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The Lone Gunmen – The Lying Game (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 Lying Game is perhaps most well known for its central guest star.

The Lying Game is the episode in which the Lone Gunmen find themselves crossing paths with Assistant Director Walter Skinner. It was a pretty big deal, to the point that Skinner’s appearance towards the end of the season was being hyped in the media immediately following the broadcast of The Pilot, almost two months before the episode actually aired. It wasn’t the first crossover between two Ten Thirteen shows, but it was still a pretty big deal. It makes sense that discussion of The Lying Game would focus on its visiting supporting player.

Some hot Skinner-on-Skinner action...

Some hot Skinner-on-Skinner action…

However, The Lying Game is also notable for featuring a significant transgender guest character. Carol Strode is most significant transgender character to appear in a Ten Thirteen production. As one might expect given the production company’s awkward history with the portrayal of homosexual characters, the results are mixed. There is no question that the episode is well-intentioned, but it is also clumsy and occasionally ill-judged. Even the title would suggest as much, albeit more through absent-minded insensitivity than outright malice.

The Lying Game has its heart in the right place, but doesn’t necessarily have its head in gear.

Surviving by the Skin of his teeth...

Surviving by the Skin of his teeth…

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The X-Files – Brand X (Review)

This September, 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.

Watching the seventh season of The X-Files only reinforces the sense that the production team got extremely lucky with the casting of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. The chemistry between the two actors has carried more than a few weak scripts across the seventh season. Lighter shows like Rush, The Goldberg Variation and The Amazing Maleeni were all able to coast off the charm of the pair. It doesn’t matter that the plot resolution in an exposition dump from Mulder when you end on Scully attempting a magic trick. However, this works both ways.

It the seventh season coasts of the charisma of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, this means that their inevitable absences are keenly felt. As The X-Files had become more popular, the demand upon Duchovny and Anderson had grown greater; most obviously, the show had dropped its production order from twenty-four to twenty-two episodes. Even allowing for that, the show could no longer make the same demands of Duchovny and Anderson that it had made in the first four seasons. Nor could they simply produce less television.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em...

Smoke ’em if you got ’em…

As a result, there are points in the show’s run when either (or both) David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are unavailable. There are extended periods of the final two seasons that do not feature David Duchovny in any significant capacity. However, even within the seventh season, there are episodes where both leads are unable to fill the narrative space allocated to the lead characters. Gillian Anderson was largely absent from Chimera while working on all things; David Duchovny was largely absent from all things while working on Hollywood A.D.

It is these absences which suggest an uncomfortable truth about The X-Files. The show might have its own chemical dependencies. In a metaphor stretched in an effort to tie it all back to Brand X, the audience might rely on Duchovny and Anderson as surely as a smoker relies on their quick nicotine fix. Any attempt to genetically reengineer the show to ensure a healthier and longer life could easily end up creating a monster.

Talk about a looming legal face-off...

Talk about a looming legal face-off…

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The X-Files – Zero Sum (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.

For all that The X-Files exists in a murky shadow world populated by ambiguous figures and a government conspiracy dating back generations, the show has a pretty straightforward sense of morality. No good can stem from evil, the show seems to suggest; the show’s central mythology repeatedly has Mulder and Scully confront the legacy of sins committed by their forefathers. Even the title of Zero Sum alludes to the hollowness of Walter Skinner’s deal with the devil, his moral compromise that has no demonstrable benefit and severe demonstrable harm.

In Memento Mori, Walter Skinner compromised himself. He made a deal with the Cigarette-Smoking Man, in return for Agent Scully’s continued well-being. “What’ll it take?” Skinner asked, desperate for a chance to save Dana Scully. Ever ambiguous, the Cigarette-Smoking Man offered, “Well, I’ll have to get back to you on that.” Unfolding a few months later, Zero Sum is essentially about paying the piper. It is Walter Skinner settling up with the Cigarette-Smoking Man. He rolls up his sleeves and jumps into the dirty work.

Fire and brimstone...

Fire and brimstone…

Zero Sum is a story that you could not tell with Mulder. Although Mulder never faces the same choice as Skinner, the show has been quite consistent in its portrayal of Mulder’s morality. Mulder does not compromise; Mulder does not subscribe to the theory that a deal with the devil could ever pay dividends. In contrast, Skinner is a more ambiguous and pragmatic figure. Skinner spent significant sections of the second season caught between Mulder and the Cigarette-Smoking Man. The show only firmly committed him to Mulder and Scully in Paper Clip.

Zero Sum is a fantastic example of how the world of The X-Files has really grown and expanded around the lead characters. While the show will never quite develop into an ensemble, it is a series with a broad cast. It makes sense that it should begin to use them in a productive manner.

"Walter Skinner, F.B.I."

“Walter Skinner, F.B.I.”

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The X-Files – Avatar (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.

Avatar is really the first time that The X-Files relies on a member of its supporting cast to carry a story all by themselves.

Later seasons will get a bit more adventurous when it comes to sharing screen time. Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man and En Ami both offer viewers a glimpse at the man behind the cigarette. The Lone Gunmen prepare for their own spin-off with The Unusual Suspects and Three of a Kind. Even Skinner gets a couple more character-centric episodes with Zero Sum and S.R. 819. In a way, Hungry is a day-in-the-life episode of a monster of the week.

Pushing Mulder to the background...

Pushing Mulder to the background…

Avatar is an episode that demonstrates that these kinds of stories are possible – that The X-Files can lift the focus off of Mulder and Scully for a week and flesh out those characters who exist at the periphery of the series. Just under two years after he was first introduced, Mitch Pileggi has proven himself invaluable to the series. Asking him to carry an episode like this demonstrates the show’s faith in the character.

Avatar is a bit rough around the edges, struggling to decide whether it is part of the show’s conspiracy mythology or a stand-alone monster tale in a season that has worked hard to delineate the two types of show. Still, it’s an ambitious late-season installment that makes a lasting impression on what The X-Files can be.

Don't look now...

Don’t look now…

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The X-Files – Tooms (Review)

Tooms offers us the show’s first returning monster, not counting the recurring alien menace that has appeared in episodes like Deep Throat or Fallen Angel or E.B.E. In fact, it arguably offers us two recurring monsters, with Eugene Victor Tooms putting in his second appearance, but also featuring the second official (but third possible) appearance of the Cigarette-Smoking Man.

Appropriately enough, Tooms doesn’t just bring back the eponymous serial killer, it begins to tie various loose ends together, and to fashion a sense of continuity and development from the various character moments and implications of the first season, suggesting that forces are moving in the background, behind the scenes of everything we’ve watched unfold.

They've got him boxed in...

They’ve got him boxed in…

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