Friday, 22 June 2012

The X-Files Season Two

Little Green Men written by Glen Morgan & James Wong and directed by David Nutter

What’s it about: Has Mulder really given up looking for the truth?

Trust No-One: ‘We must assume we’re being watched…’ What is clever about Little Green Men is how it re-establishes Mulder’s quest in such an upfront way (both looking for his sister and his search for aliens) but what it ends up telling us is that that isn’t what the show is all about. No its about the relationship between Mulder and Scully and their enforced separation has us longing for the two of them to be working together. By taking away what we want most of all the second season opens by telling us what the first was really all about. During the first third of season one it’s the Mulder/Scully relationship that would give the show some of its most powerful drama ever. It’s a tragedy that Mulder is enduring the wiretap assignment of listening to a pair of sleazy would-be criminals rather than the more exciting work of seeking out extraterrestrial life on Earth. Its almost as if he is being punished for his work on the X-Files and the look of despair on his face says it all. He’s beginning to wonder if all the wonderful things he saw in the first year ever happened. Strangely this hooded, downbeat look really suits David Duchovny and he looks a lot more convincing here than he did sleepwalking his way through some of the season one episodes. It suddenly feels like he is really acting and finding new ways to explore Mulder. In a monologue Mulder admits that suspecting everybody is wearing and makes you start doubting what you know to be the truth. For Mulder to move on he is going to have to have some kind of proof. He admits he can only trust Scully but now they’ve taken her from him too. When the time comes and the aliens appear he doesn’t greet them with open arms, he’s terrified.

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully is practicing medicine within the FBI but seems to have been infected by Mulder and declared ‘spooky’ by one of her students. Its fascinating to see that it is now Scully that is trying to encourage Mulder to continue his work in the shadows. She’s been close to this conspiracy now and it seems she wants answers. Now he is telling her that seeing is not enough, that he needs sold evidence in order to expose the truth. By taking the X-Files away from both of them Morgan/Wong have managed an exchange of roles (much as they did in Beyond the Sea but very different from that) that makes the show feel fresh and re-invigorated. Scully ruffles his hair in a very cute way, there is clearly a great deal of affection between them now. She proves quite adept at shaking off her pursuers at the airport but you have to wonder if she will ever be able to walk down the road again without looking over her shoulder. 

Assistant Director: In only Skinner’s second appearance he is already surprising us. He chews Mulder out for disobeying the rules but when it comes down to it he reveals himself as something of an ally by ordering the Smoking Man out of his office when he gloats that Mulder is left with no evidence of an alien encounter. Let’s see how this develops.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I may not have the X-Files, Scully, but I still have my work. I still have you. And I still have myself.’

The Good: There is something very melancholic about Mulder’s opening narration. Saying ‘we wanted to believe’ rather than ‘we want to believe’ suggests that we have rather given up trying to reach out to extraterrestrial life because they didn’t answer the first time. Mulder too says ‘I wanted to believe’ rather than ‘I want to believe’ which also suggests that he has given up on his cause. It’s brave to make this kind of statement at the beginning of the season where we should be getting in a frenzy of excitement to return to his quest. It feels as though we are stepping into a brand new show here, one where Mulder and Scully have to have secret meetings in dark car parks rather than show in public that they are continuing to see each other. There is an air of paranoia, that they are constantly being watched that makes the early scenes quite unsettling. Mulder and Scully have clearly been quite shaken by the events of season ones finale and are taken serious precautions to keep themselves safe. Nothing is quite as we expect it to be even down to the location work which instead of the dark, dank Vancouver forests is bright, cheery and sunny. The scenes at the Puerto Rican observatory have an atmosphere all of their own, the show hasn’t felt quite this claustrophobic since last seasons Ice (the two episodes share the same director). There is a definite feeling of Mulder trapped out in the wilderness at the mercy of an alien encounter. Its only a brief glimpse at alien life but its still the closest we have ever come so far on the show. It re-affirms that the truth is out there. When it comes to Mulder’s escape from the observatory suddenly we are in action movie territory as his car crashes through the jungle. The show has never felt more cinematic.

The Bad: Have I missed something in season one about Senator Matheson? I don’t recall ever hearing about this character before but apparently he has been a staunch supporter of the X-Files since its inception.

Moment to Watch Out For: Samantha’s abduction sequence has been a long time coming and it doesn’t disappoint. Its astonishing how many of these images burned into my mind but I have vivid memories of the bouncing game pieces, the red light through the Venetian blinds and Samantha being dragged in slow motion by the harsh light. Its wonderfully eerie and it has to be – this is the moment Mulder starting looking to sky for inspiration. Its also very telling that in a very brother/sister way the last thing he said to her is ‘get out of my life.’ Also the actor they got in to play the young Mulder absolutely looks the part.

Fashion Statement: Gillian Anderson is clearly very pregnant at this stage but it gives her a lovely glow. Check out the scene where she rescues Mulder from the observatory, it is very apparent. Her hair is long and Mulder’s is short and they both look great. 

Result: I have read reviews that say this brave and bold and I have read reviews that declare this one of the worst X-File episodes ever and it’s amazing that the show ever recovered and so Little Green Men was one the episodes I was looking forward to most to see how it fared. We are re-introduced to all the elements that made the first season a success; Mulder and Scully’s interaction, the Smoking Man and Skinner, the X-Files and the suggestion of alien life but everything feels turned on its head so that the emphasis is jarring and completely different. It’s exactly the sort of stirring up a show needs if it is going to stay fresh and interesting. Little Green Men is lacking incident but it never feels slow paced or dull because we have become invested in these characters and their journey and watching them cope in this new atmosphere of paranoia is fascinating. David Duchovny feels as though he is playing a whole new character and one that has been completely buoyed by the changes to the show and this is one of his best ever performances. What shocked me (especially on its initial broadcast) was how things were not put back to normal by the end of the episode and how this new X-Files-less world was set to continue. The show would never be quite this bold again and Chris Carter could have learnt quite a lot here from the dynamic duo at how to open a season on a strong footing. It’s the only one that he didn’t write in the shows nine seasons and aside from one (Within) it is definitely the best: 8/10

The Host written by Chris Carter and directed by Daniel Sackheim

What’s it about: There’s something nasty in the sewers…

Trust No-One: ‘Mr Mulder, I think you should know you have a friend at the FBI…’ It feels so strange to have Mulder turning up at a crime scene without Scully and I can understand if fans at the time might have feared that this would become the status quo. With hindsight this is a fascinating (and innovative) period of separation but I have to concede I wouldn’t have liked it if the show had continued in this vein. Mulder feels as though he is still being punished for his work on the X-Files and when he is called up for a job where he has to wade about in peoples shit I have to say I can’t blame him. Duchovny’s angry performance continues to impress. We need to find a way to inject this into the standalone stories once the show reunites Scully and Mulder because he really is better than ever here. Its embarrassing to watch him wipe the egg off his face as he is invited into Skinners office after he has ranted about his jerk off assignment only to find it full of officials. I had a strong feeling that Mulder was one more time wasting assignment away from handing in his resignation. Mulder has precisely the evidence he needs in the Flukeman to build a case to re-open The X-Files so I knew that its capture was only going to be temporary. With the capture of this creature you can see Mulder’s passion for his old work starting to re-ignite.

Brains’n’Beauty: Mulder and Scully spent so much time fighting each other last year that I completely missed how dependent they were becoming on each other. Scenes like that at the waterside in The Host where they are gagging to get back to work together makes me smile all over. The emphasis on their relationship over their work together is a vivid new angle and one that is reaping dramatic rewards already. Where she was cold and logical in year one, Scully is now the only reason Mulder continues to suffer his work at the Bureau and exudes warmth towards him. Scully chokes back laughter when she starts arguing with Mulder about the nature of the horror in the sewers. The sense of longing to get back to their one-upmanship squabbles is palpable. Scully tells Mulder she would consider it more than a professional loss if he decided to leave.

Assistant Director: There is something very interesting going on with Skinner in this episode and his continued existence in the show is starting to give it a more ensemble (in a very loose way) feel. His clenched jaw and antagonism directed at Mulder appears to be very genuine (Mitch Pileggi sells the angry boss mood perfectly) and yet it is revealed in the last third that this might be something of an act so that he can quietly encourage Mulder to get back to work on the X-Files. Whilst people are watching their every move Skinner has to pretend to be their lapdog and throw lashings of hell at him for his unusual conduct but whilst he is doing that he can also quietly direct him and Scully to where they need to be. When Mr X says that there is an ally at the FBI my last thought would that it would be Skinner but this episode does suggest some kind of redemption for the character. Interesting times.

Mr X: Only a fleeting appearance (and even then we don’t get to see his face) but Mulder’s new informant makes his debut in as enigmatic way possible. These people cannot simply say ‘hi’ when there is the chance to purr down the phone with inscrutable coded messages.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I didn’t want to have to tell Skinner that his murder suspect was a giant blood sucking worm.’
‘560,000 people a day call my office on the porcelain telephone!’ – more toilet humour on The X-Files!

Ugh: One of Carter’s aims when creating The X-Files was to scare the pants off people and make them squirm and he does a fine job of living up to that promise in this episode. Its our first chance to see Scully at work on an autopsy and it proves to be extremely grisly as we enjoy a high angle shot of the grey skinned body with the ribcage removed and the organs exposed. If that wasn’t icky enough a thin, slimy slug starts squirming through the offal! One of the sewage workers gets a massive bite taken out of his back by the fluke worm which has to spell trouble for the poor individual. I talk about tit elsewhere but I can only imagine to more shower scenes that have more impact than the fluke worm vomiting one they flaunt here and those are the Bobby reveal in Dallas and Janet Leigh’s unfortunate fate in Psycho. I love the way the camera pans down the toilet into the dark and the Flukeman’s face (the best part of the costume) emerges from the darkness. It’s a sign of how the show is growing with confidence; last year we had a tug of war between Tooms and a potential victim down the toilet but this year we get to see the menace that’s waiting to bite you on the arse.

The Good: By kick starting season twos monster of the week episodes Carter re-establishes the core formula of the show whilst not once suggesting that our heroes are going to go back to their jobs. It’s a fair compromise that pleases those who enjoyed the one-off horror tales of season one and those who are more wrapped up in the arc based character work that has been introduced this year. Proving that life on The X-Files isn’t all glamour David Duchovny is forced to wade through dirty water in the exciting climax as he deals with the Flukeman. He literally chops the beast in half but doesn’t he know the myth about worms separating and continuing to live on?

The Bad: It’s a shame that we had to see the Flukeman in all his glory because the costume isn’t up to much. It has the look and feel of a costume rather than a creature in its own right. The various stages of larval infection are far more horrific. Seeing the creature in a straightjacket in the back of the ambulance provoked laughter rather than chills. A shame that after a spate of clever endings towards the end of the first season we are back in the yawnsome ‘the horror escapes…’ ending that was the tag at the end of every show in the shows opening run of episodes.

Pre Titles Sequence: So many levels of gross I don’t know where to begin. In the bowels of a dirty, sweaty ship a young worker is forced to unblock the sewage outlet (and judging by the look on his face it must smell truly foul) and he is dragged into the effluence kicking and screaming by an unseen horror. What a way to go.

Moment to Watch Out For: The shower scene is unbelievably nasty and exactly the sort of horror that The X-Files excels in. No other show would have put this sort of scene on national television to an audience that lapped it up. The mixture of the mundane (taking a nice relaxing shower) and the disgusting (puking up the worm in blood that slithers down the plughole) really turned my stomach. The whole toothpaste and blood mixture was horrible too. 

Result: ‘Re-instatement of the X-Files must be undeniable…’ After the unconventional opener this is a much safer monster of the week tale that is elevated by Carter’s willingness to take sick horror to extremes and the continuing division of Mulder and Scully. The Flukeman was never going to be a success like Tooms (it’s a daft costume for a start) so the best way to get it noticed was to make the varying stages of its reveal as nasty as possible and the autopsy and the scene in the shower are memorably vomit inducing. Mulder is starting to get a taste for his work again and there are fascinating things happening at the FBI with the reveal of Mr X and a surprising admission from Skinner. Had this episode taken place during a period of stability for the show (ie with Mulder and Scully investigating as normal) I probably would have written it off as passable horror but lacking imagination but because everything is still so up in the air with regards to the agents work and their feelings towards each other every episode during this period is given an extra layer of interest. With a mixture of grotesque set pieces and continuing politics, The Host is another fine episode in a genuinely re-invigorated second season: 8/10

Blood written by Glen Morgan & James Wong and directed by David Nutter

What’s it about: KILL ‘EM. KILL ‘EM ALL…

Trust No-One: Mulder turning to the Lone Gunmen for help investigating this case is another tick in this episodes favour. There was no reason to suspect that they would ever make a reappearance after their one showing in E.B.E in season one. They seemed to be a natural extension of that story’s exploration of paranoia and there was nothing to suggest that these were long running characters. After Skinner making his presence felt in The Host and the geeky trios return here, now there is definitely a feeling that The X-Files has gone ensemble. Its nice to have different faces around and we can only hope that when Scully is brought back into the fold that the show continues in this vein rather than isolating her and Mulder again. When Mulder is called Spooky he quickly nips that in the bud with ‘don’t start with all that tired crap!’ Clearly Morgan/Wong are as bored with that angle as I am. Duchovny is superb in the climax where Mulder has to try and talk Funsch down.

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully is appearing less and less in these episodes and it does feel like they are trying to slowly weed her out of the series. Its nearly ten minutes before she puts in an appearance and then its just to read Mulder’s field report in a voiceover. Frohike still has the hots for Scully and Mulder says he gives perverts a bad name! I’ve read comments about this episode where people have complained about Mulder and Scully working so openly together towards the end of this episode. Whilst they have both been given different assignments and no longer work together officially they brought in experts and professional help from all over the bureau last year in their cases so there is no reason why Mulder shouldn’t call Scully if her expertise will help with the case. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘There is no way of knowing who will be a killer or who will be killed…’ and thus Mulder describes why this is one of the most frightening X-Files of all.

Ugh: Psychological menace is often far more effective than visceral horror and Blood sets out to prove that coming after the stomach turning The Host and somehow managing to trump it in its chills. The truth of the matter is that we all have neurosis of some kind, things that we fear and that worry us. The way this episode brings them to light in such an insidious way is truly chilling, gloriously using mundane everyday pieces of equipment like cash machines and microwaves to feed disturbing messages into the victims and turning them into paranoid, homicidal killers. Its one of those episodes where this could genuinely have affected any of us. The messages themselves are so simple but effective and the way that they are personalised in such a talky manner makes them even more chilling. KILL is a scary enough message to see on a digital display but KILL ‘EM ALL feels personal and conversational. By having the unwilling townsfolk manipulated in such a way makes it feel as though they are being directed by a certain force to murder (which is definitely hinted by the episode) but I think it is more disturbing to believe that this is the work of peoples minds simply working against them. The idea of being trapped in a hell of your own insecurities is terrifyingly realised in this episode over and over through several, otherwise perfectly sane, characters. Its always great when The X-Files takes a very normal situation like getting into a lift and turns into a moment of terror and David Nutter very cleverly shows us the start of this ride from hell that leads to mass murder and cuts to afterwards with Mulder investigating and leaves us to fill in the blanks.

The Good: How can you not feel for a guy like Edward Funsch who is quiet, uncharismatic unconfident man whose life is filled with his terribly boring job and even that is about to be taken away from him. There is something wonderfully still about William Sanderson’s performance as the ordinary little man who is about to drawn into some extraordinary circumstances and I always feel as though he is about to leap at somebody nervously to break that calm. There’s a lovely moment when they reveal the scale of what is happening – this is small town that has never seen such a spate of murders before. Clearly something has changed. With some vivid direction Nutter makes Funsch’s fear of blood a formidable disorder. Sometimes the messages that appear on screens seem to be simply feeding of the victims fears (how would anybody be able to leave a message on a digital watch or calculator?) but at other times there seems to be an intelligence directing them such as when the cash machine tells Funsch to grab the security guards gun. Either he spotted that unconsciously or somebody is watching and trying to control him. I like that ambiguity because either way its pretty scary. The tension in the scene where Mulder tries to coax the truth out of Mrs McRoberts is unbearable because we know she is going to go for him at some point and the director keeps us waiting an age on tenterhooks before she finally strikes. Black and white footage of women and children being sprayed with God only knows what substances reminds me of how naïve people were before the current feeling that everyone is out to exploit you embedded into society. Mind you thinking about it how is there any difference between being willingly sprayed with a chemical and drinking water from the tap…we trust that its safe but there could be anything in it. Oh great! Now I’m getting paranoid! All we’d need is the anti-GM foods brigade to watch this episode to give them all the creative evidence they need to continue their tirade until the end of time. How awesome that it is something as mundane as a pesticide that has turned the population of a small town into a bunch of frenzied killers. The DO IT NOW gym gag is perfectly timed after Mulder has been infected to get maximum giggles. There are few X-Files episodes that conclude with a set piece as vivid as Funsch atop the bell tower twitching and giggling as he fires rounds into the helpless crowd below. The rapid editing and Sanderson’s hysterical performance (Funsch screams after every shot like he can’t quite believe what he is doing) give this sequence a giddy madness that really terrifies. Even the simple shot of the gun falling to the ground chills because you can see just how many bullets Funsch is planning on using. Funsch asking Mulder to shoot him to protect others from his madness really tugs at the heartstrings because you can finally see that this a weak man who is completely at the mercy of his own fear. ALL DONE, BYE BYE could mean any number of things. Mulder feels the case has been resolved. Those who are directing the murderers have finished their experiment. A parting message from Morgan and Wong. It’s the most playful ambiguous ending yet.

The Bad: Yes that’s right…only in America could you possibly walk into a department store with a bright red neon sign inviting you to buy a gun!

Moment to Watch Out For: Possibly the best scene in the whole episode (its hard to choose because its packed full of them) comes when Mrs McRoberts turns up at a darkened garage and to pick up her car. McRoberts has a fear of being raped and this is precisely the sort of isolated environment that she dreads walking into. Cue the sinister music, the subliminal messages that HE’LL RAPE YOU and a very suspicious acting engineer who seems to enjoy the fact that he has this woman to himself. Its stiflingly done and chills me to the bone. The way the everything seems to rise to the sudden crescendo of McRoberts grabbing the Stanley knife and murdering the engineer left me breathless.

Orchestra: Snow’s music just gets better and better and this is the kind of episode that needs a soundtrack that is very in tune with its subtle horror. He gives the subliminal message scenes an off kilter tone before hitting us with the dramatic sting when the instruction to kill appears. Snow, like David Nutter, is playing our nerves like a finely tuned instrument. The music during the last ten minutes as Funsch heads to college on his killing spree is especially good at conveying his madness. 

Result: Blood is a story with a terrifying premise and it didn’t surprise me at all to see Darin Morgan get a story credit whilst the electrifying duo of Morgan/Wong come up trumps again with a sterling script and many memorable set pieces. However the real virtuoso of this episode is director David Nutter who gives the piece a unique brand of horror that would never be replicated again in the series. He gets inside the heads of the would-be murderers and revealing a crushing paranoia that forces them to kill. If the show was going to continue in this vein with Mulder and Scully as a team from afar the episodes would need to be this strong all the time and it strikes me as lucky that the opening run of episodes here are particularly good to smooth over this temporary split. There are some highly memorable scenes here from Mrs McRoberts chilling rape fears in the garage to Edward Funsch’s bell tower shoot out at the climax but what is especially impressive is how all of the murder scenes are tempered by the fact that the killers are all victims too. Now the show has been re-commissioned for a second year there is a sudden feeling of confidence about it and episodes as stunningly realised as Blood are practically mini movies that just happened to be aired on television. A real winner and a very scary instalment: 9/10

Sleepless written by Howard Gordon and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: Sleep deprivation experiments yield terrible results…

Trust No-One: Mulder is receiving cryptic messages in his daily newspaper from an unknown source pointing him in the direction of the latest X-File. He rejects Krychek outright and only agrees to work with him when his new partner claims the case as his own. When he throws his theory at Krychek he expects it to be shot down in flames and looks as though he might kiss the guy when he agrees that it makes sense. Mulder is simply not accustomed to not having his ideas laughed at and the mix of emotions that runs across is face is priceless.

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully can barely bring herself to look at Krychek when they are introduced and she walks straight past his outstretched hand. Even though she is desperate to get back to their work on the X-Files she cannot resist a little embarrassed look when Mulder reveals his latest whacky theory. Almost as if her aversion to his penchant for science fiction fantasies are inbuilt! If I thought the chemistry between Mulder and Scully was palpable in the last story that is nothing to the aching silences on the phone that they display here as Mulder heads of to investigate with his new partner. Its is clear that without permanently removing one of them from there is no way of stopping them turning to each other for help, however inadvertently. Had they simply done as they were told when the X-Files was closed down Scully would not go through her horrific abduction in the next run of episodes.

Assistant Director: Skinner knows that somebody is feeding Mulder information and he talks quite openly about Deep Throat to his superior. Have I missed a few episodes?

Mr X: ‘The man we both knew paid for that information with his life. A sacrifice I’m not willing to make…’ Mulder’s new contact finally reveals himself and pleasingly he turns out to be played by Steven Williams (with Tony Todd involved as well Sleepless parades a very impressive cast). He hands over files that helps Mulder with the case but makes it perfectly clear that he doesn’t want to be there. It almost feels at this juncture that he is working on behalf of somebody else, an unwilling pawn.

