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The X-Files – Terma (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.

Tunguska and Terma borrows the structure that made the show’s early mythology episodes so effective. Tunguska is full of intriguing and compelling questions, implications that would seem to broaden or deepen the mythology. However, instead of resolving any of the major threads, Terma simply turns itself into a roller-coaster thrill ride. A cynical observer might compare the weaker mythology episodes to a shell-game: the potential of an interesting premise, lost in a shuffle designed to disorientate and catch the viewer off-guard.

It is an approach that has served the show well. Ascension avoided answering too many of the questions posed by Duane Barry, barrelling along with the momentum of a runaway freight train. Similarly, End Game did not dwell too heavily on the questions posed by Colony, instead serving as a series of high-momentum chase sequences with Mulder following the Alien Bounty Hunter to the ends of the Earth. Paper Clip moved so quickly that the viewers never wondered why the documents recovered in Anasazi were no longer earth-shattering, but merely macguffins.

Things are really heating up...

Things are really heating up…

The X-Files is very good at this sort of dynamic mile-a-minute plotting. The production team are very good at what they do. There is a sleek professionalism to these episodes that makes them easy to watch. Although filmed in Vancouver, there were few shows in the nineties ambitious enough to send their character to a Russian gulag for human experimentation. However, the cracks are starting to show. Herrenvolk demonstrated how frustrating a lack of answers could become. Terma struggles to balance a number of potentially interesting plot threads.

There are a lot of elements of Terma that might have worked well, if they had been given more room to breath. Sadly, the episode spends most of its run time trying to build up momentum towards the inevitable scene where proof narrow slips through Mulder’s fingers one more time.

Evil oil...

Evil oil…

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The X-Files (Topps) #4-6 – Firebird (Review)

This August (and a little of September), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the second season of The X-Files. In November, we’ll be looking at the third season. And maybe more.

Firebird is the first multi-part story told in the pages of The X-Files. Writer Stefan Petrucha and artist Charles Adlard don’t transition from done-in-one stories to two-part adventures, instead skipping the middle step and producing a three-issue epic. While A Little Dream of Me exposed the limitations facing a creative team working on a tie-in, Firebird demonstrates the strengths of the format. Spanning from Siberia to New Mexico, Firebird has an epic scale that would not be possible on the second season of The X-Files.

(Rather interestingly – and perhaps tellingly – Petrucha takes the comics to places that the show wants to go. The American South-West would be very difficult to replicate in Vancouver, prompting the creative team to make an ambitious effort to bring Mulder and Scully to New Mexico in Anasazi, infamously painting a quarry red to achieve the desired result. The show would wait until the fourth season before it was confident enough to take Mulder to Siberia in Tunguska and Terma.)

Something out of this world?

Something out of this world?

As with Not To Be Opened Until X-Mas, Firebird is very much a comic book story. While the show was reluctant have Mulder and Scully directly encounter aliens, the story features a monster that looks like something from the Lovecraft mythos. While the stakes on the show were generally rather personal to this point, Firebird puts the entire population of New Mexico (if not the world) at stake. While the series took its time revealing its evil conspiracy, Firebird gives us a cabal headed by a monologuing skull-holding would-be supervillain.

Perhaps surprisingly, this works. It’s clear that Petrucha and Adlard are aware that they are working in a different medium with different expectations and conventions. Firebird is very much an X-Files comic book epic, a story that couldn’t be realised on film. And there’s something very endearing about that.

Alien affairs...

Alien affairs…

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