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Non-Review Review: The X-Files – I Want to Believe

This January, to prepare for the release of the new six-part season of The X-Files, we’re wrapping up our coverage of the show, particularly handling the various odds and ends between the show’s last episode and the launch of the revival.

The plan was always to transition The X-Files from television to film, but fans change.

Following the success of The X-Files: Fight the Future, there had been some mumblings about the possibility of releasing a film in the summer of 2000. Given that The X-Files was a cultural property rooted in the nineties, it seemed like a big screen adventure would have been the perfect way to bring Mulder and Scully into the twenty-first century. After all, the original plan was that the show would retire in its seventh season. (The network even had a bespoke successor selected in Chris Carter’s Harsh Realm.)

Gotta have faith...

Gotta have faith…

However, this was not to be. It turned out that Fight the Future represented the cultural peak of The X-Files, the moment of maximum pop culture saturation. Almost immediately upon the production team’s move to California at the start of the sixth season, the show’s rating began their slow (and then not so slow) decline. The seventh season was itself hampered by behind-the-scenes drama, with David Duchovny suing Chris Carter and Fox over syndication. At the same time, Fox’s “worst season ever” meant that the broadcast could not afford to cancel The X-Files.

So, understandably, the sequel to Fight the Future was postponed and put on the long-finger. As the show came to an end in its ninth season, the subject of a second X-Files feature film arose again. Still, there was a debate to be had about whether the world really wanted a second X-Files film. While the sixth and seventh seasons had slowly eroded the show’s popularity and appeal, the ninth completely collapsed it; through the combination of bad storytelling decisions and the broader shift in the political mood, The X-Files felt like a spent cultural force.

"Platonic", eh?

“Platonic”, eh?

Ultimately, that was not to be either. The production history of The X-Files: I Want to Believe often recalls the mythology at the heart of The X-Files, with the project constantly shifting and changing as outside forces intervene. I Want to Believe arrived in cinemas in July 2008, a full decade after Fight the Future and more than six years after the broadcast of The Truth. The finished product is radically different from what anybody might have imagined in the immediate aftermath of Fight the Future, its design often surreal and awkward.

If I Want to Believe would have been a strange choice for an X-Files film release in July 2000, it seemed downright perverse in July 2008.

The truth is out there. Way out there.

The truth is out there. Way out there.

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The X-Files – Arcadia (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.

Arcadia was originally produced directly after Two Fathers and One Son. It was moved later in the broadcast cycle because it needed more post-production work than Agua Mala or Monday. Looking at the finished product, one suspects that the garbage monster posed no shortage of problems for the production team. Whatever the reason, Arcadia was shifted down two slots in the broadcast order. This is a shame on multiple levels. Most obviously, “Mulder and Scully go undercover as a suburban couple” would have been a great sweeps episode.

More than that, though, there is something delightfully subversive in the idea that Arcadia is the first case that Mulder and Scully are assigned after reclaiming their iconic basement office at the end of One Son. The decision to reassign Mulder and Scully to the X-files would seem to promised a return to the status quo after a weird stretch earlier in the season (from Triangle to The Rain King) where The X-Files turned into a weird paranormal romantic comedy. Fan reaction to this stretch of the show was (and still is) polarised.

So happy together...

So happy together…

However, instead of reassuring those fans wanting a return to more traditional X-Files aesthetic, Arcadia reasserts the “quirky domestic comedy” tone of shows like Dreamland I, Dreamland II or How the Ghosts Stole Christmas. In fact, it’s telling how completely disinterested Arcadia is in the fact that Mulder and Scully are back on the X-files for the first time since the end of the fifth season. There’s a quick exchange referencing their reassignment, but no examination of the fallout of One Son. There is not even a single scene set in the familiar basement set.

As such, Arcadia seems quite cheeky. It celebrates the return to the show’s classic status quo by ignoring it almost completely. Arcadia is a silly little relationship comedy that could easily have aired in the first stretch of the season, its positioning here feeling like a playful tease of those fans clamouring for the return of a classical approach to the series. Unfortunately, a lot of that gets lost in the shuffling of the episode around in the broadcast schedule. Using Agua Mala and Monday to insulate Arcadia from Two Fathers and One Son undercuts its cheeky charm.

There goes the neighbourhood...

There goes the neighbourhood…

The post-production delay on Arcadia hurts the episode. Instead of a cheeky tweaking of fandom’s nose, Arcadia becomes a fairly middling mid to late season instalment. It is not as limp and lifeless as Agua Mala or Alpha, but not as insightful and fun as Monday. In fact, while Arcadia contains a few chuckles, the episode lacks the charm of something like Triangle or How the Ghosts Stole Christmas (or even The Rain King). Arcadia feels like it takes the cheesy teasing of a Mulder/Scully relationship just a little too far.

In many ways, The Rain King represented the point at which the show should have pressed forward with a romantic relationship between Mulder and Scully; regardless of whether the viewer is a shipper or a noromo, the teasing had reached critical mass, and it was time to commit one way or another. Arcadia instead insists that the show remains decidedly noncommittal, trying to have the best of all possible worlds. There comes a point where the show feels like it is just “trolling.”

"Well, this is easy enough..."

“Well, this is easy enough…”

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The X-Files – The Rain King (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.

I do not “gaze” at Scully.

Somewhere over the rainbow...