Traitor: There’s absolutely no reason why we should like Krychek because he is effectively trying to take Scully’s place in the series. Howard Gordon understands that and so plays a lovely little game where our sympathies are entirely with Alex because Mulder treats him so badly. Mulder is doing exactly what we want him to do, to reject him and make him look like an ass simply because he isn’t Scully. Whilst Krychek is licking his wounds we realise that he’s actually just a sweet guy who has followed Mulder’s work and is being punished for his interest. By the end of the episode I was rooting for him to triumph Mulder in some way and found myself starting to invest in the new dynamic…and then along comes that final scene that reveals Krychek to be a government mole sent in by the Smoking Man! There’s some complicated things going on here and it is executed in the script brilliantly. As others had said elsewhere it is a shame that they played their hand quite so soon simply because Krychek was so convincing as a rookie agent that wants to sniff around Mulder like a faithful lapdog. It would have been a bigger shock had the twist been revealed in Ascension when Mulder eventually discovers it too. He’s playing a clever trick when he tells Mulder that people at the FBI made fun of him (getting his back up) but others followed his work religiously (which clams him back down). You can feel Mulder starting to crumble little by little the more charming Krychek is with him. Krychek winds up being quite the assassin which makes his coughing fit in the face of a corpse all the more funny in hindsight. He must have loved playing the inexperienced rookie.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You still don’t get it, do you? Closing the X-Files, separating you and Scully was only the beginning. The truth is still out there but its never been more dangerous…’
‘Scully’s a problem. A much larger problem than you described’ ‘Every problem has a solution…’

Ugh: Sleep has often been a clever device used in horror and Sleepless flaunts a reverse Nightmare on Elm Street effect. Its not the idea of going to sleep and being subjected to disturbing nightmares that affects the patients of Dr Grissom but the contrary. They have been kept awake for years and unable to rest their minds and this has given one of their number the ability to manipulate reality. The imagery during Henry’s death is particularly frightening; Cole brings a group of scarred Japanese victims to life before him and arms them with machines guns. The passionless scarred faces, the spitting bullets and the way that Henry seems to shut his eyes and accept his punishment make this much more involving than your standard X-Files death.

The Good: It’s a testament to the varying tones from episode to episode of this show that it can flaunt a premise that is remarkably similar to the one last week and yet feel like an entirely different. In Blood you had people being told that their worst fears were going to come true and watched the watched consequences of that. In Sleepless the victims are experiencing their worst fears and dying as a result. Tony Todd is such a remarkable actor and his casting is probably the best coup for The X-Files since Brad Dourif in Beyond the Sea. He has done his fair share of horror and cult TV to know how this sort of thing should be done and brings a great deal of sympathy to the role of Cole whilst at the same time murdering his friends. He’s punishing them for their terrible deeds in Vietnam but also saving them from their waking hell. Cole knows how much they must have suffered (because he has experienced it himself) and he puts them to sleep permanently as a mercy killing. Protecting their bodies and their souls. That’s much more interesting than  just another serial killer/monster of the week. The point is never laboured but it is highlighted that terrible things were done behind the lines (the experiments) and over the them out in Vietnam (‘over 300 children slaughtered…’) painting the dead men as deserving victims. Cole considers himself to be the last victim on the list and encourages Mulder/Krychek to shoot him during the finale. Somehow Todd manages to terrify me and pull at the heartstrings at the same time, Cole choosing to embody retribution in his own death.

The Bad: Whilst Mulder’s theory about Cole being able to build a bridge between the waking world and that of dreams holds weight because of the evidence we have seen, its another example of him making a massive leap considering what he has seen.  At around the half an hour mark Gordon needs to start wrapping up his plot and so Mulder guesses exactly what Cole’s raison d’etre is.

Pre Titles Sequence: What an explosive start to he episode! Either the show has gotten more confident at this sort of thing or they feel ready to create a set just to set it ablaze – either way this is miles better than the volatile effects used in Fire. The way the fire catches and spreads so uncontrollably is violent and terrifying. Finding Grissom dead in his untouched apartment is beautifully done and our mystery of the week is posed. Great stuff.

Moment to Watch Out For: Krychek’s betrayal of Mulder is so beautifully timed because it comes at the point where he has decided to trust him. This is significant shock because it is the first time the X-Files pulls out the ‘nobody can be trusted’ card. Its certainly not the last time and I don’t think I will ever be so effectively deceived as we are here because I will be looking out for it in the future. You can’t say that Deep Throat didn’t warn Mulder and Scully on his deathbed.

Fashion Statement: I’m not certain if suited and booted rookie or rough and ready assassin Krychek is sexier but one thing is for certain, Nick Lea is a fine looking man.

Orchestra: Nice exotic stings during the murder scenes. 

Notes: Doctor Who played similar sorts of games with its victims in the Jon Pertwee adventure The Mind of Evil where the Master was using a machine to kill people by making them believe that their greatest fears were coming to life. The idea has lost none of its power 20 years on. 

Result: Another frightening, well characterised, beautifully packaged episode. Season two has seen the X-Files find its groove instantly and Sleepless continues the shows confident run that leads up to Scully’s abduction. Howard Gordon has written a strong solo script that tells a gripping revenge tale of a man who is trying to bring to justice soldiers that committed terrible atrocities on children in Vietnam. The attacks are vividly directed by Rob Bowman who is perfectly in tune with the more expensive, cinematic look of the second year. Backing up the main plot is the introduction of Alex Krychek who would prove to be one of the X-Files most popular supporting characters. Gordon plays games with his audience by getting us to sympathise with the character before slapping us around the face with a great twist in the final scene that suggests things are about to get even darker for Mulder and Scully. Tony Todd brings a great deal of anger and empathy to Cole and Nicholas Lea convinces absolutely as the inexperienced new boy that Mulder has been saddled with. My one complaint would be that this Mulder/Scully separation arc has worked entirely in his favour whilst reducing her to more of a supporting player. I realise that was to give Gillian Anderson time off as she prepares to have her baby but I really miss Scully having an active role in the series. These behind the scenes issues are no fault of Sleepless though which is an effective drama sporting another top dollar premise. Dark and involving: 8/10

Duane Barry written and directed by Chris Carter

What’s it about: Mulder has to try and talk down a psychotic man who claims to have been abducted by aliens and who has taken several people hostage…

Trust No-One: Duchovny has been handed the series since the beginning of series two with Gillian Anderson taking it easy so she can prepare to give birth and within this responsibility to carry the show he has upped his game immeasurably. Indeed his turn in Duane Barry is a career best for the actor since he seems to intuitively understands exactly how to pitch his performance to this script. I can only think of a handful of other episodes where Duchovny gives as much as he does here and I was unable to take my eyes off him throughout. Mulder is completely at sea in a hostage negotiation but he is also entirely suited to understand Duane’s delusion and the fact that he is walking a dangerous tightrope and playing with peoples lives is what gives much of this episode its tension. The revelation that Barry is ex-FBI comes as a shock to Mulder but not that they want to tidily cover up their embarrassments. Its exactly what he has come to expect from them. Mulder understands that he shouldn’t jump into Barry’s delusions but as soon as the words come out of his mouth it is clear that that is exactly what is going to happen. He has the story of his sister to share with him, something personal to win him over and when Barry says that he saw children on the ship you sense there is a possibility that he might find out where happened to her. In a moment where you have to question his sanity Mulder moves Duane out of the line of fire (the sight of a red dot is buzzing on his neck) and then questions his honesty. It’s the best acted scene of the episode which is full of impressive moments. Duchovny and Railsback are screaming at each other with such conviction (and I usually hate it when drama resorts to hysterics) and I genuinely feared for Mulder’s life. There’s a hysterical edge to Duchovny’s voice that reveals how scared Mulder is and it’s a world away from the smooth operator we usually deal with. You get the sense that Mulder has to know if Barry is telling the truth because there is a chance, just a chance that his sister might be alive. When it looks as though he has lost him Mulder talks him into being shot.

Traitor: This week it is Kazdin’s (Pounder) turn to barely acknowledge Krychek as she meets him and sends him on the coffee run when he asks if he can do anything. As written its almost as if the climax to the last episode never happened and that Krychek is simply Mulder’s new partner who was there to stay. There’s no indication in this episode whatsoever that he is working against Mulder’s best interests.

Ugh: In the hands of somebody as deranged as Barry even a fountain pen is a deadly weapon. I’ll tell you a story – a few years ago I went to the dentist to have a tooth pulled out and to my everlasting regret the anti-inflammatory I was taking for my leg injury counteracted the painkilling injection in my gums which both the dentist and I only figured out when he was literally yanking the tooth from my mouth and I screamed blue bloody murder and spat blood everywhere. Whilst I was in that moment all I could think about was the chilling scene in this episode where Barry has his teeth drilled so precisely and screams his head off whilst they are at it. Seeing this today took me right back to that moment in the chair. Thanks, Carter. At least my mouth wasn’t held in place by a brace.

The Good: What I really love about this episode is how badly it tries to convince us that Duane Barry is mad despite the fact that we have seen first hand in the teaser an actual flying saucer hovering over his house. That wasn’t a POV shot of somebody delusional or Duane’s imaginings, its as clear as the nose on my face. And yet through Steve Railsback’s unforgettably manic and hysterical performance it is just as easy to believe Scully that he has gone completely insane and has made up these things just to get some attention. And then as the episode progresses the performance shifts and the emphasis on his madness lightens and we start to suspect he is telling the truth. That’s how good Railsback is – that he managed to convince me what that what I have seen with my own eyes was false and then slowly teases me back into believing that it is true again. What is so good about Carter’s script is that it is unusually direct, he sets up the hostage scenario in less than ten minutes which leaves him the rest of the episode to play with the audience and tease out the drama. For a writer who so often obfuscates and confuses things in his storytelling it is so odd to see him understand the rules of a dramatic narrative so well here. There’s nothing complicated going on either, its just one location and a handful of strong characters. CCH Pounder is just about one of my favourite character actresses in the US and you can almost count that she will show up in every cop show going with that dry tone and subtle wit of hers ( she had a similarly good role in Millennium). ‘Whatever crap you’ve got to make up about space men and UFOs…just keep him on the phone…’ Her eyebrow raising reaction to Mulder’s belief in the sort of science fiction that has forced Duane to take such violent actions makes me laugh every time I watch this. In a world where delusional fanatics are tenapenny it does make you wonder how such an enlightened part of the world can make guns so readily available. Its almost as though we are inviting this sort of thing to happen. The power cut could not have come at a worse time because with the police lights flashing into the travel agency it practically simulates the atmosphere of an alien abduction and gives Barry all the excuse he needs to start shooting. Carter drops Scully into the action late by demanding that Mulder be extracted because Barry is a delusion fanatic. He just happens to be a delusion fanatic that was abducted. The hostage scenario ends at just the right point and Carter doesn’t need to show us the action, he fades to black and lets our imagination do the work. The evidence completely backs up Barry’s story and the one person that the Smoking Man wants out of the way (Scully) has the physical proof in her possession. I don’t have to spell out where this is going, do I? The dramatic inevitability of Scully’s abduction gives the final few scenes a real edge. You feel as if a show that has been teasing out Scully in a big way this year is about to lose her completely. It’s a really uncomfortable feeling.

The Bad: The alien costumes are really bad but it doesn’t matter one jot because the atmospherics in these scenes (especially the strobe lighting) are such a good distraction.

Pre Titles Sequence: An alien abduction that is so subtly done it quietly terrifies because the tricks used (static on the television, a bright light through the window) we could all experience if we nodded off in the wrong place. The creatures pressing against the light and closing in on Duane is superbly done and I love the long shot of his house filled with white light projecting from the spaceship above. For once The X-Files isn’t being ambiguous or deceptive, this is actually happening.

Moment to Watch Out For: I can vividly remember first seeing the cliffhanger to this episode because it was the point where I went from watching The X-Files to being a fan. Before Duane Barry I engaged in conversations about this new cult show on the fly but after it I actively sought to enthuse about it and was playing out possible outcomes of Scully’s fate for days afterwards. What the hell was going to happen to Scully after this clearly unstable man turned up at her window? Having four episodes in a row where she has acted as an advisor and has been placed in no actual danger I started to get the impressions she was untouchable on the periphery of the show. It only goes to make the moment more potent. To this day I have never forgotten the imagery of the lightning streaking through the Venetian blinds onto Scully and the close up on the answer machine. The way the episode fades to black and we are privy to the message Mulder would get on his answerphone next week was a superb dramatic device because as well as fearing for her life I was gagging to see his reaction. One of the best ever X-Files cliffhangers.

Fashion Statement: Not that I subscribe to such things (I don’t condemn it but it simply isn’t for me) but the image of Mulder in his Speedos and Krychek looking on at him longingly seems tailor made to get the writers of Slash fiction in a tizzy. Its certainly an eye opening shot for the rest of us too, whether we appreciate it or not. I’m almost willing to bet whether this is your sort of thing or not, you looked

Result: ‘Mulder! I need your help! Mulder!’ I love it when I am proven wrong after I have made a sweeping statement and after writing off Lazarus and Young at Heart in season one I declared that The X-Files cannot be moulded into a straight drama and succeed. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Duane Barry is as close to a straight drama as the show would ever get and its one of the series seminal shows; a gripping, cat and mouse hostage drama packed with great performances, terrific characterisation and a cliffhanger ending that left me on the edge of my seat. Its as good as The X-Files gets and that’s very good indeed. That this comes from the pen of Chris Carter is eye opening and proves that he understands completely how drama works on television as both a writer and a director and builds a stifling atmosphere throughout. The execution is flawless and Carter constantly finds new ways to shoot the same locations (high angles, through rifles, flashbacks, through sound alone). David Duchovny and Steve Railsback deliver pitch perfect performances as the central characters and Gillian Anderson and CCH Pounder offer sterling support – its an episode that relies on the cast getting it right and they do not disappoint. The drama has a brilliant edge because it bats back and forth from Barry being a delusional fanatic and a genuine abductee with Mulder believing him and Scully offering a rational reason not to (of course) and both of them being punished for their beliefs. Powerful television that practically redefines the hostage drama on the small screen and with an appetite whetting final scene, this is unforgettable viewing: 10/10

Ascension written by Paul Brown and directed by Michael Lange

What’s it about: Mulder races to save Scully…

Trust No-One: ‘Why are you so paranoid, Mulder?’ Continuing his streak of great performances in the first half of season two David Duchovny leaps on the chance to break out of the ‘put down’ FBI agent and to play something that is a lot more personal and dangerous. He looks haunted as he walks around her apartment and plays out the violent abduction scenes in his head. Mulder states ‘she’s still alive’ so in his head he had already written off his ex partner. When he turned up just too late to save Scully I knew we were in for some serious flogging self punishment (I didn’t realise it would last an entire episode but that’s best left for next weeks vampire antics). I’ve heard complaints about the way Mulder violently abuses Barry after his in custody but I rather like seeing him pushed right to the edge like this where his actions are questionable. He’s gone from being the intelligent underdog to a far more vicious, unpredictable character in the space of a few episodes and Duchovny has a look of murder in his eye as he chokes Barry to death. Its not easy viewing but it is completely gripping, Mulder finally pushed too far and slowly breaking. The Smoking Man doesn’t want Mulder killed because they would risk turning his work into a crusade but by taking Scully away from him in such a soul crushing way they have sent him a warning to do as he’s told. Unfortunately they don’t understand quite who they are dealing with. Mulder is not the sort of man who is told how to behave and will be off chasing the next X-File as soon as possible. And shagging vampires.

Brains’n’Beauty: By removing Scully from the series so dramatically there is an opportunity to fill in some of her background that has so far (aside from a brief peek in Beyond the Sea) been quite the mystery. Its great to see Mrs Scully appear in the series again because she always gives Scully an emotional grounding. She’s one of the few family members to survive the culling by the end of the series. Scully’s cross necklace has become a symbol of hope that she will return and Margaret makes Mulder keep it in the touching final scene. She’s telling him not to give up hope.

Assistant Director: There’s a bond forming between Mulder and Skinner and he understands how badly Mulder wants to search for Scully but he is far too close to the case to be objective or useful. They share a look where you can see that they completely understand each other, Skinner knows Mulder will continue the search no matter how firm he is to the contrary. Skinner has offered Mulder the hand of friendship but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t a realist. When Mulder points the finger at Krychek he warns that he better have some damn good evidence to back it up. He truly becomes a friend to the X-Files when he decides to re-open them and give Mulder his old job back. Clearly Skinner is just as bored of being pushed around by the Smoking Man and his cronies.

Traitor: Krychek needs to try and be a little more subtle in his underhanded phone calls to the Smoking Man after he very publicly contacts his boss and is begging to be caught out. Krychek is told to stay close to Mulder but he is taking his life in his hands as his partner almost falls asleep at the wheel chasing after Scully. I love the way that Krychek checks that his hair hasn’t been messed up after he murders the cable car operator. Priorities and all that. The idea of Krychek trying to kill Mulder in the shadows whilst pretending to work with him is so much fun it’s a shame that they only exploited it for this episode. I could have happily have bypassed 3 and had a stellar Mulder/Krychek episode in its place where he is exposed as the murderous thug that he really is at the end. Whilst his disappearance at the end of the episode is sudden there is no doubt that this character would be back. Who could have predicted just what a role he would go on to play in the show though?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Who are these people who can just murder with impunity and we can’t do anything about it?’ 

The Good: I love scene that brings together Mulder, Skinner, Kychek and the Smoking Man in the same room. The X-Files has felt more and more like an ensemble show and with this many of its best characters all brought together it highlights that more than ever. Add Mrs Scully and the Mr X to the list and we’re practically in full cast territory! All we’re missing is the Lone Gunmen! We’ve seen people abducted/tortured/killed in this show before but there have never been scenes like those of Barry driving with Scully battered and bruised in the boot of the car where we care quite this much about the victim because there is a real personal stake in their survival. I remember at the time thinking that they genuinely were going to write Scully out of the show and being glued to the screen. The police officer catching up with them is great scream at the television TV – you desperately want him to figure out what is going on especially with shots of Scully (twitching and screaming in the boot) so close to rescue. I have been harping on about how cinematic the show has felt this year and that has never been more demonstrative than during the cable car sequence which manages to be both dynamic and visually stunning. Despite the fact that it seems to go from day to night in about five seconds (perhaps a groovy 80s montage could have suggested time was passing…) the image of Mulder silhouetted against the stars atop the cable car is one of the most beautiful images of the year. Visually there has never been anything quite this beautiful in science fiction before plus if you aren’t very good with heights (I’m not) and are watching it on a 52 inch television (I am) then you might feel a little vertiginous yourself! Cleverly we never see if it was a spaceship or a more mundane aircraft that takes Scully away to leave the identity of her captors open to interpretation (compare this to the abduction of Barry in the last episode where it is explicitly an alien saucer that came for him). Barry is a much more conventional character this week (in that he is more clear cut – last week Carter played on the fact that we didn’t know what was the truth about him) but just as interesting – the episode manages to paint him as a murderous abductor, a man desperate not to be taken himself and a victim of circumstance who is relieved to have found somebody else to take his place. Taking full advantage of Anderson’s pregnancy means they had the opportunity to add that chilling shot of Scully’s stomach that has been pumped grotesquely out of shape. God knows what they are doing to her but it doesn’t look pleasant and it will have dramatic ramifications later in the show (and again they are very careful to keep the image of the observers blurred to suggest this could either be aliens or government agents). Mulder suspects the military know where Scully is after they cover up the true method of dispatching Barry’s death. Mulder stands on Skyline Mountain looking to the stars for his partner. They’ve created an aching distance between them now and an emotional longing to see them brought back together by the audience. There’s no way that their reconciliation can disappoint.

The Bad: As usual Mulder seems to have some kind of amazing sixth sense that leads him on exactly the right path and he figures out from one Barry’s recordings that he has taken Scully to Skyline Mountain. Spooky Mulder, indeed. The way Duane Barry is dropped from the story now his contribution is over is very cack handed. He goes from being the most important character last week to one that is not worth bothering with anymore in the space of 45 minutes. His death is utterly perfunctory and too obvious a signpost for Mulder to suspect Alex. At first I thought that Mulder was asking to borrow Krychek’s car keys because he already suspected him and wanted to check out his car for evidence. Unfortunately it turns out to be the much less credible twist that he genuinely needed to borrow his car and that he happened upon the evidence once inside.

Pre Titles Sequence: Talk about getting straight down to business! I desperately wanted Mulder to get home and listen to his answerphone message and that’s exactly what he does in the first scene! Whilst the shots of Duane Barry smashing his way into Scully’s flat are positively gripping (plus I love the shot of Mulder’s face reflected back in the shard of glass) to watch its nowhere near as scary as it was when last weeks episode faded to black and left my imagination to do the work.

Moment to Watch Out For: Skinner re-opening the X-Files is the one moment of triumph in an otherwise gloomy episode. It comes at just the right point where both Mulder and the viewer feel like things are completely lost.

Fashion Statement: The feral, angry Mulder that leaps at Duane Barry at the slightest provocation is far more horny than a million shots of him jumping out of a pool in Speedos. 

Result: ‘As of right now I’m reopening the X-Files. That’s what they fear the most…’ The first half of Ascension is riveting television as Mulder races to save Scully from being taken from him forever. After the carefully controlled claustrophobia of Duane Barry it is wonderful to get out into the wide open spaces and the vertiginous action sequence on the cable car gives the episode a real cinematic scope. The pace is relentless and we are personally connected with the action because we have come to care about Scully so much over the last year and a half. The second half loses the episode a few points because it takes the loosest possible route to incriminate Kychek but with a ferocious performance from David Duchovny (he really is on top form in the first half of this season) and the feeling that everybody is working against him there is still plenty to keep me interested. It feels as if everybody is delivering their absolute best to ensure that removing Gillian Anderson from the show goes as smoothly as possible and Ascension is especially a triumph for Micheal Lange who packs the episode full of strong, powerful imagery. At this point its hard to believe that The X-Files will ever be the same again. That’s a feeling the second series has nurtured from its opening episode and has built exponentially to a point where the impossible has finally occurred. Scully is gone for good. Obviously it wasn’t an intended development but Gillian Anderson’s pregnancy has turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened to the show. I honestly believe that the dramatic events of the past few episodes were what gripped people enough to make this show last for nine seasons. Essential viewing: 8/10

3 written by Chris Ruppenthal, Glen Morgan & James Wong and directed by David Nutter

What’s it about: Mulder is about to get up close and personal with some vampires…

Trust No-One: It should be a moment of triumph that Mulder has returned to the work that he loves so much but when he walks into the X-Files office (that has been mothballed) a Scully shaped weight hangs over him. Its no fun without her. That’s basically what this episode is trying to say and we have to experience 45 minutes of not fun in order to reach that conclusion. Apparently Mulder has been following the work of these vampires for months now…since when? I cannot think where he has found the time between covert meeting with Scully, being saddled with Krychek and becoming the Bureau’s whipping boy. He doesn’t want to be partnered up with anybody after losing Scully and being betrayed by Krychek. There is a strong sense that if Scully hadn’t been returned to him in the near future that Mulder could have easily have slumped into depression. With nobody to bat his theories off, the work just isn’t enjoyable anymore. Watching Mulder threaten a vampire with sunlight is nowhere near as enjoyable as his psychotic rampage last week; he feels more like a nasty little boy that has had his toys taken away rather than the blazing avenging angel he was in Ascension. Even when they were reassigned to other departments Mulder phoned Scully to discuss his cases but in this episode we just mope around after him silently which proves to be as unengaging as that sounds. When Kristen’s bit of fluff beats Mulder up and warns him away because they are two consenting adults I would have left him there to be devoured by her. The shot near the end of the episode with Mulder walking away from the house all sweaty and disoriented as though the whole episode had been a freaky cheese dream sums up this episode pretty well.

