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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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The X-Files – Terma (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.

Tunguska and Terma borrows the structure that made the show’s early mythology episodes so effective. Tunguska is full of intriguing and compelling questions, implications that would seem to broaden or deepen the mythology. However, instead of resolving any of the major threads, Terma simply turns itself into a roller-coaster thrill ride. A cynical observer might compare the weaker mythology episodes to a shell-game: the potential of an interesting premise, lost in a shuffle designed to disorientate and catch the viewer off-guard.

It is an approach that has served the show well. Ascension avoided answering too many of the questions posed by Duane Barry, barrelling along with the momentum of a runaway freight train. Similarly, End Game did not dwell too heavily on the questions posed by Colony, instead serving as a series of high-momentum chase sequences with Mulder following the Alien Bounty Hunter to the ends of the Earth. Paper Clip moved so quickly that the viewers never wondered why the documents recovered in Anasazi were no longer earth-shattering, but merely macguffins.

Things are really heating up...

Things are really heating up…

The X-Files is very good at this sort of dynamic mile-a-minute plotting. The production team are very good at what they do. There is a sleek professionalism to these episodes that makes them easy to watch. Although filmed in Vancouver, there were few shows in the nineties ambitious enough to send their character to a Russian gulag for human experimentation. However, the cracks are starting to show. Herrenvolk demonstrated how frustrating a lack of answers could become. Terma struggles to balance a number of potentially interesting plot threads.

There are a lot of elements of Terma that might have worked well, if they had been given more room to breath. Sadly, the episode spends most of its run time trying to build up momentum towards the inevitable scene where proof narrow slips through Mulder’s fingers one more time.

Evil oil...

Evil oil…

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The X-Files – Apocrypha (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.

Eyes are a major recurring motif in Apocrypha.

To be fair, eyes were a frequently recurring motif throughout The X-Files. Rob Bowman managed a couple of beautiful shots of reflections and peeping in 731, for example. It makes sense that The X-Files should place such emphasis on eyes – it is a saga about truth and belief and faith, all of which must be explored through perception. “I want to believe,” Mulder’s iconic poster proclaims. As the cliché goes, seeing is believing.

Iconic Mulder/Scully pose!

Iconic Mulder/Scully pose!

That is definitely the case here, with Apocrypha built to a climax where both the audience and the characters are explicitly refused the opportunity to see key moments. Mulder and Scully are escorted out of the North Dakota silo before they can see anything incriminating. The audience doesn’t even get to see the space ship taking off. Even the death of Luis Cardinal takes place off-screen, with Mulder revealing it in a throwaway line in the show’s penultimate scene.

With all of this going on, it makes sense that so much of the imagery in Apocrypha should be built around eyes – with the black oil infection manifesting in its hosts’ eyes, the shooting of the silo as a giant eye staring into space, and even the design of the alien space ship evoking the Eye of Providence.

Up in the sky!

Up in the sky!

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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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The X-Files – The Blessing Way (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.

The Blessing Way is the first mythology episode of The X-Files that doesn’t really work.

And it doesn’t really work for a lot of the same reasons that some of the later mythology episodes don’t really work. Its pacing is terrible. It wallows in new age mysticism, allocating characters thoughtful monologues that awkwardly state themes and render subtext as supratext. It plays into the deification of Mulder, trying to bend Mulder’s story to fit into an archetypal “chosen one” narrative. More than that, it is very clearly a holding pattern, an effort to eat up time without moving forward.

Wiping it all out...

Wiping it all out…

However, despite the fact that The Blessing Way really doesn’t work, it is still a fascinating episode. It’s a wonderful demonstration of how The X-Files has developed a fleshed-out world inhabited by compelling characters. The best moments in The Blessing Way are character-focused, with Skinner caught between his duty to the government and his loyalty to his agents, the Cigarette-Smoking Man revealed to be middle-management at best, and the implication that even vast sinister government conspiracies are hostage to chaos.

The Blessing Way is an oddity, a rather strange piece of television that is almost endearing in its stubborn refusal to deliver what the audience wants and expects. That doesn’t make it good, but it does make it interesting.

The truth is up there...

The truth is up there…

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