Monday, 25 March 2013

The X-Files Season Five

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

What’s it about: A dull lecture that boils down this show to it’s most basic form.

Trust No-One: In a way the cliffhanger isn’t a con because it looks as though Mulder genuinely was going to kill himself and on a well timed phone call prevented him from doing so. Whilst this makes the idea behind the cliffhanger more real (I genuinely thought it was one big lie conceived to allow Mulder to investigate under a cover of anonymity) it also shows him to be a moral coward, looking for the easy way out because his work has been proven (rather limply considering it isn’t true) to be built on a lie.

Brains’n’Beauty: More bollocks admissions from Scully that science is her salvation, her all encompassing religion, her life, her best friend and her lover. Okay I exaggerate but it is continually pushed to the forefront to the point that it is supposedly the only interesting thing about her. Which isn’t the case.

Assistant Director: Why on Earth is Scully lying to Skinner? Hasn’t this man done enough to prove himself to her? Doesn’t this make a mockery of the journey we have gone on with these three characters? We’ve been on a dance of trust with Mulder, Scully and Skinner ever since the end of the first season and I finally thought we had come to some kind of conclusion of their narrative of distrust. Apparently not. It looks like it will be brought out of the closet and dusted down every time a mythology episode needs padding out.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Your lying is on record, Agent Scully’ ‘And what about yours?’ ‘As you compound the lies, you compound the consequences for them’ ‘All lies lead to the truth, isn’t that right?’ ‘And what about your lie, Agent Scully? What does that lead to?’ ‘The Truth!’ – at this point I think that Carter is so used to the words ‘Lies’ and ‘Truth’ that he just has his characters repeat them ad nauseum until it sounds like something profound is happening. This is a particularly horrendous example. Even Gillian Anderson looks humiliated.

The Good: There’s a beat of truthful characterisation when the Smoking Man inspects Mulder’s apartment and finds a picture of him and his sister as children. Emotions flash across his face from regret to sadness.

The Bad: What is up with the perpetual voiceovers that stain this episode with mediocrity? They fail to add any depth because the dialogue is so functional and informative and the actors sound as bored saying the lines as we are listening to them adding up to an atmosphere of tedium when the show should be going for the jugular. A voiceover is helpful sometimes if you want to bridge two scenes and explain how a show makes a narrative leap (it’s still not ideal but it at least it has a purpose) but Carter wallpapers this episode with so much intimate exposition I can only assume that he had little or no plot for this filling episode (the real meat is in the two installments either side) that he had to fill the time with endless moments of therapy for the characters. It is entirely the wrong note to get the season off on, looking inward into these (apparently) self indulgent characters (are these really their thoughts?) when we should be catapulted into the new year with something attention grabbing and exciting. The thought of Mulder wandering around a bunch of government corridors to find a cure for Scully’s cancer fills me with horror. How could Carter possibly boil down what has been one of the most deftly handled character arcs in the show to something quite this banal and simplistic? Why would the existence of the cure be prove the certainty that Mulder has believed in a lie from the start? Why couldn’t the government have been performing tests on people and have the cure for cancer and be working with aliens?

Moment to Watch Out For: Unbelievably the cliffhanger is that Mulder has put us through this incessant hour of tedium to obtain de-ionised water from the government facility. Does that mean we have to go through this all over again?

Orchestra: How dull is Snow’s music in this? He is as bored as the director, the actors and the audience. Everybody is feeding Carter’s ego at this point and just getting through his yawnsome script so we can move on to something more interesting.

Mythology: ‘Level four is a biological quarantine wing. It houses a series of labs and medical facilities in an elaborate system for the storage of vast quantities of DNA’ ‘DNA from whom?’ ‘Virtually every American born since 1945. Every immigrant, every indigenous person who’s given blood to a government Doctor. This is what I told you. This is the hoax into which you have been drawn. The roots go back 50 years to the end of World War II playing on a national appetite for bogus revelation. And a public newly fearful of the atom bomb. The US military fanned the flames of what were called “flying saucer” stories. There are truths which can kill a nation. The military needed something to deflect attention away from its arms strategy: global domination through the capability of total enemy annihilation. The nuclear card was fine as long as we alone could play it but the generals knew they could not win a public-relations war. Those photos from Hiroshima were not faces the Americans wanted to see in a mirror. Oppenheimer knew it but we silenced him. When the Russians developed the bomb, the fear in the military was an armistice. The business of America isn’t business, it’s war. Since Antietam nothing has driven the economy faster. We needed a reason to keep spending money, if there wasn’t a war to justify it then we called it war anyway. The Cold War was essentially a 50 year public relations battle. A pitched game of chicken against an enemy that we only called names. The communists called us a few names too. And the public believed it. After what McCarthy had done they eat it with a big spoon. We squared off a few times in Cuba, Korea and Vietnam. Nobody dropped the bomb, Nobody dared’ ‘What does all this have to do with flying saucers?’ ‘The US military saw a good thing in ’47 when the Roswell story broke. The more we denied it, the more people believed it was true. Aliens had landed: a made to order cover story for generals looking to develop the nation war chest. They brought in college professors and congressmen, fed them enough bogus facts fuzzy photos and eyewitnesses that they believe it, too. I can’t tell you how fortuitous the timing was. You know when the first supersonic flight was? 1947. Soon every experimental aircraft being flown was a UFO sighting. When the abduction stories started up, it was too perfect. We’d almost gotten caught up in Korea, an ambitious misstep. China and Soviets knew it’ ‘Germ warfare. We were accused of using it on the Koreans’ ‘It was developmental then. Nothing like what the Russians have now. The bio weapons used in the Gulf War were so ingenious as to be undetectable. Developed in this very building’ ‘And all these reports of abductions have been lies?’ ‘Not lies exactly, but citizens taken and unsuspecting and tested. A classified military project above top secret and still ongoing.’ Absolutely hideous! Not least because I have had to type out all of this pretentious claptrap! I’m not sure which bugs me more; that this info dump is lumped together right in the middle of this episode where you desperately need something to happen, that Chris Carter has abandoned the show-don’t-tell approached and fallen into full on paranoia lecture mode, that the dialogue is absolutely hideous and would trip up a sophisticated performer let alone the cardboard cut out who has to get this mouthful out or that there are germs of good ideas in this everlasting speech (such as the government using aliens as a cover for getting on with something even more hideous or the Cold War being one long PR stunt to allow the government to continue spending money on weapons research) that are wasted because after a few minutes you switch off and stop listening and just let the pretty flashbacks wash over you. Had Mulder discovered all of these facts through a well paced and plotted narrative with the revelations having personal consequences for him and Scully then the effect would be quite different. I might have been able to buy into the ideas that are driving season five (and let’s be honest they are only going down this aliens-are-fake cul de sac because they have to delay any progress in the mythology arc because the movie – which has already been filmed – is set between season five and six and thus they have to stall until we reach that point). This is so appallingly handled I’m surprised an insulted audience didn’t abandon the show in droves (they hung around waiting for the next monster of the week episode). The way that Kritschgau is taken off by the government after he has gotten this phenomenally awful amount of exposition out just goes to show that’s all he was there for. His work is done, the episode no longer needs him. He wasn’t a character, he was a walking repository of information for the audience.

Result: ‘That means for four years we could have been nothing but pawns in a game! That it was lies from the beginning!’ At this point The X-Files was probably at the peak of its popularity, after the point where the show needed to find its audience, revelling in it’s unexpected popularity and before people started saying the show was past its best. Redux was the second most watched episode ever (with a whopping 27 million homes tuning in) and the previous season climaxed on the awe-inspiring suggestion that Mulder might have committed suicide. Surely the production team were going to open on the most attention grabbing episode ever as proof of why this show as such a hit? Not a chance. In fact it almost feels like a slap in the face to the shows loyal audience to produce something as lazy as Redux (I don’t like using the word lazy with regards to television because clearly a great deal of work goes into creating something for the small screen, for good or for ill, but I do feel that just this once it is acceptable and justified); it’s a handful of X-Files clichés (interminable voiceovers, repetitive Scully/Mulder/Skinner mistrust, portentous dialogue pretending to be about something important but simply delaying telling you anything important, wandering around empty buildings) played out for 45 never-ending minutes. Were Duchovny and Anderson getting on so badly that instead of interacting with each other they had to be separated and forced to perform these hideous monologues into microphones instead? By the time the fifth or sixth voiceover kicks in you might try reaching for the cyanide. They sound so bored reading them out and surely that isn’t the best way for the two actors fronting this show to appear at the beginning of a new season? This is just hideous. The actors have nothing to work with. The director has nothing to work with. Mark Snow has nothing to work with. It’s the meaningless void between good drama and tat that is so bad it’s good, an abhorrence  of hollow filler that boils everything down to exposition. And it’s not even over yet. Probably the worst episode of anything. Ever: 0/10

Redux II written by Chris Carter and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Will Scully’s cancer ever be cured?

Trust No-One: Mulder gives Scully a gentle kiss when they are re-united and I was reminded of one of the main reasons that I enjoy watching this series. It was like Carter had forgotten that Mulder and Scully are the beating heart of this show. He gently strokes her hair as she asks him to lay the blame of the murder in his apartment on her since she is dying anyway. It’s lovely stuff. Mulder and Bill Scully are coming at Scully’s illness from two very different directions – Mulder is trying to fight to save her whilst Bill has already given up and is waiting for her to die with dignity. To be fair both approaches are valid, if Mulder hadn’t managed to save her then it would have been feeding her with false hope. When Mulder dangles a carrot of hope in front of her, Bill snaps and it takes his sister to calm everybody down and remind them that they are working for the same goal. When Bill points out that he has already lost one sister to Mulder’s cause his irrational behaviour suddenly makes more sense. Melissa’s murder was a direct consequence of Scully’s work with Mulder and whilst he isn’t responsible for outside elements or for Scully’s assignment to The X-Files it is his cause which moved in that direction and manoeuvred Melissa to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. ‘Has it been worth it?’ is what Mulder is asked and all he can answer apologetically is ‘no.’ Duchovny plays these scenes really well because there is some kind of emotional truth to them. Compare to his reaction to being reunited with his sister (again) and even the actor can’t quite bring himself to invest in the idea because it has been proven false over and over. When he is asked to almost break down before her, it smacks of an acting trying to overcome his natural prejudice to the material. Again compare that to the quiet moment when Mulder breaks down at Scully’s bedside whilst she is sleeping – Duchovny looks physically pained during the scene as though thought of losing Scully is too much for Mulder to bear. As an acknowledgement of how close they have become there is no finer moment. Mulder wouldn’t be able to live with himself if Scully took the fall for him in her death.

Brains’n’Beauty: Whilst the idea that Scully’s cancer was given to her is shocking and worth exploring, wouldn’t it perhaps have been more interesting to have seen her cope with something that has nothing to do with the ongoing conspiracy at all? Does everything have to be tied into this massive arc? I have recently watched Buffy season five and how Joyce’s death was so horribly unconnected to the supernatural elements that the series is built upon is what made it so effective. It was something that Buffy and her friends couldn’t fight because it was an entirely natural degeneration. Turning Scully’s cancer into something that can be solved by walking down corridors in a government facility in search of a cure takes away something of the intimate nature of the disease and boils down the conflict into her body to something that can be turned off with a switch. It makes you wonder if this avenue was worth exploring if Carter didn’t have a solution that was more satisfying than this. In the last episode I complained that Scully spent far too much time waxing lyrical about her devotion to science and Carter writes her abandoning that aspect of her character as her cancer worsens and turning to the only course left to her – prayer. It’s a much more interesting angle (especially since it has only been hinted at before unlike the science angle which has been rammed down our throats), a side of Scully that is prepared to believe in miracles that cannot be explained. As she lies in a hospital bed thinking that her journey is about to end she is seen looking to God and asking for his help. It’s a wonderful moment. When she breaks down on her mother and tells her that she cannot fight anymore and that she is scared to turn to God for help I was holding back the tears – it’s a far cry from Anderson’s staid borderm when reading out those monologues last week. I’m so glad they never went down the route of writing out Mrs Scully because she’s such a reliable, believable character. One that grounds Scully in a way that Teena Mulder never managed to with her son.

Assistant Director: At least they are coming at the ‘can we trust Skinner?’ from another angle this time. Despite the fact that I thought we had wrapped this up in Zero Sum (where he was risking his job, morals and reputation to try and save Scully) Redux II doesn’t see Skinner proving himself to Mulder but the other way around. Mulder is in the perfect position to exonerate himself and get Skinner out of their lives for good but instead chooses the much riskier option of going after the genuine felon, Section Chief Blevins. Now Skinner has proved himself to Mulder and Scully and Mulder and Scully have proven themselves to Skinner…can they just be allies now and work together?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Let me at least give some meaning to what’s happening to me…’

The Good: At least there was some method in Carter’s madness. We didn’t suffer through the whole of Redux for nothing, the de-ionised water was protecting a microchip with the cure for Scully’s cancer. I feel that Kim Manners is a much more thoughtful director than R.W. Goodwin (but saying that he has much superior material to work with here too) and the scene where Bill confronts Mulder in the hospital corridor is a case at point. Whilst this dialogue scene plays out there is a second story taking place in the background of an old man being told bad news by a Doctor in the background. It isn’t part of the scene that is playing out, but it helps to sell the idea that this is a place where people die and the family receive bad news whilst Bill and Mulder talk about that very issue. The idea of Mulder becoming a puppet of the Smoking Man’s in order to obtain a cure for her cancer is an appealing one and the only instance when such an allegiance would work (interestingly they pulled the same trick off with Scully in season seven’s En Ami with exactly the same objective)…although we have been here before with Skinner (season four’s Zero Sum). Had they tried to pin the remission of Scully’s cancer on science or religion it would have lost a great deal of it’s impact. The joy of this moment is that it is left open ended and you can decide for yourself depending on your own beliefs.

The Bad: Poor Don S. Williams. He’s a man of fine acting talent but you would never be able to tell when he takes part in an X-Files episode because he is forced to speak the most pompous dialogue whilst staring into the middle distance and pretending to be menacing and powerful. It doesn’t come off because we have never seen the real power that the men involved in the Syndicate have or what the conspiracy is that they are involved in. In fact most of the time they are running scared, worried about the work of one man who nobody pays any attention to. It’s hard to be scary when you’re always looking so afraid. When the Smoking Man turns up with Mulder’s sister it is hard to feel anything but bored. Haven’t we done this already? Twice? How many times can these cards keep being dealt? As soon as she turned up I was trying to think of how many ways she could be immediately written out which involved her turning out to be clone, killed or Mulder taking a dose of mind altering drugs. Whatever happened I knew this wouldn’t turn out to be the real deal, which perhaps it should have done because five years into a show you should be developing the premise and the motives of the main characters rather than coasting with the same mysteries touted in the first year.

Pre Titles Sequence: Blimey, there is more passion in the first scene of this episode than existed across the entirety of the first part. Carter has figured a few things out; one – that we need to see Scully suffering from the cancer that Mulder is fighting to find the cure for in order to make the fight count, two – that Mulder and Scully need to be seen together for this show to really work, three – the characters need to interact with each other to produce the best results (no sign of a voiceover in the pre-titles sequence) and four – there needs to be a believable personal stake in the drama in order to make the journey worthwhile (Mulder shows more concern towards Scully in two minutes worth of material that was entirely absent during the laborious voiceovers last week). It is as though Carter has suddenly woken up and realised how drama actually works (why he should have forgotten when the produced episodes such as Duane Barry and Irresistible in the past baffles me).

Moment to Watch Out For: Mulder’s speech to the FBI panel which draws together all the threads of this trilogy of episodes in a dramatic, dynamic and emotionally satisfying fashion. He might always get a little lost in the middle of these trilogies (the season two/three crossover was exactly the same) but Carter always seems to know where he wants to go with these stories eventually. Pointing the finger at Blevins might only be a shock to ardent fans of the show but the sight of Scully praying in the face of her cancer, Mulder sticking up for Skinner and the Cancer Man being shot in succession provide a shot of adrenalin at the end of this lengthly tale. Manners direction is simply stunning here. 