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully has an X-File all of her very own now. Whilst 3 might assert the impossible, an episode entirely without our favourite sceptic her presence is felt throughout because she is missing.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Don’t you want to live forever?’ ‘Not if draw string pants come back into style.’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘AIDS. Aren’t you afraid?’ Did that question really need to be asked? Mulder is talking to the undead for goodness sake! Bringing up something this tasteless doesn’t make the episode contemporary, its just insipid.
‘Blood tastes dangerous, its sweet and thick’ – that description manages to be both disgusting and embarrassing. But I think they were aiming for seductive and provocative.

Ugh: With vampires on the cards this should have been the ultimate gross-out X-File experience (think of Sanguinarium in season four) with blood literally spraying the walls and floors. Instead the most we see is some gloopy plasma sitting in some bread. Ooh, scary. Even the staking at the climax looks as though it has been heavily edited to make it as brief and as ineffective as possible. How unusual for the X-Files to shy away from horror like this.

The Good: Frank Military cannot appear in any TV show without making an impression (go watch his vicious, gun waving turn in DS9’s Past Tense and see what I mean) and he gives a vivid performance here as John, the vampire in police custody that is terrified of the ever approaching sunlight from the window.  His screaming, blistering death is certainly one to remember.

The Bad: Its quite unlike The X-Files to ask its audience to accept something as bold faced as vampires on faith without giving it a new spin. When they approached the werewolf myth there was a tentativeness about it in series and they introduced you to the creature piece by piece and only let it go on the rampage in the finale. 3 is very upfront about the fact that it stars vampires and strangely nobody seems to find that idea hard to get their head around. We need Scully back and quickly because the world of the supernatural feels a how lot less magical and more plausible without her. If becoming a vampire means that you start spouting soporific and tedious speeches such as Kristen indulges in here then count me out. Its strange because with the advent of Spike and Drusilla Buffy makes vampirism looks so sexy and fun but the best The X-Files could come up with is ponderous moralizing. I just wanted her and Mulder to quit yabbering and get with the sex already because their chats go on forever. To match the colour scheme of the pre titles sequence (and the vampiric theme) there’s also blood red smoke to put out the fires, blood red lighting in the police cell, blood red strawberries in Kristen’s apartment, blood red raspberry sauce and blood oozing from bread. You can get a little too indulgent with the theme, you know.

Pre Titles Sequence: In case you hadn’t figured out this story was about vampires we open on blood red fire tearing apart the hills and blood red wine spilling on a mans shirt and blood red lipstick on the seductresses lips and finally blood red…well blood! You’ve got to love an episode with a colour scheme to match its theme! I wouldn’t have even have bothered to let the victim open his mouth because his ‘I’m not one of those guys who sends his family away but when I met you are the corporate party…’ is horrendously clichéd. How strange that David Duchovny invites his girlfriend of the time to join the show for an episode and she winds up in a hot tub snogging the face off another man! All told this is pretty standard stuff for The X-Files that usually manages to come up with a modern take on a monster myth but this teaser boils down to the same sort of seduction and blood sucking we’ve seen a hundred times before.

Moment to Watch Out For: When it comes down to it this episode isn’t even good pornography (you’ve got to take what you can from something as dreary as this) because the Fox censors wimped out and so the most frisky thing Mulder and Kristen engage in is a shaving foam laden kiss.

Notes: Its not the first time that one of Duchovny’s bit on the side would feature in the show. Maggie Wheeler was his girlfriend during the production of Born Again and Tea Leoni has become his (practically long term) partner by the time we reach season seven’s Hollywood AD. You could almost see the show as having an alternative purpose of charting our leading mans romantic history! 

Result: If the purpose of 3 was to remind us of how much we are missing Scully already then it succeeds admirably. If its trying to tell an absorbing modern day vampire tale then it falls flat on its face and then gets stepped on. I remember when The Lost Boys came out and I had my first initiation into the world of vampires. It was sexy, funny, silly and scary. All the things that 3 isn’t. It feels like it’s a chance for Mulder to kick back and get his rocks off whilst simultaneously tussling with the undead but considering the circumstances and his depressed attitude it all feels a bit tasteless and worse, unsexy. There’s a frigid tone to the episode despite Nutter’s attempts to seduce us with a blood red colour scheme and while his direction is as polished as ever you get the impression that even he knew this was just a time filler stepping stone between Ascension and One Breath. Whilst its nice for the X-Files to be quite this open about the existence of a supernatural myth it feels a little too accepting without Scully planting her hands on her hips and lecturing us about how unbelievable it all is. Who ever knew that her lectures that frustrated so much in season one kept the show so grounded in reality? If you want to have the opportunity to see David Duchovny spill his (at the time) love life into the show that made him a star and indulge in some agonisingly lifeless flirting then this tepid vampire tale might be for you. For me it’s the first misfire since the season began and, despite the atmospherics, quite a slog to get through. Like experiencing one of Mulder’s less salubrious wet dreams: 4/10

One Breath written by Glen Morgan & James Wong and directed by R.W. Goodwin

What’s it about: Scully is back and in a terrible condition…

Trust No-One: ‘Why don’t you drop your cynicism and your paranoia and your defeat. You know just because its positive and good it doesn’t make it silly or trite. Why is it so much easier for you to run around getting even then just expressing to her how you feel?’ You will never see David Duchovny give a more passionate performance than the one he gives in this episode. He challenged Morgan & Wong to write him his very own Beyond the Sea and whilst his performance isn’t quite as gorgeous as Anderson’s was in that (simply because I think she is a better performer overall) the blazing anger and outpouring of grief he shows in One Breath is standout acting and unforgettable. Mulder can barely bring himself to look at Scully’s plaque commemorating her death, refusing to give up hope that she is gone. We find him sitting in a dark room, alone and lonely and its clear that Scully fulfilled such an important role in his life. When she reappears in a weakened, damaged state Mulder is viciously angry when nobody can account for her appearance at the hospital and Duchovny really goes for it. He’s terrifying. Watching him and Mrs Scully trying to cope together really stresses the feeling that he is a part of her family now. Mulder being invited to join the family in witnessing Scully’s death is in turns terrifying and very touching. Skinner makes a great point to Mulder that if he is not prepared to lose people in this dangerous line of work then perhaps he shouldn’t be playing. Melissa tells Mulder that retribution isn’t enough and he needs to be with her when she goes but you can completely understands his desire to punish those people that have hurt Scully. I love the fact that one of the cliffhanging cuts to an advert break is Mulder writing out his resignation, it feels like the ultimate moment of defeat for the character. He quietly admits to Skinner that he hates how suspicious and paranoid he has become. I have never wanted to hug this guy more than the moment where he comes back to his wrecked apartment and breaks down. It’s an absolute emotional low for Mulder. At this point there’s no music or fancy camerawork, its just Duchovny emoting like mad and reducing me to tears.

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully had always been a tomboy unlike her sister Melissa and had always liked trying to fit in with her two brothers. Scully doesn’t want to live in a degenerative condition and asked Mulder to sign her request as a witness…how’s them apples tasting? Skinner admits that Scully was (everybody is talking in the past tense at this point as though she has already gone) a fine officer that he liked and respected her. Scully admits that she had the strength of Mulder’s beliefs to pull her through.

Assistant Director: The power games between Skinner and the Smoking Man are expertly handled when he points out a No Smoking sign on his desk and his nemesis lights up regardless. Skinner’s story about losing his faith in Vietnam is his most essential moment yet. Removing Scully from the action has given the recurring characters a larger share of the action and Skinner has benefited the most from this arrangement. Seeing how well he works in a dominant role the show would now go on to feature him heavily in the arc episodes and to also indulge in Skinner heavy episodes from time to time to give the show a little variety. Any chance to see Mitch Pileggi in action is okay by me because he is such a fine actor. Skinner was afraid to look beyond his near death experience in Vietnam but he admires Mulder because he’s not.

Mr X: Tells Mulder with no uncertainty that he is his tool and he comes to him when he needs him and not the other way around. It’s a very different relationship to the one Mulder had with Deep Throat (which is good because had they copied it then it would have provoked comparisons) and the intense moment between them in the car park (they love those dark car parks, don’t they?) highlights that. He used to be young and idealistic like Mulder until he learnt how deep and dark the government secrets went.

The Lone Gunmen: When Frohike comes visiting with a bunch of flowers suddenly he is much more than just a dwarfish letch but a much more charming prospect.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Good luck sneaking out these charts’ ‘Tucked ‘em in my pants’ ‘There’s plenty of room down there.’
‘You got him killed. You got her killed. That’s not going to happen to me!’
‘Don’t try and threaten me Mulder. I’ve watched Presidents die’ – what a phenomenal line. Almost as good as ‘Who are you to decide what’s right?’ ‘Who are you?
‘When I started out this room was where they kept the copier.’ 

The Good: Melissa could have so easily have been a misjudged character with her New Age leanings (think the introduction of Monica Reyes in series eight…mind you that’s done with so much humour it practically works despite itself) but this is one example of X-Files subtlety working to their advantage and she is a warm, engaging supporting character for the show. I couldn’t imagine her turning out to be a love interest for Mulder as was originally touted (it would have made the series far too soap opera) but its wonderful to find somebody who is even more open to extreme possibilities than he is with Melissa looking inwards where Mulder looks outwards. Scully sitting on the boat in the middle of the river is such a simple but beautiful metaphor for how far away she is from her family and friends (and is it my imagination or is her hair redder than ever in these scenes?). Mulder never acknowledges Nurse Owens but she is seen in the same shot with him – there’s some Sixth Sense style manipulation going on here that really fooled me. The centrepiece of the episode is the chase after Scully’s blood which leads to a dazzling confrontation with X and an example of how cold blooded he can be when he shoots down one of the Smoking Man’s henchmen without a shred of remorse (the way this is shoot in jet black shadows is seminal). Everything feels so much more dangerous than last year and so much more exciting. The way this becomes a race against time for Mulder to try and stop Scully’s family from pulling the plug on her (she’s made the decision herself) really gives this material some weight and I really enjoyed the argument between the three of them about the rights and wrongs of keeping her alive on life support. I have never seen such clever and simple metaphorical imagery and the snapping rope as Scully’s life support is turned off tells us everything we need to know. I judge the level of paranoia this show has elicited in me a complete success when I cannot take any random moment for granted and knew that the woman asking for change for the vending machine was something more sinister. Its long past time that Mulder took the fight to the enemy and I was cheering when he finally confronted the Smoking Man on his own territory. The image of him as a lonely man watching movies and sticking cigarettes into beer bottles is an enduring one, his loveless life is something that we would return to time and again in the series. He lets us in on why he keeps his secrets so closely guarded – if people were to know the things he knows it would all fall apart. He sees himself as protecting the world, not deceiving it. How gorgeous is the moment where Scully’s bed slowly melds from a forest glade to the hospital ward?

Pre Titles Sequence: The episode opens unlike any other X-Files with a fairytale character moment for Scully rather than an introduction of this weeks nasty. By its very nature this little vignette should be cheesy as hell (and as it started my eyes drifted towards the ceiling) but its beautifully shot and scored and I suddenly realised it had an important message to kick start the episode (it is too soon to start giving up hope) and soon a smile spread across my face when I realised…Scully is coming back!

Moment to Watch Out For: A gorgeous follow up to Beyond the Sea as Scully’s father visits her when she is close to death and tells her it is not her time. Blissfully shot in bleached white and played by Don S Davis, this is another influential X-Files moment.

Fashion Statement: It cannot have escaped anybody attention that since giving birth Gillan Anderson’s cleavage is the size of two mountains on the horizon. Its unfortunate that Goodwin chooses to shoot her the way he does because at times it looks like we are dealing with a guest appearance from Katie Price. It struck me what a handsome man Mitch Pileggi is when he takes off those horrid specs.

Orchestra: I love the score where Mulder gives Scully her necklace back, its wonderfully subtle and affecting.

Mythology: Scully has been returned with some distinctive new features including a genetic marker that could be to track her or could be evidence of trying to graft her to some inhuman. It’s a biological poison and is the result of experimentation that has been finished.

Foreboding: There is so much about Scully’s abduction that we still have left to explore.

Result: A hypnotic, enchanting experience and one of my favourite episodes of the series, One Breath is about as atypical as The X-Files comes and stands out from the crowd because of it. All the wonderful characters that this show has nurtured turn up to play their part in Scully’s return (the Lone Gunmen, Margaret Scully, Mr X, the Smoking Man, Skinner) and Melissa makes a fine addition to this ever extending guest cast. Its one of the most riveting performances you will ever see from David Duchovny as he takes Mulder to some dark places in order to save his best friend. I was shocked at how much he laid his emotions bare for this episode and couldn’t take my eyes off him throughout. Because the series needs to move on from this little sabbatical (or should I say move back to the formula we recognised last year) everything needs to be tied up in a little knot at least for now and so there are lots of rewarding (and dramatic) confrontations. It would be a toss up between Mulder’s furious exchange with X or his quietly insane gun waving at the Smoking Man that would get my vote. Ultimately though this episode is all about Mulder and Scully’s relationship and how much he will fight in order to protect her. The cinematography is absolutely stunning and some scenes are put together so vividly they are avant garde (and certainly emotive). I love One Breath and it feels almost a shame that 3 should have been crowbarred into this little arc because without it the Scully is abducted trilogy has been a resounding success for the show. A beautiful episode: 10/10

Firewalker written by Howard Gordon and directed by David Nutter

What’s it about: What nasties are hiding in the depths of a volcano…

Trust No-One: Mulder is in no way patronising when he suggests that Scully sits this one, he’s actually very tender. It doesn’t take them long to start disagreeing with each other once they reach the base, though. In Trepkos we see how Mulder used to be, a man who was totally consumed by his work and in uncovering something that could change the world forever. If Scully hadn’t come along to force him to keep one foot in the real world he could have wound up as disturbed as Trepkos.

Brains’n’Beauty: There is the odd moment that flirts with the events of the last few episodes but on the whole the show (and Scully herself) seem happy to forget the whole thing and get back to business. It might seem a little like killing the drama and a missed opportunity at this point but anybody with a decent knowledge of the show can rest assured that her abduction will have consequences further down the line. Right now this is what the show needs to be doing, re-asserting itself as a standalone horror anthology show and that means Scully going back to her role as the giddy sceptic. Scully has already lost too much time, for now she wants to work. It takes Scully 16 minutes and 30 seconds to say ‘Mulder, that is science fiction!’ during a bitch fight with her partner. If I were him I would point out that recently she was abducted by aliens and it doesn’t get much more science fiction than that! Mulder doesn’t want to put Scully in a dangerous situation again but she has to insist that they both get past that. She’s back and she’s not going anywhere. The irony being that Trepkos isn’t the danger, Jesse is and Scully is left trying to avoid contamination by the spores.

Ugh: Why is the idea of something bursting so repulsive? Blisters exploding with puss, spots being squeezed, snot projecting from your nose…we have an inbuilt nausea to anything that bursts spontaneously from our bodies. So the thought of something cancerous bulging from our throats and bursting in a spectacular display of feculence is enough to turn even the strongest stomach. It’s a terrifying threat because its something that is inside you trying to get out and preys on that similar aversion to being sick that we all try and avoid. The effects team deserve real kudos as this is some of the grossest and best realised gore effects the show has produced yet.

The Good: After all the arc heavy drama of the last four episodes it is nice to get back to some unpretentious storytelling about a bunch of nobodies playing about with things that don’t concern them. Why does Leland Orser always play unbalanced characters? He was a psychopathic hologram in Star Trek Voyager (albeit a pretty creepy one) and a serial killer in The Bone Collector and a traumatized pilot in Saving Private Ryan. He’s up there with Brad Dourif for playing an asylum full of loonies. This is one of his more passive roles but he still infuses it with a nervous hysteria. He dies pretty well too with a flare exploding in his back!

The Bad: The scenes of Mulder and Scully exploring what appears to be an abandoned base with their flashlights are so similar to the ones where they explored the artic base in Ice (right down to the music) that they could have simply copy and pasted the material and we wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. As soon as Tanaka comes out of hiding coughing (any symptoms on The X-Files is never a co-incidence – keep an eye out for them) it is a sure sign that he is infected with something. Gordon tries to build up to Trepkos’ appearance by having all the other characters talking about him with both reverence and fear but you can’t escape the fact that when he does finally walk on stage he’s actually something of a disappointment. Bradley Whitford doesn’t know how to give a bad performance (his seven year stint as Josh Lyman in The West Wing is to my mind one of the most assured long term performances I have ever seen) but not even the best actor in the world can fight the feeling that they have been miscast. I get the impression this should have been a far more muscular man (they dress him in a tank top which looks ridiculous on his slight frame) and considering he is supposed to have lost his mind I have to say at times I find Josh Lyman more mentally unbalanced than Daniel Trepkos. Perhaps it’s the calibre of the writing that makes the difference. This isn’t one of the more fulsomely realised locations either because aside from some effective stock footage showing Mulder and Scully’s approach to the volcano the rest of the location work is set in the usual Vancouver forest. Whilst I wouldn’t suggest that a story needs to be visually stunning in order to be effective (Ice was set in the Artic and we never even went outside of the studios) there is something low budget about shooting around the same old forest week after week. When the isolated location, score and Mulder/Scully interaction all scream of a homage to earlier episodes (rip off would be more appropriate) I perhaps would have re-thought the central menace to the episode. Ice featured an unknown lifeform that had exited in the ice and once released by a group of scientists caused a massacre, Firewalker features an unknown lifeform that has existed in a volcano that once released by a group of scientists causes a massacre. Both of which could have infected anybody on their respective bases and prevents them from escaping because they might spread the contamination to a larger population. Can a show plagiarise itself? There’s no indication of what exactly this new lifeform is or what its exposure could mean. Just that it looks nasty hanging from the throats of its victims. Is it simply a virus? The way Jesse cuffs herself to Scully suggests that this is a sentient lifeform that recognises it needs to spread and so forces them together whilst she bursts but that is the only indication of any intelligence behind the organism. What a dreadfully tedious wrap up speech by Mulder tying everything up in predictable fashion. Personally I preferred the ambiguity of Darkness Falls. So Trepkos what – lived out the rest of his life in the mountain like a sad, messianic loner? Committed suicide?

Pre Titles Sequence: Its trying to emulate the opening of Ice with a report coming through from an isolated location suggesting danger but it lacks the urgency, the atmosphere and more importantly the claustrophobia and horror of the former episode.

Moment to Watch Out For: The climax to the episode where Scully is trying to avoid having Jesse’s neck explode right in her face is desperately exciting, so good it almost threatens to redeem the episode. But a minute of unforgettable action cannot wipe away forty minutes of a past episode experience.

Fashion Statement: Is it my imagination or is Scully, squeezed back into a business, looking more beautiful than ever?

Orchestra: Irritatingly when not ripping off the music from Ice, Firewalker also mimics the music from Darkness Falls (another base under siege story!). Whilst I think that Mark Snow and The X-Files are a perfect fit and that he would go on to provide some truly memorable scores this is perhaps the best example of why there should have been several composers for the show. The music compounds the feeling of déjà vu. 

Result: If you hadn’t seen Ice this might have been the most exciting X-File but Ice just happened to be one of the standouts of the first year and is probably one of the episodes that most people remember. As a result Firewalker comes across as a tired imitation which goes as far as sharing the director and featuring identical incidental music. The big question you have to ask yourself is we went through all of that heartache and drama with Scully’s abduction to get back to storytelling like this? I know that the base under siege stories were popular in series one but surely we are too early in the shows run for anything to feel quite this repetitive? Which is a shame because there are some really gruesome moments and with Bradley Whitford and Leland Orser on board the episode also boasts an accomplished cast. If you turn the lights out and get a friend round who has never watched The X-Files before you could be in for a good time. If you’re familiar with the show at all and understand how an X-File episode is plotted you’ll be able to guess each twist long before it comes and it could just be the height of tedium. I wanted the return of the standalone episodes to be something truly spectacular (imagine if they had kick started with something as terrifying as Aubrey or Irresistible?) but instead I yawned my way through the Mulder/Scully debates (we’ve heard it all before) and laughed at the attempts to make Trepkos a mythic figure (we’ll forget all about him next week). Firewalker is The X-Files on autopilot which is definitely not the message they needed to be spreading at this crucial point in the season: 5/10

Red Museum written by Chris Carter and directed by Win Phelps

What’s it about: A peeping tom, kids being abused, a religious cult, experiments with alien DNA, the return of an executioner…ultimately its not really about anything because there isn’t the time to deal with all of these elements.

Trust No-One: Its nice to see Mulder stick up for one of members of the Red Museum when they are being picked on on the street. Yeah, I’m reaching.

