Redux written by Chris Carter and directed by R.W. Goodwin
What’s it about: A dull lecture that boils down this show to it’s most basic form.
Trust No-One: In a way the cliffhanger isn’t a con because it looks as though Mulder genuinely was going to kill himself and on a well timed phone call prevented him from doing so. Whilst this makes the idea behind the cliffhanger more real (I genuinely thought it was one big lie conceived to allow Mulder to investigate under a cover of anonymity) it also shows him to be a moral coward, looking for the easy way out because his work has been proven (rather limply considering it isn’t true) to be built on a lie.
Brains’n’Beauty: More bollocks admissions from Scully that science is her salvation, her all encompassing religion, her life, her best friend and her lover. Okay I exaggerate but it is continually pushed to the forefront to the point that it is supposedly the only interesting thing about her. Which isn’t the case.
Assistant Director: Why on Earth is Scully lying to Skinner? Hasn’t this man done enough to prove himself to her? Doesn’t this make a mockery of the journey we have gone on with these three characters? We’ve been on a dance of trust with Mulder, Scully and Skinner ever since the end of the first season and I finally thought we had come to some kind of conclusion of their narrative of distrust. Apparently not. It looks like it will be brought out of the closet and dusted down every time a mythology episode needs padding out.
Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Your lying is on record, Agent Scully’ ‘And what about yours?’ ‘As you compound the lies, you compound the consequences for them’ ‘All lies lead to the truth, isn’t that right?’ ‘And what about your lie, Agent Scully? What does that lead to?’ ‘The Truth!’ – at this point I think that Carter is so used to the words ‘Lies’ and ‘Truth’ that he just has his characters repeat them ad nauseum until it sounds like something profound is happening. This is a particularly horrendous example. Even Gillian Anderson looks humiliated.
The Good: There’s a beat of truthful characterisation when the Smoking Man inspects Mulder’s apartment and finds a picture of him and his sister as children. Emotions flash across his face from regret to sadness.
The Bad: What is up with the perpetual voiceovers that stain this episode with mediocrity? They fail to add any depth because the dialogue is so functional and informative and the actors sound as bored saying the lines as we are listening to them adding up to an atmosphere of tedium when the show should be going for the jugular. A voiceover is helpful sometimes if you want to bridge two scenes and explain how a show makes a narrative leap (it’s still not ideal but it at least it has a purpose) but Carter wallpapers this episode with so much intimate exposition I can only assume that he had little or no plot for this filling episode (the real meat is in the two installments either side) that he had to fill the time with endless moments of therapy for the characters. It is entirely the wrong note to get the season off on, looking inward into these (apparently) self indulgent characters (are these really their thoughts?) when we should be catapulted into the new year with something attention grabbing and exciting. The thought of Mulder wandering around a bunch of government corridors to find a cure for Scully’s cancer fills me with horror. How could Carter possibly boil down what has been one of the most deftly handled character arcs in the show to something quite this banal and simplistic? Why would the existence of the cure be prove the certainty that Mulder has believed in a lie from the start? Why couldn’t the government have been performing tests on people and have the cure for cancer and be working with aliens?
Moment to Watch Out For: Unbelievably the cliffhanger is that Mulder has put us through this incessant hour of tedium to obtain de-ionised water from the government facility. Does that mean we have to go through this all over again?
Orchestra: How dull is Snow’s music in this? He is as bored as the director, the actors and the audience. Everybody is feeding Carter’s ego at this point and just getting through his yawnsome script so we can move on to something more interesting.
Mythology: ‘Level four is a biological quarantine wing. It houses a series of labs and medical facilities in an elaborate system for the storage of vast quantities of DNA’ ‘DNA from whom?’ ‘Virtually every American born since 1945. Every immigrant, every indigenous person who’s given blood to a government Doctor. This is what I told you. This is the hoax into which you have been drawn. The roots go back 50 years to the end of World War II playing on a national appetite for bogus revelation. And a public newly fearful of the atom bomb. The US military fanned the flames of what were called “flying saucer” stories. There are truths which can kill a nation. The military needed something to deflect attention away from its arms strategy: global domination through the capability of total enemy annihilation. The nuclear card was fine as long as we alone could play it but the generals knew they could not win a public-relations war. Those photos from Hiroshima were not faces the Americans wanted to see in a mirror. Oppenheimer knew it but we silenced him. When the Russians developed the bomb, the fear in the military was an armistice. The business of America isn’t business, it’s war. Since Antietam nothing has driven the economy faster. We needed a reason to keep spending money, if there wasn’t a war to justify it then we called it war anyway. The Cold War was essentially a 50 year public relations battle. A pitched game of chicken against an enemy that we only called names. The communists called us a few names too. And the public believed it. After what McCarthy had done they eat it with a big spoon. We squared off a few times in Cuba, Korea and Vietnam. Nobody dropped the bomb, Nobody dared’ ‘What does all this have to do with flying saucers?’ ‘The US military saw a good thing in ’47 when the Roswell story broke. The more we denied it, the more people believed it was true. Aliens had landed: a made to order cover story for generals looking to develop the nation war chest. They brought in college professors and congressmen, fed them enough bogus facts fuzzy photos and eyewitnesses that they believe it, too. I can’t tell you how fortuitous the timing was. You know when the first supersonic flight was? 1947. Soon every experimental aircraft being flown was a UFO sighting. When the abduction stories started up, it was too perfect. We’d almost gotten caught up in Korea, an ambitious misstep. China and Soviets knew it’ ‘Germ warfare. We were accused of using it on the Koreans’ ‘It was developmental then. Nothing like what the Russians have now. The bio weapons used in the Gulf War were so ingenious as to be undetectable. Developed in this very building’ ‘And all these reports of abductions have been lies?’ ‘Not lies exactly, but citizens taken and unsuspecting and tested. A classified military project above top secret and still ongoing.’ Absolutely hideous! Not least because I have had to type out all of this pretentious claptrap! I’m not sure which bugs me more; that this info dump is lumped together right in the middle of this episode where you desperately need something to happen, that Chris Carter has abandoned the show-don’t-tell approached and fallen into full on paranoia lecture mode, that the dialogue is absolutely hideous and would trip up a sophisticated performer let alone the cardboard cut out who has to get this mouthful out or that there are germs of good ideas in this everlasting speech (such as the government using aliens as a cover for getting on with something even more hideous or the Cold War being one long PR stunt to allow the government to continue spending money on weapons research) that are wasted because after a few minutes you switch off and stop listening and just let the pretty flashbacks wash over you. Had Mulder discovered all of these facts through a well paced and plotted narrative with the revelations having personal consequences for him and Scully then the effect would be quite different. I might have been able to buy into the ideas that are driving season five (and let’s be honest they are only going down this aliens-are-fake cul de sac because they have to delay any progress in the mythology arc because the movie – which has already been filmed – is set between season five and six and thus they have to stall until we reach that point). This is so appallingly handled I’m surprised an insulted audience didn’t abandon the show in droves (they hung around waiting for the next monster of the week episode). The way that Kritschgau is taken off by the government after he has gotten this phenomenally awful amount of exposition out just goes to show that’s all he was there for. His work is done, the episode no longer needs him. He wasn’t a character, he was a walking repository of information for the audience.
Redux II written by Chris Carter and directed by Kim Manners
What’s it about: Will Scully’s cancer ever be cured?
Trust No-One: Mulder gives Scully a gentle kiss when they are re-united and I was reminded of one of the main reasons that I enjoy watching this series. It was like Carter had forgotten that Mulder and Scully are the beating heart of this show. He gently strokes her hair as she asks him to lay the blame of the murder in his apartment on her since she is dying anyway. It’s lovely stuff. Mulder and Bill Scully are coming at Scully’s illness from two very different directions – Mulder is trying to fight to save her whilst Bill has already given up and is waiting for her to die with dignity. To be fair both approaches are valid, if Mulder hadn’t managed to save her then it would have been feeding her with false hope. When Mulder dangles a carrot of hope in front of her, Bill snaps and it takes his sister to calm everybody down and remind them that they are working for the same goal. When Bill points out that he has already lost one sister to Mulder’s cause his irrational behaviour suddenly makes more sense. Melissa’s murder was a direct consequence of Scully’s work with Mulder and whilst he isn’t responsible for outside elements or for Scully’s assignment to The X-Files it is his cause which moved in that direction and manoeuvred Melissa to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. ‘Has it been worth it?’ is what Mulder is asked and all he can answer apologetically is ‘no.’ Duchovny plays these scenes really well because there is some kind of emotional truth to them. Compare to his reaction to being reunited with his sister (again) and even the actor can’t quite bring himself to invest in the idea because it has been proven false over and over. When he is asked to almost break down before her, it smacks of an acting trying to overcome his natural prejudice to the material. Again compare that to the quiet moment when Mulder breaks down at Scully’s bedside whilst she is sleeping – Duchovny looks physically pained during the scene as though thought of losing Scully is too much for Mulder to bear. As an acknowledgement of how close they have become there is no finer moment. Mulder wouldn’t be able to live with himself if Scully took the fall for him in her death.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Let me at least give some meaning to what’s happening to me…’
The Bad: Poor Don S. Williams. He’s a man of fine acting talent but you would never be able to tell when he takes part in an X-Files episode because he is forced to speak the most pompous dialogue whilst staring into the middle distance and pretending to be menacing and powerful. It doesn’t come off because we have never seen the real power that the men involved in the Syndicate have or what the conspiracy is that they are involved in. In fact most of the time they are running scared, worried about the work of one man who nobody pays any attention to. It’s hard to be scary when you’re always looking so afraid. When the Smoking Man turns up with Mulder’s sister it is hard to feel anything but bored. Haven’t we done this already? Twice? How many times can these cards keep being dealt? As soon as she turned up I was trying to think of how many ways she could be immediately written out which involved her turning out to be clone, killed or Mulder taking a dose of mind altering drugs. Whatever happened I knew this wouldn’t turn out to be the real deal, which perhaps it should have done because five years into a show you should be developing the premise and the motives of the main characters rather than coasting with the same mysteries touted in the first year.
Pre Titles Sequence: Blimey, there is more passion in the first scene of this episode than existed across the entirety of the first part. Carter has figured a few things out; one – that we need to see Scully suffering from the cancer that Mulder is fighting to find the cure for in order to make the fight count, two – that Mulder and Scully need to be seen together for this show to really work, three – the characters need to interact with each other to produce the best results (no sign of a voiceover in the pre-titles sequence) and four – there needs to be a believable personal stake in the drama in order to make the journey worthwhile (Mulder shows more concern towards Scully in two minutes worth of material that was entirely absent during the laborious voiceovers last week). It is as though Carter has suddenly woken up and realised how drama actually works (why he should have forgotten when the produced episodes such as Duane Barry and Irresistible in the past baffles me).