Orchestra: Finally Snow is given something to work. He adds a real touch of delicacy to the scenes of Scully’s crisis of faith.

Result: Aside from Mulder obtaining the micro chip the middle part of this trilogy was almost entirely redundant since this picks up the threads that were left hanging in Gethsemane without a thought for all the nonsense that was touted last week (and to be honest the way the Smoking Man approaches Mulder he could have simply handed him the chip and prevent the 45 minutes snooze-fest that bridges the book ending episodes).  There’s a lot that’s wrong with Redux II (the Skinner problem, the umpteenth return of Samantha, Don S. Williams’ lack of presence) but unlike it’s predecessor it gets an awful lot right too including giving Mulder a personal stake in his quest to find the cure for Scully’s cancer, giving Scully’s family a powerful presence and reminding us why these characters are worth giving a damn about (a clue, it has nothing to do with lengthly monologues). I’m still unconvinced by this newfound aliens-are-fake angle that the show is taking but I understand why they had to do that because of the movie. Essentially season five is one long cul de sac now, and the show has to stall until the movie can push things along. It comes as no surprise to me that they shy away from the central aspects of the conspiracy story this season. When it comes to the characters though, this is excellent and Anderson and Duchovny is particular do some of their best ever work as both Scully and Mulder finally face up to the idea that she might die of cancer despite their efforts to fight it. Kim Manners direction is superb, especially of the more intimate scenes but his pacing is more dynamic than R.W. Goodwin’s last week too. The dramatic final five minutes are so strong they almost manage to make up for the stodgy running around at the heart of this trilogy of episodes: 7/10

Unusual Suspects written by Vince Gilligan and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Who were the Lone Gunmen before they became Mulder’s confidantes? 

Trust No-One: We’re introduced to a young, enthusiastic, naïve and fairly incompetant Mulder who has yet to season, so unencumbered by paranoia and conspiracy theories that he is a complete revelation. It goes to show just how fun the character could be if he wasn’t saddled to this series’ myth arc. Could it possibly be that Mulder’s mistrustful behaviour is not linked to a secret government plot that has robbed him of his sister but the exposure to an insidious gas that gets under your skin and makes you fearful of everyone and everything? Even suggesting the idea is the sort of cheek and expression of confidence I love. It’s the sort of thing that Buffy does all the time and only Darin Morgan and Vince Gilligan dare to play these kinds of games when writing The X-Files.

Brains’n’Beauty: Bizarrely I barely noticed her absence from the show as Anderson was off filming for The X-Files movie. It’s at times like this that I think that the show could most definitely survive without one or both of its leads, as it would go on to prove in later years.

The Lone Gunmen: What a curiosity The Lone Gunmen have turned out to be. I find them a peculiar success despite the fact that I sometimes find them extremely annoying. Introduced in the first season as paranoid associates of Mulder, they haven’t ever really been developed beyond that brief and have turned up at the appropriate times to provide technical assistance and some quirky humour. They often give the mythology episodes a real boost (although they have been used quite sparingly of late I have noticed). This is the first time they have been frontrunners for the show, a useful fallback whilst Duchovny and Anderson are off filming the movie. On the strength of this episode you can see why Carter might have thought that a spin off series featuring the three geeks would be a hit because they take to the limelight like ducks to water. At least here. Like I said, surprising

Frohike s my favourite of the three but I often find that he is written to be the most likable of the bunch, with the filthiest humour and attitude that mimics one of my closest friends’ short man syndrome. His and Langley’s rivalry over who can provide the best bootleg cable stuck a smile on my face.

Unusual Suspects is clearly a character exercise to give Byers a face and Bruce Harwood has come a long way in the part from the robotic expresser of exposition in the first season. He’s an easy character to understand, a government lackey, a man without much of a sense of humour and a bit of a jobsworth. It’s what makes his abandonment of his safe life to pursue a woman who is clearly bad news so much of an epiphany. It’s proof that if a pretty face feeds you a pack of lies you are far more likely to buy it then if somebody less aesthetically pleasing told you the same thing. The whole story about the psychotic ex boyfriend kidnapping her kid is so obviously bogus but because Modeski is a hottie Byers is hypnotised by the whole thing. To his credit he refuses to be intimidated by X and asks him about his role in some of the most infamous crimes of the past half century.

The only one that I cannot get on with on a regular basis is Langly who strikes me as the worst excesses of geek hood in human form. Every time he opens his mouth I want to stuff something fist sized inside, his mock anger is wearying and I hate the way he always thinks he is right in that pigeon holed way that geeks do when their dander is up. He’s the sort of person that would hack into government files for something as facile as gaining access to disabled parking areas.

Ugh: This is the third episode in a row that hasn’t featured any out and out horror, Has the show lost its touch in that field? I’m starting to miss being scared shitless by this series.

The Good: The Usual Suspects is one of my favourite films. As a piece of misdirection it is yet to be topped, as a modern day nourish thriller it is beautifully directed and as a performance piece it provides its cast with their best parts to date. It’s a remarkable piece of non linear storytelling too. For The X-Files to rip off such a film means that better know what they are doing and having the Lone Gunmen come together in a police cell (aping the opening sequences of the film) is just inspired. The non-linear storyline deployed here is fun too with the episode explaining how it made it to the bizarre scenario that kick started events. Staging a ‘how the Lone Gunmen met Mulder’ episode was a great idea and when he finally turns up in the episode it is a triumphant moment as you realise that the foundations of their friendship are about to be built. There are some lovely concessions to the fact that this is set in the eighties from the quaint blocky space invaders that Byers’ colleague is playing to the massive mobile phone that Mulder sports. The Dungeons and Dragons sequence that plays out like a sinister game of poker in a smoky, shadowy back room is really funny…I love how these guys (especially Langly) take this game so seriously that they even look the part. There is something quite delightful about meeting these guys (including Mulder) before they are trapped in a paranoiac fantasy about the government, laughing their heads off Scully-style at some of the conspiracy theories that are being touted by Modeski. To be fair she does sound a little stir crazy until she yanks a molar out of her mouth and shows how she is being tracked via one of her teeth. The flashback appearance of Mr X is a firm reminder of how badly his replacement is working out – if Marita whatsherface was half as menacing then the mythology episodes might be in much better shape. Steven Williams does silent menace so well.

The Bad: The ending just sort of…peters out to nothing. Whereas the film has been building to its climax from its very first shot, deceiving the audience from the word go it transpires that everything here is exactly how it seems and the now we have seen how the Gunmen found each other (and Mulder) they just head off together. I was waiting for something a bit more juicy than Modeski being taking off by Mr X. That feels like the work of Carter, not Gilligan. I know nothing about Homicide: Life on the Street so the crossover did nothing to excite me but I can imagine for fans of both shows this was something of a revelation.

Pre Titles Sequence: It immediately feels stimulating to have jumped out of mythology territory into something a bit more playful and standalone. The teaser is the perfect illustration of this with a SWAT team storming a building in an apparently very tense situation only to discover…a nude 1980s Mulder in a warehouse exclaiming ‘they’re here…’ At this point it is very hard to know what is going on and that’s a lovely feeling, especially after the incessant exposition of Redux.

Moment to Watch Out For: I doesn’t exactly take the work of genius to figure out where The Lone Gunmen got their name from or that it had something to do with JFK’s assassination but it doesn’t make the moment any less sparkling when Mr X hands them their new cover on a platter. 

Result: This is so cute that it practically leaps over the fact that there isn’t a great deal of substance to the story or major revelations to be had about the Lone Gunmen. It’s a simple story but after the complexity of the last three mythology episodes that is something of a blessing and a lot of the fun is in spotting the little details that have gone into making this work (the suggested reason that Mulder began having paranoid fantasies about aliens is worth the admission price alone). As a chance to hang out with the Gunmen (and Mulder) before they are slaves to a paranoid fantasy of governmental conspiracies it is fantastic fun and all four actors get to play looser versions of the same characters that we are used to. Duchovny looks especially funny with his 80s hairdo and happy trigger finger. The reason Unusual Suspects works so well is exactly the same reason that The Lone Gunmen TV show failed to ignite, it is a thrilling adventure to offset the usual X-Files shtick. As soon as this became the template for a TV series it showed itself up as a shallow, farcical sitcom…but that’s precisely what this episode is aiming for as a one-off. Signy Coleman makes a particularly alluring femme fatale and it is easy to see why they invited her back for a sequel (this isn’t a show that often explores strong female characters when it has Scully at its heart). The structure of the piece comes straight out of the movie of the same name (they even mocked up a publicity photo that ripped off the movies wholesale) although it does lack the audacious twist that made the film such a delightful experience. Frivolous but highly refreshing: 8/10

Detour written by Frank Spotnitz and directed by Brett Dowler

What’s it about: A wander round the woods…

Trust No-One: After all the heartache of the cancer arc it seems odd to be wandering around the forest with Mulder and Scully again looking for a supernatural nasty as if none of the previous character drama ever happened. Perhaps this was deliberately nostalgic to express a back-to-basics approach to go from something as heartbreakingly nuanced as Redux II to something this simplistic feels a little discordant. This love letter to season one coming after a buffer episode explaining the origins of the Lone Gunmen feels like a step backwards somehow. I appreciated the chat in the woods about Scully’s cancer but its interesting to note that once that is mentioned it is quickly skipped over, like the writers wanted to acknowledge that it did happen but also that they were moving on as quickly as possible to new avenues. In this case who did you identify with the most in The Flintstones.

Brains’n’Beauty: Hilariously Mulder and Scully are being sent on one of those dreadful team building exercises that companies insists on inflicting on their workers. These guys have absolutely no trouble communicating on a professional level (in fact adversity in investigation is one of their greatest strengths) and they have even managed to get their heads around corresponding on a personal level now too. It’s another reason why this feels about three seasons out of date. Had this taken place before Scully’s abduction and cancer scare and before Mulder’s faith in his conspiracy theory had been shattered then a little help with their interpersonal skills might have been relevant. They’ve been through so much by now it can either be seen as punishment (definitely a possibility) or as a paper pushing exercise. I suppose there is something amusing about Mulder and Scully being sent on a team building course only to be sidetracked into an investigation that requires a great deal of teamwork but it’s the sort of joke that makes you laugh for five seconds and then sigh. By the end of the episode they have to work together to make a big pile of bodies to winch back up above ground. Go team.

Ugh: Points for effort…at least the show is trying to be scary again. I think the last time this show attempt and honest to goodness fright was way back in Elegy with the ghostly portents of death. This was once a show that sold itself on its horror content but it seems to have been sifted out in favour of more experimental and domestic storytelling. There is something genuinely creepy about the red eyes appearing in the darkness but that was a trick that was pulled off as far back as Squeeze in season one and Tooms had a whole bag of tricks like that up his sleeves to scare the bejesus out of the audience. This weeks nasty is simply an invisible man roaming the woods and murdering people for no apparent reason. It feels like Spotnitz is making it up as he goes along, ticking off his season one list as he goes. During the night sequence the creature is mildly scary but when we are out in the sunshine its merely a collection of nifty special effects and costumes. It doesn’t inspire the same sort of fear that the best X-File nasties have managed, it’s more of a curiosity. And not a very interesting one at that. When Scully fell down the hole I would have been more surprised if that wasn’t where the bodies had turned up. 

The Good: Colleen Flynn turns quite a nice performance as Officer Fazekas but it’s a role so underwritten that she barely gets anything of note to do. If I had an actress that strong to hand I would adapt the script to give her a meatier role. To be fair the episode isn’t exactly kind on anybody…there is only so much mileage you can get out of a yomp around the woods. Unfortunately the interesting (perhaps too strong of a word, its entirely down to the performance) guest characters are bumped off first.

The Bad: Let me get this straight. They head out into the jungle into a possibly perilous situation with no found, no way of finding their way out without the guide (who – surprise surprise – is bumped off first) and minimal weaponry. Similar scenes of being lost in the woods are played out in Darkness Falls but in that episode they were tightly directed, acted with conviction and the location was made to feel hostile and claustrophobic. Gillian Anderson looks a little fed up when she tells Mulder that they are lost without any sustenance or chance of finding a way out. It literally feels like this is a ramble through the woods rather than a life or death situation. I know the weather caused a production nightmare but this is technically the first monster of the week tale of season five and everybody looks so uninterested by the whole thing. Has this sub genre been exhausted? Bizarrely the danger seems to be over before it has even begun and once Scully and Mulder discover the nest of bodies they are rescued almost immediately. There is a camera shot of the length of the forest that continues on up the trees as though that is what has been menacing the agents throughout the episode. It’s so utterly anti-climactic coming on the back of the body of an episode that has so few surprises on offer you have to wonder if this really was the best that Spotnitz could come up with. When the officer tells Mulder that he must be making up his theory about evolved Spanish conquistadors it could just have easily have been me aiming the same criticism at the writer. It just feels like a throwaway explanation to give the piece some kind of closure but the audience has in no way been lead to that being the answer to this strange affair. It feels tacked on the worst possible way because we demand some kind of answer. It’s a ‘that’ll do’ conclusion. The tacked on jeopardy at the climax baffled me, especially the way it wasn’t resolved. Spotnitz implies that Scully could have been in danger rather than actually going through with it which seems to me to be a fitting epitaph for this episode.

Pre Titles Sequence: I’m in two minds about the Vancouver forest these days. On the one hand we’ve been stuck inside for the better part of the last three episodes so it is refreshing to get out into wide open spaces and it is very pretty scenery…but on the other hand we’ve had so many stories set out in the forest by now it is starting to become as clichéd as it was on Stargate SG-1. At least it isn’t the same forest doubling for a myriad of alien planets on The X-Files. I’m looking forward to the move to the city. This pre titles sequence really isn’t trying to be original because we have had nasties lurking in the forest time (Fallen Angel) and time (Darkness Falls) and time (Firewalker) again. I could go on but we’d be here all day. Besides the eyes that snap open in the foliage providing a brief surprise there is nothing of note to be found in this teaser.

Moment to Watch Out For: The one scene where Duchovny and Anderson wake up as their extended chat in the woods and that is because for a while they are able to engage in some meaningful discussion rather than going through the motions chasing monsters. Their chemistry is so natural by this point you could well believe that they were the best of friends behind the scenes. Scully is right though. She really can’t carry a tune.

Orchestra: Mark Snow pipes in a funky, almost child-like version of his usual horror movie soundtrack to try and convince you that something more interesting is going on beyond the evidence of your eyes. 

Result: It feels like I have been sucked into a time warp and materialised back in season one. Detour is as simplistic, unpretentious and formulaic as they come with everything from the forest setting, the ambiguous nasty, the signposted victims, Mulder and Scully banter and the lack of a satisfying explanation tossed into the mix. Had this taken place in season one it might have fitted in just fine but four years later it feels like it is playing it far too safe for a show that has enjoyed the works of Darin Morgan and Vince Gilligan throughout the experimental and thrillingly dark and funny seasons three and four. I personally have had more exciting yomps through the forest to find a picnic spot than this and the creature of the week inspires little but fatigue because its nature isn’t laced explored in any way and ultimately we are left to Mulder to guess what it was because the episode itself has no idea. It is just there to chase them about for half an hour. Anderson and Duchovny give the material all the effort it deserves (they made far more of an effort with the life or death material of this nature in season one when they still had something to prove) and a for once a fresh director doesn’t yield gripping results as this is far more conventionally shot than I am used to. It sure is pretty to look at most of the time (thanks to the forest setting) and some of the banter is enjoyable but that aside this is almost entirely devoid of interest. Let me save you from enduring what is possibly the least substantial X-File on record; Scully and Mulder run about in the woods, they have a cuddle and then she falls down a hole. The end. There’s some weird insubstantial creature roaming about too but who the hell knows what that was all about. The most surprising thing that Detour has to offer is its complete lack of narrative: 4/10

The Post-Modern Prometheus written and directed by Chris Carter

What’s it about: A two-headed mutated Cher-loving date rapist. Why are you looking at me like that? It’s Carter who’s on the funny stuff!

