Wednesday, 31 July 2013

The X-Files Season Six


The Beginning written by Chris Carter and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Mulder and Scully are stripped of the X-Files and Agents Fowley and Spender have taken over…

Trust No-One: Mulder never went and saw Men in Black, which may explain his extreme poker face when trying to make a case to the FBI committee about aliens trying to take over the world. Fortunately a revolutionary process has been developed that will allow him to restore a large portion of the documents that were lost during the fire, a long arduous process but one that he would willingly pursue now his belief in extraterrestrials has been restored. Once again we get to see Mulder with pie on his face, building his rather fanciful argument about alien colonisation up to revealing the proof that Scully singularly fails to produce. There is still a spark between him and Fowley and he is willing to believe, for now at least, that she is acting for his interest on the X-Files.

Brains’n’Beauty: For Scully to admit that she saw very little in the movie is true, but for her to even begin to suggest that nothing abnormal happened to her is a joke. After the way she has been treated I am surprised that she manages to stay so calm about the whole ordeal. Hurrah for not ignoring the development between these two during the Fight the Future. I was scared that that might be the case as we return to episodic storytelling and that Carter might not want to deal with the aftermath of their breakthrough but Scully grabs Mulder’s and repeats the words he said to her before their near kiss, highlighting that their relationship has definitely stepped up a notch. As much as Scully wants to protect Gibson, she can’t help but think about what scientific discoveries they can learn from him. He points out that one effectively counteracts the other.

Smoking Man: With the Well Manicured Man out of the picture (thank goodness I will never have to type out that name again – even something as simple as Bob would have sufficed), the Smoking Man is back on top and running the show again. Only he would deem it appropriate to suck down on a cigarette in the middle of a vital surgical procedure. The man is a menace to public safety, in more ways than one. He is looking forward to breaking Mulder’s spirit and he’s perverse enough to think that is going to be a beautiful thing to see. It would be nice for Carter to slip in another episode that explores with this guy on a more personal level (along the same lines Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man but different because that was a one trick pony) and Two Fathers/One Son and season seven’s En Ami fit the bill perfectly. Before the series is out there is an extremely rounded picture of a man that William B. Davis considers to be the protagonist of the series.

Faux Mulder & Scully: What’s fascinating about Fowley and Spender taking on the X-Files is that the set up is very similar to that which kick started the series - the believer and the sceptic. It’s a shame the show was a little more daring and felt the need to keep the focus on Mulder and Scully each week because I think it would have been interesting to see cases being tackle by this spanking new combination of characters. I have a feeling it would have been quite refreshing, just as it would be when (the much more likable) Doggett and Reyes would do so in season nine. We could have cut between the two sets of regulars much like Farscape had the balls to attempt in season three of that show. The reveal of Fowley to Mulder is excellently handled, forgotten in the movie, she has been manoeuvred into a position where she is responsible for her ex-lover’s work at the behest of unknown superiors. Fowley responds angrily to Mulder’s accusation, pointing out that she took the assignment to ensure that someone who believed in work was still involved. It is weird that Mimi Rodgers is playing a role that should immediately pre-dispose us to liking her but there is something off kilter about the way she plays her that has the reverse effect.

Sinister AD: There is a very sinister pause when Mulder and Scully are informed that they are now to report to Assistant Director Kersh, rather than Skinner. James Pickens, Jnr is a fine character actor and another feather to add to the shows hat. He is introduced at the climax of this episode and so we barely see what he can do but he is going to be with us now until the end of the series. Just wait until you get Pickens Jnr and Robert Patrick in a room together. Sparks will fly.

Boy Genius: ‘You’re a very special boy, Gibson’ ‘I’m a very special lab rat…’ However annoying I may have found Gibson Praise in The End I certainly wouldn’t have wished the torturous procedure he faces in this episode on him. The camera takes its time showing us the full horror of the boy trapped in a head brace, his scalp sliced open and his brain being operated on. Using him as some kind of tracker dog for the alien creature is a fun notion, and gives him a strong presence as the episode continues. Rather wonderfully he remains as arrogant and as forthright as ever but in the Smoking Man’s company that is something of a blessing because it completely unnerves him. I’m guessing that he wasn’t too amused since the next time we see him he is unconscious in the back of Mulder and Scully’s car with blood soaked bandages. Praise is touted as the last best chance to prove that the work Mulder and Scully were doing in the X-Files is worthwhile.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Agent Mulder, I’m reading here a very pie in the sky report about global domination by vicious long clawed spacelings…’ – well when you put it like that…
‘So if that were true it would mean that Gibson is in some part extraterrestrial?’ ‘It would mean that all of us are.’

Ugh: It is great to see that something positive sprang from the movie that failed to shift the arc plot on even a tiny bit. The idea of the alien colonists incubating inside human hosts is really grisly (if terribly unoriginal) and you know that on The X-Files it is going to receive the full treatment. Kim Manners is such an old hand at this show by now he knows precisely how to build up to the sight of Sandy slouched on his couch with a bloody hole gouged out of his stomach. For a moment you might think that the creature has scuttled away but it soon becomes apparent for Sandy’s colleague that it is very much present as it drags him from the door and slices him open. Very nasty and very memorable. A great way to open the season.

The Good: As if to emphasise the move from Vancouver to LA, Kim Manners kicks starts the episode on a blinding shot of the sun now that the production team have some to work in. Who knows how this is going to effect the moody look of the show but after five years of damp forests it is so refreshing to enjoy a more cheerful aesthetic. I have always praised the show for it’s excellent production values, particularly it’s location filming but since the movie it seems to have stepped up to a whole new level. The nuclear facility on Long Beach deserves to be seen on the big screen, it fills the television with it’s moody, atmospherically lit splendour. Rule number one when being sent to check out a mechanical failiure – do not poke at a potential alien lifeform with a wrench. We don’t actually get to see what happens to this poor extra but the hideous screeches and the luxurious pull away down the corridor (I love it when directors take that approach, leaving the grisly details to our imagination) suggests it isn’t a harmonious meeting of cultures.

Pre Titles Sequence: See above for discussion of the memorably icky opening sequence.

Moment to Watch Out For: Watch out for the moment where Scully asks Mulder, indirectly, to choose between her and Fowley.

Mythology: ‘So the plot…I’m just trying to get this straight. The plot is for these spacelings to take over the planet aided by a group of men here on Earth. Who are growing corn in the middle of the desert which features pollen which was genetically altered to hold a virus which will be taken away by bees whose sting transmits the virus causing the growth of an extra terrestrial biological entity inside the human host.’ Two great things come from this speech. One is that Carter is actively acknowledging how far fetched his arc plot has become and is poking fun at it in a very post-modern way. Secondly is that the comprehensive gathering of all the arc information in the movie means that the narrative is far more comprehensible and the details can be openly discussed in way that keeps us in the know and not scratching our heads wondering where this is all heading.

Foreboding: Gibson Praise is left at the mercy of the alien, who is shedding his skin in the reactor. I don’t recall how this was followed up (beyond that fact that I know Praise appears in season eight) so it will be interesting to find out.

Result: The move to LA seems to have brought on a healthy spring clean for the entire series. It returns with the best opener for many a season and one with the willingness to talk openly and clearly about the details of the arc plot, push Mulder and Scully into new roles and shake up the formula that was starting to look a little tired last year. Maybe reducing the shows mythology to a copy of Aliens with something nasty hiding in the power plant is dumbing it down a tad but it is a lot easier to keep track of the details and it is far easier to enjoy the horror inherent in the scenario of this Hollywood inspired action fare. Spender and Fowley being assigned to the X-Files is a bold but brilliant move, neither of them is especially likable but it forces Mulder and Scully out of their usual complacency and having to find devious ways to continue their vocation. I am simply enjoying the clarity of the situation at this time, with all the excess confusion boiled away I can see an end game in sight for the conspiracy arc and that excites me. Kim Manners ensures this is an entertaining enough affair to be going along with, especially during the deliciously horrific moments with the alien. Certainly compared to Redux this is a world away in terms of quality and the sunny climate of California brings with it a sense of optimism and a bright future for the show. Whilst not the most substantial of dramas, The Beginning pushes forward with season six’s mission to entertain and succeeds admirably: 8/10

Drive written by Vince Gilligan and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: Mulder is involved in a race against time to save a mans life…

Trust No-One: Sniffing out X-Files whilst on routine assignments is his thing now and it is lovely to see him painted in the role of a maverick even more than he was in the past. It is almost as though he is actively seeking the disapproval of his superiors the way he deliberately flouts his orders. It’s a far more interesting approach to his character than his crisis of faith last year (I bet he looks back on that now he can’t investigate the paranormal anymore and cringes), and paints him in a rebellious, nonconformist light that is easy to admire him for. Drive is dependent on the audience buying into the fractious relationship between Mulder and Crump and wanting to follow their development from abductor and abductee to one man trying to save the other mans life. Duchovny and Cranston commit to selling the material, you genuinely believe that there is a strong level of distrust between the two of them at first (he is holding a gun on him for a start) but by the end of the episode there is a sense of a relationship that has grown from their adversary and desperation. Drive allows Duchovny to play an action hero and he loves that, he’s more alive in this episode than he has been in over a season. Crump is a man who has lost his wife, who is facing imminent death and who is refusing to go down without a fight. It is easy for Mulder to sympathise with him.

Brains’n’Beauty: Oh wow, they are really running with the idea that Scully and Mulder are being lumbered with the most heinous jack ass assignments imaginable. Scully is trying to do her job to the best of her ability (she’s wired that way) but her partner can barely look as if he cares, standing back in his shades and admirably the (bleak) scenery. It is worth noting that the work they are doing, whilst laborious and dull, is essential to homeland security and Scully approaches it as she would any job whilst Mulder clearly thinks he is better than sniffing out potential terrorist threats. She understands that their current workload is a punishment for their previous transgressions and that if they want to get back to where they want to be they need to tow the line for a while. The set up for season six gives them a chance to clash in a very different way to the whole sceptic/believer shtick that has been done to death. Clearly her bolshie attitude from the movie (‘just pick up the phone and make it happen!’) has rubbed off on her and she’s almost violently reactionary when somebody walks into a contaminated laboratory. Kersh makes a very serious threat at the end of Drive that leaves you with no doubt that if Scully and Mulder are caught investigating further X-Files their careers will be jeopardised.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘That was an apology, right? Gee I don’t know if I can see to drive my eyes are churning up so bad.’
‘Mulder are you okay?’ ‘Yeah, apart from terminal cell phone withdrawal. That and I’ve got to pee.’
‘You two obviously relish the role of martyr.’

Ugh: Sometimes Scully must wonder why she has come to work. Asked to poke around in a corpses inner ear and examine the cause of her injury, she has the delightful experience of the canal burst and spraying blood and pus all over her tunic. Charming. It says something about our love for our animals that I had far more of a reaction to the dogs ear exploding than I did to Crump’s wife.

The Good: Mulder manages to piece together several facts about Crump’s behaviour that paints him as a desperate man rather than a criminal (the lengths he goes to to acquire a car and how he heads in a certain direction as if for a purpose). It isn’t until 15 minutes into the episode that you realise that Gilligan has pinched his premise from Speed but given it a biological rather than explosive spin (although the end result is the same – death). Gilligan and Bowman have to ensure that Mulder keeps driving and continually throw clever obstacles in his way as he becomes more determined to keep Crump alive. With no way of contacting him by phone (Gilligan effectively cutting off all communication between Mulder and Scully), they are reliant on Scully to figure out that Mulder is acting for a reason. The brief appearance of Kersh is a serious reminder that Mulder and Scully are no longer working for Skinner and that they have to watch their step very carefully whilst being scrutinised by this uncompromising Assistant Director (‘I think at this point I want to see him alive even more than you do…’). Crump is a man who is already suspicious of authority figures and so with the advent of his wife’s death under mysterious circumstances and his current situation he is more paranoid than ever. He demands respect from Mulder, insisting that he calls him by his title rather than just his surname and engendering a level of respect between them. Check out the atmosphere that Bowman generates during the night shooting as Scully and her team investigate Crump’s property in biological protection suits. Back lit and smoky with torches piercing the darkness, this is the creepiest looking caravan lot ever committed to film. Gilligan has a built in plot device in the form of the deaf woman who lives next door to the Crump’s who is unaffected by the sonic boom, allowing Scully to figure out how to save Crump’s life. It’s intelligently reasoned out and logical, unlike many an X-File. I love the race against time sequence to fill up with gas that turns Mulder into a felon, having to steal another mans car because he simply doesn’t have the time to wait and pump. The stakes feel high because a mans life is in the balance. The news that Crump was right and his wife’s death and his condition is the work of the authorities rather justifies his opinion, even if it wasn’t deliberate. Scully has devised a solution to the problem and Mulder and Crump have found a way to communicate, for once it looks like everything is going to come up roses. So the last think I expected was for Mulder to meet Scully at the rendezvous point with Crump already dead, that they didn’t make it quite fast enough. His devastated reaction really hits home after the frantic journey we have been on with him.

The Bad: The actual science behind this condition might be plausible but it sounds pretty rubbish, but that isn’t what’s important here.

Pre Titles Sequence: Vince Gilligan is always thinking of new ways to tell stories and would do so until the shows demise. He manages to kick start Drive with a fast paced and unforgettable set piece involving a high speed car chase across the Nevada desert as seen from a police news report before cutting to the regular, glossy film technique that we are used to. The net result is that we are drawn straight into the action. It is so convincing that for a minute or so if you weren’t aware That the X-Files was on you may have been convinced that you had genuinely tuned into a live news bulletin. Shooting the sequence where Crump is accosted by the police via a helicopter with a police commentary is another excellent, unusual device to tell a story. There’s even some stomach churning gore as Vicki’s ear explodes in the police car, throwing blood and gunk all over the window. This is just perfection.

 Moment to Watch Out For: Although this is an episode with plenty of memorable moments, particularly the downbeat ending, I think my favourite moment is Mulder’s deadpan reaction to Scully’s enquiry that he is okay. The camera suddenly reveals that he is being held at gunpoint and forced to drive and you realise that the shit has well and truly hit the fan. I like the trust in the audience in this sequence too. We go from the car that is transporting Crump swerving on the road to Mulder being held at gunpoint with the audience being trusted to do the legwork and figure out the events in between.

Fashion Statement: Mulder has been looking like a fashion model since season four but has now has his hair chopped off and is sporting a much more relaxed look. Scully takes up the slack, her hair giving her a much more stylish appearance that lives up to Gillian Anderson’s number one placing as sexiest woman in the world as voted by the readers of FHM magazine. 

Result: I wonder if Rob Bowman felt that directing for television again was a bit of a comedown after the opportunities that the movie gave him but he certainly never lets it show in his superb handling of this pacy, memorable episode. Whilst both Duchovny and Cranston are superb, Drive is the kind of episode that relies most on its director because the narrative is relying on the sense of momentum. The dramatic idea that Crump’s ear will explode unless Mulder keeps moving in the right direction might sound absurd but it translates on the screen very effectively and keeps the episode moving at a rapid pace. The X-Files has made a name for itself as a show that has mastered TV horror and the audience tune in expecting to find a certain amount of atmosphere in it’s spooky locations and yet Drive abandons both of those staples and still proves to be an excellent example of the show. As a mini action movie it has all the excitement you could want, as an X-File it has terrific moments of gore and as a character drama it works a treat because the Mulder/Crump relationship is given appropriate attention by scriptwriter Vince Gilligan. Throughout Mulder is so determined to keep Crump alive I was convinced that he would make it which makes the ending all the more affecting. Clever, exciting and full of memorable moments, it looks like this is going to be a great year for the show. The sunshine and fresh locations of California is bringing with it new storytelling possibilities: 9/10

Triangle written and directed by Chris Carter

What’s it about: Devils triangles, Nazis, experimental scientists and red tape…

Trust No-One: Despite his rough handling, Mulder is giddy with joy at the thought that a ship might have glided through a time fissure and into the future. For once he has completely misjudged the situation and the sort of danger that he is in. His ‘oh shi…’ when he realises the truth, that he has stepped back in time and is at the mercy of history, is delightful because it comes at the same time that the ship is under attack by the Nazis. Mulder has now had definitive proof of alien life and time travel, I bet he feels really silly over his crisis of belief last year now. Does Mulder realise what he is doing when he casually lists the events of the next fifty years to a bunch of British soldiers? The Doctor most definitely would not approve of this casual disregard for the potential ruin of future events with this kind of foreknowledge. Fortunately nobody is listening to his rambling. In case history is altered and Mulder never gets to see Scully again, he grabs hold of the alternative Scully and gives her a smacker on the lips in pure cinematic style. For his trouble he gets a smack around the face before he jumps into the water to try and get back to his own time. This isn’t deep stuff like their near kiss in the movie but it is a hell of a lot of fun. Wonderfully Mulder is made to sound like a complete nut job going on about changing history and dicing with Nazis. I don’t know if Duchovny’s knowing smile in the last shot is because Mulder has finally told Scully how he feels or because the actor is pleased to have made it through the episode.

Brains’n’Beauty: At first I wondered if Skinner was just putting on a bit of theatre for his secretary’s benefit but I was mistaken, even after Scully (brilliantly) slams the door in her face they continue to argue. We’ve never seen Scully quite this ruffled before, tied up not in the machinations of an alien conspiracy plot but red tape in the building she has been employed for years. Watching Scully trying to pretend to be Agent Fowley and failing dismally is a real clench your buttocks moment. Anderson has now mastered the technique of marching up and down in an elevator looking frustrated just in case she needs it for any other job. I love it when Scully gets stroppy, she is a brick wall that I would not want to walk into. Anderson knows exactly what is required of her in her labyrinthine exploration of the FBI building, getting so exasperated that she practically tips over into self parody. She really goes for it as the historical Scully, chewing down on Carter’s overripe dialogue and spitting it out and also carries herself completely differently to how she poses as Scully showing how much of the cool Agent is a performance.

Assistant Director: When Skinner mentions that he could lose his job and pension if he helps Mulder I wondered if he was the man I thought he was. He’s risked a lot more than that in the past for them.

Smoking Man: For William B. Davis to learn German and speak it convincingly whilst trying to time his movements so the scene plays out in real time shows that he is an actor of no small talent. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You come out on the side of history with no small amount help from us with not much to apologise for except for maybe the Spice Girls.’ 
‘Hey Scully…I love you’ ‘Oh brother…’

The Good: What to make of those early scenes where Mulder is heaved aboard the Queen Anne at the mercy of it’s violent and unrelenting crew? The accents are horrible (although I have a sneaky suspicion they are real) but the conditions that he finds himself in (violently shoved from A to B, beaten, filthy, bloody and wet) make the scenario feel horribly real. Duchovny must have gone through the ringer here and we feel every minute of his suffering. The X-Files has always been a show that has walked a fine line between mainstream and genre television, often only dipping its tone in both so it can explore the latter whilst still claiming to be the former. Triangle marks a tipping point where it lurches overboard into out and out science fiction, having Mulder step back through time and encounter the hospitality of another era. We have touched on history before but in episodes that have been entirely set in the past and that haven’t featured either of the regulars in said period, Triangle sees a direct cross from one time period to another by Mulder and makes a statement about how far the show is willing to go to explore storytelling possibilities in its sixth year. Camera operator Dave Luckenbach should be commended for his excellent work with the Steadicam, his filming through the bowels of the Queen Anne is fluidic and very stylishly rendered. I cannot think of a single hour of televised drama where I was more aware of the quality of the camerawork than this one. To have the entirety of the Queen Mary at his disposal to shoot the episode in is the sort of production gift that Carter was handed on a regular basis on this show and he doesn’t squander the opportunity. Scenes of Nazi troopers filling the corridors, scrabbling over the stairs and taking over the ship like a swarm of ants look as though they have cost a fortune. It’s certainly not the sort of opportunity that most series have to offer. How resplendent does the ball room look, designed to the hilt to suggest luxury and opulence and with atmospheric period music encouraging the stylishly dressed revellers to dance. It is nice that the Lone Gunmen have some kind of presence in Triangle because aside from a short cameo in the movie they have been absent from the series for far too long now. She only gets a few moments of screen time but it is impossible not to hate Kersh’s secretary. Scully discovering the abandoned ballroom is another magnificent piece of set dressing, a decaying snapshot of the past. Is the last scene a little too self-congratulatory when every man and his dog visits Mulder in his hospital bed and he tells Scully that he loves her? Who cares, it’s gorgeous and the affection between the actors is palpable.