Brains’n’Beauty: Did I detect a moment of chemistry between Mulder and Scully as he reaches over and wipes BBQ sauce from the corner of her mouth as they share a meal together?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You know for a holy man you have quite a knack for pissing people off!’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘I’ve got to drain the lizard’ – the weirdest euphemism for having a piss that I’ve ever heard.
‘The man who died in that plane crash was inoculating those kids with antibodies derived from what may have been an extraterrestrial source!’ is a Scully line. I thought Carter had lost it at this point – he’s trying to tie this load of cow meat into the events of The Erlenmeyer Flask?

Ugh: The opening scene is yuck in a whole new way for The X-Files – for once it isn’t trying to gross you out (like the exploding throats of the last episode) but the scenes in the abattoir really turned my stomach. Its one of those jobs that I realise have to be done (and I enjoy a good bit of beef like the next person) but the thought of working all day in a factory where I am carving up dead animals and covering myself in their blood and offal…umm no thanks. There’s a glorious shock moment where we experience a tree transform suddenly into a rook which peeks angrily at the camera. Given the abuse of hallucinogenic medicine in Red Museum we could have done with more trippy sequences like this.

The Good: Mark Rolston brings a lot of gravity to the (rather thankless) role of Brother Odin and ensures that the Red Museum sequences never sink to the level of those of the Kindred last year.

The Bad: Rick is such a ridiculously obstinate youth I couldn’t take him seriously for a second. The X-Files has a real problem with portraying decent, intelligent kids and instead prefers to opt for the angry, angst ridden variety of which Rick is a particularly annoying example. His dad is the Sheriff so he thinks that he basically runs the town and treats everybody accordingly. I was cheering when he was abducted and marked (and killed) and that perhaps shouldn’t have been my reaction. There’s a rare example of bad (visual) casting on this show – the female speaking member of the Red Museum church (we never learn her name although she is brilliantly billed as Woman Reading Words which I bet looked phenomenal on her CV!) is the spit of Gillian Barber who plays Beth Kane and for ages I thought they were the same character and was confused as to how she seemed to be in two places at the same time! There’s a very funny moment where the Red Museum church all appear behind Mulder and Scully humming to unnerve them and the one at the front on the far right is practically hopping with glee! Is this an extra who is thrilled to finally get his break with a speaking part (even if he’s only groaning?). There’s another example of the ‘random character showing up to fill in the plot’ that this show has an irritating habit of resorting to when the plot isn’t up to it. Although his condemnation of society and the capitalisation of the beef industry ultimately proves to be a lot of hot air about nothing. Halfway through the episode and Chris Carter hasn’t explained who the man at the peep hole is, why the kids are being mistreated or what the threat from the Red Museum is…and yet he adds two new narrative threads! As if it needed any more! The cut to the plane crash is sudden and inexplicable (and for this show its appallingly realised) and the sudden inclusion of Deep Throat’s murderer comes so far out of left field I thought he had accidentally wandered into the wrong episode! Mulder just happens to spot the beam of light from the Doctor’s spy hole? Fortunately this peeping tom left the light bulb on otherwise we might never have found out who was behind there. Mulder and Scully just happen to drive past the Crew Cut Man? Has a plot ever hinged on so many co-incidences? The creepy fella who has been spying on the Kane family has been abducting, stripping and marking these kids and leaving them mute with fear in the forest to point out what monsters they have become under the Larson’s tests. Isn’t this a bit extreme? Couldn’t he have just spoken the authorities? Is this the best way he thought to make his point because it wouldn’t exactly put me in reasonable frame of mind if I was one of the parents! Lucky he was a dirty old pervert otherwise this whole sorry ‘kids being injected with alien DNA’ would never have been properly exposed! The episode is set in a meat packing factory simply because Carter thought it would be interesting to have a chase set piece ducking around bloody carcasses? Ultimately the Red Museum church is a complete red herring and utterly irrelevant to the plot. Why then did we spend so much time with them in the first half? Was the script editor on holiday? It’s a deeply unsatisfying end to the Deep Throat execution plot because it has no ramifications and we learn nothing about the man who killed him. And oh what a surprise the Purity Control DNA has randomly broken down and cannot be analysed.

Pre Titles Sequence: You’ve got the scenes of cow mutilation, a man spying through the hole in the Kane bathroom and a boy roaming the streets in his underwear after having been through an ordeal horrific enough to make him mute. Its not the X-Files at its frightening best but all three of these notions are subtly quite unpleasant. Saying that it is a remarkably unfocussed teaser which is (already) juggling too many threads so it is indicative of the episode ahead.

Moment to Watch Out For: Scully’s flashback to Deep Throat’s death offers a moment of excitement where this episode seems to be about to pull something special out of the bag. Its all for nought but at least my heart fluttered for a second or two.

Fashion Statement: Scully is back to wearing some horrendous business wear including a white jacket with a hand glider collar so wide it has regressed two decades into the 70s. 

Result: With several plot threads, a muddy explanation and a kooky religious cult there is more than a touch of Genderbender to Red Museum. It never quite sinks to those levels but it is still a disjointed, overcomplicated mess which leaves Mulder and Scully plodding through the motions. Is this really the same show that was delivering one knockout after another for the first third of the second season? Is this the sort of storytelling we were longing to get back to when Mulder and Scully were torn apart? Its all plot, plot, plot…with no emotional consequences for anybody so its hard to get involved with what is happening. When scripting Duane Barry earlier in the season Chris Carter paired everything right back to the bone and the resulting drama was riveting but with Red Museum he turns that on its head and stuffs it so full of ideas that it is indigestible. The sudden shift in the last third to the myth arc is extremely jarring and feels like it has been bolted on simply to boost what has otherwise been an unremarkable episode. Ultimately I couldn’t tell what this was about because I couldn’t get a handle on its many rambling elements myself (Is it about tainted beef? Alien experimentation? Paedophilia?) but I do know that Scully’s abysmally scripted final wrap up where she tries to tick off all the various elements and pretty much informs us that all of them are ‘unexplained’ sums up my reaction perfectly. Its pretty much pointless: 4/10

Excelsis Dei written by Paul Brown and directed by Stephen Surjik

What’s it about: Trouble at an old peoples home where the ghosts seem to be indulging in sick pleasures…

Trust No-One: I did not understand what the purpose of Mulder and Scully was in this episode. They don’t seem to achieve anything and wander through the piece with a sense of borderm as though even they can’t believe that their careers have come to solving this kind of case. By the end of the episode the only person that wanted to help and respect the old folks is deported, the care worker who was raped is never believed and the elderly are denied their medicine that has been making them stronger and revert back to an appalling, vegetative state. Mulder and Scully have achieved nothing but to make the lives of these people more miserable. Let’s not repeat that experiment again. About the only thing we significantly learn about Mulder is that he has a far more impressive porn collection than even we realised and Scully really doesn’t mind. Big woo. When Mulder says ‘I don’t know how to explain it’ we are in serious trouble. When the main man can’t even get his head around the plot and suggest a few theories what hope do we have.

Brains’n’Beauty: I’m not sure why I would expect it simply because she is a woman but Scully’s lack of concern for a woman that has been raped really didn’t sit very well with me. She seems professionally distant from the whole affair. I also couldn’t quite get my head around how she waited around, seemingly bored, as the orderly was hanging from a fourth floor window. Why didn’t she try and find something to break his fall?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’ve got plumbing that’s older than this building!’ 

The Bad: I know it wouldn’t make for particularly great drama but why don’t we ever meet any nice orderlies in nursing homes in TV drama? Between this and Psychoville and One Foot in the Grave I am now petrified to ever set foot in a nursing home! The orderlies in Excelsis Dei are such a thoroughly loathsome bunch you want bad things to happen to them simply because they mistreat the old people in their care so badly. Along with the shoulder shrugging handling of a rape scene there is a general feeling of misogyny in this episode with one male character saying that the sexual harassment act prevents men from saying what’s on their mind which has all kind of chilling connotations and we also witness Dorothy being mistreated by one of the male orderlies. All of this leaves a nasty taste in the mouth. Sab Shimono and Eric Christmas give soporific and eccentric performances respectively and the attempts to create any kind of menace around the characters of Gung and Stan fall flat. There is a mention of the cure for Alzheimers which is dropped into the script halfway through the episode but comes to nothing. Frankly I think it was included to make the episode feel as though it has more meaning than it actually does. The script seems to suggest that the ghosts are a hallucination brought on by the medicine but they have been seen to have a physical presence in the teaser. It feels as though the writer hasn’t quite made his mind up as to what they are. If Gung cares so much about the elderly here that he would go to the lengths of growing his own mushroom crop to make them feel better then why doesn’t he report the behaviour of the other orderlies to the authorities? What’s the point of making them more cogent so they are aware of how they are being manhandled? There is no reason for everything to go to hell in a handbasket at the climax for any other reason than it is the climax. All the events build momentum at this point but there is no catalyst for them, it could have happened at any point in the episode. There are so many things wrong with the water filled conclusion I don’t know where to start? The room fills to drowning proportions in about five seconds, Duchovny seems distinctly unmoved by his impending death and what room is this watertight? They just wanted the visual of the water finally bursting free in slow motion, didn’t they?

Pre Titles Sequence: Michelle Charters is raped by an invisible entity. Somehow it manages to be tasteless, ridiculous and far too graphic for my tastes all at the same time. In the first season we experienced a ghost who was crushing peoples throats but now we seem to have up stakes and they are now sexually mistreating women. I find the exploration in drama of rape to have to be a very finely judged subject and they completely fudge it here. Mixing the supernatural and real life horror is basically this shows raison d’etre but this is a step too far into human misery. It’s a lose/lose scenario too because if they hadn’t played this for real then there would be even more to complain about but because Teryl Rothery’s performance is so believable in the trailer we are literally watching a woman being raped by an entity that she can’t fight back. Who wants to watch that? 

Moment to Watch Out For: The scene with the mural of the ghosts is painted on one of the walls. It’s the one moment of wonder in an otherwise ugly episode.

Orchestra: Almost as if he knows this is one of the weakest shows of the year Mark Snow works doubly hard to ensure that his score conjures up some decent atmosphere and scares. To his credit, he succeeds. 

Result: Whilst there is undoubtedly some atmosphere to the ghostly happenings in Excelsis Dei the direction is pretty flat and the pace lifeless which makes this another post-abduction stinker. Its simply not a very nice setting and all of the characters are fairly repugnant so besides the odd decent effect you are left with a cheerless piece where you aren’t rooting for anybody. The message that we forgotten to treat the elderly with care and respect is a worthy one but in an episode where an angry elderly spirit is seen to rape a woman it is perhaps not handled with the right amount of subtlety to make an impact. What we are left with is scenes of helpless old people being mistreated by young people who have forgotten how to care and in all honesty who wants to watch that? What did the ghosts want? Where did they go? Why? The lack of answers is breathtaking in its obscurity. I don’t always like things spelt out but just a crumb of information would help. Without explanations its just a bunch of weird stuff happening to dreary people for no reason: Thoroughly depressing: 2/10

Aubrey written by Sara B. Charno and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: A series of copycat killings re-opens an investigation into a 50-year old case and sees one victim finally find some peace…

Trust No-One: ‘Using psychology to solve a crime was like…’ ‘…believing in the paranormal?’ There is a parallel made between the work of Mulder and that of Chaney both of which were visionary mavericks in their approaches. That comparison is made explicit in the climax when Mulder nearly goes the same way as his predecessor with a razor to his neck. It seems that when Mulder and Scully have an engaging mystery to solve it fires up the performances of Duchovny and Anderson because their participation is a world away from their sleepwalking in Excelsis Dei. Watch as they reveal that BJ is Cokely’s granddaughter. Despite being a great shock moment (for me anyway) it is their performances that sell the moment, making it feel important.

Brains’n’Beauty: There’s a far better use of Scully in this episode, moreso than any story since she returned to work. She’s seen to be searingly intelligent and insightful and she can see things between BJ and Tillman are more than professional when Mulder is completely clueless. Mind you when she has to follow BJ into the restroom Scully looks pained, as though the very fact that she is a woman means she has to handle the emotional crap. Her admission that she has had feelings for people she has worked with before is worth elaboration. For once its Scully that makes an extreme leap and Mulder is laughing at her, it’s a nice reversal that they both acknowledge.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’ve always been intrigued by women called BJ…’
‘How does it feel to be on the other side of the razor brother?’

Ugh: The shot of Cokely in the mirror smiling at BJ makes me jump every time I watch this episode. Its so fleeting and yet its unforgettable. By the end of the tale BJ’s transformation is complete; she is a truly repulsive sight, scarred, breathing heavily, the literal spawn of evil. The fact that it is her pregnancy that has released the blackness locked away in her heart, is terrifying. ‘You know the rules. This doesn’t stop until you’re dead…’

The Good: This is such a tightly constructed script that the teaser scenes that show BJ and Tillman talking about their extra marital affair and her unfortunate pregnancy as a result feels like it is just fleshing out the characters but it is actually revealing the catalyst for the whole episode. The flashback scenes throughout Aubrey are gloriously shot in sepia to suggest their age. The way the script reveals the copycat killings, accusing Mulder and Scully of having access to up to date files on the slasher killings when they are actually reading 50 year old reports, is very clever. BJ is having dreams about the victims of these crimes, old and new, she is seeing the attack of her grandmother through the eyes of the killer and she has a rash develop on her face just like her grandfather – all the clues are there but because they paint BJ as such an effective victim the obvious connection never takes place. BJ herself doesn’t know about her past or that she is the killer and through a series of dramatic and logical steps we discover these facts along with her. As such it never feels like a cheat. Rob Bowman’s fluid, stylish camerawork really is superb and its great that he finally has a well written episode (his previous directing turns were Genderbender and 3) to lavish his attention on. Rape is handled far more effectively here than in Excelsis Dei. For one thing it is not rammed down our throats in quite such an animalistic way and for another it is shown to have real, emotional consequences for the victim. Mrs Thibedeaux’s revelation that she hasn’t had another picture taken since the attack is very telling, especially since she is shown to be quite a beauty in her youth. Tillman talks about an abortion but isn’t treated unsympathetically, Terry O’Quinn is too strong an actor to allow his character to disappear on the sidelines. The scene where we visit Cokely at home in pathetic state reminds me strongly of a recent incident with my father. I’m saying that my dad is a rapist and a murderer but he did do a spell in prison and used to be a generally abuse and bullish man. At a recent family barbecue I went along to he happened to be a guest as well much to my surprise and I was shocked to see how badly time had affected him. What used to be a charismatic and frightening person had been reduced to a shrivelled and pathetic old man, almost as if his body punished him for his terrible past. That’s what the scenes with Cokely reminded me of, a terrible man who is forced to suffer for living as long as he had without redemption. It’s a subtly creepy performance by Morgan Woodward with a mad glint in his eyes when he talks about the attack and rape he committed. BJ waking up covered in blood so soon after talking about abortion has grisly undertones. When Mulder sensitively reveals that Mrs Thibedeaux had a child you can pretty much guess the rest of the plot…but I was so hoodwinked at this stage despite all the clues being there. There’s a fascinating argument in there about whether it is genetics that affects our personality and trait or the environment that you have grown up in. It’s a discussion that I have had many times with people with regards to my sexuality (a topic I generally don’t talk about because I find it the most boring thing about myself…but when I do it usually winds up drawing back to why I am gay) and it proves to be as decent explanation as any for what is predisposing BJ to kill. BJ killing Cokely, the man who forced her father into existence, is very satisfying. Even the lack of closure is pleasing in this case because the plot itself has been wrapped up so well and what is left are the consequences. What will happen to BJ’s baby? Will it carry the same gene or will that skip a generation again and start the whole cycle in 50 years time?

Pre Titles Sequence: I really love the games they play with you in the teaser. BJ reveals that she is pregnant and Tillman can barely disguise his disgust and asks to meet her at a remote location. It looks like The X-Files is going to chalk up another victim when a pair of bright headlamps snap on in front of her. It turns out to be a crime committed in the past which BJ has some insight into and rather than becoming the body she discovers one. Its dramatically directed and every shot is made to count towards the overall effect.

Moment to Watch Out For: The twist that BJ is the murderer leads to what I consider to be one of the highlights of the season, the confrontation between her and Mrs Thibedeaux. BJ is literally becoming her twisted grandfather and re-enacting his crimes. The tension in this scene, when the one time victim (who clearly has never fully moved on from that horrific act) has to re-live her nightmare with her granddaughter, is unbearable and the performances are top notch. This is the result of an evil man who has destroyed two women’s lives. The light glinting off the iron and the scalpel flicking through the air in slow motion are images that I have never forgotten. 

Result: I love stories that see murders from the past affect an investigation in the here and now and Aubrey is one of the best because it expertly conceals its revelation behind a truly sympathetic character. There’s no other reason that we don’t suspect BJ other than the fact that we like her. Like Duane Barry before and Irresistible afterwards, Aubrey proves that The X-Files has now mastered the straight drama and they prove to be some of the season best episodes (whereas the straight dramas in season one, Lazarus and Young at Heart, were the worst). Rob Bowman’s direction is outstanding; every shot is moody and foreboding and his use of light and shadow suggests that he has been watching a lot of film noir of late. If you watched this in black and white it would be just as effective. Unusually for an X-File everything comes together and makes sense and the plot is wrapped up with a real sense of dramatic satisfaction. Please feel free to do this again. Aubrey feels like a perfectly fine piece of storytelling in its own right rather than a segment of an anthology show consisting of set pieces strung together by a kooky idea. The tight plotting, graphic imagery and clever ideas are worthy of a great horror film in their own right. And with Anderson and Duchovny on form and terrific support from Strong, O’Quinn, Woodward and Coghill this is a superb slice of slasher terror that whips The X-Files back into shape after a trilogy of meh: 9/10

Irresistible written by Chris Carter and directed by David Nutter

What’s it about: Scully is disturbed by the work of a death fetishist…

Trust No-One: Its nice to see Carter playing about with the rule that he set up and having Mulder walk onto a crime scene where the main theory is aliens and debunk it in about two minutes is great fun. Mulder has dragged Scully into this investigation under the pretence of alien involvement when in fact he has tickets to a football game (note how amused she looks to learn this). In a very funny moment he looks far more concerned about the game on TV that he has missed than the fresh bodies that have been discovered. Nice to know he has his priorities! Its lovely that Mulder is so tender with Scully when he realises what a hard time she is having with the case. He wants her to be honest with him and she admits that she does trust him with her life.

Brains’n’Beauty: An essential episode for Scully and the first real chance to give Gillian Anderson some real acting to do since One Breath. Scully is visibly disturbed by the case from the off and sees herself as a dead body in the crime photographs. Irresistible just goes to show how the performances of the leads affects our reaction to a particular episode. Whilst Pfaster’s acts are repulsive it is Gillian Anderson’s haunted performance that really drives home how sick this is. If you compare and contrast with the episode Home in season four the point carries even more weight. Home is without a doubt the sickest episode of The X-Files, period. Its full of grisly images and some disgusting ideas. But throughout Mulder and Scully wisecrack their way through it and somehow make the horror feel a lot safer. In Irresistible Scully’s horror is planted directly into the audience. She’s scared and so are we. Throughout the shows run we will see Scully perform many autopsies but the silent and horror struck way she approaches the slab in this episode makes this the most horrific example. The scenes with the counsellor are absolutely vital because it is the first time we have had the chance to explore Scully’s psychological state since her abduction, torture and subsequent return. Scully thought she could look into the face of pure evil but this time has found herself paralysed by it. She always thought that she could handled anything but now she feels vulnerable. She has lost her father and recently been through a violent abduction scenario and she recognises how those events have affected her. Normally this character is such a closed book emotionally so to have this spill out of her in such a hauntingly played scene is top notch. Scully recognises the world is full of predators and it is her job to protect people from them but she has lost faith in her ability to do that. Once she has finished talking to the counsellor Scully feels refreshed and ready to get back to work. Of all the times for her most horrific attacks yet… By showing how disturbed she is before she is driven off the road makes this feel very different from her abduction in Duane Barry which was all about shock effect. I have rarely seen an actress look as convincingly terrified as Gillian Anderson does during the climax. It goes beyond mere escapism and becomes quite uncomfortable to watch. Like the rest of the episode they push Scully’s fear of death right to the edge. Anderson has never been better than at the episodes conclusion where she tries to pretend she is fine and Mulder forces her to look him in the eyes and say that. She crumbles in his arms and it is heartbreaking to watch. I realised at this point that Carter has already taken these characters to hell and back and I was completely behind their relationship now.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Death, like life itself, is a drama with a beginning, middle and end.’

Ugh: ‘He was ordinary. He didn’t look like no freak…’ Thus is the reason that Donald Pfaster is such an insidious baddie. The whole concept of a death fetishist is something I could have lived my entire life without ever having to learn about it…but what a disturbing concept to build an episode around. When Scully says it is easier to believe in aliens she was right because the thought of a man who would prey on the living to scavenge on the dead chills the blood. Pfaster working for a delivery company is almost scarier than the acts he is performing because it brings to mind the fact that so many people walk into your life of which any of them could have sick fetishes on the quiet. He’s a normal looking man living a seemingly normal life and yet he cuts hair and fingers off the dead and keeps them in the deep freeze. Brrr… Pfaster has funereal reefs surrounding his bed, this is a guy that literally gets off on surrounding himself with death. Carter manages to brew up that Tooms-like horror of hunting in public when Donnie watches a fellow class mate in night school.

