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The X-Files – Season 6 (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

The sixth season of The X-Files is notable for many different reasons. It was the first season after the release of The X-Files: Fight the Future. It was the first season following the move to Los Angeles. It saw the “end” (at least nominally) of the show’s conspiracy mythology in the massive Two Fathers and One Son two-parter. It was the first season to begin closer to the end of the show’s nine-year run than to the beginning. It was also the first season to open past the hundred-episode mark.

That last landmark is important, because it marks the point at which The X-Files could effectively be sold into syndication. One hundred episodes meant that a network could air the show five nights a week for twenty weeks, filling up almost half a year’s worth of broadcasting slots. Reaching the one hundred episode mark meant that a show was a bona fides success, and that anything else was really just gravy on top. The bulk of the work had been done. The X-Files would be a rare prime-time drama to pass two hundred episodes.

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Of course, times have changed. By 2011, the number of episodes required for a syndication deal had slipped from one hundred to a mere eighty-eight, with the goal being four seasons of twenty-two episodes. (This trend happened while The X-Files was on the air, with the show dropping from twenty-four or twenty-five episodes in a season at the start of its run to twenty-two or twenty towards the end.) Even then, streaming has changed the media landscape, making it more possible than ever to syndicate show with shorter runs, like Community.

So syndication beckoned for The X-Files. In fact, syndication would pose no shortage of trouble for the show in the years ahead. During the seventh season, David Duchovny would file a lawsuit against Fox alleging that the company’s syndication policy had cost him financially. After the show went off the air, Carter would find himself embroiled in a similar lawsuit over syndication rights, delaying production of The X-Files: I Want to Believe. There are worse ways to argue that The X-Files was a victim of its own success than to look at the syndication of the show.

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Nevertheless, it was clear that The X-Files had accomplished everything that it could ever want by the start of the sixth season. Chris Carter had his five seasons and a movie. Fox had a show they could syndicate. David Duchovny had forced the production to move to Los Angeles so that he could spend time with his family. Although nobody knew it at the time, the fifth season secured the highest rankings that a season of The X-Files would enjoy in the Nielsen Ratings. So going into the sixth season of The X-Files, there was only one question hanging in the air.

What now?

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The X-Files – The Beginning (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The opening shot of The Beginning makes it quite clear that things have changed. The camera opens staring at the sunny cloudless sky of California, doubling for Arizona. It pans down to an open desert. As the production team conceded with Anasazi, the desert was just about the only American environment that Vancouver could not easily mimic – to the point where the team had to paint rocks red in order to convincingly set a scene in New Mexico. California makes for a much more convincing desert.

Bursting on to the scene...

Bursting on to the scene…

The contrast is striking. The sixth season of The X-Files is bright and sunny; it is aware of its new production reality and chooses to embrace them rather than pointlessly resist them. Things had changed, and there was nothing to be gained from pretending otherwise. It is no wonder that the opening sequence of The Beginning features a group of working-stiff conspirators in transit; the perfect opening image for a season still figuring out how Los Angeles works. The Beginning loads all of that into its opening shot, getting it out in the open before it gets down to business.

At the same time, The Beginning is keen to stress that not too much has actually changed. The naming of the fifth season finalé and the sixth season premiere is decidedly symmetrical – The End and The Beginning. In fact, naming the second part of a two-part episode “The Beginning” is a very clear attempt at reassurance. It is a beginning without actually being a beginning; it is a conclusion without actually being a conclusion. The wheel keeps on turning. All that is missing is the ouroboros.

Dude, that's totally not sterile...

Dude, that’s totally not sterile…

The closing shot as much as confirms this, revealing that the bold new alien design revealed in The X-Files: Fight the Future is not so bold and new after all. Instead, the monster obviously inspired by Alien is something of a missing link, a tether connecting the grey aliens seen in episodes like Duane Barry to the black oil introduced in Piper Maru. It is all one big circle in perpetual motion. Everything is connected. Everything fits together. The show might have moved two thousand miles south, but it hasn’t missed a step.

For better or worse, The Beginning is about assuring viewers that – no matter what has changed – everything remains the same. It is up to the viewer to decide whether that is a good or a bad thing.

The truth is in there...

The truth is in there…

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Non-Review Review: The X-Files – Fight the Future

The X-Files: Fight the Future is often described as the mythology episode that somehow got released into theatres. In her review, Joyce Millman teased that Fight the Future was little more than “a two-hour episode of the show, except with better production values and a nicer wardrobe for Scully.” It is a fair point. It is not too hard to imagine a slightly cheaper version of Fight the Future split into two parts and replacing The End and The Beginning as the two-parter bridging the fifth and sixth seasons of the show.

Certainly, Fight the Future retains the late-stage mythology’s reluctance to provide any real sense of closure to the long-running plot about alien invasion and colonisation. Writers Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz increase the stakes by using some of that sweet blockbuster money to pay for a gestating alien fetus, but what do Mulder and Scully actually accomplish? What would a viewer jumping from The End to The Beginning miss, except for the fact that the Well-Manicured Man has left the mortal plane to visit that great Somerset estate in the sky?

What you've all been waiting for, admit it...