The Bad: There isn’t much of a narrative taking place in Triangle, no story to speak of. It is just an excuse to tell a story in a visually new and exciting way and a chance to see the regulars dressed up as period characters and having some fun. Carter tries to suggest that there is a decent espionage plot taking place amongst all the toing and froing and violent scenes but these are mere glimpses into a much more substantial story that could have taken place had he committed to the story completely rather than how to tell it. To be honest having William B. Davis, Mitch Pileggi and all the others playing historical characters is quite as fun as Carter intended it to be. For one thing they hardly get any dialogue or chance to interact with Mulder as he is tossed about – I get the impression that this wasn’t the priority when it came to putting this script together. More of a case of ‘wouldn’t it be fun if…’ rather than ‘I’m going to give them the chance to score an Emmy…’ What the hell does Mulder think anyway when confronted with the Smoking Man, Scully, Skinner, Kersh and Jeffrey Spender in this time period? Is it all jus a remarkable co-incidence that the people that orbit his life in the future should do so in the past? Are these supposed to be antecedents of all of those characters? Or are we supposed to think this is all so much fun and turn out critical faculties off? Bizarrely, each character played one of the regulars mirrors the position that their normal characters uphold, it’s just weird. Carter makes a point of Scully meeting all of the semi regular characters in her exasperating wander around the FBI building to highlight that the historical actors are being played by the same people, for those in the audience who aren’t in the know. They must have been really confused. Carter seems to be suggesting that events aboard this ship could alter the course of history for good but had that perversion taken place in an episode that is so unconcerned with actually telling a story it would have been a tad embarrassing. ‘Yeah the whole of history changed…in that one where Mulder walked down all the corridors!’

Pre Titles Sequence: Has Mulder been involved in some kind of ship wreck? The camera glides through the waves, looking up at the floating wreckage and finally settling on Mulder, stiff and lifeless. What the hell is going on?

Moment to Watch Out For: Even though a great deal of effort has gone into ensuring that the tour of the Queen Anne is as unforced as possible, it is Scully’s bureaucratic nightmare in the FBI building that impresses the most because the ship is a physical structure that can be circumnavigated but the building is a set that has to be transformed as they are filming. That takes an enormous amount of planning. Extras have to be specifically placed, there needs to be room for the camera operator to follow every one of Gillian Anderson’s moves, sets have to be struck and perfectly positioned and more importantly it all has to look perfectly natural. What a logistical nightmare. To their credit they pull it off with consummate verve. Scully snogging Skinner when somebody finally helps her out is a punch the air indictment of this sequence.

The split screen madness as both Scully’s wander around the Queen Anne sees Carter at the apogee of his directing fervour. He is having so much fun putting this together with as much imagination that is at his disposal and it spills over onto the screen in every shot. To choreograph so much action in a sequence that is filmed live must have been a nightmare so once again kudos for pulling off the apparently impossible. And I can’t mention this enough times, Snow’s sax score fills my veins with sunshine. The two Scully’s crossing paths across the edge of the split screens is the apotheosis of what Carter is trying to achieve with this episode and it still gives me a little tingle.

Fashion Statement: Pretty much every marine on display in Triangle is a hottie. The Smoking Man’s Nazi thug takes me to uncomfortably horny places, as I’m sure Scully in period in dress does to others. The dodgy Jamaican accent aside (‘Trust no-one, man!’), whoever knew that Kersh was packing away all those muscles underneath his business wear?

Orchestra: One of Mark Snow’s most formidable scores and given his general lustre that is making quite a statement. Once again he seems geed up when the show tries something a little different and this is probably the most memorable soundtrack since last seasons Post Modern Prometheus, and potentially his most remembered of the nine year run. The gorgeous jazz version of the theme tune that plays as Scully explores the deserted ship whilst her historical counterpart attempts to escape the Nazi’s with Mulder is just divine. The gentle piano version of the theme at the conclusion delights as well.

Result: There was a time when I considered Triangle to be one of the worst X-Files episodes, which just goes to show how my tastes have changed over the years. I thought that this was an episode so lacking in substance that it had little or no merit whatsoever but repeat viewings have unearthed a number of clever and stylish sequences that show just how much energy and effort has gone into putting this cinematic piece together. You can never accuse Carter of lacking ambition and the idea of filming four uninterrupted eleven minute sequences is both unique and demanding and the effortless way it translate on screen goes to show the commitment to everybody working on the show, both in front and behind the cameras. To give Carter his credit, whilst the story on offer is hardly anything to write home about, he does give you enough information as Mulder and Scully journey through their various landscapes to piece together precisely what is going. You might think that that might not be possible as we constantly wander corridors but fortunately both characters have a habit of walking into rooms when important events and moments of exposition are delivered. This isn’t a piece of drama that is concerned with character or plot but with details and execution and in those areas it cannot be faulted, right down to Mark Snow’s incredible score. The story is nothing shout home about and the best thing to do is to just allow the piece to wash over you ad enjoy all the tricks at Carter’s disposal to entertain the ass off you. Triangle is unquestionably a case of style over substance but what style, Carter gets to cut loose from all convention and direct the hell out of this cinematic oddball and the overall experience is great fun and nothing like you will see elsewhere on this show: 8/10

Dreamland Part I written by Vince Gilligan, John Shiban & Frank Spotnitz and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Mulder swaps body’s with a man called Morris Fletcher…

Trust No-One: Duchovny seems to be getting all the best opportunities so far this season; indulging in a biological remake of Speed, tripping back through time and dicing with Nazi’s and now body swapped into the life of a middle aged Man in Black with a terrifying domestic life. Whilst I find he gives his most memorable performances when he is pushed into more intense character drama (One Breath, The Field Where I Died) you cannot help but notice how much he enjoys playing comedy and it translates into something highly addictive on screen. Despite the shock of finding himself in the body of another man, Mulder quickly adapts and lays along to the best of his ability. Rule number one when inhabiting the life of another man, do not return to his house in the dead of night and fall asleep watching pay-per-view pornography. That is never going to end well. Just as Mulder feels as though he is getting through to Joanne (or rather she thinks that he can’t get it up) Scully turns up at the worst possible moment to ruin things.

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully amusingly comments that they have spent the last five years visiting towns and cities where the populace are raising family’s and enjoying their lives whilst they continue looking for the searching for little green men. We know that she wants a family of her own (Emily) and the way she achingly gives this speech suggests that she is starting to run out of steam for his quest. Or that she thinks Mulder (and through him herself) is a little sad. ‘Don’t you just want to stop, get out of the car and live something approaching a normal life?’

Faux Mulder: Michael McKean might not have been the first choice to play the role of Morris Fletcher but after watching this two parter several times I simply cannot imagine anybody else in the part. McKean could also be seen as another step into parody because he is known for his more comedic roles but he judges this story perfectly, enjoying the lighter moments whilst understanding exactly when he needs to play it seriously. As much fun as it is watching Mulder trying to handle the family from hell, I found much more amusement in Scully’s reaction to the obviously out-of-character Mulder. What a shame we couldn’t have seen Duchovny play the scenes where Fletcher toadies up to Kersh as I’m willing to bet he would have gone to town with it. To start with Scully thinks that Mulder is having something of a mid-life crisis because he is behaving like a first year university student who has had his penis padlocked throughout puberty.  Fletcher is a cunning old fox, blowing the whistle on Mulder in his body to the government and securing his permanence in this cushy new life.

Sinister AD: Kersh regards Mulder and Scully as his two frequent flyers and he is starting to get mighty pissed with their inability to follow instructions and stick to the assignments they have been given.

Ugh: I’ve only seen one other show where a person is seen jutting out of a rock in this fashion (DS9’s Heart of Stone) and it wasn’t handled in any near as graphic a fashion as this.

The Good: It is actually quite exciting to be on the inside for once, Mulder has an all access clearance to the sort of locations that he spends entire episodes trying to penetrate without success. Photoshopped pictures of Morris Fletcher hanging out with Saddam Hussein are just tongue in cheek enough to work, suggesting that this man has rubbed shoulders with some powerful men. Nora Dunn as Joanne Fletcher cannot be said to be giving an understated performance but when you look at her list of previous credits she is linked to all manner of variety and entertainment shows and her one-note, sitcom routine suddenly starts to make more sense. I’m not criticising though, her rants at both Mulder and Scully prove to be some of the most amusing moments of the entire two part story. Kersh’s secretary is back but not quite as the sour puss she was in the last episode, this time melting like ice to Fletcher’s molten advances in Mulder’s body. She is a right floozy, tossing the fact that she has slept been canoodling with Mulder in Scully’s face as she stumbles past her in the hall, her lipstick smeared. What a pair of darling kiddywinks Mulder has to contend with, clearly the delightful products of a dysfunctional family. Terrance has that can’t be arsed attitude that all boys develop at some stage during adolescence and Chris is her mothers daughter, flying off the handle at the slightest thing (and trying to bluff his way through giving her permission for nose ring – mistaking the request for plastic surgery! – definitely counts). Continuing this story’s obsession with the unusual, the appearance of geriatric Native American with personality of a butch armed offices recruit certainly raised an eyebrow. Julia Vera really throws herself into the atypical role. To think, that was empty desert before they constructed that petrol station. You would never believe it was a construction but that it had been there all along. You can always count on The X-Files to blow things up real good as well, the devastating explosion that lights up the desert is captured to great effect. It isn’t the most gripping cliffhanger of all time but it does leave you wondering how the hell Mulder is going to get out of this one.

The Bad: Why Mulder didn’t just contact Scully from the off and explain the situation confuses me. I know what he would be suggesting is pretty outrageous but it’s hardly a massive departure from the insane occurrences they have found themselves in over the past five years. He does try, but then seem to go off the idea and simply puts up with this psychotic version of The Brady Bunch. Mulder asks how they might get the lizard out of the rock (his subtle way of finding out how he gets his body back) to which he is greeted with shrugs from all concerned. That means a second episode playing out the same type of material.

Pre Titles Sequence: Excellent, the pre-titles sequence plays out exactly like a similar scene in Men in Black. The writing even adopts its humorous tone. It really feels as though this show has found the fun in its sixth year. What really makes this insane idea of a body swap work is how Morris accepts the situation so calmly, walking away with Scully precisely as he planned and leaving Mulder dumbfounded. The audience is left think ‘what the…?’

Moment to Watch Out For: Whoever imagined way back in season one that this show would be able to let its hair down sufficiently enough to attempt a rip off the famous dance routine from the Marx Brothers film, Duck Soup. Adjoining replica sets and twelve takes is what it took to pull this memorable moment of magic off. I’m not sure what this show is evolving into but with this crew at the helm they are ensuring that whatever genre/style/tone selected, they pulled it off with surprising aplomb. Duchovny’s groovy dance routine has to be seen to be believed.

Fashion Statement: It has been far too long since we last saw Mulder in his boxers and vest. 

Result: Time travel and now body swapping? Has The X-Files taken a dose of The Twilight Zone pills? Whatever the reason, this is four for four for the sixth season and another riotously enjoyable episode. It might feel as though the move to LA has uprooted the show from its horror ancestry but considering the lacklustre offerings last season that might not be such a bad thing. It might also feel as if the show is no longer taking itself seriously anymore but when the results are as entertaining as Dreamland…who is complaining? Filled with peculiar imagery (the man in a rock, the geriatric soldier boy) and amusing scenes (the funky mirror dance), the trio of writers ensure that so much is thrown at you in the course of 45 minutes that you barely have time to register that the show has transformed into a parody of itself. It is the creation of Morris Fletcher and his body swap with Mulder that provides the best laughs though, through the culture shock that the latter experiences whilst the former tucks very comfortably into his life. Michael McKean gives a formidable performance and gets to show the audience what Mulder’s life could be like if he cut loose and enjoyed himself a little bit. If I had one complaint about Dreamland it is that it is that the plot is stretched far too thinly over two episodes and that this could have easily have been condensed down into a single installment by cutting away some of the less inconsequential material. During the first half the situation is novel but you might find yourself looking at your watch as you sit through another 45 minutes of the same thing next week. Still I refuse to be too hard on the first non-mythology two parter and especially one that strips away all that pretension that can hold this show back at times. This is fun, and I always have time for that: 8/10


Dreamland Part II written by Vince Gilligan, John Shiban & Frank Spotnitz and directed by Michael Watkins

What’s it about: Fletcher is whoring it up as Mulder, whilst Mulder is trying to salvage a mans marriage…

Trust No-One: Sweetly Mulder takes Joanne out for drinks because he wants to try and salvage something of Morris’ marriage despite his abuse of his lifestyle. His first reaction when he catches up with his alter ego though is to kick his ass, figuring that he has done more than enough damage to deserve it. Mulder handing Scully sunflower seeds is a touching indictment of their friendship without it getting too mushy.

Brains’n’Beauty: Check out Scully’s body language from the beginning of this episode – she doesn’t need Mulder to tell her that Morris has stolen his body, she already has her suspicions that something is very wrong. She plays along to the best of her ability until she has him in the right position to do something about it. I never thought we would reach the stage where Scully is threatening to cuff Mulder to his water bed in the promise of some kinky fun and it goes to show just how far the writers are willing to go these days to entertain us. When she spots Joanne, Scully wisely hides away in the diner entrance rather than face her wrath. Despite the fact that she has opened her mind to more extreme possibilities, Scully still can’t quite bring herself to say the words ‘body swap’ when it comes to explaining the situation to the Lone Gunmen. Scully makes it perfectly clear that without Mulder (her Mulder, not Morris Fletcher inhabiting his body) she has no interest in continuing her work with the bureau.

Faux Mulder: If Morris Fletcher was having fun taking advantage of Mulder’s life in the last episode, he had only just begun. Now he has his sights set on the frozen Popsicle known as Dana Scully, thinking that he can part the waters of the red sea with his charm and good looks. For all what he is doing is actually quite appalling, it is clear that the writers don’t want you to hate Morris but find his behaviour amusingly juvenile. When exploring Mulder’s flat to turn it into a shag pad to seduce Scully in, Fletcher discovers that Mulder’s bedroom as nothing but a storage centre for a library of pornography (‘this guys hasn’t been laid in ten years…’). Fletcher cuffed to the bed whilst a champagne cork pops in between his legs is about as far as this show ever got to outright farce. Morris’ reaction to his boss turning out to be the informant mirrors our surprise and turns the twist into a lovely moment. McKean proves that he is more than capable of turning off the comedy when Fletcher tries to convince Joanne of who he really is.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Hey Grandma Top Gun, will you shut the hell up?’
‘Special Agent Dana Scully’ Special Tramp Dana Scully!’
‘Baby me and you’ll be peeing through a cafeter!’

Ugh: You might be put off kissing for life once you see the couple who are literally stuck together after a warp in time and space breezes across them during an embrace.

The Good: I’m pleased we get to spend more time with Julia Vera’s geriatric soldier boy because she is so much fun (‘you’re my bitch now!’). Huge kudos to the director and editor who ensure between them that several scenes cut from Mulder to Morris and back again in various mirrors to keep the audience apprised of the body swap situation. This is the first meeting of the Lone Gunmen and Fletcher but he would go on to be something of a thorn in their side in their short lived series, and turn up again in their final appearance in the series, Jump the Shark. Amusingly he belittles their pathetic attempts to uncover his work and an instant tension develops between them. Fletcher is delighted that the Gunmen not only believe the bullshit propaganda they create to turn peoples heads away from what is really going on, but they broadcast it too. The idea that Saddam Hussein is a dinner theatre expert called John Gilnetz that Fletcher co-erced into become a figure of hatred to rattle a sabre whenever they need a distraction. I love the fact that Mulder’s shag pad remains intact – a lovely touch that would come back to haunt him in the later episode Monday.

The Bad: The idea of all the players in this story winding up at the diner is supposed to be hilarious and is staged like some kind of awkward French farce but the sequence is overlong and nowhere near as funny as the writers intended. It’s the first instance where this narrative feels overstretched across two episodes. A US General with a crisis of conscience who wanted to expose their work in the twilight of his career? I don’t buy it, but I guess this is just an excuse to stage the crash and get to the fun. To give them credit, the writers could have omitted an explanation altogether. Everybody assembling out in the desert in exactly the same positions as they were at the beginning of the first episode immediately informs the audience that everything is about to return to normal. With crushing predictability, it does not disappoint. I supposed everything had to be rewritten otherwise Scully wouldn’t have a place on the show anymore.

Pre Titles Sequence: ‘Once upon a time there was a guy with the improbable name of Fox Mulder. He started out life happily enough as these things go. He had parents who loved him, a cute kid sister, he had a roof over his head, got all his flu shots, had all his fingers and toes. And aside from being stuck with the name Fox, which probably taught him how to fight, or not, he pretty much led a normal life. But the worst thing by far, the biggest kick in the slacks this kid Fox ever got was what happened to his sister. One day she just disappeared. Now Fox buckled down and worked his butt off, graduated top of his class at Oxford, then top of his class at the FBI academy. None of that hard work made up for his sister though. It was just a way of putting her out of his mind. Finally the way I figure it, he went out of his mind, and he’s been that way ever since. Fox Mulder pissed away a brilliant career, lost the respect of supervisors and friends and now lives his life shaking his fist at the sky and muttering about conspiracies to anybody who’ll listen. If you ask me he’s one step away from pushing a baby carriage full of tin cans. But now, all that’s gonna change…’ This must go down on record as the most amiable pre-titles sequences in the shows history, a fun poke at the shows central protagonist, his absurdly geeky personality and how he fails to take advantage of his life because of his uptight obsession with flying saucers. I just knew Mulder was a Star Trek fan when he was younger and the cine footage of him dressed up as Mr Spock confirms it.

Moment to Watch Out For: The gorgeous moment when Morris sees Joanne at the bar looking devastated and all his bluster and forced humour drops away and he wants nothing more but to step forward and comfort his wife. If all the whoring and farce has been to lead up to this realisation that he does love his wife, it was worth it.

Orchestra: Snow is having a field day scoring what seems to be a modern day version of a seventies porn film as Fletcher tries to infiltrate Scully’s defences and get her to have some fun on his water bed. 

Result: ‘If I shoot him is that murder or suicide?’ ‘Neither if I do it first’ It’s best to just go with the flow with the second part of Dreamland, which cannot be taken at all seriously, but instead takes its body swap premise about as far as it can go without events speeding up and the Benny Hill theme tune kicking in. What surprised me wasn’t Fletcher’s sex games or the ludicrous scenes hanging out in the men’s room but the moments of gentle drama that creep up on the audience unexpectedly because we have been promised little more than high camp. Joanne is such a shrieking one-note character that you don’t anticipate anything deep from her and yet her scenes with both Mulder and Morris become rather poignant as the story progresses. There’s even a point where it looks like Mulder will be stuck in Morris’ life forever and he and Scully have to face the possibility that they have to part company forever. It’s these moments of heartbreak that pepper that story that give it a little more substance than the synopsis would suggest. The last fifteen minutes or so feature a pretty lousy explanation of why the body swap occurred and a Star Trek: Voyager reset (I know Voyager isn’t the only show to use this unfortunate device but it is certainly the most prolific as far as I am concerned) to put everything back in place for the next episode. It is clear that once the fun has been had it is simply a mechanical process of having to put all the toys back in the box again. However I am not writing the second part of Dreamland as a loss; quite the contrary as there are more than enough amusing moments, witty lines and heightened performances to make this piece at least as entertaining as the first part. The only problem is that we’re used to the joke by this point and so it has lost a little of its sparkle. Certainly there are far worse X-Files episodes and for it’s best moments, Dreamland Part II scores a high end: 7/10


How the Ghosts Stole Christmas written and directed by Chris Carter

What’s it about: Mulder and Scully explore a haunted house on Christmas Eve…

Trust No-One: Mulder starts by telling Scully a creepy ghost story about the house and its occupants and coupled with the excitement of being able to explore the house where this terrifying tale unfolded would be enough to get me going too. It is not enough for Mulder that the house is haunted, it has to be cursed too. You can’t help but laugh at the bastard when he scares the bejesus out of Scully, holding his torch under his nose. Does Mulder have a pathological condition pertaining to the paranormal? Or is he just a narcissistic, self righteous ego mainiac? Single minded but prone to obsessive compulsiveness, workaholism and anti-socialism. Maurice might be trying to get inside Mulder’s head and he’s clearly had a good look around. Is Mulder a lonely man chasing para-mastubatory illusions to give his life meaning and significance that he cannot find elsewhere? Passionate, serious and misunderstood. Does he listen to Scully’s endless droning rationalisations because he is afraid of being alone? Like a metaphor for where his work has led him, Mulder walks straight into a brick wall. Duchovny’s ‘here’s Johnny!’ moment of madness, fake Mulder screaming hysterical inanities at Scully whilst he fires his gun, sees the actor cutting loose and enjoying himself immensely. Maybe this episode should have been called Folie a Deux – a madness shared by two?