Trust No-One: The idea of Mulder’s name being mentioned on The Jerry Springer Show as the only person from the government to make house call to a woman who claims to have had a werewolf baby sounds entirely authentic. He’ll buy into anything as long as it sounds like it belongs on the cover of the National Enquirer. Scully finally asks the question that must be on everybody’s lips: ‘Is there anything that you don’t believe in, Mulder?’ The answer is, strangely for this season only, the one thing that he has seen the most evidence of.

Brains’n’Beauty: By the end of the episode Scully is without a doubt my audience identification figure. She can’t quite believe the preposterousness of the town she has come to visit and questions the veracity of its inhabitants, she can’t see any logic in the existence of the creature that they all revere and by the time a torch wielding mob tears past her to bring him to justice she just stands back and lets it all wash over her with an expression of disbelief slapped on her face. She removes herself from a story that she doesn’t belong in and waits on the sidelines for Mutato to say his speech, convince the townsfolk that he is a good guy and takes the first opportunity to get out of town. I don’t know if I have ever found her more believable.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Who could resist the temptation to create life in his own image?’ ‘We already have that ability Mulder, it’s called procreation.’
‘You may have been right Scully’ ‘What that these people can be reduced to cultural stereotypes?’ – at least the writer is upfront about that.

Ugh: Filmed in black and white, this could have been the scariest episode of The X-Files ever. Instead Carter goes for the comic jugular and spoils any effort that could have gone into making this a toneless treat. Season two’s Aubrey and Irresistible had a far greater understanding of how to make black and white scary (although both filmed in colour they are muted throughout and would have worked superbly in monochrome). I still dream of the day that this show plumps for a black and white episode and shoots it in the style and atmosphere of Hitchcock’s Psycho. This could have been that episode but it’s too busy having fun to remember that one of this shows strengths is to scare.

The Good: I am a big fan of Cher so even when I was frowning through some of the inanities of this episode I was still enjoying the music. Whilst the tragedy angle comes in too late (in the first half hour of this episode all we see of the Great Mutato is him date raping women and dancing to pop songs which gives you completely the wrong impression of what Carter is actually going for which is something more lamentable and sympathetic) it is the one emotion that you can pick out that really works. Mutato weeping over his dead ‘father’, the only man who has ever cared for him, is a genuine flash of sentiment. The one area where the black and white photography does improve the production is in disguising the phoniness of Mutato’s make up. In this washed out grey it is almost acceptable. It is another example of what I like to call ‘closing the book syndrome’ where the final scene of an episode is so strong it is enough to convince the audience that what they have just witnessed has been just as good all the way through. Watching the Great Mutato enjoy a Cher concert (the double is hilarious) evokes a real sense of joy that the rest of The Post Modern Prometheus is lacking and Mulder and Scully enjoying a dance together might just be the highlight of season five. For one scene only, this episode kicks ass. And Walking to Memphis is a great song.

The Bad: I have no idea why Carter chose a comic book as the framing device of this story since it doesn’t share any of the tropes of the genre and very little of the episode is directed in the style that could successfully take up a panel in a graphic novel. The whole point of a comic book is that it is big, bold and budgetless telling stories that stretch the imagination and go beyond what a television show is capable of producing visually. The Post-Modern Prometheus is such a contained, intimate story that it would feel completely out of place gracing the glossy pages of a comic book. Instead with its gothic allusions and Frankenstein homage it would perfect suit a musty old hardback found in the back of a bookstore for some child to unearth on a rainy day and explore. It shows that Carter is on the wrong page from…well the turning of the first page. Filming in black and white is a much more skilled art than simply turning down the colour but that is essentially what Carter does here without any of the concessions to the atmosphere and style that comes with the method. Black and white means exactly that, shades of light and dark, the use of silhouette and bold contrasts…what Carter has done here is bleached the show of any depth by draining it of colour and the result is a very flat, very grey looking episode. Besides which why would you choose to have a black and white comic strip when there is the option to have it bursting with colour? In it’s own way this town is as much full of inbreds as the Peacock household was in Home; all of them thick as shit, reactionary and made up of the most obvious of characteristics (the work shy kid, the daft Southern mother, the mad scientist, the aggressive property owner). In fact I would probably go as far to say that the characters in Home had more depth to them because they at least were behaving on an instinctual level and trying to salvage something they considered worth protecting. This bunch of caricatures are obsessed with television, peanut butter and Cher. It’s all remarkably shallow and not one of them rings true. It extends to the performances too which are so latudinous that anything that might have been salvaged from a more subtle interpretation is completely lost. It means that for the first time ever Mulder and Scully are lost amongst a cast of completely unbelievable characters. As a consequence Mulder and Scully are more credible than ever but that’s just the silver lining running through a very dark cloud. Pattie Tierce in particular plays her part as though she is on the studio set of the latest sitcom and her every line of dialogue is about to be met with a rousing burst of laughter and round of applause. Perhaps not surprising when this part was originally written for Roseanne Barr. Perhaps the comedy is too sophisticated for me (I doubt it) but I don’t get what is so funny about a town of Mulder wannabes that turn on him the second he starts to doubt the veracity of the Great Mutato. Is all this spitting in his breakfast and pouring coffee in his lap supposed to be funny? The way this entire town is portrayed as having one opinion merely adds to their incredulity. And its pretty gross too. The reason the scenes of a torch waving mob fails to work as drama is because tonally this story is all over the place, it has flung unsubtle sitcom humour in our faces for far too long to suddenly expect as to take these cartoon characters seriously as a threat. It’s as realistic as the town of Springfield forming a heated throng and they are just as easy to dispel and placate as Homer and his pals would be. I’m not sure what the hints of bestiality bring the episode beyond Carter proving that he can include them.

Pre Titles Sequence: Flat out the most bizarre teaser the show has produced yet, ineptly shot in black and white (discussed above) and featuring a Jerry Springer loving caricature that doesn’t notice a tent being sheathed over her house or a Cher obsessed grotesque filling it with knock out gas until the last minute so he can have his wicked way with her. In it’s own way this is just as tasteless as the teaser to Excelsis Dei, since they both feature what is essentially a rape scene but this one is deploying all manner of cute tricks to try and disguise the fact.

Moment to Watch Out For: The scene which sums up this episode (which isn’t the triumphant final scene as some might have you believe because that’s pretty much the only part of this hallucination that does work very well) is that of the Great Mutato walking around his latest victims smoke ridden house dancing to Cher like he is touring in a production of her Greatest Hits. It’s not clever, funny or scary…its just weird.

Orchestra: Carter’s starting point is a comic book but you would never be able to tell that from Mark Snow’s score which instead is aping a Elfman score from a Tim Burton movie. If this was really a comic book tale come to life the score would be less frills and more stirring excitement. Again it is far too contained for the genre. Saying that it is still a mighty fine score, and certainly Snow’s most accomplished for some time.

Foreboding: You want a sympathetic nasty that really works, go and watch season sevens Hungry. And if I want to watch The X-Files take a stab at sitcom, I would choose Hollywood AD every time.

Result: ‘Hey, he’s no monster.’ What a schizophrenic writer Chris Carter has turned out to be. If you had told me without any proof that Redux and The Post-Modern Prometheus were written by the same man I would probably laugh in your face for several hours. They are so different in every respect – tone, pace and realisation – that they scream of the work of different individuals or at least the work of an Incredible Hulk style victim who produces cod-poetic monologues by day and gothic fairytales by night. I’m not sure if either approach is any good but one is certainly more fun (I’ll give you a clue - it’s not the one about the cure for cancer) and hence far more watchable despite the desperate amount of tricks Carter tries to throw at you to make you submit to the experience. The trouble with The Post-Modern Prometheus is that it feels like a sequence of missed opportunities in the hands of a writer and director that doesn’t quite have the skill to pull off the idiosyncratic tone he is aiming for. It fails to work as a comic book adventure (it’s far too intimate for that), a slice of atmospheric monochrome (due to the lack of understanding of the medium), a gothic horror (on the account that it isn’t scary), a comedy (because the comedy derives from pop culture references that have no substance) or as a character drama (because none of the characters are believable). I admire Carter for his ambition at trying to do something left field but after failing to pull off a Darin Morgan comedy (Syzygy) he now fails to pull off a Vince Gilligan style curiosity. It’s weird because he has another stab at a comedy/horror this time next year and gets it bang on the nail. A contemporary retelling of Frankenstein is a great idea but had Carter stripped away all the frills and simply told a scary and tragic character tale in the same vein as the book I think it would have been far more successful. The barest bones of the homage can be seen at times (the central element of the disgusting creature that just wants to be loved) but it is smothered in too much extravagant decoration to emerge as anything inventive or smart. Instead this is the work of a man aiming high but scoring low whose only real success is in his looser interpretation of the characters that made him famous in the first place. Mulder and Scully really work in this setting, even if nobody else does. An extra point for the songs and the glorious final scene but this is mostly a series of nice ideas that don’t translate well on screen but seem to have been given a pass by the majority of the audience because it is so unusual: 4/10

Christmas Carol written by Vince Gilligan, John Shiban & Frank Spotnitz and directed by Peter Markle

What’s it about: Melissa calls Scully and leads her to a little girl in distress…

Brains’n’Beauty: Setting this during the holiday season is the perfect way to separate Mulder and Scully for one week because it is very natural for the agents to go their separate ways during Christmas. The Scully family sequences had an air of believability to them in Gethsemane and that is built on to great effect here and the atmosphere surrounding the characters as they enjoy Christmas together is warm and inviting. Scully discovering that she was barren really comes into play here as Bill and Tara Scully express their happiness and excitement about the approaching birth of their child and whilst his sister is perfectly happy for them it is an unpleasant reminder of what she will never have. She never realised how much she wanted a child until she couldn’t have it. How gorgeous to have Scully this upfront about her feelings, especially when she is usually so guarded around Mulder. It feels perfectly natural for her to confide in her mother like this. It’s proof for Bill that she doesn’t need Mulder around to obsess about her work, that she will find any excuse not to indulge in simply letting go and having fun with her family. Perhaps they wont bother to invite her next year, she’s like the black cloud around the dinner table. I find Sheila Larkin rock solid support for Gillian Anderson in this series and I am pleased that Margaret Scully proved successful enough a character to escape the annual culling of the guest cast. She’s an understated character but usually more effective for it and she has to work through a myriad of emotions in Christmas Carol from returning to the family home to discovering that her daughter might have had a child that she didn’t confide in her about. Larkin explores these scenes with effortless cool and her chemistry with Anderson has never been more succinct. Dropping Emily in Dana’s lap at the point in her life when she really wants to be able to have kids but can’t might seem a little easy but it’s so nice to see her enjoying life for a moment I am prepared to go with it. Bill Scully might always be cast in the role of the bad guy but there is never a moment where his objections don’t ring true, When he suggests that Scully might be looking too hard to fill a void that is inside of her I found myself nodding in agreement. It’s great that the script takes the time to point that out before dropping the revelation of who Emily’s mother really is. I love the awkwardness to the scene where Bill points all this out to Scully which is immediately cut short by the adoption agency worker turning up, proving his point that she is trying to get the facts to fit her needs. The look on her face when all the (perfectly valid) reasons are spelt out for why she wouldn’t be a suitable candidate for adoption is one of angry acceptance. Scully knows that she cannot argue any of the points that are given to her. You get a real sense of need from Scully, the need to hold a child and call it her own. I don’t think Scully has ever felt so real before, an possibly since, this episode.

Ugh: The rabbit covered in maggots is pretty gross. And I haven’t said that in a while. As was the drowned body in the casket. If dream sequences are the closest we can get to The X-Files body horror of old then I guess that’s what I’ll take. 

The Good: Every now and again either one or both of the agents are teamed up with another law enforcement officer and the resulting chemistry screams of a show that would do well to extend its regular cast (ultimately it would do this out of necessity and it really works when it does). It worked in Irresistible with Bruce Weitz’s Agent Moe Bucks and then again in Hell Money with BD Wong’s Detective Chao but neither of them have a patch on the superb performance that John Pyper-Ferguson gives in this episode. By all accounts he is a replacement for Mulder and his scenes with Scully show just how successful bringing in fresh characters to engage with the regulars can work out. It is a very different sort of relationship to the one that she has with Mulder but that is why it works so well. Detective Kresge never patronises Scully and he quickly comes to realise how much this investigation means to her and does everything in his power to help her out. I found it a very refreshing pairing. I know that kids can sometimes look very similar but the resemblance between Emily and Melissa is uncanny and sets the episode on a new path that suggests a very personal revelation is just around the corner for the Scully family. The plotting is so clean that the surprise that Emily is Melissa’s daughter springs very naturally from the events that we have seen take place and the information we have been given. It turns out that about four years ago Melissa took off and went travelling, that is exactly the sort of time when you experiment with different lovers and try and find yourself. Had Emily turned out to be Melissa’s daughter then this would have been a cathartic surprise, he death was so violent and sudden and it seems right that there should be a little piece of her left behind for the family to treasure.

Pre Titles Sequence: A more subtle teaser than we are generally used to with the Scully family returning to the military home that they grew up in for Christmas which re-opens a lot of old wounds with regards to its missing members. After Scully receives a ghostly call from her sister telling her that somebody needs her help she traces the call and it leads her to the crime scene of a recent suicide. For once this isn’t signposting the monster of the week or dragging in all the usual mythology elements but a genuine mystery to unravel.

Moment to Watch Out For: This episode is directed so delicately that scenes that should drown in schmaltz work beautifully like the one where teenage Dana and Melissa are given their first cross necklaces by their mother in a scene lit warmly by the Christmas tree. It captures a feeling of family and the closeness that religion can bring to them better than anything I have seen in years. The flashbacks that chart the relationship between Dana and Melissa through the years are beautifully done and make her absence in the series felt more keenly than before.

Fashion Statement: Goodness knows what Mulder is getting up to in the holiday season with that bandana on his head. Perhaps it is better that we don’t know. 

Result: Christmas Carol shows what happens when Carter hands the responsibility of a mythology episode (or as close as season five gets to one until Patient X) to other writers and the result is a superb instalment, packed full of genuine character drama and tasty ideas. It is completely different to the usual mythology shtick and feels refreshing as a result, turning out to be far more akin to a normal detective drama (albeit with some ghostly overtones). Compiling the feeling of freshness is the input of John Pyper-Ferguson who serves as a foil for Scully whilst Mulder is away and he gives a wonderful performance hinting at an existence for the show post-Duchovny. Usually scripts written by a committee of writers feel schizophrenic and cluttered as everybody tries to squeeze in their ideas and take on the situation but in this instance the trio of writers that conjured up this Christmas episode are completely in sync and provide one of the cleanest plotted and fluid episodes in years with each new scrap of information progressing the story towards that humdinger of a cliffhanger. Taken on its own Scully declaring that Emily is her daughter feels out of the blue but in the context of the episode it is a perfectly natural conclusion to draw. For once there is no histrionics, no distrust of Skinner, no family members being blown away to create empty drama…this is the story of a murder, a little girl who fell into the wrong hands and a lonely FBI Agent who desperately wants to have children. Both Anderson (Unusual Suspects) and Duchovny (Christmas Carol) had time off in order to complete their work for the movie and whilst their solo episodes are both strong, I would say that Anderson got the better deal. Watching Mulder discover the Lone Gunmen for the first time was fun but Christmas Carol probes Scully’s character deeply and yields some unexpectedly touching results. Skilfully written, directed and acted, I thought this was an understated gem: 8/10

Emily written by Vince Gilligan, John Shiban & Frank Spotnitz and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Scully discovers that motherhood can be a very painful experience…

Trust No-One: For somebody who can be so uptight it surprises me that Mulder gets on so well with children. He manages to come down to their level (physically as well as intellectually) and engage them. I think he and Scully would make great parents because he could indulge in all the fun creative stuff whilst Scully would take care of all the practicalities. His Mr Potato Head is chucklesome. Whereas Detective Kresge was all about being as helpful as possible, Mulder bounds onto the scene to tell Scully a few home truths that hit home harder than if it were Bill or her mother telling her because he is the closest person in her life. As well as it is shot from a low angle to make Mulder more menacing, the scene where he attacks Calderon is rendered somewhat less effect by the way he slaps him around the face gently rather than giving him a left hook. It looks like Duchovny didn’t want to hurt his fellow actor. I do like the idea that Mulder is standing up for something genuinely horrific and personal now, rather than chasing after some mythical conspiracy that he doesn’t even know exists.

