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The X-Files – Season 1 (Review)

Trying to appraise the first season of any show is quite different from judging any other season. While all subsequent seasons have some measure of continuity to build off, some experience to guide the cast and crew, some familiarity to play into or away from, the first season literally starts with nothing. Even when there’s a sizeable gap between the production of the pilot and the start of work on the series proper (with over a year between the filming of The Pilot and Deep Throat), there’s still a sense we’re watching the production team settle into their roles.

All of this is a round-about way of saying that the first season of The X-Files is not a great season of television, judged on its own merits. It’s certainly not the strongest season of the show, which would go from strength-to-strength over the next three years, while also having an ambitious (if not entirely successful) fifth season. The first season of The X-Files is probably the weakest of the first five years of the show, but to express it in those terms is to miss the point.

The first season does a pretty great job laying the ground rules for the franchise, and offers a pretty solid indication of the talent involved in the show, if they can figure out what they want to do. (With quite a few episodes serving as examples of what the show doesn’t want to do.)

xfiles-deepthroat7

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The X-Files – Tooms (Review)

Tooms offers us the show’s first returning monster, not counting the recurring alien menace that has appeared in episodes like Deep Throat or Fallen Angel or E.B.E. In fact, it arguably offers us two recurring monsters, with Eugene Victor Tooms putting in his second appearance, but also featuring the second official (but third possible) appearance of the Cigarette-Smoking Man.

Appropriately enough, Tooms doesn’t just bring back the eponymous serial killer, it begins to tie various loose ends together, and to fashion a sense of continuity and development from the various character moments and implications of the first season, suggesting that forces are moving in the background, behind the scenes of everything we’ve watched unfold.

They've got him boxed in...

They’ve got him boxed in…

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The X-Files – Miracle Man (Review)

The biggest problem with Miracle Man is that it’s a Howard Gordon script. I don’t mean to diminish Gordon’s contributions to the show. Gordon is one of the strongest contributors to this rocky first season (only Morgan and Wong can claim to be stronger, and they also have their misfires), and he – along with frequent partner Alex Gansa – seems to have the strongest grip on Mulder as a character. And therein lies the most fundamental problem with Miracle Man, the horribly clumsy and muddled ending aside.

Miracle Man feels like it focuses on the wrong lead. It tackles themes and subject matter the show would revisit more successfully in the years ahead, in episodes like Revelations and All Souls. However, the religion-themed episodes in the years ahead would typically focus on Scully – contrasting her religious faith with her scientific skepticism to provide Anderson with some of the best work she’d do on the show.

Instead, Miracle Man digs its character hooks into Mulder, tying back to the disappearance of Samantha for no reason other than “well, this story needs to be about Mulder for some reason.”

Symbolism!

Symbolism!

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The X-Files – Young at Heart (Review)

Continuing on from Lazarus, there’s something about Young at Heart that feels very rote, very paint-by-numbers. It’s as if the show has worked so hard to define itself in the first half of the season that the second half of the first season has been dedicated to settling into routine. As far as Chris Carter scripts go, Young at Heart is roughly on par with Fire, and nowhere near as bad as Space, although that’s damning with faint praise. At this rate, Carter should begin to turn out episodes worth watching at some point in the fifth season.

Featuring yet another blast from the past, more gratuitous use of Deep Throat and reckless placing of Scully in danger, Young at Heart feels more like it was assembled from a rough blueprint of what an episode of The X-Files should look like, rather than because it was a story worth telling.

Keep it handy...

Keep it handy…

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The X-Files – Lazarus (Review)

And, with Lazarus, we enter a long mediocre stretch in the second half of the first season of The X-Files. To be fair, none of the episodes in this run are anywhere near as bad as Space, but – with the exception of E.B.E., Tombs and The Erlenmeyer Flask – they all feel a little flat. It’s as if the first half of the season was more experimental, as The X-Files tried to figure out what it wanted to be, with the second half dedicated to settling into its particular groove.

Lazarus isn’t terrible. It just feels a little rote, a little paint-by-numbers, a littler average and safe. It’s a conventional enough supernatural (or psychological) thriller, but it lacks that extra “umph” to make it something particularly worthy of a viewer’s time.

The mask is slipping...

The mask is slipping…

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The X-Files – Fallen Angel (Review)

Fallen Angel is a remarkable episode. It’s really the point at which the show seems to say “huh, this conspiracy stuff is really exciting.” It’s also a complete reversal from the misfire that was Space, proving that there are people working on the show who can create monsters on a tiny special effects budget and create compelling secondary characters. Following Mulder’s investigation of a downed UFO – the eponymous “fallen angel” – the episode dives headlong into the murky world of cover-ups and secrets, kicking the show’s mythology arc into gear.

Shedding some light on the matter...

Shedding some light on the matter…

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