Orchestra: Finally Snow is given something to work. He adds a real touch of delicacy to the scenes of Scully’s crisis of faith.
Result: Aside from Mulder obtaining the micro chip the middle part of this trilogy was almost entirely redundant since this picks up the threads that were left hanging in Gethsemane without a thought for all the nonsense that was touted last week (and to be honest the way the Smoking Man approaches Mulder he could have simply handed him the chip and prevent the 45 minutes snooze-fest that bridges the book ending episodes). There’s a lot that’s wrong with Redux II (the Skinner problem, the umpteenth return of Samantha, Don S. Williams’ lack of presence) but unlike it’s predecessor it gets an awful lot right too including giving Mulder a personal stake in his quest to find the cure for Scully’s cancer, giving Scully’s family a powerful presence and reminding us why these characters are worth giving a damn about (a clue, it has nothing to do with lengthly monologues). I’m still unconvinced by this newfound aliens-are-fake angle that the show is taking but I understand why they had to do that because of the movie. Essentially season five is one long cul de sac now, and the show has to stall until the movie can push things along. It comes as no surprise to me that they shy away from the central aspects of the conspiracy story this season. When it comes to the characters though, this is excellent and Anderson and Duchovny is particular do some of their best ever work as both Scully and Mulder finally face up to the idea that she might die of cancer despite their efforts to fight it. Kim Manners direction is superb, especially of the more intimate scenes but his pacing is more dynamic than R.W. Goodwin’s last week too. The dramatic final five minutes are so strong they almost manage to make up for the stodgy running around at the heart of this trilogy of episodes: 7/10
Unusual Suspects written by Vince Gilligan and directed by Kim Manners
What’s it about: Who were the Lone Gunmen before they became Mulder’s confidantes?
Trust No-One: We’re introduced to a young, enthusiastic, naïve and fairly incompetant Mulder who has yet to season, so unencumbered by paranoia and conspiracy theories that he is a complete revelation. It goes to show just how fun the character could be if he wasn’t saddled to this series’ myth arc. Could it possibly be that Mulder’s mistrustful behaviour is not linked to a secret government plot that has robbed him of his sister but the exposure to an insidious gas that gets under your skin and makes you fearful of everyone and everything? Even suggesting the idea is the sort of cheek and expression of confidence I love. It’s the sort of thing that Buffy does all the time and only Darin Morgan and Vince Gilligan dare to play these kinds of games when writing The X-Files.
The Lone Gunmen: What a curiosity The Lone Gunmen have turned out to be. I find them a peculiar success despite the fact that I sometimes find them extremely annoying. Introduced in the first season as paranoid associates of Mulder, they haven’t ever really been developed beyond that brief and have turned up at the appropriate times to provide technical assistance and some quirky humour. They often give the mythology episodes a real boost (although they have been used quite sparingly of late I have noticed). This is the first time they have been frontrunners for the show, a useful fallback whilst Duchovny and Anderson are off filming the movie. On the strength of this episode you can see why Carter might have thought that a spin off series featuring the three geeks would be a hit because they take to the limelight like ducks to water. At least here. Like I said, surprising.
Frohike s my favourite of the three but I often find that he is written to be the most likable of the bunch, with the filthiest humour and attitude that mimics one of my closest friends’ short man syndrome. His and Langley’s rivalry over who can provide the best bootleg cable stuck a smile on my face.
The only one that I cannot get on with on a regular basis is Langly who strikes me as the worst excesses of geek hood in human form. Every time he opens his mouth I want to stuff something fist sized inside, his mock anger is wearying and I hate the way he always thinks he is right in that pigeon holed way that geeks do when their dander is up. He’s the sort of person that would hack into government files for something as facile as gaining access to disabled parking areas.
The Good: The Usual Suspects is one of my favourite films. As a piece of misdirection it is yet to be topped, as a modern day nourish thriller it is beautifully directed and as a performance piece it provides its cast with their best parts to date. It’s a remarkable piece of non linear storytelling too. For The X-Files to rip off such a film means that better know what they are doing and having the Lone Gunmen come together in a police cell (aping the opening sequences of the film) is just inspired. The non-linear storyline deployed here is fun too with the episode explaining how it made it to the bizarre scenario that kick started events. Staging a ‘how the Lone Gunmen met Mulder’ episode was a great idea and when he finally turns up in the episode it is a triumphant moment as you realise that the foundations of their friendship are about to be built. There are some lovely concessions to the fact that this is set in the eighties from the quaint blocky space invaders that Byers’ colleague is playing to the massive mobile phone that Mulder sports. The Dungeons and Dragons sequence that plays out like a sinister game of poker in a smoky, shadowy back room is really funny…I love how these guys (especially Langly) take this game so seriously that they even look the part. There is something quite delightful about meeting these guys (including Mulder) before they are trapped in a paranoiac fantasy about the government, laughing their heads off Scully-style at some of the conspiracy theories that are being touted by Modeski. To be fair she does sound a little stir crazy until she yanks a molar out of her mouth and shows how she is being tracked via one of her teeth. The flashback appearance of Mr X is a firm reminder of how badly his replacement is working out – if Marita whatsherface was half as menacing then the mythology episodes might be in much better shape. Steven Williams does silent menace so well.
The Bad: The ending just sort of…peters out to nothing. Whereas the film has been building to its climax from its very first shot, deceiving the audience from the word go it transpires that everything here is exactly how it seems and the now we have seen how the Gunmen found each other (and Mulder) they just head off together. I was waiting for something a bit more juicy than Modeski being taking off by Mr X. That feels like the work of Carter, not Gilligan. I know nothing about Homicide: Life on the Street so the crossover did nothing to excite me but I can imagine for fans of both shows this was something of a revelation.
Moment to Watch Out For: I doesn’t exactly take the work of genius to figure out where The Lone Gunmen got their name from or that it had something to do with JFK’s assassination but it doesn’t make the moment any less sparkling when Mr X hands them their new cover on a platter.
Result: This is so cute that it practically leaps over the fact that there isn’t a great deal of substance to the story or major revelations to be had about the Lone Gunmen. It’s a simple story but after the complexity of the last three mythology episodes that is something of a blessing and a lot of the fun is in spotting the little details that have gone into making this work (the suggested reason that Mulder began having paranoid fantasies about aliens is worth the admission price alone). As a chance to hang out with the Gunmen (and Mulder) before they are slaves to a paranoid fantasy of governmental conspiracies it is fantastic fun and all four actors get to play looser versions of the same characters that we are used to. Duchovny looks especially funny with his 80s hairdo and happy trigger finger. The reason Unusual Suspects works so well is exactly the same reason that The Lone Gunmen TV show failed to ignite, it is a thrilling adventure to offset the usual X-Files shtick. As soon as this became the template for a TV series it showed itself up as a shallow, farcical sitcom…but that’s precisely what this episode is aiming for as a one-off. Signy Coleman makes a particularly alluring femme fatale and it is easy to see why they invited her back for a sequel (this isn’t a show that often explores strong female characters when it has Scully at its heart). The structure of the piece comes straight out of the movie of the same name (they even mocked up a publicity photo that ripped off the movies wholesale) although it does lack the audacious twist that made the film such a delightful experience. Frivolous but highly refreshing: 8/10
Detour written by Frank Spotnitz and directed by Brett Dowler
Trust No-One: After all the heartache of the cancer arc it seems odd to be wandering around the forest with Mulder and Scully again looking for a supernatural nasty as if none of the previous character drama ever happened. Perhaps this was deliberately nostalgic to express a back-to-basics approach to go from something as heartbreakingly nuanced as Redux II to something this simplistic feels a little discordant. This love letter to season one coming after a buffer episode explaining the origins of the Lone Gunmen feels like a step backwards somehow. I appreciated the chat in the woods about Scully’s cancer but its interesting to note that once that is mentioned it is quickly skipped over, like the writers wanted to acknowledge that it did happen but also that they were moving on as quickly as possible to new avenues. In this case who did you identify with the most in The Flintstones.
Brains’n’Beauty: Hilariously Mulder and Scully are being sent on one of those dreadful team building exercises that companies insists on inflicting on their workers. These guys have absolutely no trouble communicating on a professional level (in fact adversity in investigation is one of their greatest strengths) and they have even managed to get their heads around corresponding on a personal level now too. It’s another reason why this feels about three seasons out of date. Had this taken place before Scully’s abduction and cancer scare and before Mulder’s faith in his conspiracy theory had been shattered then a little help with their interpersonal skills might have been relevant. They’ve been through so much by now it can either be seen as punishment (definitely a possibility) or as a paper pushing exercise. I suppose there is something amusing about Mulder and Scully being sent on a team building course only to be sidetracked into an investigation that requires a great deal of teamwork but it’s the sort of joke that makes you laugh for five seconds and then sigh. By the end of the episode they have to work together to make a big pile of bodies to winch back up above ground. Go team.
Ugh: Points for effort…at least the show is trying to be scary again. I think the last time this show attempt and honest to goodness fright was way back in Elegy with the ghostly portents of death. This was once a show that sold itself on its horror content but it seems to have been sifted out in favour of more experimental and domestic storytelling. There is something genuinely creepy about the red eyes appearing in the darkness but that was a trick that was pulled off as far back as Squeeze in season one and Tooms had a whole bag of tricks like that up his sleeves to scare the bejesus out of the audience. This weeks nasty is simply an invisible man roaming the woods and murdering people for no apparent reason. It feels like Spotnitz is making it up as he goes along, ticking off his season one list as he goes. During the night sequence the creature is mildly scary but when we are out in the sunshine its merely a collection of nifty special effects and costumes. It doesn’t inspire the same sort of fear that the best X-File nasties have managed, it’s more of a curiosity. And not a very interesting one at that. When Scully fell down the hole I would have been more surprised if that wasn’t where the bodies had turned up.
The Good: Colleen Flynn turns quite a nice performance as Officer Fazekas but it’s a role so underwritten that she barely gets anything of note to do. If I had an actress that strong to hand I would adapt the script to give her a meatier role. To be fair the episode isn’t exactly kind on anybody…there is only so much mileage you can get out of a yomp around the woods. Unfortunately the interesting (perhaps too strong of a word, its entirely down to the performance) guest characters are bumped off first.
