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The X-Files Deviations (IDW) #1 – Being and Time (Review)

This June, we’re going to be taking a look at the current run of The X-Files, beginning with the IDW comic book revival and perhaps taking some detours along the way. Check back daily for the latest review.

Being and Time is not a good comic book.

There are a number of reasons why the comic doesn’t work, but the simple fact of the matter is that it has an interesting premise but does little of interest with that premise. Nevertheless, there is something quite intriguing the set-up, an “out-of-continuity” tale that offers a glimpse of a parallel universe where Fox Mulder was abducted in the place of his sister Samantha. More to the point, it seems entirely telling that the only supplemental X-Files comic to be published by IDW during the entirety of The X-Files: Season 11 was one entirely outside continuity.

What might have been.

What might have been.

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The X-Files (IDW) Annual 2015 – Most Likely to… (Review)

This June, we’re going to be taking a look at the current run of The X-Files, beginning with the IDW comic book revival and perhaps taking some detours along the way. Check back daily for the latest review.

Most Likely to… is an interesting stories in a number of respects.

Most obviously, it represents a clear change in how IDW are approaching their X-Files license. When The X-Files: Season 10 was announced in January 2013, a big deal was made of the fact that it would be the “official” continuation of the adventures of Mulder and Scully. The comic line was very much an expansion of the series, to the point that the bulk of issues – including spin-offs like Conspiracy and like Millennium – took place following the events of The X-Files: I Want to Believe. The future of the franchise was up for grabs.

Flashback.

Flashback.

Most Likely to… is notable as the first X-Files comic published by IDW to unfold entirely within the continuity of the television series, rather than beyond it. Even the framing device in Year Zero was very much set during Season 10. The comic is dated as taking place in November 1999, which would place it early in the seventh season of the show. The dialogue makes it clear that this issue takes place before the events of Sein und Zeit and Closure. This choice of setting feels more like the Topps or Wildstorm comics than the IDW line.

This is a very interesting transition, given how keenly IDW had been focused on their position as the continuation of the franchise. However, it does demonstrate just how much as changed.

Burning down the house...

Burning down the house…

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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 – Closure (Review)

This November, 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.

Sein und Zeit and Closure don’t fit together at all.

There is a nice symmetry to the stories, with Sein und Zeit closing with Mulder standing amid a mass grave and Closure opening with the excavation of the same mass grave. The contrast between the two shots of the same space says a lot about the differences between Sein und Zeit and Closure. Sein und Zeit is an episode that isolates Mulder, demonstrating how alone he truly is in the world and how all his beliefs might be empty; Closure responds by cluttering up the narrative and revealing an absurdly convoluted explanation of what happened to Samantha.

A grave subject...

A grave subject…

Even the themes of the two episodes are almost unique. Both Sein und Zeit and Closure are driven by Mulder’s desire to make sense of what happened to his sister, but both adopt diametrically different approaches towards the question. Sein und Zeit proposes that the world is a random and cruel place where bad things happen to children for no reason beyond the sadistic whims of strangers, while Closure embraces the idea that there is a larger scheme in which these horrible events occur.

There is a yin-and-yang structure to Sein und Zeit and Closure, a sense that the two episodes are almost at odds with one another when it comes to the fate of Samantha Mulder. Closure offers something approaching hope. It is too much to describe Closure as a happy-ending to the character arc that ran through the first seven seasons of the series, but it does offer Samantha an ending that is not soul-destroyingly bleak. It offers Mulder resolution and understanding. In his own words, it offers him freedom.

"Conscience... it's just the voices of the dead... trying to save us from our own damnation."

“Conscience… it’s just the voices of the dead… trying to save us from our own damnation.”

It is a very hopeful suggestion. It is a particularly hopeful suggestion coming at the middle of the show’s seventh season, as the resolution to Mulder’s character arc. The audience has spent seven years watching Mulder deal with the trauma of the loss of his sister, wrestling with the fear that he might never find an answer; or that he might find an answer that fails to make sense of it all. What if he found an answer that made sense of everything? What if Samantha’s disappearance wasn’t just part of a government conspiracy? What if it was part of something bigger?

What if the disappearance of Samantha Mulder meant everything?

A man alone.

A man alone.

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The X-Files – Sein und Zeit (Review)

This November, 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.

Sein und Zeit and Closure don’t fit together at all.

There is a clear demarkation that exists between the two episodes, to the point where they cannot really be described as a single two-part story. Following the disappearance of Amber Lynn LaPierre from her home, Sein und Zeit closes with the arrest of a serial child-murderer and the discovery of a mass grave. There is not a whiff of the show’s central mythology to be found, despite Mulder’s insistence and anxiety. Although Closure picks up where Sein und Zeit left off, it embarks on its own separate story that does draw heavily from the show’s established mythology.

