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The X-Files 101: Ten “Monster of the Week” Episodes (Seasons 1-5)

Next week sees the release of The X-Files on blu ray for the first time, just over a month before the new six-episode series premieres on Fox in January. We’re running daily reviews of the show (and its spin-offs) between now and the end of the year, but we thought it might be worth compiling some guides for newer viewers who are looking to experience the length and breadth of what The X-Files has to offer. Every day this week, we’ll be publishing one quick list of recommended episodes every day, that should offer a good place to start for those looking to dive into the show.

The first list is the “monster of the week” shows from the first five seasons, which perhaps represents the purest distillation of what The X-Files actually was. On initial broadcast, a lot of attention was focused on the “mythology”, the long-form story about alien invaders who were conspiring with the United States government against mankind. It captured the attention of the nation, generating a lot of buzz and watercooler talk with blockbuster episodes that pushed the sheer scope and scale of nineties television to the limit.

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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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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 – The End (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 End is a watershed moment for the show.

There is a reasonable argument to be made that The End accomplishes very little in terms of narrative. It doesn’t really do a great job bridging to The X-Files: Fight the Future. It certainly doesn’t do a great job wrapping up any of the show’s long-running concerns. Indeed, it adds two characters who will go on to become major (if controversial) players in the show’s overarching mythology. Even the big dramatic twist at the end of the episode feels familiar, with The End closing on a more memorable visualisation of the cliffhanger to The Erlenmeyer Flask.

Burn, baby, burn...

Burn, baby, burn…

Nevertheless, The End does feel like an end of sorts. It closes out five seasons of The X-Files. Carter had suggested in interviews that he only wanted to do five seasons of the show before transitioning into feature films, and so The End marks the conclusion of the run that Carter had originally planned for the show. After all, The X-Files had crossed the hundred episode mark earlier in the year. It was ripe for syndication. It was at the stage where Fox and Ten Thirteen did not need to keep the show on the air to keep printing money.

At the same time, The End marks another more definitive sort of end. It would be the last piece of The X-Files to be filmed in Vancouver until The X-Files: I Want to Believe a decade later. Vancouver was a part of the show’s DNA. It had been the show’s production hub since The Pilot. More than two decades later, The X-Files would return to Vancouver for its six-episode wrap-up miniseries. Discussing the revival, Carter argued that Vancouver was “a natural place to make a show like The X-Files.” Certainly, the mood and atmosphere lent itself to the series.

"My video collection!"

“My video collection!”

So The End marks a fond farewell from the production team to a city and region that had served them well.  In that respect, it feels like a more definitive sort of ending. The End opens with a scene that is confident enough to let Canada be Canada. As with the opening scene of Herrenvolk, it is almost comical how hard The End flags its “and starring Canada as Canada” cred, to the point where a mountie rushes to the aid of an assassination victim. The closing scene of The End burns down the show’s most iconic and memorable sets.

While The End is not necessarily a satisfying mythology episode or season finalé in its own right, it does feel like a suitably big moment in the evolution of the show.

Smoking gun...

Smoking gun…

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Non-Review Review: Lo Que Más Quiero (What I Love The Most)

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

The movie that will quite possibly be forever known as “the longest 70 minutes of my life.”

This is actually one of the more interesting shots of the film...

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