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully objects to being called out by Mulder to go ghost hunting in a haunted house on Christmas Eve but we have been hear a hundred times before. Whether it is the man or the mission (my bets are on the man), something will always draw Scully out into the night behind Mulder to join him in his work. Despite the terrible conditions, her ailing reputation and the disrespect of her peers and family, something has seduced Dana Scully into working with this man no matter what the cost. It is nice to see an episode directly address that issue, and try and explain why, whilst having great fun at the same time. Scully tries to convince herself that she isn’t going to follow him into this haunted house, that that is going to be her New Year’s Resolution. Who is she kidding? Instead of simply limping in behind him she contrives and excuse to follow him (something about missing car keys). Scully refuses to admit that she is scared walking around the bowels of the creepiest house this side of Bates Motel but she isn’t fooling anybody. She can talk about the mind playing tricks based on clichés from stories and horror movies all she wants but she still screams her head off when she comes face to face with a ghost. Anderson knows precisely what she is doing with this episode, walking a fine line between the grave character she has played for the past five years and a slightly heightened version that fits in with the goofy tone of season six. She eventually stops talking an admits she is afraid, but that it is an irrational fear. The idea of Mulder and Scully being trapped in a haunted house together and having their anxieties heightened and manipulated so they turn on each other and re-enact the lovers pact that brought Maurice and Lyda to a sticky end is utterly bewitching. It’s painful to watch Scully’s terrified reaction when Lyda in Mulder’s guise starts shooting at her, convincing her that he has gone insane and that they are going to end their days together beneath the floorboards. For once, Scully is genuinely afraid for her life.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Wait, is that a hound I hear baying out on the moor?’ ‘No actually that was a left cheek sneak.’
‘Most people would rather stick their finger in a wall socket than spend a minute with you.’
‘I don’t show my hole to just anyone…’ 

The Good: Scully suggests that our need to tell ghost stories says more about the living than it does about the dead, about our refusal to let go of the idea that those we have lost are no longer with us. I think she has a very good point, even if she is using it to try and distract herself from filling her trousers. The split level library/dining hall set might just be my favourite piece of design in this entire series. How the camera pans backwards as Mulder opens the door to reveal the space and splendour of the set is beautifully done. It is the sort of space that is begging you to tell a story in it. Echoes of Poe’s the Tell Tale Heart with a terrible banging coming from beneath the floorboards shows that Carter is sufficiently read up on the genre to gently mock it. Who else would be under the floorboards but desiccated, shrivelled up remains of Mulder and Scully. I love how slowly it takes them to comprehend that it is them, at first noticing the similarity in clothing before the truth dawns on them and they realise they are in very real danger. Mulder’s ‘how embarrassing’ to the corpse wearing Scully’s outfit before realising the man is wearing his makes me crack up every time. Like rats in a maze, Mulder and Scully go from room to room and keep finding themselves in the same place (actually it is more like an Escher painting in that respect). Carter waits until a third of the way into the episode where the tricks start to wear thin to introduce his ghostly characters. Cast this deftly (Tomlin epitomises sardonic indifference and Anser plays up the grumpy old codger to the nth degree), they interact marvellously with Anderson and Duchovny to create one unforgettable scene after another. The choice to have Maurice and Lyda attack not with cheap horror tricks but with cod psychological reasoning was a very deft move on Carter’s part because it allowed him to script some highly probing and yet hilariously caricatured sequences where Mulder and Scully’s flaws are examined.  Once the psychobabble starts to grate Carter throws in another surprise – as Scully asks the ghosts to put their hands up we get to see the full extent of the wounds that finished them off. The gaping hole in Lyda’s stomach is horrific enough but the way camera slides behind Maurice’s back so we can see Scully peeking right through the hole in his head reveals a ghoulish sense of humour that cannot be faulted. The suggestion that brings with it not just joy and peace to all men but hopelessness and depression to those who have nobody sees Carter giving the holiday season some real thought. The dancing books are like something out of Tim Burton and Mulder looks appropriately bewitched. Two old ghosts sitting by the fire and reminiscing about the good old days when haunting was less complicated whilst Mulder and Scully crawl from the house in their own sticky red blood manages to be both uplifting and unpleasant at the same time, a tonally jarring mix that somehow works a treat to create an outstanding conclusion. This could have been woefully misjudged by Carter pitches everything flawlessly. Maurice and Lyda holding hands as they let this pair go suggests a love that stretches through the ages.

Pre Titles Sequence: Doors slamming and locking in a haunted house, lightning streaking through the hallway, cobwebs flickering in the light…it’s not like Carter to cut back to such a simple idea like a haunted house tale and it’s all credit to him that he has pitched this at exactly the right tone. It’s hard not to be delighted by something that is so drenched in cliché and yet manages to rise above and revel in them in the most stylish way possible.

Moment(s) to Watch Out For: As amusing as Mulder’s psycho-analysis by Maurice is, Scully bumping into Lyda is one of the highlights of the season. To see the usually unflappable Scully screaming her head as though she is auditioning for the role of a Doctor Who companion and waving her gun screaming ‘I’m armed!’ has me rolling in the aisles every time I watch this. Anderson is just sublime and should be able to play comedy like this more often, it is much more fun than her graver than a burial at night performances. ‘Please…I’m a little on edge!’

The final scene of Scully visiting Mulder on Christmas day might be my favourite moment between the two characters, one which suggests that warmth and depth of feeling that they share better than any other. I love the way Mulder first reaction to the banging is to think it is the neighbours upstairs complaining about the noise, rather than believing that somebody has come to see him. She admits that there is more to her than just proving him wrong and he questions whether that has ever been the case. She admits, somewhat grudgingly, that she did want to be out there with him. They are like a pair of excited kids opening up their presents that they promised not to get each other and it is a joy to watch. It’s the sort of television that gives you a great big hug.

Orchestra: Snow gets in the mood immediately with his cod-Dracula score, pouring all of his frustrations into a church organ and opening up the episode with no illusion that this is going to be another amusing episode. Soon he has turned on the electric keyboard and we are in mock-horror territory with a synthy organ taking most of the duties as Mulder and Scully explore the house that time forgot. The playful tinkling of the piano as they realise they are being manipulated by the ghosts is another memorable Snow refrain. 

Result: Carter was clearly riding quite high after the movie and the move to LA and it lead to a run of experimental but massively enjoyable episodes from a writer that I had come to find synonymous with mythology folly. How the Ghosts Stole Christmas is probably the most delightful episode the guy penned for the entire show (season nine’s Improbable comes a very close second), a hilarious, chilling and best of simple ghost story featuring some amusing dialogue and great camera trickery. It conjures up the feeling of Christmas better than practically anything else I have ever seen on television and I love how it goes for the jugular rather than sentimentality, and leaves that for the delicious final scene. It’s a winner however you want to look at it and whilst it might be the cheapest episode of the season thanks to its confined location and small cast that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t look gorgeous, the haunted house genre is plagiarised and perfected with some fantastic set design, another terrific Mark Snow score and edgy performances from Duchovny, Anderson, Tomlin and Anser. The only downside I can see to the positioning of How the Ghosts Stole Christmas (unavoidable since it needed to go out near Chrimbo) is that this is the fourth humorous episode in a row (Triangle might not meant to have been a comedy but it is impossible to take seriously) and there are still a number to come up before the show remembers how to scare again. Whilst all of these episodes have been of a consistently high quality (a sharp contrast to this time last year), a little variety is always nice. Aesthetically this what the X-Files has always been about but tonally it is something utterly unique, and it seems perfect that the Mulder/Scully interaction should reach its apotheosis (it really doesn’t get any better than this) during such a quirky, oddball episode. Amazing that an episode that jettisons all the usual X-File tropes (expensive production values, a large cast, overcomplicated and ambiguous plotting) should prove to be one of the finest installments of the shows sixth year. A ghoulish, rich and heart-warming Christmas X-File that goes down a treat all year round but is especially delightful when viewed on Christmas Eve with a warm mince pie and a glass of mulled wine: 10/10


Terms of Endearment written by David Amann and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: Wayne Weinsider just wants a normal child…

Trust No-One: The shot of the shredded X-File that Mulder has stolen out of Spender’s bin (I imagine a sequence of Mulder peering endlessly around the corner whilst Spender pisses his day away before finally heading off for his lunch and Mulder tip-toeing his way into the office disguised as a cleaning lady and nabbing all the shredded files) and glued together is a sight behold. It is clear that Mulder knows precisely who the culprit is from his first conversation with Wayne, gently probing the man trying to make him bite. I realise Mulder is doing good work but sometimes I think he doesn’t know what is good for himself or his career. Even when the whistle is blown on his pursuit of Wayne he persists, leaving Scully to deal with the consequences. You have to wonder why she stays so loyal to him sometimes.

 Brains’n’Beauty: We were given some clue of how tedious Mulder and Scully’s new assignments are now they have been relieved of the X-Files (although to be fair wouldn’t anything seem boring after investigating cases of the paranormal?) but to witness one of Scully’s interrogations (with questions as leading as ‘have you ever smoke marijuana?’) even Gillian Anderson cannot make her character sound excited about this line of work. Mulder is off chasing demons (literally) whilst Scully is left with the dog work. She might whinge about that but how this is different from the status quo when they were on the X-Files beats me.


Faux Mulder & Scully: It is great to finally catch a glimpse of what Agents Spender and Fowley are up to when X-Files turn up in their in-tray. Straight into the shredder by all accounts, without a glance at the details. 

The Good: I’ve only ever seen Campbell camp it up as Ash Williams in the Evil Dead series so I had no real idea what to expect from the actor when approaching Terms of Endearment except that he sure can pitch his performance at a hysterical level. Imagine my surprise then when he delivers a sensitive and considerate turn as Wayne Weinsider, a troubled devil that just wants to have a normal child. Even when Wayne is doing the most terrible of things (like convincing Laura that she was possessed by something and murdered their child), Campbell pitches his performance at a relatable level, showing the torment of a man who wished things could have been different. He even manages to make the scene where he tries to get Mulder off his scent by heading to one of his insurance clients house a compassionate moment, watching her children playing and marvelling at the delight of human life.  Rob Bowman could get atmosphere out of a trash can, I’m convinced of that by now. Watch as the camera slides past the furnace in the yard, the house dominating the backdrop and Wayne all set to burn their dead baby alive. It’s a shocking scene regardless but in Bowman’s hands it oozes with malevolence. Wayne has been portrayed as a genuinely agonised father who has done a terrible deed in order to protect his lineage so it comes as some surprise when he turns up at another house and starts cradling another woman’s stomach. You start to wonder just how many other women are out there, incubating his seed. Anyone who might be complaining that season six has gone too Hollywood would be appalled at the sight of Mulder and Wayne racing in sports cars down a highway to an energetic dance track…but let’s be honest, the show has never looked as hip as this before. Wayne looks crestfallen when Laura pulls back his collar and reveals his appendages, saddened that he has to kill her to keep her quiet. How he has to fake his rapturous surprise when she survives his attack is another golden moment. We learn that Wayne came to America to continue his lineage, meeting prospective mates through his work. It is amusing to think that Wayne has diced with an even smarter devil this time, and one who will stop at nothing to keep her baby alive and away from him. The fact that Wayne gives his life for Laura’s in the end is a final selfless act that proves that in the right circumstances he is a nice guy.

The Bad: Mulder’s ‘I’m sure you’d hate like the devil for that to happen as well’ so deeply unsubtle it stands out to all and sundry that he is trying to send a message. Surely there was a more delicate way Amann could have scripted this?

Pre Titles Sequence: It is a clever opening because once you have seen the whole episode it takes on a whole new complexion. Whereas Wayne appears to be a selfish husband who cannot find it in himself to comfort his wife when they have been handed unfortunate news about their baby, the truth is he has been through this conversation many times with lots of different women. He has been trying propagate for some time and is now coming to realise he is the one at fault. You would think that the imagery of a giant devil, backlit by flames, would be a ridiculously camp start to an episode but as directed by Rob Bowman this sequence of bloody baby snatching as the mother screams for her husband is genuinely nightmarish. The devil baby screaming as he is torn from Laura remains one of the nasty creations on the show and it is a welcome touch of horror from a show that has gone all razzmatazz of late.

Moment to Watch Out For: When Wayne discovers that his baby with Betsy has complications as well the episode looks like it is going to play out along predictable lines. The events that led up to the pre-titles sequence are repeated exactly (Wayne drugging her with milk, the devil at the end of the bed) until the point where Betsy grabs him throat and demands to know ‘what are you doing Wayne?’ It comes so out of the blue (and I was so certain that this was going to wrap up in a predictable fashion) that it really floored me when I first watched it. It’s not a jump out of your seat twist, but a great subversion of my expectations.

Fashion Statement: Grace Phillips has the most crystal blue eyes I have ever seen. You could really lose yourself in them. 

Result: ‘Because they’re demons, and he wants a normal child…’ David Amann is a funny one for sure. I always like to see fresh names popping up in a series and he turns up at something of a creative renaissance for the show and produces a script that is both deadly serious in its implications but also blackly comical in its realisation. It’s a potentially dodgy mix that he judges perfectly and the result is another winner for the (so far) untouchable season six. Amann would go to produce scripts that are domestic (Chimera), forgettable (Rush), overloaded but spooky (Invocation) before finally finishing precisely how he began on a gem (Release) and the highlight of the shows final season. You can’t pin him down as a great writer or a poor one, he seems capable of both ends of the spectrum and everything in between. Evil of the Dead stalwart Bruce Campbell gives a superb performance and manages the almost impossible, to make a baby murdering devil a sympathetic character. That’s what saves this from being more routine because aside from a few twists that genuinely trip the audience up (Betsy revealing her true colours is a phenomenal moment) Terms of Endearment follows Mulder hounding Wayne’s footsteps, turning the protagonists into the antagonist for one week. An inversion of Rosemary’s Baby with a real dash of atmosphere (that has been somewhat missing this year), this is another unique and inventive episode of The X-Files in a season that is proving to be markedly different from all the rest: 8/10

The Rain King written by Jeffrey Bell and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Is a man with the improbable name of Daryl Mootz really controlling the weather?

Trust No-One: If Scully is straight man, Mulder is having a great time in this episode. For once not taking anything too seriously and revelling in the impossible notion of the controllable weather. I love his puppy dog expression when he realises that Holman has contrived the pea souper to prevent their plane from leaving the ground so he can help him in matters of love. Scully calls Mulder helping out Holman in matters of the heart the blind leading the blind. Holman is astonished that Mulder and Scully aren’t a couple given the way they gaze at each other. Watching Mulder (and especially Scully who is deeply uncomfortable in the role) trying to manipulate Sheila and Holman into some kind of romantic clinch is delightful. Check out the hilarious cut to the two of them dancing in sync at the school reunion party, admiring their handiwork.

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully walks through this episode with an air of superiority and disinterest that really plays with my tickle bone, not at all interested in the romantic machinations of Kroner and appalled that Mulder has dragged her so far for the most lunatic of reasons. The running joke is that she wants to leave town and there is something that continually stops them because the weather is being controlled by one of the citizens of the town. Everybody mistakes Mulder and Scully for a couple in The Rain King, much to Scully’s chargin (she is often referred to as ‘the missus’). Ever the sceptic, Scully suggests that rather than making it rain Daryl might have just followed it from location to location. Scully has often ridiculed Mulder for his zany beliefs but she has never looked quite as incredulous as the moment Mootz starts performing his cringeworthy rain dance. What’s brilliant about this scene is the egg that she has liberally slavered on her face as the heavens open and prove her doubts wrong. When Mulder tells Sheila that he and Scully specialise in these kinds of cases, check out the look on Scully’s face. It says ‘this is what my life has been reduced to…’

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Look at that…and you wonder why your ass is so big!’ – Daryl’s Valentine’s Day charm offensive needs a little work.
‘It’s like looking in a mirror…’ says Mulder as he and Scully come face to face with the Watch the Weather competition winners, the Gundersons, who they have been mistaken for.
‘He wants advice. Dating advice’ ‘Dating advice? From whom?’ ‘Yours truly…hello?
‘Where’s you leg?’ ‘Cindy took it…said I’d have to crawl back to her’ and later on ‘I brought you a leg…’ 

The Good: You truly know you have arrive in the sticks when visitors of Mulder and Scully’s stature (so low in the FBI chain right now the cleaning lady of the building gets an invite to the Christmas party before they do) are greeted with a young majorette twirling her baton. Scully baulks at the idea that anybody could take the claims that one man is controlling the rain seriously, especially after she witnesses Daryl Mootz’s handicapped rain dance. Moving aside from the improbability that this man has Godlike powers, the authorities on Kroner believe that Daryl is causing the drought so he can charge people for the rain. Only in America! There is something so mundane about Mootz opening up a little office in a washed up (actually quite the reverse, that’s the problem) town and actually turning the incredible gift of being able to manipulate the weather into something commercial. The fact that his receptionist is a young impressionable thing, the furnishings are as tawdry as you can imagine (in a town suffering a drought he has a water feature which shows off his ability to attract the rain) and the most important stipulation upon his visit is that there is a big old bowl of jelly beans with the green ones removed says everything you need to know about this pitiable man.  It’s not hard to predict where this episode is going as soon as we get to meet both Sheila and Holman in the TV studio, a pair of socially handicapped individuals who are clearly made for each other if only some Romeo could make them see it. I like how this episode has a built in get out clause in the shape of Holman. He’s the one that convinces both the audience and Mulder that Daryl is genuinely controlling the rain and he is also the twist in the tale, proving himself to be the unwitting culprit at the climax. God bless the sequence that displays Sheila’s apparent effect on the weather, everything from tornados at her senior prom, a blizzard on her wedding day and smiling clouds in the sky when she got her divorce. Holman turning the rain off when he realises that Daryl was drink driving on the night of his crash is a great ‘oh shit…’ moment for Mootz, a character it is easy to be happy for when bad things happen to him. The trouble with turning rain summoning into a business is that when you fail to deliver, the lawyers aren’t far behind – compensation being another popular distraction of America. Confirming that Holman is the culprit, a well timed streak of lightning splits the sky when Sheila admits to him that she has fallen for Mulder. The ending is about as perfect as it can be – the ugly duckling gets his swan (that’s debatable but okay) and they all live happily ever after with their little kiddie under a rainbow. That’s enough twee to power an entire season of Glee but in the context of this episode it works beautifully. Sometimes it’s nice to know that all is right with the world.

The Bad: Let’s try and put aside Victoria Jackson’s homophobic diatribes and loyalty to the Tea Party Movement and try and concentrate on her acting ability. Nope, there isn’t a great deal of that either. However I would argue that in case of The Rain King that isn’t much of a deficiency because (this is a back handed compliment if ever you heard one) the episode is written with Sheila as a bit of a social leper; an awkward, desperate, societal cripple and I’m pleased to say that Jackson fits the bill perfectly. You like Sheila because she is treated so appallingly by Mootz and the script is tailored to giving her a happy ending (and its rather lovely) but it isn’t really anything to do with Jackson’s flighty, over pitched performance. There is one scene where the characters of Sheila and Daryl (who are caricatures at the best of times) cross paths at the studio which is supposed to build to a very funny fight to smash in Mulder’s pretty face but isn’t directed with any subtlety so the effect is an awful lot of shrieking noise and badly staged action.

Pre Titles Sequence: Technically (for me) this is one of the scariest X-File opening sequences despite being nothing of the sort because the unpredictability and relentlessness of the weather is something that I have become all too aware of as I have gotten older. The thought of rain that can turn to hail and smash its way through a mans car window is a terrifyingly real prospect. Of course this being an genre show it puts a creative slant on the idea and it appears that the hail is a manifestation of Sheila’s tears that streak the coffee table. There is a brilliant shot of the hail bouncing off the road in slow motion, every single piece in the shape of a heart. It was at this point I knew I was in for a good time with The Rain King.

Moment to Watch Out For: I don’t know what is funnier; the idea that a tornado could pick up a cow from a paddock and drop it on a hotel, the fact that we actually get to see said act in all its glory or Mulder’s hilarious reaction when it is mooing its way towards him. It all leads up to one of the most glorious lines in TV history: ‘I’m telling you, that cow had my name on it!’

