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New Podcast! The X-Cast X-Files Podwatch – Episode #96 (Trust no 1/John Doe)

I’m thrilled to be a part of The X-Cast X-Files Podwatch, a daily snippet podcast rewatching the entirety of The X-Files between now and the launch of the new season. It is something of a spin-off of The X-Cast, a great X-Files podcast run by the charming Tony Black. Tony has assembled a fantastic array of guests and hosts to go through The X-Files episode-by-episodes. With the new season announced to be starting in early January, Tony’s doing two episodes of the podcast per day, so buckle up. And we’re in the final season of the original series.

My final collaboration with the wonderful Baz Greenland finds us discussing the highs and lows of the season, the mythology-heavy Trust no 1 and the Doggett-driven John Doe. No points for guessing which is the high and which is the low.

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The X-Files – Release (Review)

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

Release is a breath of fresh air.

There are problems with the episode, serious problems. The plotting is incredibly loose, with Release relying upon a series of incredible contrivances even once you get past the supernaturally-gifted crime-solver who only joined the FBI so he could solve a murder that happens to connect back to Luke Doggett. At best, Release is clumsy and inelegant. At worst, it makes absolutely no sense. More than that, there is the question of whether or not the episode is actually necessary. Does The X-Files actually need to resolve the murder of Luke Doggett?

Picture perfect...

Picture perfect…

These are fairly sizable and fundamental problems. There is no getting around them. However, Release offsets those problems by being a spectacularly-produced piece of television. Everything works, from Robert Patrick’s performance to Mark Snow’s piano-heavy score to Kim Manner’s stylised direction. Release is a reminder of just how sleek and well-oiled The X-Files could be. That is quite a relief after the triple whammy of Scary Monsters, Jump the Shark and William. Release is a good episode on its own terms; in context, it is a masterpiece.

It also helps that Release feels like the first attempt to give the show actual material closure since Improbable. That closure is thematic rather than literal, with the mystery of Luke Doggett’s death serving as a vehicle through which the show might finally resolve some of its own lingering threads. In the case of Release, the show is tidying away the strands that have been woven into the fabric of The X-Files from the beginning; strands that paid homage to Silence of the Lambs and gave birth to Millennium. Release bids farewell to the forensic side of The X-Files.

The old man and the sea...

The old man and the sea…

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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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The X-Files – Via Negativa (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.

Why no! I never thought other than
That God is that great absence
In our lives, the empty silence
Within, the place where we go
Seeking, not in hope to
Arrive or find. He keeps the interstices
In our knowledge, the darkness
Between stars. His are the echoes
We follow, the footprints he has just
Left. We put our hands in
His side hoping to find
It warm. We look at people
And places as though he had looked
At them, too; but miss the reflection.

– R.S. Thomas, Via Negativa

Facing the axe...

Facing the axe…

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The X-Files – Invocation (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.

There is something rather strange about how the first six episodes of the eighth season approach Doggett as a character.

Despite the fact that he is one of the two leads on The X-Files, the series takes its time in getting around to him. Robert Patrick is effectively stepping into the shows of David Duchovny, but the early stretches of the eighth season seem quite unsure what to make of Special Agent John Doggett. Robert Patrick might appear in the opening credits, but there is a sense that the writing staff are not yet entirely comfortable with the character. Perhaps worried about alienating fans still grieving for Mulder, the show keeps a respectful distance from Doggett.

Good grief.

Good grief.

Within and Without introduced Doggett as the agent in charge of the hunt for Mulder. While Scully and Skinner were looking at Mulder as a potential victim, they frequently found themselves competing with Doggett’s decisions to paint Mulder as a potential suspect. Doggett was introduced in a surprisingly abrasive manner, literally (and clumsily) attempting to undermine the relationship between Mulder and Scully – perhaps a literal expression of fannish anxiety about the show’s new lead.

This is not to suggest that the show has been hostile (or even disinterested) towards Doggett. Both Patience and Roadrunners emphasise that Scully needs to learn to trust Doggett and that he really does have her best interests at heart. However, the show tends to look at Doggett as an object of curiousity. In the first six episodes of the season, the show tends to view Doggett from an outside perspective. He might play an active role in the narrative, but he is not really a viewpoint character.