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully is not happy to learn that Mulder knew genetic experiments were being performed and children were being created as a result of the alien abductions on women. He thought he was protecting her but discovering that she has conceived a child after the tragic revelation that she was barren proves that he would have better off (as ever) being open with her at all times. It’s strange how no good ever comes of ‘I was just doing it for your own good…’ As much as I could buy into Scully’s loneliness and pain at never having children in Christmas Carol, I found it hard to invest emotionally in her relationship with Emily because it was taken away as quickly as it presented. Had this been the end of season five after we have spent some time devoted to their continuing relationship then it would have really hit home but instead what we’re left with is Gillian Anderson trying to sell a connection to the audience that has never been there. It’s not her relationship with Emily that she is frightened of losing but the potential that it has to offer her. It feels like this is a last chance for the character to experience motherhood but even that turns out to be a lie.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘No matter how much you love this little girl she is a miracle that was not meant to be.’
‘Whoever brought this child into the world didn’t intend to love her.’ 

The Bad: It’s only when Mulder spells out exactly what has happened to Scully over the past five years that you realise how ridiculous it all seems. On a moment by moment basis Scully’s abduction, tests, return, discovering that she is barren, discovery that she had cancer all played out in a dramatically satisfying fashion. But when it is actually said aloud as a whole narrative it comes across more like a bad soap opera plot. It might have been nice to have watched Scully taking on the role of a mother across the season (especially when this is the season that had to dodge mythology because of the upcoming movie). Instead it feels dramatically unsatisfying to have gone to the arduous lengths of convincing us that Scully is Emily’s biological mother only to have her taken away almost as soon as this has been put out there. It’s never gratifying to have an interesting idea suggested and then snatched away before we can explore it. To have Emily turn out to be a clone/alien/whatever those beings are that have the poisonous gas green blood stream also takes the show in an mediocre direction. The joys of the first part were that it played out as practically a straight drama and really worked on those terms. As soon as Mulder is back the show cannot help reverting to type and becoming less about character and more about plot, with all the usual ingredients turning up. Its irritating that the return of Mulder means that his surrogate for the previous episode (Kresge) doesn’t get to turn up until halfway through the story. He’s briskly written out because the role he filled is no longer vacant. And isn’t annoying how he suddenly behaves so irrationally because the scripts needs him to depart – Mulder keeps telling him not to fire at Calderon and yet he ignores this repeated advice and suffers the consequences. What a waste of a great character. We don’t really know Emily and so the sympathy that we have with her character is simply the sight of watching a little girl having terrifying tests performed on her in order to save her life. Whilst that is arresting enough, it would have been much more affecting had we had the chance to get to spend some time with this character.

Pre Titles Sequence: Kudos for the outstanding special effect that wistfully sees Scully crumble into dust and get carried away on the wind. Boo hiss for the Carter purple prose that the trio of writers adopt to kick start this episode. As usual it is trying to sound poetic but it winds up sounding pretentious.

Moment to Watch Out For: Scully praying in the church. Her religion continues to be a source of strength which is refreshing for a TV drama.

Mythology: Emily suggests it is going to delve into the mystery of what happened to the MUFON members when they were abducted and whilst we trip over some experiments throughout the course of the episode, it doesn’t explain a thing. What is wrong with letting us know what the parts of this great mythology are all about as you go along? We wont think anything less of you for it. In fact it might make these mythology episodes much more bearable and prevent having to wrap up the series with a two hour long explanation about what the previous nine season have been about.

Foreboding: Scully does fall pregnant eventually and the subsequent storyline that springs from that proves to be a highlight of the eighth and ninth seasons.

Result: I’m always criticising shows for not taking things far enough when it comes to killing of children (only when it serves a story purpose I might add, I’m not some kind of sadistic child murderer) but this was one instance where the murder of an innocent felt like the easy way out rather than the more difficult, probing path. After revealing how much Scully has been affected by the news that she is barren and then dropping a child in her lap that turns out to be hers I thought the show was about to take her character in an entirely different reaction. To steal away that child as quickly as possible and have her back to her normal self next week makes me wonder if we are supposed to take these characters as seriously as Carter and company want us to. I believed in Scully absolutely during Christmas Carol because it wasn’t an episode that hinged on her feelings but with the sudden inclusion of Mulder it feels like the show is reverting to norm and favouring plot over characterisation once again. I’ m not saying that the death of Emily isn’t tragic or well performed because it is very delicately handled by all involved (especially Gillian Anderson) but it feels like the writers wanted to have their cake (to explore motherhood through Scully) and eat it (to erase the idea and get back to standalone adventures next week) and there is something deeply unsatisfying about the way this squanders long term opportunities. It’s the sort of thing I used to accuse Star Trek Voyager of doing all the time. As well acted as this two parter has proven to be, it was nothing but a narrative blind alley that frustratingly could have been so much more. Eventually Scully would have a child in a long running storyline so it’s not like the series is chicken shit but you would be hard pressed not to believe it on the strength of this episode: 4/10

Kitsunegari written by Vince Gilligan & Tim Minear and directed by Daniel Sackheim

What’s it about: Robert Modell has wormed his way out of prison and is apparently causing havoc again…

Trust No-One: Mulder is taking this vendetta so personally almost as though he has been in regular contact with Modell ever since he shot him in the head. The truth is he forgot about him almost the second it was over but now the writers want to bring the character back he is suddenly cast in the arch nemesis role. Naming this episode after the Japanese word for ‘Fox hunt’ is a lovely touch.

Assistant Director: It’s very nice to have Skinner involved in a regular investigation for once rather than having the light of suspicion thrown on him in the mythology episodes. Sometimes I wonder what he gets up to when he isn’t having guns pointed at him by Mulder and Scully in their annual vendetta against him.

Ugh: One thing that is starting to exasperate me is how the show seems to have forgotten its horror roots this season and is continually avoiding the genre which made it such a hit in the first place. Redux was little but a series of flashbacks, montages and voiceovers, Redux II boiled down to being a character drama, Unusual Suspects was a cute piece of fluff, Detour felt so unhorrific it was like the writer and director weren’t even trying, Post-Modern Prometheus was more fluff and then a double whammy of domestic drama again for Christmas Carol and Emily. It feels like this show has either shrugged off its basic ability to frighten in order to do other things or it has completely forgotten how to get it right. My favourite episode of season four is Home which is about as nasty as it comes but there were other, great examples of horror last year. Kitsunegari for all that it is entertaining is another scare-free tale, this one more obsessed with mind games than mind fucks. The one moment that is genuinely horrible is the man doused in blue paint but even than errs on the side of surreal.

The Good: There was one superb moment of character when the hypnotic powers of Bowman were put to a very original use. Using it to euthanise her brother made me sit up for a second and see the bond that had existed between them once. It made me wonder if perhaps this would have been more intriguing had this episode played out as a lighter piece with Bowman using her ability for altruistic purposes. That go horribly wrong, of course.

The Bad: Its unlike Vince Gilligan to be as obvious to point out that Linda Bowman is the villainess of the pieces. It would have been much more exciting had this been left as a last minute twist. It would have been much more exciting (and surprising) if people had been killed throughout the episode so we thought that Modell was up to his old tricks and Bowman could have been revealed as the real culprit at the 11th hour. It is so frustrating that Mulder seems to be so much smarter than everybody else – only he seems to be able to realise that Bowman is the real threat (when it is glaringly obvious) and nobody wants to listen to his protests and so Skinner relieves him of duty. In the way that it paints Mulder as the fount of all knowledge, this feels very season one (where Scully’s rational explanations were always being proven wrong). Skinner even feeds his ego at the end by admitting he was right all along (although to give Mulder some credit he doesn’t say I told you so). The Mulder/Scully face off at the conclusion is far too obviously trying to recapture the stunning Russian roulette sequence from the original to be effective. It’s well played (Scarwid does a remarkable impression of Gillian Anderson) but its very inclusion makes this more of an attempt to duplicate Pusher than it might otherwise have felt. That whole sense of a small man that wanted to make himself count that made Modell so effective and frightening seems to have been bled out of him since his injury to the head.

Pre Titles Sequence: As beautifully filmed to beguile and mystify as it is, the teaser features possibly the daftest guard in the history of television who, despite frequent warnings, enters Modell’s cell and listens to what he has to say. I think I would have preferred it had Modell murdered the man (because the repeated phrase ‘he had to go’ isn’t very effective) but the show is trying to set up it’s twist that Modell is actually a good guy as early as this.

Moment to Watch Out For: Without a doubt the finest moment comes when the prison Doctor electrocutes herself whilst looking for her glasses to name Linda Bowman as the woman who visited Modell in prison. It’s excellently played Colleen Winton with just the right edge that this could be a normal telephone call before you realise just a little too later what is actually occurring. The episode needed more shocking twists of this nature. 

Result: Pusher was such a memorable episode of the shows third season (amongst a lot of stiff competition I might add) and so Kitsunegari was going to have to be very good indeed in order to trump it or prove a worthy sequel. It doesn’t quite reach either because despite some clever misdirection and intriguing mind games this feels like it is wheeling out the character again because he was popular rather than because it was a story that needed to be told. Before we get to the not very startling twist that Modell is ultimately trying to do something benevolent this plays out the same tricks we saw last time (tracing the call, people forced to murder themselves, police officers falling victim) except this time they aren’t original and they were done much better the first time around. My overall feeling was that the episode felt quite empty – as much I might have complained about the conclusion the previous two parter had a thread of character running through it that made it fairly absorbing even when the plot crashed and burned. There wasn’t much in the way of characterisation here, more a series of party tricks with a sting in the tale which means this is entertaining but lacking anything in the way of substance. Pusher felt dangerous in his debut but the way he leaves his victims unaffected (‘he had to go’ gets old pretty fast) means the antagonists menace has been bled away. This isn’t what I would call actively bad (Wisden is excellent again) but season five has been coasting since it began and this attempt to recapture past glories is another example of why this is one of the weaker seasons of the show. Kitsunegari suggests that another sequel might be in the pipeline but based on the evidence of this episode I am pleased that they managed to resist: 5/10

Schizogeny written by Jessica Scott & Mike Wollaeger and directed by Ralph Hemecker

What’s it about: Karin Matthews, psycho counsellor.

Trust No-One: This is another episode that feels like it has sprung from the first season with Mulder once again on the right track whilst Scully erroneously blames the most obvious suspect. It is starting to feel like the third and fourth seasons never happened where the Agents were given much more depth and development than this (particularly Scully). Would Mulder really go to the lengths of grave robbing to gets answers? 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I think he’s a hard kid to love.’ 

The Good: Schizogeny features one of the ugliest clichés that emerged from The X-Files – the representation of children as angry, hormonal monsters who only know how to give their parents a bad time. I much prefer television dramas that give a more rounded view of adolescents and suggest their potential (although with Star Trek The Next Generation’s Wesley Crusher it shows how appalling it could be when taken too far the other way) but at least in this episode the reason that Bobby is so anti-social is built into the script rather than him simply being a pain in the ass because that is who he is. This is such a self destructive family unit with the step father feeding the son’s indolence by giving him such a hard time that it was bound to end in heartache somewhere along the line. It comes to something when the work of new writers is more effective at hiding a twist in the tale than the staff writers. The surprise that Karin Matthews has been deliberately exacerbating Bobby’s behaviour to act out some schizophrenic obsession in her own head with regards to her hatred for her parents is expertly hidden from the audience but is essentially the same surprise that Pusher promoted with regards to a hidden female antagonist. Her dialogue points the audience in the right direction (she calls the children ‘victims’ and refuses to work with the parents) without ever making her intentions too obvious. I’ve always found stories that deal with multiple personality disorder to be fascinating and whilst Schizogeny boils it down to its most simplistic level (it’s basically a rehash of Psycho with Karin reliving her childhood and playing herself as a victim and her domineering father) it still makes for some edgy psychological horror. It is worth noting that all the location work around in the woods at night is extremely effective and it feels very different from the usual Vancouver forest. There is something almost Sleepy Hollow-esque about the way the director captures this setting. Watch the tracking shot through the misty woods as Karin pursues Bobby during the climax, it’s gorgeous.

The Bad: Fox had a problem with the word dickweed? They are fine with children being dragged out of a woman with rusty tongs and buried alive but they take issue with a minor swear word? Studio execs are the strangest people. The dubbing in this episode is particularly obvious, check out any scene where Bobby talks. This is season one X-Files right down to the random character that turns up for one scene to fill in some exposition and then vanishes into the ether never to be seen again (except to pop up at the climax and chop Karin’s head off). And the naff voiceover at the conclusion where Mulder guesses what the whole episode has been about. Someone controlling nature in order to protect children from abuse – I don’t know if that was an angle worth exploring when the psychological terror of Karin’s counselling is so much simpler and more effective. How did Karin control nature in this way? How did she discover that she had this ability? It’s not enough to put these ideas out there, I would like some kind of explanation beyond just because.

Pre Titles Sequence: The teaser is the first true example of season five attempting to create an atmosphere of horror I could forgive it almost anything. Dark, wet forest. Slippery mud. Mist. Lightning. And a man being eaten by the earth. It’s memorably grisly for all the right reasons.

Moment to Watch Out For: The death of Aunt Linda is great because you are just waiting for something to happen whilst she stupidly turns her back to the world to try and save her niece. Cue a bloody spike protruding through her chest and her head crashing through the window. 

Result: Ironically this is quite a schizophrenic episode which seems to want to make up for the sheer absence of horror in season five by offering up both a supernatural (the killer trees) and psychological (Karin Matthews are her vendetta against all parents) menace. One of those would have done because there isn’t the time to adequately explore both and the latter is favoured leaving the former high and dry. Season five seems to be reverting to the formula of the shows debut season with Mulder and Scully fulfilling particular roles (he’s the smart know-it-all and she is constantly proven wrong), the nasty of the week taking precedent over any real characterisation of them both and revelling in an atmosphere of terror. Some elements work really well (I love how unpretentious the show feels at the moment) but I miss the more substantial content of the last two series. The trouble is we’ve seen most of this material already (a character playing both the hero and villain was the centrepiece of Grotesque, a girl trapped in the cellar was much more gripping in Oubliette, the expression of adolescent rage was handled in DPO) and it was far more interesting and creepy the first time around. As the show would go on to prove there is still a lot of ground to be covered so I’m not sure what this nostalgia trip of old ideas in the style of season one is all about this year. On the plus side the show is trying to be scary again (almost to mock my recent complaints it is now trying a little too hard by throwing so much at me) and I like the central premise of the episode (therapy gone bad). Even if it doesn’t quite manage to get under Karin’s skin effectively anything that reminds me of the stifling atmosphere of Psycho is doing something right. Unfortunately just when the episode feels like it is heading somewhere memorable it kills off the antagonist in the most crass way imaginable rather than engaging with the psychological implications of her actions. A step in the right direction, but in no way vintage X-Files: 6/10

Chinga written by Stephen King & Chris Carter and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: A china doll that can force people to self harm…

Trust No-One: The gag that Mulder is watching the world deadliest swarms when it is clear he is settling down to masturbate to porn in his office…only for us to discover that he genuinely is watching the worlds deadliest swarms is fantastic. It’s funny because it pokes fun of the character in an affectionate way using something that we already know about him. His anally retentive treatment of his pencils is a highlight of the episode.

