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New Podcast! The X-Cast X-Files Podwatch – Episode #92 (Alone/Essence)

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. We’re in the home stretch.

I’m popping in for the penultimate episode of the eighth season, drawing the curtains down on the eighth season by discussing Alone and Essence with the wonderful and insightful Chris Knowles.

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The X-Files – Essence (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 mythology of The X-Files is a strange beast.

In the show’s declining years, it frequently became a stick with which the show might be beaten by critics and fans who had grown exhausted of ambiguity and labyrinthine plotting. Steven King lamented the fact that the show “blundered off into a swamp of black oil, and in that swamp it died.” In assessing the impact of the series, Joyce Millman described the mythology as a “sadistically convoluted plot line.” Juliette Harrisson complained that the entire mythology ended up “so twisted and incomprehensible by the end.”

Oh, baby.

Oh, baby.

In hindsight, it seems like history has not been kind to the mythology. In the years since the show went off the air, it seems that fans have come to value the episodic “monster of the week” stories ahead of the central story arc about aliens plotting to colonise the planet. This is ironic, given the attention devoted to the mythology while the show was on the air. The mythology dominated season premieres and finalés, taking the limelight during Sweeps and commanding impressive production values.

This assessment of the mythology is at once fair and unfair. Examined from far enough away, the mythology was linear and logical: alien colonists were coming back to reclaim the planet and enslave (or exterminate) mankind. Everything else was just window-dressing, with the mythology exploring the compromise and collaboration that facilitated this plan. The mythology was, at its best, an exploration of human weakness and the corruption of authority; a timeless (and almost Shakespearean) tragedy. From a sufficient distance, it was not hard to follow.

Oh, alien baby.

Oh, alien baby.

However, the details tend to create confusion, with everything getting a little muddled as The X-Files piles compelling and memorable visuals on top of one another. Are the bees intended to spread smallpox to thin the population as Zero Sum suggests, or to spread the black oil to aid in repopulation as The X-Files: Fight the Future implies? Is the black oil a sinister body-hopping parasite as suggested in Piper Maru and Vienen, or is it an organism that turns the body into a host for a gestating alien organism like in Fight the Future or The Beginning?

The eighth season does a lot to simplify the mythology by stripping out the conspirators and the vaccine and the rebels and the hybrids, replacing them with a more blunt central narrative about “alien replicants” mounting a stealth invasion. That said, things begin to get a bit cluttered and crowded as the season reaches its conclusion. Essence and Existence have a very clear structure and clear objectives, but there is a sense that that the narrative could still be streamlined a bit.

Oh, blood-splattered alien babies...

Oh, blood-splattered alien babies…

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The X-Files – Three Words (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.

There is no “to be continued…” explicitly linking DeadAlive to Three Words, but there doesn’t have to be.

In this final stretch of the eighth season, The X-Files adapts a somewhat serialised narrative model. Although stories like Empedocles and Vienen technically serve as “monster of the week” stories that stand alone, they feel very particular to this moment in the show’s history. Mulder’s return to the land of the living in DeadAlive does not mark a return to the status quo, despite his best efforts. Instead, it creates a highly volatile (and, by its nature, transitory) set-up that cannot be maintained over an extended period.

Howard Salt was willing to go to any lengths to return the President's copy of The X-Files film.

Howard Salt was willing to go to any lengths to return the President’s copy of The X-Files film.

This is not a sustainable status quo. This is not “business as usual.” This is not what the ninth season will look like. This is not like those other changes to the status quo that occurred at the start of the second and sixth seasons, when Mulder and Scully were taken off the X-files but continued to investigate cases that were X-files in all but name. Episodes like Blood or How the Ghosts Stole Christmas could be transitioned into a regular season order with a minimum of changes, but these episodes all feel uniquely tailored to this point in the show’s history.

As such, the end of the eighth season takes on a loosely serialised quality, and not just in the story of the new mythology or the so-called “super soldiers.” The character dynamics evolve and grow, with the individual episodes seeding character development leading the season finalé. Episodes like Three Words and Vienen make it increasingly clear that Mulder is not back in an permanent sense by first pushing him away from the X-files and then firing him from the FBI. Scully’s pregnancy is actually allowed to progress at this point in the season.

He's back!

He’s back!

This serialisation is apparent in the discrepancies between the production and broadcast order. As with extended sections of the fourth season, the final stretch of the eighth season was produced in a different order than it was broadcast. Unlike the fourth season, however, this shift does not create any dissonance as significant as the conflict between the version of Never Again that was filmed and the one that was broadcast. Despite being produced in a different order, these stories could not work in any order other than the broadcast order.

Although The X-Files frequently gets credit for pioneering and popularising (or, at the very least, re-popularising) serialised narratives on prime-time television, the final stretch of the eighth season is perhaps the serialised stretch of the entire nine-year run.

A touching reunion...

A touching reunion…

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The X-Files – DeadAlive (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 X-Files is dead. Long live The X-Files.

What is dead may never die...

What is dead may never die…

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