Pre Titles Sequence: I’m in two minds about the Vancouver forest these days. On the one hand we’ve been stuck inside for the better part of the last three episodes so it is refreshing to get out into wide open spaces and it is very pretty scenery…but on the other hand we’ve had so many stories set out in the forest by now it is starting to become as clichéd as it was on Stargate SG-1. At least it isn’t the same forest doubling for a myriad of alien planets on The X-Files. I’m looking forward to the move to the city. This pre titles sequence really isn’t trying to be original because we have had nasties lurking in the forest time (Fallen Angel) and time (Darkness Falls) and time (Firewalker) again. I could go on but we’d be here all day. Besides the eyes that snap open in the foliage providing a brief surprise there is nothing of note to be found in this teaser.
Orchestra: Mark Snow pipes in a funky, almost child-like version of his usual horror movie soundtrack to try and convince you that something more interesting is going on beyond the evidence of your eyes.
Result: It feels like I have been sucked into a time warp and materialised back in season one. Detour is as simplistic, unpretentious and formulaic as they come with everything from the forest setting, the ambiguous nasty, the signposted victims, Mulder and Scully banter and the lack of a satisfying explanation tossed into the mix. Had this taken place in season one it might have fitted in just fine but four years later it feels like it is playing it far too safe for a show that has enjoyed the works of Darin Morgan and Vince Gilligan throughout the experimental and thrillingly dark and funny seasons three and four. I personally have had more exciting yomps through the forest to find a picnic spot than this and the creature of the week inspires little but fatigue because its nature isn’t laced explored in any way and ultimately we are left to Mulder to guess what it was because the episode itself has no idea. It is just there to chase them about for half an hour. Anderson and Duchovny give the material all the effort it deserves (they made far more of an effort with the life or death material of this nature in season one when they still had something to prove) and a for once a fresh director doesn’t yield gripping results as this is far more conventionally shot than I am used to. It sure is pretty to look at most of the time (thanks to the forest setting) and some of the banter is enjoyable but that aside this is almost entirely devoid of interest. Let me save you from enduring what is possibly the least substantial X-File on record; Scully and Mulder run about in the woods, they have a cuddle and then she falls down a hole. The end. There’s some weird insubstantial creature roaming about too but who the hell knows what that was all about. The most surprising thing that Detour has to offer is its complete lack of narrative: 4/10
The Post-Modern Prometheus written and directed by Chris Carter
Trust No-One: The idea of Mulder’s name being mentioned on The Jerry Springer Show as the only person from the government to make house call to a woman who claims to have had a werewolf baby sounds entirely authentic. He’ll buy into anything as long as it sounds like it belongs on the cover of the National Enquirer. Scully finally asks the question that must be on everybody’s lips: ‘Is there anything that you don’t believe in, Mulder?’ The answer is, strangely for this season only, the one thing that he has seen the most evidence of.
Brains’n’Beauty: By the end of the episode Scully is without a doubt my audience identification figure. She can’t quite believe the preposterousness of the town she has come to visit and questions the veracity of its inhabitants, she can’t see any logic in the existence of the creature that they all revere and by the time a torch wielding mob tears past her to bring him to justice she just stands back and lets it all wash over her with an expression of disbelief slapped on her face. She removes herself from a story that she doesn’t belong in and waits on the sidelines for Mutato to say his speech, convince the townsfolk that he is a good guy and takes the first opportunity to get out of town. I don’t know if I have ever found her more believable.
‘You may have been right Scully’ ‘What that these people can be reduced to cultural stereotypes?’ – at least the writer is upfront about that.
Ugh: Filmed in black and white, this could have been the scariest episode of The X-Files ever. Instead Carter goes for the comic jugular and spoils any effort that could have gone into making this a toneless treat. Season two’s Aubrey and Irresistible had a far greater understanding of how to make black and white scary (although both filmed in colour they are muted throughout and would have worked superbly in monochrome). I still dream of the day that this show plumps for a black and white episode and shoots it in the style and atmosphere of Hitchcock’s Psycho. This could have been that episode but it’s too busy having fun to remember that one of this shows strengths is to scare.
Moment to Watch Out For: The scene which sums up this episode (which isn’t the triumphant final scene as some might have you believe because that’s pretty much the only part of this hallucination that does work very well) is that of the Great Mutato walking around his latest victims smoke ridden house dancing to Cher like he is touring in a production of her Greatest Hits. It’s not clever, funny or scary…its just weird.
Foreboding: You want a sympathetic nasty that really works, go and watch season sevens Hungry. And if I want to watch The X-Files take a stab at sitcom, I would choose Hollywood AD every time.
Result: ‘Hey, he’s no monster.’ What a schizophrenic writer Chris Carter has turned out to be. If you had told me without any proof that Redux and The Post-Modern Prometheus were written by the same man I would probably laugh in your face for several hours. They are so different in every respect – tone, pace and realisation – that they scream of the work of different individuals or at least the work of an Incredible Hulk style victim who produces cod-poetic monologues by day and gothic fairytales by night. I’m not sure if either approach is any good but one is certainly more fun (I’ll give you a clue - it’s not the one about the cure for cancer) and hence far more watchable despite the desperate amount of tricks Carter tries to throw at you to make you submit to the experience. The trouble with The Post-Modern Prometheus is that it feels like a sequence of missed opportunities in the hands of a writer and director that doesn’t quite have the skill to pull off the idiosyncratic tone he is aiming for. It fails to work as a comic book adventure (it’s far too intimate for that), a slice of atmospheric monochrome (due to the lack of understanding of the medium), a gothic horror (on the account that it isn’t scary), a comedy (because the comedy derives from pop culture references that have no substance) or as a character drama (because none of the characters are believable). I admire Carter for his ambition at trying to do something left field but after failing to pull off a Darin Morgan comedy (Syzygy) he now fails to pull off a Vince Gilligan style curiosity. It’s weird because he has another stab at a comedy/horror this time next year and gets it bang on the nail. A contemporary retelling of Frankenstein is a great idea but had Carter stripped away all the frills and simply told a scary and tragic character tale in the same vein as the book I think it would have been far more successful. The barest bones of the homage can be seen at times (the central element of the disgusting creature that just wants to be loved) but it is smothered in too much extravagant decoration to emerge as anything inventive or smart. Instead this is the work of a man aiming high but scoring low whose only real success is in his looser interpretation of the characters that made him famous in the first place. Mulder and Scully really work in this setting, even if nobody else does. An extra point for the songs and the glorious final scene but this is mostly a series of nice ideas that don’t translate well on screen but seem to have been given a pass by the majority of the audience because it is so unusual: 4/10
Christmas Carol written by Vince Gilligan, John Shiban & Frank Spotnitz and directed by Peter Markle
Brains’n’Beauty: Setting this during the holiday season is the perfect way to separate Mulder and Scully for one week because it is very natural for the agents to go their separate ways during Christmas. The Scully family sequences had an air of believability to them in Gethsemane and that is built on to great effect here and the atmosphere surrounding the characters as they enjoy Christmas together is warm and inviting. Scully discovering that she was barren really comes into play here as Bill and Tara Scully express their happiness and excitement about the approaching birth of their child and whilst his sister is perfectly happy for them it is an unpleasant reminder of what she will never have. She never realised how much she wanted a child until she couldn’t have it. How gorgeous to have Scully this upfront about her feelings, especially when she is usually so guarded around Mulder. It feels perfectly natural for her to confide in her mother like this. It’s proof for Bill that she doesn’t need Mulder around to obsess about her work, that she will find any excuse not to indulge in simply letting go and having fun with her family. Perhaps they wont bother to invite her next year, she’s like the black cloud around the dinner table. I find Sheila Larkin rock solid support for Gillian Anderson in this series and I am pleased that Margaret Scully proved successful enough a character to escape the annual culling of the guest cast. She’s an understated character but usually more effective for it and she has to work through a myriad of emotions in Christmas Carol from returning to the family home to discovering that her daughter might have had a child that she didn’t confide in her about. Larkin explores these scenes with effortless cool and her chemistry with Anderson has never been more succinct. Dropping Emily in Dana’s lap at the point in her life when she really wants to be able to have kids but can’t might seem a little easy but it’s so nice to see her enjoying life for a moment I am prepared to go with it. Bill Scully might always be cast in the role of the bad guy but there is never a moment where his objections don’t ring true, When he suggests that Scully might be looking too hard to fill a void that is inside of her I found myself nodding in agreement. It’s great that the script takes the time to point that out before dropping the revelation of who Emily’s mother really is. I love the awkwardness to the scene where Bill points all this out to Scully which is immediately cut short by the adoption agency worker turning up, proving his point that she is trying to get the facts to fit her needs. The look on her face when all the (perfectly valid) reasons are spelt out for why she wouldn’t be a suitable candidate for adoption is one of angry acceptance. Scully knows that she cannot argue any of the points that are given to her. You get a real sense of need from Scully, the need to hold a child and call it her own. I don’t think Scully has ever felt so real before, an possibly since, this episode.
Ugh: The rabbit covered in maggots is pretty gross. And I haven’t said that in a while. As was the drowned body in the casket. If dream sequences are the closest we can get to The X-Files body horror of old then I guess that’s what I’ll take.
Fashion Statement: Goodness knows what Mulder is getting up to in the holiday season with that bandana on his head. Perhaps it is better that we don’t know.
Result: Christmas Carol shows what happens when Carter hands the responsibility of a mythology episode (or as close as season five gets to one until Patient X) to other writers and the result is a superb instalment, packed full of genuine character drama and tasty ideas. It is completely different to the usual mythology shtick and feels refreshing as a result, turning out to be far more akin to a normal detective drama (albeit with some ghostly overtones). Compiling the feeling of freshness is the input of John Pyper-Ferguson who serves as a foil for Scully whilst Mulder is away and he gives a wonderful performance hinting at an existence for the show post-Duchovny. Usually scripts written by a committee of writers feel schizophrenic and cluttered as everybody tries to squeeze in their ideas and take on the situation but in this instance the trio of writers that conjured up this Christmas episode are completely in sync and provide one of the cleanest plotted and fluid episodes in years with each new scrap of information progressing the story towards that humdinger of a cliffhanger. Taken on its own Scully declaring that Emily is her daughter feels out of the blue but in the context of the episode it is a perfectly natural conclusion to draw. For once there is no histrionics, no distrust of Skinner, no family members being blown away to create empty drama…this is the story of a murder, a little girl who fell into the wrong hands and a lonely FBI Agent who desperately wants to have children. Both Anderson (Unusual Suspects) and Duchovny (Christmas Carol) had time off in order to complete their work for the movie and whilst their solo episodes are both strong, I would say that Anderson got the better deal. Watching Mulder discover the Lone Gunmen for the first time was fun but Christmas Carol probes Scully’s character deeply and yields some unexpectedly touching results. Skilfully written, directed and acted, I thought this was an understated gem: 8/10
Emily written by Vince Gilligan, John Shiban & Frank Spotnitz and directed by Kim Manners
Trust No-One: For somebody who can be so uptight it surprises me that Mulder gets on so well with children. He manages to come down to their level (physically as well as intellectually) and engage them. I think he and Scully would make great parents because he could indulge in all the fun creative stuff whilst Scully would take care of all the practicalities. His Mr Potato Head is chucklesome. Whereas Detective Kresge was all about being as helpful as possible, Mulder bounds onto the scene to tell Scully a few home truths that hit home harder than if it were Bill or her mother telling her because he is the closest person in her life. As well as it is shot from a low angle to make Mulder more menacing, the scene where he attacks Calderon is rendered somewhat less effect by the way he slaps him around the face gently rather than giving him a left hook. It looks like Duchovny didn’t want to hurt his fellow actor. I do like the idea that Mulder is standing up for something genuinely horrific and personal now, rather than chasing after some mythical conspiracy that he doesn’t even know exists.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘No matter how much you love this little girl she is a miracle that was not meant to be.’
