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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 – Via Negativa (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.

Why no! I never thought other than
That God is that great absence
In our lives, the empty silence
Within, the place where we go
Seeking, not in hope to
Arrive or find. He keeps the interstices
In our knowledge, the darkness
Between stars. His are the echoes
We follow, the footprints he has just
Left. We put our hands in
His side hoping to find
It warm. We look at people
And places as though he had looked
At them, too; but miss the reflection.

– R.S. Thomas, Via Negativa

Facing the axe...

Facing the axe…

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The X-Files – Redrum (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.

Redrum is perhaps notable as the highest concept episode of the eighth season of The X-Files, a character drama that unfolds backwards.

As a rule, the eight season is more conservative than the seasons around it. In terms of narrative, it may be the most conservative season of The X-Files since the show’s first year. Redrum is perhaps the season’s biggest formal experiment. While very few high-profile prime-time television shows would attempt to tell a story backwards, Redrum feels a lot less bold than something like HumbugJose Chung’s “From Outer Space”Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man, The Post-Modern Prometheus, Bad Blood, Triangle, X-Cops or even Improbable.

A tangled web...

A tangled web…

On paper, this should be a highlight of the season. Redrum features a guest performance from Joe Morton, receiving a coveted “special guest star” credit for his work. (Notably, Kim Greist did not earn a similar credit on Invocation.) The high-concept premise of the episode seems like it would make a great pitch for Sweeps, like X-Cops did only a year earlier. In fact, Redrum was produced as the first stand-alone episode of the season, priming it for the slot occupied by Drive and Hungry in earlier seasons.

There is a sense that the production team are wary of Redrum. The episode was pushed back from its production slot relatively deep into the season. It was with second-last episode of the eighth season to air before the Christmas break. The show attracted a relatively small amount of publicity, particularly as compared to the “where’s Mulder?” hype of that greeted the début of the season. There is a sense that Redrum would have garnered more attention only a year or two earlier.

"The teacup that I shattered did come together."

“The teacup that I shattered did come together.”

It is easy to see why the production team were so wary of Redrum. The eighth season is a point of transition for The X-Files. The show is still reeling from the loss of David Duchovny; there is a sense that the show never moves past that. The agenda for the eighth season is to convince viewers that The X-Files is still a viable television show, even without the lead actor who helped to make it famous. While the show is smart enough not to downplay the change, the production team are keen to demonstrate the show can still do what it always did.

As such, the eighth season finds the show adopting a “back to basics” approach, harking back to many of the tropes that made The X-Files such a breakout hit in the first place. There is a lot more horror and mood in the eighth season, a lot more of the traditional scares. That means that Redrum ends up feeling very much like the odd episode out.

It's all gone a bit Martha Wayne...

It’s all gone a bit Martha Wayne…

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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 – Roadrunners (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.

In case there was any doubt, Roadrunners proves that the eighth season of The X-Files means business.

In some ways, it seems remarkable that Roadrunners did not receive a warning about graphic content. The season would wait until Via Negativa before offering a viewer discretion advisory. Roadrunners is one of the most uncomfortable and unsettling episodes in the show’s nine-season run, one that cements the “back to basics” horror aesthetic of the eighth season as a whole. It was clear from the opening three episodes that the eighth season was intended as a return to the darkness of the first five seasons, but Roadrunners commits to the idea.

Off-road...

Off-road…

Roadrunners is a “back to basics” script in a number of ways, even beyond its very graphic horror stylings. It is a very good “small town” story, returning to the motif that populated many of the show’s early episodes. It is a story about an eccentric and isolate space in America, a place with its own unique character and its own rich history and traditions. It is a place that stands quite apart from the modern world, that might have looked the same at the turn of the twentieth century as it does at the start of the twenty-first.

Roadrunners could be seen as Vince Gilligan’s answer to Home, a similarly brutal (and unsettling) small-town tale.

"On to new business. Today's mission is for all of you to go to the brain slug planet." "What are we going to do there?" "Just walk around not wearing a helmet."

“On to new business. Today’s mission is for all of you to go to the brain slug planet.”
“What are we going to do there?”
“Just walk around not wearing a helmet.”

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The X-Files – Within (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.

What is The X-Files without Mulder? Can it even exist without Mulder?

The show entered its eighth season facing an existential dilemma. David Duchovny had renewed his contract with Fox at the last possible minute, three days before Requiem consigned his character to limbo. However, it was not necessarily the renewal that Fox would have wanted. Duchovny had agreed to reprise the role of Mulder in the eighth season of The X-Files, but only for eleven of the season’s twenty-one episodes. This meant that the character of Mulder could only actually appear in just over half of the season’s episodes.

Eye see...

Eye see…

This was a pretty significant blow to The X-Files. The title of the show referred to the procedural cases investigated by Mulder and Scully, but the series had long abandoned any pretense of focusing on those cases ahead of Mulder and Scully. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson had elevated the characters to pop culture icons, with any pop savvy person capable of easily slipping a reference to Mulder and/or Scully into casual conversation. The chemistry between the two was so strong it forced the global conspiracy to second billing in The X-Files: Fight the Future.

Attempting The X-Files without Mulder (or with “just under fifty percent less Mulder”) was perhaps the most daring and ambitious decision of the show’s entire nine-season run.

"And introducing Robert Patrick."

“And introducing Robert Patrick.”

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