Somewhere over the rainbow…

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The X-Files – Triangle (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.

There are a lot of reasons to celebrate Triangle.

The episode gets a lot of attention for its wonderful use of long tracking shots. According to Chris Carter’s commentary, there are only twenty-four individual shots stitched together to produce the forty-five-minute episode. Considering the amount of split-screen action at the climax, that is not a lot. Triangle is an artistic tour de force for writer and director Chris Carter. The success that both Birdman and True Detective enjoyed in 2014 due to their extended takes suggests that Carter was significantly ahead of the curve.

Dragging up the past...

Dragging up the past…

There are other aspects to note. Triangle also ushers in a new mood and tone for the sixth season of The X-Files. The show had moved to Los Angeles, and would struggle with how to retain its identity in the new (and bright) surroundings of California. The Beginning and Drive had both answered the question in their own way, but Triangle ushers in a whole new approach to storytelling. Triangle is the first of a series of light and breezy episodes in the early stretch of the sixth season where The X-Files almost turns into a paranormal sitcom.

However, there is one other reason to celebrate Triangle. It is an extended forty-five minute pun on the word “ship.”

Cigarette-Smoking Nazi...

Cigarette-Smoking Nazi…

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“Mulder and Scully” by Catatonia (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.

Things are getting strange, I’m starting to worry

this could be a case for Mulder and Scully…

If you needed proof that The X-Files was a cultural juggernaut in the mid-to-late nineties, look no further than Mulder and Scully.

The first single off Catatonia’s International Velvet propelled the band to new heights of fame and fortune. Before the release of Mulder and Scully, the band had skulked around the bottom of the British charts; their biggest success before that point had been You’ve Got a Lot to Answer For, a song lucky to scrape the top forty. Indeed, reaching the third position in the United Kingdom charts, Mulder and Scully easily became the Welsh band’s largest pop hit. A month after the release of Mulder and Scully, its parent album would reach the top of the international charts.

catatonia-mulderandscully3

Having a Wales of a time…

Indeed, it could be argued that Catatonia’s success overlapped quite neatly with that of The X-Files. The core of the band’s “classic” line-up, Cerys Matthews and Mark Roberts, began writing songs together in 1992. The single Mulder and Scully and the album International Velvet represented the peak of their success. The band would release two more albums building off the success of International Velvet, before formally announcing the dissolution of the band in September 2001. It is an arc that roughly mirrors that of The X-Files – suggesting Catatonia were another nineties artifact.

Although Mulder and Scully was Catatonia’s biggest success, it is worth noting The X-Files had enjoyed a great deal of success in the British charts. Late in the show’s third season, the theme song had been released as a single in its own right. Mark Snow’s iconic opening credits music had climbed all the way to the number two slot. Nevertheless, Mulder and Scully is interesting because it is a massive hit about the show that came from outside the production office. The X-Files had conquered television, now it seemed to be laying claim to both cinema and the pop charts.

Sing when you're winning...

Sing when you’re winning…

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The X-Files – Memento Mori (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.

It is easy to see why Scully’s cancer arc is so fondly remembered.

It arrived at a point where the show was at the very top of its game. Scully’s cancer arc comes amid a slew of beloved and classic episodes, in the middle of a season that contains Home, Unruhe, Paper Hearts and many more. It is the defining mythology plot point for the show’s fourth season, which was the point at which The X-Files just exploded into the centre of popular consciousness. More than that, the episode introducing Scully’s cancer – Leonard Betts – was the most-watched episode of The X-Files ever broadcast.

What's in your head?

What’s in your head?

Memento Mori has its own endearing aspects. If Leonard Betts was the show’s highest profile and most populist success, Memento Mori counts as one of the show’s biggest critical successes. The episode is largely responsible for winning Gillian Anderson her Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. It also took home the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Art Direction for a Series and received a nomination for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series. It is perhaps the most prestigious episode of the fourth season.

However, in spite of all of that, Memento Mori remains something of a mess. It feels like a clumsy retread of One Breath, a story that worked much better in the show’s second season.

Send in the clones...

Send in the clones…

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‘Ship Shape or Ex-Files? Mulder, Scully and Paranormal Romance

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.

It is very hard to talk about The X-Files without talking about the relationship between Mulder and Scully.

This goes without saying. After all, David Duchovny was a regular for seven years of the show, making a few appearances across the final seasons. Gillian Anderson was in the primary cast for all nine seasons. Both movies have centred around the characters. The recent comic book “Season Ten” returns to the classic Mulder and Scully dynamic. It is impossible to imagine The X-Files without Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.

xfiles-pilot8

Given how frequently the possibility of a revival comes up, one suspects that the biggest problem with potentially rebooting or relaunching the series is the fact that it would be impossible to book Duchovny and Anderson for twenty-odd episodes in a given year. Surely some enthusiastic executive has pitched a new X-Files show (“the neXt files”, perhaps?), only to have the idea shot down because it fails to consider how big a deal Mulder and Scully are to the show.

Indeed, given how important Mulder and Scully are to the show, it seems inevitable the discussion would turn towards the possibility of a romantic relationship between the two. They are two very attractive straight people of opposite genders with great chemistry. Romance seems all but assured between the two. Of course the possibility of a romance between Mulder and Scully became a fault line in X-Files fandom.

xfiles-endgame3

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