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The X-Files – Closure (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.

Sein und Zeit and Closure don’t fit together at all.

There is a nice symmetry to the stories, with Sein und Zeit closing with Mulder standing amid a mass grave and Closure opening with the excavation of the same mass grave. The contrast between the two shots of the same space says a lot about the differences between Sein und Zeit and Closure. Sein und Zeit is an episode that isolates Mulder, demonstrating how alone he truly is in the world and how all his beliefs might be empty; Closure responds by cluttering up the narrative and revealing an absurdly convoluted explanation of what happened to Samantha.

A grave subject...

A grave subject…

Even the themes of the two episodes are almost unique. Both Sein und Zeit and Closure are driven by Mulder’s desire to make sense of what happened to his sister, but both adopt diametrically different approaches towards the question. Sein und Zeit proposes that the world is a random and cruel place where bad things happen to children for no reason beyond the sadistic whims of strangers, while Closure embraces the idea that there is a larger scheme in which these horrible events occur.

There is a yin-and-yang structure to Sein und Zeit and Closure, a sense that the two episodes are almost at odds with one another when it comes to the fate of Samantha Mulder. Closure offers something approaching hope. It is too much to describe Closure as a happy-ending to the character arc that ran through the first seven seasons of the series, but it does offer Samantha an ending that is not soul-destroyingly bleak. It offers Mulder resolution and understanding. In his own words, it offers him freedom.

"Conscience... it's just the voices of the dead... trying to save us from our own damnation."

“Conscience… it’s just the voices of the dead… trying to save us from our own damnation.”

It is a very hopeful suggestion. It is a particularly hopeful suggestion coming at the middle of the show’s seventh season, as the resolution to Mulder’s character arc. The audience has spent seven years watching Mulder deal with the trauma of the loss of his sister, wrestling with the fear that he might never find an answer; or that he might find an answer that fails to make sense of it all. What if he found an answer that made sense of everything? What if Samantha’s disappearance wasn’t just part of a government conspiracy? What if it was part of something bigger?

What if the disappearance of Samantha Mulder meant everything?

A man alone.

A man alone.

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The X-Files – Sein und Zeit (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.

Sein und Zeit and Closure don’t fit together at all.

There is a clear demarkation that exists between the two episodes, to the point where they cannot really be described as a single two-part story. Following the disappearance of Amber Lynn LaPierre from her home, Sein und Zeit closes with the arrest of a serial child-murderer and the discovery of a mass grave. There is not a whiff of the show’s central mythology to be found, despite Mulder’s insistence and anxiety. Although Closure picks up where Sein und Zeit left off, it embarks on its own separate story that does draw heavily from the show’s established mythology.

A grave subject...

A grave subject…

Even the guest casts of the two episodes are almost unique. Outside of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, only two guest stars appear in both episodes. Rebecca Toolan and Megan Corletto both play characters who die in Sein und Zeit, but appear as ghosts in Closure. The featured guest stars in Sein und Zeit do not reappear in Closure, and vice versa. Even the series’ recurring cast is firmly divided between the two halves; Walter Skinner appears in Sein und Zeit, while the Cigarette-Smoking Man plays an important role in Closure.

There is a yin-and-yang structure to Sein und Zeit and Closure, a sense that the two episodes are almost at odds with one another when it comes to the fate of Samantha Mulder. Sein und Zeit dares to ask what might happen if there was no rhyme or reason to her abduction; what if it was just a tragedy, like the tragedies that happen to happy families all the time? Mulder has invested so much of himself in the quest to explain what happened on that night in late November 1973; what would happen if there were no meaningful explanation?

"Conscience... it's just the voices of the dead... trying to save us from our own damnation."

“Conscience… it’s just the voices of the dead… trying to save us from our own damnation.”