A grave subject...

A grave subject…

Even the guest casts of the two episodes are almost unique. Outside of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, only two guest stars appear in both episodes. Rebecca Toolan and Megan Corletto both play characters who die in Sein und Zeit, but appear as ghosts in Closure. The featured guest stars in Sein und Zeit do not reappear in Closure, and vice versa. Even the series’ recurring cast is firmly divided between the two halves; Walter Skinner appears in Sein und Zeit, while the Cigarette-Smoking Man plays an important role in Closure.

There is a yin-and-yang structure to Sein und Zeit and Closure, a sense that the two episodes are almost at odds with one another when it comes to the fate of Samantha Mulder. Sein und Zeit dares to ask what might happen if there was no rhyme or reason to her abduction; what if it was just a tragedy, like the tragedies that happen to happy families all the time? Mulder has invested so much of himself in the quest to explain what happened on that night in late November 1973; what would happen if there were no meaningful explanation?

"Conscience... it's just the voices of the dead... trying to save us from our own damnation."

“Conscience… it’s just the voices of the dead… trying to save us from our own damnation.”

It is a very bleak suggestion. It is a particularly bleak suggestion coming at the middle of the show’s seventh season, as the resolution to Mulder’s character arc. The audience has spent seven years watching Mulder dig deeper and deeper into a sinister conspiracy against mankind, largely motivated by the fact that his sister’s disappearance is a part of some larger puzzle. What if it wasn’t? What if Mulder’s whole quest were simply a lie that he had told himself? What if Mulder wanted to believe so badly that he convinced himself that this made sense?

What if the disappearance of Samantha Mulder meant nothing?

A man alone.

A man alone.

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Millennium – Closure (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

Closure is the first time that Emma Hollis has come into focus.

The character has been featured in the opening credits since The Innocents, but has mostly existed in the background. The Innocents and Exegesis made it clear that Hollis was a young agent who could act under her own initiative, but she was very much a secondary figure in a narrative largely about Frank trying to work through the loss of his wife. She played a significant role in TEOTWAWKI simply by virtue of being able to work with both Frank Black and Agent Barry Baldwin. It was hard to get a read on her character beyond the very basic elements.

"Closure" in one word.

“Closure” in one word.

The opening scene of Closure makes it quite clear that his will be a Hollis-centric episode. While a senseless murder in a cheap hotel provides the sting leading into the credits, the teaser opens with Emma Hollis wandering through a graveyard and narrating to an unseen character. “I spend my days looking for reasons,” Hollis narrates. “The reasons people do what they do. It’s my job, it’s my way. I want to know why. Why it’s like this. Why good people die.” So it is quite clear where Closure is going from the outset.

Closure works reasonably well. It is much more modest episode than something like The Innocents, Exegesis, TEOTWAWKI, … Thirteen Years Later or Skull and Bones. It is an episode that feels like a conscious attempt to pull the show back towards the first season, hinting at an efficient serial killer procedural. Closure feels like a first season episode, and not just because of the procedural element. The decision to give Hollis a childhood trauma as motivation feels like a rather lazy way to flesh out her character. It is efficient, but it does feel a little too easy.

Smile!

Smile!

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The X-Files – Paper Hearts (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.

Paper Hearts is one of the best scripts that Vince Gilligan would write for The X-Files, and one of the best episodes of the fourth season. This is enough to put it in the frontrunners of any possible “best episode ever” ranking.

The episode is spectacular. It works on just about every conceivable level. It has a great script from a great young staff writer. It has a great guest star in Tom Noonan. It features a great performance from David Duchovny. Rob Bowman does a spectacular job directing. Mark Snow is one of the most consistent composers working in nineties television, and his score for Paper Hearts manages to be simple, effective and memorable. It is thoughtful, atmospheric, emotional and compelling. It is the perfect storm.

The truth is buried...

The truth is buried…

However, the real cherry on Paper Hearts is just how easy it would be to mess up an episode like this. On paper, Paper Hearts seems like a disaster waiting to happen. It is an episode that teases the audience with a potentially massive reversal of one of the show’s core truths. It posits an alternative theory for the abduction of Samantha Mulder that would shake the show to its very core. If Paper Hearts followed through on that basic premise, everything would change. Much like Never Again, this is an episode with the potential to poison the show.

