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The X-Files – Audrey Pauley (Review)

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

One of the surprising aspects of the ninth season is just how strong the episodes centring on Doggett and Reyes are.

True, there are not necessarily too many “all-time classic” episodes to be found across the length and breadth of the ninth season; that is arguably true of every season since the sixth. The strongest episodes of the ninth season tend to be those focusing on the two new lead characters actually doing their jobs and navigating the weird world around them. 4-D, John Doe, Hellbound and Audrey Pauley rank among the very best that the ninth season has to offer. The biggest problem with the ninth season is the difficulty that the show has maintaining that level of quality.

Into the void...

Into the void…

The ninth season never manages any real consistency. It never commits to one vision of the show or the other. While the stronger episodes suggest that The X-Files might be ready to move on past Mulder and Scully to embrace Doggett and Reyes, the show always returns to insisting that Mulder is still the most important character on the show despite David Duchnovny’s reluctance to return. Nothing Important Happened Today I featured David Duchovny’s stunt butt before Gillian Anderson, Robert Patrick or Annabeth Gish. That is the show’s priority.

This becomes particularly troublesome in the second half of the season. Steven Maeda seems to have a great deal of luck in his ninth season writing assignment, tackling episodes that wind up taking on a larger symbolic importance. 4-D was the first episode to be both produced and broadcast after the events of 9/11, due to scheduling choices that pushed Hellbound later into the season. Although Nothing Important Happened Today I was broadcast nearly two months after the attacks, the production team were actually working on Dæmonicus when news broke.

"Woops. Sorry. Wrong wall."

“Woops. Sorry. Wrong wall.”

Audrey Pauley winds up being the first episode to be produced and broadcast after the cancellation of The X-Files had been announced. The public had been informed of the cancellation between the broadcast of John Doe and Hellbound. The production team had found out while working on Scary Monsters. Due to scheduling choices, Scary Monsters had been pushed back later into the season and Audrey Pauley was aired first. Although it is quite likely Maeda was working on Audrey Pauley long before the cancellation, it still echoes through the work.

Audrey Pauley plays into some of Maeda’s core themes, suggesting alternate and pocket realities that navigate the void between life and death. As with 4-D, Audrey Pauley is very much a post-9/11 episode of The X-Files. However, it is also very much a post-cancellation episode of The X-Files.

Now, where have I seen this before?

Now, where have I seen this before?

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The X-Files – 4-D (Review)

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

In many ways, the ninth season begins with 4-D.

This is perhaps the perfect point for an “alternate reality” episode. After all, The X-Files has undergone a transformation; the reality of the show has been fundamentally and impossibly altered. It might have the same title, it might have an opening sequence that somewhat resembles the old opening sequence, it might even have continuity of characters like Scully and Skinner. However, something has changed. This is not Mulder and Scully, but this is still The X-Files. The show has transitioned. The world has changed around it.

A close shave...

A close shave…

The first three episodes of the season – Nothing Important Happened Today I, Nothing Important Happened Today II, and Dæmonicus – were all produced before 9/11, even though they were broadcast two months after the attacks. (9/11 actually fell during the production of Dæmonicus, with shooting stopping for a day.) The fourth episode of the season, Hellbound, was pushed back deeper into the broadcast order. As such, 4-D was the first episode to be both produced and aired after 9/11.

Appropriately enough, that means that 4-D exists in a different world than the episodes directly preceding it. It has been remarked that the events of 9/11 represented a break in cultural continuity, a line by which history might (relatively cleanly) be divided. There was the world “before 9/11” and “after 9/11.” Although the worlds might look quite similar – and even identical, in many cases – they should not be confused. The world is not as it was. Reality has come undone.

Well, Doggett could always make it as a stand-up comedian.

Well, Doggett could always make it as a stand-up comedian.

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Harsh Realm – Camera Obscura (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.

And so, with Camera Obscura, it seems that Harsh Realm comes to an end

The show had been developed as a television series for the new millennium; all involved had great plans for it. Fox had made no secret of the fact that they planned for Harsh Realm to take pride of place in their schedule going forward. The assumption was that it would replace The X-Files after that juggernaut was retired. There was a lot of hype around the development, a lot of excitement about the new show from producer Chris Carter. Harsh Realm was to be the first of many new shows developed by the producer as part of a highly lucrative contract with Fox.

