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The X-Files 103: Ten Spin-Off/Tie-In Stories

Next week sees the release of The X-Files on blu ray for the first time, just over a month before the new six-episode series premieres on Fox in January. We’re running daily reviews of the show (and its spin-offs) between now and the end of the year, but we thought it might be worth compiling some guides for newer viewers who are looking to experience the length and breadth of what The X-Files has to offer. Every day this week, we’ll be publishing one quick list of recommended stories every day, that should offer a good place to start for those looking to dive into the show.

Although the bulk of discussion around and attention paid to The X-Files focuses on the two-hundred-and-two episodes (and two movies) tied to the series itself, it is worth commenting on the rich world of spin-offs and tie-ins that Chris Carter and his production team built up around the show. The X-Files was not just a nineties television show, it was a multimedia phenomenon. However, these aspects of the show are frequently overlooked in discussions of the show’s legacy and cultural impact.

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Harsh Realm (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.

Harsh Realm seems destined to be a curiosity in the career of Chris Carter.

Sure, other projects would fail. Millennium had lasted three seasons, but its audience had been in decline since the second episode was broadcast. The Lone Gunmen would fold after only half a season. However, nothing was quite as sudden and brutal as the failure of Harsh Realm. The show did not even make it to half a season. It was cancelled by the network during the production of its ninth episode, after only three episodes had aired. The six unaired episodes were shunted over to FX, where they could be broadcast away from the media spotlight.

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This might not have been such a big deal if it wasn’t the first project developed by Chris Carter as part of his new contract at Fox, if it hadn’t been hyped up and analysed and debated. Harsh Realm was one of the most talked about new dramatic shows of 1999, and so its death was not a quiet or dignified affair. The cancellation became something of a public spectacle. Most of the attention fell on Fox Chief of Programming Doug Herzog, who seemed to be out of his depth running a major network.

Inevitably, though, some of the attention was focused on Chris Carter. Harsh Realm was a spectacular commercial failure for Carter, and one which raised questions about whether Carter and his production team were ready to face the twenty-first century.

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Harsh Realm – Camera Obscura (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.

And so, with Camera Obscura, it seems that Harsh Realm comes to an end

The show had been developed as a television series for the new millennium; all involved had great plans for it. Fox had made no secret of the fact that they planned for Harsh Realm to take pride of place in their schedule going forward. The assumption was that it would replace The X-Files after that juggernaut was retired. There was a lot of hype around the development, a lot of excitement about the new show from producer Chris Carter. Harsh Realm was to be the first of many new shows developed by the producer as part of a highly lucrative contract with Fox.

Burning down the House (of God)...

Burning down the House (of God)…

Sadly, it did not work out that way. Harsh Realm had premiered to low ratings. Fox shuffled it off the schedule after only three episodes, which seemed a knee-jerk response given the talent involved in the show’s production. The six remaining episodes were locked away from the light of day, relegated to premiering on FX at the tail end of that season of television. For all that everybody involved had hoped that Harsh Realm would be a breakout hit, it ended up little more than a footnote.

Here, it dies. After nine episodes aired across two channels over seven months, the curtain comes down on Harsh Realm. It ends not with a bang, but a whimper.

Time for reflection...

Time for reflection…

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Harsh Realm – Cincinnati (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.

Cincinnati finally gives Terry O’Quinn something to do.

Despite the fact that O’Quinn is credited as a series regular on Harsh Realm, he has appeared about as frequently in the first nine episodes as he did during the equivalent episodes of Millennium. With his “and…” credit at the end of the opening title sequence, it felt like O’Quinn might be forgotten by the show. His face might appear on posters and propaganda, but he was not going to play a particularly dynamic role in the events of the first season. After all, Hobbes is trying to assassinate Santiago; there are reasons why the writers would want to keep them separate.

Walk softly, but carry a big stick...

Walk softly, but carry a big stick…

Nevertheless, Cincinnati is a story that unfolds from Santiago’s perspective. Hobbes and Pinochio play a major part in unfolding events, but they largely reacting. The bulk of Cincinnati concerns a conflict between Santiago’s forces and the Native American population of Ohio. When a military strike goes horribly wrong, Santiago is forced to survive on his own terms. He infiltrates the eponymous city and sets about furthering his own agenda with ruthless efficiency.

A lot of Cincinnati is pure nonsense; the plot is barely held together by contrivance and coincidence, hinging on a final twist that manages to be both obvious and completely unearned. At the same time, it is hard to hate an episode that is carried by Terry O’Quinn and offers the actor a chance to sink his teeth into a juicy part.

