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Millennium – The Thin White Line (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.

The Thin White Line is the final script from James Wong and Glen Morgan for this season of Millennium, following closely after Never Again, their final script (ever) for The X-Files.

Indeed, there is considerable overlap between the two stories – at least thematically. Both are episodes about destructive cycles. In Never Again, Scully faces the very real possibility that she is now trapped with Mulder; that her life outside the X-files is over. In The Thin White Line, Frank Black contemplates the idea that people are trapped in perpetual cycles of violence and abuse; that the world resembles the ouroboros featured so prominently in the opening credits, a snake constantly eating its own tail.

Frank discharge...

Frank discharge…

Never Again is relentlessly cynical. The closing image suggests that nothing will change, that something is broken than cannot be fixed. Important statements hang in the air, unresolved. The Thin White Line is perhaps slightly optimistic. Both Frank Black and Bob Bletcher try in their own way to end cycles of violence and recrimination. While Bob Bletcher responds with brutal cynicism and more violence, Frank Black responds with compassion and humanity. There is a sense of cynicism to The Thin White Line, but there is also some hope.

The Thin White Line is a stand out piece of work, a fantastic illustration of what Millennium can do when it sets its mind to it. Like Force Majeure before it, The Thin White Line suggests that Millennium has very clearly and definitely figured out its own voice. It is no wonder that both episodes come from future showrunners.

Cutting retort...

Cutting retort…

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The X-Files – Grotesque (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.

Grotesque is probably Howard Gordon’s strongest script for The X-Files.

F. Emasculata had demonstrated that Howard Gordon and Chris Carter worked very well together as a writing team. Carter was very good at big philosophical concepts, while Gordon was very adept at structuring a plot. Gordon knows how to build momentum and suspense, and his best scripts benefit from that particular talent. It helps that Gordon and Carter are probably the writers with the best understanding of Mulder as a character at this point in the show’s run.

Here there be monsters...

Here there be monsters…

Grotesque is an intriguing episode, particularly when examined in the context of the third season. The first and second season of The X-Files had been rather experimental in nature – the show tried to figure out what worked and what didn’t. The third season built off the successes of those earlier seasons. The idea seemed to be that the show would do more of what had worked, only better. So there were more two-part mythology episodes, more grounded stories, more comedy.

Grotesque is fascinating because it draws as much from earlier stories that didn’t work, using the lessons that the show had learned in the years since in order to make them work this time around.

Face-off...

Face-off…

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Non-Review Review: The Call

The Call is one-half knock-off of the underseen and underrated Cellular, a delightfully pulpy high-concept thriller which perhaps felt a little bit too similar to Phone Booth. The Call is also one-half knock-off of Silence of the Lambs, with the second half of the film in particular feeling like one of those psycho killer thrillers that were oh-so-popular in the mid- to late-nineties, but which became less popular in the post-CSI era. The Call has a delightfully ropey central premise, a high-concept for the mobile age, straining all manner of credibility and suspension of disbelief.

However, the problem lies in the execution. The Call wallows in heightened melodrama, struggling to sustain its central premise by trying to make us “feel” for the central characters in the most coy and manipulative of manners. Director Brad Anderson’s intrusive style doesn’t help matters too, seemingly unsure whether he’s making an action movie, a psychological horror or a high-concept thriller, and so instead tries to mash the three genres together with limited success.

Holding the line...

Holding the line…

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Hannibal – Savoureux (Review)

That was one impressive first season. Hannibal has developed from something that seemed like an idle curiosity – a police procedural based around the over-used cannibalistic serial killer? – into one of the best new American dramas of the past season. I suspect a lot of that is down to the decision to structure the season across thirteen episodes, instead of a larger (more traditional) network structure of twenty-or-more. To be fair, there were a few missteps early in the first season as Hannibal tried to balance the expectations of a procedural drama with the demands of an intimate character study, but it found its feet almost half-way through the season and it has never looked back.

Hannibal has been tightly plotted and cleverly constructed from around about Coquilles, and it’s remarkably how the show has found a way to weave its “serial killers of the week” into the over-arching plot. For example, Georgia from Buffet Froid winds up being a vital piece of Hannibal’s plot to incriminate Will. The clock that the sinister psychiatrist asked Will to draw in that episode is used to generate some exquisite tension here. Everything seems to have been building towards this point, and Bryan Fuller has done a simply tremendous job constructing a thirteen-episode Rube Goldberg machine that pays off beautifully.

Portrait of the killer?

Portrait of the killer?

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Hannibal – Relevés (Review)

For a show about a serial killer and the FBI’s Behavioural Analysis Unit, Hannibal is often surprisingly deep. That’s not much of a surprise, given the quality of the staff working on it, but the show is absolutely stunning meditation on identity and personality. In a way, that’s one of the smartest things about Fuller’s first thirteen episode season, building on the foundations set by Thomas Harris to construct something that fits quite elegantly while remaining its own distinct entity.

Relevés is the penultimate episode of the first season, and the point where – having used Roti to clear away some of the clutter – the show starts tying up a lot of those loose ends. Perhaps one of the most impressive things about the episode is the amount of suspense that Bryan Fuller and his staff can wring from the set-up – despite the fact that we know how this story ends, Hannibal manages to engage us so completely in the telling that what we already know seems almost irrelevant.

Things are heating up...

Things are heating up…

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Hannibal – Buffet Froid (Review)

Buffet Froid is the most strikingly horrific episode of Hannibal to date. Of course, the show is very much a horror story and enjoys its fair share of grotesque imagery. This is the series, after all, that gave us the makeshift angels, the do-it-yourself cello and the human totem poll. However, Buffet Froid plays most obviously on the imagery and iconography of horror. This is the episode where people have no faces and skin comes off at the slightest touch and the serial killer is waiting for you under your bed.

As you might imagine for a show with such complete control of its own atmosphere, Buffet Froid works very well indeed – providing what might be the most horrific episode of the show to date.

The doctor will see you now...

The doctor will see you now…

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Hannibal – Trou Normand (Review)

Trou Normand has a rather beautiful twist, and one which caught me – and, I suspect, a significant portion of the audience – completely off-guard. It’s not overstated or overplayed, but it manages to pack one hell of a punch. It fits surprisingly well with everything we know about the show and the characters who inhabit it, while still serving as something of a game-changer. It doesn’t change the rules of Hannibal too much, but only because the show has been so dedicated to playing with audience assumptions.

In any other show, Abigail Hobbs would be the victim that Will Graham so desperately needs her to be. Jack Crawford’s cynical suspicions would prove to be as completely off-base as his absolute faith in Hannibal Lecter. It would provide a nice moral victory for Will, even if only the audience ever knew about it, and serve as foreshadowing to Jack’s only blindness. It’s a neat narrative hook, we’ve become so subconsciously familiar with the way that these sorts of narratives work that we have come to expect it.

However, Hannibal isn’t any other show, and it demonstrates it by pulling off a particularly shrewd (and nasty) character twist.

A monument...

A monument…

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