Burning down the House (of God)...

Burning down the House (of God)…

Sadly, it did not work out that way. Harsh Realm had premiered to low ratings. Fox shuffled it off the schedule after only three episodes, which seemed a knee-jerk response given the talent involved in the show’s production. The six remaining episodes were locked away from the light of day, relegated to premiering on FX at the tail end of that season of television. For all that everybody involved had hoped that Harsh Realm would be a breakout hit, it ended up little more than a footnote.

Here, it dies. After nine episodes aired across two channels over seven months, the curtain comes down on Harsh Realm. It ends not with a bang, but a whimper.

Time for reflection...

Time for reflection…

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Harsh Realm – Reunion (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.

So that in the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind a perpetual and restless desire of Power after power, that ceaseth only in Death. And the cause of this is not always that a man hopes for a more intensive delight than he has already attained to, or that he cannot be content with a moderate power: but because he cannot assure the power and means to live well, which he hath present, without the acquisition of more.

– Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, The First Part, Chapter XI

Reunion continues the sense that Chris Carter envisioned Harsh Realm as something of an allegorical episodic adventure series through a post-apocalyptic reflection of contemporary America.

Carter quite clearly wanted to use Harsh Realm as a vehicle to explore and comment upon certain aspects of the American experience. Inga Fossa touched on the links between projected masculinity and violence; Cincinnati will find Santiago’s “manifest destiny” brushing up against the country’s Native American population. Even scripts like Three Percenters and Manus Domini feel tied into Carter’s large oeuvre, touching on the writer’s recurring fascination with homogeneity and spirituality in the modern world.

Things come to a head...

Things come to a head…

Reunion is very consciously a critique of excessive and abusive capitalism, presenting a vision of America built upon the economics of slave labour reinforced by the rhetoric of freedom and competition. In some respects, Reunion feels like Harsh Realm is channelling the spirit of classic science-fiction television like Star Trek or The Twilight Zone. Its central allegory is hardly subtle, but there is a goofy charm in carrying these ideas well past their logical extremes. The vision of labour presented in Reunion is grotesque and exaggerated, but it is not completely fantastical.

Reunion also reaffirms the link that exists between the digital world and the real world, suggesting that perhaps the world that we inhabit is not as far removed from the horrors of the virtual reality as might hope.

Family matters...

Family matters…

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The X-Files – Brand X (Review)

This September, 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.

Watching the seventh season of The X-Files only reinforces the sense that the production team got extremely lucky with the casting of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. The chemistry between the two actors has carried more than a few weak scripts across the seventh season. Lighter shows like Rush, The Goldberg Variation and The Amazing Maleeni were all able to coast off the charm of the pair. It doesn’t matter that the plot resolution in an exposition dump from Mulder when you end on Scully attempting a magic trick. However, this works both ways.

It the seventh season coasts of the charisma of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, this means that their inevitable absences are keenly felt. As The X-Files had become more popular, the demand upon Duchovny and Anderson had grown greater; most obviously, the show had dropped its production order from twenty-four to twenty-two episodes. Even allowing for that, the show could no longer make the same demands of Duchovny and Anderson that it had made in the first four seasons. Nor could they simply produce less television.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em...

Smoke ’em if you got ’em…

As a result, there are points in the show’s run when either (or both) David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are unavailable. There are extended periods of the final two seasons that do not feature David Duchovny in any significant capacity. However, even within the seventh season, there are episodes where both leads are unable to fill the narrative space allocated to the lead characters. Gillian Anderson was largely absent from Chimera while working on all things; David Duchovny was largely absent from all things while working on Hollywood A.D.

It is these absences which suggest an uncomfortable truth about The X-Files. The show might have its own chemical dependencies. In a metaphor stretched in an effort to tie it all back to Brand X, the audience might rely on Duchovny and Anderson as surely as a smoker relies on their quick nicotine fix. Any attempt to genetically reengineer the show to ensure a healthier and longer life could easily end up creating a monster.

Talk about a looming legal face-off...

Talk about a looming legal face-off…

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