The Good: ‘You’re saying some human’s been doing this?’ ‘If you want to call him that…’ Kudos to Nick Chinlund who gives the creepiest performance of the most loathsome character since Brad Dourif in Beyond the Sea. I always get this feeling that Donnie is just on the verge of snapping, that there is a barely restrained anger beneath his super cool exterior. Bruce Weitz gives a gorgeous performances as the slightly kooky, world weary Agent Moe Bocks and shares immediate chemistry with David Duchovny. What a shame he is confined to this one episode because the characters like minded approach seemed to suggest subsequent appearances. There is something genuinely horrible about Mulder’s assertion that the hooker was ‘convenient.’ What a waste of life simply because she could be so easily lured into his house of horrors. The briefly seen flirty blood analysis guy is great fun. There was no reason for him to be flirty but it adds a bit of character to what could have just been information. As the camera swings menacingly around Pfaster’s house the scenes are practically bleached of colour. Like Aubrey this almost black and white horror approach is startlingly effective. There are lots of echoes of Psycho; the fact that it is Pfaster’s mothers house, Norman Bates also had a hard on for dead things, there’s a struggle on the staircase and the general gnawing terror of the scenes in the house. If you are going to steal from anybody, you may as well steal from the best.

The Bad: What a shame that they had to include the momentary glimpse of the devil because it really wasn’t needed. This could have been played as an entirely straight episode because Nick Chinlund’s Donnie Pfaster is more terrifying than anything the costume/make up team could have come up with. Its been a long time since we’ve seen Scully at the keyboard with a voiceover. I thought we had grown out of such exposition. At points Pfaster is so creepy in a child like way I was wondering why I seemed to be the only person noticing it. The fingers in the freezer next to veggies was the only point where this episode felt as though it had fallen off the subtlety train.

Pre Titles Sequence: It’s a spectacularly bleak way to start an episode in a painfully well played funeral where one of the attendants is seen getting off on touching the corpse and chopping away her hair and fingernails. Its saying from the off that this episodes is not for the faint hearted.

Moment to Watch Out For: David Nutter is such a clever director. The sequence where the prostitute is killed does show a single second of violence and yet the imagery is so powerful it crawls inside your head and suggests terrible things. Pfaster’s shadow growing up the wall as he pursues her down the corridor is vivid and threatening. I may have to sleep with the lights on tonight.

Notes: ‘She was Scully like that baseball announcer’ – well I guess somebody had to say it eventually!

Foreboding: Pfaster will be back in season sevens Orison. It seems that that episode is as loathed as much as this episode is praised. I’m on the fence personally but even I have to admit it lacks Irresistible’s brooding horror and subtlety. But it does have one of the most frightening fight scenes in the shows run.

Result: For once good taste goes out of the window and Carter revels in the dark side of humanity with everything from death fetishism, prostitution and female abuse on display. Its not an episode that you can enjoy but this exploration of the baser instincts of man is without a doubt one of the most shuddersome episodes the show ever put out. Nick Chinlund is rightfully celebrated for his chilling performance as Donnie Pfaster and it would be a long time before the show would find another nasty with quite this much impact. Even better is the exploration of Scully’s character and Gillian Anderson’s outstanding performance of a woman who has lost faith in her ability to do her job. Anderson is such a subtle actress but whenever she is given a chance to emote this strongly she blast Duchovny of the screen. Once again it is impossible to conceive what Carter is going to come up with next. So far this year he’s written a pukesome monster of the week tale, a gripping hostage scenario, a disjointed mid-season affair and now a black as Newgate’s knocker fetishist drama. Overall he seems to be improving as a writer (three of those four are excellent) but I simply cannot predict what he is going to write next. Irresistible proves how well he understands the horror genre and crawls under your skin like the best of the genre. I’m astonished that this made it past the American censors but I’m sure glad it did: 9/10

Die Hand Die Verletz written by Glen Morgan and James Wong and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Devil worshippers get a surprise visit from the big guy in the guise of a substitute teacher with hell in her eyes…

Trust No-One: Mulder is back to be preternaturally aware of events in this tale because he figures that Shannon is ‘remembering’ horrors from her past when the episode hasn’t given him a single clue as to why that should be the case. In this episode Mulder seems as averse to cliché as everybody else and feels surprisingly at ease in its comic trappings.

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully is clearly over her lapse in her faith in the last episode because she spies a corpse with a missing heart and eyes and barely bats and eyelid (in Irresistible she was horrified by the missing fingers and hair so I guess she’s just picky about which body parts are taken). She has never had the wind taken out of her sails quite so hilariously as when they are assaulted by a shower of toads! Scully has a wonderful paddy about occultism being ‘the greatest criminal conspiracy of all time!’ which had me spitting out my coffee! Clearly the agents understand exactly the kind of outrageous adventure they are in this week and indulge in the appropriate amount of hyperbole!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Mulder toads just fell from the sky!’
‘Did you really think you could call up the Devil and ask him to behave?’ 

Taking the Piss: Anyone who says that there wasn’t an X-File comedy before Humbug clearly hasn’t watched this episode because it is packed full of moments so deliriously awful I was laughing my head off at the most inappropriately throughout. Whether this is a parody of all those cheap made for TV horror movies or Morgan and Wong were just taking the piss because they were off to work on their own series I cannot tell but this is the most absurdly over the top script and rides high with its satirical (surely?) dialogue that had me howling with laughter. ‘This is a weird area’ says one character ‘it has a strange air…’ to which Mulder replies later ‘there is a strange feel to this place.’ Discussion soon turns to devil worshippers reaching children via television, music and books (‘finally you people know what we’re up against!’) in a ridiculous lampooning of hysterical parents trying to find someone to blame for the actions of their kids. ‘Something is here Scully…’ says Mulder, joining in on the insanely heightened way everybody seems to be talking. Nothing could quite top Shannon’s abysmally scripted tale of abuse and devil worship which has bypassed the subtle train and even given OTT a little wave goodbye. ‘They called me a breeder!’ she cries, remembering how her stepfather used to touch her up and involve her in their dark rituals. ‘They would get me pregnant and then they would kill the babies!’ Really? And your mother never noticed any of this? Mulder and Scully watch on with such grave severity I was willing one them to burst out laughing at such an appalling tale. Her mother’s reaction is even funnier: ‘Maybe we haven’t been paying her enough attention?’ Honestly you couldn’t make this shit up! Oh wait…this line is even more ludicrous – ‘She cut out his eyes because she couldn’t bear to have him look at another girl and his heart because she was heartbroken.’ Like anybody would buy into something that blatantly absurd. This bunch of devil worshippers deserves to be put out of their misery. In fact it surprises me that they have been able to keep their activities quiet for so long. When Jim Ausbury starts rabbiting on about religious persecution and mans animalistic tendencies I started to wonder if he had wandered into the wrong episode! It felt like an odd juncture to try and give this, the woolliest of X-Files episodes, some greater depth and given that it is barely touched upon it only serves as a distraction to all the madness going on elsewhere. Best of all is Mulder and Scully's bemused expressions at the climax once they have read the message left to them on the blackboard by Morgan and Wong (sorry I mean the Devil). Its a knowing mockery of every X-Files that simply ends with nobody any the wiser of what the whole thing has been about. 

The Good: Mrs Paddock is great villain but a world away from Donnie Pfaster in the last episode despite the fact that they are both trying to lead normal lives as a cover for their nefarious activities. She’s the picture of sympathy and old fashioned values in public which gives her space to perform the vilest of acts behind closed doors. She’s as bold and as bloody preposterous as the rest of this episode so naturally she’s the sort of villain that puts marked school papers on top of bloody offal that she has ripped from one of the students. I found the scene where she made the little pig heart come to life both very sick and hilariously funny and that’s not an easy combination to pull off. Even the reason Mrs Paddock appeared on the scene is deliciously outlandish - rather than the teacher she replaced catching the flu he develops a case of flesh eating bacteria! The sight of her holding her hand over a flame with snakes eyes, licking her lips as her pet goes about his work is deliciously scary.

The Bad: Did we really need a mention of paedophilia in this camp old bit of nonsense? If they were skipping over the appropriate rituals since Shannon was four why has it taken the devil this long to appear and punish them? More to the point why is she murdering her (admittedly pretty inept) worshippers? If there’s nobody around to revere you then you’ll make a pretty lousy deity! How do these idiots think that they can get away with killing two FBI agents? Have they finally taken leave of their senses? ‘Mulder did you see his expression? It was as though something had control of him!’ Yeah thanks for that, Scully, we hadn’t figure that one out ourselves when he blasted his own head off.

Pre Titles Sequence: This tells you everything you need to know about this playful episode and that we have taken a side step into a town where all the usual rules of The X-Files don’t take place. A particularly stuffy PTA group meet and discuss their usual censorious agenda before indulging in a little devil worshipping under any other business. Its knockabout and quirky much like the episode itself.

Moment to Watch Out For: The sequence with the snake slowly making its way down the cellar staircase is unbearably tense to witness. Mark Snow understands when his music isn’t needed and the doorway squeaks open and the staircase creaks at it slithers its way down to find its lunch. My husband’s friend has a snake and she couldn’t understand why every night as she slept it kept lying vertically next to her. She thought it was quite sweet that it was sleeping with her when she was informed by the vet that it was in fact measuring her up for supper! This is one of the shows unforgettable death scenes as the snake wraps itself around the victim and cracks his bones into a more easily digestible size and then swallows him down whole. I realise that snakes can eat people (but as Scully says it would take rather more time than we witness here) but it is still one of the more absurd quirks of nature and so naturally Morgan and Wong chuck it into their departure script.

Orchestra: Aside from the snake it was the music that I remembered most about this episode before I pressed play but the two go hand in hand so that’s not surprising. Snow plunders The Omen to bring this tale of devil worshipping to life but boy does he do it with style and that all male choir get the chance to really show what they are made of as the music ramps up the tension in the final act. 

Result: No one can stage television like The X-Files and Kim Manners packs Die Hand Die Verletz full of memorable and stomach turning imagery. Flames belching from the ground, toads raining from the sky, dissected pigs coming to life, a snake eating a man whole…its all in there and looking as dazzling as ever. This is a good thing and these images continually assault you because it barely gives you time to notice that this is just a conveyor belt of ever more disturbing set pieces and little else. The tone of the script is playful and comic but it is presented in such a deadly serious way that it somehow becomes even funnier as a result. Mulder and Scully are basically dumped in the real life equivalent of Springfield where the people are all caricatures who speak in a hilariously cartoonish fashion. Its not exactly what I would call a good episode and yet its so stylish, pacy and fun that I was engaged throughout. I can’t believe we are losing Morgan and Wong for a season and a half (and even then their return is brief) because they have continually tried to push the show into new areas and have consistently delivered polished scripts boosted by great ideas. This parody of The X-Files sees them at their subversive best, stringing together a bunch of weird shit with the barest of justification just for kicks. Its been fun working with you guys too: 8/10

Fresh Bones written by Howard Gordon and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: Dark happenings at a refugee camp and a Colonel who is trying to learn the secrets of voodoo…

Trust No-One: Mulder and Scully seem as humourless as everybody else in Fresh Bones. They are at their least engaging when they are seen to be going through the motions in such a grave and forbidding manner. I caught a repeat of the season six episode The Ghosts that Stole Christmas and whilst they might be scripted and played as sitcom characters at this point they are at least warm characters and entertaining and fun to be around. You would think they had both suffered recent tragedies given how solemn they are in Fresh Bones. They might have both been insanely over the top in the last episode but at least they made an impact there. There’s very little that they do here that makes any positive impact. On me or any of the characters in the story.

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully has some very strong ideas about voodoo being nothing more than psychological scare tactics. Since she is so staunch in her criticisms we know from previous experience that she is bound to be taught a lesson. You would think at some point Mulder would warn her off tempting fate like this. Or maybe he gets a secret perverse pleasure watching her learn otherwise each time.

Ugh: The blood leaking from Wharton’s ham steak is enough to turn the staunchest meat eater vegetarian.

The Good: The body snatching angle is nicely done if only because it introduces us to Chester who is the only likable character in the whole story. He’s far more interested in collecting toads (they really got some use out of those frogs what with them raining down in Die Hand Die Verletz too) and disappearing fries to engage with the ugly nonsense going on elsewhere. Why he keeps turning into a black cat is a mystery to me, though, aside from the fact that a black cat is synonymous with magic. Whilst the episode is pretty vague about Wharton and Bovey’s past relationship and why he wants the secrets of voodoo it does at least give us a motive for the murders and their subsequent return to life – the marines were going to expose him and Bovey wants to expose Wharton’s tyranny in the camp. The candle lit, misty graveyard is a hugely atmospheric setting for the climax and it will be a long time before I put the image of another hand clawing its way out of Scully’s out pf my mind. Its images like this that you will take from this episode.

The Bad: In the past couple of episodes we have had inferences to rape (Excelsis Dei), paedophilia (Die Hand Die Verletz), death fetishism (Irresistible), rape again (Aubrey) and now Fresh Bones indulges in mentions of domestic violence and racist beatings. I think we might be over egging the real life horrors a bit. I could really go for the odd Neanderthal woman or mad computer right about now because I’m starting to feel a little dirty. Actually scrap the Jersey Devil bit! For a moment I thought The X-Files might be going political by setting a story in a refugee camp but when Wharton categorically states ‘they hate us’ as though that explains everything I soon realised that we were hardly in for any kind of intelligent debate about immigration. Talk about taking all the fun out of zombies – Mulder tries to explain their existence using science. This show wants to play about with the classics but like 3 (and its scant exploration of vampires) it feels the need to keep one foot in the real world rather than just surrendering to it and running with the idea. Hence the zombies (or walking dead to be precise) here are pissed off soldiers and cute kids and the only shot of a zombie that we would recognise from the genre (with a bloody, disfigured face) is featured momentarily in the teaser. Its odd that when they have the chance to play about with established mythology The X-Files always feels a little embarrassed about it (the werewolf in Shapes is another example). When this show really engages is when it is creating fresh new horrors for its own catalogue. What is it about these grave diggers that turn up on The X-Files to fill in some plot background? At least this one is nicely performed. Watching refugees being beaten to death and punished for no good reason is not my idea of a fun hour. Mr X shows up to remind us that he still exists rather than to fulfil any necessary role in the narrative. If you were new to The X-Files you might wonder who the hell this one scene wonder is. Mulder seems to be the lone voice speaking up against the mistreatment of the refugees and the episode takes a horribly nihilistic approach that seems to suggest that attempting illegal access to America can only be met with violence and murder.

Pre Titles Sequence: Almost a typically fabulous X-File teaser with grotesque imagery (the maggots writhing in the cereal bowl, a zombie gurning in the mirror), great performances and a decent stunt. I didn’t have a clue what was going on but it sure looks phenomenal on screen!

Moment to Watch Out For: I’m reaching for something nice to say but the scene where Mulder chases Chester sees a director doing his damdest to make this pedestrian script come to life. Bowman employs handheld camerawork, illicits an exciting score out of Mark Snow and then in a dazzling piece of photographic trickery disorientatingly sends the camera 360 degrees around Mulder with a gorgeous city backdrop. It looks astonishing but the actual chase and Chester’s ability to vanish is a complete dead end subplot, a distraction to pad out the hour. This is the magic of The X-Files at times, it can convince you through stylish action that something far more important is going on.  

Foreboding: Not many people would agree with me but I found the voodoo machinations of season sevens Theef to be far more effective. At least the writer of that episode simply accepts that it exists from the off and has some fun with it.

Result: There is so little relief in Fresh Bones that you might find yourself ready to give up on the human race by the time you reach its conclusion. Like Excelsis Dei it has a really ugly setting and is packed full of deeply unlikable people and that makes it very hard to give a damn about. Daniel Benzali is a brooding presence as Colonel Wharton but not enough is made of his character and his motivations are left up to the viewer to decide. He’s seen to be a racist asshole but his dual villainy as the necromancer of the piece comes out of nowhere and I couldn’t grasp why he wanted to master the black arts. Howard Gordon proved with Sleepless earlier in the season that he was more than capable of producing a fine solo script but Fresh Bones is a tepid affair that tries to explain magic with science whilst failing to deal with the politics of the setting or make the characters at all likable and engaging. Nasty people do horrible things whilst out for nobody but themselves and none of the characters reach any kind of a satisfying conclusion. Its enough to make you give up all hope. Voodoo is a messy business that’s best avoided, that’s about all we discover. Bowman manages to inject some real scares into the piece and that is this episodes saving grace. Once more through the script grinder would have polished this up a bit but it remains a tiresomely bleak episode: 4/10

Colony written by Chris Carter and directed by Nick Marck

What’s it about: An alien bounty hunter is hunting down copies of the same man performing unusual experiments…

Trust No-One: To believe in what he does Mulder understood that it would mean sacrifices to his career, to relationships and to his life itself. I was really pleased to see that Mulder had his butt kicked by Skinner over the death of the agent that they brought into the investigation. Somebody has to be accountable for these deaths. The casting of Mulder’s parents is mixed with Peter Donat giving a fantastic performance but Rebecca Toolan is less convincing as his mother. Unfortunately one of them only makes it to the end of the season and the other will be with us until the seventh season. Its just not the right way around.

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully has reached the point now where she is listening to insane conspiracy stories that are so far out of the realms of intelligent reasoning she has to give Mulder a slap around the face (metaphorically) and draw a line on their investigation. She wont simply follow him to the point of insanity and when she questions the motives of the CIA agent he has the nerve to call her paranoid! It’s the first time that she has ever told Mulder she is walking away and he gets really stroppy with her for suggesting it.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What ever happened to trust no one, Mulder?’ ‘I changed it to trust everyone. I didn’t tell you?’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘I have lived with a fragile faith built on the ether of vague memories from an experience that I could neither prove nor explain’ might have to go down as one of the most pretentious and overwritten opening lines of any single episodes of TV drama. Ever. Carter does love his purple prose (which literally means extravagant writing that draws attention to itself) and I suppose I should get used to it as it becomes ever more apparent as the series continues (climaxing in Trust No 1 which is an episode build around the mauvest of prose and is bursting with ornate, overly sentimental statements like this).
‘If through death larger mysteries are revealed I will have already learnt the answer to the questions that has driven me here…’ – why does this show feel the need to cap its more momentous moments with dreary poetry that would make an angst ridden teenager squirm?

The Good: Brian Thompson makes his debut as the alien bounty hunter and makes an immediate impact. The steals from Terminator are apparent (the leather jacket, the abnormal strength, the square jaw) but this silent, menacing stalker has terrific presence and I love his neck stabbing weapon. The effect that the alien blood has on a humans (curdling it) is sufficiently nasty. You’ve got to love a show where the news that somebody has fired shots at the White House is just a throwaway line. Unusually for a mythology episode Colony is cleanly plotted and the investigation follows in a simple, step by step progression of events. Abortion doctors are being killed and it winds up that they all have the same face which leads Mulder and Scully on a trail after the killer across the country where other versions of the same man have also been sighted. Imagine the fun that we can have with a shapeshifting alien. Invasion of the Body Snatchers has a lot to be thanked for in the genre and if its anywhere near as fun as the Founders were on DS9 we are in for a treat with this new morphing species of alien. The bounty hunter is clearly an intelligent opponent because he shrouds his excellent cover story in just enough truth to fool Mulder and Scully into willingly leading him to his next victim. Early in the Cold War Soviet scientists stumbled on a genetic anomaly in sets of identical twins and managed to isolate the genetic material that gave the twins their identical features, mastering cloning so they could reproduce people. The idea was to put these clones into strategic positions in medical facilities so that in a time of war they could sabotage the US immune system. However a Russian spy killer (a spy killer? Is that the coolest invented job ever?) has been sent to wipe out all evidence of the scheme since the end of the Cold War. It’s a beautifully orchestrated story that makes sense of the facts and is exactly the sort of homespun conspiracy that Mulder would go mad for and Scully would find utterly preposterous. Most X-Files episode don’t even have one explanation for the events that have transpired…Colony confounds the norm by having two! For once we get to see the evidence of alien colonisation being tidied up (I half expected the warehouse to be completely empty ala The Erlenmeyer Flask when Scully returned to it) and the grisly image of him stepping on one of the alien foetuses really sours the stomach.

The Bad: Its more a case of where the episodes are slotted into the season but after a run of four episodes packed with real life nasties and only the slightest touch of fantasy (more or less – I wouldn’t accuse Die Hand Die Verletz in any way of approaching realism) its jarring to suddenly be watching an episode that is this ground in science fiction ideas. I don’t think we have seen anything this overtly of the genre since season one. Unusually for The X-Files the effect of the melting bodies looks pretty cheap (mind you the green blood oozing from the bullet holes in the bounty hunter’s chest is excellent). Dropping Samantha into the story is the biggest mistake because it is a completely unnecessary complication. Her story about alien experimentation is a web of lies and she will be gone after next weeks episode and yet how do they explain all this Teena who is delighted to have her daughter home? If the purpose of this was to get Mulder to protect the clones of her ‘father’ then it is pointless because he was doing that anyway. It feels like a ham fisted attempt to inject some significance and emotion into what should be a very simple story but when you have to jump through so many illogical hoops to wipe the return of Samantha out of existence in the conclusion was it really worth the effort?

Pre Titles Sequence: Welcome to ER in Alaska as Mulder is rushed from the snow into a warm bath that could possibly kill him. Its an old trick to set the teaser after the main action to entice the viewer and to be fair its quite a intriguing mystery to solve. What has happened to Mulder? What is he doing so far away from the US? Why would warming him up kill him? Mind you to state that alien life has already begun colonising on the Earth is such a huge statement it is one that has to be backed up with some firm evidence in the adventure that follows.

Moment to Watch Out For: I really like the understated cliffhanger that sees Mulder turn up at her door and phone her up at the same time. However it is also the most contrived of cliffhangers too – the receptionist just happened to forget Mulder’s name when Scully walks in and Scully just happens to be in the shower when Mulder tries to ring the first time…neither of these scenes were needed and it would be far less manipulative end of episode without them.

Notes: Its always fascinating whilst doing a marathon of two shows to see when production staff overlap. Nick Marck would make a name for himself on Buffy the Vampire Slayer helming a number of episodes over the years including some of the most popular (Fool For Love, Conversations with Dead People) and even one of the more controversial ones (Doublemeat Palace). Considering how slick his work is on this episode it surprises me that he never directed for The X-Files again since there are no production disaster tales like Harry Longstreet’s Squeeze. I was just saying a few episodes back that I wished Buffy could employ the services of Brian Thompson on a regular basis but The X-Files got there first. They loved the double Mulder idea so much they did it twice again and both times for comic effect. Small Potatoes and Dreamland both take on the doppelganger idea and have terrific fun with it.

