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The X-Files – Elegy (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.

The first two-thirds of Elegy count as the best episode of The X-Files that John Shiban has written at this point of his tenure on the writing staff. Elegy starts out as an episode that leans into Shiban’s strengths. It is a very traditional and old-fashioned horror story, the first tried-and-tested ghost story that The X-Files has told in a while. The idea of a haunted bowling alley is so wonderfully weird and so quintessentially American that it fits The X-Files perfectly. For its first thirty minutes, Elegy is funereal and sombre, haunting and enchanting.

Elegy is a story packed with potentially interesting concepts. It is overflowing with clever ideas and memorable images. Shiban is a writer who has a great deal of affection for classic horror, and that affection shines through into Elegy. There is a slow and sorrowful atmosphere to the early stretches of the episode. Transparent grey spectres are a staple of the horror genre, but they work very well in this context. The X-Files has been quite reluctant to handle traditional monsters, so there is something rather strange and affecting about seeing such a classic depiction here.

Here there be ghosts...

Here there be ghosts…

Then things go to hell. To be fair, the problems with the last fifteen of Elegy are very much suggested from the start; they are just pushed to the fore. It becomes quite clear that Elegy has no idea how to resolve a “haunted bowling alley” story, so the script hastily and clumsily transitions to an “abusive care home” plot. The first two thirds of Elegy are not that interested in the character of Harold Spuller beyond his use as a plot device; a fact that becomes quite apparent in how the final third callously disposes of him.

Elegy is an episode that brushes against greatness. Its best ideas rank with the highlights of the fourth season. Unfortunately, all of that is undercut by a truly terrible final act.

Blood on the mirror...

Blood on the mirror…

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The X-Files – Unrequited (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.

Unrequited opens with Mulder and Scully’s attempts to stop an assassination attempt by an invisible man, before jumping back twelve hours to explain how our heroes got into this situation. With that set-up, Unrequited falls into a lot of the narrative traps associated with an in media res teaser. After all, there’s not really anything special about the teaser. There is no mystery to be solved, no strange behaviour to explain. What questions are we meant to ask, based on that opening scene? How are we meant to look at the rest of the episode differently, knowing what we know?

Sure, Mulder and Scully are protecting Major General Benjamin Bloch. That would seem to be a little bit outside the remit of “the FBI’s most unwanted”, but that is not too strange a situation for the duo. They are FBI agents, so there is a certain flexibility in their job description. The Field Where I Died – an episode with a much more effective non-linear teaser – featured Mulder and Scully collaborating with the ATF. So it isn’t as if the set-up should be striking or compelling.

Stop, or my Mulder will shoot!

Stop, or my Mulder will shoot!

It seems like we are meant to focus on the monster of the week – Vietnam veteran Nathaniel Teager. Teager has the ability to turn himself invisible, which is quite something. Sure enough, the teaser to Unrequited offers a glimpse of that ability in action. But why is it important to have show us that ability in a scene from the climax of the episode? With a few adjustments, Teager’s first murder in the back of the limousine would serve the same purpose; introducing the audience to his powers without the need to recycle several minutes of footage from the climax.

After all, the most dissatisfying aspect of the in media res teaser is not the fact that it is completely inessential. Instead, the decision to use footage from the climax means that the audience has to sit through the same sequence twice. The teaser for Unrequited works well enough the first time around, but the sequence is not clever or inventive enough to merit a live-action replay towards the end of the hour. It just saps momentum from episode, rendering the final sequences somewhat tedious. That is the biggest problem with the opening of Unrequited, even beyond laziness.

Flags of our father figures...

Flags of our father figures…

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