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The X-Files – Existence (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.

This is not the end.

But it really should be. At least for Mulder and Scully.

There was no season nine. What are you talking about?

There was no season nine.
What are you talking about?

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The X-Files – Essence (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.

The mythology of The X-Files is a strange beast.

In the show’s declining years, it frequently became a stick with which the show might be beaten by critics and fans who had grown exhausted of ambiguity and labyrinthine plotting. Steven King lamented the fact that the show “blundered off into a swamp of black oil, and in that swamp it died.” In assessing the impact of the series, Joyce Millman described the mythology as a “sadistically convoluted plot line.” Juliette Harrisson complained that the entire mythology ended up “so twisted and incomprehensible by the end.”

Oh, baby.

Oh, baby.

In hindsight, it seems like history has not been kind to the mythology. In the years since the show went off the air, it seems that fans have come to value the episodic “monster of the week” stories ahead of the central story arc about aliens plotting to colonise the planet. This is ironic, given the attention devoted to the mythology while the show was on the air. The mythology dominated season premieres and finalés, taking the limelight during Sweeps and commanding impressive production values.

This assessment of the mythology is at once fair and unfair. Examined from far enough away, the mythology was linear and logical: alien colonists were coming back to reclaim the planet and enslave (or exterminate) mankind. Everything else was just window-dressing, with the mythology exploring the compromise and collaboration that facilitated this plan. The mythology was, at its best, an exploration of human weakness and the corruption of authority; a timeless (and almost Shakespearean) tragedy. From a sufficient distance, it was not hard to follow.

Oh, alien baby.

Oh, alien baby.

However, the details tend to create confusion, with everything getting a little muddled as The X-Files piles compelling and memorable visuals on top of one another. Are the bees intended to spread smallpox to thin the population as Zero Sum suggests, or to spread the black oil to aid in repopulation as The X-Files: Fight the Future implies? Is the black oil a sinister body-hopping parasite as suggested in Piper Maru and Vienen, or is it an organism that turns the body into a host for a gestating alien organism like in Fight the Future or The Beginning?

The eighth season does a lot to simplify the mythology by stripping out the conspirators and the vaccine and the rebels and the hybrids, replacing them with a more blunt central narrative about “alien replicants” mounting a stealth invasion. That said, things begin to get a bit cluttered and crowded as the season reaches its conclusion. Essence and Existence have a very clear structure and clear objectives, but there is a sense that that the narrative could still be streamlined a bit.

Oh, blood-splattered alien babies...

Oh, blood-splattered alien babies…

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The X-Files – DeadAlive (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.

The X-Files is dead. Long live The X-Files.

What is dead may never die...

What is dead may never die…

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The X-Files – Tunguska (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.

The show’s conspiracy plot line is rapidly approaching critical mass.

It is quite clear at this point that while colonisation might have a schedule, Fox had just thrown Chris Carter’s out the window. The X-Files: Fight the Future looms large on the horizon. Indeed, Tunguska is credited to Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz, who would end up writing the screenplay for the feature film over the Christmas break. However, while Carter had originally conceived the movie to put a cap on the television series, Fox wanted it to tie more aggressively into the series. It would not be the end of the journey, but a middle chapter.

Flagging the danger...

Flagging the danger…

As such, the larger conspiracy plotline that had been gathering momentum since the end of the second season spends two years largely spinning its wheels to keep the feature film relevant. The film was written midway through the fourth season and shot in the gap between the fourth and fifth seasons. So, there is a lot of stalling required. To use the “cancer” metaphor that is cleverly (and almost subconsciously) woven through the fourth season, the central conspiracy plotline seems to go into remission for a while.

This isn’t inherently a bad thing. Indeed, the stalling allows the show to take stock and to devote space in the mythology to more personal stories like Tempus Fugit and Max or Christmas Carol and Emily. However, it also means that episodes like Herrenvolk, Tunguska, Terma and The End felt like attempts to buy time – offering the illusion of dynamism and change while only inching the plot along.