Result: Colony could almost be seen as a best of The X-Files episode because it has everything that you will come to expect from the mythology episodes in years to come – revelations about the Mulder’s family, a plot to colonise the Earth, a spaceship, bubbling vats in a warehouse, superhuman stunts and a chase down a dark alley. For once it’s a story that explains itself as it goes along and despite some irritating obfuscation (the Russian spy story and Samantha are both thrown in to muddy what is essentially a simple hunt the clones story) it does form a pleasing linear narrative which is almost unheard of in a mythology episode. What we are lacking is answers to why the bounty hunter is seeking to murder the clones and why they are performing experiments in the first place but fortunately there is a whole second episode with space to deliver some rewarding answers. The first half an hour is as good as anything we have seen this season (especially with the forbidding presence of Brian Thompson and a larger than usual quota of action) and it is only with the advent of Samantha’s return that this falls of the rails slightly. Still the cliffhanger captured me completely when this first aired and I can recall playing out possible outcomes for the whole week. Much is riding on the success of End Game but this is a reasonably effective piece of action adventure that brings all of the arc elements back into focus: 7/10

End Game written by Frank Spotnitz and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: Answers on a postcard to the blog please…

Trust No-One: Try not to laugh at Duchovny’s attempts at menace as the alien bounty hunter when he attacks Scully. Its not his fault that he doesn’t quite have Brian Thompson’s gift of subtle threat. There’s a great dilemma that’s brought to the surface in End Game and practically made nothing of. Mulder having to choose between holding onto to his sister or Scully’s safe return is a massive predicament for our hero but it is buried away somewhere near the beginning of the episode when it should have been the lynchpin of the entire piece. Its not even as if Mulder gets the chance to make a decision because a shot is fired and makes it for him.  Duchovny was so masterful earlier in the season when he had to cope with Scully going missing so it baffles me at how unconvincing he is here when he has to confront his father and tell him that Samantha has been killed. The camera is obsessed with the back of his head and he adopts a child like, throaty voice (not helped by Peter Donat who seems oddly unconcerned by the whole affair). It looks like Duchovny the actor trying to emote rather than Mulder the character trying to break bad news to his father. ‘I’m sorry dad…I’m sorry…’ Its painful to watch. Capping off his weak performance in this episode is his dreary voiceover as he read his note to Scully at the climax. There is absolutely no conviction in his voice. You would think that in a story that was partly assembled by Duchovny he would be at his best but for some reason he is completely disconnected from the action. Mulder states that he has found something that he thought he had lost recently, faith to keep looking for his sister.

Brains’n’Beauty: This is the third time this year that Scully has been violently beaten up – is Chris Carter punishing the character for forcing him to play his conspiracy hand early? When Mulder told Skinner that Scully had been abducted I really wanted him to say ‘what again?’ Mulder knows that had he told Scully that it was his sister that she was being bargained for that she never would have gone along with it.

Assistant Director: Skinner’s inclusion is the highlight of the episode and he continues to bring a great deal to the continuing story. Spotnitz has great fun with the scene where Mulder thinks that Skinner is the bounty hunter and holds a gun on him. For a moment I thought Skinner was behaving in a graver fashion than usual to try and convince that he was the villain of the piece until it struck me that he always acts like this. Rather wonderfully he is the voice of reason and tells Scully some home truths – that Mulder has put both her life and his job at risk by his foolhardy approach to his work. He proves he’s more than just a cog in the wheel by tackling X with his fists and finding out precisely where Mulder has gone.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘How was the opera?’ ‘Wonderful. I’ve never slept better.’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Many aspects continue to defy explanation. Claims of alien origins cannot be substantiated’ is Scully’s write up on this adventure. What troubles me (besides the fact that they are pointing out that it was all a waste of time leading nowhere) is that it doesn’t have to be the case. This could have been a really tight single part story with some real answers.
‘Several aspects of this case remain unexplained suggesting the possibility of paranormal phenomena but I am convinced that to accept such conclusions is to abandon all hope of understanding the scientific events behind them…’ says Scully. Are you fucking kidding me? This is the story where she witness an alien bounty hunter metamorphosing and alien foetuses wiggling about in cocoons and all this evidence forces her to conclude that science is definitely the thing to believe in. Give me strength.

The Good: There is no reason to stage the conclusion in Alaska except for the sheer spectacle of a submarine tower sticking out of the ice but what other reason do you need when it looks this good? Some films don’t have the balls to pull off something this vast and the descending tower looks absolutely stunning. Its hard to believe this TV sometimes.

The Bad: As well as my complaints above about letting Mulder get away with the emotional choice of the situation the Scully/Samantha trade never quite has any bite to it because I never believed that this was his sister. Its far too early in the series to deal with one of the central mysteries like this. Mulder’s mother simply has to get over losing her daughter again off screen. How unsatisfying is that after taking the trouble to show us her reaction to her return in the last episode? When all the Samantha clones show up it feels as though the episode is deliberately trying to confuse its audience rather than explaining her earlier presence in the story. ‘It was all a lie!’ screams Mulder for our benefit, confirming that we’ve wasted about half an hour of this two parter on a red herring. Fortunately the Samantha clone fell into a river otherwise Scully’s theory about the cold holding back the virus would never have been substantiated. Had the trade off taken place in an underground car park (and frankly it surprises me that it did not) she never would have been able to put her theory to the test and save Mulder’s life in Alaska.

Pre Titles Sequence: There is a sudden cut to a plotline on an Alaskan submarine at the start of this episode which feels entirely disconnected to the last one. It feels like more obfuscation rather than simply getting on with the story they started last week. It feels like we are beginning a brand new standalone episode rather than concluding a multi parter.

Moment to Watch Out For: Scully meeting X for the first time is by far the best scene in this episode and the one point where I sat back intrigued to see how this would play out.

Mythology: Get ready for this… The men that Mulder and Scully have been trying seek out are the progeny of two original visitors to the Earth. Clones who have been attempting to establish a colony here since the 1940s. The colony has dispersed now and the clones live across the whole of the US and possibly beyond. Its their belief that that their stewardship of the planet is being forsaken and that by default one day they will become its natural heirs (huh?). Through hybridisation they’ve been erasing that aspect which has forced them to scatter, their identical natures. They were working in abortion clinics because they had access to foetuses and were working on a way to combine human and alien DNA. The experiments weren’t sanctioned and it  was considered a dilution of the their species, a pollution of the race and so a bounty hunter was dispatched to destroy them and terminate the colony. What a deeply unsatisfying info dump this proves to be. Firstly it completely ignores the most important rule of drama (show, don’t tell) and it feels like a long winded lecture but it is also abysmally written to sound far more momentous than it actually is. It’s a sign of bad writing that you have to explain everything you your audience in one great lump of exposition and it proves that you haven’t been explaining yourself adequately as you go along. Not only that but this is the dullest kind of alien invasion I have ever heard of. Committed in secret laboratories, trying to cross pollinate humans and aliens with no impact at all on the society going on around these experiments – its certainly the quietest version of an invasion that has ever hit my screen. Let’s hope this is a dead end and the invasion evolves beyond a bunch of clones working in hospitals. Ooh, scary.

Foreboding: Apparently the Samantha clones know where the real Samantha is because that’s how they know so much about her. Plus the bounty hunter confirms she is alive as well. That’s about all we take from this two parter. However that is all proven to be a further lie when we discover what really happened to Samantha in season seven. Either they are making it up as they go along or they just decided that all this mythology building was going nowhere and took a difference direction.

Result: Were they clones of Samantha? Why do the aliens want to colonise the Earth? Why make alien/human hybrids? Where is the alien bounty hunter from? End Game fails to answer any of the questions that its narrative poses and instead runs around in circles with lots of pretty pictures pretending to tell a story of significance. It feels like one baby step forwards and one giant leap backwards because we are none the wiser about the conspiracy and everything feels as if it has been overcomplicated beyond comprehension. The Erlenmeyer Flask and the Scully abduction plot brought the conspiracy plot into such sharp focus and gave it a real emotional edge and irritatingly it feels as if all that work is being undone by writers that want to keep their audience waiting for answers. This is Frank Spotnitz’s first script for the show and he would go on to become one of the most reliable contributors which surprises me because had I been in charge of commissioning scripts I would have steered clear of a writer that could get this tangled in knots trying to say nothing. The conclusions drawn by Mulder and Scully at the climax are not backed up convincingly by the action and at times the dialogue feels as though it has been churned out of the X-Files cliché machine. David Duchovny disappoints in one of his most essential roles this season and Gillian Anderson is given little to do but hang around and get beaten up. I said in Colony that much of its success depended on End Game and as you might have guessed given the tone of this review I found it terribly disappointing. Anasazi has a lot of poor choices to undo to get this mythology arc back on track: 3/10

Fearful Symmetry written by Steve de Jarnatt and directed by James Whitmore, Jnr

What’s it about: Invisible animals are running amok in Idaho…

Brains’n’Beauty: Man, Scully’s theories are getting as outrageous as Mulder’s these days, just in the other direction. She’ll go to any lengths to find a plausible scientific explanation, so much so that she double backs on herself in her efforts and the resulting speculation is even more unlikely than Mulder’s! This week she explains the destruction of the high street with a sonic boom and a tornado to counteract Mulder’s suggestion of a black hole! Even funnier is her assertion that the reason the elephant couldn’t be seen is because the cameras were faulty and the observers had poor eyesight. If I was Mulder I would have trouble keeping a straight face. To her credit though she does look deeply embarrassed about Mulder’s alien conservation project idea which blows all the rest out of the water.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Where are you going?’ ‘To talk to the animals!’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Could this be a judgement on the global rate of extinction that has risen to one thousand times its natural rate in this century? An alien conservation of animals that we are driving hard to oblivion?’ – sorry Mulder but suggesting a number of vague theories in your wrap up speech just doesn’t cut it.

The Good: The first half of Fearful Symmetry is unlike anything else that you will find in The X-Files, more of an instalment of an ecological thriller show than a science fiction series. If it’s the horror that attracts you to this show then you are bound to be disappointed but if you have an interest in animal conservation then you might find the tone of the piece quite interesting. When Scully asks why there is such a small pen for such a large animal and why there are chains to tie it down she was voicing my concerns. I enjoyed learning some scraps about elephants including that they bury their own dead and they can visit an ancient burial site and know if their ancestors were put to rest there. If this episode was out to promote respect for such magnificent animals then it does its job well. I also liked how the reactionist protestors are just as extreme as the abusive treatment the animal are receiving because this could have quickly have become a sermon on animal cruelty and the world isn’t quite as black and white as that. The protestors here state categorically that all animals should run free and if that means they trample through people on the way out then that’s simply a natural act. You’ve got Scully in between who is aghast at the animal cruelty but supports human life too. Invisible animals? You could keep churning out set piece after set piece with that budget saving exercise! Astonishingly this episode flaunts action with both an elephant and a tiger in urban areas and seems to suggest that if you take them from their natural habitats then you have to accept the consequences if they roam free.

The Bad: It strikes me as odd that the Lone Gunmen show up in this episode (which doesn’t really need them) rather than the SF conspiracy bollocks of the last two weeks. Did they feel the script needed pepping up a bit? Where this episode falls down is Mulder’s (what feels like its plucked from nowhere) extraterrestrial theory of the week. Aliens have been artificially inseminating animals, stealing their children and then returning them to the Earth invisible and with a long trek home. I was watching this episode with Simon who was enjoying it until this point (he has a real affinity with nature) but this forced him to explode with laughter and leave the room. Its just too ridiculous and ‘out there’ after what has been the most down to Earth X-Files episode until this point. It feels as if it comes from nowhere and we are automatically supposed to accept it because it’s the only theory that (remotely) fits the facts. Why precisely are aliens starting their own conservation project when they are up to all kinds of shady dealings elsewhere in this show? Is this their fluffy side? I suppose if we can accept aliens performing such acts on humans (which is what is heavily explored in the conspiracy arc over the next couple of years) then it shouldn’t be so far fetched that they would also experiment on animals but it just feels so ridiculous, especially with Mulder going on about rents in the space/time continuum and whatnot. By the time we reach scenes of Mulder asking a gorilla in sign language whether she is afraid of being abducted all credibility has been lost. Sophie only knows 500 words but fortunately the ones she can sign are all in relation to this plot. Trapping Mulder in a cage with a psychotic gorilla (‘I’m not going to hurt you!’) doesn’t help matters. Is that a real gorilla? Because it looks alarmingly like a man in a gorilla costume. Killing off Sophie at the climax seems like a needlessly cruel act to top off a irritatingly enigmatic episode

Pre Titles Sequence: Like nothing you will have ever seen before - an invisible elephant trashes a high street! At first I thought this was a cost cutting exercise (classic Doctor Who featured a fair number of invisible monsters that were amongst the most terrifyingly well realised of their type) but this path of destruction is followed up with the even more potent image of an elephant heading for a collision with a truck. To say I had no idea what was going on at this point would be an understatement which is a rarity for this show which has a habit of spelling out the danger in its first couple of scenes. The shot of the elephant dying in the road took me by surprise – there something about the juxtaposition of the child comforting the gorgeous creature as it loses its life that choked me up.

Moment to Watch Out For: I’ve never seen an autopsy before where the participants actually had to climb inside the creature. Fascinating and icky. 

Notes: Another X-Files/Buffy crossover, James Whitmore, Jnr directed a number of memorable Buffy episodes in the second and third seasons. This is his only credit for The X-Files.

Result: Initially Fearful Symmetry looks like it is going to be a massive departure from the norm and set to be a much more focused and evocative show than the crazy SF antics of the week before. There is so much anger in this episode its hard to see who it is supposed to be condemning (Willa is angry at Sophie’s fate, Ed is angry at the treatment the animals are receiving and Scully is angry at his methods and lack of interest in human life) but perhaps that sort of uncertainty is exactly what this sort of episode should be aiming for. Moral ambiguity is one thing but inconclusiveness of a narrative on this scale is far less forgivable. Mulder’s theory about aliens thieving animal foetuses feels made up but as soon as its put out there we are supposed to accept it simply because there is no better explanation. There’s no closure to the plot, no reasoning, its just aliens behaving in a bafflingly obscure fashion because that’s just what they happen to do on this show. What starts intriguingly takes a detour into the absurd and never recovers. A shame because this is (once again) a show that is trying out new things and that should always be applauded. Fearful Symmetry feels like it is supposed to have something important to say but loses it completely when it comes to explaining what the hell is going on. Theories abound at the beginning of this episode, during the middle and at its climax and the audience is none the wiser: 5/10

Dod Kalm written by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: A bleeding ship with a crew ageing to death…

Trust No-One: ‘Its not fair. Its not our time. We still have work to do.’ You can see the magic of Mulder in this episode where he bamboozles Scully with so much information and a great mystery without giving her any time to process it and as a result simply does as she is told. This sort of dazzling exposition is parodied excellently in season five’s Bad Blood. Mulder’s seasickness is an important part of the plot rather than just some comic (if you can call it that) relief. Accelerated ageing is a big ask of the performers because it is so easy to overdo it but Duchovny, Anderson and Savage all do a masterful job. Duchovny is especially good, convincing that Mulder is shrinking into himself and shaking constantly which is a good thing because his make up is shocking. Mulder’s lip smacking Hannibal Lecter moment when he is presented with Scully’s sardine snowglobe lemon juice made me chuckle.

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully knows all about the Philadelphia Project having come from a naval family and seems to have inherited her fathers sea legs. She is really getting into her bizarre theories now and flaunts here that is as bold as any of those of Mulder’s that she has laughed at in the past. Two metallic objects drawn towards each other with the sea acting as a battery causing the acceleration of free radicals! Nah, I don’t understand what she is talking about either but its kind of cute that she will seek out the scientific explanation for anything. Especially when the real answer (its in the water) is so much simpler. Gillian Anderson gets to go nuts as she smashes her way through the ship to find a source of fresh water – I bet she enjoyed that! Mulder and Scully both try to get the other to drink the rest of the fluid and survive which is sweet but it makes me long for an anti hero like Avon from Blakes’ 7 who would gulp down the lot in a heartbeat and not give a damn about anyone else. When the flask smashes to the floor it could be seen as divine retribution for them both being so damned honourable. Mulder has as much of a sulk as he can manage in his dilapidated state about dying prematurely but Scully takes a much more mature approach and ponders the nature of death and the afterlife. Her admission that she doesn’t fear death and knows that there is something better on the other side is very touching. During this tender scene you can imagine the two of them growing old together. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I think I hear the wolf at the door’ – Scully greets death with poetry.

Ugh: Excelsis Dei dealt with the mistreatment of the elderly (in a very tasteless way) and Dod Kalm’s horror comes from being aged beyond your years and losing all the time in between. I realise things are desperate but did we have to see a character drinking directly from a toilet?

The Good: Although he is going on about wrinkles in time (it was rents in the space/time continuum last week) I really liked Mulder using the Philadelphia Experiment (an attempt to make battleships invisible to radar during the Second World War) to back up his theory of government experiments with wormholes. Although the experiments have never been confirmed there seems to be enough evidence to suggest that they were at least discussed. Bizarrely the idea of another Bermuda Triangle (caused by these experiments with alien technology) feels far more plausible than the alien animal conservation project last week. The story has been constructed around stories of real experiments and myths and that adds a touch of plausibility to it. Because space and time move at a difference rate within wormholes that could explain the premature ageing that has occurred with the ships crew. Because this theory is put out there early we can then indulge the writers with a corroding ship and decaying bodies (‘time may be speeding up’). I was amused by the scene of Mulder and Scully at the bar trying to pay for the services of a seaman who will take them out to a dangerous area – its such a hoary old cliché and yet its played so straight (‘I see fear in these men’s eyes…’). This is an episode of strong imagery and the dead ship emerging suddenly from the thick sea fog takes both the audience and the characters by surprise. You would be hard pushed to drag a poor performance out of John Savage (even Star Trek: Voyager found a meaty role for him) and he adds a touch class proceedings with his savage (hoho) turn as Trondheim. A bleeding ship is a powerful image. Because Mulder and Scully are ageing to death there does feel as though there is a deadline to solve this mystery which adds tension. Trondheim being drowned after he has locked himself in the sewage tank to keep the fresh water for himself has a certain poetic irony to it.

The Bad: The pirate whaler turning up to clarify the plot to Trondheim is a lazy way of explaining what is going on. Mulder and Scully work out the answer without him. Maybe he was supposed to turn up last week when ecology was the theme. The second the camera starts avoiding Mulder and Scully’s faces you can guess what is coming. The old age make up is far too unsubtle and by the end of the episode both Mulder and Scully look like they are wearing masks. I’ve seen this sort of thing done better on Doctor Who both before (The Leisure Hive) and after (The Sound of Drums) the show had access to a reasonable amount of money to pull it off. Mind its so dark on the ship its hard to assess for the most part and its adequate enough to tell the story. The real solution to this episode is that the water is polluted with something that is causing rapid cellular damage. Coming after Mulder and Scully’s very different but similarly outrageous theories this feels positively dull. Like Carter did with the ending to Darkness Falls, the writers boxes themselves into a corner where no answer would be satisfactory. Mulder and Scully are seen (to all intents and purposes) to die but are rescued in the nick of time and seen recovering speedily in the very next scene. All it takes is a course of synthetic hormones and they are fit as a fiddle again. Was this water just a freak of nature then? Was it ever a danger if some throwaway miracle cure is all that was needed to combat it?

Pre Titles Sequence: You can always guarantee atmosphere when Rob Bowman helms an episode (sometimes that’s all you can count on but he can’t be held responsible for scripts like Genderbender and Fresh Bones) and I love the way he uses torchlight to slowly and appetite whettingly pick out something nasty that is approaching the boat in the teaser. There is something genuinely nightmarish about the silhouette of the escape boat of unmoving figures drifting on the misty black waters.

Moment to Watch Out For: Gillian Anderson is such a fine actress that even under a ton of latex she can emote the hell out of near death scene and inject the episode with some real heart.

Orchestra: Mix Rob Bowman’s shadowy horror and Mark Snow’s spine chilling score and you can be guaranteed moments of terror. He adopts a bombastic, echoey, metallic score for the ships scenes (it sounds as though he is literally smacking the hull of the ship to create his music) that works a treat. 

Notes: At times Dod Kalm feels like an ocean bound version of Ice and Darkness Falls from season one with our heroes trapped in a stifling location at the mercy of an unseen horror. All three stories feature mayday calls, paranoia amongst the victims and ambiguous endings. Mind you it reminds me of Excelsis Dei too with a set filling with water and plenty of wrinklies!