‘Whoever brought this child into the world didn’t intend to love her.’
Moment to Watch Out For: Scully praying in the church. Her religion continues to be a source of strength which is refreshing for a TV drama.
Mythology: Emily suggests it is going to delve into the mystery of what happened to the MUFON members when they were abducted and whilst we trip over some experiments throughout the course of the episode, it doesn’t explain a thing. What is wrong with letting us know what the parts of this great mythology are all about as you go along? We wont think anything less of you for it. In fact it might make these mythology episodes much more bearable and prevent having to wrap up the series with a two hour long explanation about what the previous nine season have been about.
Foreboding: Scully does fall pregnant eventually and the subsequent storyline that springs from that proves to be a highlight of the eighth and ninth seasons.
Result: I’m always criticising shows for not taking things far enough when it comes to killing of children (only when it serves a story purpose I might add, I’m not some kind of sadistic child murderer) but this was one instance where the murder of an innocent felt like the easy way out rather than the more difficult, probing path. After revealing how much Scully has been affected by the news that she is barren and then dropping a child in her lap that turns out to be hers I thought the show was about to take her character in an entirely different reaction. To steal away that child as quickly as possible and have her back to her normal self next week makes me wonder if we are supposed to take these characters as seriously as Carter and company want us to. I believed in Scully absolutely during Christmas Carol because it wasn’t an episode that hinged on her feelings but with the sudden inclusion of Mulder it feels like the show is reverting to norm and favouring plot over characterisation once again. I’ m not saying that the death of Emily isn’t tragic or well performed because it is very delicately handled by all involved (especially Gillian Anderson) but it feels like the writers wanted to have their cake (to explore motherhood through Scully) and eat it (to erase the idea and get back to standalone adventures next week) and there is something deeply unsatisfying about the way this squanders long term opportunities. It’s the sort of thing I used to accuse Star Trek Voyager of doing all the time. As well acted as this two parter has proven to be, it was nothing but a narrative blind alley that frustratingly could have been so much more. Eventually Scully would have a child in a long running storyline so it’s not like the series is chicken shit but you would be hard pressed not to believe it on the strength of this episode: 4/10
Kitsunegari written by Vince Gilligan & Tim Minear and directed by Daniel Sackheim
Trust No-One: Mulder is taking this vendetta so personally almost as though he has been in regular contact with Modell ever since he shot him in the head. The truth is he forgot about him almost the second it was over but now the writers want to bring the character back he is suddenly cast in the arch nemesis role. Naming this episode after the Japanese word for ‘Fox hunt’ is a lovely touch.
Assistant Director: It’s very nice to have Skinner involved in a regular investigation for once rather than having the light of suspicion thrown on him in the mythology episodes. Sometimes I wonder what he gets up to when he isn’t having guns pointed at him by Mulder and Scully in their annual vendetta against him.
The Bad: Its unlike Vince Gilligan to be as obvious to point out that Linda Bowman is the villainess of the pieces. It would have been much more exciting had this been left as a last minute twist. It would have been much more exciting (and surprising) if people had been killed throughout the episode so we thought that Modell was up to his old tricks and Bowman could have been revealed as the real culprit at the 11th hour. It is so frustrating that Mulder seems to be so much smarter than everybody else – only he seems to be able to realise that Bowman is the real threat (when it is glaringly obvious) and nobody wants to listen to his protests and so Skinner relieves him of duty. In the way that it paints Mulder as the fount of all knowledge, this feels very season one (where Scully’s rational explanations were always being proven wrong). Skinner even feeds his ego at the end by admitting he was right all along (although to give Mulder some credit he doesn’t say I told you so). The Mulder/Scully face off at the conclusion is far too obviously trying to recapture the stunning Russian roulette sequence from the original to be effective. It’s well played (Scarwid does a remarkable impression of Gillian Anderson) but its very inclusion makes this more of an attempt to duplicate Pusher than it might otherwise have felt. That whole sense of a small man that wanted to make himself count that made Modell so effective and frightening seems to have been bled out of him since his injury to the head.
Moment to Watch Out For: Without a doubt the finest moment comes when the prison Doctor electrocutes herself whilst looking for her glasses to name Linda Bowman as the woman who visited Modell in prison. It’s excellently played Colleen Winton with just the right edge that this could be a normal telephone call before you realise just a little too later what is actually occurring. The episode needed more shocking twists of this nature.
Result: Pusher was such a memorable episode of the shows third season (amongst a lot of stiff competition I might add) and so Kitsunegari was going to have to be very good indeed in order to trump it or prove a worthy sequel. It doesn’t quite reach either because despite some clever misdirection and intriguing mind games this feels like it is wheeling out the character again because he was popular rather than because it was a story that needed to be told. Before we get to the not very startling twist that Modell is ultimately trying to do something benevolent this plays out the same tricks we saw last time (tracing the call, people forced to murder themselves, police officers falling victim) except this time they aren’t original and they were done much better the first time around. My overall feeling was that the episode felt quite empty – as much I might have complained about the conclusion the previous two parter had a thread of character running through it that made it fairly absorbing even when the plot crashed and burned. There wasn’t much in the way of characterisation here, more a series of party tricks with a sting in the tale which means this is entertaining but lacking anything in the way of substance. Pusher felt dangerous in his debut but the way he leaves his victims unaffected (‘he had to go’ gets old pretty fast) means the antagonists menace has been bled away. This isn’t what I would call actively bad (Wisden is excellent again) but season five has been coasting since it began and this attempt to recapture past glories is another example of why this is one of the weaker seasons of the show. Kitsunegari suggests that another sequel might be in the pipeline but based on the evidence of this episode I am pleased that they managed to resist: 5/10
Schizogeny written by Jessica Scott & Mike Wollaeger and directed by Ralph Hemecker
Trust No-One: This is another episode that feels like it has sprung from the first season with Mulder once again on the right track whilst Scully erroneously blames the most obvious suspect. It is starting to feel like the third and fourth seasons never happened where the Agents were given much more depth and development than this (particularly Scully). Would Mulder really go to the lengths of grave robbing to gets answers?
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I think he’s a hard kid to love.’
Moment to Watch Out For: The death of Aunt Linda is great because you are just waiting for something to happen whilst she stupidly turns her back to the world to try and save her niece. Cue a bloody spike protruding through her chest and her head crashing through the window.
Result: Ironically this is quite a schizophrenic episode which seems to want to make up for the sheer absence of horror in season five by offering up both a supernatural (the killer trees) and psychological (Karin Matthews are her vendetta against all parents) menace. One of those would have done because there isn’t the time to adequately explore both and the latter is favoured leaving the former high and dry. Season five seems to be reverting to the formula of the shows debut season with Mulder and Scully fulfilling particular roles (he’s the smart know-it-all and she is constantly proven wrong), the nasty of the week taking precedent over any real characterisation of them both and revelling in an atmosphere of terror. Some elements work really well (I love how unpretentious the show feels at the moment) but I miss the more substantial content of the last two series. The trouble is we’ve seen most of this material already (a character playing both the hero and villain was the centrepiece of Grotesque, a girl trapped in the cellar was much more gripping in Oubliette, the expression of adolescent rage was handled in DPO) and it was far more interesting and creepy the first time around. As the show would go on to prove there is still a lot of ground to be covered so I’m not sure what this nostalgia trip of old ideas in the style of season one is all about this year. On the plus side the show is trying to be scary again (almost to mock my recent complaints it is now trying a little too hard by throwing so much at me) and I like the central premise of the episode (therapy gone bad). Even if it doesn’t quite manage to get under Karin’s skin effectively anything that reminds me of the stifling atmosphere of Psycho is doing something right. Unfortunately just when the episode feels like it is heading somewhere memorable it kills off the antagonist in the most crass way imaginable rather than engaging with the psychological implications of her actions. A step in the right direction, but in no way vintage X-Files: 6/10
Chinga written by Stephen King & Chris Carter and directed by Kim Manners
Pre Titles Sequence: Well I have been moaning that the show hasn’t been horrific enough! This, however, was not the sort of thing I was after. For a start the idea of a an evil doll is so hackneyed you have to wonder why a show as fresh as The X-Files would even try and give it a spin. It feels a little embarrassed by what King is asking of it and so the doll is kept out of shot for the most part and doesn’t engage with anybody. Instead the vicinity of the doll seems to make everybody want to tear their face off in a bloody mess (en masse as this takes place in a shop) and turn the tools of their trade upon themselves (a butcher has a nasty run in with a blade). It’s so grossly unsubtle and nasty after such a quietly unhorrific first half of the season that it stands out for all the wrong reasons. When Home disturbed because it threw so much muck at the audience it knew exactly what it was doing. This just feels like it is being crass for its own sake.
Chinga written by Stephen King & Chris Carter and directed by Kim Manners
Trust No-One: The gag that Mulder is watching the world deadliest swarms when it is clear he is settling down to masturbate to porn in his office…only for us to discover that he genuinely is watching the worlds deadliest swarms is fantastic. It’s funny because it pokes fun of the character in an affectionate way using something that we already know about him. His anally retentive treatment of his pencils is a highlight of the episode.