Orchestra: Going for the heartstrings rather than the jugular, this is another superb score from Snow in season six and along with Triangle, Two Fathers and Field Trip one of my favourite soundtracks. To help sell the idea that this is a romance playing out Snow enlists the help of some superb songs (including The Carpenter’s Rainy Days and Mondays, an absolute classic of a tune). 

Result: I cannot be overly critical of The Rain King because I have watched it many times over the years and it has always given me such joy. I love the fact that in season six the show is just going for broke with some genuinely kooky (but not always spooky) ideas and the notion of a man being able to shape and manipulate the weather is brought to life with such a thread of imagination and delicacy that the resulting episode is pure sunshine (hohoho) to watch.  If you include Triangle and Terms of Endearment (both of which have an whiff of light entertainment about them), this is sixth light episode on the trot and I can understand why fans might have wondered at this point if the show had metamorphosed into something quite different since the move to LA. Pleasingly, some good old fashioned scares were just around the corner. On the other hand I have found this one of the most engaging runs of episodes since the show began with each one proving funny, intelligent and full of creative touches. If the show has to sacrifice its scares to remain consistently good, is it a sacrifice worth making? The Rain King is treated with a lightness of touch that is rare for this series that makes it a joy to watch (more often than not the comedy’s on this show are full of smug winks at the audience or impenetrably sophisticated) and it is rare for the stakes to be so low and for Mulder and Scully to have to deal with little more than a lovers spat in a backwater town. I’ll knock a point of for Victoria Jackson’s deeply unsubtle performance (I know the character is supposed to be socially inept but Jackson takes this to the nth degree by just playing herself) but this is a great example of what the show can do when it turns away from all the mythology complications; a simple, touching, heart-warming piece of drama with a very creative premise. As with How the Ghosts Stole Christmas it celebrates the Mulder/Scully relationship and showcases at its best. Anybody who criticises this show for the inability of its leads to promote warmth and good feeling I suggest they watch the two episodes back to back and eat their hats. The soundtrack is phenomenal, there are witty lines aplenty and the overall impression is of a show that is still innovating to keep its audience interested. I love Jeffrey Bell’s episodes, they are unique little sub genre all of their own that I call X-Files-lite: 9/10


S.R 819 written by John Shiban and directed by Daniel Sackheim

What’s it about: Skinner has something under his skin…

Trust No-One: Mulder immediately assumes that Skinner has been hurt because of his previous allegiance to the X-Files. Even Skinner claims he is too paranoid.

Brains’n’Beauty: It is nice to see Scully working as a scientist once again. Given her propensity for doing background checks and indulging in comical machinations this season I was starting to wonder if her professional credentials were being bypassed for good.

Assistant Director: Skinner has been somewhat imperceptible of late given the shift away from mythology episodes (where his presence is usually a given) and that Mulder and Scully are no longer his responsibility. The only way to give this guy some screen time (aside from him turning up in Nazi uniforms in historical/dream episodes) is to devote an hour to him. The results of which have been mixed in the past, with Avatar failing to open any personal avenues for the character and Zero Sum proving an action packed delight. Mitch Pileggi is a fine, charismatic actor who is sometimes wasted in the role of Walter Skinner, a man so wrapped up in red tape he is practically futile so it is always nice when the writers push him off in new directions and give him something different to do. More often than not, cutting him free of Mulder and Scully equates to his best material. Now we know why Skinner is so buff underneath all those crisp white shirts he wears – he’s a pretty decent boxer who takes all his aggression out on the bag. Clandestine meetings in the Bureau with his former charges suggest and intimacy that has been nurtured over time (it is certainly preferable to the constant ‘can they trust Skinner?’ thread that ran on for far too long). We get to witness a brief day in the life of Walter Skinner and yes it really is as boring as it seems. In a beautiful moment Skinner confesses to Scully that he wishes he had made the X-Files more of a priority, that he had something to show for his life’s work. Scully endorses their friendship, admitting that he has been their ally more times than she can say. At the close of the story the agents have reason to doubt the Assistant Director (what again?) because he effectively tears up the investigation into his sickness at the behest of the man who is now in control of his mortality, Krychek. They aren’t in league, but Skinner is now in his pocket thanks to Krychek’s homicidal advantage over him.

Ugh: Green worms wriggling beneath the skin as a man screams to death, his veins on fire.

The Good: Orgel’s abduction is directed with more adrenalin than we have seen this show for some time, Daniel Sackheim proving quite a find when it comes to staging action. Skinner’s secretary shows more than a little interest in the well being of her boss, which is quite appropriate considering she is being played by Mitch Pileggi’s wife. The whole idea of somebody’s life being controlled by remote control from afar terrifies me, the powerlessness of the situation knowing that there are technological bugs swimming inside that could turn against you at the touch of a button.

The Bad: Senator Matheson turns up so sporadically in this show that I have to remind myself of who he is every time he makes an appearance. He has certainly not etched himself in my mind as well as the other semi-regulars on this show, even the ones who have only had one or two appearances like Gibson Praise and Diana Fowley. That tells me that something was missing when they conceived this character, something that allows him to slip out of sight for entire season without the audience even noticing. Bizarre that Skinner seems to be being stalked by a voice that sounds like a hybrid of the speaking clock and Steven Hawking. You would have thought Krychek would have found a more sinister voice than that.

Pre Titles Sequence: There’s a nice little trick played on the audience being led down the garden path into thinking that Mulder is the one laid up in hospital when in fact it is Skinner. The effect of the veins bulging out across his body is achieved brilliantly, it looks genuinely ghastly to experience. I’m never convinced when shows attempt to open episodes where characters are killed off like this because it is such a sudden, inconspicuous way to go. If Skinner were to die then I would expect something a lot more dramatic than a quick two minute sequence in a hospital. Mind you the voiceover that kicks in after the pre-titles sequence gave me reason to pause – was this episode going to lead up to his departure from the series after all?

Moment to Watch Out For: It seems inevitable that Krychek should be the one behind all of Skinner’s health problems but it’s still a great moment when it comes, the long haired hippy revealing himself. The idea that he holds Skinner’s life in his hands at the press of a button chills the blood. That should be revisited at some point. 

Result: This is the sort of po-faced episode that The X-Files used to deliver every other week but amidst the more charming, amusing offerings of season six it sticks out like a sore thumb. Saying that it is quite refreshing to get back to some serious storytelling and you can always rely on John Shiban to wipe the smile off your face. S.R. 819 is more Zero Sum than it is Avatar and seems to have been brushed with the Midas touch of season six since the resulting piece is breezily paced, gorgeously directed and gives Skinner a terrific role after being a minor presence in the series for some time. Don’t get me wrong this isn’t a deep or meaningful piece of drama, it’s function is to intruige and excite but on those terms it provides some neat entertainment and a terrific ambiguous ending. We’ve had an episode where Mulder tries to penetrate Skinner’s personal life, another one where Skinner is playing rogue and trying to hush it up and this is a fresh spin on a Skinner-centric tale, one where Mulder and Scully rush to try and save his life. Beautifully orchestrated action, a muscular Mark Snow score and Mulder in full on Rambo mode; there are plenty of treats in S.R 819 that distract you from the fact that the narrative is actually pretty empty. Mitch Pileggi once again proves why he is such an asset to the show and the make up for his nanites hell is genuinely ghoulish. Minus points for the use of Senator Matheson, a dead end character that has failed to generate any interest and whose involvement in nanites technology comes as no surprise (all shady government types are up to no good in this show). Not the finest of X-Files but much more entertaining than it would have been in an earlier season before Shiban cut his teeth on the show and honed his writing skills: 7/10

Tithonus written by Vince Gilligan and directed by Michael W. Watkins

What’s it about: A man who has cheated death for so long is hot on its heels…

Trust No-One: You’ve got to give the writers some credit for not allowing the series to settle back into the status quo. This is the ninth episode (and the movie) since Mulder and Scully were stripped from the X-Files and they are still stuck in the quagmire of boring background checks on suspected criminals whilst Fowley and Spender take over their work. Mulder refuses to work because it would make way too many people happy way too quickly. Mulder looks like a kicked puppy when Scully heads off to work with Ritter, acknowledging that if she does a good job they aren’t going to put her back on the dog work.

Brains’n’Beauty: Kersh looks to be playing dirty tactics and attempting to split up the dynamic duo by assigning Scully to work with the rather dishy Agent Payton Ritter. I hate to say this since it is the chemistry between the leads that makes this show so damn entertaining at times but from a outsiders perspective, Scully would be much better off being lead in this direction by Kersh, salvaging her career and partnering up with somebody far less reckless than Mulder. It goes to show that Kersh isn’t all bad, he is dangling a carrot in front of a promising Agent and trying to give her a chance to redeem herself. Scully might suspect Fellig but she is still a medical Doctor and she treats him like she would any other patient. Rather than giving Ritter a chance to prove himself, Scully is straight on the phone to Mulder when she wants to discuss the case. She would be similarly cold with Agent Doggett when he first arrives on the scene. At first Scully thinks that Fellig is taking her to stalk his victims but she soon realises that things a lot more complex than that. By apparently saving her life from an aggressive client, Scully inadvertently causes the prostitutes death as she steps in front of the trunk. For somebody who is devoutly religious she must have a problem with a man pre-determining how people are going to die and seeing her part in the operation. Scully figures that there is too much to learn and experience for anybody to suggest that they have had too much life…but I guess if you saw all your loved ones grow old and die you would change your opinion. Are you supposed to replace in a perpetual loop of happiness? Scully was told by Clyde Bruckman that she was immortal herself and so when death comes knocking at the end of this episode it has no choice but to claim another victim. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The how is always a surprise…I just always know when.’
‘We’re talking about a guy with whom life in prison carries some pretty weighty connotations.’
‘You live forever, sooner or later you start to think about the big thing you’re missing hat everybody else gets to find out about but you’ ‘About love?’ ‘What does that last forever?’ 

The Good: Trust Gilligan to take hold of the idea of immortality and put a unique spin on the idea, not being facetious with the notion (as shows like Buffy often could be) but instead highlighting what a curse it would be. Tithonus sports several spine chilling notions that add to the terrible blight of immortality; Fellig can tell who is about to die (realised with piquancy by highlighting the victim in black and white) because he has been around long enough to recognise the events that lead up to a fatality. To that end he is actively pursuing and photographing peoples deaths, trying to capture the moment, to understand it, in the aim to one day achieve that finality himself. Even if Gilligan had never contributed any other episodes of this show (let alone most of the top quality ones) I would have lauded him as one of the shows most promising writers because of this fascinating set up alone. Some episodes stutter at the starting line because the ideas are so dreadful (The Jersey Devil, Genderbender, Our Town, Chinga, Badlaa) but others scream of storytelling possibilities and ooze potential to be explored beyond one 45 minute episode. Tithonus is a classic episode in its own right but this is the sort of premise that has legs and could drive a series. The way Fellig stands before people like a ghastly spectre of death (they cast the part beautifully, Geoffrey Lewis looks on with a mixture of sadness and longing) burns in the mind. This is the first sign that there could be life after Mulder for Scully, foretelling the events of season eight where she would be partnered up with a new, fresh-faced and exciting partner. Whilst Ritter’s journey isn’t as thorough as Doggett’s and the character is not as well defined, he’s still a likable character with plenty of potential for further study (especially in how both Mulder and Scully react to her re-assignment). Despite being a terrible advertisement for the New York tourist board and almost devolving into cliché, the knife attack down a back alley is grippingly handled and you know it is only a matter of time before that whine of the camera will kick in. You get to experience what happens when a man who cannot die is stabbed in the back repeatedly. I love how the evidence is very quickly stacked up against Fellig so the episode is not about proving his innocence or guilt so that around the halfway mark when Scully confronts him rather than running or trying to argue with he, he passively asks her to join him on one of his death hunts. He’s not your typical antagonist (I would argue that he isn’t the antagonist at all, just the man who is gifted with foreknowledge) and it pushes Tithonus out of your typical monster of the week episode into something far more interesting. It allows him to form a relationship with Scully. Fellig considers death to be a tangible presence, he personifies it by treating it as a person rather than a series of circumstances. Fellig’s gift is given as much explanation as is necessary – ‘How is it you know when people are going to die?’ ‘When you chase it long enough you pick it up.’ Ritter isn’t a government plant like Krychek was, but a man who refuses to be dicked around by Scully and his actions are dictated by his integrity. That’s why when Mulder confronts him with the news of Fellig’s immortality he doesn’t push for more information but simply follows his instructions to catch up with the man. Fellig has lived so long that he cannot remember his wife’s name, that’s a haunting thought. The blood appearing to ooze from the camera is another striking image. The build up to the appearance of Death is strong that you might wonder how they would pull such an incredible concept off – instead it is Ritter who invades the scene with a bullet that almost claims Scully’s life and fulfils Fellig’s prophecy. The look of contentment on Fellig’s face when Death steps from Scully into him absolutely sells the beauty of the moment.

Pre Titles Sequence: The creepiest teaser for many a season which expertly wrong foots the audience into thinking that the mail lady is going to be the victim of the man who is following her when in fact he can sense that her death is imminent and he is simply remaining close by so he can photograph her once she has been expired. If you have a fear of lifts (or confined spaces) then this really isn’t the set piece for you, as we witness with dramatic swiftness the cable snapping and the metal box free falling over 20 floors and plunging its occupants to their death. The whine of the camera as Fellig prepares to take his shots sent a chill down my spine and the final shot of the black and white hand consumed with ruby red blood is a potent image. Vince Gilligan might be more well known for his lighter X-File episodes but I think some of his strongest work is achieved when he ditches the humour ad goes for the jugular (Paper Hearts, Roadrunners).

Moment to Watch Out For: With a sudden certainty we realise the only reason that Fellig has let Scully in is because he can tell she is about to die herself. With his usual despondence, he doesn’t even try and hide the fact. Scully’s reaction is naturally dramatic as the whine of the camera builds….

Result: ‘I can’t tell you how many bridges I have jumped off and all I get is wet…’  Chillingly good, Tithonus is the strongest Scully-solo episode to date and has a premise so rich it could happily stretch to exploration in at least a mini series, possibly more. I would go as far to say that Tithonus would serve as an unnerving pilot for a series that would have as much (if not more) potential than Millennium. An immortal who cannot die, predicting when people are going to die and chasing down the moment of death and photographing it in order to understand it. Fellig is a fascinating character, sometimes creepy as hell, others times achingly sympathetic and Geoffrey Lewis has been perfectly cast to bring to life the many broken facets of a man who longs for death. There are echoes of Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose (the premise, the relationship between a man who can see predict the moment of death and Scully) but the tone of the episode is completely different, sorrowful and sinister rather than knowing and jocose. However the net result is the same, a drama with greater meaning than the average X-File. The first half of Tithonus is devoted to giving the audience insight into Fellig’s sinister pursuit of death, giving Scully cause to discover his secret so that a dialogue can open up between them in the second half and the ideas can be intimately explored. The climax picks up on an ominous suggestion in Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose that Scully is immortal; an idea that this episode makes abundantly clear would be a curse, not a blessing. I haven’t even discussed the excitement of seeing Scully partnered with Peyton Ritter (Fox Mulder/John Doggett…why can’t any of these guys have normal names?), a blueprint for season eight and a separation of Mulder and Scully that yields interesting results. It will be interesting to explore this further when Mulder departs for places unknown. This is the first properly scary episode of the year but also one of the most substantial. You can always count on Gilligan to deliver something worth watching but he has excelled himself here: 9/10


Two Fathers written by Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Are the Syndicate’s plans about to fall to pieces?

Trust No-One: Interestingly, Mulder and Scully don’t turn up in this episode until ten minutes into the action. Proof that even if you don’t like the mythology episodes, that the writers have managed to amass a large enough supporting cast to take the weight of the leads when the story requires it. The Smoking Man admits that he has deliberately ruined Mulder and chosen his son to replacement him when he became too difficult to control. Mulder’s father wanted to resist the aliens rather than work with them but was out voted by the Syndicate.

Brains’n’Beauty: For once this year it is Scully trying to encourage Mulder to break the rules and take on an X-File rather than the other way around – because it could lead to information about her abduction and treatment and because they owe Cassandra Spender their attention. The warmth that comes from the scenes the two women share is lovely, you would think that the two actresses had worked together for much longer than two previous episodes.

Smoking Man: It is long past time that the Smoking Man got to tell his story and seize control of episode, not only because it makes the whole conspiracy angle clear to have the man in charge recounting the events but also because he is a superb character that deserves the time in the limelight. It goes to prove that you don’t need elaborate, flashy set pieces (although this episode flaunts those too) to tell a gripping story, the Smoking Man sits and smokes in a dark room (where else, this is the last Syndicate tale so that tradition should be maintained) and tells his story to an unknown colleague and it is gripping. Not just because he is being the events themselves are so shocking, but because the writers are finally letting us in on everything that they have kept hidden for so many years. The Smoking Man (somehow I just can’t get used to calling him Mr Spender) could never have foreseen how the events would have played out, just as he never suspected that their plans would ever reach some kind of climax. They have been at this for so long now, the end seemed unfathomable. Finally the personal consequences of his work have caught up with him. He chose his ex-wife as the subject for alien experimentation never for a moment thinking that those experiments would be successful. Now with the power balance so precarious and Cassandra proving the catalyst for huge changes, he has to order her execution. It is the first decision that he has hesitated to make, one where his own feelings have some consideration. It is with clear regret that he switches off Openshaw’s life support, some unspoken affection through years of work together hanging in the air. With all the blood on his hands, he cannot kill the mother of his own son, a woman that he never event loved.

Faux Mulder & Scully: One trick that was missed with this otherwise superb opening run of episodes in season six (these two episodes are numbers eleven and twelve and we haven’t had a duffer yet) is the lack of Spender and Fowley exposure. When they were shoehorned into Mulder and Scully’s roles I was hoping for some X-Files being told from their POV but aside from their involvement in The Beginning and Spender’s brief appearance in Terms of Endearment they have been strangely absent whilst we catch up with Mulder and Scully on routine assignment elsewhere. Skinner catches us up with what we all suspected, that Spender hasn’t been following up any leads, hasn’t been filing any reports, he’s basically slacking off in Mulder’s old office and concentrating on one case only – his mothers. Jeffrey refuses to believe the truth about his mothers abduction and turns his nose up at Mulder’s help even when it is clear that he is at sea without him. When he starts making demands, his father puts him in his place a few well earned smacks around the face. Spender tries to prove himself to his father by taking on assignments of his choosing, finally stepping over the mark from a disinterested observer to an active player. Jeffrey is appalled learn that he has been helping protecting his fathers secrets so he can continue to run experiments on his father. He walks away from his work, determined to be his own great man and protect his mother from his father.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘A man should never live long enough to see his children or his work destroyed.’
‘You pale to Fox Mulder’ – the Smoking Man cuts his son down with the one insult that will keep him down.

Ugh: The sown up faces of the rebels really give me the wiggins – any approximation of a human face with fixed emotions does (include clowns and countless Doctor Who monsters – Voc Robots especially - in that selection). There is a marvellously chilling moment that is ripped straight from the Doctor Who story Spearhead from Space where one of Syndicate leaders is confronted by a replica of himself when he opens his front door. This being The X-Files they go one step further by showing the Elder ripping his imposters face off and revealing the stitched up nightmare of a face underneath. They didn’t need to show us the image of a man combusting, lighting effect and screams do all the work for us in an unusually tense off-screen death for this show.

The Good: Cassandra proved to be a smart move on the part of Carter and Spotnitz because it finally gave the work that the Syndicate were  carrying out a human face. Because so much of their work was being kept secret we couldn’t really see the implication of what they were doing to the wider world. With Cassandra we could see the obscene experiments that were taking place and what would ultimately become of the human race if the plans went ahead successfully. It is fortunate too that the sublime Veronica Cartwright was chosen to play the character as she brings with her a real sense of tenderness and good humour (‘I think I’m going to pee the floor!’) that makes her very easy to warm to. Cassandra has learnt her lesson the hard way, now refusing to tell anybody of her experiences until she can trust them to believe her.  The rebels infiltrate the Syndicate and try and manipulate circumstances so they switch their allegiances to them rather than the aliens they have worked with for the past fifty years. Carter has always loved injecting a domestic angle into his conspiracy stories’ usually involving Mulder and Scully’s family and pour on the soap operatics (or murdering a member of their families off for shock effect). However with the Spender family he has finally struck upon a winning combination, the Smoking Man pulling the strings, Cassandra providing tricky complications and their son proving a disappointment to them both. It’s hard to imagine them playing happy families at any point but as anchors for dramatic storytelling this unit works a treat. The twist that the Smoking Man isn’t merely soliloquising but telling his tale to Diana Fowley, the only person who hasn’t betrayed him, is a great twist. I wondered where she had got to and it promises a greater role for this devious femme fatale in the second episode. The cliffhanger is fantastic because it brings the events to the edge of a cliff with the possibility of plunging overboard into chaos – if Cassandra is demonstrated as a successful alien/human hybrid then the invasion of the Earth begins. She has to die in order to prevent that and she stands before Mulder and begs him to kill her and it looks for all the world as though he is going to go through with. Kudos to the writers for building the episode to such a spectacularly dramatic moment, but all praise to the actors too that make this cliffhanger work as well as it does. It gives me goosebumps every time I see it.

