, Release is clumsy and inelegant. At worst, it makes absolutely no sense. More than that, there is the question of whether or not the episode is actually necessary. Does The X-Files actually need to resolve the murder of Luke Doggett?

Picture perfect...

Picture perfect…

These are fairly sizable and fundamental problems. There is no getting around them. However, Release offsets those problems by being a spectacularly-produced piece of television. Everything works, from Robert Patrick’s performance to Mark Snow’s piano-heavy score to Kim Manner’s stylised direction. Release is a reminder of just how sleek and well-oiled The X-Files could be. That is quite a relief after the triple whammy of Scary Monsters, Jump the Shark and William. Release is a good episode on its own terms; in context, it is a masterpiece.

It also helps that Release feels like the first attempt to give the show actual material closure since Improbable. That closure is thematic rather than literal, with the mystery of Luke Doggett’s death serving as a vehicle through which the show might finally resolve some of its own lingering threads. In the case of Release, the show is tidying away the strands that have been woven into the fabric of The X-Files from the beginning; strands that paid homage to Silence of the Lambs and gave birth to Millennium. Release bids farewell to the forensic side of The X-Files.

The old man and the sea...

The old man and the sea…

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The X-Files – Invocation (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.

There is something rather strange about how the first six episodes of the eighth season approach Doggett as a character.

Despite the fact that he is one of the two leads on The X-Files, the series takes its time in getting around to him. Robert Patrick is effectively stepping into the shows of David Duchovny, but the early stretches of the eighth season seem quite unsure what to make of Special Agent John Doggett. Robert Patrick might appear in the opening credits, but there is a sense that the writing staff are not yet entirely comfortable with the character. Perhaps worried about alienating fans still grieving for Mulder, the show keeps a respectful distance from Doggett.

Good grief.

Good grief.

Within and Without introduced Doggett as the agent in charge of the hunt for Mulder. While Scully and Skinner were looking at Mulder as a potential victim, they frequently found themselves competing with Doggett’s decisions to paint Mulder as a potential suspect. Doggett was introduced in a surprisingly abrasive manner, literally (and clumsily) attempting to undermine the relationship between Mulder and Scully – perhaps a literal expression of fannish anxiety about the show’s new lead.

This is not to suggest that the show has been hostile (or even disinterested) towards Doggett. Both Patience and Roadrunners emphasise that Scully needs to learn to trust Doggett and that he really does have her best interests at heart. However, the show tends to look at Doggett as an object of curiousity. In the first six episodes of the season, the show tends to view Doggett from an outside perspective. He might play an active role in the narrative, but he is not really a viewpoint character.

Knife to see you...

Knife to see you…

The show generally approaches Doggett through the character of Scully. (In Redrum, it is Martin Wells.) Leaning heavily on Scully makes sense; the audience trusts Scully, so if she can trust Doggett then maybe they can as well. More than that, it offers a nice twist on the dynamic during the first season of the show. In The Pilot, Scully was introduced as a viewpoint character into the bizarre world of Fox Mulder. Seven years later, the audience is so accustomed to that bizarre world that she is the viewpoint character into the grounded world of John Doggett.

This decision to treat Scully as the viewpoint character gives Invocation a surreal tone. In many ways, Invocation is the show’s first real Doggett-centric story; it is the first time that the character gets to drive the central narrative instead of running in parallel, it is the first time that the show hints at a personal back story for Doggett beyond “generic law enforcement and armed forces experience.” However, it is all filtered through the lens of Dana Scully. It emphasises the fact that Doggett is a mystery, which seems strange given how straight-laced he seems.

"Luke, I was your father."

“Luke, I was your father.”

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The X-Files – Millennium (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.

There are any number of ironies around the cancellation of Millennium.

The show was cancelled by Fox to make room for Harsh Realm, hoping that Chris Carter’s new show would perform better in the Friday night slot. Of course, that did not turn out to be the case; Harsh Realm was cancelled after only three episodes had been broadcast, all failing to even match the already low numbers of the third season of Millennium. A show in its third season was cancelled to make room for a hip new show that was pretty much dead on arrival. However, that is not the only irony.