The Bad: Is Polly Turner possessed by the doll or is she just an opportunistic little girl that has realised that she has this unnerving ability to be able to get her own way? The script is extremely vague either way but I prefer to believe in the latter because it’s creepier. The episode goes to such great lengths to prevent us from seeing the doll on the move and committing murder (because ultimately the director knows it would look dreadful – this is the same guy who had to try and make the killer pussies work in Teso Dos Bichos) but without that visual identification the central menace seems to be a stationary china doll with a catchphrase. Ooh scary. Why does the mother have premonitions of the victims before they are dispatched by the deadly dolly? I know horror can be pretty vague at times but there is an absence of any kind of rational thought running through this script. Everything seems to be ‘because we say it does…’ which wouldn’t be so blatant if the material was diverting enough to avoid asking such questions. Here’s a question, at the first sign of the dolls evil influence why didn’t Polly’s mother simply take the toy from her and torch the damn thing? Instead her method of dispatch is to hammer all the doors and windows shut and torch the entire house with her and Polly inside. Is it because she thinks her daughter is evil? Or that she cannot live with the fact that she could be an accessory to mass murder? I have no clue what is going through these characters minds because there are no pointers. The whole idea of this evil dolly being dragged ashore by a fishing boat and given to a little girl who leaves a path of mutilated corpses in her wake is so b-movie its embarrassing. Why does nobody try to stop Melissa smacking herself on the head with a hammer?
Moment to Watch Out For: It is the only X-File to be solved by shoving a doll into a microwave and frying its porcelain brains out. I’m not sure if this memorable for the right reasons.
Orchestra: Remember Carter told Gillian Anderson that this was in no way a comic piece, its obvious that Mark Snow didn’t get the memo either and he has murder scenes playing to the Hokey Pokey and the bulk of the soundtrack isn’t that dissimilar to that of Post-Modern Prometheus.
Result: ‘Let’s have fun!’ If only we could! Whoever it was that said that Chinga feels like the work of somebody trying to rip of Stephen King but misunderstanding the energy and twisted malevolence that goes into his work was bang on the nail. Carter has taken a King script and gutted it of everything it might have had going for it until it is just a plodding old X-Files that could have come from the reject bin. No show with horror influences should be doing a show as obvious as an evil doll in its fifth year. All that substandard rip-offery should have been taken care of by now or at least given an inventive new spin. There are only so many times that you can listen to the Hokey Pokey and watch a doll not kill people before you begin to ask if one of the greatest horror writers of several generations has run out of decent ideas (his recent novels would seem to suggest so). For that this is a Scully solo episode, the best scenes of the piece involve Mulder and his lack of anything to do whilst she is away investigating a crime he is much more suited to. Chinga is the sort of simple tale that The X-Files should be able to master at this point in it’s run but it displays a lot of problems the a new show would have to iron out including a poor pace, a clichéd central premise and unnatural dialogue. In every respect (and I seem to be like a stuck record on this subject) it is a throwback to season one. Considering this is a collaboration between noted horror author Stephen King and series creator Chris Carter I am shocked at how amateurish this all feels. The fact that they dare to suggest a sequel might be in the offing seals this episodes fate: 3/10
Kill Switch written by William Gibson & Tom Maddox and directed by Rob Bowman
Kill Switch written by William Gibson & Tom Maddox and directed by Rob Bowman
Trust No-One: It’s clear that Mulder and Scully are being written by new writers to the show because they exchange witticisms and talk street like never before. It feels like we are in the presence of two New York street cops half the time (Scully says ‘no more screwing around!’ at one point). Considering their characterisation (aside from a few rare examples) has been shaky at best this year I am not complaining too much. Both the actors and the characters are engaged which is a rare union this season. Mulder is back to his reckless ways – first attempted body snatching in Schizogeny and now stealing evidence here. I quite like this irresponsible streak of his, it makes him a lot more dangerous than the walking catalogue model he has been of late. Mulder’s dreams say a lot about his psyche – kinky nurses fulfilling his every whim, losing his arms because he feels trapped and being saved by a kung-fu fighting Scully who knocks them out with a kick to the head! The glowing cross above his bed is just weird but you could read all manner of things into that.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Your name is Esther Nairn?’ is said in exactly the same way Scully said ‘Her name is Bambi?’ in War of the Coprophages, and it matches her intention to mock.
Ugh: David Markham as a sightless zombie trapped inside the machine is a potent image and a strong warning against slaving yourself to a machine. Not that anybody wants to do that, right? Imagine if you turned on the TV at the point where Mulder’s bed sheets are pulled away and he is left screaming at the sewn up stumps of arms? Would you think that The X-Files was this whacked out every week?
The Bad: I wont pretend that some of the dialogue isn’t horrendous with Maddox and Gibson trying to appeal to ‘da kidz’ in some particularly excruciating exchanges. It is the Lone Gunmen that suffer the most (although it is nothing compared to their treatment in First Person Shooter) – ‘Heavy casualty’ ‘A brother goes down’ is Langley and Frohike talking about the death of a hero, apparently.
Moment to Watch Out For: It’s a tough one to call because the teaser, the climax and Mulder’s dreams are magnificent set pieces but the sequence that had me biting my nails the most was when Esther’s shipping container was targeted by Defense Department weapons platform and blown sky high. If you want to see how to pace exciting television then study this set piece. I especially loved the long shot of the shipping container going up like a fireworks factory. You can see why this was the most expensive show to shoot in the first five years.
Orchestra: One of Mark Snow’s best ever scores, showing that he was really fired up by the very different take on the show. The mournful warble that plays throughout the episode is tremendous and he gives the zaps the appropriate amount of vitality.
Foreboding: Gibson & Maddox’s script for season five provides one of the best episodes of the year. Their script for season seven produces one of the worst X-File episodes of all time. Go figure.
Result: Let’s get one thing straight – in it’s own way Kill Switch is an derivative as the rest of season five with it’s take on artifical intelligence no more sophisticated than season one’s underrated Ghost in the Machine. What marks this as different from that episode and from this season in general is the way that the story is presented by the writers (if Chinga was a reason not to bring in novelists who want to turn their hand to scriptwriting then Kill Switch offers an opposing argument) and also how it is assembled by the director too. There is a freshness to the presentation that permeates every scene, the story is superbly paced so the whole thing feels as though it flies by and the imagery throughout is stunning. Rob Bowman has had five years to perfect his art on this show, honing his craft with some memorable stories and a sizable budget. Kill Switch needed to be brought to life with some real pizzazz and Bowman throws every resource into making this take on AI as spectacular as possible. I have seen some movies that play with the same ideas that haven’t had the excitement and gorgeous set pieces that this episode sports. Whilst Gibson and Maddox might have a little trouble putting words in the regulars mouths (Mulder & Scully sound like street cops half the time and the Lone Gunmen have reverted to horny adolescents) they at least remember to give this techno thriller a thread of character (mostly through Esther) which means when the bangs and flashes are all over the struggle has meant something. This is the last kind of episode I would imagine to emerge from the season to have the most amount of heart. So, clichéd it may be but it is still one of the most intriguing and gorgeous representations of this theme that I have seen achieved in genre television. And the bolts of lightning are just brilliant: 9/10
Bad Blood written by Vince Gilligan and directed by Cliff Bole
Trust No-One: After half a season where Mulder and Scully seem to have reverted back to their season one personas it is now time for the ever brilliant Vince Gilligan to deconstruct their characters in a very witty way and find out what makes them tick. Bad Blood offers a rare glimpse into how the two agents actually see each other, or at least how they like to present each other to other people. The joy of the piece is watching Duchovny and Anderson play these heightened versions of their usual characters and what’s funny is that they are parodies but not so far removed from how we are used to seeing them as to be unconvincing. As an audience member you could be well within your rights to switch on and think it is business as usual if that is how you see the characters normally. In Mulder’s eyes Scully is deeply unimpressed by him, constantly sighing at the ridiculous investigations that he drags her on and rolling her eyes as he tries to cast his open mind over the facts. He thinks of himself as tentatively approaching her with his supernatural theories and fearing that she will blow up in his face as a result (‘Well it’s obvious not a vampire!’ ‘Why not?’ ‘Because they don’t exist!’). Scully is apparently too busy flirting with the local law enforcement to focus on anything else and yawns as Mulder starts prattling on about vampires and their habits. There’s a fabulous droning monologue that Scully reels off from Mulder’s POV where he looks physically pained to be listening to her whining (‘I do it all for you Mulder!’). Tellingly in both stories Mulder makes a right mess of Scully’s hotel (that I can definitely believe).
‘I just put money in the magic fingers…’
‘He had big bucked teeth?’
‘And then he flew at me like a flying squirrel?’
‘Probable cause of death. Gee, that’s a tough one.’
‘That is essentially exactly the way it happened.’
Pre Titles Sequence: The teaser is so clever because it opens in typical X-Files fashion with somebody being pursued through the woods (this tradition began as far back as the pilot episode) but in hilarious fashion it turns out that Mulder is the stalker and the ‘victim’ is a suspected vampire. I say suspected because when Mulder finally catches up with him and rams a stake through his heart (what else are you going to do with a vampire?) he turns out to be a regular guy with false vampire teeth in his mouth. Cue credits. It’s wickedly funny and a great way to kick things, presenting Mulder with the ultimate ‘get out of that’ situation. Finally his zeal for exposing the supernatural has led him to murder. It was only a matter of time. The look on Scully’s face as she holds up the false teeth might just be the funniest thing this show ever presented.
Result: ‘Why don’t you tell me the way you think it happened?’ I’ve seen this sort of POV story done since this episode was aired but it was never as fun or imaginatively told as this. Bad Blood is really funny stuff because it’s The X-files heightened to the level of sitcom and yet because it is so grounded in character there is a great deal to be learnt from it as well. It’s perfectly natural for a person to tell a story that puts them in the best possible light and it is the skewered, negative versions of Mulder and Scully that they present each other with that creates the biggest belly laughs. Anderson and Duchovny have never been quite so fired up by a script before and deliver superb comic performances – it is easy to see why Carter upped the comedy next season because they clearly have great talent in that direction that really comes alive on screen (compare this to their near-suicide borderm from Redux). Given that I sat through seven season of Buffy I thought I had seen every which way a comedy vampire story could be told but apparently I was wrong because The X-Files avoids all the usual clichés and promotes the idea of a vampire community that just wants to fit in (whilst still having enough of the tropes – a wooden stake, patrolling a graveyard, a body coming to life on the slab, the breadstick sign of the cross – for it to feel authentic). You’ve got two versions of the same story but they nourish each other to make a greater whole and ultimately it is a very clever mystery where all the culprits are in plain sight but that is disguised beneath all the giggles and character assassination. With Kill Switch and Bad Blood at the heart of season five there is a furrow of innovation and style surrounded by a whole lot of dryer scrubland. This is the second of two back to back classics: 10/10
Patient X written by Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz and directed by Kim Manners
Trust No-One: ‘A conspiracy wrapped in a plot inside a government agenda!’ Whilst he is very eloquent about his reasons, this is the perfect illustration of how Mulder disappeared up an unconvincing cul de sac in season five. Suddenly he doesn’t believe in aliens anymore and he is convinced that because he was duped by the government for five long years (with some pretty hefty evidence I might add) then everybody else has been too. As a result he feels the need to get in touch with the shiny happy crowd and tell them precisely where they have had the wool pulled over their eyes. Strangely these scenes of Mulder publicly shattering their illusions have even less credibility than those when he used to promote the opposite and uncensor his beliefs with regards to alien life. Now he is single minded in a more closed off direction and he looks like he is trying to shit on everybody else’s party. At least before he had some kind of character consistency, even if he did come across as a bit of a fruit loop. The reason I object to this dead end form of reasoning is that in the advent of the movie he would have clear proof that aliens do exist and all this time wasting doubt would be quietly swept under the carpet (you would think at least Scully would mention the fact). The idea of the whole conspiracy being one big lie is a pleasing one but we have seen too much evidence as an audience to buy into it now and the fact that Mulder does damages his credibility. It makes a mockery of all those tedious mythology episodes we sat through. Hilariously Mulder is shocked that nobody will believe him, basking in the insanity of their beliefs. A short while ago he was one of those people and more determined to cling onto his beliefs than anybody.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You look constipated actually’ ‘Well that would make sense I’ve had my head up my rear end for the past five years.’
