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New Podcast! The X-Cast X-Files Podwatch – Episode #59 (Folie à Deux/The End)

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. It’s going to be fun.

My final appearance (covering the final episodes) of the fifth season teams me up once again with the inimitable Clara Cook. We’re discussing the last two episodes of the season, Folie à Deux and The End, two episodes very clearly set up to lead in The X-Files: Fight the Future.

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The Lone Gunmen – The Lying Game (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.

The Lying Game is perhaps most well known for its central guest star.

The Lying Game is the episode in which the Lone Gunmen find themselves crossing paths with Assistant Director Walter Skinner. It was a pretty big deal, to the point that Skinner’s appearance towards the end of the season was being hyped in the media immediately following the broadcast of The Pilot, almost two months before the episode actually aired. It wasn’t the first crossover between two Ten Thirteen shows, but it was still a pretty big deal. It makes sense that discussion of The Lying Game would focus on its visiting supporting player.

Some hot Skinner-on-Skinner action...

Some hot Skinner-on-Skinner action…

However, The Lying Game is also notable for featuring a significant transgender guest character. Carol Strode is most significant transgender character to appear in a Ten Thirteen production. As one might expect given the production company’s awkward history with the portrayal of homosexual characters, the results are mixed. There is no question that the episode is well-intentioned, but it is also clumsy and occasionally ill-judged. Even the title would suggest as much, albeit more through absent-minded insensitivity than outright malice.

The Lying Game has its heart in the right place, but doesn’t necessarily have its head in gear.

Surviving by the Skin of his teeth...

Surviving by the Skin of his teeth…

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The X-Files – S.R. 819 (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.

And we’re back on familiar ground.

The first half of sixth season of The X-Files is perhaps the weirdest that the show ever really became. It seemed like the series transformed into a goofy workplace romantic comedy, as Mulder and Scully worked at boring desk jobs during the day before investigating paranormal activity together in their spare time. It was utterly unlike anything that the show had done before or anything that it would do after. It is very strange to see so many oddities packed together so tightly.

He survived by the Skin(ner) of his teeth...

He survived by the Skin(ner) of his teeth…

Triangle, Dreamland I, Dreamland II, How the Ghosts Stole Christmas and The Rain King have enough surreal content to sustain two or three seasons of The X-Files. Broadcasting them almost back-to-back left some fans a little shell-shocked. At the time, it must have seemed like The X-Files had become a completely different television show than it had been only five or six months earlier. However, with the benefit of hindsight, it becomes clear that those episodes were just a very strange blip in the larger context of the series.

S.R. 819 is the episode that marks the clear return to the classic “tried and tested” model of The X-Files. It has everything from ambiguous conspiracies to body horror to car park confrontations. It is very much business as usual. Which is both the best and worst thing about it.

Do the Mathes, son...

Do the Mathes, son…

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The X-Files – Zero Sum (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.

For all that The X-Files exists in a murky shadow world populated by ambiguous figures and a government conspiracy dating back generations, the show has a pretty straightforward sense of morality. No good can stem from evil, the show seems to suggest; the show’s central mythology repeatedly has Mulder and Scully confront the legacy of sins committed by their forefathers. Even the title of Zero Sum alludes to the hollowness of Walter Skinner’s deal with the devil, his moral compromise that has no demonstrable benefit and severe demonstrable harm.

In Memento Mori, Walter Skinner compromised himself. He made a deal with the Cigarette-Smoking Man, in return for Agent Scully’s continued well-being. “What’ll it take?” Skinner asked, desperate for a chance to save Dana Scully. Ever ambiguous, the Cigarette-Smoking Man offered, “Well, I’ll have to get back to you on that.” Unfolding a few months later, Zero Sum is essentially about paying the piper. It is Walter Skinner settling up with the Cigarette-Smoking Man. He rolls up his sleeves and jumps into the dirty work.

Fire and brimstone...

Fire and brimstone…

Zero Sum is a story that you could not tell with Mulder. Although Mulder never faces the same choice as Skinner, the show has been quite consistent in its portrayal of Mulder’s morality. Mulder does not compromise; Mulder does not subscribe to the theory that a deal with the devil could ever pay dividends. In contrast, Skinner is a more ambiguous and pragmatic figure. Skinner spent significant sections of the second season caught between Mulder and the Cigarette-Smoking Man. The show only firmly committed him to Mulder and Scully in Paper Clip.

Zero Sum is a fantastic example of how the world of The X-Files has really grown and expanded around the lead characters. While the show will never quite develop into an ensemble, it is a series with a broad cast. It makes sense that it should begin to use them in a productive manner.

"Walter Skinner, F.B.I."

“Walter Skinner, F.B.I.”

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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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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 – Avatar (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.

Avatar is really the first time that The X-Files relies on a member of its supporting cast to carry a story all by themselves.

Later seasons will get a bit more adventurous when it comes to sharing screen time. Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man and En Ami both offer viewers a glimpse at the man behind the cigarette. The Lone Gunmen prepare for their own spin-off with The Unusual Suspects and Three of a Kind. Even Skinner gets a couple more character-centric episodes with Zero Sum and S.R. 819. In a way, Hungry is a day-in-the-life episode of a monster of the week.

Pushing Mulder to the background...

Pushing Mulder to the background…

Avatar is an episode that demonstrates that these kinds of stories are possible – that The X-Files can lift the focus off of Mulder and Scully for a week and flesh out those characters who exist at the periphery of the series. Just under two years after he was first introduced, Mitch Pileggi has proven himself invaluable to the series. Asking him to carry an episode like this demonstrates the show’s faith in the character.

Avatar is a bit rough around the edges, struggling to decide whether it is part of the show’s conspiracy mythology or a stand-alone monster tale in a season that has worked hard to delineate the two types of show. Still, it’s an ambitious late-season installment that makes a lasting impression on what The X-Files can be.

Don't look now...

Don’t look now…

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