The Bad: Cassandra says that Samantha is ‘out there with the aliens’ but we learn in Closure that that isn’t the case at all. Carter is still making it up as he goes along at this point when it comes to Mulder’s quest.

Pre Titles Sequence: ‘Dr Openshaw, congratulations. Your work, it’s been completed…’ From the ominous first scene it feels like events are coming to a head, that the plans that have been so meticulously laid out are starting to gather momentum. Take the train carts for extraterrestrial experimentation from one episode (Nisei/731) and an abductee from another (Cassandra Spender from Patient X/The Red and the Black) and you have elements of the mythology arc drawing together to tell a more complete story. Add in a dash of the stitched up faces of the rebel faction and their combusting weapons and you are confronted with a teaser that is pure mythology but feels fresh and relevant for it, and tensely directed by stalwart Kim Manners. Why are the rebels so determined to destroy the Syndicates work? What is it that has finally come to fruition? For once, all will be revealed…

Moment to Watch Out For: Jeffrey’s botched assassination attempt is fantastic moment because he learns with grotesque certainty that alien life does exist and it has infiltrated the planet. The look of sheer horror on his face as he tears the face from his victim is excellently played by Chris Owens. The aftermath as Spender watches the aliens face dissolve is quietly played between him and Krychek, as the latter treats this whole affair like some kind of intimate initiation into a secret world.

Mythology: ‘We had a perfect conspiracy with an alien race. Aliens that were coming to reclaim this planet and destroy all human life. Our job was to secretly prepare the way for their invasion. To create for them a slave race of human/alien hybrids…’ That’s telling us more in 30 seconds than the show managed in the first five years (unless you dissected the conspiracy episodes hardcore and examined every subtlety). ‘Plans that would have work had not a rebel alien race come to destroy them…’ Cassandra later tells Mulder: ‘…only now I know what the aliens are here for and it isn’t good. (Their here) to wipe us off the planet. They’re taking over the universe. They’re infecting all other life forms with a black substance called Purity. It’s their life force, it’s what they’re made of. The Doctor’s were burnt by another race of aliens, a rebel force that are mutilating their faces so they wont be infected.’ Krychek chips in with: ‘Collaboration has allowed you time to prepare, to stall colonisation. How close are you to developing a human/alien hybrid? That alone ensures your survival. What about your vaccine? By collaborating you’ve bought yourself time to secretly develop a way to combat the aliens, to fight the future!’

Foreboding: Everything is to play for in the second part…

Result: ‘This is the end…’ Easily two of the most baffling writers in terms of consistent quality (you literally don’t know from one episode to the next if they will produce a classic or a duffer as the pendulum swings precariously back and forth), Carter and Spotnitz pull off a massive coup with Two Fathers/One Son in managing to successfully and rivetingly write off the conspiracy arc in a story that piles on the clichés (boxcars, neck piercing weapons, abductees, alien/human hybrids), does something exciting and bold with them and is bursting to the seams with memorable set pieces and twists. It is by far my favourite of the mythology two parters (although season four’s Tempus Fugit/Max and seasons eight’s Existence/Essence come dangerously close to matching them) and it builds to an impressive cliffhanger that had me on the edge of my seat when I first watched this. What I find fascinating about this tale is how Mulder and Scully are sidelined for much of the first part, always present but the important action given to the rest of the ensemble, those who can impart the secrets that have been hidden for the past six years. I am so used to this show obfuscating that to have everything spelt out so precisely is dizzying. It’s impressive that the myriad of elements that have made up the conspiracy arc have finale managed to converge into one coherent story. It is proof that Carter knew the story he was telling all along, he just got a little muddied along the way. The feeling of excitement that builds as you realise this is all building to a dramatic crescendo is unlike anything the show has ever attempted before and you can only cling on to the seat of the pants and hope that the pay off is as strong in the second part. Expertly scripted, acted (William B. Davis and Chris Owens have never been better) and directed; Two Fathers is another standout episode this year. This is one of those perfect moments on The X-Files where everything comes together magnificently: 10/10

 One Son written by Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: The Syndicates plans come to a close…

Trust No-One: It has been a long time since Mulder and Scully (or should that be David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson) have been treated as objects of lust (possibly down to their increasing say in the series such its popularity has soared) and the shower scene where they check each other out (and look away apologetically) raised a smile (nothing else). Clearly Mulder has changed his outlook on life to ‘Trust no-one unless they have a pretty face.’ As soon as the Smoking Man turns up at Fowley’s house, her allegiances are clear and yet Mulder still allows her to seduce him.

Brains’n’Beauty: I wonder if whatever excuse Fowley came up with that Scully would pick holes in it. As it turns out Fowley is up to her neck but it’s obvious that Scully doesn’t like her because of her previous connection to Mulder. Even Mulder remarks with an arched eyebrow that she hides her feelings towards Fowley very well. Scully is determined to bring her down and confronts Mulder with some pretty damning evidence but he causally swots her concerns away because he thinks that he knows the woman. A personal interest in his work is all she has left and if he takes that away from her then she’s no reason to continue, actively threatening him to believe what she is telling him or she will walk.

Smoking Man: There is a moment of paternal love when the Smoking Man gives Mulder a gun and suggests that he ‘saves himself’ before the alien colonisation begins. After he has put her through so much, Cassandra’s husband cannot look her in the eye and kill her. The Smoking Man turns up to take his place in the exchange but his devious bit on the side turns up in time to whisk him away. Let’s be honest it would have been heartbreaking if we had said goodbye to the character here. He couldn’t kill the woman he never loved but he has no problem with shooting the son who disappointed him – this is a complex character for sure and I’m pleased that he survived the cull to tell more stories. Whether or not he still has a place on the show now that his masterplan has failed so spectacularly remains to be seen.

Faux Mulder & Scully: Jeffrey thinks he is doing what is best for his mum by co-operating with Fowley but doesn’t realise that she is working at the behest of his father. Watching his mother plead with him desperately as he walks away is quite affecting. After the death of his mother Spender finally comes around to Mulder’s way of thinking. His eyes have been well and truly opened and he firmly believes that The X-Files needs somebody at the helm who can give it their full attention. Jeffrey’s character development in this two parter has been extraordinary and his apparent murder at his fathers hands is my only disappointment. He would have been a welcome to ally to the X-Files.

Ugh: Not only is it a shocking turn of events given that it brings to an end the past six years of arc storytelling, but the mass execution of the Syndicate and their families (that have turned up to reunited with their abducted loved ones) is one of the most horrific moments in the series. The panic, the flames, the screams…we don’t have to see everything because the implication is so well achieved. The fact that Cassandra makes her curtain call in such a shocking moment is fitting, she was a great character and deserved a memorable exit.

The Good: Nice to see that the Syndicate hasn’t lost their touch in giving their nefarious activities a ‘reasonable’ excuse, the abduction of Cassandra Spender from Mulder’s flat being played as a decontamination procedure from the CDC. Laurie Hooper is probably a name that people are much more familiar with these days because of her starring role in the stratospherically popular The Waking Dead but it is worth remembering that she took part in an equally popular show in the nineties. Her trouble was that she was given an obscure and vacant character to play, one who followed in the footsteps of two others (Deep Throat and Mr X) but whose only defining feature other than the fact that she was equally mysterious was that she was a woman. However all that is about to change as Marita Covarrubias no longer holds an esteemed position in the Syndicate’s plans but has instead become one of their victims, experimented on as things have escalated and they have needed definitive results. Now she is a tragic character, scarred and slightly dangerous and ready to do anything to get back at her traitorous paymasters. This is a far more interesting direction for this character and had she been pushed this way sooner she might have made far more of an impact. Diana has been a busy woman, monitoring (or some might say controlling) the MUFON subjects that have been experimented on at the behest of the Syndicate. As Cassandra is prepared it looks as though her time is well and truly up and she aims one ‘the biggest bastard of all’ to her husband for all the years of pain ignominy he has caused her. Rob Bowman’s direction always comes into its own when he is directing action, he somehow manages to turn chaos and carnage into an art form. Watch an delight at the sequence where Mulder and Scully try and stop the train from delivering Cassandra, he employs every trick up his sleeve (the camera swoops around the train, he fixes another to the car as speeds alongside the train) to make the scene as dynamic as possible. There is lovely symmetry to how the scenes in the hangar play out in the modern day in exactly the same way they did in the 70s. Except this time the project is brought to a homicidal end. It feels like the shit has well and truly hit the fan, that the rebel force has all the cards and there is no way out for the Syndicate anymore.

Pre Titles Sequence: Despite the fact that Mulder is back making pretentious speeches, we get the chance to witness the first appearance of the aliens en masse meeting with the Syndicate. Amazing how they manage to make so many of the syndicate members look thirty years younger with some make up and hair dye. I have always complimented The X-Files for its cinematic locations but this one must take the biscuit, an aircraft hangar so large you house an entire community in it. Even the aliens which so often look rubbery on this show appear ethereal and unnerving backlit and silhouetted. You can immediately tell Rob Bowman is back in the directors chair.

Moment to Watch Out For: ‘You gave them your children! You gave them your wife! You sent them away like they were things!’ We’ve seen confrontations between Mulder and the Smoking Man countless times, usually all very good, but this meeting of rivals on the eve of the potential invasion of the world carries more gravitas than usual. Suddenly all the pretence drops away and these two men are talking honestly and openly about the secrets that have been kept for so many years. The Smoking Man has nothing but contempt for how backwards Mulder’s thinking is with regards to their work and Mulder thinks he has the moral high ground throughout their conversation, throwing their dirtier experiments in his face.

Mythology: The Smoking Man admits that Bill Mulder sacrificed his only daughter because he knew the day when the aliens came to take over would arrive and he was determined to hold that back. Marita has not only been infected with the black oil but also injected with the vaccine against it to see if a human host can withstand the contamination. The results are not pretty to say the least. William B. Davis has always been cocksure that his character is the hero of the show and not the villain and whilst the Smoking Man’s methods are appalling (as exemplified over and over again with an extreme loss of life) it does transpire that his ultimate goal is to save humanity from an alien takeover. So technically he is the hero. We finally get to see the moment when the family members of the Syndicate were taken away by the alien race to be tested on. They fully expected for them to be returned after the tests. It was a decision that wasn’t taken lightly but it seemed like a small price to pay to hold back the invasion of the planet and buy themselves time to develop a vaccine to the black oil. Mulder’s father refused to give up one of children to the alien colonists and that was why Samantha was taken from his home. That was why she was taken from their home that night, rather than being brought by Bill Mulder to the hangar. Once they had sacrificed one person each they were to be given the alien foetus (seen in The Erlenmeyer Flask in season one) and they could work on their cure. How rewarding to hear all this spelt out so precisely, and to explain away so many apparently random elements of the conspiracy arc. Why couldn’t Carter have been this concise throughout? ‘There will be a sequence of events. A state of emergency will be declared because of a massive outbreak of the alien virus and the takeover will begin.’ 

Result: ‘The future is here and all bets are off…’ Spellbindingly good. Somehow Carter and Spotnitz pull off the incredible coup of completing a six year long storyline without leaving any boxes unticked or any sense of dissatisfaction. It feels as though Carter was keeping us so deliberately in the dark for all these years so that the point where he finally spells everything out in such a rich fashion it achieves a feeling of piquancy unmatched at any other point in the series. One Son brings the Syndicate’s plans to a dramatic conclusion, once again given the Smoking Man the opportunity to tell his tale and watch as their carefully plotted schemes spiral out of all control and they land up face down in their own blood. Bowman really manages to whip a real feeling of anticipation, as thought this is precisely what events have been building to for the past six years. Once again Mulder and Scully are on the periphery of events as the Spender’s take centre stage with Jeffrey in particular going on an incredible journey before exiting stage right. I love the fact that most of the information in this two parter is merely re-packaged from previous episode but because it is suddenly a coherent narrative that is reaching some kind of resolution it grips hold of you in a way that the show never has before. Rob Bowman’s direction matches Kim Manner’s from the previous episode and everything climaxes on a memorably nasty set piece that finished off the Syndicate for good. At least the Smoking Man got away. If I haven’t made it abundantly clear yet, I love this blockbusting double length story and will wax lyrical about it until the cows come home. I must have seen it dozens of times and it still gets me just as excited as my first viewing. The point is…where do we go from here?: 10/10

Agua Mala written by David Amann and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: A giant snotty sea monster made out of water. No I’m serious…

Trust No-One: How comes Mulder seems to spot every crackpot story that turns up on the front page of the Enquirer and yet when the founder of the X-Files gets in touch and informs him of a genuine supernatural occurrence he is nowhere to be seen? Mulder attempts to gee up Scully as they battle their way through the most horrendous of conditions by suggesting they will laugh at all this one and think on it as the day that they took on the worlds natural elements. It makes you wonder if Amann has ever watched the show before, Mulder is talking absolute garbage.

Brains’n’Beauty: Mulder has to find an excuse to have brought Scully along and he admits that she does have a knack for getting to the bottom of things. I think there are plenty of tales that could have opened Scully’s eyes to the mysteries of the world but an adventure with a mutant octopus creature probably isn’t the most subtle among them. Given her fathers love of the ocean and that he shared that passion with her you would think that Scully would be a little more open to the possibility of impossible creatures existing beneath the depths. Dales admits that if he had had somebody as savvy as Scully by his side he may never have retired from the X-Files.

The Good: Rob Bowman is directing this story so you know that no matter how lacking the script is that it is going to look good. He’s the perfect director to shoot this sort of tough assignment, going hell for leather tossing as much water at the sets and actors as possible to make conditions look as turbulent as possible. He utilises all of the visual trickery he has to make this as dynamic as possible, especially shooting all of the scenes without natural light. To his credit he gives Agua Mala a strong visual look (I remembered the water logged scenes if nothing else when re-visiting this story).

The Bad: Much of this episode is Mulder and Scully exploring what is technically a haunted house – or at least a house besieged by a creatures from the deep. What this translates to is a lot of wandering around dark rooms and getting very wet, the sort thing we saw time and time again in the shows first five years in Vancouver. Chris Carter showed how this sort of thing can be done so it is hugely entertaining in How the Ghosts Stole Christmas, buoying up all the horror clichés with plenty of fun interaction and shock moments. Agua Mala feels like we have taken a step back to a time before the show found the fun and it proves remarkably lacking in substance. You know you are getting a little desperate when you start going for false scares just before a real one – if you are going to try this it has to be really well done and not just a wet T-shirt stuck in a drain. When the creature is finally exposed, ignominiously wrapped around its victim sitting on the toilet, it looks like an almighty lump of slimy snot with oozing tentacles. It isn’t scary so much as indefinable. I fail to understand the purpose of Arthur Dales’ involvement in this episode beyond the fact that the production staff wanted to employ Darren McGavin again. It is such a shame that his stroke should have prevented him from taking part in an episode that is crying out for his participation (The Unnatural) and yet he should be shoehorned unnecessarily into a ropey old tale about a snotty sea monster where he sits squarely on the periphery of the action. The inclusion of some broadly drawn and performed residents from the apartment block fails to add the intended humour. It feels like a bunch of caricatures stomping their way through a dodgy b-movie (especially the over the top pregnant Hispanic lady). I never got a sense that any of these characters had a life beyond the confines of this story, that they existed purely to serve the narrative. It appears that Amann is so unsure of how to wrap his story up he has Mulder guess how the creature gained access to the apartments. Rather than backing that up with evidence we are supposed to take his word for it because Mulder is always right. That’s pretty careless writing. As soon as the pregnant woman is introduced I was just waiting for her to pop – if she hadn’t by the episode’s conclusion there would have been no logical reason for her to have a bun in the oven. The final scenes facing up to the attacking creature lack any tension because it can be stopped by simply turning off the sprinklers. Ooh, scary. The toast at the end is a little too self congratulatory for my tastes, the sort of thing that Voyager did on a weekly basis for no good reason.

Pre Titles Sequence: It is sure dramatic and there is plenty of water spewing about the place but I’m not sure that I ever really got hold of what the threat actually was. Is the show so desperate for new ideas (clearly not, given the form of season six to date) that we have to turn to a mutant squid?

Moment to Watch Out For: Scully has never delivered a baby before but she proves rather effective in the role. This shows much promise for the upcoming twist of her own pregnancy and the fact that she is going to be out in the sticks and forced to pretty much walk herself through her own birth.

Orchestra: Snow doesn’t seem quite so sure of his tone this week, veering unconvincingly between comedy and horror with alarming frequency. When the musician is at sea like this and he is supposed to be leading the mood of the episode, we’re in trouble. He introduces a memorable sonar-like theme in the final fifteen minutes of the episode as the creature advances which helped to distract me a little from the mundanity of events.

Result: Despite some effective moments, it is interesting to note that the episode that tries the hardest to emulate the style of the shows first five years (dark, moody, wet) is the least successful in this seasons otherwise unbroken run of good to great episodes. It almost feels like this is a deliberate trip into the past to appease those fans who feel that the show has become too Hollywood of late. The trouble is it is hard to pull off an effective monster tale if your marine creature is as ineffective as this. Water is hardly the most chilling of foes when it is trying to strangle you with an oily tentacle. If it had been filling rooms and drowning people that might have been a different matter. What you are left with lots of wandering around in the dark and wet which gets increasingly tiresome the less frightened you are. Halfway through the episode the narrative is so empty that Amann is forced to toss in a bunch of unconvincingly drawn characters to stretch out the running time (what was the deal with the kleptomaniac all about?). Mulder does an astonishing amount of guesswork and because it is always the case he turns out to be right, Scully objects and tries to fight his explanations because that is what Amann sees her role as being, despite the fact that she has come so far the past five and half seasons. This is pure X-Files by numbers which can be effective when the scares are present (check out The Host or 2Shy) but when it is lacking even slightest flicker of novelty it drags interminably. The show had to drop the ball at some point: 4/10  

Monday written by Vince Gilligan and John Shiban and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Mulder has a leak and visits the bank. And dies.

Trust No-One: They always say that despite whatever occurs during a Monday it is always the least appreciated day of the week because it sits squarely after the weekend and Mulder’s day from hell looks set to break a new record of mundane, unfortunate occurrences. It is easy to sympathise because we have all had days like this where nothing goes right. Ingeniously self referencing the timey wimey madness of Dreamland, Mulder still doesn’t know where his water bed came from and thinks that it must have been a gift. I don’t think Mulder has ever looked more cute than when he is trying to tackle a tiny leak in his water bed with a saucepan.

Brains’n’Beauty: Wouldn’t it just be galling for Mulder and Scully to have survived so many threats and indignities only to be taken out by a third rate bank robber packing high explosives? Anderson plays the bank scenes for real, a far cry from some of the sitcom (in all the best ways) performances she has given of late.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You ever have one of those days, Scully?’ ‘Since I’ve been working here, yeah.'
‘I woke up, I opened my eyes, I was soaking wet…’
‘This never happened before.’

Ugh: Not one drop of blood spilt, and yet still gripping. It can be done.