Ugh: The image of men being pinned down by wire and having the black oil smothered over their faces was a potent one in last years Tunguska two parter. The Red and the Black trump that by repeating the exercise but this time putting a child through the experience. Finally some material to make us squirm in the thus far censored season five. The kids stitched up, bloody face oozing with black oil is genuinely horrific.
The Bad: Let me get this straight – the government is trying to hide the evidence of biological weapons research by covering it up with a wall of silence about the existence of extraterrestrials? How does that make any sense to anybody but Mulder who thinks in the most convoluted of terms on the best of days. Without the Smoking Man to abuse and manipulate, the scenes with the Syndicate mostly fall flat.
Moment to Watch Out For: The cliffhanger is very impressively staged with the remaining members of the UFO cult drawn to Skyline Mountain, a UFO gliding overhead and the scarred, sewn up rebels starting to incinerate the crowd. Say what you will about Carter and Spotnitz’s storytelling (and I don’t hold back) but they sure know how to toss a memorable set piece your way.
Mythology: ‘Now is a time of war and stress among the alien nations, the different races are in upheaval…’ With Cassandra we have a character who seems to understand what is going on with the alien conspiracy plot but doesn’t talk in foreboding metaphors. In the final phases of the aliens plans there are supposed to be assemblies but that is still supposed to be fifteen years away. A rebel faction of aliens is declaring an act of war against the aliens and the US government. I do like the idea that the mythology arc has become so diseased and withered that a new element has to be added to basically come in and cut away most of what we have seen so far. Although I have to say that if the writers had adequately explained what was going on between the government and the aliens all these years then watching it all fall to pieces would have much more dramatic impact.
Result: A mixed bag but a generally positive one with plenty of the kind of shocking imagery that the show has really lacked this year. The best parts of Patient X are all the elements that are being added to the shows mythology including a rebel faction that is so powerful it is threatening to tear down everything the US government has worked towards, the introduction of Cassandra Spender and her son Jeffrey and the stomach turning shots of people being burnt alive and the sown up faces of the rebels. It feels as if the storyline is moving onwards, ditching the elements from the past that didn’t work out so well and forging a much clearer, and dramatically satisfying route towards a conclusion. What fails to work is most of what we have already seen in the past – Krychek turns up for his annual appearance offering little more than something nice to look at, Marita Covarrubias continues to bore, the Syndicate are exposed as dull old men sitting around in the dark without the Smoking Man around to spice things up and Mulder and Scully are forced into their least convincing role reversal yet. He’s resolute in bringing down every person that believes in extraterrestrials in as determined a fashion as he was to get everybody to believe in previous seasons but because he is so closed minded he comes across as being bitter and unlikable. Therefore Scully has to be our way into the story and whilst they touch upon the genius idea to return to Skyline mountain, she doesn’t sound at all convinced as the person who believes and who is trying to encourage Mulder to investigate. This whole angle will be wiped away by the time of the movie which isn’t very far away now but it does leave these season five episodes in something of a dead end backwater, character wise. Even the removal of the Smoking Man is a red herring. I sound overly negative but the truth is, some odd pacing aside, this is pretty entertaining for the most part and it pleases me that some characters are finally offering some decipherable information about the mythology arc: 7/10
The Red and the Black written by Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz and directed by Chris Carter
Trust No-One: There are only so many times that we can visit the bedside of Mulder or Scully and agonise with whoever is waiting to see any progress. It is starting to become cliché. It was affecting back in season two when Scully was first abducted and when she discovered her cancer scare in Momento Mori and even when she thought she was going to die in Redux II. Because we have been here so many times before and both agents have always pulled through unscathed it has started to lose something of its emotional aptitude. This is where the endless biting between Mulder and Spender begins, with him blaming the agents for encouraging her mothers quirky interests. Because Mulder has abandoned the idea of the existence of extraterrestrials the truth that he now seeks is no longer out there but in Scully. He figures the chip in her neck is the answer to as much as they need to know about because it directly affects them. It makes his quest a personal one and one we can buy in to because we have seen this relationship develop over five years. He no longer trusts the memories of his sisters abduction. After Krychek spells out to Mulder precisely what has been going on behind his back throughout this two parter he sits in his apartment looking utterly bemused. Its as though he is wondering whether he actually belongs in this show anymore. He walks away from this adventure with no evidence of an alien rebel and no clue of what is actually going on. Story of his life, really.
Brains’n’Beauty: Scully is not willing to abandon Mulder’s cause because she has been profoundly affected by it because of her abduction. Everything they have been through has led her back to Skyline Mountain and she is prepared to abandon asking questions when she cannot remember what occurred there. Now she needs answers.
The Good: You have to give the show some real credit for the locations they chose to shoot at, they really do spend their money wisely and bring the most cinematic landscapes to the small screen. The opening as a helicopter flies over the damn looks absolutely gorgeous. The fact that they built a 50 foot reconstruction of the dam to film the abduction sequence goes to show the sort of resources this show was commanding at the time. How refreshing to see the entire Syndicate out of that dusty old office and getting involved in the action. Infecting Marita and shoving her out of the way is the kindest thing they could have done to her character. I find her appearance in season six where she has been left for dead at the mercy of the black oil and out for vengeance against the Smoking Man and his allies the most interesting part of her little arc. Spender is an asshole but I can’t help liking him anyway. He doesn’t want anything to do with the X-Files but thanks to his mother and father he is about to be dragged into its murky, career destroying, depths despite his wishes. Whilst I am pleased that the Smoking Man is alive because I do think the show genuinely needs him are we ever going to hear an explanation of how he faked his own death or like the Master are we to assume that ‘I’m indestructible the whole universe knows that!’ It isn’t the last time he pulls off this resurrection trick before the end of the series so I guess that must be the case.
Pre Titles Sequence: Beautifully filmed and scored, this is an intriguing opening that seemingly has nothing to do with the episode that preceded it. If you can skip past the fact that the little kid can’t act for toffee this is rather a neat mystery to be solved. In hindsight the answer is obvious, but for a moment this unknowable presence in the snowy mountains is intriguing.
Mythology: ‘If the boy was your trump card, why infected him unless you could also cure him with a vaccine developed by the Russians? One that works. It would mean that resistance to the alien colonists was now possible…’ At one point Mulder amusingly points out that the perpetrators in the chip have never been uncovered and their identity hasn’t even been addressed. Who is he talking to here, the audience? The rebels are mutilating their faces to protect themselves from infection from the black oil. If nothing else came from this whole alien oil business, the imagery of the stitched up faces of the rebels is a fantastically macabre progression of that idea. A war has broken out between the alien colonists and the rebel faction and if we’re not lucky the Earth will be the staging ground and its populace simply in the way. The charred corpses at Skyline Mountain could just be the beginning. The Syndicate now has a vaccine to the alien virus and are talking about siding with the rebels to help wipe out their ‘allies.’ ‘The mass incinerations were strikes by an alien rebellion to upset plans for occupation.’
Result: This looks absolutely gorgeous. Seriously, has genre television ever looked this lavish before? All the background information about the rebels and their war against the alien colonists and how the Syndicate fits into all this re-ignites some interest in the mythology arc once more. It feels, as it so often has before, as though this might actually be heading somewhere. There’s talk of shifting allegiances and those in power having to abandon their previous plans and make this up as they go along which means much of what has gone before can be abandoned in favour of this far more clear cut narrative. So yay for the rebels for cutting through all the murk and bringing this story bang up to date and into some kind of recognisable state. Where this fails is turning this two parter into a coherent story in its own right – both Patient X and The Red and the Black are in no way standalone X-Files but pieces of a larger puzzle and as such this would be one of the last installments I would select if I wanted to stick on the odd episode (whereas early mythology episodes like Little Green Men and Duane Barry can be watched in isolation). Another fatal mistake is cutting Mulder and Scully so far out of the main action. Everything seems to be going on behind their backs and they have little awareness of the real story whilst they indulge in exorcising their personal demons. Season five feels like it is in flux and preparing to cut the main stars out of the action (the next episode barely features them at all) whereas this isn’t the case for a good two seasons yet. Much of the acting is superb (John Neville once again kicks ass) and there are some exceptional set pieces but ultimately this two part story (along with The End) is an extended trailer for the movie. It’s entertaining for the most part but of all the X-Files episodes this might just have the least satisfying climax of all because it is completely absent. Everything chugs along nicely and then it just stops, to be continued in The End. Which wouldn’t be a problem if there wasn’t a handful of episodes between now and then. Season five really has some problems but there is still much to admire here: 6/10
Travelers written by John Shiban & Frank Spotnitz and directed by William A. Graham
Trust No-One: As with Unusual Suspects earlier in the season, it is great to be able to catch up with Mulder before when he was fresh to the Bureau and still a little wet behind the ears. Unshackled by extraterrestrial obsessions (believing in aliens or not), he is a far more chipper and less pretentious character. With a touch shorter hair and the glasses he sported in the pilot, Duchovny genuinely looks like a younger version of his normal character.
Brains’n’Beauty: Missing in action, but Mulder’s involvement is only peripheral and even then it is Mulder from seven years back.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What are you talking about, I’m no communist!’ ‘You are if you say you are…’ when Dales refuses to co-operate and ‘See, you’re a patriot again…’ when he does. This was the horror faced by any American citizen who was suspected by HUAC. Suddenly the government had an excuse that if your face didn’t fit or if you didn’t conform to what was understood to be ‘American’ behaviour, you could be accused of being a communist, subpoenaed and dragged before Congress to account for yourself.
