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New Podcast! The X-Cast X-Files Podwatch – Episode #96 (Trust no 1/John Doe)

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. And we’re in the final season of the original series.

My final collaboration with the wonderful Baz Greenland finds us discussing the highs and lows of the season, the mythology-heavy Trust no 1 and the Doggett-driven John Doe. No points for guessing which is the high and which is the low.

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The X-Files – Trust No 1 (Review)

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

Trust No 1 is an episode that is more relevant now than it was in January 2002. And not just because “trustno1” is still among the most popular (and least secure) internet passwords.

The core ideas of Trust No 1 are fascinating. In hindsight, it is impressive that the production team were able to produce something like Trust No 1 so quickly after the events of 9/11. The type of surveillance state depicted in Tust No 1 would turn out to be quite close to reality in the era of Edward Snowden and the scandal National Security Ageny. “They’re watching,” the words at the end of the title sequence tease, words which seem even more ominous over a decade after initial broadcast.

Circle the odd one out...

Circle the odd one out…

Unfortunately, while Trust No 1 seems to get more and more relevent with each passing year, the episode itself is a mess. As powerful and resonant as its central themes might be, Trust No 1 is very clearly the work of a production team with no idea of where the show is going or where they want to take it. All the worst excesses of the ninth season mythology are on display here, from the heartbreaking obsession with Mulder through to the marginalisation of Scully. The dialogue is overwrought and the climax is absurd. Trust No 1 simply doesn’t work.

And yet, despite all that, it exerts an odd power. It is a power muted by some of the creative decisions around it, and by some of the choices made in structuring the teleplay, but it is power nonetheless.

Night vision, deserves a quiet night...

Night vision, deserves a quiet night…

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Harsh Realm – Cincinnati (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.

Cincinnati finally gives Terry O’Quinn something to do.

Despite the fact that O’Quinn is credited as a series regular on Harsh Realm, he has appeared about as frequently in the first nine episodes as he did during the equivalent episodes of Millennium. With his “and…” credit at the end of the opening title sequence, it felt like O’Quinn might be forgotten by the show. His face might appear on posters and propaganda, but he was not going to play a particularly dynamic role in the events of the first season. After all, Hobbes is trying to assassinate Santiago; there are reasons why the writers would want to keep them separate.

Walk softly, but carry a big stick...

Walk softly, but carry a big stick…

Nevertheless, Cincinnati is a story that unfolds from Santiago’s perspective. Hobbes and Pinochio play a major part in unfolding events, but they largely reacting. The bulk of Cincinnati concerns a conflict between Santiago’s forces and the Native American population of Ohio. When a military strike goes horribly wrong, Santiago is forced to survive on his own terms. He infiltrates the eponymous city and sets about furthering his own agenda with ruthless efficiency.

A lot of Cincinnati is pure nonsense; the plot is barely held together by contrivance and coincidence, hinging on a final twist that manages to be both obvious and completely unearned. At the same time, it is hard to hate an episode that is carried by Terry O’Quinn and offers the actor a chance to sink his teeth into a juicy part.

It's all in ruins...

It’s all in ruins…

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Millennium – The Hand of St. Sebastian (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

The Hand of St. Sebastian closes out the first third of the second season of Millennium. It also marks the half-way point in the episodes credited to Morgan and Wong as writers over the course of the season – it is the sixth of a phenomenal twelve scripts credited to the showrunners, even outside their responsibilities as executive producers. In many ways, The Hand of St. Sebastian represents the point at which the stage has been completely set. It establishes the last of the basic ideas that the team will play with across the rest of the season.

The Curse of Frank Black and 19:19 had affirmed that Christian eschatology would be a driving force for the show, as if that had ever been in doubt. After all, the first season’s big two-part epic had been Lamentation and Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions, an epic story about demons and angels. More than that, Morgan and Wong had revised the opening credits sequence of the show so that it ended with the promise that “the time is near”, an obvious textual reference to Revelation.

Circle of trust...

Circle of trust…

The Hand of St. Sebastian confirms what was inferred in Beware of the Dog when Frank pointed out that the ouroboros was “used as a secret symbol on early Christian graves.” Here, the Millennium Group itself is identified as an ancient Christian organisation, one interested in ancient Christian relics for their spiritual and magical uses. There is a decidedly pulpy feel to the second season; one that is particularly evident in The Hand of St. Sebastian, as Frank and Peter go abroad to do a modern day Raiders of the Lost Ark on a nineties television budget. Ambition is not the worst vice.

However, The Hand of St. Sebastian is perhaps most notable for putting the focuse squarely on the character of Peter Watts. Naturally, Frank plays a pretty vital role in The Hand of St. Sebastian, but the episode does a lot to develop Peter as a character. It builds off his powerful speech in The Beginning and the End to portray a man of faith searching for validation and meaning in the world. The second season really capitalised on the presence of Terry O’Quinn, recognising the actor’s immense talent and helping to establish him as a televisual talent to watch.

This is who we were...

This is who we were…

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Millennium – The Beginning and the End (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

The Beginning and the End manages the impressive and paradoxical feat of both rebooting Millennium and resolving the cliffhanger at the end of Paper Dove. These two contradictory impulses become part of the thematic fabric of The Beginning and the End, an episode fascinated by duality and opposition. Can the polaroid stalker be both a serial killer of the week and the herald of something so much greater? Can Catherine and Frank Black be both united and separated? Can Millennium be the same show it was last year and something completely new?

The Beginning and the End is the start of the show’s polarising and divisive second season. To critics, the second season completely branches off from the first season of the show, replacing a framework that had grown and developed over the course of the year with a bizarre and unwieldy approach that was gonzo and surreal. To fans, the second season was an ambitious and exciting piece of television utterly unlike anything that had been broadcast before or has been broadcast since.

Up in the sky...

Up in the sky…

With Chris Carter back focusing on the development of The X-Files and the looming release of The X-Files: Fight the Future, Fox drafted in Glen Morgan and James Wong to steer the second season of Millennium. The duo had helped to define the identity of The X-Files in its first year, and had produced the failed (but ambitious and prescient) series Space: Above and Beyond for the network. After working on the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium, Fox allowed the pair to produce their own pilot – The Notorious Seven.

When Fox opted not to take The Notorious Seven to series, they asked Glen Morgan and James Wong to take charge of Millennium in its sophomore season. As The Beginning and the End demonstrates, Morgan and Wong promptly made the show their own.

Looking up and wondering...

Looking up and wondering…

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