Brains’n’Beauty: I’m not surprised that Gillian Anderson spoke her lines in a comical fashion, they are certainly written that way (all this ‘she’s been carrying on with the butcher!’ is pure Carry On X-Files).  Apparently Chris Carter had to remind her that this was a serious episode which I think is the biggest joke of all. Don’t get me wrong it is fantastic to see Scully going solo for a change but I just wish it had been in a better episode (as a counterpoint to War of the Coprophages Mulder definitely got the better deal). Before she met Mulder Scully used to be able to enjoy holidays away and just forget about his life but beyond her joining the X-Files she cannot even pop into a roadside service station without encountering a mass of hysterical, bleeding, self harming victims. Mulder rather patronisingly suggests that Scully is incapable of looking for the right signs of paranormal activity and so she disdainfully points out all the things that she has learnt over the years to shut him up (he asks her to marry him instead). The joke of Scully just wanting to enjoy her holiday and constantly being dragged into a multiple homicide investigation wears a bit thin after a while. Even a mildly competent agent would put their holiday on hold and muck in when they could and this disinterest has the adverse effect of spreading to the audience. As a result Scully is on the periphery of the story throughout and only comes anywhere near to involving herself fully at the climax when she has to wrestle with the doll of death (actually it is more of a casual breeze through the house rather than a struggle). There’s one moment when I could have sworn she was a member of Torchwood, turning up at a crime scene as the picture of arrogance and wearing her shades to try and shield her apathy. She can’t quite bring herself to suggest that they explore more extreme possibilities to investigate this case with any great conviction. This is hardly a great test of Scully’s deductive prowess since all fingers point to Melissa, Polly and the doll from the teaser onwards so the fact that it takes her 45 minutes to catch up with them and microwave the doll is actually rather humiliating. If she wasn’t so busy trying to catch some rays perhaps a few less people might have been killed.

Ugh: The woman at the ice cream bar is so obnoxious it’s hard not to want something awful to happen to her but even I would draw the line at shoving her hair in the blender and having it torn from her head. There is a thread of sadism that runs through this episode that is quite at odds with its generally comic tone that feels highly discordant. The guy with the boat hook through his throat is memorably grisly.

The Bad: Is Polly Turner possessed by the doll or is she just an opportunistic little girl that has realised that she has this unnerving ability to be able to get her own way? The script is extremely vague either way but I prefer to believe in the latter because it’s creepier. The episode goes to such great lengths to prevent us from seeing the doll on the move and committing murder (because ultimately the director knows it would look dreadful – this is the same guy who had to try and make the killer pussies work in Teso Dos Bichos) but without that visual identification the central menace seems to be a stationary china doll with a catchphrase. Ooh scary. Why does the mother have premonitions of the victims before they are dispatched by the deadly dolly? I know horror can be pretty vague at times but there is an absence of any kind of rational thought running through this script. Everything seems to be ‘because we say it does…’ which wouldn’t be so blatant if the material was diverting enough to avoid asking such questions. Here’s  a question, at the first sign of the dolls evil influence why didn’t Polly’s mother simply take the toy from her and torch the damn thing? Instead her method of dispatch is to hammer all the doors and windows shut and torch the entire house with her and Polly inside. Is it because she thinks her daughter is evil? Or that she cannot live with the fact that she could be an accessory to mass murder? I have no clue what is going through these characters minds because there are no pointers. The whole idea of this evil dolly being dragged ashore by a fishing boat and given to a little girl who leaves a path of mutilated corpses in her wake is so b-movie its embarrassing. Why does nobody try to stop Melissa smacking herself on the head with a hammer?

Pre Titles Sequence: Well I have been moaning that the show hasn’t been horrific enough! This, however, was not the sort of thing I was after. For a start the idea of a an evil doll is so hackneyed you have to wonder why a show as fresh as The X-Files would even try and give it a spin. It feels a little embarrassed by what King is asking of it and so the doll is kept out of shot for the most part and doesn’t engage with anybody. Instead the vicinity of the doll seems to make everybody want to tear their face off in a bloody mess (en masse as this takes place in a shop) and turn the tools of their trade upon themselves (a butcher has a nasty run in with a blade). It’s so grossly unsubtle and nasty after such a quietly unhorrific first half of the season that it stands out for all the wrong reasons. When Home disturbed because it threw so much muck at the audience it knew exactly what it was doing. This just feels like it is being crass for its own sake.

Moment to Watch Out For: It is the only X-File to be solved by shoving a doll into a microwave and frying its porcelain brains out. I’m not sure if this memorable for the right reasons.

Orchestra: Remember Carter told Gillian Anderson that this was in no way a comic piece, its obvious that Mark Snow didn’t get the memo either and he has murder scenes playing to the Hokey Pokey and the bulk of the soundtrack isn’t that dissimilar to that of Post-Modern Prometheus.

Result: ‘Let’s have fun!’ If only we could! Whoever it was that said that Chinga feels like the work of somebody trying to rip of Stephen King but misunderstanding the energy and twisted malevolence that goes into his work was bang on the nail. Carter has taken a King script and gutted it of everything it might have had going for it until it is just a plodding old X-Files that could have come from the reject bin. No show with horror influences should be doing a show as obvious as an evil doll in its fifth year. All that substandard rip-offery should have been taken care of by now or at least given an inventive new spin. There are only so many times that you can listen to the Hokey Pokey and watch a doll not kill people before you begin to ask if one of the greatest horror writers of several generations has run out of decent ideas (his recent novels would seem to suggest so). For that this is a Scully solo episode, the best scenes of the piece involve Mulder and his lack of anything to do whilst she is away investigating a crime he is much more suited to. Chinga is the sort of simple tale that The X-Files should be able to master at this point in it’s run but it displays a lot of problems the a new show would have to iron out including a poor pace, a clichéd central premise and unnatural dialogue. In every respect (and I seem to be like a stuck record on this subject) it is a throwback to season one. Considering this is a collaboration between noted horror author Stephen King and series creator Chris Carter I am shocked at how amateurish this all feels. The fact that they dare to suggest a sequel might be in the offing seals this episodes fate: 3/10

Kill Switch written by William Gibson & Tom Maddox and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: An AI has outgrown its masters and is loose on the net…

Trust No-One: It’s clear that Mulder and Scully are being written by new writers to the show because they exchange witticisms and talk street like never before. It feels like we are in the presence of two New York street cops half the time (Scully says ‘no more screwing around!’ at one point). Considering their characterisation (aside from a few rare examples) has been shaky at best this year I am not complaining too much. Both the actors and the characters are engaged which is a rare union this season. Mulder is back to his reckless ways – first attempted body snatching in Schizogeny and now stealing evidence here. I quite like this irresponsible streak of his, it makes him a lot more dangerous than the walking catalogue model he has been of late. Mulder’s dreams say a lot about his psyche – kinky nurses fulfilling his every whim, losing his arms because he feels trapped and being saved by a kung-fu fighting Scully who knocks them out with a kick to the head! The glowing cross above his bed is just weird but you could read all manner of things into that.

Brains’n’Beauty: This is the sort of episode that requires a geeks brain and so Scully is pretty much at sea throughout but that doesn’t stop her making intelligent suggestions and suspecting the right people throughout the course of the investigation. I know Scully has been proven wrong an awful lot this season but how awesome is the look on Esther’s face in the wake of the destruction of the shipping container. Watching her fight like Emma Peel is so cool I think I might have turned straight for just a second.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Your name is Esther Nairn?’ is said in exactly the same way Scully said ‘Her name is Bambi?’ in War of the Coprophages, and it matches her intention to mock.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘You are correct, sir’ is a line that Scully would never say in a million years. It’s one of several that she sports in this episode that shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the character.

Ugh: David Markham as a sightless zombie trapped inside the machine is a potent image and a strong warning against slaving yourself to a machine. Not that anybody wants to do that, right? Imagine if you turned on the TV at the point where Mulder’s bed sheets are pulled away and he is left screaming at the sewn up stumps of arms? Would you think that The X-Files was this whacked out every week?

The Good: I knew we were onto a winner when Mulder put the disc into the hard drive and Twilight Time started pumping through the speakers (and we cut to the car flashing it’s lights in time to that fantastic tune). Whilst season five has been a little heavy with the source music (first a Cher soundtrack, then the Hokey Pokey, and now Twilight Time) this is the best example yet and the music provides a fine counterpoint to the action that is taking place, especially at the climax. Naturally the Lone Gunmen had to be involved in an episode that purports to be a techno thriller and one that deals with the ‘inventor’ of the Internet. You’ve never heard them talk as fondly of anybody (not even Mulder) as they do of Gelman or drool as much over a single woman (not even Scully) as they do over Esther. It’s quite nice to see how much they revert to children when they get to bask in the glory of their heroes (and isn’t it so sweet that these three all sleep together across two sofas?). Invisgoth is exactly the sort blonde haired, black eyed leather clad hacker that geeks get all hot under the collar for, isn’t she? This could have been the most blatantly sexist character to have emerged from the show but instead Kristin Lehman plays her with such authority and dignity (despite some dodgy dialogue) that even I was getting a bit hot on the collar. There’s not point where you don’t believe in this character (against some pretty insurmountable odds) and that is almost entirely down to Lehman’s conviction. When Scully questions her integrity she rather wonderfully lists her academic credentials. I love the attitude this script takes to artificial life still being life – Gelman let an interlocking sequence of viruses loose on the net so it could evolve in its natural environment. Scully is utterly unconvinced (she says in the most un-Scully like line ‘do you believe this load of crap?’) but it clearly appeals to Mulder as much as it does to me. One scenes sees Scully escape from her cuffs and reach for the gun only for Esther to offer it to her in her grief and tell her to shoot her – Scully goes from victim to capable hero to comforter in a matter of seconds. The thumbprint on the doorbell to figure the identity of the visitor is very clever. Mulder’s dream about the nurses holding him down and the creepy old Doctor threatening to cut his arms off might just be the scariest thing we have seen this year. The computer using both its own representatives and Scully trying to extract the information about the Kill Switch from Mulder shows that it is constantly thinking of new ways to try and obtain the information. It’s bizarre but there is something giddyingly romantic about Esther slaving herself to the computer and losing her mind in the internet where she can exist with David in a realm of pure information. Like all good Pertwee Doctor Who adventures, it ends on a spectacular explosion too.

The Bad: I wont pretend that some of the dialogue isn’t horrendous with Maddox and Gibson trying to appeal to ‘da kidz’ in some particularly excruciating exchanges. It is the Lone Gunmen that suffer the most (although it is nothing compared to their treatment in First Person Shooter) – ‘Heavy casualty’ ‘A brother goes down’ is Langley and Frohike talking about the death of a hero, apparently.

Pre Titles Sequence: This is the most exciting sequence to have played  out on the show this year; the whole thing is executed beautifully, it has a fiendishly clever premise and it is expertly paced. This wouldn’t be at all out of place at the beginning of a movie on the big screen. An artificial intelligence wants to stop a man from cracking its programming and shutting it down so it cleverly invites a whole bunch of rival criminals and US Marshall’s to the diner where the man is working where they can blast away at each other (and kill him in the process). What is it Agatha Christie said in the ABC Murders? If you want to disguise one murder then hide it amongst a spate of murders? This is precisely the way a disembodied intelligence would think, cleverly getting other people do its work for it by preying on their weaknesses. What I really liked about this is that it doesn’t have to explain itself as it goes along, there is enough information present for the audience to piece it all together. Suddenly season five feels confident and fresh. If we had had started on this foot (around Detour) we would be in fine shape by now.

Moment to Watch Out For: It’s a tough one to call because the teaser, the climax and Mulder’s dreams are magnificent set pieces but the sequence that had me biting my nails the most was when Esther’s shipping container was targeted by Defense Department weapons platform and blown sky high. If you want to see how to pace exciting television then study this set piece. I especially loved the long shot of the shipping container going up like a fireworks factory. You can see why this was the most expensive show to shoot in the first five years.

Fashion Statement: I have seen some moustaches in my time (I’m a fan of 70s TV for goodness sake) but the handlebar monstrosity sported by one of the criminals in the diner has to be seen to be believed.

Orchestra: One of Mark Snow’s best ever scores, showing that he was really fired up by the very different take on the show. The mournful warble that plays throughout the episode is tremendous and he gives the zaps the appropriate amount of vitality.

Foreboding: Gibson & Maddox’s script for season five provides one of the best episodes of the year. Their script for season seven produces one of the worst X-File episodes of all time. Go figure.

Result: Let’s get one thing straight – in it’s own way Kill Switch is an derivative as the rest of season five with it’s take on artifical intelligence no more sophisticated than season one’s underrated Ghost in the Machine. What marks this as different from that episode and from this season in general is the way that the story is presented by the writers (if Chinga was a reason not to bring in novelists who want to turn their hand to scriptwriting then Kill Switch offers an opposing argument) and also how it is assembled by the director too. There is a freshness to the presentation that permeates every scene, the story is superbly paced so the whole thing feels as though it flies by and the imagery throughout is stunning. Rob Bowman has had five years to perfect his art on this show, honing his craft with some memorable stories and a sizable budget. Kill Switch needed to be brought to life with some real pizzazz and Bowman throws every resource into making this take on AI as spectacular as possible. I have seen some movies that play with the same ideas that haven’t had the excitement and gorgeous set pieces that this episode sports. Whilst Gibson and Maddox might have a little trouble putting words in the regulars mouths (Mulder & Scully sound like street cops half the time and the Lone Gunmen have reverted to horny adolescents) they at least remember to give this techno thriller a thread of character (mostly through Esther) which means when the bangs and flashes are all over the struggle has meant something. This is the last kind of episode I would imagine to emerge from the season to have the most amount of heart. So, clichéd it may be but it is still one of the most intriguing and gorgeous representations of this theme that I have seen achieved in genre television. And the bolts of lightning are just brilliant: 9/10

Bad Blood written by Vince Gilligan and directed by Cliff Bole

What’s it about: A community of vampires that just want to stay hidden…

Trust No-One: After half a season where Mulder and Scully seem to have reverted back to their season one personas it is now time for the ever brilliant Vince Gilligan to deconstruct their characters in a very witty way and find out what makes them tick. Bad Blood offers a rare glimpse into how the two agents actually see each other, or at least how they like to present each other to other people. The joy of the piece is watching Duchovny and Anderson play these heightened versions of their usual characters and what’s funny is that they are parodies but not so far removed from how we are used to seeing them as to be unconvincing. As an audience member you could be well within your rights to switch on and think it is business as usual if that is how you see the characters normally. In Mulder’s eyes Scully is deeply unimpressed by him, constantly sighing at the ridiculous investigations that he drags her on and rolling her eyes as he tries to cast his open mind over the facts. He thinks of himself as tentatively approaching her with his supernatural theories and fearing that she will blow up in his face as a result (‘Well it’s obvious not a vampire!’ ‘Why not?’ ‘Because they don’t exist!’). Scully is apparently too busy flirting with the local law enforcement to focus on anything else and yawns as Mulder starts prattling on about vampires and their habits. There’s a fabulous droning monologue that Scully reels off from Mulder’s POV where he looks physically pained to be listening to her whining (‘I do it all for you Mulder!’). Tellingly in both stories Mulder makes a right mess of Scully’s hotel (that I can definitely believe).

Brains’n’Beauty: In Scully’s eyes Mulder is a hyperactive, endlessly chipper and slightly patronising man who expects her to do whatever he says at the drop of a hat. She’s the professional who trails along in his wake and tries to do whatever she can to please him. The typical X-File office slide show becomes packed full of super fast exposition that Mulder reads off with extreme zeal. When she tries to make an alternative suggestion he practically laughs her out of the room. Mulder is so excited about evidence of possible vampirism that he forgets Scully’s name and displays mild sexism in front of over law enforcement officers. He is the grand master of the dramatic exclamation (I pissed myself at the theatrical way he announced that the victims shoes were untied). Only Scully could peer into a mans open stomach contents and upon discovering he last ate a pizza start wistfully dreaming about having one herself. He laughs manically to himself as he sends Scully off at the dead of night to perform another autopsy, he’s almost unearthly in himself from her point of view. In Scully’s mind she comes to her brilliant revelation about the chlorohydrates in the pizza in dramatically satisfying, logical, step-by-step fashion.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What am I even looking for?’ (hands on Scully’s shoulders) ‘I don’t know…’ – this is so beautifully played I had to leave the room for a second.
‘I just put money in the magic fingers…’
‘He had big bucked teeth?
‘And then he flew at me like a flying squirrel?’
‘Probable cause of death. Gee, that’s a tough one.’
‘That is essentially exactly the way it happened.’