Pre-Titles Sequence: A spooky old house, a desiccated corpse, a creepy old man frothing at the mouth…some standard X-Files tropes present but whilst there is nothing new this is atmospheric and sinister. Even if I didn’t have a clue what was going on.
Mythology: The X-Files are unsolved cases that have been filed under ‘X’ because Dorothy Bahnsen ran out of space under ‘U’. There’s always plenty of space in the X draw. Somehow The U-Files doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? The Directors office determines whether a case is marked with an X, they are supposedly dead end cases that nobody is allowed to see or follow up.
Result: Flashbacks within flashbacks, Travelers is a fine episode and one which adds to the shows mythology in very original way. This feels so different from anything that has come before (even Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man, of which this shares some similarities, was telling the story of a series regular) because despite the appearance of a younger Mulder we see practically the entire story through the eyes of Arthur Dales, the founder of the X-Files. The 50s sequences are effortlessly conjured up by the director, especially when you consider the times constraints that this episode was made under and it is lovely to see a cameo by the younger Smoking Man and Bill Mulder. The story is slow paced but has some marvellously grisly moments and for the most part manages to slide by on the strength of its performances and the atmospheric detail in the setting. Joe Ford the younger hated this episode (probably for no more reason than it lacked the usual contemporary pace and Scully) and I consider that something of a screaming endorsement of Travelers as my teenage self seemed to miss all the subtleties in television and obsesses over spectacle. This is a pleasing mix of horror, historical fact (the script touches on the paranoia that surrounded HUAC and grisly xenotransplantation experiments) and a marvellous exercise in creating a 50s nourish atmosphere. Another episode of season five that omits Scully and (for the most part) Mulder and that proves to be stronger as a result. You wouldn’t want every episode to be as humourless as this but it makes for a gripping and authentic one off: 8/10
The Mind’s Eye written by Tim Minear and directed by Kim Manners
Trust No-One: Marty enjoys Mulder’s company (although she would never openly admit it) because he doesn’t patronise her. Quite the reverse, he is convinced that she is innocent but it has nothing to do with the fact that she is blind, to which he talks about with cheerful nonchalance. He likes Marty and admires her but he doesn’t feel sorry for her. The way Mulder gently probes Marty about the story of her mothers death reveals a sweetness that has been missing since The Field Where I Died. If he was written this well every week I would be tearing through these episodes at a much quicker rate but the truth is this is exceptional characterisation when that should be the case every week. The look of defeat on Mulder’s face when he realises he has been used by Marty to kill her father is heartbreaking. The final scene between them is beautifully played (‘you’re lucky he wasn’t a fan of the Ice Capades…’).
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Oh, it’s you’ ‘See what I mean?’ ‘It’s not magic, it’s your crappy cologne.’
‘You are on sceptical guy, Agent Mulder!’
‘I hate the way you see me.’
Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Who exterminated him?’ – what is this, Doctor Who?
Ugh: There is a heart pounding sequence that springs up in the middle of the episode where Marty has a vision of the killer attacking a woman he has met at a bar and tries to get to the location where the altercation took place. Not only is this the most frightening looking killer that the show has offered up in over a year (seriously his sneer could curdle milk) but the direction when Marty blindly steps in front of traffic in a panic made my heart skip a beat. It’s a wonderfully tense scene, superbly acted and directed.
The Bad: The killer is Marty’s father? I saw that coming after about ten minutes. I was hoping for a something a little less daytime soap opera than that.
Pre Titles Sequence: Very season one in the way that it spells out its premise in the teaser with absolute clarity so you pretty much know the set pieces that the episode is going to explore. It’s weird that this isn’t the episode penned by Stephen King because the idea of a blind girl being able to see through the eyes of a killer is exactly the sort of simple, powerful idea that his novels are famous for (whilst being very similar to the premise of Creed). Can you imagine being blind for your entire life and then suddenly being able to visualise somebody else’s surroundings? The sudden burst of light, colour and shape would be overwhelming. Lily Taylor capture the first moment when Marty has a vision beautifully, absolute shock, panic and an attempt to bring it back before her eyes. I enjoyed the allusions to previous season one episodes Tooms (the polygraph) and Beyond the Sea (‘let me guess your killer is OJ Simpson’).
Result: A simple but effective premise, a memorable guest performance from Lili Taylor, the best characterisation of Mulder of the season and a clear cut investigation with a beginning, middle and end all combine to make The Mind’s Eye one of the most effective episodes of the season. It’s a shame that Tim Minear only contributed two scripts for the show because he clearly has a better idea of how The X-Files works than some of the staff writers and his dialogue is so real in places it hurts. This is one of the few times in season five where the similarities to a first season episode is a real strength (because half the time it has felt that the writers have forgotten how to write for the show this year), there is an unpretentiousness to proceedings that starts from the streamlined script and continues to impress through the express direction of Kim Manners and focused performances of David Duchovny and Lili Taylor. Ultimately this less of a supernatural thriller and more of a performance piece and the relationship between Mulder and Marty is what really makes this work. It’s an entirely unpatronising look at blindness and the walls that somebody will put around themselves in order to cope with a disability in a harsh world. The only problem is this installment needed perhaps one more set piece and a twist to make proceedings a little more interesting at the climax. Because The Mind’s Eye spells out everything from its opening sequence if you aren’t invested in the Mulder/Marty interaction then you might find yourself staring at your watch before the end. This is solid stuff, had the entire season been made up of episodes like this we would have been in much better shape: 8/10
All Souls written by Frank Spotnitz & John Shiban and directed by Allen Coulter
All Souls written by Frank Spotnitz & John Shiban and directed by Allen Coulter
Trust No-One: Considering he has taken his beliefs so seriously in the past he has almost given his life for them time and again, Mulder is a little sarcastic and mocking about religion. I think he is supposed to sound hip and reactionary but he just comes across as uncompromising and discourteous. His prejudice also encourages him to point the finger at the wrong man.
Brains’n’Beauty: Oh gosh I am such a dunce. I am only now in the closing stages of season five starting to notice the criss cross theme of Mulder being the sceptic and Scully the believer that has played out across the season. Following on from her emotional crisis at the beginning of the season where she almost lost her life, it would seem that her eyes have been opened somewhat since she has been given a second chance at life. The first mythology two parter of the year (Christmas Carol & Emily) saw Scully seeking parenthood through a child and the second one (Patient X & The Red and the Black) Scully is trying to convince Mulder. Her faith is something that pops up sporadically in the series, which is fine because I don’t think I know anybody who shoves their religious beliefs in your face 24/7. It adds a fascinating layer to her character because she is often found in conflict with her faith because of her work. The death of Emily certainly had a profound impact on her faith, it was hard to reconcile how a just and benevolent God could drop in her lap the one thing she craved more than anything and then snatch it away again. She is drawn to this case because the events surrounding the little girls death mirrors how Emily was taken from her, suddenly and under bizarre circumstances. In a heart stopping moment for the agent, she sees Emily resting on the autopsy table instead of the victim which was perhaps the moment she should have stepped away from this case. She no longer has any objectivity. This overwritten scene (I don’t think Emily should have said anything) is worth it for Anderson’s pained reaction. I’m not sure if the parallel between Scully letting Emily’s memory rest and letting the final girl step into the light works but it allows the show to move on so we’ll let it pass. I’d rather this than another season of Scully depressed over the lost of her blink and you missed it child. She wonders if accepting loss is what faith is all about.
‘I was raised to believe that God has his reason, however mysterious’ ‘He may well have his reasons but he seems to use a lot of psychotics to carry out his job orders’ – especially in the hands of lazy television writers.
Ugh: Sightless dead girls aren’t the most stomach poisoning images that the show has ever dished up but it is still pretty grim.
The Bad: This is Scully we are talking about, I had no doubt in my mind that the apparently shocking act of an innocent girl dying because of her was grossly exaggerated by a script that was trying to make an impact. I think I’ve realised what my main issue with season five is (besides some variable scripts and a pause in the myth arc to wait for the movie to pass) and that is the absence of much Mulder and Scully interaction. Because of their commitments to the movie the series has been forced to run a series of episodes where one of the agents is investigating alone. Unusual Suspects, Christmas Carol, Chinga, Travelers and All Souls all suffer from this curse. Season six would rectify this in a major way and provide the audience with a wealth of memorable episodes that highlight their relationship at its best but for the time being it feels as if something is slightly askew between the characters (or the actors) which really makes a difference when you are dealing with an ensemble of two. Whilst Mulder eventually turns up in All Souls, for the first fifteen minutes it plays out without him and really stutters as a result. The horny shadow of the social worker is handled in such a blasé fashion (and the very idea of revealing the devil in such a fashion just boggles the mind) that it provokes laughter rather than shock.
Moment to Watch Out For: The moment that the Seraph reveals its true nature to Scully, its head turning into different beasts (man, lion, eagle, bull) in a diffuse light, is startling. After proof like this I hope she isn’t going to suffer any doubts in the future.
Result: All Souls comes in for quite a bit of flack and whilst it isn’t the finest X-File ever written it does offer some more insight into Scully’s faith and provide some startling religious imagery that balances some of the less successful elements of the episode. What really works for me is Gillian Anderson’s committed performance and her chance to explore her reactions to Emily’s death early in the season which felt as though they had been summarily dropped after the episode because they didn’t want a character walking through the season with emotional baggage. This could have come a lot earlier so Scully could move on, but I appreciate the effort regardless. There is also something of a deception taking place in All Souls where the story tries to convince you that the priest is the antagonist (something I would have objected to strongly because it is such an easy route to take…and most shows do) when it was in fact the social worker. How that is revealed however might be one of the most ludicrous moments in the shows history (a shadow with horns?). It’s a bit of a plodder regardless of all these strengths, with only a scant few moments of humour from a briefly seen Mulder to liven things up. The show is about to up the entertainment factor when it hits LA for season six and I cannot wait, this year has seen far too many episodes that try and take themselves deadly seriously. There is a time and a place for that but not week in, week out. I thought this was going to be far more unpleasant than it actually turned out to be, but it is still pretty average all told: 5/10
The Pine Bluff Variant written by John Shiban and directed by Rob Bowman
The Pine Bluff Variant written by John Shiban and directed by Rob Bowman
Trust No-One: If there was ever a time to produce a ‘Mulder gone rogue’ episode then it was during the fifth season where his character was guided along a road where he doesn’t have a great deal of faith in his work anymore. Whilst it would have been catastrophic for the series had Mulder truly betrayed the FBI, there is at least a seed of possibility at this point in time that wouldn’t have been possible at any other. Timing is everything. Mulder is thrown into the lions den, forced to rub shoulders with people who will torture you even if you are on their side. Should they find out at any time that he is spying on them for the FBI, he is dead. Duchovny reacts well to this script, getting to play the roguish action hero that I rather think he likes (he had a similarly excited reaction in episodes like 731 and Tunguska where he got to play the thug).