It is a very bleak suggestion. It is a particularly bleak suggestion coming at the middle of the show’s seventh season, as the resolution to Mulder’s character arc. The audience has spent seven years watching Mulder dig deeper and deeper into a sinister conspiracy against mankind, largely motivated by the fact that his sister’s disappearance is a part of some larger puzzle. What if it wasn’t? What if Mulder’s whole quest were simply a lie that he had told himself? What if Mulder wanted to believe so badly that he convinced himself that this made sense?

What if the disappearance of Samantha Mulder meant nothing?

A man alone.

A man alone.

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The X-Files – Redux II (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.

Redux II would be a lot better if the audience believed anything that the episode was saying.

In fact, Redux II would be a lot better if it seemed like the show itself believed anything that the episode was saying.

"Hm. That resolution is unsatisfying. Deeply unsatisfying."

“Hm. That resolution is unsatisfying. Deeply unsatisfying.”

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The X-Files – Zero Sum (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.

For all that The X-Files exists in a murky shadow world populated by ambiguous figures and a government conspiracy dating back generations, the show has a pretty straightforward sense of morality. No good can stem from evil, the show seems to suggest; the show’s central mythology repeatedly has Mulder and Scully confront the legacy of sins committed by their forefathers. Even the title of Zero Sum alludes to the hollowness of Walter Skinner’s deal with the devil, his moral compromise that has no demonstrable benefit and severe demonstrable harm.

In Memento Mori, Walter Skinner compromised himself. He made a deal with the Cigarette-Smoking Man, in return for Agent Scully’s continued well-being. “What’ll it take?” Skinner asked, desperate for a chance to save Dana Scully. Ever ambiguous, the Cigarette-Smoking Man offered, “Well, I’ll have to get back to you on that.” Unfolding a few months later, Zero Sum is essentially about paying the piper. It is Walter Skinner settling up with the Cigarette-Smoking Man. He rolls up his sleeves and jumps into the dirty work.

Fire and brimstone...

Fire and brimstone…

Zero Sum is a story that you could not tell with Mulder. Although Mulder never faces the same choice as Skinner, the show has been quite consistent in its portrayal of Mulder’s morality. Mulder does not compromise; Mulder does not subscribe to the theory that a deal with the devil could ever pay dividends. In contrast, Skinner is a more ambiguous and pragmatic figure. Skinner spent significant sections of the second season caught between Mulder and the Cigarette-Smoking Man. The show only firmly committed him to Mulder and Scully in Paper Clip.

Zero Sum is a fantastic example of how the world of The X-Files has really grown and expanded around the lead characters. While the show will never quite develop into an ensemble, it is a series with a broad cast. It makes sense that it should begin to use them in a productive manner.

"Walter Skinner, F.B.I."

“Walter Skinner, F.B.I.”

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The X-Files – The Blessing Way (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

The Blessing Way is the first mythology episode of The X-Files that doesn’t really work.

And it doesn’t really work for a lot of the same reasons that some of the later mythology episodes don’t really work. Its pacing is terrible. It wallows in new age mysticism, allocating characters thoughtful monologues that awkwardly state themes and render subtext as supratext. It plays into the deification of Mulder, trying to bend Mulder’s story to fit into an archetypal “chosen one” narrative. More than that, it is very clearly a holding pattern, an effort to eat up time without moving forward.

Wiping it all out...

Wiping it all out…

However, despite the fact that The Blessing Way really doesn’t work, it is still a fascinating episode. It’s a wonderful demonstration of how The X-Files has developed a fleshed-out world inhabited by compelling characters. The best moments in The Blessing Way are character-focused, with Skinner caught between his duty to the government and his loyalty to his agents, the Cigarette-Smoking Man revealed to be middle-management at best, and the implication that even vast sinister government conspiracies are hostage to chaos.

The Blessing Way is an oddity, a rather strange piece of television that is almost endearing in its stubborn refusal to deliver what the audience wants and expects. That doesn’t make it good, but it does make it interesting.

The truth is up there...

The truth is up there…

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