The Good: It makes me chuckle to think that the director of one of the best Star Trek TNG episodes (The Best of Both Worlds) was also the director of one of the best X-Files episodes. The thought of Mulder being responsible for a lawsuit against the FBI for 446,000 dollars makes me laugh so hard my sides want to split. I found it very stimulating for the show to tell a very different kind of narrative this week, playing the same story out twice with two vastly different perspectives before bringing the two tales together at the climax and providing a clever solution. Gilligan isn’t interested in writing the usual X-Files shtick this year but instead is playing about with his storytelling (Unusual Suspects also had fun with its narration and non linear storytelling). It’s fascinating to see how the two agents perceive the story differently because they have always come to these investigations from very different angles and it makes sense that they would interpret the events to fit in with their own world view. The events play out in exactly the same way, narratively speaking, but the emphasis is completely different. It does feel like you are watching two very different tales that just happen to follow the same path. Where Bad Blood scores its biggest laughs is not only in how they see each other but also how they judged the other characters within the story. The Sherrif is the best (and most obvious) example because Scully clearly has a bit of thing for him and sees him as a dashing hero (who is practically introduced in slow motion) and Mulder sees him as a bumbling idiot with buck teeth (perhaps because he is a threat to his relationship with Scully?). By treating him as a figure to be mocked, Gilligan completely manages to disguise the fact that he is one of the vampires that they are looking for. It does make you start to wonder how life has any kind of internal consistency when you are constantly discussing other people on a regular basis and all seeing different things. The repeated autopsy scenes get more farcical as they progress, gross from the start but with Scully getting more irked with each interpretation and victim turning up. Gilligan even has fun with the usual text that scrawls across the screen telling the audience where the scene is being set – Mulder rewriting it when Scully gets the name of the place wrong. The gag of Mulder waiting in the graveyard for the killer to turn up and Ronnie drives right by and says hello says everything you need to know about his adeptness at catching killers (isn’t he supposed to be one of the best?). I really liked how mysteries posed in one story (Why is Mulder covered in mud? Who is on the other end of the apparently dirty phone call that Scully receives?) are answered in the other. It means that although they are telling the same narrative, they are two halves of one greater story. Gilligan cleverly introduces the obsessive compulsive behaviour idea early so Mulder gets to delay his attack when the vampire reveals himself. When the narrative drops the first person POV of Mulder or Scully its nice to see which details were correct from their differing accounts. How they still both see what they thought in the Sherrif (its actually somewhere in between) is hilarious. How delightfully post-modern is the idea that a vampire has seen too many horror movies and wants to live up to the stereotype? The idea of a community of blood suckers that just want to integrate and are happy to exsanguinate pigs to get their fill of blood is new, and if it wasn’t for one unruly teenage they would have gotten away with it too. I love the creepiness of the climax as Mulder is surrounded by glowing eyed vampires – in many ways it is as unsatisfying as the ending of Darkness Falls when the nasty almost deliberately fails to murder the agent but the lines about the vampires trying to keep a low profile cover that beautifully.

The Bad: Is the X-Files office suddenly twice the size that it was? I seem to recall this always being a cramped space but suddenly there is enough room to swing a cat around in there.

Pre Titles Sequence: The teaser is so clever because it opens in typical X-Files fashion with somebody being pursued through the woods (this tradition began as far back as the pilot episode) but in hilarious fashion it turns out that Mulder is the stalker and the ‘victim’ is a suspected vampire. I say suspected because when Mulder finally catches up with him and rams a stake through his heart (what else are you going to do with a vampire?) he turns out to be a regular guy with false vampire teeth in his mouth. Cue credits. It’s wickedly funny and a great way to kick things, presenting Mulder with the ultimate ‘get out of that’ situation. Finally his zeal for exposing the supernatural has led him to murder. It was only a matter of time. The look on Scully’s face as she holds up the false teeth might just be the funniest thing this show ever presented.

Moment to Watch Out For: I couldn’t pick one moment. There are several with the caustic Scully that forced me to pause for laughing so hard.

Result: ‘Why don’t you tell me the way you think it happened?’ I’ve seen this sort of POV story done since this episode was aired but it was never as fun or imaginatively told as this. Bad Blood is really funny stuff because it’s The X-files heightened to the level of sitcom and yet because it is so grounded in character there is a great deal to be learnt from it as well. It’s perfectly natural for a person to tell a story that puts them in the best possible light and it is the skewered, negative versions of Mulder and Scully that they present each other with that creates the biggest belly laughs. Anderson and Duchovny have never been quite so fired up by a script before and deliver superb comic performances – it is easy to see why Carter upped the comedy next season because they clearly have great talent in that direction that really comes alive on screen (compare this to their near-suicide borderm from Redux). Given that I sat through seven season of Buffy I thought I had seen every which way a comedy vampire story could be told but apparently I was wrong because The X-Files avoids all the usual clichés and promotes the idea of a vampire community that just wants to fit in (whilst still having enough of the tropes – a wooden stake, patrolling a graveyard, a body coming to life on the slab, the breadstick sign of the cross – for it to feel authentic). You’ve got two versions of the same story but they nourish each other to make a greater whole and ultimately it is a very clever mystery where all the culprits are in plain sight but that is disguised beneath all the giggles and character assassination. With Kill Switch and Bad Blood at the heart of season five there is a furrow of innovation and style surrounded by a whole lot of dryer scrubland. This is the second of two back to back classics: 10/10

Patient X written by Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Scully’s abduction returns to haunt her whilst Mulder wants nothing to do with any of it…

Trust No-One: ‘A conspiracy wrapped in a plot inside a government agenda!’ Whilst he is very eloquent about his reasons, this is the perfect illustration of how Mulder disappeared up an unconvincing cul de sac in season five. Suddenly he doesn’t believe in aliens anymore and he is convinced that because he was duped by the government for five long years (with some pretty hefty evidence I might add) then everybody else has been too. As a result he feels the need to get in touch with the shiny happy crowd and tell them precisely where they have had the wool pulled over their eyes. Strangely these scenes of Mulder publicly shattering their illusions have even less credibility than those when he used to promote the opposite and uncensor his beliefs with regards to alien life. Now he is single minded in a more closed off direction and he looks like he is trying to shit on everybody else’s party. At least before he had some kind of character consistency, even if he did come across as a bit of a fruit loop. The reason I object to this dead end form of reasoning is that in the advent of the movie he would have clear proof that aliens do exist and all this time wasting doubt would be quietly swept under the carpet (you would think at least Scully would mention the fact). The idea of the whole conspiracy being one big lie is a pleasing one but we have seen too much evidence as an audience to buy into it now and the fact that Mulder does damages his credibility. It makes a mockery of all those tedious mythology episodes we sat through. Hilariously Mulder is shocked that nobody will believe him, basking in the insanity of their beliefs. A short while ago he was one of those people and more determined to cling onto his beliefs than anybody.

Brains’n’Beauty: ‘Well I seem to be done here. You seem to have invalidated your own work. Have a nice life…’ It takes Gillian Anderson nearly 20 minutes to feature in this episode which leads me to wonder, seasons eight and nine aside is this the year where the two main stars feature the least across a season? Unusual Suspects, Christmas Carol, Chinga, Patient X, Travellers and All Souls all feature one of the agents going AWOL for the majority of the episode. It’s just bizarre to hear Mulder and Scully reading from the same page with regards to aliens and having a civil conversation about it where they are in total agreement. The only way to turn the tables on Scully and Mulder and have her invested in an X-Files and him fighting against it (which isn’t centred around her religion) is for the series to return to Skyline Mountain where Scully was first abducted. She has a personal interest in this sight, although I have to say she does sound a little unconvinced herself when she is trying to persuade Mulder to listen to Cassandra Spender.

Rat Boy: At this stage the writers have somewhat lost track of where Krychek is and what his role in the show should be. He just turns up every now and again to thrill long term fans of the show. In season two he was a gripping recurring character who exposed the shows creed of ‘Trust No One’ better than anybody else but returning once a year just to be tortured seems like a waste of a potentially interesting semi regular. He reminds of the Master from eighties Doctor Who, turning up at random intervals with no explanation as to how he survived their last encounter.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You look constipated actually’ ‘Well that would make sense I’ve had my head up my rear end for the past five years.’

Ugh: The image of men being pinned down by wire and having the black oil smothered over their faces was a potent one in last years Tunguska two parter. The Red and the Black trump that by repeating the exercise but this time putting a child through the experience. Finally some material to make us squirm in the thus far censored season five. The kids stitched up, bloody face oozing with black oil is genuinely horrific.

The Good: ‘Tell them it’s all going to hell…’ says Krychek, talking of the relationship between the people of the Earth and the alien colonists. He could just as easily be discussing the mythology arc. Either way there is a feeling that this story is about to come to some sort of conclusion soon, that we are wading through the same old clichés anymore and that the narrative is building up some kind of momentum towards a climax. The idea of teaming up Krychek and Marita is just about the most interesting thing they can do with this character. Laurie Holden has been trying her damdest to make this character interesting with absolutely nothing to work with. As  written she is just a carbon copy of Mr X without Steven Williams’ electrifying presence but let’s just say I can’t imagine her predecessor getting into bed with Krychek in every sense of the word. Veronica Cartwright proves to be one hell of a catch as Cassandra Spender, providing the mythology arc with something that it has desperately sought for some time but rarely succeeded (Tempus Fugit/Max aside) and that is some kind of sympathetic character to make me care about the big concepts. She’s a complete believer, but likable with it and seemingly credible for the first part. It is easy to see why she returned to the series and how her son gained such an important role since they provide a really strong backbone to the next season, independent of Mulder and Scully which the show needed in order to survive. The show had pretty much run out of ways to torture its central characters at this point (how many more family members could they kill off?) and it’s quite telling that whilst the Spender’s go through the agony of the usual conspiracy guff next year, our heroes spend the majority of the season smiling as if released from its shackles. It amuses me to think that there are UFO conventions out there, dreamers and nutters alike who gather to convince themselves there is far more going on on this planet than it actually appears. Not so much a science fiction convention but a science factual one. Chris Owens’ Jeffrey Spender is initially a much gentler character than the defiant objector that he would later become, mainly down to the events of this story. He wants to make a career for himself with the FBI and doesn’t want to have his record tarnished with his mothers beliefs in the same way that Mulder’s was. Returning to Skyland Mountain is a nice touch, the show looking back on its own mythology and rewarding its fans.

The Bad: Let me get this straight – the government is trying to hide the evidence of biological weapons research by covering it up with a wall of silence about the existence of extraterrestrials? How does that make any sense to anybody but Mulder who thinks in the most convoluted of terms on the best of days. Without the Smoking Man to abuse and manipulate, the scenes with the Syndicate mostly fall flat.

Pre Titles Sequence: Uh-oh, another dreary monologue delivered with somnambulistic excitement by David Duchovny…that can only mean this episode is written by…yep! Who precisely is Mulder talking to in these scenes? Does he spend his days standing in front of a mirror delivering these pompous speeches? Or are his case files written in such a florid style? It almost feels as if the gently mocking days of Darin Morgan never happened. Some typically visceral and arresting Kim Manners imagery aside, this pre-titles sequence promotes everything that is lacking in the mythology episodes of late, at least in the narration.

Moment to Watch Out For: The cliffhanger is very impressively staged with the remaining members of the UFO cult drawn to Skyline Mountain, a UFO gliding overhead and the scarred, sewn up rebels starting to incinerate the crowd. Say what you will about Carter and Spotnitz’s storytelling (and I don’t hold back) but they sure know how to toss a memorable set piece your way.

Fashion Statement: Nick Lea is really gorgeous. As much as I complain about his character flaws, he’s always very easy on the eye.

Mythology: ‘Now is a time of war and stress among the alien nations, the different races are in upheaval…’ With Cassandra we have a character who seems to understand what is going on with the alien conspiracy plot but doesn’t talk in foreboding metaphors. In the final phases of the aliens plans there are supposed to be assemblies but that is still supposed to be fifteen years away. A rebel faction of aliens is declaring an act of war against the aliens and the US government. I do like the idea that the mythology arc has become so diseased and withered that a new element has to be added to basically come in and cut away most of what we have seen so far. Although I have to say that if the writers had adequately explained what was going on between the government and the aliens all these years then watching it all fall to pieces would have much more dramatic impact.

Result: A mixed bag but a generally positive one with plenty of the kind of shocking imagery that the show has really lacked this year. The best parts of Patient X are all the elements that are being added to the shows mythology including a rebel faction that is so powerful it is threatening to tear down everything the US government has worked towards, the introduction of Cassandra Spender and her son Jeffrey and the stomach turning shots of people being burnt alive and the sown up faces of the rebels. It feels as if the storyline is moving onwards, ditching the elements from the past that didn’t work out so well and forging a much clearer, and dramatically satisfying route towards a conclusion. What fails to work is most of what we have already seen in the past – Krychek turns up for his annual appearance offering little more than something nice to look at, Marita Covarrubias continues to bore, the Syndicate are exposed as dull old men sitting around in the dark without the Smoking Man around to spice things up and Mulder and Scully are forced into their least convincing role reversal yet. He’s resolute in bringing down every person that believes in extraterrestrials in as determined a fashion as he was to get everybody to believe in previous seasons but because he is so closed minded he comes across as being bitter and unlikable. Therefore Scully has to be our way into the story and whilst they touch upon the genius idea to return to Skyline mountain, she doesn’t sound at all convinced as the person who believes and who is trying to encourage Mulder to investigate. This whole angle will be wiped away by the time of the movie which isn’t very far away now but it does leave these season five episodes in something of a dead end backwater, character wise. Even the removal of the Smoking Man is a red herring. I sound overly negative but the truth is, some odd pacing aside, this is pretty entertaining for the most part and it pleases me that some characters are finally offering some decipherable information about the mythology arc: 7/10

The Red and the Black written by Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz and directed by Chris Carter

What’s it about: The rebels are making a move and nothing will ever be the same again…apparently.

Trust No-One: There are only so many times that we can visit the bedside of Mulder or Scully and agonise with whoever is waiting to see any progress. It is starting to become cliché. It was affecting back in season two when Scully was first abducted and when she discovered her cancer scare in Momento Mori and even when she thought she was going to die in Redux II. Because we have been here so many times before and both agents have always pulled through unscathed it has started to lose something of its emotional aptitude. This is where the endless biting between Mulder and Spender begins, with him blaming the agents for encouraging her mothers quirky interests. Because Mulder has abandoned the idea of the existence of extraterrestrials the truth that he now seeks is no longer out there but in Scully. He figures the chip in her neck is the answer to as much as they need to know about because it directly affects them. It makes his quest a personal one and one we can buy in to because we have seen this relationship develop over five years. He no longer trusts the memories of his sisters abduction. After Krychek spells out to Mulder precisely what has been going on behind his back throughout this two parter he sits in his apartment looking utterly bemused. Its as though he is wondering whether he actually belongs in this show anymore. He walks away from this adventure with no evidence of an alien rebel and no clue of what is actually going on. Story of his life, really.

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully is not willing to abandon Mulder’s cause because she has been profoundly affected by it because of her abduction. Everything they have been through has led her back to Skyline Mountain and she is prepared to abandon asking questions when she cannot remember what occurred there. Now she needs answers.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Here this, Agent Mulder. There is a war raging. And unless you pull your head out of the sand you and I and another 5 billion other people are going to go the way of the dinosaur. I’m talking planned invasion. Colonisation of this planet by an extraterrestrial race…’ – it’s a great line but bizarrely this is the first point Mulder is made fully aware of the central narrative of this tale. It’s ten minutes from the end of a 90 minute story.