It's all in ruins...

It’s all in ruins…

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Harsh Realm – Manus Domini (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.

Manus Domini continues the influx of assistance from the writing staff on The X-Files, with John Shiban contributing a script to the first season of Harsh Realm.

Manus Domini is a very strange episode. In a way, it feels more keenly aligned with the sensibilities of Chris Carter than those of John Shiban. It is the most overtly religious episode from the short run of Harsh Realm, with characters contemplating faith and spirituality in an otherwise cruel world. It is the logical continuation of themes seeded and developed across the rest of the season, bringing the religious subtext of the show to the fore so that it might be acknowledged and explored.

Florence in the machine...

Florence in the machine…

To be fair, there are elements that fit comfortably within Shiban’s oeuvre. Shiban is very much a fan of classic horror tropes, so it makes sense that his script should feature a monstrous supporting character whose complete moral decay is symbolised through grotesque facial deformities. (The element recurs in Camera Obscura, but is not as pronounced as it in this episode.) There are elements of Manus Domini that feel like they might have been lifted from classic seventies horror.

Nevertheless, Manus Domini is defined by its religious components, making it clear that the show retains the same core moral perspective that runs through Carter’s work; there is a recurring sense that faith and spirituality are essential to survive and endure in an increasingly faithless world.

A literal mine field...

A literal mine field…

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Harsh Realm – Three Percenters (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.

Three Percenters is written by Frank Spotnitz.

Spotnitz is the longest serving staff writer on The X-Files, with the exception of Chris Carter. He worked with Carter in shaping and defining the mythology, sharing credit on some of the biggest episodes of the series. He is credited as a screenwriter on both The X-Files: Fight the Future and The X-Files: I Want to Believe. He is the only writer apart from Carter to work on all Millennium, Harsh Realm and The Lone Gunmen. As such, Spotnitz is an essential part of the Ten Thirteen family.

Talk about finger food...

Talk about finger food…

Spotnitz has a very clear of structure. Working on The X-Files, he was renowned for his ability to “break” a story, to split it down to its constituent elements and to make it make sense. His first credit on The X-Files was the script for End Game, which was a hugely important part of shaping and defining the mythology of the show. His two scripts for the first season of Millennium (Weeds and Sacrament) capture the spirit of the show in that moment in time, for better and for worse. It makes perfect sense for Spotnitz to script a first season episode of Harsh Realm.

However, Spotnitz’s script for Three Percenters perhaps demonstrates one of the problems with these initial nine episodes. Spotnitz is very good at understanding story structure and logic, but Harsh Realm doesn’t really have a set formula or template that he might be able to apply. Five episodes into its run, the show hasn’t settled into a grove in the same way that Millennium or The X-Files had. This perhaps explains why Three Percenters feels so odd and uneven; it occasionally seems like Spotnitz just pasted over a template from The X-Files itself.

Walking on water...

Walking on water…

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Harsh Realm – Reunion (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.

So that in the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind a perpetual and restless desire of Power after power, that ceaseth only in Death. And the cause of this is not always that a man hopes for a more intensive delight than he has already attained to, or that he cannot be content with a moderate power: but because he cannot assure the power and means to live well, which he hath present, without the acquisition of more.

– Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, The First Part, Chapter XI

Reunion continues the sense that Chris Carter envisioned Harsh Realm as something of an allegorical episodic adventure series through a post-apocalyptic reflection of contemporary America.

Carter quite clearly wanted to use Harsh Realm as a vehicle to explore and comment upon certain aspects of the American experience. Inga Fossa touched on the links between projected masculinity and violence; Cincinnati will find Santiago’s “manifest destiny” brushing up against the country’s Native American population. Even scripts like Three Percenters and Manus Domini feel tied into Carter’s large oeuvre, touching on the writer’s recurring fascination with homogeneity and spirituality in the modern world.

Things come to a head...

Things come to a head…

Reunion is very consciously a critique of excessive and abusive capitalism, presenting a vision of America built upon the economics of slave labour reinforced by the rhetoric of freedom and competition. In some respects, Reunion feels like Harsh Realm is channelling the spirit of classic science-fiction television like Star Trek or The Twilight Zone. Its central allegory is hardly subtle, but there is a goofy charm in carrying these ideas well past their logical extremes. The vision of labour presented in Reunion is grotesque and exaggerated, but it is not completely fantastical.

Reunion also reaffirms the link that exists between the digital world and the real world, suggesting that perhaps the world that we inhabit is not as far removed from the horrors of the virtual reality as might hope.

Family matters...

Family matters…

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