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The X-Files – Scary Monsters (Review)

This December, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the ninth season of The X-Files.

Scary Monsters is the episode that was in production when The X-Files was cancelled.

Due to the fact that news broke to the public at roughly the same time that it broke to the production team and that the ninth season was fond of shuffling episodes up and down the broadcast order, Scary Monsters aired almost three months after the cancellation was announced to the public. However, the production team were informed while they were working on the episode. Given the low ratings and muted reaction to the ninth season, the cancellation seemed inevitable. Nevertheless, it was quite a blow.

Doggett's burning down the house.

Doggett’s burning down the house.

That is perhaps the most notable fact about Scary Monsters, which is a disappointingly bland episode of television. As with Underneath before it, this is not an embarrassing episode by any measure. It just lacks any real energy or verve. Watching Scary Monsters, there is a sense that the production team were going through the motions, that the reserve of energy that drove the show through its finest seasons had been depleted. The show was running on empty, the production team’s imaginations all but empty.

It feels like the show should have something smart or ironic to say about a kid who can conjure monsters from his own limited imagination. Sadly, it is just a rote monster of the week.

"Now I know how Mulder felt during the season eight credits..."

“Now I know how Mulder felt during the season eight credits…”

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The X-Files – Audrey Pauley (Review)

This December, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the ninth season of The X-Files.

One of the surprising aspects of the ninth season is just how strong the episodes centring on Doggett and Reyes are.

True, there are not necessarily too many “all-time classic” episodes to be found across the length and breadth of the ninth season; that is arguably true of every season since the sixth. The strongest episodes of the ninth season tend to be those focusing on the two new lead characters actually doing their jobs and navigating the weird world around them. 4-D, John Doe, Hellbound and Audrey Pauley rank among the very best that the ninth season has to offer. The biggest problem with the ninth season is the difficulty that the show has maintaining that level of quality.

Into the void...

Into the void…

The ninth season never manages any real consistency. It never commits to one vision of the show or the other. While the stronger episodes suggest that The X-Files might be ready to move on past Mulder and Scully to embrace Doggett and Reyes, the show always returns to insisting that Mulder is still the most important character on the show despite David Duchnovny’s reluctance to return. Nothing Important Happened Today I featured David Duchovny’s stunt butt before Gillian Anderson, Robert Patrick or Annabeth Gish. That is the show’s priority.

This becomes particularly troublesome in the second half of the season. Steven Maeda seems to have a great deal of luck in his ninth season writing assignment, tackling episodes that wind up taking on a larger symbolic importance. 4-D was the first episode to be both produced and broadcast after the events of 9/11, due to scheduling choices that pushed Hellbound later into the season. Although Nothing Important Happened Today I was broadcast nearly two months after the attacks, the production team were actually working on Dæmonicus when news broke.

"Woops. Sorry. Wrong wall."

“Woops. Sorry. Wrong wall.”

Audrey Pauley winds up being the first episode to be produced and broadcast after the cancellation of The X-Files had been announced. The public had been informed of the cancellation between the broadcast of John Doe and Hellbound. The production team had found out while working on Scary Monsters. Due to scheduling choices, Scary Monsters had been pushed back later into the season and Audrey Pauley was aired first. Although it is quite likely Maeda was working on Audrey Pauley long before the cancellation, it still echoes through the work.

Audrey Pauley plays into some of Maeda’s core themes, suggesting alternate and pocket realities that navigate the void between life and death. As with 4-D, Audrey Pauley is very much a post-9/11 episode of The X-Files. However, it is also very much a post-cancellation episode of The X-Files.

Now, where have I seen this before?

Now, where have I seen this before?

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The X-Files – 4-D (Review)

This December, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the ninth season of The X-Files.

In many ways, the ninth season begins with 4-D.

This is perhaps the perfect point for an “alternate reality” episode. After all, The X-Files has undergone a transformation; the reality of the show has been fundamentally and impossibly altered. It might have the same title, it might have an opening sequence that somewhat resembles the old opening sequence, it might even have continuity of characters like Scully and Skinner. However, something has changed. This is not Mulder and Scully, but this is still The X-Files. The show has transitioned. The world has changed around it.