The Good: You have to give the show some real credit for the locations they chose to shoot at, they really do spend their money wisely and bring the most cinematic landscapes to the small screen. The opening as a helicopter flies over the damn looks absolutely gorgeous. The fact that they built a 50 foot reconstruction of the dam to film the abduction sequence goes to show the sort of resources this show was commanding at the time. How refreshing to see the entire Syndicate out of that dusty old office and getting involved in the action. Infecting Marita and shoving her out of the way is the kindest thing they could have done to her character. I find her appearance in season six where she has been left for dead at the mercy of the black oil and out for vengeance against the Smoking Man and his allies the most interesting part of her little arc. Spender is an asshole but I can’t help liking him anyway. He doesn’t want anything to do with the X-Files but thanks to his mother and father he is about to be dragged into its murky, career destroying, depths despite his wishes. Whilst I am pleased that the Smoking Man is alive because I do think the show genuinely needs him are we ever going to hear an explanation of how he faked his own death or like the Master are we to assume that ‘I’m indestructible the whole universe knows that!’ It isn’t the last time he pulls off this resurrection trick before the end of the series so I guess that must be the case.

The Bad: These mythology episodes don’t feel like decently plotted standalone stories anymore, they are being presented as segments of a larger whole. So you’re not so much being treated to a narrative that progresses to a satisfying conclusion but random elements of a story that are slowly starting to converge. As a result The Red and the Black feels strangely disjointed and when random elements start being tossed in out of nowhere (like when the rebel craft crashes partway through the episode) it feels less a part of the plot and more another element tossed in to keep things exciting. It’s a little embarrassing the way Mulder and Scully are dragged into the story right at the end just so they can hold their hands up and say that they contributed something. The alien bounty hunter pops up out of nowhere simply because he hasn’t been involved for a while.

Pre Titles Sequence: Beautifully filmed and scored, this is an intriguing opening that seemingly has nothing to do with the episode that preceded it. If you can skip past the fact that the little kid can’t act for toffee this is rather a neat mystery to be solved. In hindsight the answer is obvious, but for a moment this unknowable presence in the snowy mountains is intriguing.

Moment to Watch Out For: With a mixture of some stunning pyrotechnics (men in flames, flailing ad screaming), horrific make up (the rebels), impressive effects work (Cassandra floating from her wheelchair to the alien craft) and detail set design (the recreation of the dam in the studio) everything about Scully’s hypnotic regression sequence looks astonishing. It’s a pleasure to assaulted by so many cinematic treats. Gillian Anderson’s emotive performance is the icing on the cake.

Mythology: ‘If the boy was your trump card, why infected him unless you could also cure him with a vaccine developed by the Russians? One that works. It would mean that resistance to the alien colonists was now possible…’ At one point Mulder amusingly points out that the perpetrators in the chip have never been uncovered and their identity hasn’t even been addressed. Who is he talking to here, the audience? The rebels are mutilating their faces to protect themselves from infection from the black oil. If nothing else came from this whole alien oil business, the imagery of the stitched up faces of the rebels is a fantastically macabre progression of that idea. A war has broken out between the alien colonists and the rebel faction and if we’re not lucky the Earth will be the staging ground and its populace simply in the way. The charred corpses at Skyline Mountain could just be the beginning. The Syndicate now has a vaccine to the alien virus and are talking about siding with the rebels to help wipe out their ‘allies.’  ‘The mass incinerations were strikes by an alien rebellion to upset plans for occupation.’

Result: This looks absolutely gorgeous. Seriously, has genre television ever looked this lavish before? All the background information about the rebels and their war against the alien colonists and how the Syndicate fits into all this re-ignites some interest in the mythology arc once more. It feels, as it so often has before, as though this might actually be heading somewhere. There’s talk of shifting allegiances and those in power having to abandon their previous plans and make this up as they go along which means much of what has gone before can be abandoned in favour of this far more clear cut narrative. So yay for the rebels for cutting through all the murk and bringing this story bang up to date and into some kind of recognisable state. Where this fails is turning this two parter into a coherent story in its own right – both Patient X and The Red and the Black are in no way standalone X-Files but pieces of a larger puzzle and as such this would be one of the last installments I would select if I wanted to stick on the odd episode (whereas early mythology episodes like Little Green Men and Duane Barry can be watched in isolation). Another fatal mistake is cutting Mulder and Scully so far out of the main action. Everything seems to be going on behind their backs and they have little awareness of the real story whilst they indulge in exorcising their personal demons. Season five feels like it is in flux and preparing to cut the main stars out of the action (the next episode barely features them at all) whereas this isn’t the case for a good two seasons yet. Much of the acting is superb (John Neville once again kicks ass) and there are some exceptional set pieces but ultimately this two part story (along with The End) is an extended trailer for the movie. It’s entertaining for the most part but of all the X-Files episodes this might just have the least satisfying climax of all because it is completely absent. Everything chugs along nicely and then it just stops, to be continued in The End. Which wouldn’t be a problem if there wasn’t a handful of episodes between now and then. Season five really has some problems but there is still much to admire here: 6/10

Travelers written by John Shiban & Frank Spotnitz and directed by William A. Graham

What’s it about: Uncovering the very first X-File…

Trust No-One: As with Unusual Suspects earlier in the season, it is great to be able to catch up with Mulder before when he was fresh to the Bureau and still a little wet behind the ears. Unshackled by extraterrestrial obsessions (believing in aliens or not), he is a far more chipper and less pretentious character. With a touch shorter hair and the glasses he sported in the pilot, Duchovny genuinely looks like a younger version of his normal character.

Brains’n’Beauty: Missing in action, but Mulder’s involvement is only peripheral and even then it is Mulder from seven years back.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What are you talking about, I’m no communist!’ ‘You are if you say you are…’ when Dales refuses to co-operate and ‘See, you’re a patriot again…’ when he does. This was the horror faced by any American citizen who was suspected by HUAC. Suddenly the government had an excuse that if your face didn’t fit or if you didn’t conform to what was understood to be ‘American’ behaviour, you could be accused of being a communist, subpoenaed and dragged before Congress to account for yourself.

Ugh: The horror of a spider climbing out of Skur’s mouth is enough to give Aracnophobics the willies until the end of time. I think spiders are rather cute but even I thought this a particularly chilling effect, especially when one is crawling from one mans mouth, spittle drenched, and into another’s. The spider that crawls out of Skur’s innards is really nasty, in a moment of spectacular cruelty I deliberately called Simon in to which this sequences as he isn’t good with guts or spiders. Needless to say he declared this ‘sick’ television and promptly rushed from the room ashen faced. With the blistered, stitched up faces of the alien rebels and spiders emerging from bloody offal in Travelers the show is starting to remember its roots again. The fact that this isn’t simply a horrific set piece for the sake of a good horror but grounded in fact – xenotransplantation experiments are a bone of contention in the scientific community and whilst this has been exaggerated for fictional purposes it does open you mind up to a world of grisly possibilities.

The Good: The nourish touches to this episode (the expert use of light and shadow, the voiceover, the hats and trench coats) are marvellously atmospheric but it does take rather a long time to get to these goodies. The way the director has the film aged to give the story the look of a genuine 1950s movies seems to have worked because Simon ducked his head in the door at one point to ask if I wanted a cup of coffee and couldn’t place what I was watching. He thought it was some creaky old detective movie. You can see why the production team have been after Darren McGavin for so many years (attempting to sign him up as both Mulder’s father and Senator Matheson), he brings Arthur Dales to life with a lovely sense of world weariness that smacks of having seen everything that life can throw at him. Since he was one of the inspirations behind the X-Files it does seem fitting that he finally gets to make it into an episode. It’s a shame that he doesn’t get to do much more than provide a decent voiceover in the end (I really thought the two sets of flashbacks were going to tally up in some way so the 50s sequences provided some vital information to the 90s ones beyond) and I’m pleased that McGavin was afforded a larger role in season six.

Pre-Titles Sequence: A spooky old house, a desiccated corpse, a creepy old man frothing at the mouth…some standard X-Files tropes present but whilst there is nothing new this is atmospheric and sinister. Even if I didn’t have a clue what was going on.

Moment to Watch Out For: Bill Mulder ultimately lets Skur go free. Despite the fact that he is involved in an international conspiracy that threatens the lives of the entire population of the planet, he can still have moments of conscience.

Mythology: The X-Files are unsolved cases that have been filed under ‘X’ because Dorothy Bahnsen ran out of space under ‘U’. There’s always plenty of space in the X draw. Somehow The U-Files doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? The Directors office determines whether a case is marked with an X, they are supposedly dead end cases that nobody is allowed to see or follow up.

Result: Flashbacks within flashbacks, Travelers is a fine episode and one which adds to the shows mythology in very original way. This feels so different from anything that has come before (even Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man, of which this shares some similarities, was telling the story of a series regular) because despite the appearance of a younger Mulder we see practically the entire story through the eyes of Arthur Dales, the founder of the X-Files. The 50s sequences are effortlessly conjured up by the director, especially when you consider the times constraints that this episode was made under and it is lovely to see a cameo by the younger Smoking Man and Bill Mulder. The story is slow paced but has some marvellously grisly moments and for the most part manages to slide by on the strength of its performances and the atmospheric detail in the setting. Joe Ford the younger hated this episode (probably for no more reason than it lacked the usual contemporary pace and Scully) and I consider that something of a screaming endorsement of Travelers as my teenage self seemed to miss all the subtleties in television and obsesses over spectacle. This is a pleasing mix of horror, historical fact (the script touches on the paranoia that surrounded HUAC and grisly xenotransplantation experiments) and a marvellous exercise in creating a 50s nourish atmosphere. Another episode of season five that omits Scully and (for the most part) Mulder and that proves to be stronger as a result. You wouldn’t want every episode to be as humourless as this but it makes for a gripping and authentic one off: 8/10

The Mind’s Eye written by Tim Minear and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Is a blind woman capable of committing murder?

Trust No-One: Marty enjoys Mulder’s company (although she would never openly admit it) because he doesn’t patronise her. Quite the reverse, he is convinced that she is innocent but it has nothing to do with the fact that she is blind, to which he talks about with cheerful nonchalance. He likes Marty and admires her but he doesn’t feel sorry for her. The way Mulder gently probes Marty about the story of her mothers death reveals a sweetness that has been missing since The Field Where I Died. If he was written this well every week I would be tearing through these episodes at a much quicker rate but the truth is this is exceptional characterisation when that should be the case every week. The look of defeat on Mulder’s face when he realises he has been used by Marty to kill her father is heartbreaking. The final scene between them is beautifully played (‘you’re lucky he wasn’t a fan of the Ice Capades…’).

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully isn’t quite as unsympathetic as I remember in this episode (she has certainly been far worse in other stories) and I am very pleased that somebody posed the suggestion that Marty might not be blind after all. You can leave it to Scully to cut through all the paranormal bollocks and find the simplest and most logical of explanations. Even if she is wrong.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Oh, it’s you’ ‘See what I mean?’ ‘It’s not magic, it’s your crappy cologne.’
‘You are on sceptical guy, Agent Mulder!’
‘I hate the way you see me.’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Who exterminated him?’ – what is this, Doctor Who?

Ugh: There is a heart pounding sequence that springs up in the middle of the episode where Marty has a vision of the killer attacking a woman he has met at a bar and tries to get to the location where the altercation took place. Not only is this the most frightening looking killer that the show has offered up in over a year (seriously his sneer could curdle milk) but the direction when Marty blindly steps in front of traffic in a panic made my heart skip a beat. It’s a wonderfully tense scene, superbly acted and directed.

The Good: It’s interesting that our hearts go out to Marty the second we realise she is blind when she actually behaves like a complete bitch for the majority of the episode. It’s almost as though we have an in-built excuse for her behaviour because of her disability. Lily Taylor always manages to deliver 100% no matter what show she is taking part in (I have recently watched the entire run of Six Feet Under where Taylor was a memorable presence as the not quite as innocent as she seems Lisa Fisher) and she is determined not to make Marty a nice person, keeping up her aggression levels throughout. Marty is a tough woman, one who has had to adapt to a harsh world without her sight and to me she comes across as the most real guest character of the season. Just because she is blind, it doesn’t mean that she isn’t capable of fraud, aggravated assault and petty theft. She smokes, she’s full of attitude, she’s got a smart mouth when she is being interrogated and she refuses help when it is offered – I’m automatically predisposed to like her for so many reasons. Her way of feeling independent is to act like a right cow (I love the moment when she cries ‘It’s a miracle!’ as though her sight has magically come back). As soon as we learn that Marty’s mother was attacked you start to realise why she is this closed off and it makes sense of a lot of her behaviour (even if the link between her and the killer is laid bare at that point).

The Bad: The killer is Marty’s father? I saw that coming after about ten minutes. I was hoping for a something a little less daytime soap opera than that.

Pre Titles Sequence: Very season one in the way that it spells out its premise in the teaser with absolute clarity so you pretty much know the set pieces that the episode is going to explore. It’s weird that this isn’t the episode penned by Stephen King because the idea of a blind girl being able to see through the eyes of a killer is exactly the sort of simple, powerful idea that his novels are famous for (whilst being very similar to the premise of Creed). Can you imagine being blind for your entire life and then suddenly being able to visualise somebody else’s surroundings? The sudden burst of light, colour and shape would be overwhelming. Lily Taylor capture the first moment when Marty has a vision beautifully, absolute shock, panic and an attempt to bring it back before her eyes. I enjoyed the allusions to previous season one episodes Tooms (the polygraph) and Beyond the Sea (‘let me guess your killer is OJ Simpson’).

Moment to Watch Out For: For a moment (despite the evidence of my own eyes) I thought that Marty was the killer when she attacks Detective Pennock but it results in the more heartbreaking notion that she wants to do justice to her mothers death by killing her father. Regardless of what the consequences might be. The idea of Marty having to go to prison with her father is chilling and you can understand completely why she wants to put an end to all this. Finally she will be completely alone again, trapped within her own world. Plus the ending enjoys a greater level of threat this week because the killer has been set up as a really nasty piece of work. This is really going to be kill or be killed, between father and daughter. I was waiting for the moment when Marty would finally get to see herself and when it comes it really doesn’t disappoint. A shame that the only glimpse at her own features should come when she is holding a gun on herself.

Result: A simple but effective premise, a memorable guest performance from Lili Taylor, the best characterisation of Mulder of the season and a clear cut investigation with a beginning, middle and end all combine to make The Mind’s Eye one of the most effective episodes of the season. It’s a shame that Tim Minear only contributed two scripts for the show because he clearly has a better idea of how The X-Files works than some of the staff writers and his dialogue is so real in places it hurts. This is one of the few times in season five where the similarities to a first season episode is a real strength (because half the time it has felt that the writers have forgotten how to write for the show this year), there is an unpretentiousness to proceedings that starts from the streamlined script and continues to impress through the express direction of Kim Manners and focused performances of David Duchovny and Lili Taylor. Ultimately this less of a supernatural thriller and more of a performance piece and the relationship between Mulder and Marty is what really makes this work. It’s an entirely unpatronising look at blindness and the walls that somebody will put around themselves in order to cope with a disability in a harsh world.  The only problem is this installment needed perhaps one more set piece and a twist to make proceedings a little more interesting at the climax. Because The Mind’s Eye spells out everything from its opening sequence if you aren’t invested in the Mulder/Marty interaction then you might find yourself staring at your watch before the end. This is solid stuff, had the entire season been made up of episodes like this we would have been in much better shape: 8/10

All Souls written by Frank Spotnitz & John Shiban and directed by Allen Coulter

What’s it about: Scully gets a chance to grapple with her demons over Emily’s death…

Trust No-One: Considering he has taken his beliefs so seriously in the past he has almost given his life for them time and again, Mulder is a little sarcastic and mocking about religion. I think he is supposed to sound hip and reactionary but he just comes across as uncompromising and discourteous. His prejudice also encourages him to point the finger at the wrong man.

