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The X-Files – Chimera (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.

There is a sense of fatigue about the seventh season of The X-Files.

It makes a certain amount of sense. After all, seven years is a long time in television. It is a particularly long time when the staff are churning out more than twenty episodes in a year. One hundred episodes is typically considered the threshold for syndication success, but The X-Files crossed that with Unusual Suspects back in the fifth season. By this point, The X-Files is comfortably past one hundred and fifty episodes of television. That is a lot of television. Assuming one were to watch it straight through, that’s nearly five straight days of television.

Quoth the raven...

Quoth the raven…

There comes a point where it feels old and outdated, where the sense of novelty and excited has faded to familiarity and dull routine. There comes a point where it feels like there is not much to talk about, because the show has already said a lot of what it has to say about a particular subject. It could be described as a “seven-year-itch”, but there is a reason why shows that last longer than seven seasons tend to rotate actors and producers more frequently than The X-Files has. Occasionally a blood transfusion is necessary to reoxygenate the blood.

Chimera is a perfectly solid episode of television. It is produced to the high standards of The X-Files, directed very well, and written in an efficient manner. However, it feels like it is covering a lot of well-trodden ground for the show with nothing new to say. Chimera feels like it is simply echoing sentiments the show had clearly articulated as recently as the sixth season; a curious blend of Terms of Endearment and Arcadia, but without the novelty or nuance of either. The X-Files has begun to feel as familiar as the rows of suburban houses it so fears.

Food for thought...

Food for thought…

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The X-Files – The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati (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.

My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it—all idealism is mendacity in the face of what is necessary—but love it.

– Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

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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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Millennium – Weeds (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.

Weeds concludes the loose “suburban trilogy” running through the first season of Millennium. In fact, Weeds was filmed directly after Wide Open, but was pushed back in the broadcast schedule so as to air after The Wild and the Innocent. While this change in broadcast and production order is nowhere near as confusing as the scheduling hijinx happening with The X-Files at the same time, it does give an indication that the production team recognised the potential similarities between Weeds and Wide Open.

Both episodes are about the violation of a supposedly “safe” space, bypassing and subverting all the potential security put in place to keep the home secure. In Wide Open, the killer visits open houses and hides in wardrobes until the family go to sleep that night; in doing so, he avoids setting off any alarms. In Weeds, a secure and gated community discovers that they cannot keep their children safe; someone within the community is preying on the residents’ children. As with The Well-Worn Lock, there is a sense that families are not safe, even when they think that they are.

Community watch...

Community watch…

As with Wide Open, Weeds feels just a little bit sensationalist. It is the kind of episode that attracts criticisms about gratuitous violence or exploitation. Millennium was never quite as excessive or as sadomasochistic as its critics would suggest, but there are definite tendencies towards those extremes on display at certain points in the run. While Millennium is very clearly driven by a core moral philosophy, it can occasionally seem a little too comfortable with its brutality or depravity.

Indeed, Weeds hits on quite a few of the stock fears that run through the first season of Millennium: children are victimised by a person in a position of trust and authority; there is biblical quotation; there is sadistic (and disturbing) torture filmed in a heavily stylised manner. There is something almost cynical and calculated about how Weeds hits these familiar buttons; these impulses towards excess haunt the first season of Millennium, and are building to something of a catharsis in Loin Like a Hunting Flame.

There will be blood...

There will be blood…

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Millennium – Wide Open (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 middle stretch of the first season of Millennium is preoccupied with suburban horror.

In The Well-Worn Lock, Wide Open and Weeds, Millennium presents the audience with threats to supposedly “safe” suburban families. In each case, the threat is shown not to come from outside these homes, but is instead nestled snugly inside. In The Well-Worn Lock, Joe Bangs is a respected family patriarch and a monster. In Weeds, Edward Petey is both an active member of his gated community and a predator. Wide Open is perhaps a little more sensationalist, featuring a serial killer who sneaks into houses that are on display, hiding inside until after dark, and then brutally murdering any adults in the home.

Home (in)security...

Home (in)security…

There is an intriguing thematic continuity here between what might loosely be termed “the suburban trilogy.” Indeed, Weeds was shuffled around in the broadcast order so it would not air directly after Wide Open, perhaps because of this similarity. This thematic continuity is quite striking, like the presence of Scully proxies and surrogates in the stretch of the second season of The X-Files running from One Breath to Irresistible or the subtle fixation on “cancer” from the end of the third season into the fourth season of The X-Files.

Like The Well-Worn Lock before it and Weeds after it, Wide Open is not particularly elegant in its meditations about suburbia under siege. The story is a bit clunky, prone to the same trashy exploitative excess that can be found in some of the weaker moments of the first season. Nevertheless, Wide Open largely works – it manages to tap into a fairly universal fear in a decidedly unsettling manner, inviting the audience to wonder whether there may actually be monster lurking in their own closets or under their own beds.

Standing guard against the world...

Standing guard against the world…

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Millennium – The Well-Worn Lock (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 Well-Worn Lock is trying to say something important.

As easy as it is to mock Chris Carter for being a little heavy-handed in his writing, he tends to wear his heart on his sleeve. There is an honesty and an earnestness to his writing that is quite endearing – a sense that he has some things that he wants to say, and that he will say them. The Well-Worn Lock is a tough and grueling episode, with some pretty harrowing things to say. It confronts the types of issues that are often overlooked or ignored, because they are so uncomfortable to examine head-on. There is a lot to admire here.

Happy families...

Happy families…

However, The Well-Worn Lock is also clumsy and ham-fisted. It is so committed to saying what it wants to say that it occasionally gets caught up in itself. It has been argued that Carter constructed Millennium as a vehicle to examine the nature of evil in the modern world, and there are points where the series feels more like a pulpet that a television show. The Well-Worn Lock is an episode about an insidious and oft-ignored evil, but there are points where it has the depth and complexity of a life-action cartoon.

The problem is not that the episode’s antagonist is a monster – after all, it is hard to describe anybody who commits this sort of abuse as anything but a “monster” – but that he seems a grotesquely exaggerated and one-dimensional caricature. Tackling a subject that requires considerable tact and grace, The Well-Worn Lock often has the emotional nuance of a sledgehammer.

The world according to Catherine Black...

The world according to Catherine Black…

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Non-Review Review: The Joneses

The Joneses is a sharply observed, perfectly timed, more than a little cynical examination of American suburbia. Trust me when I say that it’s hard not to leave the movie thinking of American Beauty, I mean that in the most flattering way possible. Yes, I bought what it is the Joneses were selling.

Sometimes you can choose your family...

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