Frank Black's return...

Frank Black’s return…

Millennium concluded with Goodbye to All That in May 1999. The show fell seven months shy of its own deadline. If Fox had commissioned only eight new episodes, the creative team would have been able to take the show right up to the turn of the millennium itself. (Well, in a way that would make sense to most viewers. “Nobody likes a maths geek, Scully.” Even one who is technically correct.) It seems like Frank Black would not get to see the arrival of the date that had defined his show. (It was the title, after all.)

If Christmas is the season of goodwill to all men, then it is a nice gesture that The X-Files invited Frank Black to ring in the new year (and the new millennium) with them. It might not be much more, but it is a nice gesture.

... is just one thing that fans remember about this episode.

… is just one thing that fans remember about this episode.

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Millennium – Goodbye to All That (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.

Goodbye to All That is not a bad place to leave Millennium, truth be told.

Sure, the episode has its problems, but that is true of pretty much every third season episode. However, showrunners Chip Johannessen and Ken Horton do try to offer the show some sort of closure. While Emma betraying Frank before he rides off into the sunset might have been a nice set up for a new fourth season status quo, it also feels like a nice place to leave the show as well. Director Thomas J. Wright frames that closing shot beautifully, to the point where anything that follows does feel like a coda to the three-season show.

Don't be dark, Frank Black...

Don’t be dark, Frank Black…

More than that, there’s a curious magnanimity to Goodbye to All That. The episode seems to suggest that perhaps Millennium has finally resolved all its internal conflicts about its own history. As with Borrowed Time, The Sound of Snow or Collateral Damage, there is a sense that Goodbye to All That is trying to create a cohesive theory of Millennium – suturing together three very different seasons into something approaching a singular entity. The task is impossible, but Goodbye to All That makes a valiant effort.

Yes, the actual plotting is ridiculous and Goodbye to All That tries to do too much in a single forty-five minute episode, but these are far from the worst vices of the third season. It is too much to suggest that Goodbye to All That wraps up Millennium on a high, but it does allow the show to bow out with its head held high.

"You know, for a secret organisation, we sure do a lot of branding..."

“You know, for a secret organisation, we sure do a lot of branding…”

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Millennium – Via Dolorosa (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.

And so, Millennium ends.

That is not entirely accurate. Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That are really the third ending to Millennium. Chris Carter’s oft-overlooked series famously reinvented itself in each of its three seasons. Every season finalé was a series finalé, bidding farewell to one version of the show before another arrives. In the first season, it was a serial killer procedural with ominous spiritual undertones. In its second season, it was the story of a family breakup that drew in all manner of religious conspiracy theories and eschatology. In its third season, it was…

"Did I tell you that I REALLY like The Silence of the Lambs?"

“Did I tell you that I REALLY like The Silence of the Lambs?”

Well, it is hard to tell what the third season was – or even what it wanted to be.

Nevertheless, Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That feel like an attempt to grant the series some sense of closure. In a way, these episodes typify the third season. They are messy and confused, awkwardly paced and drawn in broad strokes. At the same time, there are enough interesting ideas and clever concepts that one can see how they might have come together with a bit more craft. There is an outline of a great episode here, with Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That making a valiant effort to pull together messy strands of continuity from across the show’s run.

"Yep, it feels a little bit like that."

“Yep, it feels a little bit like that.”

The third season of Millennium was hampered by terrible decisions made out of the gate, but the final stretch of the season has no shortage of ambition and drive. It is no secret that the third season suffered from a number of serious problems at the start of the year. Maybe if those had been avoided, Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That would have an easier time drawing down the blinds. Still, it is impossible to know what might have been, and the truth is that Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That are a flawed conclusion to a flawed year.

Perhaps appropriately, Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That offer a rather disjointed conclusion to a rather disjointed year. Via Dolorosa and Goodbye to All That are written by two different teams of writers and directed by two different directors. Although the plot carries across both episodes, there are points where the transition seems rather inelegant or incongruous. Then again, this is about wrapping up the show’s troubled third season, so it is certainly representative.

"Take a picture. It'll last longer."

“Take a picture. It’ll last longer.”

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