The Good: Because of the potential monotony of the repetitive nature of the scenes in the loop director Kim Manners chose to shoot each block from a variety of different angles and as such this is one of the most inventively realised episodes of the shows entire run. Carrie Hamilton and Darren E. Burrows show how to come onto a show in a guest role and to really make something of it. In some ways their jobs are made a lot harder insofar as they have to find new ways to play out exactly the same events but within their limited roles (neither of them leave the street that the episode is set in and they talk to relatively few people) they create two memorable characters in Pam and Bernard, so much so that by the end of Monday you know exactly who they are and where they have come from. Pam is especially impressive, the only person who is aware that the loop is recurring and having to live in the nightmare that her lover is dying on a continuous loop. I always admire actors who are willing to play pathetic characters and Burrows highlights just how awkward and unfortunate Bernard is so that his flick of the switch is almost a relief when he sets the bomb off. Even the way he says his name sounds pitiable. To find an abandoned old bank and dress the place up as stylishly as this…only The X-Files commands such deliriously expensive set design. Suranne Spoke deserves a round of applause for finding so many different ways to say ‘Oh God!’ and fall to the floor in a hysterical heap. By the end of the episode she is practically a comic highlight. Pam sits in her car like she is directing the episode, pre-empting dialogue and action before it takes place. Manners paces each sequence of the loop differently, cutting each successive one faster so we gather real momentum towards the climax. There is so much fun you can have with this kind of episode as soon as the audience is in on the game and recognises how the loop plays out because you can start playing about with the events (such as Pam approaching Mulder) and see how they diverge from previous sequence. Unfortunately it soon becomes clear that Pam is trapped inside what appears to be a pre-destination, that whatever she does to try and change the outcome she will always end up causing it. Debris whipping up around Pam as the bank explodes again, this might be the most affecting shot of the entire episode. Perhaps every time we experience déjà vu we are in fact trapped inside an loop of events going around and around. I just hope yours is a good day. Even when it looks as though Mulder and Scully have triumphed by shooting Bernard in the chest, he still manages to rip his shirt open and set off the bomb in a cruel twist. Mulder’s sense of déjà vu and the repeated action of his ‘he’s got a bomb’ spells out to an attentive viewer how he is going figure his way out of the loop. Even when he has the chance to change his fate (and is explicitly told so by Mulder), Bernard still takes what he considers to be the only option left to him. The tragedy of this man is that he was always fated to murder the only person who ever gave a damn about him, but there had to be a perfectly stacked sequence of events take place so all the players involved knew about his intention to blow up the bank in order for that to happen. In that way, even the loop itself was fated. It also makes perfect sense of why Pam is the only person that can see the repetition of events since she should never have seen beyond them.

The Bad: It is done deliberately so this is not a criticism of the episode…but the fiscal meeting at the FBI must be the dullest gathering of individuals ever committed to film. Scully looks like she is going to drop off at any minute. So dull that going to the bank is the preferable option, and being consumed by an explosion too in all probability.

Pre Titles Sequence: As well as being dramatically well staged, Monday’s opening sequence takes the unusual step of taking place after the central events and then heading back after the titles to explain how we got there. In other shows that is a technique that is often used but The X-Files has mostly shied away from it, preferring to open at the beginning of a story and setting up the latest menace. I love the fact that we can come to the bank siege late and not have to hold up a cue card of EARLIER THAT DAY because the repeated actions are built into the nature of the episode. More to the point this is the only pre-titles sequence where both Mulder and Scully are murdered and like TNG’s Cause and Effect before it that is a shock to the system that the director exploits to the max. So many questions to answer? How does Pam know Skinner? How did the bank robbery get so out of control? Why is Mulder lying in a pool of his blood (and I love how the camera pulls away from that image slowly so we can get a good look at his injuries)? Once again the production values on this show are extraordinary – it looks for all the world as though they have genuinely used explosives to take out a bank on a thriving Washington street. Easily one of the best ever X-Files pre-titles sequences.

Moment to Watch Out For: I know it should be something more profound but Mulder’s comedy pratfalls as he trips over his shoes get better and better until I was wetting myself.

Fashion Statement: Mulder topless in a water bed might be a dream come true for some…until it appears he has wet his pyjama bottoms. One of the many joys of this episode is that you know that we are eventually going to cut back to a shot of Mulder’s hairy chest in morning sunlight. Swoon.

Orchestra: A great Mark Snow score, and one that underplays the drama of the bank robbery and helps build up great tension. The screaming stings as the bomb is revealed sounds like a massive intake of breath (the audience joins in) before the detonation. 

Result: ‘If it wasn’t for you nobody would die…’ One of the highlights of a very strong season, Monday encapsulates all that has worked so well ever since the show moved to LA. It is a move away from monster of the week stories into something much more entertaining and ingenious and at the same time recycling an old premise but innovating it in unique X-Files style. So far this year we have enjoyed time travel, body swaps, a ghost story and now the Groundhog Day (or rather The Twilight Zone because they did it first) time loop. Kim Manners has worked extremely hard to make each sequence unique unto itself and writers Gilligan and Shiban manage to play by the rules and introduce much originality to this well worn concept. Monday is an episode that manages to be laugh out loud funny, fast paced entertainment, genuinely shocking and tinged with real tragedy. This is The X-Files subscribing to the notion of pre-destination, that events are written in a particular way and if they don’t play out as intended they will be repeated over and over until we get it right. What this means in dramatic terms is that the show can kill off Mulder and Scully a handful of times in a shocking explosion and we can witness them trying to figure a way out of this scenario without ever knowing the erroneous fate that is awaiting them. I can remember watching Monday with a group of friends on its first transmission on Sky One and everybody being blown away by it. In my own personal time loop of quality I must have seen it a dozen times since and it still excites me. It’s The X-Files thinking outside the box and pursuing a different kind of episode and long may the show continue to do so. If these are the lengths that the series has to go to in order to keep the audience interested I wish we had reached the monotony of season five a few years back. Top notch television: 10/10
Arcadia written by Daniel Arkin and directed by Michael Watkins

What’s it about: Mulder & Scully are betrothed…

Trust No-One & Brains’n’Beauty as The Odd Couple: Brilliant fun, what a great idea it was to have Mulder and Scully posing as a middle class couple moving into the neighbourhood. It is such an obvious idea and so ripe for comedy that I am surprised that it has taken somebody this long to work it into an episode. Mulder is the over enthusiastic, macho city boy moving to the country and Scully his long suffering wife who is always trying to rein him in. After so many episodes in season six splitting Mulder and Scully up and tearing them away from The X-Files it is lovely to get back to a good old fashioned investigation, and one that throws them in at the deep from the very beginning. Mulder is loving himself (‘Woman, get back in here and make me a sandwich!’) and Scully suffers his sarcasm. Rather than going at their suspects with attitude and pointing a gun, they have to hide their interrogation behind false smiles and a cheery demeanour. It makes for a very different kind of episode, and a massively entertaining one. It’s our one chance to see Mulder and Scully living together as a couple and it proves that they would be at each others throats just as much as any others. He nearly has the shock of his life when she departs the bathroom with a face pack on and she is constantly reminding him about putting the toilet seat down and to stop making such a mess with the toothpaste. During these domestic moments they reminded me strongly of Simon and I and just about any other married couple in existence. Mulder hates the rules and regulations that run these peoples lives but Scully feels quite comfortable with boundaries, that says a lot about both of their characters. She’s willing to play ball until he tries to entice her into bed and then she reclaims her usual name and kicks him out of the bedroom. Mulder is having real fun trying to bait the neighbours out of hiding, displaying hideous garden decorations, kicking his mail box askew and putting up his basketball net – I love this juvenile, playful side of his character that comes out when he is told what to do. When he doesn’t get anywhere with that he calls in an enormous digger to churn up the land so he can put in a reflecting pool, something that he has fastidiously checked the rules to see if there is a ban about. Which there isn’t.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Every community has its dark underbelly, don’t you think?’ 

The Good: The whole idea of these planned communities with a million rules and regulations are fairly sinister and well worth parodying in a show like The X-Files. Sometimes you can compensate too much for a sense of security, and there comes a point where you erase all spontaneity and unpredictability from your life by regimenting a community in order to keep them safe. You become as much the Stepford Wives that this episode has a strong feel of, soulless automatons being told how to live your lives. Forcing other people to conform to your wishes under the label of ‘just trying to neighbourly…’  Oppression with a smile is the most insidious of all. I’m not going to lie though, these houses are gorgeous and the location chosen is just about the pinnacle of domestic bliss that I can imagine. Maybe it would be worth selling my soul for after all. Living myself in a sheltered community of sorts (please don’t think that I am amongst the geriatrics just yet) I understand how rules can be a little too fixated on keeping everything just so (I was once asked to remove a charity bag from the front of the property because it wasn’t ‘aesthetically pleasing’, naturally I told them where to go) and it amuses me to think that the writer of this episode suffered the same as Mulder and Scully, moving in so close to the curfew and being fined a thousand dollars for breaking the rules. There is something very sinister about a committee of people sitting down over a meal, all mock politeness, and deciding the fate of the new couple that have recently moved in. Tom Gallop gives a lovely performance, initially I had him pinned as the one responsible for the murders but it is soon unearthed that he is hiding a whole world of pain behind those false smiles, trying to keep as many people alive as possible by making them conform. The twist that domestic paradise has been built upon a garbage dump is a delightful turn of events. You make things look as pretty as possible and try and keep things that way but the effluence below will squeeze between the cracks and infect that perfection.

The Bad: Mulder thinking up some kind of logical but last minute explanation for the creature – a Tibetan thought form willed into existence by Gogolak – is the writing desperately clutching at straws to give the monster some kind of rationalisation. Given the amount of pleasure this episode offers, I would have let it slide had its origins been left obscure. I would have figured it was just a meticulously tidy garbage monster that had something against garden ornaments. I have no idea why Gogolak would want to murder people for failing to obey his rules, nobody could be that anal about aesthetics. And would the creature murder him because he is cuffed to a mailbox – couldn’t he whisk it away if he was the one that summoned it into existence?

Pre Titles Sequence: Utterly ridiculous in its premise of putting out a garden feature that has forced a community to call upon a giant slimy monster to rid them of this wooden abomination and yet still rather frightening in its execution (the creature itself is horrible and the noise it makes as it stomps up the stairs would be enough to make anybody crap themselves). It is another season six episode that offers up an intriguing teaser, both light and dark and great fun to watch.

Moment to Watch Out For: It just goes to show that it all comes down to how you shoot the monster. The actual costume is no more realistic than the oil slick monster that flailed around ineffectually in TNG’s Skin of Evil but Armus was overlit and overexposed. Michael Watkins only ever shows part of the creature, often shooting its advance from the point of view of the victims and utilising dramatic sound effects to make its approach as gut wrenching as possible. It could have been hideously b movie but instead it becomes a genuinely frightening creation. Kudos.

Fashion Statement: It has to be said – Mulder and Scully in civvies posing as a married couple is the cutest thing. Especially Mulder in a polo shirt with his jumper wrapped around his shoulders. It feels like he has finally come home. 

Result: It’s time to settle down for an evening of domestic bliss with Mulder and Scully as they move into the picturesque planned community, the Falls of Arcadia. If you are still watching the X-Files in it’s sixth year there is a big chance that you are a fan of the Mulder and Scully dynamic and so when the producers decided to have them pose as a yuppie married couple with all the gags that come with it you surely cannot fail to be charmed by such an idea. I’m not sure what has happened to David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson this year but the pair of them have loosened up beyond recognition and the result is a season that is very easy to enjoy. A far cry from the previous year where they were pulled in so many directions because they were simultaneously filming the TV series and touching up the movie that their attention was divided and their hearts felt like it wasn’t quite in it. Arcadia delights in it’s mundane setting and b-movie oil slick monster, The X-Files take hold of both potentially dodgy ideas and turning out a gloriously entertaining episode that manages to make you smile and tuck your head under the covers when the creatures makes an appearance. Mulder behaves like the neighbour from hell while Scully plays the long suffering wife with some aplomb, both publicly and privately. It is only when it comes to wrap up Arcadia that script writer Daniel Arkin falters. He dreamed up such an enjoyable scenario that he has run with it and is left desperately trying to explain it all in the final, unconvincing, five minutes. Sill in an episode where Scully calls Mulder ‘poopy bear’ and he tries to lure her beneath the sheets promising a fun night I can’t be too harsh. Arcadia continues the run of lighter episodes this season but is very different from any of the others before it: 8/10

Alpha written by Jeffrey Bell and directed by Peter Markle

What’s it about: Elim Garak turned slavering dog man…

Trust No-One: Mulder thought he met some kind of kindred spirit in Karen (who has clearly been checking out his work also) until he meets her face to face and she turns out to be the least charismatic woman on the planet. I’m not sure what Bell was trying to say with these scenes beyond Mulder having to turn to the internet to meet like minded women rather than seeking them out in social situations. Originally this was to have been a romance plotline, or at least one where the two of them were attracted to each other (they would have had to have cast the part differently had that been the case) but that was lost entirely due to Frank Spotnitz. It leaves the relationship a cold one and the actors share absolutely zero chemistry.

Brains’n’Beauty: This feels like a real retro episode with Scully sighing disdainfully at Mulder’s wild theories (which of course turn out to be right on the button) and Mulder dishing out a fair amount of sarcasm because of her scepticism. We’ve been here too many times before for any of this to feel interesting. Scully seems genuinely miffed that Mulder is contacting other women online (and after she was so unimpressed by his domestic habits in the last episode too!) and starts her own investigation into Karen to make sure she isn’t leading him up the garden path. This might have been a fun distraction had Culea bothered to inject any life into the scenes but Anderson seems infected by her slumber and they turn what could have been an entertainingly bitchy relationship into something snoozesome.

Ugh: To give Peter Markle some credit he does manage to generate some tension with the dog attacks, especially when we get a good look at its slavering, snapping incisors. Feral dogs are scary and I’m sure if was face to face with one I would be shitting my pants (I have had an incident with a pissed off dog and I was genuinely frightened) but you soon start to realise that we are going to be witnessing the same set piece over and over. It’s too predictable by far. Scully discovers the particularly bloody corpse of a man who has been mauled to death by the dog.

The Good: Proof that it all comes down to the script and character you are handed, Andrew Robinson is a fantastic actor and turned out one of the most memorable creations in science fiction with the character of Elim Garak in DS9. Transferring to The X-Files for an episode, it is an intriguing experiment to see how he fares with a new character but Detweiler is such an underwritten part that he does well to salvage it as much as he does. I dread to think what somebody with half his talent would have made of this.  Some of the giddy shots from the dogs POV were quite snazzy. I’m getting a bit desperate now.

The Bad: I have a friend whose geekiness I would say manages to go one step beyond even my own. Recently we were having a discussion about which title sequence is our favourites for our favourite TV show (like you do) and he made the spectacularly geeky remark that the font in which the story title came up is what clinched it for him. I was slack jawed that this would even be a consideration. Until I started watching Alpha and was thoroughly distracted by the horrid, yellow, blocky font that they chose to use for the subtitles. Normally this sort of thing would pass me by but thank to my discussion about fonts with my friend clearly that is going to become something worth commenting on. Paul, what have you done to me? How could Bell imagine that the audience is so stupid that they wouldn’t make the connection that a character named Detweiler is the wild dog that everybody is chasing? It would appear that Melinda Culea (who I still remember from The A-Team) got the part because she was the wife of the director but I would question whether she was suitable for the part given that she seems spectacularly unenthused by the whole affair. I’ve discussed people sleepwalking through the part but Culea’s disinterest is in a league of its own, she looks like she is constantly waiting for the director/her husband to shout ‘cut!’ so she can grab her pay check and run.

Pre Titles Sequence: It’s time for the impossibly stupid people to make an appearance in the show again. Of course the first instinct when dealing with a feral and clearly pissed off animal is to unpadlock the crate it is trapped in to check if it is still alive. Sometimes people behave in such a brainless fashion that they are asking for the fate that befalls them.

Orchestra: As soon as Mark Snow starts blowing down those tribal pipes I start to get worried. It brings back unfortunate memories of The Jersey Devil, Our Town and Teliko. Alas Alpha is poor enough to add to that list of unfortunates quite comfortably. 


Result: ‘Dogs are the best judges of characters I know.’ The trouble with old school episodes like Alpha that would have fit comfortably in seasons one and two is that the show has moved on in leaps and bounds beyond this kind of simple monster of the week nonsense. I mean, an evil, man killing dog? How can you countenance something that mundane with evil in suburbia and a man who can walk through walls on either side of it? Even horror purists would be hard pushed to find something compelling to say about Alpha, one which lays all its cards out on table in the pre-titles sequence and then plays the same set piece out ad nauseum to a point where a slavering, murderous dog is the most boring nasty you’ve ever seen. Alpha isn’t helped by the especially yawnsome subplot about Mulder discovering a kindred spirit online and discovering that she doesn’t quite live up to his expectations. There was the potential for this to be a cheap but massively entertaining subplot about Scully and Mulder’s potential new squeeze feeling each other out (not like that you mucky devils!) but it is sabotaged by a terrible performance from Melinda Culea who renders every scene with the character as frigid as the artic wastes. The truth of the matter is that if The X-Files was a 13 episode season show then Alpha would be the first story to be culled. This is the sort of dreary nonsense that is filmed to pad out the season and even Andrew Robinson cannot raise it above the level of lifeless: 3/10

Trevor written by Jim Guttridge & Ken Hawryliw and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: I want what’s mine…

Trust No-One: ‘Dear diary, today my heart leapt when Scully suggested spontaneous human combustion…’ In complete contrast to Alpha, here is an old school type investigation where Mulder and Scully are at the forefront of the investigation and scripted with a great deal of vim and vigour. It makes all the difference and the distinction in the performances of Duchovny and Anderson is palpable. Mulder’s reaction to Pinker’s incredible strip of condoms is a scream. Rather wonderfully, Mulder does a double take when they discover a stomach turning corpses, looking for all the worlds as though he was hoping that it was just a figment of his twisted imagination for his cursory examination and that it would vanish upon close inspection.

Brains’n’Beauty: ‘Mulder, shut up!’ They have been working together for so long now that Scully has starting thinking like Mulder (whilst not necessarily agreeing with him) and leaps to his fantastic conclusions for him. Whilst men spontaneously combusting is outrageous, there are well documented cases and Scully has just enough facts at her fingertips to rationalize her suggestion. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Shall we arrest David Copperfield?’ 

The Good: If this had just been about the murderous activity of a man who could walk through walls I might find myself less inclined to talk about it but the writers understand that an episode cannot rest on it’s premise (unlike Bell in the previous installment) and introduce a weightier than usual guest cast to add some depth to the story. Everybody deserves a second chance after making mistakes in the past, especially when it is falling into the arms of the wrong man June Gurwitch has managed to wipe the slate clean by starting a relationship with a nice, clean, respectable man with a great deal of cash. The only trouble is she has neglected to mention her shady past with Pinker Rawls which leaves their relationship based on a foundation of lies. You can see where this is heading, right? Catherine Dent gives an excellent performance as June, a woman trapped by her past that is about to infect the happy nest she has made for herself. When she is reunited with Pinker, June is genuinely terrified of him and that goes some way to passing on to the audience how dangerous this man is. It is the reaction of Robert that surprised me the most, rejecting his fiancé outright because of her past rather than accepting that sometimes you make bad turns in life. His inflexibility proves that he was no kind of man to build a life with. Pinker is right, there is something fantastic about putting on a brand new pair of socks. Next time you are doing this mundane task take a moment to savour the feeling, it is glorious. Maybe I was a dunce for not realising sooner but when I first watched Trevor I was convinced (mostly because of the attitude injected into the character by the actor but also because the script goes out of its way to point out that Trevor is June’s nephew) that Pinker was after the money rather than his son. In retrospect it makes perfect sense (and when you question what the title means) and proves to be one of those X-Files that is built on a solid premise that is adequately explained rather than a story that fizzles out into obscurity. That alone is a reason to lavish some praise. Pinker using the agents to gain access to his old squeeze sees the character using his brain rather than simply acting on instinct. Actually having to score I WANT WHAT’S MINE into a wall might seem like a simple effect but it must have been time consuming and the resulting message is a memorable one (still pointing the audience in the direction of the twist ending). What raises Pinker from being a conventional nasty is that although he uses some appalling methods to reach him, once he finally gets to meet his son he genuinely wants a relationship with him and treats him very gently. He’s a mass of contradictions, this man, and that makes him fascinating. As he smashes his way into the phone box Scully is using to protect his son and Trevor looks at his psychotic father through fearful eyes, you realise with some sadness that Pinker is also a man who is trapped by his past. He will never have the relationship with his son that he desires.

Pre Titles Sequence: Most other shows would shy away from trying to realise a tornado on screen but not The X-Files, that’s the sort of challenge that this show thrives on. When the script resorts to criminals talking the talk and winding each other up in the first scene I was sure we were in for another bore like The List and The Walk. But after Pinker drove a nail into the hand of the man that is trying to bait him I began to suspect this would be something a little more interesting than that, and it was a grisly example of how far this man is prepared to go to stick up for himself. Putting a man in a wooden box in the middle of a sand tornado is a very special kind of torture and it is easy to see why a man like Pinker, who doesn’t like to be disrespected and deals with that by lashing out, might go on a killing spree to avenge his near-murder. It’s lovely to have a teaser which is humour free and intriguing, it seems that in season six it either has to make you laugh or bore the tears off you. The physical effect of the man cut in two by the waist is superbly realised, and stomach turning. 