Wired up...

Wired up…

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The X-Files – Apocrypha (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.

Eyes are a major recurring motif in Apocrypha.

To be fair, eyes were a frequently recurring motif throughout The X-Files. Rob Bowman managed a couple of beautiful shots of reflections and peeping in 731, for example. It makes sense that The X-Files should place such emphasis on eyes – it is a saga about truth and belief and faith, all of which must be explored through perception. “I want to believe,” Mulder’s iconic poster proclaims. As the cliché goes, seeing is believing.

Iconic Mulder/Scully pose!

Iconic Mulder/Scully pose!

That is definitely the case here, with Apocrypha built to a climax where both the audience and the characters are explicitly refused the opportunity to see key moments. Mulder and Scully are escorted out of the North Dakota silo before they can see anything incriminating. The audience doesn’t even get to see the space ship taking off. Even the death of Luis Cardinal takes place off-screen, with Mulder revealing it in a throwaway line in the show’s penultimate scene.

With all of this going on, it makes sense that so much of the imagery in Apocrypha should be built around eyes – with the black oil infection manifesting in its hosts’ eyes, the shooting of the silo as a giant eye staring into space, and even the design of the alien space ship evoking the Eye of Providence.

Up in the sky!

Up in the sky!

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The X-Files – Piper Maru (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.

Piper Maru and Apocrypha continue a pretty clear thematic throughline for the show’s third season mythology episodes.

As with The Blessing Way/Paper Clip and Nisei/731, Piper Maru and Apocrypha tell a story about how we relate to the past. In particular, in keeping with the rest of the third season mythology, it is a show about the legacy of the Second World War. The X-Files is a show that is sceptical of the decisions made by the American government towards the end of the Second World War, particularly as those decisions shaped and moulded the present. In many ways, The X-Files is a show about history and legacy, trauma and consequence.

A fish out of water...

A fish out of water…

Piper Maru and Apocrypha are less direct about this connection than the earlier mythology episodes. They aren’t about the war criminals given safe habour after the Second World War in return for scientific knowledge or tactical advantages. Instead, Piper Maru and Apocrypha are shows about dredging up the past and confronting the consequences of past actions. These two episodes are not only steeped in American popular history, but also in the show’s internal continuity. The majority of what happens here is driven by events we’ve seen in the show.

At the same time, Piper Maru and Apocrypha represent an attempt to boldly expand and push the mythos forward in the same way that Colony and End Game did at this point in the second season. The result is an intriguing two-parter that feels a little muddled and messy, an example of the show stumbling slightly as it tries to grow outwards. Although the mythology is still working a lot more efficiently than it would in later seasons, there is a sense of clutter beginning to filter in.

The eyes have it...

The eyes have it…

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The X-Files – Paper Clip (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.

And now we return to your scheduled viewing.

In many respects, Paper Clip feels like the real third season premiere. It establishes a lot of the recurring themes and ideas for the mythology of the season, from Krycek-on-the-run through to collaboration in the wake of the Second World War. It builds on the successful multi-part formula established by episodes like Ascension or End Game during the show’s second season. It moves things along in a way that The Blessing Way simply refused to. (It even resolves the cliffhanger from the last episode on screen.)

The light at the end of the tunnel...

The light at the end of the tunnel…

Paper Clip demonstrates the strengths of the third season of The X-Files. The third season was the point at which the show really pushed the mythology out, building on earlier implications that there was form to be found in the shadows. The third season also looked to the second season to determine what had worked and what had not worked. Paper Clip is very clearly modelled on the successful aspects of second parts like Ascension or End Game.

It moves. The power of Paper Clip comes from an incredible forward momentum that allows the show to maintain tension and excitement while refusing to allow the audience to catch their breath. Instead of resolving the bigger plot threads from the first episode, questions and hints are thrown out with reckless abandon as the script just drives through set pieces and emotional beats and suspenseful sequences. It is a very meticulously, very cleverly constructed piece of television.

Watching the skies...

Watching the skies…

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