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New Podcast! The X-Cast – Season 3, Episode 17 (“Pusher”)

I’m back on The X-Cast this week, to cover a very special episode. Pusher is host Tony Black’s favourite episode, and we recorded this close to his birthday. So no pressure, then.

Pusher has long been a favourite of mine as well, a crackerjack suspense-filled episode from the powerhouse team of writer Vince Gilligan and director Rob Bowman. It’s an episode that works very well both within the confines of The X-Files itself and beyond. Even more than Soft Light, it is an episode that informs a lot of Gilligan’s core themes and ideas going forward. There is a surprising amount of Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul to be found in the episode, for example.

The truth is in here. You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

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The X-Files – Kitsunegari (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

Kitsunegari hits on a lot of fifth season anxieties for The X-Files.

The episode is rather clearly a sequel to a beloved third season installment, featuring a returning monster of the week for the first time since Tooms brought back Victor Eugene Tooms. In this case, Kitsunegari is built around Robert Patrick Modell, the mind-controlling psychopath from Vince Gilligan’s first script as a staff writer. Given the level of Gilligan’s skill, the affection for the episode, and the charm of actor Robert Wisden, Kitsunegari really should be a “can’t miss” script for the series.

Painting the town...

Painting the town…

However, Kitsunegari proves to be a surprisingly joyless experience. The script hinges on incredibly coincidence and contrivance, everything feels a little too familiar, and even Robert Wisden seems relegated to a small supporting role. (It is telling he earns an “and” credit instead of heading the guest cast.) Kitsunegari has a host of memorable set-pieces and effective visuals, but it feels curiously hollow. It feels like a script going through the motions, rather than trying to say something new or intriguing.

Then again, there is a sense that this is the point. Kitsunegari plays beautifully as a self-aware critique of soulless sequels, of half-hearted follow-ups and cash-ins on popular monsters and villains. Kitsunegari is almost an ingenious parody of these conventions, teasing the viewer with what it might look like if The X-Files began to eat itself. It teases the audience with a trashy sequel to a classic episode, and then delivers exactly that. Kitsunegari does not just demonstrate the law of diminishing returns, it practically revels in it.

Pushing the Pusher...

Pushing the Pusher…

After all, Pusher was an episode about a man with complete control of his own story. Robert Patrick Modell was able to change the world using nothing more than mere words, crafting a new identity and persona for himself, casting himself in role of a criminal mastermind pursued by dogged investigators. It is no wonder that Kitsunegari portrays Modell as exhausted and strung out. Kitsunegari is essentially a story about how Modell has lost control of the narrative, how it has begun to control him. In a way, he gives voice to the same concerns that haunt The Post-Modern Prometheus.

Of course, all this postmodern self-awareness is ingenious, but it still leaves one sizable problem with Kitsunegari. Kitsunegari is so effective at mimicking a soulless sequel that is almost indistinguishable from the real thing. The result is a well-constructed and clever little episode, but one that is not particularly enjoyable or fun.

"I'm blue, dabba-dee-dabba-di."

“I’m blue, dabba-dee-dabba-di.”

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The X-Files – Pusher (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.

Pusher is perhaps one of the most effective stand-alone “monster of the week” stories that the show ever did.

It is no wonder that the episode is frequently cited among the best episodes of The X-Files ever produced, but it is telling that it was identified by Slate as the perfect “gateway” episode of the show. If you want to give someone a taste of The X-Files without burdening them with continuity or back story, this is a good choice. It may not be the best episode that Vince Gilligan ever wrote, and it may not even be the best episode of the third season, but it is one the strongest demonstrations of what the show does on a weekly basis.

Mano a mano...

Mano a mano…

Pusher is the first episode that Vince Gilligan wrote after joining The X-Files writing staff. It is the only episode credited to Gilligan in the show’s third season. He had been offered a position on staff after turning in Soft Light at the end of the second season, but had hesitated before accepting the job. When he did accept the job, he came down with a dose of infectious mononucleosis. As a result, Gilligan only wrote one script for the third season, despite becoming one of the show’s most prolific writers.

Pusher is a pulpy delight, a spectacularly constructed standalone that perhaps points the way to Gilligan’s later work.

Gift of the gab...

Gift of the gab…

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