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The X-Files – Herrenvolk (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.

After Talitha Cumi, Herrenvolk cannot help but seem like a little bit of a disappointment.

Towards the end of the episode, the Alien Bounty Hunter hunts down Jeremiah Smith. Mulder begs for mercy, but the Bounty Hunter will hear nothing of it. “He shows you pieces, but tells you nothing of the whole,” the Bounty Hunter remarks to Mulder. It feels like that sentiment encapsulates Herrenvolk in a nutshell. Mulder goes on the run with Jeremiah Smith and sees a collection of vague but compelling things that may or may not tie into colonisation.

"Now you're thinking, 'I hope that's shepherd's pie in my knickers!'"

“Now you’re thinking, ‘I hope that’s shepherd’s pie in my knickers!'”

Like a lot of the mythology in the fourth and fifth seasons, it feels like a holding pattern. Talitha Cumi was surprisingly candid in its revelations. The aliens were plotting to colonise Earth in collaboration with the human conspirators. The date had been set, the plot was in motion. That was a pretty big bombshell, confirmed in unequivocal terms. It was arguably the clearest and most transparent that the conspiracy arc would ever be. There was a clear goal, a deadline, and a sense of purpose.

Almost immediately, Herrenvolk works to muddy the water. It stalls, it procrastinates, it delays, it evades. It is a plot structured around a collection of ominous conspiracy buzz words (DNA, smallpox, colonies, clones) without a clear purpose or objective.

A bloody mess...

A bloody mess…

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The X-Files – Talitha Cumi (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.

Talitha Cumi is a staggeringly confident piece of television, the kind of episode casually produced by a show at (or approaching) the top of its game.

It is interesting just how much this season finalé seems to promise business as usual. It is perhaps the least radical of the show’s season-ending cliffhangers, with the third season closing on an immediate rather than a conceptual threat to our leads and to The X-Files as a show. The Erlenmeyer Flask ended with the death of Deep Throat and the closing of the X-files. Anasazi ended with Mulder being burnt alive in a boxcar filled with alien bodies. Gethsemane ups the ante further.

A stab in the dark...

A stab in the dark…

In contrast, Talitha Cumi ends with the Alien Bounty Hunter walking towards Mulder and Scully in a rather menacing fashion. It is very effective television – and a solidly suspenseful cliffhanger – but it also feels rather low-key when compared to other season-ending episodes. Talitha Cumi feels like a pretty effective hook, rather than a game-changer. There’s an immediacy to the cliffhanger, but nothing that threatens to upend the show as a whole.

Then again, one suspects that is entirely the point. The third season has been largely about consolidation of The X-Files. It makes sense that it wouldn’t throw everything up into the air at the end of the season.

It's been a long year...

It’s been a long year…

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The X-Files – Wetwired (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.

Wetwired is an oddity.

It is the penultimate episode of the third season, written by special effects supervisor Matt Beck. It is very much a conspiracy episode, albeit one lacking any real sense of forward moment and with only the loosest thematic ties to the rest of the show’s mythology. Unlike – say – Soft Light, this is not simply a “monster of the week” story with elements of the mythology grafted in. The show has largely move past those, which is why Avatar felt so weird.

More like

More like “terror vision”, am I right?

Instead, Wetwired is that strangest of government conspiracy stories. It is an episode dedicated almost exclusively to shady goings-on at the highest levels of government, but with no mention or inference of aliens or other sinister long-term plots. Wetwired stands out as something strange and hard to place; perhaps its closest analogue is The Pine Bluff Variant from towards the end of the fifth season.

The result is an oddity that is a little uneven and disjointed, an episode packed with clever ideas and concepts, but difficulty connecting them to each other.

Scully has had it with Mulder's quips about her driving...

Scully has had it with Mulder’s quips about her driving…

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The X-Files – Soft Light (Review)

This August (and a little of September), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the second season of The X-Files. In November, we’ll be looking at the third season. And maybe more.

Soft Light is a bit of an oddity. It’s primarily notable for being Vince Gilligan’s first credit on The X-Files, coming a few years after the release of Wilder Napalm, a film based on his screenplay.

Gilligan, of course, would go on to become a wildly influential television writer. He would join the staff in the show’s third year and produce some of the series’ most memorable episodes. He would also manage the day-to-day running of The Lone Gunmen spin-off. Although, at the moment, Gilligan is probably best known for creating and producing Breaking Bad, which has already been ranked among the best television series ever produced.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

It is very tempting to look at a writer’s early work and to try to retroactively over-analyse it – to spot familiar themes and images, as if to incorporate it into a large oeuvre. That becomes a bit more complicated in television, where an early screenplay is quite likely to have been written and re-written several times before it reaches the screen. As a freelance writer submitting a script, Gilligan’s work would have been heavily reworked to make it fit within the context of The X-Files.

While there are traces of Gilligan’s later work to be found here, Soft Light is a rather awkward late-season episode, one that seems a little out of place.

Shadows on the wall...

Shadows on the wall…

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The X-Files – Sleepless (Review)

This August (and a little of September), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the second season of The X-Files. In November, we’ll be looking at the third season. And maybe more.

Vietnam casts a long shadow over The X-Files, just as it casts a long shadow over the rest of American popular culture. It was a conflict that left a scar on the American psyche, prompted no small amount of soul-searching and naval-gazing, forcing the country to contemplate its role on the global stage. The issues of war guilt and veterans rights haunted America well into the nineties, with films like Forrest Gump and Heaven and Earth still trying to make sense of it all.

Along with Watergate, Vietnam came to embody the disillusionment and disengagement of the seventies. While public discomfort with American involvement the Korean War never climbed above 50%, public disapproval of American involvement in Vietnam would reach almost 75% in March 1990. Vietnam remains a boogeyman, with memories of Vietnam arguably informing Clinton’s reluctance to commit American ground troops to foreign theatres during the nineties and serving as a frequent point of comparison to twenty-first century entanglements in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Howard Gordon’s first solo teleplay for The X-Files, Sleepless is an episode that explores Vietnam as a perpetual waking nightmare.

Preaching to the choir...

Preaching to the choir…

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