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The X-Files – Providence (Review)

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

It is frequently argued that 9/11 killed The X-Files.

There are two sides to this argument. The most defensible side suggests that audiences simply lost all appetite for conspiracy and paranoia when confronted with an atrocity on that scale; that viewers wanted to be comforted and reassured about authority in the wake of the attacks. This argument is perhaps supported by the significant drop in viewers between Existence and Nothing Important Happened Today I, suggesting that the audience simply wasn’t interested in finding out what the ninth season had to offer – regardless of quality.

Oh your gods...

Oh your gods…

The other side of the argument suggests that the production team themselves were ill-equipped to deal with post-9/11 reality. The X-Files was a show rooted in the cultural context of the nineties, and had just been asked to adjust to a seismic shift. The world had changed dramatically over the course of a few hours on a morning in Autumn. The eighth season had seen the show drift away from government conspiracies and towards a more conventional alien invasion narrative, one that could play as a reactionary fantasy of the War on Terror.

The ninth season aired in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. The season was actually in production when the attacks took place, with the team halting work on Dæmonicus as the reports came in. While the ninth season does not necessarily have a coherent and rational response to those events, it is clear that the production team want to say something. Much of the ninth season mythology seems to struggle with what it wants to say and how best to say it.

Fire and brimstone...

Fire and brimstone…

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The X-Files – The Walk (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 approach that The X-Files took during its third season was to hone what had worked during the first two seasons to a fine edge.

The second season had been quite playful and experimental – taking the time to figure out what did and didn’t work. Comedy episodes, like Die Hand Die Verletzt and Humbug, worked; making shows like Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose or Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” logical choices. Mythology-driven two-parters during sweeps had paid off, so those returned for the third season. In contrast, the heavy science-fiction of shows like Fearful Symmetry, Død Kälm or Soft Light didn’t work, and were largely forgotten.

Let some light in...

Let some light in…

The result is a third season that plays to the established strengths of The X-Files. Sure, there are still bold and experimental episodes – particularly those credited to writer Darin Morgan. However, the third season is markedly more conservative in tone than the second season – or even the fourth season. This conservatism can work very well. The third season has very few out-and-out bombs, and more than a few classics. However, it comes at a cost.

The Walk is a reasonably well-produced episode that feels a little bit overly familiar. This is the second “supernatural revenge” story that The X-Files has done in so many episodes. There’s a point where The Walk feels a lot less like a unique story than an archetypal “fill in the blanks” exercise, where a unique location and a new set of characters are caught up in an old-fashioned ghost story.

Don't worry, Stans will take good care of him...

Don’t worry, Stans will take good care of him…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Hunted (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Hunted is a piece of allegorical Star Trek. Like The Defector before it, there’s a sense that the show is a little behind the curve – that it’s really dealing with issues that aren’t at the peak of their relevance. The Cold War with the Romulans felt like a bit of a throwback in the era of glasnost, and the ghosts of Vietnam raised by The Hunted feel like echoes of a national debate that had already taken place in the mid- to late-eighties.

And yet, despite that, it works. Like The Defector, there’s a sense that The Next Generation is distant enough from the issue that it can engage objectively. The treatment of Jarok in The Defector or Roga Danar in The Hunted feels infinitely more nuanced and sophisticated than the portrayal of Finn in The High Ground, when The Next Generation was rather consciously trying to engage with a more relevant and topical issue.

Effectively The Next Generation‘s Vietnam story, The Hunted serves as a startlingly effective piece of television. It might be the best action-driven episode of the show to date.

Keep soldiering on...

Keep soldiering on…

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The X-Files – Conduit (Review)

The X-Files is somewhat fascinating as a historical artifact, a prism through which the viewer might explore the United States in that gap of time between the end of the Cold War and the start of the War on Terror. The show serves as something of a travelogue through the American subconscious, a vehicle for the nation’s fear and anxieties. It might be quaint now to look back on the show’s depiction of mobile phones and the internet, but The X-Files offers a snapshot of an America just on the cusp of that technological revolution, when there were still dark shadows and corners of the continent to be probed and explored.

One of the more interesting aspects of The X-Files is the way that it deals with faith in the nineties. Scully’s attempts to reconcile her religious beliefs with a rational approach to the universe are surprisingly insightful and nuanced, but Mulder’s belief system also offers a vehicle to explore the form that faith might take. “I want to believe,” Mulder confesses at the end of Conduit, with the iconic poster turning the sentiment into a motto. It doesn’t matter that Mulder chooses to invest his faith in aliens or conspiracies, The X-Files is still an exploration of what faith meant in the nineties.

Why is Mulder so driven?

Why is Mulder so driven?

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Civil War: Wolverine (Review)

To celebrate the release of The Wolverine later in the month, we’re taking a look at some classic X-Men and Wolverine comics every Monday, Wednesday and Friday here. I’m also writing a series of reviews of the classic X-Men television show at comicbuzz every weekday, so feel free to check those out.

A lot of the recent big Marvel events, stretching from Brian Michael Bendis’ Avengers Disassembled through to at least Avengers vs. X-Men, can be read as commentaries on post-9/11 America. In particular, they focus on questions the relationship between the power and trust held by various authorities, and how those are earned or abused. Perhaps Civil War was the most overt of these, with the conflict in the comic coming down to the clash between the demands of liberty and security.

So, I suppose, at least Marc Guggenheim’s Wolverine tie-in to the event is explicit about what it’s trying to do. It’s any even more explicit 9/11 parable, casting the famous mutant as an investigator looking for his own kind of justice in the wake of a horrifying terror attack.

Talk about seeing eye-to-eye...

Talk about seeing eye-to-eye…

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Non-Review Review: The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

I actually quite enjoyed Jonathan Demme’s 2004 remake of The Manchurian Candidate, even if it seems to lack the same clear political bite of the novel and original film version of the tale. In many respects, Demme’s film adaptation is a triumph of atmosphere, featuring a superb cast and a perpetual sense of uncertainty. While its politics seem a bit less provocative and engaging than the source material, Demme is still a superb film maker. There’s a wonderful sense of unease and discomfort that seems to pervade every frame of the film, with the politics of the movie perhaps the only facet that is never unclear.

The naked truth…

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X-Men by Jim Lee and Chris Claremont (and Whilce Portacio) Omnibus, Vol. 2 (Review/Retrospective)

With our month looking at Avengers comics officially over, we thought it might be fun to dig into that other iconic Marvel property, the X-Men. Join us for a month of X-Men related reviews and discussion.

Gotta say this for the man — he knows how to make an exit.

– Archangel, X-Men #3 (Claremont’s last issue)

And so, this is the end. The end of Claremont’s quite simply epic run on the X-Men books. It’s amazing to look back on the writer’s output today, and simply try to consider the size of his contribution to the franchise. While he departed the books as they were at the height of their appeal (X-Men #1 famously being the best-selling comic book of all time), it’s hard to argue that X-Men ever would have reached that height without Claremont’s vision and style. While the writer undoubtedly had his weaknesses, I think his contributions to the medium are rather undervalued. While writers like Alan Moore and Frank Miller reinvented comic books, I think that Claremont was an expert at incorporating those radical changes into his work, and a writer who managed to secure the support of his fans by giving the X-Men a sense of pop culture resonance that a lot of subsequent writers tried and failed to capture.

Through X-tremes…

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