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The X-Files – Theef (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.

Theef is an underrated seventh season episode, one often forgotten and overlooked as season seven moves firmly into its second half.

The episode represents another conscious attempt to get “back to basics.” Continuing the vein of Hungry or Millennium or Orison or Signs and Wonders, the script for Theef hopes to prove that the show can still produce a genuinely scary hour of television in its seventh season. It certainly succeeds; Theef is a delightfully unsettling story, one that borders on the downright nasty. From the closing shot of the teaser – a body suspended from a chandelier with the word “Theef” scrawled on a wall in his own blood – Theef goes for the jugular.

"I think he's trying to tell you something."

“I think he’s trying to tell you something.”

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Millennium – Dead Letters (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.

Dead Letters is the first Millennium episode credited to writers James Wong and Glen Morgan, and to director Thomas J. Wright. These are three creative forces that would come to be massively influential in the development of the show.

As with Gehenna, the obvious point of comparison in this early stage of development is with The X-Files. Chris Carter wrote the first two episodes of both shows, outlining the core themes and larger direction. However, the crucial third episode was handed to the team of James Wong and Glen Morgan. They would be the first writers other than Carter to write for Fox Mulder, Dana Scully and Frank Black. They were tasked with demonstrating that these concepts could work in the hands of writers other than Chris Carter.

A hair's breadth away from insanity...

A hair’s breadth away from insanity…

The first script that Wong and Morgan wrote for The X-Files was Squeeze. It was the show’s first stand-alone monster-of-the-week episode, and effectively codified a very flexible subgenre of The X-Files, while also creating a very popular and iconic monster. Dead Letters does something vaguely similar for Millennium, even if it is not quite as effective. Free from a lot of the millennial anxieties that drove The Pilot and Gehenna, Dead Letters offers an example of a fairly pure-blooded “serial-killer-of-the-week” story.

For better or for worse, Dead Letters sets the tone for the rest of the show’s first season.

Bits and pieces...

Bits and pieces…

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Space: Above and Beyond – Never No More (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.

On the surface, Never No More and The Angriest Angel feel like a companion piece to Hostile Visit and Choice or Chance. Both are two-part episodes airing around sweeps, almost in step with the equivalent two-part episodes of The X-Files. Both push the show’s story arcs forward. Both also draw in recurring guest stars Doug Hutchinson and Michael Mantell, last seen during Choice or Chance. In many respects, Never No More and The Angriest Angel could be seen as a follow-up to that earlier two-part adventure.

However, there are a number of subtle differences that help Never No More and The Angriest Angel feel like a series highpoint – rather than another ambitious misfire. Hostile Visit and Choice or Chance seemed like episodes trying to do too much, and straying into areas where Space: Above and Beyond had always faced difficulty. They were high-concept science-fiction epic adventures that also tried to work in character arcs for the entire ensemble, set against a truly epic story about an ambitious suicide mission and subsequent rescue attempt.

It's only a paper moon...

It’s only a paper moon…

In a way, Never No More and The Angriest Angel are a lot more modest in their scope. There are big revelations here, and plot points that push the show’s arc forwards. However, these elements are not foregrounded. Never No More and The Angriest Angel are not episodes that aspire to be all things to all people. Instead, they are two character studies centred on the two strongest characters (and actors) in the cast, filling in other details as a secondary concern.

Space: Above and Beyond always worked better as a war show than as a science-fiction drama, and Never No More and The Angriest Angel seem to realise this. The two episodes play as an extended homage to the tropes and conventions of classic war stories. Never No More is the story of love divided by conflict, and The Angriest Angel is a tale of personal discovery set against the backdrop of a larger war. They combine to produce a highlight of the entire Space: Above and Beyond run.

Not a patch on his original squadron...

Not a patch on his original squadron…

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