A close shave...

A close shave…

The first three episodes of the season – Nothing Important Happened Today I, Nothing Important Happened Today II, and Dæmonicus – were all produced before 9/11, even though they were broadcast two months after the attacks. (9/11 actually fell during the production of Dæmonicus, with shooting stopping for a day.) The fourth episode of the season, Hellbound, was pushed back deeper into the broadcast order. As such, 4-D was the first episode to be both produced and aired after 9/11.

Appropriately enough, that means that 4-D exists in a different world than the episodes directly preceding it. It has been remarked that the events of 9/11 represented a break in cultural continuity, a line by which history might (relatively cleanly) be divided. There was the world “before 9/11” and “after 9/11.” Although the worlds might look quite similar – and even identical, in many cases – they should not be confused. The world is not as it was. Reality has come undone.

Well, Doggett could always make it as a stand-up comedian.

Well, Doggett could always make it as a stand-up comedian.

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The X-Files – Dæmonicus (Review)

This December, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the ninth season of The X-Files.

Dæmonicus is the first “monster of the week” episode of the ninth season.

This is important, particularly following on from two particularly limp introductory mythology episodes. After all, The X-Files amounts to more than just its mythology; problems with the mythology are less of a problem when they are surrounded by strong standalone episodes. Tunguska and Terma arrived as messy mythology episodes at the peak of the show’s popularity, but nobody was too bothered because they were surrounded by standalone episodes like Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man or Paper Hearts.

The devil inside...

The devil inside…

So the show can probably withstand the hit of Nothing Important Happened Today I and Nothing Important Happened Today II. After all, the third season opened with The Blessing Way and the fifth season opened with Redux I, with both of those seasons standing among the best seasons that the show ever produced. (That said, it helps that the second episodes of those seasons – Paper Clip and Redux II – were much stronger.) There is still a chance to salvage things here. The ninth season is down, but don’t count it out yet.

Dæmonicus could really turn things around, right?

Well, that's just cheating.

Well, that’s just cheating.

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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 – Empedocles (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.

Empedocles returns to one of the most enduring Ten Thirteen themes: the idea of evil as contagion.

Both The X-Files and Millennium have touched upon this theme. On The X-Files, episodes like Aubrey and Grotesque suggested that evil was something that could be passed from person to person. Despite the fact that Millennium was based around a forensic profiler, Chris Carter described it as a show about “the limits of psychology”; it seemed like evil could often be traced to sinister forces at work in the world. Looking at Ten Thirteen’s output as a whole, it seems that Carter believes wholeheartedly in the idea of evil as an external force.

Man on fire...

Man on fire…

Empedocles offers perhaps the most straightforward example of this recurring theme. Reyes describes the case as “a thread of evil… connecting through time, through men, through opportunity.” It is a narrative thread that connects from the murder of Luke Doggett in New York to a workplace shooting in New Orleans. Evil is at work in the world, in a way that is palpable and discernible. Empedocles is not a subtle episode of television, linking this contagion of evil images of hellfire and burning.

There is undoubtedly something just a little simplistic about all of this. One of the luxuries of conspiracy theory, as The X-Files has repeatedly suggested, is the way that it serves to impose a logical and linear narrative on trauma; to make sense of acts and events that would otherwise suggest a brutally random universe. The mythology running through the first six seasons of the show suggested a conspiracy of powerful men might provide such a nexus of causation, but Empedocles offers something a bit broader.

It burns...

Burn with me.

As with a lot of the eighth season mythology, Empedocles cuts out the middle-man. The eighth season largely eschews the blending of “self” and “other” that run through first seven seasons of the show, largely rejecting the narrative of collaboration and complicity implied by the Syndicate. The eighth season of The X-Files repeatedly suggests that evil is inhuman, presenting its antagonists as distinctly “other” forms that infiltrate and pervert the body in perhaps the purest distillation of the show’s many viral metaphors.

In its own way, Empedocles is just as much a mythology or conspiracy episode as Three Words or Vienen. Like those episodes, Empedocles posits a conspiracy theory based upon the subversion of human identity by something alien and external. Empedocles posits a conspiracy of evil.

Crispy...

Crispy…

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