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New Podcast! The X-Cast – Fight the Future Minute #83 (“Well-Manicured Truth II”)

So The X-Cast reached the end of the show’s fifth season, and approached The X-Files: Fight the Future. This naturally meant it was time for another breathtakingly ambitious project, so the podcast is going literally minute-by-minute through the first X-Files feature film. I’m joining the wonderful Kurt North for two brief stretches featuring the Well-Manicured Man.

You know what’s better than exposition? Even more exposition. More than that, exposition that isn’t actually even in the finished film. This is a fun minute of Fight the Future, in large part because it tries to fit about five years worth of exposition into a single minute of screen time while also trying to simultaneously build tension to keep the audience engaged. It’s notable that this sequence was the point at which Carter tacitly acknowledged he could only go so far while pleasing both casual viewers and die-hard fans, which makes it fun to explore.

You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

 

New Podcast! The X-Cast X-Files Podwatch – Episode #102 (Sunshine Days/The Truth)

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 at the end of the final season of the original series.

This is my last appearance on the podwatch, although hopefully I’ll be back before long on another X-Cast activity. It’s a pleasure to be joining Tony to discuss the last two episodes of the final season of the original run, Sunshine Days and The Truth. The X-Cast will be continuing beyond this to look at The X-Files: I Want to Believe and the revival, but this is the end of the line for me, at least for the moment.

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The X-Files – The Truth (Review)

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

It is interesting how the popular memory of a thing can differ from the actual thing itself.

Memory was always a key theme of The X-Files, particularly in the early years of the show. Although the aliens and the conspirators were plucked from the demented imaginations of the most paranoid tinfoil hat enthusiasts, a surprising amount of the show was rooted in real history that had been allowed to slip by under the radar: the genocide of the Native Americans; the resettlement of German and Japanese war criminals after the Second World War; radiation experiments upon prisoners; the Tuskegee syphilis experiment.

Daddy's home.

Daddy’s home.

The truth is contained in the gap between memory and history. In a way, then, it feels entirely appropriate that the popular memory of The X-Files should remain quite distinct from the show itself. The popular memory of The X-Files tends to suggest that the mythology makes no sense, that it does not fit together in any tangible form. This is an opinion repeated so often that it has become a critical shorthand when discussing the end of the show; much like the assertion “they were dead all along” tends to come when discussing Lost.

The truth is that the mythology of The X-Files largely made sense. Sure, there were lacunas and contradictions, inconsistencies and illogicalities, but the vast majority of the mythology was fairly linear and straightforward. It had been fairly straightforward for quite some time. The show had been decidedly ambiguous in its first few seasons, only confirming that colonisation was the conspiracy’s end game in Talitha Cumi at the end of the third season. Elements like the black oil and the bees tended to cloud matters, but the internal logic was clear.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

Significant portions of both The X-Files: Fight the Future and Two Fathers and One Son had been dedicated to spelling out the finer details of the mythology in great detail. Mankind were not the original inhabitants of Earth; the former occupants had returned and were making a rightful claim; the conspirators had agreed to help them, selling out mankind for a chance to extend their own lives. Everything else was window dressing. The production team had laid everything out during the fifth and sixth seasons.

Still, the general consensus of The X-Files was that it was a show driven by mysteries that was always more interested in questions than answers. This was certainly true, but it was somewhat exaggerated. When the cancellation was announced, the media immediately demanded answers. A month before The Truth was broadcast, Tim Goodman complained about how the show offered “precious few answers to Carter’s riddles.” Two days before the broadcast, Aaron Kinney wondered of the conspirators, “Who are these people and what is their agenda?”

The Truth on trial...

The Truth on trial…

It does not matter that these answers have mostly been provided and that the truth is mostly know. This was the context of the conversation unfolding around The Truth, and it likely explains a number of the creative decisions taken during the production of the episode. The Truth plays as an extended video essay dedicated to providing answers that were offered three or four seasons earlier in relation to mysteries that are no longer part of the show. The Truth is a passionate and intense argument that the mythology of The X-Files does make sense.

For viewers tuning back into the show for the first time in years, this means long expository monologues and skilfully edited montages that do not tie into the plot of the episode in any significant way. For those who stuck with the show for these past few seasons, it means rehashing everything that the show has taken for granted since the fifth or sixth season. While it feels like The Truth is desperately longing for vindication, to the extent where the show puts itself on trial in the person of Fox Mulder, this does not make for compelling viewing.

Happy ending.

Happy ending.

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The Simpsons – The Springfield Files (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.

A young network hungry to find its place in the American television market, Fox managed to produce two of the television shows that defined the nineties. Both The X-Files and The Simpsons were bold and innovative television shows that captured the zietgeist perfectly. Both shows offered an insightful, innovative and occasionally subversive look at American pop culture in the last decade of the twentieth century. Both have endured quite well, speaking to a generation that came of age in the nineties.

While The X-Files wound itself up in 2002, The Simpsons endures. The show has been running for almost a quarter-of-a-century at this point, and there is no sense that it will ever let up. While there are stock criticisms to be made about how The Simpsons is not as funny as it once was, the series has continually and perpetually reinvented itself. The success of these various iterations has varied. The Simpsons was a different show in 1989 than it was in 1992 or 1996 or 2000.

"Mulder and Scully. FBI."

“Agents Mulder and Scully. FBI.”

However, the show was in the middle of an incredible hot streak in January 1997. The show was in its eighth season, and on the cusp of overtaking The Flintstones as the longest-running prime-time animated series in the United States. This was a phenomenal accomplishment, and there was no indication that the show was in decline. Although fans will argue about exactly how long the so-called “golden age” of the Simpsons actually lasted, the series was still in the middle of it by January 1997.

So The Springfield Files makes a lot of sense as an obvious overlap between the two most important weekly shows airing on Fox at this moment in time. The Springfield Files was treated as a big deal at the time. It aired two weeks before Superbowl XXI, which would help give The X-Files its highest-ever ratings with Leonard Betts. It was sent to the press for review before it aired, to help generate word of mouth. The result is a delightfully satisfying intersection of two massively successful and influential shows.

Reading the scene...

Reading the scene…

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The X-Files – Paper Clip (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.

And now we return to your scheduled viewing.

In many respects, Paper Clip feels like the real third season premiere. It establishes a lot of the recurring themes and ideas for the mythology of the season, from Krycek-on-the-run through to collaboration in the wake of the Second World War. It builds on the successful multi-part formula established by episodes like Ascension or End Game during the show’s second season. It moves things along in a way that The Blessing Way simply refused to. (It even resolves the cliffhanger from the last episode on screen.)

The light at the end of the tunnel...

The light at the end of the tunnel…

Paper Clip demonstrates the strengths of the third season of The X-Files. The third season was the point at which the show really pushed the mythology out, building on earlier implications that there was form to be found in the shadows. The third season also looked to the second season to determine what had worked and what had not worked. Paper Clip is very clearly modelled on the successful aspects of second parts like Ascension or End Game.

It moves. The power of Paper Clip comes from an incredible forward momentum that allows the show to maintain tension and excitement while refusing to allow the audience to catch their breath. Instead of resolving the bigger plot threads from the first episode, questions and hints are thrown out with reckless abandon as the script just drives through set pieces and emotional beats and suspenseful sequences. It is a very meticulously, very cleverly constructed piece of television.

Watching the skies...

Watching the skies…

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