Moment to Watch Out For: The final set piece is brought to life with typical Rob Bowman skill; there is a potentially horrific effect of a pan of boiling water heading for Pinker’s face that slips right through him thanks to his ability. The ensuing fight is vicious and Scully’s attempts to save Trevor in a phone box both dramatic and excellently thought through. The use of a car to murder Pinker is inspired, he slips through the bonnet but is splattered against the windscreen. Just charming.

Orchestra: In a season that is packed full of my favourite Mark Snow scores comes this gorgeous example of his work. It doesn’t have the comic excesses of some of his other memorable soundtrack this year but instead shows how much he has learnt scoring so many episodes of this show. The chilling, whiplash theme that plays throughout Trevor makes brilliantly pre-empts the reveal of a spectacular stunt on Pinker’s part or the reveal of another grisly corpse. 

Result: One of the great things about Chris Carter’s approach was that he was never afraid of consistently trying out new writers on the show. Sometimes they would stick around and contribute to a few seasons and other times (like the writers of Trevor) they would only pen a single episode. It is a shame that Jim Guttridge & Ken Hawryliw are an example of the latter because Trevor is very good indeed, and far better than you might have heard from previous reviewers. There’s a list of things that Trevor gets right; the script is old school but well explained, witty and with a nice surprise ending (which the title has hinted at throughout), Duchovny and Anderson are excited by their peppy dialogue and are back on season six form, Rob Bowman cracks open the memorable set piece jar and sprinkles several examples about the episode and Mark Snow is enjoying the chance to score something this traditional but with a trendy flavour. Don’t get me wrong this is not a story that is going to win awards but at the point in the season where The X-Files usually coasts, Trevor is a strong installment that proves that in every area season six is going to buck the trend of this shows usual pattern. It’s not easy to underplay a criminal to the extent that John Dhiel does here without it become a chore to watch but with a script that gives hideous examples of what he is capable of and his sudden unpredictability, Pinker becomes one of the more memorable nasties of the season. I really like this, it’s not perfect but it is trying very hard to be a standout ‘traditional’ episode: 8/10
 

Milagro written by Chris Carter and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Mulder’s neighbour develops and obsession with Scully…

Trust No-One: Mulder and Scully simply cannot agree on anything, can they? If the script declares that Scully is endorsing the Milagro charm then Mulder has to take the opposing view. Fate has it so that when she alters her opinion, he does too so they still have something to argue about but from the opposing view. Mulder seems a little disturbed that somebody is taking an interest in Scully but it isn’t as forceful or as obvious as she was when Fowley walked into their lives. Mulder’s concern seems bourne of protecting his friend, rather than trying to stand in the way of a potential rival.

Brains’n’Beauty: Are we supposed to buy into Padgett’s commentary as being Scully’s genuine thoughts or just the thoughts that a writer would put in her head whilst observing her. I’m inclined to believe the latter since it’s Hawkes voice that we hear in the voiceover and not Anderson’s and as such it is a fascinating experiment in giving Carter giving himself a voice, allowing his own thoughts to spill on screen and reflect on Scully’s character. To be thought of as simply a beautiful woman was bridling, but she was beautiful. Stunningly prepossessing and yet she yearned to let someone in. If somebody approached me in church and offered an intimate summary of my character and body I would probably run a mile but whilst Scully is perturbed, she is also intrigued by this stalkish stranger. Trust a man who doesn’t fall for anybody to be taken by an ice queen like Scully and trust Scully who only falls for the wrong people it seems to be attracted in return. It’s a relationship that could probably work if given enough time and nurturing, the twisted ones are always the connections that run the deepest. Despite the disturbing nature of his approach, Padgett painted a pretty picture of Scully and it was one that she found rather beguiling. Me thinks that Scully doth protest too much about Padgett’s innocence, clearly he has wormed his way into her affections despite her trying to fight those feelings off. I love her embarrassed reaction to Mulder reading the novel and learning of her night of wild romance in Padgett’s head. She’s such a prude. 

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘But the images came and she let them play…let them flood in like savoury, or more a sugary confection from her adolescence when her sense were new and ungoverned by fear and self denial…’ – Carter indulges in word porn, with awkward results. You shouldn’t try and be sexy, either you’ve got it or you haven’t (as somebody should have told Stephanie Meyer a long time ago).

Ugh: Padgett fills his way into his own body and removes his still beating heart. Well it’s certainly memorable.

The Good: John Hawkes is one of those well known American actors that you know had to have turned up in The X-Files at some point. His film and television listing is like the most fulsome shopping list of credits you have ever seen and there can only be one reason why an actor is in such high demand, because he’s bloody good. Obviously Carter saw something special in him and he crafted the character of Phillip Padget specifically for Hawkes to play, a rare honour for an actor. He delivers in spades, not actually speaking for the first ten minutes but still making quite an impression with his simplicity and elegance. By The X-Files standards this is an amazingly cheap episode, with most of it taking place in Padgett’s apartment which by a stroke of lucky (given they are neighbours) looks exactly Mulder’s with the furniture removed. The idea of the responsibility of the writer, thinking about something and then turning it into a reality, is explored and given a unique X-Files twist by having Padgett’s novel become a reality. Naturally his manuscript leaves him as the only suspect, a novel detailing every detail of the grisly murders. Nobody can predict human behaviour with that amount of accuracy, even Mulder as a criminal profiler could get those kinds of intimate details right. As she reads his novel, Scully starts imagining Padgett as the killer and we see him stalking a victim in a graveyard. Padgett conversing with his own character, having to take responsibility for his actions, is a fascinating place to take this episode. Do writers realise they creating real people in the minds of their audience? Are they liable for those characters behaving in a perverse or criminal way?

The Bad: Are we seeing Scully’s fantasies as she romps about with Padgett, or his as he narrates the tale? Or is this the fantasy of Chris Carter the omnipresent narrator of the story? For a more entertaining yet paradoxically a more fulsome take on the responsibility of the writer to his creations, check out the Doctor Who audio drama The Forth Wall by John Dorney. Here it is barely touched upon but in the Big Finish drama the idea is handled with gorgeous humour and expertly dramaticised.

Pre Titles Sequence: The first scene represents something that all writers must go through at some point in their career, staring at a blank page and waiting for the inspiration to fill it with something profound. Pacing the room, looking over plot points, giving in to desires to relief the stress. This opening sequence plays out like a chapter from Russell T Davies’ The Writer’s Tale, right down to the blood and the removal of organs – or at least that was how torturous he made writing sound at times! It is a bizarre way in to the episode because it doesn’t tell you anything about the hour ahead specifically, which is rather a novelty. I love the cue cards on the wall prompting the writer because that is exactly how The X-Files production staff used to work when plotting out the stories that would form a season. It’s a little occasion of life imitating art.

Moment to Watch Out For: When Padgett floors both Mulder and Scully with the news that it would be impossible for her to fall in love with him, because her heart already belongs to another. Thank goodness we cut away from that awkward conversation, but their expressions are priceless.

Fashion Statement: If you were the sort of person for whom this was a requirement, Gillian Anderson is perhaps not the kind of blonde, buxom babe that studio execs usually like to front a television series. Indeed Anderson had to prove herself for that very reason when Carter was determined to get her for the part in the first series (although how she acted her way out of those shoulder pads remains a mystery). She is, however, a naturally beautiful woman and Milagro sets out to voyeuristically exploit that attractiveness with long, slow shots of Padget admiring her many attributes.

Orchestra: One of the more subdued soundtracks of the season, appropriately so, but still compelling in its own quiet way. Snow can tease a piano better than any other musician I know. 

Result: ‘Then what’s the end of my story?’ Chris Carter has a stab at something completely different again and this time with curious results. That is the nature of being such an sundry writer who is willing to try new things, sometimes they will suit your style of writing and other times they wont. I have read passionate write-ups of Milagro on both ends of the scale and I’m somewhere in the middle, agreeing with parts of the arguments of those who love it and those who hate it, but edging more towards the former. Carter has always had a penchant for purple prose and what he has struck upon is a framing device that allows him to pollute an episode full of the stuff. Given the intimate nature of the script, Manners tones down his usually fashionable direction to something a lot more sedate and allows a lot of the work to do carried out by the actors. The idea of Mulder’s neighbour becoming obsessed with Scully sounds like one that has come from the mind of a desperate writer but it works far better than it should because Carter cleverly uses the opportunity to put his own thoughts and feelings in the mind of Phillip Padget and we get a greater insight into the creator of this incredible show. Sometimes it is a shrewd commentary on the responsibility of a writer, and others times it is toe curlingly juvenile (‘…or had Special Agent Dana Scully herself become simply aroused?’). I think your appreciation of Milagro lives or dies on the strength of John Hawkes’ performance. If you are the sort that prefers big, broad sitcom performances then this might be a little too subtle but if your taste is for something understated with shades of grey then Milagro might be right up your street. I thought he was excellent and the only damaging fault wasn’t one of his making, in the occasionally awkward dialogue he asked to narrate. His finest work is probably in the first ten minutes when he is working purely through body language. This episode is a fascinating experiment with many cracking moments (the ending is gripping) and exposes some cracks in the Mulder/Scully relationship by introducing an attractive (if sinister) third wheel. I just think the script itself is in need of one more draft to weed out some of the self-indulgent dialogue and to determine a stronger authorial voice – sometimes it is impossible to figure out whose the authorial voice is. Perhaps that’s the point: 7/10
 
The Unnatural written and directed by David Duchovny

What’s it about: A man who fell to Earth and fell in love with baseball…

Trust No-One: ‘Did your mother ever tell you to go out and play?’ Proof that nobody knows these characters quite like the actors themselves, Duchovny writes for Mulder and Scully like a sweet old married couple, attracted to each other despite themselves. Season six has been a great year for shippers (I hate that term but I have to concede that the group exists) where the Mulder and Scully interaction has soared to a new high. They’ve kissed and he has told her that he loves her (Triangle), with another man in his body he has tried to woo her into bed (Dreamland), the lack of passion in their relationship has been discussed (The Rain King) and they have set up house in suburbia (Arcadia). When he leaps at her and takes a bite out of her ice cream, I have never felt a stronger bond between these two characters. If there was ever a time for them to sweep aside all the paranormal bumph and having hot sweaty sex on a desk, this was it. Mulder examines baseball scores from the past because it reminds him that even though the universe is an every changing entity, some things stay the same. Arthur Dales might have told his brother that Mulder was the biggest jackass in the Bureau since he retired…or he might not (Arthur Dales the Second is quite the dissembler).

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully wonders why the pair of them aren’t living their lives in the real world at the weekend instead of being stuck down in the basement going through dusty old records. Mind you, she can talk. Instead of chowing down on a delicious ice cream she indulges in some godawful none fat ricycle version. Sapping all the fun out of ice cream, very Scully. Watching Mulder give Scully an early birthday present of teaching her how to lay baseball reduced me to a great ball of gooey goodness. Seriously, Anderson and Duchovny have never looked as comfortable in each others company and it is a delight to watch the character enjoying their time together before it runs out.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I don’t want to be no famous man. I just want to be a man.’
‘Mulder it is such a gorgeous day outside. Have you ever entertained the notion of trying to find life on this planet?’
‘My brother started the X-Files in the Federal Bureau of Obfuscation before you were born.’
‘Maybe you’d better start paying a little less attention to the heart of the mystery and a little more attention to the mystery of the heart.’
‘Speaking metaphorically is for young men like you, Agent McGyver. I only have time to speak the truth.’
‘This is my true face.’ 
‘Shut up Mulder, I’m playing baseball.’ 

 The Good: Given that racism is still rife in certain parts of America – if that upsets you then stop burying your head up your ass, there are elements of racism that are alive and festering all over the world – this was quite a brave piece of writing on Duchovny’s part. He handles the issue with real sensitivity, encouraging the audience to emphasise with Exley from the start (played as well as he is I think I would have fallen for him anyway even if the script had been clunky and obvious…but it isn’t it’s delicate and subtle). It is unfortunate that Darin McGavin was too ill to play Dales in The Unnatural since it is the one episode where he would have had a decent guest starring role (and unlike the last attempt to include actually has a good reason for him being there) but ultimately I prefer M. Emmet Walsh’s gloriously sardonic style of acting. Duchovny writes Dales’ brother a deliriously cranky and no-nonsense old man with so much wit at his fingertips he might be a direct descendent of Noel Coward. The last minute change of casting left Duchovny desperately trying to re-write his script and he comes up with a brilliantly lazy explanation (‘Our parents weren’t exactly big in the imagination department’). Can passion make you shapeshift from one person to another kind of person? That is a deep philosophical question that requires much more time than I have to answer but needless to say I would answer a resounding yes. Have I seen men and women behave in a completely different way once they have fallen in love (not necessarily with a person, but with hobbies, pets, etc)? Oh yes. How Arthur Dales the younger is initially mocked by the Negro community as their way of introducing him to the fold is excellently handled. Frederic Lane also gives a exceptional performance, effortlessly agreeable and with a real feeling of warmth developing between Dales and Exley as the episode continues. How Duchovny frames his passage through time by mirroring events from the past and the present gives the audience an engaging visual hook when crossing from one to the other. How lovely it is to see Brian Thompson given the chance to act rather than stand in the background and loom menacingly. For fans of the series, Duchovny films his first scene obscurely so we’re not even aware that it is the Bounty Hunter until the scene is almost over. Exley deliberately plays badly so that he doesn’t get noticed by the scouts, not because he is a black man who doesn’t want to face the ignominy of playing in the white league but because he is an alien that doesn’t want to go home. As soon as they move on, disgusted at his poor performance, he hits a ball so powerfully that the score board is destroyed. Great stuff. In the middle of this generally serious (if sentimental) piece there is a glorious moment of comedy where Dales spies Exley in his natural form and screams like a big girl, fainting like a Jessie over and over again. That is probably the best ever make up for one of the Grey aliens that the show ever attempted as well, weirdly convincing in baseball gear. Imagine a race of beings that don’t laugh, or experience the pleasure of things. What an awful existence that would be. Wonderfully, when things start to get a little too cloying, Exley starts taking the piss out of the usual platitudes that dramas like this promote. There is something so sweet though about one last game of baseball, a game that has given you such joy and allowed you to experience the best of humanity, before going home. Like the last supper but with mittens.

Pre Titles Sequence: A playful first scene which crests an ominous looking hill with a star speckled sky over the rise promising supernatural wonders…only to settle on a night time baseball game. Whether it is the chemistry between the actors, Snow’s cuddlesome score or simply the intimate way that Duchovny films it, this opening is imbued with the kind of warmth that many shows couldn’t even aspire to, let alone accomplish. The appearance of the Klu Klux Klan to spoil a perfectly innocent game between black and white breaks your heart.  Everything about this off shoot of racist reactionaries turns my blood cold, especially how they don’t even have the courage to show their faces and reveal their identities. Hiding behind a ghost mask and carrying a gun seems like such a chicken shit way of going about things. To have the white characters throwing baseballs in their faces to protect their black friends might be my favourite moment of the year.

Moment to Watch Out For: The final ten minutes of The Unnatural sees the episode really come into its own with regards to providing an emotional experience. Exley talking so proudly about hitting a home run, holding back the tears, to a member of his own race that cannot understand why he has risked everything for such a childish pursuit…I had to hold my breath to hold back the tears. It is so understated, it is beautifully handled. The simple but extremely effective conceit of Exley having human blood rather than alien poison might not make sense logically, but emotionally it is bang on the nail. The crane shot that pulls down on the younger Dales as he cradles Exley in his dying moments and fades to another on the older Dales remembering the event and weeping was when I finally stopped resisting and went and grabbed some tissues. Very little television affects me like this, but when it does and the floodgates open I’m practically inconsolable. It’s only the fact that this has such a degree of tenderness to it that makes all the difference.

Fashion Statement: Who cares about the colour of his skin, Jesse L. Martin is a fine looking young man and plays his role of Josh Exley with such charm that I was bewitched by him throughout. The version of Come and Go With Me To That Land that the baseball players hum and then sing on the coach is possibly my favourite piece of music to compliment an episode of a TV series. Ever since I first saw this episode I was beguiled and can be heard humming and singing it all the time. It’s just beautiful.

Orchestra: Whimsical, sinister, jocular…it is another phenomenal Mark Snow score in season six. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, when Snow is given material that excites him he goes all out to provide a memorable musical experience and given his propensity for excellent soundtracks in season six he must have been geared up by the quality of the episodes throughout the entire year. The subtle, ominous piano theme that plays over the more shattering moments in The Unnatural remains one of my favourite pieces of Snow’s work. 

Result: ‘ET steal home!’ Sometimes it is a case of a show jumping the shark when they start to let their actors take hold of the wheel and write and direct episodes but David Duchovny manages to prove with The Unnatural that that isn’t always the case and sometimes things can work out very well indeed. This is probably my favourite episode of an extremely strong season, the sort of episode that would have been unthinkable during the shows gestation period (it barely features the two leads) but which shows how far The X-Files has come since then in terms of mature storytelling and confident themes. The story of Josh Exley, the alien that fell in love with humanity through baseball, is beautifully told and the performances by all of the guest cast are on another level to anything we have ever seen before in this show, really helping the drama to come alive in unexpected ways. Duchovny doesn’t just judge the emotion in the script flawlessly but he has an excellent ear for witty dialogue too which left me having to be quite ruthless in only selecting my absolute favourite examples. The episode is bookended by two of the finest Mulder/Scully scenes you are likely to witness, showing that six years on that the characters were in love with each other more than ever and the chemistry between the actors had simply sweetened over time. The last time I saw an actor take up the mantle of writing an directing an episode this successfully was Avery Brooks in the DS9 episode Far Beyond the Stars. Bizarrely enough they both share a theme of racism but also have a very similar tone of warm sentiment and biting injustice. The fact of the matter is that if you took away a few fleeting glimpses of an alien and the annual appearance of the bounty hunter and this needn’t be an X-File at all. However I am sure glad that it is; standing out in a season full of standouts The Unnatural is funny, enchanting, charming and might just break your heart before the credits roll. I love it to pieces: 10/10

Three of a Kind written by Vince Gilligan & John Shiban and directed by Bryan Spicer

What’s it about: Byers is still looking for Suzanne Modeski…

Trust No-One: In a brilliantly funny stab at Duchovny’s occasionally robotic delivery, Scully receives a phone call from her partner that is mocked up by the Gunmen and spliced together from various speeches and she cannot tell that it isn’t him talking to her directly. Hehehe.

Brains’n’Beauty: ‘I just can’t decide who lights my fire…’ Rather than simply asking her outright, the Three Stooges concoct an elaborate ruse to entice Scully to Vegas to help them out. She clearly still has issues with them, despite turning to them for help whenever she needs it. If you thought that Scully had been cut loose already this season then you haven’t seen anything yet. Anderson gets to go wildly over the top as the tanked up Scully who has lost all control of her faculties. You might think the show has lost the plot completely and that this is a far cry from the studious and sensible character from the first two season but fear not, Scully is about to have a personality overhaul in the eighth season when she loses her partner. Normality will resume. When we get back to our usual boring Scully she suddenly seems even more boring in retrospect of her giggly behaviour.

The Three Stooges: Byers is often given the lead role amongst the Lone Gunmen and that initially surprised me because I found Bruce Harwood the most stiff of the three actors when they were first introduced. However, thanks to season five’s Unusual Suspects his character was given a massive boost and it was clear how he could be utilised as the emotional focal point for this core group of characters. He’s the one that most aspires to be normal as the pre-titles sequence reveals and he has fallen head over heels in love with Suzanne Modeski and it would have been a blast if he could have settled down with her before the series bowed out (instead Byers was another casualty in the dramatic culling at the tail end of season nine).  The boys should perhaps stick to techie business because espionage clearly isn’t their game, being caught out as intruders through the most obvious of means.

Timmy serves the Gunmen rather well because he is so irritating (I would say he is up there with genital lice) that he makes Langly almost likable in comparison. I have often had an issue with this character because of the stubborn way he has been written and Dean Haglund’s prickly performance but it seems as though the writers are making a concerted effort to soften him up here. Contrasted with Timmy, he’s a pretty nice guy. I especially liked the moment when he nauseatingly watches Scully perform an autopsy, unable to look away and yet clearly not having the stomach to endure it.