Which makes it inevitable that Paper Hearts will back away from its potentially game-changing premise, which brings its own challenges. It is one thing to up-end the apple cart; it is another to pretend to up-end the apple cart only to restore the status quo at the end of the hour. On paper, and from any synopsis, Paper Hearts seems like the biggest cheat imaginable. “Everything is different!” it seems to yell. “And then it’s not!” The real beauty of Paper Hearts is the way that the episode works almost perfectly even with these huge hurdles to clear.

The heart of the matter...

The heart of the matter…

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The X-Files – Paper Clip (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.

And now we return to your scheduled viewing.

In many respects, Paper Clip feels like the real third season premiere. It establishes a lot of the recurring themes and ideas for the mythology of the season, from Krycek-on-the-run through to collaboration in the wake of the Second World War. It builds on the successful multi-part formula established by episodes like Ascension or End Game during the show’s second season. It moves things along in a way that The Blessing Way simply refused to. (It even resolves the cliffhanger from the last episode on screen.)

The light at the end of the tunnel...

The light at the end of the tunnel…

Paper Clip demonstrates the strengths of the third season of The X-Files. The third season was the point at which the show really pushed the mythology out, building on earlier implications that there was form to be found in the shadows. The third season also looked to the second season to determine what had worked and what had not worked. Paper Clip is very clearly modelled on the successful aspects of second parts like Ascension or End Game.

It moves. The power of Paper Clip comes from an incredible forward momentum that allows the show to maintain tension and excitement while refusing to allow the audience to catch their breath. Instead of resolving the bigger plot threads from the first episode, questions and hints are thrown out with reckless abandon as the script just drives through set pieces and emotional beats and suspenseful sequences. It is a very meticulously, very cleverly constructed piece of television.

Watching the skies...

Watching the skies…

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The X-Files (Topps) #3 – A Little Dream of Me/The Return (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.

There are inevitable challenges in working on a licensed property. You are effectively playing with somebody else’s toys. Since these tie-ins cannot drive a narrative currently unfolding in another medium, it’s often a challenge to maintain the illusion of forward momentum while existing at the behest of a story that can change from week-to-week. While The X-Files was a massive coup for Topps comics, and while Stefan Petrucha and Charles Adlard did a wonderful job, the comic had to face these constraints.

A Dismembrance of Things Past had brushed up against those limitations in trying to tell a U.F.O. story without meddling in the television show’s continuity. Petrucha used some fiendishly clever sleight of hand there, suggesting that the story would be about an alien visitation and possible cover-up, only to reveal that the story was actually an intimate meditation on the ideas of truth and memory. It was a rather ingenious bait-and-switch, resulting in a wonderful little story.

Pictures in his head...

Pictures in his head…

A Little Dream of Me is not quite as efficient in dealing with the external limitations imposed on a tie-in comic book. The unfortunate realities of comic book scheduling meant that A Little Dream of Me had the misfortune to hit the stands very shortly after the broadcast of Colony and End Game. Of course, the script for A Little Dream of Me would have been written long before the episodes aired (about six months), but the scheduling causes the comic to suffer.

After all, Colony and End Game had made it abundantly clear that Samantha Mulder was unlikely to be returning to her family any time soon. And that was in the television show. The third issue of the comic book teasing the return of Samantha Mulder seems like a rather cynical cheat.

The "X" file...

The “X” file…

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The X-Files – End Game (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.

Towards the end of End Game, Mulder stumbles across a nuclear submarine that was attacked in the episode’s teaser. The craft was disabled by a strange craft it picked up in the ocean. Now, following a mysterious alien figure across the world in a quest to find his sister, Mulder approaches the location of the lost American submarine. As he does, he notices the submarine’s coning tower, bursting through the ice.

It’s one of those beautifully iconic television moments. It’s an image that is audacious and stunning and beautiful and breathtaking. It immediately gives End Game (and Colony) a sense of scale. All of a sudden, this isn’t just a bunch of stuff happening under the radar in some small town somewhere. This is the hijacking of a nuclear submarine by a hostile entity. This is Mulder going to the ends of the Earth to get his sister back.

Not so green any longer...

Not so green any longer…

It’s also worth noting that the symbolism is beautiful. Even looking at a picture of Mulder on the ice conjures up all manner of associations. Coupled with the non-linear storytelling employed by Colony and End Game, it calls Frankenstein to mind – Frankenstein serving as a massively influential text on Chris Carter. However, the idea of Mulder finding important existential answers on an Arctic soundstage also evokes Clark Kent’s self-discovery in Richard Donner’s Superman films, playing into the sense that this is an episode framed in cinematic terms.

The rest of the episode could just be dead air, and End Game would still work impressively well. However, End Game remains a fantastic piece of work in its own right, effectively codifying how a two-parter is meant to work.

The truth is out there...

The truth is out there…

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