What you’ve all been waiting for, admit it…

The answer is nothing, but that is not the point. As much as Fight the Future enjoys playing with the trappings of the mythology (black oil! bees! tanker trucks! space ships! Oklahoma City!), the film is only interested in the idea of alien colonisation as a vehicle to explore the show’s central relationship. Carter and Spotnitz have shrewdly realised that Fight the Future will have the largest possible audience for the show, and has decided to give the general public what they want.

As a two-hour mythology episode, Fight the Future leaves a lot to be desired. As a two-hour Mulder and Scully ship tease, it is right on the money.

Buried secrets...

Buried secrets…

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The X-Files – Season 5 (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 fifth season of The X-Files represents the height of the show’s popularity.

Bookended by the production and release of the motion picture, the fifth season also earned the highest overall Neilsen ratings of any of the show’s nine seasons. The X-Files was a cultural force to be reckoned with, and had come a long way from its origins as little-seen cult television show. In the late nineties, it seemed like it wasn’t just aliens conspiring to colonise the planet; Chris Carter and his team were doing a pretty good job of it themselves. The fifth season has all the swagger and confidence of a show enjoying the view as it stands on top of the world.

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The fifth season might not be able to match the third season for consistency from episode to episode. The fifth season might also struggle to match the breathless ambition of the fourth season’s best (and wildest) episodes. However, it is a highly enjoyable season of television on its own terms. The season feels a little more relaxed and organised than the fourth season, and more confident in itself than the third. The fifth season even makes better use of its own internal themes and motifs than any of the previous seasons, with most of the staff seemingly on the same page.

Oddly enough, this thematic consistency does not translate into clear or fully-formed arcs. Unlike the second season of Millennium, it seems like the fifth season of The X-Files has no real idea of where it is going or how it wants to get there. This is slight problem when the fifth season needs to build to a feature film that was shot in the gap between the fourth and fifth seasons. The X-Files gets a lot of credit for popularising serialised storytelling on prime-time television, but the fifth season demonstrates just how sloppy the show could sometimes be in that regard.

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Still, this is a minor problem. With only twenty episodes, the fifth season is the shortest season of The X-Files produced at this point in the show’s history. The ninth season would run the same length, but there is an argument to be made that it is technically the shorter season; The Truth was written and broadcast as a single feature-length episode rather than two individual episodes. However, production necessities required a lot of innovation and experimentation in the fifth season, leading to a very playful and very off-format season of television.

While it is probably very difficult to argue that the fifth season of The X-Files was the show’s best run of episodes, it is a highly enjoyable collection of shows that brings together a lot of what was so much fun about The X-Files. The last season to be filmed in Vancouver, and the season that moves us closer to the end of the series than the beginning. Although certain segments of fandom would argue that it is the last truly great season of The X-Files, that feels unduly harsh to both the sixth and eighth seasons. Nevertheless, it is thrilling to watch a show so thoroughly enjoying its moment in the sun.

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The X-Files – Folie à Deux (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.

Folie à Deux is the last stand-alone episode of the fifth season, and the last stand-alone episode to be produced in Vancouver. It is also a pretty essential episode before The X-Files: Fight the Future, reinforcing just how essential Mulder and Scully are to one another shortly before the movie threatens to break them up for good.

Folie à Deux is also one of Vince Gilligan’s most underrated scripts from the show’s entire run, a thoughtful examination of the relationship between Mulder and Scully that provides a clever counterpoint to his script of Bad Blood. If Bad Blood was essentially a story about how Mulder and Scully see the universe differently, then Folie à Deux represents an attempt to heal that rift, perhaps suggesting that Mulder and Scully have come to share their own unique form of madness.

Bugging Skinner...

Bugging Skinner…

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The X-Files – Herrenvolk (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.

After Talitha Cumi, Herrenvolk cannot help but seem like a little bit of a disappointment.

Towards the end of the episode, the Alien Bounty Hunter hunts down Jeremiah Smith. Mulder begs for mercy, but the Bounty Hunter will hear nothing of it. “He shows you pieces, but tells you nothing of the whole,” the Bounty Hunter remarks to Mulder. It feels like that sentiment encapsulates Herrenvolk in a nutshell. Mulder goes on the run with Jeremiah Smith and sees a collection of vague but compelling things that may or may not tie into colonisation.

"Now you're thinking, 'I hope that's shepherd's pie in my knickers!'"

“Now you’re thinking, ‘I hope that’s shepherd’s pie in my knickers!'”

Like a lot of the mythology in the fourth and fifth seasons, it feels like a holding pattern. Talitha Cumi was surprisingly candid in its revelations. The aliens were plotting to colonise Earth in collaboration with the human conspirators. The date had been set, the plot was in motion. That was a pretty big bombshell, confirmed in unequivocal terms. It was arguably the clearest and most transparent that the conspiracy arc would ever be. There was a clear goal, a deadline, and a sense of purpose.

Almost immediately, Herrenvolk works to muddy the water. It stalls, it procrastinates, it delays, it evades. It is a plot structured around a collection of ominous conspiracy buzz words (DNA, smallpox, colonies, clones) without a clear purpose or objective.

A bloody mess...

A bloody mess…

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