Frohike is just adorable, isn’t he? I want him in every episode. The way he chivalrously tries to protect Scully after she has been drugged is so sweet.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Scully what killed him?’ ‘In my medical opinion…BEEEEEEEEP SPLAT! 

The Good: I’m sure a show that commands the kind of resources that The X-Files does could have mocked up Vegas to a reasonable standard but this is one city in the world that requires actual location filming to capture the scope and the madness of it all. You’ll find luxurious pans across expensive looking lobbies, casinos and hotels and some electrifying imagery filled with lights, tourists and stunning buildings. It is practically style pornography of the most explicit kind and serves the episode well. Jimmy the Geek might be the most annoying character to grace a television series and a thorn in the Gunmen’s side…but he is a rather fun character to have crop up every now and again. It gives TLG a little core group of characters and continuity all of their own and the fact that that wont be the case anymore gives this adventure one of its most effective moments. The Suzanne Modeski plot gives them a running thread too that makes this less of an exercise in stalling (which it clearly is) and more of a developing storyline. How weird is the shot through the bottom of an ice bucket as Byers plunges his head into it? It is typical of Spicer’s imaginative handling of Three of a Kind. It is always a delight to see John Billingsley turn up in shows other than Enterprise (although he was by some margin the best contributor to that arm of the Star Trek universe) and his appearance as the geek turncoat that hampers the Gunmen’s plans is a delight. I never suspected for a moment. He even gets to abuse Scully horribly, which turns her into a gigglesome drunken wreck. An abject lesson in how to fake an assassination and how to shoot a fake assassination so the audience is in on the joke but it is convincing enough so that the attendees of the convention believe it is real. When the camera pulls away from Byers and reveals his two cohorts and the Vegas setting you have the money shot for the title sequence of a Lone Gunmen spin off show, right there.

Pre Titles Sequence: Wow, that house is beautiful. Talk about living the American dream. The camera follows Byers all the way through this stunningly picturesque property out into the garden where he embraces the woman of his dreams. As an example of the kind of stylish direction that this show delivers, you’ll find no finer example in a brief two minute vignette.

Moment to Watch Out For: That awkward moment when Byers finally reunited with Modeski and it goes about as badly as it could. He’s not exactly the most charismatic of men anyway so when he declares ‘I’m here to save you!’ it sounds unconvincing coming from his lips. Plus she has a hot man waiting for her in a towelling robe. She couldn’t less interested in our favourite little geek if she tried. 

Result: ‘Why would the government want to turn Scully into a bimbo?’ Not to disrespect the work of the three actors who play The Lone Gunmen but this is clearly a stopgap episode to hold back the end of the season. Saying that, it is a hugely entertaining stopgap episode that flaunts the glitz and glamour of Vegas at the audience and allows the show to let it’s hair down (once again in the loosest season of this show) and indulge in some purely pleasurable entertainment. It would appear that every time the production team need to give Duchovny or Anderson some time off they call in The Lone Gunmen (last time it was because both actors were filming the movie, this time it is Duchovny’s writing/directing stint in the previous episode) but that is no bad thing since they have been disappointingly absent of late. You can understand why the producers of this show thought a Lone Gunmen spin off was a good idea; they are fun characters and their adventures illicit nothing but affection. Based on the frothy fun that Three of a Kind provides, I reckon the series was green lit with this as its pitch. There is the barest hint of sentiment to be found but ultimately this is all about getting your geek on and having an adventure in the gambling capital of the world. Hell, it’s worth watching Three of a Kind just to see Gillian Anderson’s gloriously wild and drunk Scully. As flawless as their work is, it is nice to see a director other than Kim Manners and Rob Bowman take the helm for a change and Bryan Spicer is completely in tune with the peppy tone this episode is trying attain. None of this is essential but it’s fairly addictive fluff and a colossal step up from any of the filler episodes from last season. And the Morris Fletcher cameo is a peach (especially the way Scully, who rejected his advances in Dreamland, seductively takes a cigarette in her mouth!): 8/10

Field Trip written by John Shiban & Vince Gilligan and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Mulder has evidence that alien life exists, and then dies. Or is it all an illusion?

Trust No-One: ‘In six years how often have I been wrong?’ Wow, we haven’t enjoyed an establishing scene with Mulder and Scully at a projector for…I couldn’t tell you. A long time. That’s how much season six has thrown caution to the wind and tried something new each week. They have been getting on so well of late I had forgotten how these sorts of scenes usually play out. Mulder trying explain to Scully why he wants to investigate an obscure mystery and Scully shitting all over it with her logic and rational explanations (‘Sounds like crap when you say it’). The exposition scene in Field Trip plays out exactly what was being parodied in Gilligan’s Bad Blood but with the parody-o-meter turned right down to a more reasonable level. They have reached the stage now where this dance has become routine and they feel comfortable enough to ask each other some pretty personal questions. So Scully asks Mulder why he always has to go for the fantastical explanation when there are perfectly sensible ones to be going along with…and Mulder’s excellent counter question is to ask Scully in all the time they have worked together how often he has been wrong (or more succinctly if you read between the lines he is asking how often she has been right). Ouch. He believes that he has earned the benefit of the doubt and it is hard to disagree with that assessment. Possibly the most romantic moment for Mulder and Scully to date comes when they are covered in mud and close to death and they reach out to hold each others hands.

Brains’n’Beauty: What a moment when Scully realises that she has spent the last six years fighting against the possibility of alien life for nothing. Anderson sells it exquisitely and it genuinely feels as though we are going to head in a new direction with the character, one where she is more open to extreme possibilities. But this is all inside Mulder’s head. In Scully’s delusion, Mulder has been killed and she has to deal with the ramifications of going on with her life without him. The twisted nature of this episode leaves Scully questioning her role in The X-Files, whether she has actually done any good at all or if she has simply been dogging Mulder’s footsteps and hampering his success rate. I wouldn’t agree with any of that but I might suggest that she does give him the benefit of the doubt more in the future, she very rarely turns out to be right when she plucks her hyper-rational theories out of thin air. The only episode where Scully gets to figure what is going on inside a shared delusion whilst being eaten by a homicidal fungus. That has to be worth an hour of anybody’s time. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I abducted him’ – best line since ‘That cow had my name on it!’
‘It’s a rare day when the two of you sign off on the same report’ – we should have known it wasn’t real! Mulder and Scully agreeing on the outcome of an investigation?
‘I’m not exactly clear on how we escaped?’ – Mulder takes on the role of a reviewer, finding fault with how the episode has concluded.

Ugh: There is plenty to squirm about in Field Trip and it mostly concerns nasty yellow pus-like goo. Imagine jumping in the shower and finding the thick putrescence sliming down the cubicle. Or having a vision of yourself being consumed by the stuff, screaming as it fills your throat and nostrils. Watching the divinely beautiful Gillian Anderson turn into sickly yellow goo is enough to turn anyone’s stomach. I love the idea of an insidious fungus that throws out spores to overwhelm animal life and then slowly but sneakily drags them beneath the ground and eats them alive. As Scully mentions there is real carnivorous plant life out there and some areas of the world are home to the largest organism on record which just happens to be huge areas of fungus.  And we know the effects of a certain variety of mushroom when consumed. The basics behind this man eating mushroom are terrifyingly plausible. The sick realisation of Mulder and Scully that they are being digested and fed hallucinations to keep them complacent is utterly chilling.

The Good: Isn’t it lovely to have a show where everything isn’t spelt out for you but subtle clues are scattered about so when the answers come you aren’t left feeling cheated? Mulder rolling up in his car is greeted by a subtle gale of mushroom spores, something that is barely noticeable because it seems so mundane but that is absolutely vital in terms of the plot. Kim Manners could make anything look moody at this stage of the game and when he is given something as atmospheric as dark, subterranean caves to shoot he is in his element. He lets the light ripple off the actors and suggests that there is something menacing that is about to turn up at any minute. The first fifteen minutes of Field Trip play out like a bog standard X-File and there is sudden shift after Mulder and Scully have been plagued by the spores (although we don’t know this for ages) where their lives take a detour into madness. It is because Shiban and Gilligan play their hand so gently, not throwing them off the deep end and changing their lives immeasurably but slowly revealing things that will change the nature of their work forever. I was completely fooled when I first watched it, convinced that they were going to be able to go public with their alien captor. The cut from a probing by an alien ship to Scully shining her torch down a hole is expertly handled, for a second I genuinely thought that was what Mulder and Wallace were experiencing. Manners segues beautifully between scenes, the light filling the cave and then tearing through the number on Mulder’s door to suggest a change of location. Suddenly the episode is fronting a shared delusion between Mulder and Scully, conversing with a pair of victims that the latter had ID’d earlier that day. The writers cleverly take the idea of changing the lives of these characters to a point and then has Mulder question the details of what has been playing out, even when this is precisely what the audience has wanted for so many years. Suddenly there is real doubt of the whole situation, suddenly we can trust nothing. Brilliantly, in Scully’s hallucination the coroner starts talking in exactly the same medical gobbledegook as Scully was at the beginning of the episode, the fungus trying to placate her into believing that she was right and give Mulder’s death a rational explanation she can buy into. The wake scenes have an unreal air about them and not only because these moments of deep sentiment often do but because both Scully and the audience are now onto the fact that things have gone too far and nothing is quite adding up. We walk with Scully around the sorrowful mourners looking for clues to try and figure this thing out. Anderson gets brilliantly hysterical when surrounded by robotic versions of herself (spewing out the same nonsense about ‘ritualistic sacrifice’) in the guise of her friends. Mulder always did have a terrible sense of timing but turning up at his own wake is a new record. It is always the case with these dream within dream episodes that whatever shows is trying to pull it off always adds a last minute twist where everything appears to be normal but turns out to be one last delusion. Field Trip gets away with it because it leaves it to the very last minute – Mulder and Scully tearing free of the ground is almost at the 40 minute mark which is about standard for most X-File episodes. And their cheek at shoving in one last surprise means we get the glorious moment where Mulder shoots Skinner and the yellow goo vomits from his wounds. Great stuff. Poor Duchovny and Anderson having to tear themselves out of that mud, though.

The Bad: Jim Beaver of Supernatural fame (and if you want to see him play a really nasty role check out his unforgettable turn as Hannah McKay’s father in a one-episode stint in Dexter) is far too good an actor to be wasted in a bit part as a coroner. However, it is indicative of the sort of quality of casting this show commands now when the minor characters can be handed out to such strong performers.

Pre Titles Sequence: I love how this gives you enough information about what is going for you to be able to figure it out if you are clever enough but doesn’t actually show the act of the fungus consuming them. There’s a shot of Angela beneath the ground that suggests all is not as it seems and then Manners expertly marries up two shots, one of the couple cuddling in bed and another of them as desiccated husks above ground (spat out by the fungus now it has had the best of them) in the same position. It’s intriguing in its ambiguity but by the end of the episode it all makes perfect sense. 

Moment to Watch Out For: It was hard to choose just one moment in an episode where all bets are off but for me it was the astonishing sequence where Mulder reveals that he has definitive proof that aliens exist and shows her a grey that is being kept in his flat. Gillian Anderson’s reaction, Scully’s life has literally been turned upside down by this revelation, took my breath away.

Fashion Statement: David Denman, cutest guy of the season, dies within the first five minutes. Fortunately this is one of those dream with dream episodes and he’s back before you know it. Check him out in the cave scenes, he’s a dead ringer for Ben Browder.

Orchestra: Another stonkingly good score from Mark Snow, matching the quality of soundtracks such as Triangle, Monday and The Unnatural. He really was on fire this year, wasn’t he? What a shame that they didn’t bring out soundtracks of his music on a yearly basis because this season would have been a superior release. He even manages to make the most perfunctory of scenes (like Mulder chasing Wallace down the rabbit hole) come alive in unexpected ways. He’s a composer that is always thinking about the scenes he is trying to add a layer of depth too (at least he does when he is energised by a script) – check out the whistling, harmonious version of the X-Files theme tune that he utilises during the scene where Mulder states that the aliens communicate telepathically. It is like we are tuning in to their melodic way of corresponding.  

Result: ‘Mulder, this is not reality…’ Stunning, this is another highly original, surprising, emotional and thoroughly enjoyable season six episode. Another classic. I want to say a little something about John Shiban who I have been complimentary in the past about but always with a caveat. His initial batch of episodes were the uncelebrated Teso Dos Bichos and El Mundo Gira which under normal terms would be enough evidence to strike somebody from the writers pool for good. However he followed that with a number of co-writing credits on some very good pieces – Leonard Betts, Momento Mori, A Christmas Carol, Travelers, Dreamland, Monday and Three of a Kind. It is clear that Shiban is a far superior writer when he is conspiring with somebody else, guiding his skill and helping to turn a good piece of writing into a great one. Field Trip is his fourth collaboration with Vince Gilligan in season six and it is their finest work to date, a stunning piece of Russian Doll storytelling which has been written with care and brought to life with precision by stalwart director Kim Manners. So many genre shows use the opportunity in these dreams within dreams episode to have their regular do crazy shit and to make it glaringly obvious that what is playing isn’t real because it is so far from the show we know and recognise. That isn’t The X-Files’ style at all, always keeping one foot in reality and in doing so it creates a convincing enough delusion to trick the viewer into thinking that perhaps, for one, nothing will ever be the same again. It’s not just the clever twists and turns that make Field Trip such a delight; it is also the emotional wringer that it puts Mulder and Scully through, especially the latter and it encourages Gillian Anderson’s most impressive performance of the season. Even the nature of the threat is unusual and original. It is an episode that keeps giving right up until the final frame and another example that six years on The X-Files is producing some of its finest ever work: 10/10


Biogenesis written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: With Mulder driven to madness by his new quest, Scully has to investigate a claim that she doesn’t even believe in…

Trust No-One: Mulder is going nuts, again? Didn’t anybody check his water supply because this has an awfully familiar ring (hoho) to it. Mulder is starting to be able to hear peoples thoughts…is this the first example of an FBI Agent becoming a Tomorrow Person? Wouldn’t it have been fun to have run with this extra perception of Mulder’s for his last full season of the show? Or is that a little too outrageous for The X-Files?

Brains’n’Beauty: Because Mulder is having a funny moment we don’t quite get to hear all of what her argument was but one thing is for sure, Scully doesn’t understand his endless pursuit for the truth any more. Has she forgotten about his sister? Scully thinks that he has won because he was part of the plot that helped to bring down the Syndicate but he has never, not for one moment forgotten what his core mission brief is (neither has Carter, thank goodness, and he will wrap that up for good next year before Duchovny parts for pastures new). Scully looks a little awkward when Sandos is described as being a pseudo scientist, a man who writes scientific papers about extraordinary events. I think she’s worries that that is how she will be remembered. I don’t think she would ever be beyond embarrassment, though. Scully’s scepticism is put to good use in this episode because she is so staunchly against what Mulder is suggesting (that aliens had a hand in the development of humanity) so that when even she is offered enough proof  I was completely on side because of it. It’s well argued and well proven. She’s more than a bit put out when Diana Fowley answers the phone and Mulder informs her that he is in bed. 

Sinister AD: It feels like ages since Skinner was placed under Krychek’s influence (in reality only half a season ago) and it is nice to finally see the writers deliver on that promise. It proves that Mulder’s sense were right and they were being spied upon.

Ugh: The last thing you want to discover in a bin is a disembodied head smeared with blood as Mulder and Scully do here.

The Good: Considering they had 45 minutes a day to shoot the beach scenes due to inclement weather, the location work on Biogenesis is extraordinarily good. Stone tablets unearthed in unusual places that hold secrets that will change the nature of humanity for good – you can almost sense Dan Brown scribbling down notes in the background. It feels in the first ten minutes that you are watching a pilot for new series that explores the origins of humanity and doesn’t feature Mulder and Scully. Whilst I don’t think Michael Chinyamurindi has the charisma to spearhead a television show, it is quite intriguing for an episode to kick off in such an unusual fashion. A man who has spent a career exposing science and religious fraud  he should team up with Scully and they could become evangelist hoax assassins (she does declare Barnes’ work as ‘quite scholarly, actually.’).  If a rock from Mars can be found in the Antarctic because it was from outer space, then why can’t a Navaho carving be delivered to Africa by the same means. Oh wait…that means a tablet that reveals the secrets of humanity has journeyed from another world and that opens up the sort of can of worms that Carter revels in. Interesting that The X-Files, a show that has great fun playing about with myths and legends, chooses to make the passages of the bible a genuinely sacred text. Extracts from Genesis are carved on the artefact and that has travelled through space to reach us. Who does that make God?  Albert Hosteen, the dullest recurring character in a television show, is finally laid to rest. Hallelujah. In an episode that has been this gradual and able, it feels fitting that the cliffhanger should avoid being a moment of peril but instead a moment of stunning reflection as Scully discovers a spacecraft beneath the ocean and (once again) the show feels like it is about to turn a corner. Who is willing to bet that the bloody thing will whisked away from beneath her feet before she can have it analysed? Regardless of how this is concluded, the image of Scully spying the alien craft beneath the water as the ocean washes in is a memorable way to close the season (Snow’s score is very good here too).

The Bad: Who couldn’t have figured that as soon as Mulder needed to be as quiet as a mouse that his new sense would give him a trumpet blast in the ear? The sequence where thoughts assault him from every angle feels like direct steal from the Buffy episode, Earshot. Fowley is a bit of a one note character at this stage, turning up whenever the shows needs to drive a wedge between Mulder and Scully or to add an element of suspicion to events. Who the hell is this woman…and more to the point will we ever find out? With the perpetual dance of distrust with Skinner as well (would he really blurt out a plot point that he couldn’t possibly know anything about like that?) the dynamics in these mythology episodes are starting to feel a little stale. Hurry along, Doggett! Gillian Anderson sounds uncomfortable reading out the Carter/Spotnitz purple prose (listen to how she repeats ‘matter and gas’). ‘Can he re-ignite the spark even as it grows cold and weak?’ Any actress would have trouble with lines like that.

Pre Titles Sequence: A beautifully packaged montage of clips that show the depth and range of the journey of mankind from a single celled organism to a fully advanced species. The trouble is it comes with a Carter/Spotnitz penned voiceover, which threatens to overwhelm the viewer and turn a simple but awe inspiring piece of visual narration into something overly poetic. Carter and Spotnitz aren’t poets, they are dynamic television writers. Try watching this with the sound down and let the assault of beautiful images wash over you, it is much more effective that way. And had that been the case it would have shown the same kind of faith in the audience to figure what is being charted as the production team did in Field Trip. Even the Movie gets a look in.

Moment to Watch Out For: Mulder’s mad ravings in a padded cell take his insanity further than they ever dared in Anasazi. Duchovny is weirdly compelling hollering at nothing and you have to ask yourself how the character can ever be brought back to normality after so dramatically plunging over the edge like this.

Orchestra: Was Snow busy this week? Why the blatant thievery from the Movie’s soundtrack (which actually wasn’t one of his finest anyway)?

Result: The big question was after the brilliant arc wrap up in Two Fathers/One Son (or some might say cutting the head of the snake and letting it die before it bloats out of all proportions) the big question was…where do we go from here with the mythology episodes? What could be bigger than an international government conspiracy working with aliens? A mass extinction, apparently. The X-Files finds religion and mysticism and slips them into it’s new myth arc and for the time being it does offer an extra layer of interest and depth to the show. To be unearthing secrets that have laid dormant since the beginning of time is actually rather exciting, and to have that story told in such an uncomplicated and fluid way all to the writers credit. Clearly they learnt something from the previous, bloated arc. The secrets of the origin of human life are up for grabs. Whilst the backbone of the story is an intriguing one, what Biogenesis lacks is a solid emotional core so we can feel something about the revelations that are on the horizon. It has clinical nature at times, like we are watching a documentary about these events rather than a drama and because of this studious nature it might have worked better as a mid season episode – television convention demands that both opening and closing episodes are a little more energetic than this. Sedate and thoughtful, it poses some great questions and even suggests some life changing answers. I am certainly fascinated to see how the show will wrap up a story with this much potential. Biogenesis isn’t the best X-File finale (that would be in two seasons time) but it is entire leagues away from its worst (that is still season three’s unfortunate conclusion) and whilst it is a shame that the shows most impressive year to date couldn’t have ended in a blockbusting fashion, at least it opted for an interesting one instead. Flawed, but offers promise for the future: 7/10






2 comments:

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Joe Ford said...

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