Knife to see you...

Knife to see you…

The show generally approaches Doggett through the character of Scully. (In Redrum, it is Martin Wells.) Leaning heavily on Scully makes sense; the audience trusts Scully, so if she can trust Doggett then maybe they can as well. More than that, it offers a nice twist on the dynamic during the first season of the show. In The Pilot, Scully was introduced as a viewpoint character into the bizarre world of Fox Mulder. Seven years later, the audience is so accustomed to that bizarre world that she is the viewpoint character into the grounded world of John Doggett.

This decision to treat Scully as the viewpoint character gives Invocation a surreal tone. In many ways, Invocation is the show’s first real Doggett-centric story; it is the first time that the character gets to drive the central narrative instead of running in parallel, it is the first time that the show hints at a personal back story for Doggett beyond “generic law enforcement and armed forces experience.” However, it is all filtered through the lens of Dana Scully. It emphasises the fact that Doggett is a mystery, which seems strange given how straight-laced he seems.

"Luke, I was your father."

“Luke, I was your father.”

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The X-Files – Patience (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.

Patience is necessary.

The eighth season of The X-Files is conservative. There are arguments to be made that this is true in a political sense, but it is certainly true in a narrative sense. The eighth season generally plays it quite safe when it comes to the structuring and plotting. The most structurally ambitious episode of the eighth season is perhaps Redrum, which feels a lot less “out there” than episodes like The Post-Modern Prometheus, Bad Blood, Triangle, X-Cops or First Person Shooter. Narratively, the eighth season plays it relatively “safe.”

Batsh!t crazy...

Batsh!t crazy…

There is a reason for this, of course. Losing David Duchovny for half the season and rotating in Robert Patrick represents perhaps the biggest risk that the show will ever take. Given how essential Duchovny had been to the show’s success, the eighth season is taking quite the gamble. With that in mind, it makes sense to play it safe. Without Mulder around, the show’s primary goal is to reassure fans that it is still The X-Files. This is not the time for experimental “event” episodes, because “Mulder is not in this episode” is an experimental event of itself.

As such, the eighth season feels largely like a return to a more traditional X-Files aesthetic, a “back to basics” approach. In that respect, Patience is essentially about kicking the tires and taking the show for a gentle test drive in its new configuration.

The show won't be caught with its pants down...

The show won’t be caught with its pants down…

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The X-Files – Without (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.

Taken as a whole, the eighth season of The X-Files is remarkable.

It is not a perfect season of television, by any stretch. The eighth season doesn’t hit as many highs as the fourth, fifth or sixth seasons. As great as Robert Patrick is as John Doggett, and as skilfully as he is introduced, it is impossible to replace the easy dynamic between Mulder and Scully. The actual mythology of the season feels overcrowded and convoluted, with “supersoldiers” feeling a tad cliché and Mulder’s terminal illness going nowhere of note. The season’s recurring motifs of darkness, death and body horror are not for everybody.

I bet David Duchovny really missed working on The X-Files...

I bet David Duchovny really missed working on The X-Files

At the same time, there is a staggering consistency and reliability to the season. From the outset, the eighth season seems to know what it wants to be and where it wants to go. There is a stronger sense of purpose to the eighth season than to any other season of the show, with the possible exception of the third. Even the lead-up to the release of The X-Files: Fight the Future did not feel this single-minded and focused. In terms of consistency of theme and imagery, this is the closest the show ever came to pulling off a season-long arc.

It is tempting to credit this renewed vigour and energy to the absence of David Duchovny; the search for Mulder provides a solid and compelling hook for the season ahead. However, there is more to it than that. Mulder’s disappearance is a part of it, but the big thematic bow wrapped around the eighth season is Scully’s pregnancy. After all, David Duchovny returns to the show two-thirds of way through the season; it is Scully’s pregnancy that provides the season’s finalé.

"Thank goodness we all wore different ties. That might have been awkward."

“Thank goodness we all wore different ties. That might have been awkward.”

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