Result: I love stories set at sea and if there was any show that would get the best out of a rotten, creaking tub floating dead on the ocean it is The X-Files. Rob Bowman doesn’t disappoint when it comes to creating an atmosphere and he makes the most exposed of locations utterly claustrophobic. The first two thirds of Dod Kalm are excellent; stiflingly directed and superbly acted with a great central mystery. Fearful Symmetry failed to work because its eventual explanation (if you can call it that) was too outrageous. Dod Kalm suffers, but for precisely the opposite reason, the ageing being caused by dodgy water is far too mundane an answer especially when some of the other ideas touted fit the evidence far more effectively. Plus there is the increasingly frequent problem occurring on this show, the dearth of an actual climax that should make sense of what we have been watching. Mulder and Scully almost die in this episode and then they just get better thanks to a throwaway miracle cure. It feels as though these writers are hot on thinking up incredible scenarios but suck when they try and give them some rationale. The best way is to work out the solution and work your way backwards because you can throw all the atmospherics you want at an audience and they are still going to be unsatisfied at the climax if you haven’t worked out what precisely is going on and that will be the lingering impression left on them. What I’m basically saying is this series needs a script editor and fast. Dod Kalm is extremely watchable but ultimately disappointing when just a few tweaks of the script would have left us with a far more polished instalment: 6/10

Humbug written by Darin Morgan and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Not judging people on what they look like. But its hard…

Trust No-One: You can feel everybody on the show taking a collective sigh of relief and nowhere is that more evident in the performances of Anderson and Duchovny. They give more enjoyable performances than we have seen from them in some time and can be seen visibly revelling in Darin Morgan’s fresh approach to the show. You can feel that they are enjoying the more comedic nature of the script and its clear that for no other reason than they both feel more charismatic than ever that they had to repeat this success in subsequent seasons. ‘Humbug’ is a good description of Mulder and his whacky hypotheses – this week he thinks he is on the trail of the Fiji Mermaid! Next week it will be Bigfoot or whatever crazy story the National Enquirer is running. I almost died laughing when Mulder and Scully started digging up the Sheriff’s backyard, suspecting him as the killer simply because he used to be a carnival freak. Scully points out it is like assuming guilt based on skin colour alone as if that is going to stop the pair of them but immediately they start digging again. The fact that all they unearth is a potato and get caught in the process made me howl. Scully tries hard to rationalise their behaviour by quoting procedure but Mulder jumps in with both feet and admits ‘we found out you used to be a dog faced boy.’ Wonderfully our two agents are just as guilty of judging by appearances as anybody else. That’s how I like my heroes, delightfully flawed. The image of Mulder standing with his hands on his hips, seemingly impressing a crowd that simply isn’t there with his virility, is perfect.

Brains’n’Beauty: ‘What are you initial thoughts, Scully?’ Are you having a laugh? Don’t ask her that after her wild theories of the last couple of episodes! Its Scully who first voices this episodes theme of identity, exposed to a parade of grotesques that simply don’t care that the world doesn’t accept them. Treating them as special is just as ostracizing as being abusive towards them and Scully insists that you have to accept that they are capable of doing terrible things if they are truly to be considered equal. Once again Scully is a scientist foremost and trying to take all the fun out of life, explaining about the Blockhead’s lack of nerve endings. You would think she would give a rest amongst this museum of freaks and geeks. I was chuckling to myself as she was hoodwinked into paying out for a mysterious secret which turned out to be the way out, her curiosity getting the better of her. Humbug follows two episodes, one with an outrageous solution (something about aliens conserving animals) and one with a pretty dull one (dodgy water). In Humbug Scully starts to come round to the idea of accepting the former whilst begrudgingly accepting its likely to be the latter. Has Mulder started to influence her that much?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’ve taken in your all American features, you dour demeanour, your unimaginative neck tie design and concluded that you work for the government. An FBI agent. But do you see the tragedy here? I have mistakenly reduced you to a stereotype, a caricature. Instead of regarding you as a specific, unique individual’ – I’m not sure what’s funnier, Mulder admitting that he is an FBI agent or Scully’s apologetic expression throughout this angry speech.
‘Mr Nutt, the kind hearted manager here convinced me that to make a living by publicly displaying my deformity lacked dignity. So now I carry other peoples’ luggage.’
‘You’d be surprised how many people find my size intriguingly alluring’ ‘And you’d be surprised how many men do as well…’ – I could have spend the whole episode with Micheal Anderson’s Mr Nutt, he’s such a hoot! He shows the flip side of the coin, a man who professes to be more than he appears to be but cannot finish a sentence without referring to his size. Morgan exposes the fact that there are a great many people out there who criticize people for treating them differently when in fact it is only them that is doing that. They like the fact that something defines them and that they can complain about that.

Ugh: Blood spilling into a pool, a fish being eaten raw, scarred bodies, eating bugs, needles sticking from flesh, bloody gashes in bodies…

The Good: The funeral is one terrific gag after the next – the grieving wife turning out to be a bearded lady, the priest turning the pages with his feet and the trembling coffin and human blockhead bursting from the grave. But better than all of this is Mulder and Scully who have never felt like such straight men, sitting in their seats so seriously as the funeral erupts into a riot! I love the fact that Scully notices Lennie’s deformity as early as the memorial – she could have saved an awful lot of lives had she put two and two together a lot quicker. ‘You took one look at me and decided that you could deduce my entire life’ – and therein lies what this episode is trying to say. We all do this but the point coming from the mouth of an angry dwarf is somehow more potent and extremely funny. It is human nature to make snap judgements on people based solely on their physical appearance. It shouldn’t happen, but it does and that can explain a great deal of pain and suffering that has occurred in history. Any episode of television that can throw a mirror up to this side of our nature in such an amusing but accusatory way is definitely doing something right. Humbug is packed to bursting with memorable and demented imagery. There are men flying outside Scully’s window, a blockhead suspended over a boiling pot with the Conundrum cooking inside, a nail being banged up a nose, a man covered in jigsaw tattoos, Scully eating bugs and Mulder indulging in a peculiar form of acupuncture. Watch out for the delicious moment where Scully and Lanny cover up exposed parts of themselves that the other is leering at. ‘Its what inside that counts’ – I like that the moral of the story has been the biggest clue as to the identity of the villain of the piece all along. In any other episode the idea of a conjoined twin extracting himself and crawling off on a bloody killing spree would feel obscenely out of place (except perhaps the one where Deep Roy crawls up peoples bottoms in season eight) but in the colourful surrealism of Humbug it feels right at home. The climax in Helmcap’s House of Horrors is brilliantly directed – lit to scare the pants of you and with all sorts of nasties jumping out (especially Mulder who leaped from a vent and made me shit my pants!). The Conundrum has been stuffing his face full of fish guts and chasing little doggies to munch on throughout the story so you can’t exactly say that the climax isn’t signposted but it still comes as a massive surprise anyway! ‘Oh my God! He ate Leonard!’

The Bad: It doesn’t matter how much Kim Manners tries to shoot through things, distort the picture or use reflections to confuse the eye…the bloody puppet creature that is killing everybody looks absolutely shocking. It’s the one episode where they can get away with it though because its hardly the most freaky thing on display!

Pre Titles Sequence: Humbug instantly starts out as something a bit different to the norm with a teaser that is marvellously shot to defy every expectation. A scalded, panting creature approaches two children innocently playing in a swimming poo…only for him to turn out to be their father telling them to go to bed. The person we thought was going to be the creature of the week is then savaged by something even more grisly. Talk about playing on our perceptions of how people look, I automatically thought that he was our monster of the week simply because he has a grisly appearance. Clever stuff and embedding the theme of the episode early.

Moment to Watch Out For: I realise this goes against everything that I have been saying above but watching a midget being dragged to his death through a dog flap is hilarious. I had to rewind it to watch it again.

Foreboding: I like The Amazing Maleeni but it cannot hold a candle to this for sheer magic.

Result: Despite some stiff competition in later seasons (Jose Chung’s From Outer Space, The Rain King, Hollywood AD, Improbable), Humbug remains the wackiest X-File of all time. Darin Morgan was such a find because he realised the potential of comedy in this show, something which has been almost entirely absent until this stage but would become more predominant in subsequent seasons after this success. More than that though; Morgan writes so intelligently whilst he is making us laugh and brilliantly points out the flaws in humanity whilst simultaneously reminding is how wonderful we are for it. After a run of mediocre episodes that have in their own way been trying out new things here comes a piece that is truly original and madcap, tossing everything we know about The X-Files out the window and crowbarring a whole new genre into the mix. Humbug handles themes of identity and prejudice and how we sentence people on how they look. It also sees a dwarf being savaged through a dog flap. So you can see the sort of madness we are dealing with. ‘Nature abhors normality’ says the Blockhead at the conclusion where the episode makes its greatest judgement – that Mulder the all American hero is biggest joke in this entire series. I love this unusual piece and the only reason it doesn’t get full marks is because Morgan would perfect his work to an even more potent degree next season: 9/10

The Calusari written by Sara Charno and directed by Mike Vejar

What’s it about: ‘What are you doing mummy?’

Trust No-One: Both Mulder and Scully seem a little off their game this week. Mulder’s balloon theory seems like a tenuous reason for him to get involved and Scully’s admission that it might simply be ‘a chance encounter of light an shadow’ when the image on the picture is clearly in the shape of child is absurd. It feels like they are give these tossing ideas about scenes (you can hardly call a game of ‘ill trump your theory’ an investigation at this point) simply because that is what we have been led to expect from the show but sometimes it does make them both look like muppets. The whole episode seems to happen just outside of Mulder and Scully’s reach and it is quite telling that all the best scenes (the deaths) don’t feature them at all (at least until the climax). The Calusari almost feels constricted by their presence and that it simply wants to get on with telling a story of a woman’s life falling to pieces without having to keep being dragged back to the ineffectual FBI agents. Since they’ve figured out what’s going on in the first five minutes there’s not a great deal for them to do but hang around whilst people get killed until Mulder finally summons The Calusari to expel the evil spirit at the climax. I feel like I’m being really hard on the two characters here but there were so many ways that they could have been engaged emotionally with this case (a child has died and they barely react – compare to Scully’s horror in Irresistible when presented with something far less horrifying).

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully is once again looking for a logical reason behind why terrible things happen and munchausen by proxy syndrome is her suggestion of the week. Which is a reasonable supposition until you realise that this condition refers to the fabrication of illnesses and not shoving your kid until a speeding train. Scully’s must be a godless world if she thinks that anybody would go that far for a bit of attention. You can kind of see where she is coming from because with the mother in law from hell poisoning the atmosphere in the house it almost feels like a domestic issue rather than a supernatural one. Its hard to imagine how Scully will continue to turn her back on paranormal explanations after she has witnessed a woman suspended from the ceiling and has herself been tossed around like a rag doll. But I reckon she’ll find a way.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Look away or he will recognise you!’ Mulder is warned during the ritual. Later: ‘you must be careful, it knows you…’ I don’t quite know what this all means but it seems to suggest a sequel that never came. Ominous, though.

Ugh: The chickens pecking out Golda’s eyes is especially nasty because they are thrown directly at the camera. For all intents and purposes we are having our eyes pecked out.

The Good: Finally an episode of The X-Files directed by Mike Vejar, the man who helmed some of the finest Trek episodes. Visually he rarely disappoints and he is precisely the sort of guy with an eye for the atmosphere that an episode like this needs. Given the troubles with the script it’s a relief that this wasn’t handed out to a lesser director or we might have been in real trouble. Where the hell do they get these evil looking kids from? Imagine a kids party consisting of Charlie and his brother Michael, a couple of the Eves (from season ones Eve), Michelle Bishop (from Born Again), Polly Turner (from Chinga), Billy Underwood (Invocation) and Tommy Conlon (Scary Monsters). Oh and toss in Scully’s blink and you’ll miss her adoptive daughter Emily while your there and you’ll have a party of the damned! Chuck is a really fun character who turns up from time to time (but in the oddest of episodes – Badlaa?). The strangulation sequence that sees Steve being throttled by his own tie in the garage door is very well done but I cannot imagine how Fox butchered this because what made it to the screen leaves very little to the imagination. It feels even more horrific because it is witnessed by his screaming son. I’m surprised Joel Palmer wasn’t scarred for life after filming this. How eerie is Michael appearing in the smoke during the ritual? Of all the times for a damn social worker to come and visit – the Calusari are performing a ritual of blood and flame, Charlie is kidnapped by the old woman and she has her face ripped to shreds by chickens! Why Agent Kossef doesn’t think this is a healthy environment is beyond me! Reviewers of old have compared this episode to The Omen but beyond the idea of an evil child and the mention of a stillborn baby I cannot really understand the comparison. The idea that drives this piece – that Charlie’s twin Michael was stillborn and their souls weren’t divided and the world of the dead has followed him ever since – is quite imaginative and spooky. No mentioned of the Devil Incarnate here. As soon as the episode stops wasting time trying to blame other people and reveals the truth about Michael we can enjoy the terrific moment where he steps out from behind the hospital door to smash the nurses head in.

The Bad: How much more can they possibly put Maggie Holvey through? In the space of 45 minutes of drama she loses her son, her husband and her mother. No wonder she spends the whole time wailing! We never work out quite why Michael is such an angry child – is it simply because he didn’t get to exist? It would appear so given his first act is to kill his ‘brother’ who was granted that gift.

Pre Titles Sequence: Congratulations to The X-Files for presenting the most chilling pre-titles sequence. Ever. The nerve to even attempt to murder a young child on prime time television in such a horrific way should be applauded even if the sequence itself is painful to endure. I love the very simple idea of the balloon leading Tommy off to his death and falling quietly behind his brothers back as he watches his mother and father collapse under the weight of their grief. It tells us everything we need to know about the story ahead (‘so you’re saying that a ghost killed Teddy Holvey?’ says Scully straight after the credits) and whilst I might have criticised that in the first season (where every episode revealed its secrets five minutes into the story) it is actually quite refreshing after the run of confused episodes since the middle of the season. If you watch horror to feel something, prepare to be shocked. Mind you I would blame the mother myself for not taking her kid into the toilet with her and tying him to the sink in reins!

Moment to Watch Out For: As much as I’ve complained above I would forgive this episode anything for its phenomenal climax. Charlie, hissing and growling, his teeth black, his stomach fit to burst is smeared with blood and forced to expel the spirit of his dead brother. Scully is at the house being tossed around like a rag doll at the mercy of Michael. The shot of him emergency into the moonlight with a knife raised above his head and death in his eyes is pure malevolence. This is all beautifully put together with great use of slow motion photography and a great deal of pace. It might not be the most thoughtful or interesting of climaxes but it certainly got my heart racing!

Orchestra: Good on Mark Snow for avoiding the all male choir stylings of The Omen which would have gotten detractors in even more of a tizzy! His score is superb in this episode, especially during the teaser and climax. He really enhances the horror of the experience.

Result: The Calusari is an open book episode that has no surprises up its sleeve and is held together by nothing but a number of set pieces. But what great set pieces they are. The episode tries to make us think that Charlie might be directing events or even his wicked grandmother but when we have already been shown a poltergeist leading Tommy to his death in the teaser these aren’t so much red herrings as a waste of time. Mulder and Scully are both oddly detached from the story and are given little to do until the conclusion. Despite these complaints this still worked for me because I found the premise chilling and unusual and I believe this is one show that when it gets that ingredient right it can mostly overcome everything else that might weigh it down. The opening set piece is memorably horrible and there are lovely directional touches throughout before the piece really comes alive in its chaotic, violent conclusion. It’s a patchy script that needs a few more rewrites but fortunately there’s Mike Vejar on hand to give it an extra layer of menace and keep things very watchable: 7/10

F. Emasculata written by Howard Gordon & Chris Carter and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: A diseased prisoner is on the loose and leaving a trail of corpses in his wake…

Trust No-One: At first I had to question whether the writers were invested in Mulder and Scully when it took them nearly ten minutes to show up but once they do they are utilised better than they have been for quite some time. Mulder is out on the road helping with the manhunt and Scully is investigating the outbreak at the prison and the pair of them are pooling their findings to build up a picture of what is going on. Perhaps they should be split up more often if it means they get these kind of opportunities to show what fine investigators they are. It’s a much better use of their characters than the ‘table tennis theories’ going back and forth. F. Emasculata promotes Mulder as a dangerous maverick, a man who is so used to trying unearth conspiracies that he can’t see why a deceptive silence might be the best option. He is willing to expose the truth about this infection but as Scully so succinctly suggests what if the panic spreads faster than the infection? More people could die if Mulder has his way but he simply cannot see that because he is so tunnel visioned in trying to expose those responsible. Mulder’s attempt to subtly enter the bus and not make a scene is an abject failiure as well (climaxing in the driver pointing directly at the prisoner and saying ‘that’s him right back there!’). Please don’t put this guy on hostage negotiation. The fact that Mulder’s threat to expose all could be countered with something as routine as a postal error made me chuckle. He’s never going to be able to reveal anything to the public, is he? I came away from this episode thinking that Mulder’s ideals are sound but his methods of implanting them are dangerous and that perhaps he needs to see the result of his attempts to expose the truth to calm him down a little (the sort of thing that is played up so expertly in War of the Cophrages next season). He gets a little taster of this in season seven’s Je Souhaite when he wishes for peace on Earth and winds up wiping out the entire population of the planet. 

Brains’n’Beauty: I always get hot under the collar when Scully gets bossy and she has a great opportunity to do so here banging her head against a wall of bureaucracy. Mind you she shows no medical competence in simply ripping open a bag containing an exposed body and allowing the disease to spread further. After turning her into a wizened hag in Dod Kalm I’m pleased they didn’t head down the route of covering the beautiful Scully in throbbing, bloody pustules. Her relief when she realises that she hasn’t been infected is palpable.

Assistant Director: ‘For every step you take they’re three steps ahead’ ‘Well what about you? Where do you stand?’ ‘I stand right on the line that you keep crossing…’ Its nice to know that Skinner and the Smoking Man still exist (the latter hasn’t been since as far back as One Breath) and it looks like Mulder’s superior cannot escape the clutches of the cancer smoking figure of terror regardless of the developments earlier in the season. ‘You can’t protect the public by lying to them!’ ‘Its done every day…’ – this time I’m on the side of CSM because sometimes a cover up is preferable to an explosive, panicked reaction. Skinner seems to have a very defeatist attitude towards Mulder’s work and just how much of impact he can have. Mind you could say that I’m heading that way too given his outrageous delusions of exposure.

Ugh: You might be one of those people that finds squeezing spots the idea of a great night in but I hate the very idea of it (that’s why Kevin and Perry Goes Large is, for many reasons, still the worst film I have ever seen) so when it comes to The X-Files presenting giant pustules filled with pus exploding into the faces (and mouths – ewww!) of people I could barely hold onto to my stomach contents! The animal carcass covered in ruptures with bugs and vultures picking at it might just be the grisliest sight this show has yet offered up. Whenever things look as thought they might get dull (which considering there is two threads of the same plot fighting for attention isn’t very often) they throw in another icky pustule burst to pass the time! The title is the name of the bug which has caused all this mess and it turns out the exploding pustules are part of reproductive cycle, sending its spores out to infest other life forms in the same way a plant expels pollen. Only a lot grosser. What about the grotesque image of bodies piled up waiting for the furnace?

The Good: The idea of unknowingly using prisoners for drug testing is obscene but I’m sure there are some that would believe (depending on the severity of the crime) it is no less than they deserve. There is definitely something very creepy about a prisoner being on the run with a disease that threatens humanity if it should spread and watching his chance encounters with people. Isn’t it great that the villains of the piece are an ominously unseen pharmaceutical company in bed with the government? The fact that something as mundane drug research can get so out of hand is terrifying and the idea of them financing exploration of the rainforests for plants that could have medicinal properties gives the piece a plausible backbone. So much of the rainforest remains unexplored and there could be all kinds of unknown bacteria harmful to human life festering there. The furnace is shot so forbiddingly you’ll think it leads to the gates of Hell itself. As silly as that ruddy giant spot is at the climax I liked how the director lead you to believe it was going to explode and he was shot in the head instead.

The Bad: Outbreak was released around the same time as this episode and the similarities are far more apparent than the Calusari/Omen ones often touted. The US Marshall approach of running screaming into every building they suspect harbours a fugitive has the adverse effect of being so over dramatic its very funny. Dean Norris often plays dour, brutal, masculine characters and his turn as the hysterical leader of the taskforce seems to fit him perfectly. Although I hope he took some throat spray with him. Are all mothers on this show really so irresponsible? This one sends her son (who can be no older than fourteen) onto a coach alone and at the mercy of a disease ridden escaped prisoner! How OTT is that giant pustule at the climax threatening to burst all over the little boy on the bus. Frank Spotnitz was right to be a little disappointed by the realisation in that scene. There would be an ocean of pus that would cascade from that spot.

Pre Titles Sequence: Was it my imagination or does the teaser to this episode remind anybody else of the Doctor Who story Planet of Evil? Both stories open with a scientist collecting samples in a dense jungle and falling foul of something dangerous that is festering in the foliage. Nope? Just me then.

Moment to Watch Out For: What I have really noticed in season two is how this show has cherry picked the very best directors that were around at the time and the realisation of these shows (even when the scripts are a bit dodgy) is fantastic. Watch as Bowman turns the police turning up at a petrol station one of the most exciting things ever (especially the couple of seconds silence before all hell breaks loose). This is just a small moment in an episode packed with strong, violent set pieces.

Orchestra: Mark Snow’s music is so good at explaining what is going on there are times when you wouldn’t even need the pictures. He builds up in the teaser to the spot bursting in the etymologists face and then cuts to military scouring through the rainforest with a bang and crash of drums. The score for the correctional facility is extremely forbidding, you’ll think there’s all sorts of nasty stuff going on in there. And you wont be wrong. 

Result: I seem to remember being somewhat disenchanted by F. Emasculata on its first broadcast (and subsequent viewings) but this time around I found quite a lot to enjoy. For a start it is simply written with a clear villain, a clear threat and a clear solution. This is so rare in The X-Files that it is worth celebration. For once this isn’t a story built around co-incidences or wild leaps of logic; the story progresses in a logical, linear fashion with each bend in the narrative happening for a good reason. Again uncommon. Rob Bowman’s direction is phenomenally good and he’ll convince you that you have watched a mini movie before the episode is out and handles the stomach turning scenes of the pustules bursting with pus spitting abandon. As you would expect from a script written by Gordon and Carter, Mulder and Scully are giving plenty to do and work very effectively independently of one another. My biggest complaint is that it can tip over into melodrama on the odd occasion (shouting doesn’t automatically equal drama) and Smoking Man really didn’t need to make an appearance (but its nice to know he still exists). Overall this was a gripping contagion tale with plenty of incident, some intelligent reasoning and terrific visuals. Well above average: 8/10

Soft Light written by Vince Gilligan and directed by James Contner

What’s it about: A black hole posing as a mans shadow?

