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New Escapist Video! On “WandaVision” and the Death of Ambiguity…

So, as I have mentioned before, I am launching a new video series as a companion piece to In the Frame at The Escapist. The video will typically launch with every second Monday article, and be released on the magazine’s YouTube channel the following week. This is kinda cool, because we’re helping relaunch the magazine’s film channel – so if you can throw a subscription our way, it would mean a lot.

This week, following the end of WandaVision, it seemed like an appropriate time to take a look at what the show said about contemporary pop culture, in particular the show’s approach to its “mystery box” format and its insistence on explaining every ambiguity without any willingness to leave space for interpretation. It’s a big, ambitious video essay that looks at everything from Lost to Twin Peaks to The X-Files to Doctor Who, and I hope you enjoy.

New Escapist Column! On “WandaVision” and the Death of Ambiguity…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With WandaVision ending just over a week ago, I had some thoughts about art, ambiguity and meaning. You know, small things.

One of the more interesting aspects of WandaVision was the way in which it presented itself, and was received as, a “mystery box” show. It was framed and treated as a puzzle to be solved. What’s interesting about this is the care that the finale took to carefully explain and confront each possible fan theory and speculation, to communicate very simply and very straightforwardly not only what its audience was supposed to take from this story, but also how they were supposed to feel in response to certain key plot beats.

This is arguably a reflection of a larger trend in pop culture, in which there’s a strong rejection of the idea of ambiguity and an embrace of the idea that everything has a fixed meaning that can be clearly determined and objectively derived. This ignores the reality that art exists in ambiguity, that there’s no simple, single decoder ring and that meaning is often something derived from conversation between the art and the audience consuming it.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Podcast! The X-Cast – Season 6, Episode 12 (“One Son”)

Coinciding with The X-Files‘ move from Vancouver to Los Angeles, there has also been a shift at The X-Cast. Tony Black is no longer running the show, but it is instead now being run by Sarah Blair, Kurt North and Carl Sweeney. I was thrilled to join Carl to talk about one of the most important episodes in the show’s history: One Son.

With One Son, the show closes the book on one of the most important chapters in its history. Kind of. Sort of. A little bit. Of course, it was also about drawing down the curtain in other ways. There’s a very credible argument to be made that this mid-season two-parter marked the last time that The X-Files was truly event television. This makes One Son an interesting and complicated piece of television, a bit of ambitious storytelling that has to cover a lot of ground very ruthlessly. The result is an episode that isn’t entirely successful, but is still fascinating.

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

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New Podcast! The X-Cast – Season 6, Episode 11 (“Two Fathers”)

Coinciding with The X-Files‘ move from Vancouver to Los Angeles, there has also been a shift at The X-Cast. Tony Black is no longer running the show, but it is instead now being run by Sarah Blair, Kurt North and Carl Sweeney. I was thrilled to join Carl to talk about one of the most important episodes in the show’s history: Two Fathers.

Following the release of The X-Files: Fight the Future over the summer, and with the move to California, the show was in a clear state of transition. There was a strong sense that things were winding down; even with David Duchovny’s contract extension, the expectation was that the show would be wrapping up in its seventh season. As a result, there was a clear desire to begin wrapping up story threads. Two Fathers was something of a television event, promising to bring the show’s internal mythology to a satisfying conclusion. The results were more complicated.

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

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New Podcast! The Time is Now – Season 3, Episode 13 (“Antipas”)

Last year, I was thrilled to spend a lot of time on The Time is Now discussing the second season of Millennium. Since the podcast has moved on to the third season, I have taken something of a step back as a guest. That said, I was flattered to get an invitation to discuss Antipas with guest host Tony Black.

Antipas is an interesting piece of television. It’s effectively a grabbag of the familiar horror movie tropes and clichés that writers Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz love: it’s The OmenDon’t Look Now, The Shining and a few others. It’s effectively a gigantic homage to the huge influences on Carter’s work with both Millennium and The X-Files, even if it doesn’t exactly cohere as a story in its own right.

As ever, you can listen directly to the episode here, subscribe to the podcast here, or click the link below.

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New Podcast! The X-Cast – Fight the Future Minute #86 (“Well-Manicured Sacrifice”)

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.

And so my time on the Fight the Future minute comes to an end. It has been a pleasure. I like to think that Kurt and I go out like the Well-Manicured Man himself, in a blaze of glory. We discuss everything from the Well-Manicured Man’s flare for the theatrical, to his somewhat unnecessary killing spree, to how exactly we imagine the local papers are going to cover the weird murder-suicide-in-an-alley sequence. It’s fun, it’s playful, it’s a recording I really enjoyed – and which I hope you enjoy as well.

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

New Podcast! The X-Cast – Fight the Future Minute #85 (“Well-Manicured Murder”)

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.

And so my time on the Fight the Future minute nears an end. However, there’s still one minute left. So this provides a nice opportunity to talk about the weirdness of the Well-Manicured Man’s plan during this exposition-driven sequence that apparently includes crossing “double murder-suicide” off his bucket list. We also discuss the narrative conventions that require a propulsive conspiracy thriller like Fight the Future to generate completely absurd tension and suspense in place where it really has no reason to exist.

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

New Podcast! The X-Cast – Fight the Future Minute #84 (“Well-Manicured Rationale”)

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.

And so, after the exposition comes character motivation – which is handily provided via exposition. The limousine sequence in Fight the Future is notable primarily as a bridging sequence. In terms of the “play the hits” aesthetic of Fight the Future, it serves to get Mulder from Scully’s abduction to his Arctic expedition. As a result, it’s a section of the film tasked with tying all of this together, in a rather condensed and contracted period of time. The results aren’t always elegant, but there is something fun about them.

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

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 – Fight the Future Minute #82 (“Well-Manicured Truth I”)

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.

Who doesn’t like exposition? Especially when it’s delivered by a veteran British character actor trying to cram as much as physically possible into the space between two set pieces? We’re in an incredibly dense stretch of Fight the Future in which the film tries to offer a cliffnotes of the show’s mythology for the blockbuster audiences watching in cinemas. The result isn’t always elegant, but it’s surprisingly effective.

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