Brains’n’Beauty: Being closer to Mulder than anybody else, Scully is baffled by Mulder’s apparently criminal behaviour. This does go someway to helping the audience along with the deception because if Scully isn’t in on the scam, the chances are there isn’t one.
Moment to Watch Out For: The torture scenes feel as though they have sprung from 24. They are genuinely unpleasant to watch, Duchovny leaving us with no doubt that Mulder is suffering excruciating agony. In a series that is starting to promote hits heroes as catalogue models who occasionally investigate the odd crime, this is a welcome touch of reality. His broken finger is a nicely placed plot point too, allowing Scully to recognise which Mulder is in and isolate it. The moment when Mulder’s allegiance is tested and he has to shoot a victim in order to prove himself left me on the edge of my seat waiting to see what action he would take.
Orchestra: Mark Snow seems excited by the material this week and delivers one of his strongest scores of the year. It is a story that needs a sense of movement and Snow delivers that in spades whilst providing some extra meat for the more striking moments.
Result: ‘That money’s as dirty as you are…’ John Shiban’s solo scripts aren’t amongst the strongest of The X-Files episodes (although when he is paired with another writer the work produced is usually much more agreeable) but this time around he has fashioned something that the season has needed in abundance – some good, old fashioned entertainment. Whilst some of you might question my description of a piece of television that features terrorist attacks and torture as entertainment, my point is that there is no pretence to any of the material. The Pine Bluff Variant isn’t deep or meaningful; it is an exciting, fast paced thriller with plenty of memorable set pieces and a great role undercover for Mulder. It doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t and that is the joy of it. With Rob Bowman at the helm it is also about as fulsomely realised as it could hope to be and he drives the episode with a muscular tone and dynamic fluidity. The conviction with which this drama is played is crucial, it feels as though Mulder is in genuine danger and could lose his life in an instant if his cover is blown. With the introduction of a conspiracy plot within this undercover operation, there are plenty of surprises to go around and that feeling of trust no-one which has been lost in later years is back with a vengeance. Genuine moments of threat, a fantastic Mark Snow score and a great opportunity for David Duchovny to play something fresh, The Pine Bluff Variant is a muscular hour of television that stands out in this wilderness of a season for it’s ability to provide a great ride: 8/10
Folie a Deux written by Vince Gilligan and directed by Kim Manners
Trust No-One: Haven’t we been here before? Mulder complaining about being punished by being handed ‘jerk off’ assignments and baulking at how every apparent supernatural happening winds up in his lap. When a show starts repeating itself like this you have to wonder if they have run out of ideas. He’s also rather arrogantly using ‘I’ rather than ‘we’ when he talks about their work on the X-Files and not taking Scully’s potential interest in a case into consideration. What happened to that eager puppy from season one, the one who leapt up at the chance to investigate anything related to the paranormal? This would appear to be set up for the movie which introduces Mulder to the big screen as a despondent and broken man (hardly the best way to encourage potential new viewers to the series but hey ho) but I am pleased that he managed to find the fun again in season six because he is no fun to be around at all at the moment. In complete contrast to the previous episode, Duchovny comes across as bored and uninvolved in Folie a Deux, like he has played this kind of material before (let’s be honest he’s done madness on The X-Files several times now). Rather than looking frightened as the creature crawls across the ceiling, Duchovny looks like he wants to burst into laughter.
Assistant Director: If I were Skinner I would be more than a little embarrassed by Mulder’s behaviour by now. He seems to be on the verge of causing a law suit for the FBI every other week these days.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Five years together, Scully, you must have seen this coming.’
Moment to Watch Out For: The horrendous moment when Mulder thinks he sees the bug about to attack Skinner. Duchovny throws caution to the wind and chews up the scenery with gay abandon. It’s excruciating to watch.
Result: This is one of those episodes that falls between two stools, trying to be both playful and serious and consequently doesn’t quite manage either with a great amount of success. All the elements seem to be there to make a cracking episode (Brian Markinson’s standout performance, a great monster, strong concepts) but after being relatively entertained for an hour nothing seems to stand out as being particularly memorable. A story where a man goes nuts and accuses his boss Mr Pinkus of being a soul harvester is probably the sort of nonsense that non fans suspect the X-Files is like every week and so turning this episode on as your first taste would confirm every suspicion. The trouble is it is not tongue in cheek enough to give the audience the hint that this is supposed to be a little bit b-movie and so it looks like a ridiculous premise is being played out with severe earnestness. It doesn’t help that David Duchovny seems to have lost the plot, at first playing a bored and listless Mulder but going insanely over the top in the latter half as he succumbs to the madness. It is unlike Vince Gilligan to misjudge the tone of a piece this badly and this must go on record as one of his least engaging stories. Kim Manners does his best with the material and the extra work that went into making the insect creature work was definitely worth it because it provides the sort of nightmarish chills that the rest of the show is aiming for but failing. Folie a Deux presents some intriguing ideas but isn’t sure if it wants you to laugh at them or run away and hide from them. Forgettable but not offensive, this is The X-Files on autopilot and killing time before the move to LA: 4/10
The End written by Chris Carter and directed by R.W. Godwin
Trust No-One: Skinner can see that Mulder’s work on The X-Files is getting him nowhere. He hasn’t found his sister, he’s pretty much destroyed his career and he spends his days in the basement of the Bureau following up hoax abductions and stories that could have leapt from the front pages of the Enquirer. Finally somebody asks the man what he hopes to achieve by following this self destructive path. Given the evidence of the past year I would suggest that Mulder doesn’t enjoy his work anymore and at times it is Scully that seems to be getting more enjoyment from it. Perhaps he is so used to this line of work that he cannot see any future beyond it, despite the fact that it has become a bit of a chore. That way depression lies (or madness, and we saw a little of both in the last episode). Mulder lacks any degree of subtlety when it comes to his work and to get his relationship with Agent Spender off to a great start he walks into a room of professionals and tells his soon to be replacement that he is wrong. Mulder often asks Scully to do his legwork in these investigations and perhaps the best way to appease her with the introduction of Fowley is not to ask his old flame to assist him in this investigation instead. He was never exactly blessed with the social graces but he seems to have taken a crash course in how not to behave of late. Mulder’s quiet ‘I’ve done okay without you’ speaks volumes about their relationship, the fact that he has to say it out loud and the suggestion that she might have been extremely influential when they were together. Finally Mulder gets excited about something – Gibson Praise could be the glue that sticks together all the millions of little puzzle pieces that make up the X-Files. Here is genetic proof of extraterrestrial tampering, a super human enhanced by alien involvement. As angry as he might be, outwardly attacking Spender in the FBI building and declaring his intent to bring him down might not have been the smartest move to make. Especially when this man is about to take on your life’s work.
Assistant Director: I guess Mulder’s psychosis in the last episode and his attack on Skinner has been forgotten about since they are now old chums once again.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You’re allowed to investigate the X-Files as an indulgence but draw the wrong kind of conclusion and they’ll shut you down.’
The Good: Blimey, it feels as though we are in movie territory already with the impressive pre-titles sequence and then a cut to a stunning mountain range and a near execution in the snow. Has genre television ever looked this good? It is extremely downbeat to close a season with the heroes beaten, stripped of their work and any future assignments together and forced to accept that their enemies have won. The shot of the X-Files office being eaten away by flames sticks in your craw and the aftermath of Mulder and Scully stepping into the ashen remains of their work endures. Where can the series go from here?
The Bad: Whilst I would buy that the kid may have pushed backwards away from the kill shot, I wouldn’t automatically assume that he had sensed the assassination pre-cognitively. Maybe he was just lucky. ‘Control the board, know which pieces to sacrifice’ - I think there is supposed to be some kind of chess motif being played throughout the episode but it isn’t clear enough in the writing (mind you check out Doctor Who’s Curse of Fenric when the motif is made so abundant that it starts to irritate). Besides who ever heard of somebody setting fire to the board because they have lost.
Moment to Watch Out For: Gibson’s ability to read minds provides some effective moments, in particular when he informs Fowley that the assassin is outside and is aiming directly at her.
Mythology: ‘Most of us have genes that we don’t use, they lie there dormant, turned off. Science doesn’t know what they’re for, why they’re there or where they came from. There’s a long held but unpopular theory tied to prehistoric evidence of alien astronauts’ – Mulder is putting the two elements together as an answer to Gibson Praise’s abilities. This is setting up the movie to some extent where we get to witness the meeting between prehistoric man and the first alien visitors to the planet.
Foreboding: The movie is coming…
Result: As I thought, now the wilderness year is over and we have reached the movie all the gang are back together (the Smoking Man, the Syndicate, Krychek, Skinner, the Lone Gunmen) and we can resume from pretty much where we left off at the end of season four. It feels, a few decent standalones aside, like this is the season that never was. The End is a fun hour that takes the time to shake up the format at a time when the show was starting to feel a little complacent. Spender returns (one element of season five to make an impact) and immediately starts butting heads with Mulder and Scully takes an instant dislike to Mulder’s ex flame Diana Fowley who seductively slides between them and starts stealing his attention. The foreknowledge that this pair will be taking over the X-Files next season has me genuinely excited, there is a larger ensemble building and it is one that is loaded with tension. Carter often writes best when he is focusing as much on character as he is on plot (Redux II was far more agreeable the season opener because he injected some strong character material into the mix) and whilst he can be guilty of plying the show with soap opera elements (there is a strong whiff of that here) the performances are usually decent enough to overcome that and produce something very watchable. Gibson Praise manages to be both fascinating and irritating in equal measure, but his abilities offer some potential for future storylines. It genuinely feels like the end of an era with Mulder and Scully stripped of their jobs, the Smoking Man reducing their office to ashes and two replacement waiting in the wings. If the show was ever going to take that step into a movie franchise this would have been the perfect time. I for one am glad that the TV series continued because two of my favourite seasons are still to come but I know there are many that believe that this was a good place to stop churning out episodic X-Files and concentrate on big screen adventures. The End leaves far too many threads dangling to be a completely satisfying episode but it has plenty of tasty material within. It closes a relatively uneventful season of The X-Files on a memorable note: 8/10