Trust No-One: Spontaneous human combustion is Mulder’s fringe theory of the week and I’m starting to think there is no demented premise that he wont buy into. Banton is a maverick determined to reach a scientific breakthrough only to be cursed by his discovery. I think something similar might happen to Mulder one day when he finally gets to meet aliens and expose them to the public. It might not be quite as satisfying as he thinks and the journey may reveal itself to be the best part. Banton’s (entirely justified it turns out) neuroses about the government (‘they’ll do the brain suck!’) makes Mulder’s paranoia look almost commonplace. At the climax Mulder chooses to go it alone with Mr X’s help because he is as frustrated about his lack of character as I am! It will be interesting to see if he manages to stick to that. Its another of those stories where Mulder and Scully come in to investigate and wind up solving nothing or making anybody’s lives better. Ryan is killed and Banton is kidnapped and tortured for the secrets that lie within him…and the FBI duo walk off into the sunlight washing their hands of the whole affair.

Brains’n’Beauty: Every time we meet somebody that Scully has previously worked with they always turn out to be a complete ass. Colton from Squeeze enjoyed insulting Mulder and Detective Ryan is happy to exploit their services whilst telling them to bugger off when her superiors are around. ‘She’s a woman trying to survive in the boys club, Mulder! Believe me I know how she feels!’ – this line bugged me more than anything in this show than a long time. There’s never been any indication that Scully is a victim of sexual politics and it seems such a lazy idea to pursue it when they have always portrayed Scully as a highly regarded professional whose sex is irrelevant. Pointing out that Scully is a woman in a mans world takes something away from her character that I really respected. Here Scully sides with Ryan over any good sense that says that doing so might mean the cost of more lives. I always thought she had more intelligence than that.

Mr X: ‘Dead men can’t keep promises’ Steven Williams is a good actor and certainly brings a sense of gravitas to the role of Mr X but I simply don’t find the character as gripping as Deep Throat (and certainly not as interesting as he was by this point in the first season). We’ve never seen who he works for and what is at risk if he is discovered (aside from his life) or even what his name is. He’s a walking enigma who fulfils a plot function but is hard to invest in emotionally because there is so little to go on. With Deep Throat there was that fascinating ambiguity as to whether he was an ally or an enemy and the mystery of whether he was really helping Mulder out or simply guiding him to some information to protect more important things. Despite his actions in this episode X is exactly as he seems, a rogue government worker who is following his predecessors work out of a sense of loyalty. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if X turned out to be a conman, a nutter who doesn’t work for the government but just likes spreading propaganda against them. At this stage that is a possibility because we know so little about him.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You’re lightning in a bottle, Chester!’

Ugh: Not one scare. Because Banton is so sympathetic his warnings to the various people that his shadow comes into contact with guts these scenes of any tension. Plus the puddles of flickering light are hardly the stuff of nightmares.

The Good: ‘You don’t think anyone could have squeezed in there?’ Ryan asks as Scully examines a ventilation grille in the wall. Nice to see The X-Files referencing its old episodes in such a fun way. That’s almost Buffy-esque. Banton sacrificing himself to the accelerator felt like a very dull ending for a dull episode so I was pleased that they managed to pull out an eleventh hour twist with that turning out to be a decoy so the government could experiment on him. For a long time.

The Bad: Detective Ryan looks like she might be this weeks sympathy character but she turns out to be a little too naïve to be entirely believable. Let’s assume that you are given your detective badge after you have proven a certain level of competence (if you are a fan of Dexter you’ll know that Deb had to work her butt off for her detective shield) which she displays none of whatsoever. You can trust Doctor Who to go one better with an idea of a shadow that kills. The Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead does ultimately give us a very good reason why the shadows can strip a man from his flesh but it doesn’t get in the way of making them as unpredictable and as chilling as possible. In comparison The X-Files fills this episode with dreary technobabble that wouldn’t seem out of place in Star Trek Voyager in order to justify such a fun concept. Its not investigative prowess that allows Mulder and Scully to track down Banton, they just bump into him. There’s such mileage in a self aware, murderous shadow but this episode doesn’t even come close to unearthing those treasures (Banton talks about the shadow as though it is an independent entity but we never see it do anything but follow him around dutifully). Had this taken place in just a few seasons time they wouldn’t have even bothered giving it the dark matter rationale but simply got on with having fun with the idea. At this stage The X-Files was still trying to be taken seriously and in a case like this where they smother a concept in real science it is detrimental to the episode. ‘Its like a black hole, it spits molecules into component atoms, unzips electrons from their orbits, reduces matter to pure energy’ – anything that is backed by that explanation has got to pretty dull.  Ryan turns up from nowhere for the sole purpose of being killed because her story has come to a natural end after she embarrasses Mulder and Scully in front of her superiors. It does have the adverse effect of making Banton a little more of an indeterminate victim since he chooses to kill her rather than it being an accident but as soon as she lets down Scully Ryan was marked. Maybe they have played this hand a few too many times already in the show but Chris is obviously working for the government (the way he is always hanging around and too helpful to be true are the two biggest clues) and it would have been more of a surprise had that not been the case and he was killed anyway.

Pre Titles Sequence: After some highly memorable opening set pieces of late including the barge of the wrinklies floating on a dead calm sea, Teddy Holvey’s shocking death at the hands of a train ride and pustules exploding into someone’s mouth this bland sequence doesn’t really cut the mustard. Its one of the rare occasions where this show doesn’t whet my appetite in the teaser. Banton searches a hotel and his shadow turns a person into a patch of flickering light. That’s about it. The direction is so off it seems to suggest that the shadow is an entity in its own right, which it was in the conception of the episode but this was changed in order to save some cash. Perhaps nobody had told the director at that stage. I was led to believe this was going to be a tale of a rogue shadow heading off and killing people but sadly that wasn’t to be the case.

Moment to Watch Out For: I really like the direction of the last scene with the accelerator throwing light onto Banton’s face as a tear rolls down his cheek. If only the rest of the episode could have been this succinctly realised.

Fashion Statement: Check out Mulder in his shades and long coat observing the funeral at the end of this episode. This is exactly the sort of dreary American hero look they were so successfully taking the piss out of in Humbug. Here its played deadly seriously which as I keep saying lately is even funnier because they can’t see how absurd it looks.

Orchestra: Even Mark Snow’s music feels a little uninspiring this week. More elevator music than atmospheric.

Result: I honestly could not remember a thing about this episode when I came to rewatch and now I’ve seen it again I still can’t remember all that much about it. Soft Light comes across as a genuine police drama with a weak science fiction twist. There is often sound reasoning behind Mulder and Scully’s investigation but there is so much talk that as a result what is missing is the atmosphere and scares that are usually a pre-requisite with this show. Everybody is a little too nice to give a damn about and there isn’t really a villain until the climax when the government steps in to steal the research which makes this a different sort of episode, granted, but an engaging one because of it. Its unusual for the X-Files to feature direction quite this vanilla (even stranger considering Contner is one of Buffy’s most accomplished directors) but at least this story comes alive in its final scenes.  Despite a few nice twists, Soft Light is a passionless drama that trades scares for science and winds up being as mediocre as I could imagine this show being. Considering the greatness to come from Gilligan, this is a very humble opening pitch: 5/10

Our Town written by Frank Spotnitz and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: The death of a factory inspector leads Mulder and Scully to a small town with an outrageous secret…

Trust No-One: Its Fire Demons this week. I think Scully should start making a list of all the outrageous suggestions that Mulder makes that turns out to be wrong because he is starting to make a habit out of it. I can’t quite remember which episode it is but there is definitely a point in the future when Mulder turns on Scully for (once again) obstinately refusing to believe in the paranormal and declares that he should have earned some kind of respect for his theories considering how often he is right. She could have pulled out the list including spontaneous human combustion, rents in the space/time continuum and fire demons and proven that actually he is wrong more often than he thinks! Mulder makes the breaks in this case including asking for the lake to be dragged and smashing open the cupboard with Chaco’s trophies inside but there doesn’t seem to be any rationale behind these moments. He just does them because the story needs him to in order to progress.

Brains’n’Beauty: ‘I’m surprised she didn’t call Opera as soon as she got off the phone with the police!’ At least Scully is thinking in reasonable terms even if the writer of this episode isn’t. She thinks that the victim has been fed into the grinder and his remains have been fed to the chickens which has been passed onto the community. Had she gone straight for the cannibalism idea I might have given up all hope. After her revelation about the grinder I was quite shocked to see her holding a bucket of fried chicken. There has been no dafter peril for this woman than when her head is trapped in a vice and about to be chopped off so she can be cooked and turned into Scully stew. Of all the indignities she has suffered this year nearly being decapitated and ingested by a cannibal cult has to take the biscuit.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Not many people I know are as useful as these chickens!’

Ugh: At least there are a few icky moments in Our Town to keep us squealing whilst it plays out with crushing predictability. The feed grinder is especially nasty with all the blood and bone of the chickens turned into a dark brown slurry that they are fed. Its an early indication of the cannibalistic theme. This being The X-Files you know somebody is going to end up in there as soon as it is revealed. ‘You think these people were eaten?’ Cannibalism is a pretty stomach turning concept and worthy of a good horror (go and watch the film Ravenous to see what I’m talking about) and could have been the subject of a memorable X-File. Its memorable alright, just not for the right reasons. Its handled in such a cack handed, cartoon fashion any tension that might have come out of the idea is dispelled when we see the entire town queuing up for their lovely bowl of stew with human flesh bobbing about in it! Even Buffy did a better attempt at this sort of thing in Same Time, Same Place where Willow’s stomach was eaten, strip by strip. Mind you if eating human flesh does keep you looking young and fresh as a daisy beyond your years it might be enough to catch on!

The Bad: The way everybody who Mulder and Scully meets in the town try and convince them that there is nothing suspicious about George’s disappearance at the time when he was threatening to close down their source of employment does rather implicate all of them quite early on. Its hardly displaying the plot complexities of Murder on the Orient Express. Scully mentions Mad Cow Disease and buried beneath the madness of this episode I think there is supposed to be a treatise on infections being spread through the meat that we eat. But given this group of cannibals have contracted Creutzfelt-Jakob syndrome through eating a factory inspector the message is rather buried under all the preposterousness injected into the script. Rather than having Mulder and Scully logically investigate their way to discovering the bones in the lake it takes a near collision of vehicles and the truck slipping into the water to lead them to the next big lead. Noticing the colour of the water (blood red) Mulder asks for it to be dragged and out comes the biggest net full of bones you ever saw committed to celluloid. Its so gloriously unsubtle you might think you are watching a comedy/horror for a moment. I’m glad that Doris has a change of heart because there should never be a villain with that name. This is the town of no second chances and as soon as you ‘lose your faith’ you get your head lopped off. How on Earth did Chaco convince this entire town to indulge in a feast of human flesh? Did everybody who objected end up in the pot? Wouldn’t 87 people going missing in such a small area lead to a serious investigation despite the Sheriff’s involvement in the cover up? Didn’t people object to their loved ones being eaten or was that worth the cost to get to have a nibble of their flesh? Mulder discovers photoshopped images of Chaco hanging out with a cannibal tribe and the gathered heads of the victims in his closet – could this get any more harebrained? Who keeps heads as a memento? It must stink in his hallway! They should have gone the whole hog when Mulder unmasks the Sheriff  and had him say ‘I would have gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for you pesky FBI agents…’ with his dying breath. Just when you think we’ve reached a zenith of lunacy the last scene sees an employee of the chicken plant finding a massive chunk of Chaco’s hair in the grinder revealing precisely where he ended up. Oh dear.

Pre Titles Sequence: You want to scream at the guy who is being led into the woods to be killed but its not worth wasting your breath because he is thinking with his dick and you know he isn’t going to last the teaser. Nice slow motion mask, though and the mask is pretty creepy as shot by Rob Bowman.

Moment to Watch Out For: A queue of hungry townsfolk waiting their turn for some human stew that is being ladled into bowls. The way it is portrayed in such a routine fashion as if this is the sort of thing that goes on in every small town in America is enough to make you want to give up television.

Orchestra: Snow’s discordant tribal/techno score at the climax is the best thing about it. Its very catchy.

Foreboding: If you want to see a properly scary small town horror produced by The X-Files then stick on season eight’s Roadrunners. Its one of the few times this show really scared me to the point that I wanted to sleep with the lights on.

Result: For anybody who has had the misfortune to watch it (in both cases) Our Town is basically a remake of the Doctor Who spin off K.9 and Company. With cannibals. There’s everything in there from a cast of characters who are obviously all guilty from the start to a climax with a farcical Scooby Doo reveal as the man in the mask turns out to be exactly who we expected all along. It’s a shame that this had to turn out to be quite this ridiculous because this episode sports a stellar cast and a reasonable premise that could have been much, much scarier had the writer slammed the breaks on and shown a little restraint. Its exactly the sort of small town horror that Hot Fuzz sent up so spectacularly but because The X-Files plays it all for real somehow its even funnier. It feels as though (the usually reliable) Rob Bowman’s heart wasn’t in this and it didn’t surprise me to read that he was winding down for the season and took him a long time to gather any enthusiasm for the project. This is another Frank Spotnitz stinker in season two, Our Town starts out predictably and becomes more farcical with every scene and climaxes on a set piece so laughable you might need a change of underwear. The fellow who wipes his mouth before he talks is indicative of the subtlety inherent in the penultimate episode: 3/10

Anasazi written by Chris Carter and directed by R.W. Goodwin 

What’s it about: A stack of bodies in a boxcar could be the answer to all of Mulder’s questions…

Trust No-One: Isn’t it funny that every time David Duchovny contributes to a script he always gives Mulder the meatiest role and confines Scully to the sidelines? The very first thing we see Mulder do in this episode is take a swig of water which sets up the twist of his poisoned water tank right from the off. The woman who shoots her husband in a fit of pique is another clue that initially looks like a side issue. Sometimes Carter blows me away with his storytelling skill – why can’t he be this good all the time? When he is handed the UFO files I was shocked at how underplayed it all was. This is huge. Its everything Mulder ever wanted - physical proof that the government has been covering up the existence of extra terrestrials! Finally he can blow the lid off their entire operation. The Thinker is shown to be as dangerous as Mulder, wanting to ensure that the government answers to the people for their hand in this conspiracy. I’m still undecided on whether its exposure would actually be a good thing. His reaction when he realises the files are nothing but gibberish is when he finally shows some emotion, threatening to smash up his office at another disappointment. Duchovny has been sleepwalking his way through the latter half of this season (although to be fair he hasn’t been afforded the acting opportunities of the first seven or eight episodes this year) climaxing with a performance that was so off kilter in End Game it felt like he and the director had fallen out. Suddenly given some dramatic opportunities he comes alive again, compellingly driven and barking mad. The Smoking Man turning up at Bill Mulder’s door feels like a portent of doom and it’s the first shocking indication that Mulder’s own family are involved in this conspiracy and might be responsible for the abduction of Samantha. Was she taken to punish Bill? Or with his permission? You have to give the writers of The X-Files a hand, they know how to get their claws into you with some intriguing possibilities (its when it comes to satisfactorily answering the questions they pose that they usually let you down). It’s the first instance of one of our heroes losing somebody close to them and the first casualty of Mulder’s crusade (I wont count Scully because she was returned safe and sound). It’s a contrivance that would be repeated too often in the future but here it comes as a total surprise and impacts. It finally feels like Mulder’s work has a cost. What really makes this feel difference  is that because he has been behaving like such a loony Scully suspects he might have pulled the trigger on his own father. When Mulder finally has proof of government duplicity (the bodies in the boxcar) he is appalled at his discovery, mirroring how he whipped out his gun during  first contact in Little Green Men. He’s wanted this so badly for so long he hasn’t quite counted on how horrific the answers might be.

Brains’n’Beauty: With Mulder behaving in such an irrational fashion Scully starts to question her allegiance to him when her whole career hangs in the balance. I’m really glad that she voices her opinion to Mulder because she has been blindly following him for so long now and it has felt like bland obedience beyond good sense.  After her abduction and now her near miss in his apartment Scully realises that devoting herself to this mans cause has consequences. ‘You’ve been keeping reports on me since the beginning, Scully!’ cries Mulder in a paranoid rant, obviously forgetting the indignity of her abduction earlier this year. Scully shows astonishing loyalty to him given these accusations and continues to investigate his mysterious behaviour. Once again she seems much smarter when she is working independently of him, discovering the toxin in the water tank. She learns that her name is on the UFO files connected to something that is referred to as a ‘test’ – Scully know has a vested interest in learning everything she can about the conspiracy. She needs to know what happened to her earlier in the year.

Assistant Director: What an awesome return to the fold for Skinner who has really made a name for himself in season two (even though I haven’t quite decided whether he is on our side or not yet – I think he likes it that way). Mulder is extremely disrespectful to him publicly and then unbelievably takes a swing for him and his superior gives him a reality check by overpowering and embarrassing him. If Mulder wants his work shut down he is giving his superiors all the ammunition they need.

Traitor: The long overdue confrontation between Mulder and Krychek finally occurs! Because he was too effective a bad guy to kill he rather shyly exited stage right in Ascension and I have been waiting for his return ever since. The show suddenly gets a shot of testosterone and the two actors grapple with each other viciously and Mulder has been build up to be so on edge at this point you genuinely believe that he will kill his nemesis. That Scully intervenes by shooting Mulder is the last thing I suspected would happen but her reasoning (killing Krychek with his own weapon would implicate him in his fathers death) is sound. More Krychek please, we haven’t even begun mining this character for his dramatic worth.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’ve protected him this long, haven’t I?’ says the Smoking Man indicating that rather than opposing Mulder he has been shielding his interests. As his character shifts from criminal mastermind to stooge this fascinating new angle starts to emerge. 

The Good: ‘Has everybody been told?’ With an economic bit of storytelling Carter shifts the conspiracy away from the US onto an international scale as the news of the stolen files jumps from one continent to another. I had always suspected that this was a primarily American based conspiracy (considering the evidence we have seen is being held as the Pentagon) but this opens things up very nicely and makes the force that Mulder and Scully are facing much larger than I ever suspected. Given Mulder has visited the Smoking Man in his home there had to be a shift in the conspiracy because it cannot get much more intimate than that. Suddenly it feels like the Smoking Man is a small cog in a much larger mechanism and perhaps not quite as important as we had been led to believe. Let’s see where this goes. Initially the files turning up in code feels like another way to delay giving us answers but it actually turns out to be an excellent tension building device with Scully’s interpretation picking out ‘goods’ and ‘vaccination’ from the text that sets the mind reeling with possibilities. CSM is happy to murder his old colleagues to protect the secrets of the conspiracy and the direction of Krychek suddenly appearing in the bathroom mirror is so simple and yet so effective. I remember shrugging my shoulders at the cliffhanger when I first watched this episode – what was I on? The Smoking Man is finally seen to leap into action and clear up his masters dirty work leaving Mulder trapped in a burning boxcar full of alien/human hybrids. It says something about the shows success in its second year that they end the season on a moment of jeopardy knowing they will be back to conclude it next year. A staggering difference from the end of the first season that had to wrap everything up just is case the show wasn’t renewed.

The Bad: Frankly Bill Mulder deserves to die after speaking so cryptically to his son during their last moments together. Why couldn’t he just tell him what he has done rather than talking in obscurities? I was desperate for Mulder to say ‘Dad what the fuck are you talking about?’

Pre Titles Sequence: Its more of a mystery than the usual X-Files scare-fest in the pre titles sequence this week but you can feel with the mystery of the box car that important things are happening. Anticipation is in the air. When you learn the lengths this show went to to recreate the ruddy New Mexico mountains you can only marvel at the effort that is put in to the production values (1600 gallons of red paint!). The alien looks better than anything we have been presented with so far (young girls in rubber costumes in Duane Barry). This is a disturbing shrivelled husk with an elongated face that looks for all the world like a literal interpretation of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. Its blank eyes staring out of the screen seared into my mind as one of the seminal X-Files images.

Moment to Watch Out For: Its always been assumed that the government is up to nasty things during the course of this conspiracy (Scully’s abduction was proof of that) but this is the first time we have had evidence of the scale of the horror they have perpetuated. There is something very nasty about simply leaving piles of bodies to decay away in a boxcar under ground rather than disposing of the corpses. The suggestion made is that these are actually people who have been injected with alien DNA under the guise of a smallpox injection (as was mentioned in The Erlenmeyer Flask). There must be hundreds of bodies piled high in that decomposing atmosphere. Why are they trying to turn people into aliens en masse? What do they know that we don’t? Its all appetite whetting but its done so well you just pray that the pay off is as good.

Fashion Statement: Mulder is put to bed by Scully fully clothed and then we suddenly cut to a shot of him smooth skinned and bulging out of his boxers. It’s the most gratuitous shot of its kind since he leapt from a swimming pool in speedos because there is no reason that he shouldn’t have been tucked up under the covers. However I wont say its unwelcome. Nice to see a male character being exploited in SF in the way that is usually reserved for the girls.

Foreboding: How deep did Bill Mulder go in the conspiracy? Who are the mysterious figures receiving phone calls around the world?

Result: I remember when this episode first aired I was remarkably indifferent about it. Then when I first bought the series box set and I gave it another chance I was blown away by it. Upon this rewatch I’m not quite as impressed although it does feel as though the show is stepping up a gear to greet the third season. What jumped out at me was that this was a game of firsts with new innovations that feel fresh here but would go on to be the blueprint of all tales of this type in the future – a shift to an international conspiracy, a domestic tragedy and finally real proof of the governments horrific attempts to colonise the Earth. Anasazi feels as though it should have come after the Scully abduction arc (and what a shame it doesn’t because we could have avoided the choppy run of episodes since then) because it shares the same crushing paranoia that was so gripping during that period and the pleasing inclusion of all the semi regular characters (The Lone Gunmen, Skinner, Krychek, the Smoking Man). Anasazi isn’t perfect (for all its atmosphere it doesn’t actually tell us anything concrete about the conspiracy) but it rectifies many of the mistakes from the dismal Colony/End Game two parter, provides an exciting ride for its duration, poses lots of riveting questions and provides a dramatic bridge to season three: 9/10


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