Brains’n’Beauty: Oh gosh I am such a dunce. I am only now in the closing stages of season five starting to notice the criss cross theme of Mulder being the sceptic and Scully the believer that has played out across the season. Following on from her emotional crisis at the beginning of the season where she almost lost her life, it would seem that her eyes have been opened somewhat since she has been given a second chance at life. The first mythology two parter of the year (Christmas Carol & Emily) saw Scully seeking parenthood through a child and the second one (Patient X & The Red and the Black) Scully is trying to convince Mulder. Her faith is something that pops up sporadically in the series, which is fine because I don’t think I know anybody who shoves their religious beliefs in your face 24/7. It adds a fascinating layer to her character because she is often found in conflict with her faith because of her work. The death of Emily certainly had a profound impact on her faith, it was hard to reconcile how a just and benevolent God could drop in her lap the one thing she craved more than anything and then snatch it away again. She is drawn to this case because the events surrounding the little girls death mirrors how Emily was taken from her, suddenly and under bizarre circumstances. In a heart stopping moment for the agent, she sees Emily resting on the autopsy table instead of the victim which was perhaps the moment she should have stepped away from this case. She no longer has any objectivity. This overwritten scene (I don’t think Emily should have said anything) is worth it for Anderson’s pained reaction. I’m not sure if the parallel between Scully letting Emily’s memory rest and letting the final girl step into the light works but it allows the show to move on so we’ll let it pass. I’d rather this than another season of Scully depressed over the lost of her blink and you missed it child. She wonders if accepting loss is what faith is all about.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘You got a bona fide super crazy religious whacko on your hands!’ – even Duchovny seems uncomfortable trying to say that line with a straight face.
‘I was raised to believe that God has his reason, however mysterious’ ‘He may well have his reasons but he seems to use a lot of psychotics to carry out his job orders’ – especially in the hands of lazy television writers.

Ugh: Sightless dead girls aren’t the most stomach poisoning images that the show has ever dished up but it is still pretty grim.

The Good: All Souls goes to some lengths to convince the audience that Father Gregory is the monster that is murdering the girls, something that would have riled me up because I have seen far too many ‘religious nut jobs’ on television for it to have become a bit of a joke. Cleverly, the episode is using that cliché as a deception, allowing the audience to go down the usual path so that the reveal of Starkey as the murderer genuinely shocks and says something about our natural assumptions. One scene is shot in a water logged location, where stained glass is reflected on the floor. It looks stunning.

The Bad: This is Scully we are talking about, I had no doubt in my mind that the apparently shocking act of an innocent girl dying because of her was grossly exaggerated by a script that was trying to make an impact. I think I’ve realised what my main issue with season five is (besides some variable scripts and a pause in the myth arc to wait for the movie to pass) and that is the absence of much Mulder and Scully interaction. Because of their commitments to the movie the series has been forced to run a series of episodes where one of the agents is investigating alone. Unusual Suspects, Christmas Carol, Chinga, Travelers and All Souls all suffer from this curse. Season six would rectify this in a major way and provide the audience with a wealth of memorable episodes that highlight their relationship at its best but for the time being it feels as if something is slightly askew between the characters (or the actors) which really makes a difference when you are dealing with an ensemble of two. Whilst Mulder eventually turns up in All Souls, for the first fifteen minutes it plays out without him and really stutters as a result. The horny shadow of the social worker is handled in such a blasé fashion (and the very idea of revealing the devil in such a fashion just boggles the mind) that it provokes laughter rather than shock.

Pre Titles Sequence: Is there a single episode of The X-Files where the opening teaser isn’t appetite whetting? Even in episodes as lacking as this one there is a real effort made to grip the audience in the first stages. Perhaps Mark Snow could have calmed down on his revelatory religious music but this is an exquisitely filmed sequence where a young girl walks out into the rain and falls prostrate before an angelic figure that removes her eyes. The image of her empty, burning sockets undampened by the beautiful rain is very memorable.

Moment to Watch Out For: The moment that the Seraph reveals its true nature to Scully, its head turning into different beasts (man, lion, eagle, bull) in a diffuse light, is startling. After proof like this I hope she isn’t going to suffer any doubts in the future.  

Result: All Souls comes in for quite a bit of flack and whilst it isn’t the finest X-File ever written it does offer some more insight into Scully’s faith and provide some startling religious imagery that balances some of the less successful elements of the episode. What really works for me is Gillian Anderson’s committed performance and her chance to explore her reactions to Emily’s death early in the season which felt as though they had been summarily dropped after the episode because they didn’t want a character walking through the season with emotional baggage. This could have come a lot earlier so Scully could move on, but I appreciate the effort regardless. There is also something of a deception taking place in All Souls where the story tries to convince you that the priest is the antagonist (something I would have objected to strongly because it is such an easy route to take…and most shows do) when it was in fact the social worker. How that is revealed however might be one of the most ludicrous moments in the shows history (a shadow with horns?). It’s a bit of a plodder regardless of all these strengths, with only a scant few moments of humour from a briefly seen Mulder to liven things up. The show is about to up the entertainment factor when it hits LA for season six and I cannot wait, this year has seen far too many episodes that try and take themselves deadly seriously. There is a time and a place for that but not week in, week out. I thought this was going to be far more unpleasant than it actually turned out to be, but it is still pretty average all told: 5/10

The Pine Bluff Variant written by John Shiban and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: Is Mulder undercover or has he genuinely turned rogue?

Trust No-One: If there was ever a time to produce a ‘Mulder gone rogue’ episode then it was during the fifth season where his character was guided along a road where he doesn’t have a great deal of faith in his work anymore. Whilst it would have been catastrophic for the series had Mulder truly betrayed the FBI, there is at least a seed of possibility at this point in time that wouldn’t have been possible at any other. Timing is everything. Mulder is thrown into the lions den, forced to rub shoulders with people who will torture you even if you are on their side. Should they find out at any time that he is spying on them for the FBI, he is dead. Duchovny reacts well to this script, getting to play the roguish action hero that I rather think he likes (he had a similarly excited reaction in episodes like 731 and Tunguska where he got to play the thug).

Brains’n’Beauty: Being closer to Mulder than anybody else, Scully is baffled by Mulder’s apparently criminal behaviour. This does go someway to helping the audience along with the deception because if Scully isn’t in on the scam, the chances are there isn’t one.

Ugh: Horror in the cinema has taken on a sinister meaning since the shooting in America last year. Discovering a theatre full of rotting corpses feels a little more distasteful than it might have done before. Suddenly those powerful torch beams are picking out something truly blood curdling. The idea of the CIA performing tests on the population as a trial run for something much larger in a foreign country is doubly chilling. Clearly this show has little or no respect for those working behind the scenes to protect America’s interests.

The Good: I love the gentle coughs during the hearing when Skinner publicly states that their sting operation was a failiure. Nobody wants to come forward and explain why, everybody is hanging back and seeing how gets the blame. An anti-government terrorist with a biological agent that can melt the flesh of anybody it comes into contact with? That is a terrifying prospect. Shiban saw an opportunity to use Mulder’s outburst at the UFO conference during Patient X and took it, the anti government cell seeking out what they thought was a like minded individual to serve as a mole inside the FBI. I’m glad somebody is mining some riches from the direction Mulder has been taken in this year and suddenly it is starting to feel deliberate rather than a blind alley to stall any development until the movie. It is revealed fairly early that Bremer is onto Mulder’s deception, overhearing a conversation between Mulder and Scully, and so when he defects once again to the other side he it looks as though he is really walking into danger. Suddenly there is he suggestion that this bio weapon was developed domestically, rather than in Russia as the CIA would have the FBI believe. It turns out there are secrets to be unearthed amongst the heroes of the piece too, that weapons are being developed in secret that could cause untold devastation. With Mulder being sent on a suicide mission to cover up the CIA’s bio technology leak, it looks like he is in danger whatever the outcome. Shiban has constructed his episode so that these revelations are stacked throughout, with fresh surprises every ten minutes or so. Often with genre television you can tell where an episode is going, even if you’re not sure what the overall outcome will be. Most shows follow a predictable pattern, The X-Files included. This was one of those rare occasions where I had no clue what was going to happen to Mulder and that his chances of survival are made to look slimmer by the minute. They manage to maintain that tension right up to the point where Mulder is about to be executed with a bullet in the back of the head. Check out the fluidity of the camerawork during the hold up sequences – it feels as if you ware walking right behind the manager through the building as he heads toward the truck. Bank robberies are tenapenny on television and film but rarely are they executed with this much panache. If you struck a match the whole place would go up, that’s how tense the atmosphere is. The insidious approach that the terrorists take to infect the population made me sick to the stomach, contaminating a bank vault stuffed full of money so that the virus would walk out onto the streets and exchanges hands. There is even an old fashioned season one type ending that suggests that the horror is still out there, a car veering off the road and the camera linger across a corpse and the contaminated car keys.

Pre Titles Sequence: Superbly directed by Rob Bowman and presenting the very interesting possibility of Mulder turning traitor, it takes some skill to produce a chaotic sequence like and make it look natural rather than contrived. Mark Snow’s music adds much to the pace of the set piece and the effect of the flesh eating virus is genuinely grisly. All in all, a terrific start.

Moment to Watch Out For: The torture scenes feel as though they have sprung from 24. They are genuinely unpleasant to watch, Duchovny leaving us with no doubt that Mulder is suffering excruciating agony. In a series that is starting to promote hits heroes as catalogue models who occasionally investigate the odd crime, this is a welcome touch of reality. His broken finger is a nicely placed plot point too, allowing Scully to recognise which Mulder is in and isolate it. The moment when Mulder’s allegiance is tested and he has to shoot a victim in order to prove himself left me on the edge of my seat waiting to see what action he would take.

Fashion Statement: Those creature feature masks used in the robbery freaked me out but then I have something of a phobia about anything playful that is used in a sinister way (especially when clowns are deployed as scare tactics in films and television).

Orchestra: Mark Snow seems excited by the material this week and delivers one of his strongest scores of the year. It is a story that needs a sense of movement and Snow delivers that in spades whilst providing some extra meat for the more striking moments.

Result: ‘That money’s as dirty as you are…’ John Shiban’s solo scripts aren’t amongst the strongest of The X-Files episodes (although when he is paired with another writer the work produced is usually much more agreeable) but this time around he has fashioned something that the season has needed in abundance – some good, old fashioned entertainment. Whilst some of you might question my description of a piece of television that features terrorist attacks and torture as entertainment, my point is that there is no pretence to any of the material. The Pine Bluff Variant isn’t deep or meaningful; it is an exciting, fast paced thriller with plenty of memorable set pieces and a great role undercover for Mulder. It doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t and that is the joy of it. With Rob Bowman at the helm it is also about as fulsomely realised as it could hope to be and he drives the episode with a muscular tone and dynamic fluidity. The conviction with which this drama is played is crucial, it feels as though Mulder is in genuine danger and could lose his life in an instant if his cover is blown. With the introduction of a conspiracy plot within this undercover operation, there are plenty of surprises to go around and that feeling of trust no-one which has been lost in later years is back with a vengeance. Genuine moments of threat, a fantastic Mark Snow score and a great opportunity for David Duchovny to play something fresh, The Pine Bluff Variant is a muscular hour of television that stands out in this wilderness of a season for it’s ability to provide a great ride: 8/10

Folie a Deux written by Vince Gilligan and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Has Mulder finally gone completely gaga?

Trust No-One: Haven’t we been here before? Mulder complaining about being punished by being handed ‘jerk off’ assignments and baulking at how every apparent supernatural happening winds up in his lap. When a show starts repeating itself like this you have to wonder if they have run out of ideas. He’s also rather arrogantly using ‘I’ rather than ‘we’ when he talks about their work on the X-Files and not taking Scully’s potential interest in a case into consideration. What happened to that eager puppy from season one, the one who leapt up at the chance to investigate anything related to the paranormal? This would appear to be set up for the movie which introduces Mulder to the big screen as a despondent and broken man (hardly the best way to encourage potential new viewers to the series but hey ho) but I am pleased that he managed to find the fun again in season six because he is no fun to be around at all at the moment. In complete contrast to the previous episode, Duchovny comes across as bored and uninvolved in Folie a Deux, like he has played this kind of material before (let’s be honest he’s done madness on The X-Files several times now). Rather than looking frightened as the creature crawls across the ceiling, Duchovny looks like he wants to burst into laughter.

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully respects Mulder enough that even though he is behaving like a crazy person she will still continue to investigate long after the case appears to be over.

Assistant Director: If I were Skinner I would be more than a little embarrassed by Mulder’s behaviour by now. He seems to be on the verge of causing a law suit for the FBI every other week these days.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Five years together, Scully, you must have seen this coming.’ 

The Good: By all accounts Kim Manners thought that the bug suit created for the monster in this episode would signal the end of his career if he shot it as produced. Instead it was a last minute rush to treat the suit electronically after the episode was shot, ensuring that you only see the monster indistinctly and adding that juddering effect that allows it to travel from person to person in the blink of an eye. It was worth the extra expense because the finished effect is unknowable and nightmarish. Brian Markinson is one of those character actors that seems to have turned up in everything and taking a look at his page on IMDB it confirms that he has. Often playing slightly offbeat characters, he always feels very at home in the slightly unreal atmosphere of genre television. His role here as the telephone operator that has gone mad and is seeing evil bugs in the office is a licence for an actor to go way over the top but he contains a lot of the material and brings an intensity to the part the helps to sell the early scenes. I felt sorry for the actor when he had to spout out some of the most preposterous lines about brain sucking and mental telepathy during the scenes where he holds his fellow employees hostage.

The Bad: Gary holding up the telesales office might have been more effective if we hadn’t seen a similar scene in the previous episode but handled ten times more effectively. Both the hostage scenario (Duane Barry) and Mulder’s madness (Anasazi) have been achieved more effectively before in the series. The idea of madness being a transferable affliction is an intriguing one but it is played so broadly by David Duchovny that any sense of psychological horror inherent in the idea is lost. Madness itself is such a terrifying ordeal for anybody to face and to boil it down to something as simple as seeing big bugs crawling about feels like a waste of a potentially very scary premise. When I think back to how an episode like Blood dealt with phobias with such intense conviction, this belly button fluff approach to insanity suggests has perhaps become a little too comfortable in its popularity. Surely each person has a diverse imagination and would actualise the bug/zombies in different ways? You can share a delusion, but you would visualise it in your own unique way. Wow, how can somebody who is only on screen for 30 seconds appear so stiff and unconvincing (the nurse that administers Mulder’s injection). A man strapped down in the insane ward being attacked by one of his delusions and having his pleas ignored as a symptom of his madness is a genuinely scary concept but it is played in pure comic book style here and loses it’s ability to get under your skin. The whole episodes feels like something of a missed opportunity in this respect. Was it a genuine creature that only certain people could see or a shared delusion that was transmitted from person to person? The episode wraps itself up so suddenly that it never quite finds the time to tell us (or is that another example of deliberate X-Files ambiguity?). Mulder has been making outrageous claims, attacked his superior and claims he can see monsters and because Scully declares him mentally fit he is immediately released? Talk about boiling this down to it’s simplest form.

Pre Titles Sequence: Always be suspicious of these opening sequences that feature a busy and apparently productive and happy workplace. Something terrible is about to happen. I lasted a meagre two months in a telesales job myself (I am far too sensitive a person to have abuse hurled at me for eight hours a day) but I can tell you it was the most brain numbing experience I have ever been through. I think I was starting to see giant bugs attacking people in the office just to overcome the monotony of the job.

Moment to Watch Out For: The horrendous moment when Mulder thinks he sees the bug about to attack Skinner. Duchovny throws caution to the wind and chews up the scenery with gay abandon. It’s excruciating to watch. 

Result: This is one of those episodes that falls between two stools, trying to be both playful and serious and consequently doesn’t quite manage either with a great amount of success. All the elements seem to be there to make a cracking episode (Brian Markinson’s standout performance, a great monster, strong concepts) but after being relatively entertained for an hour nothing seems to stand out as being particularly memorable. A story where a man goes nuts and accuses his boss Mr Pinkus of being a soul harvester is probably the sort of nonsense that non fans suspect the X-Files is like every week and so turning this episode on as your first taste would confirm every suspicion. The trouble is it is not tongue in cheek enough to give the audience the hint that this is supposed to be a little bit b-movie and so it looks like a ridiculous premise is being played out with severe earnestness. It doesn’t help that David Duchovny seems to have lost the plot, at first playing a bored and listless Mulder but going insanely over the top in the latter half as he succumbs to the madness. It is unlike Vince Gilligan to misjudge the tone of a piece this badly and this must go on record as one of his least engaging stories. Kim Manners does his best with the material and the extra work that went into making the insect creature work was definitely worth it because it provides the sort of nightmarish chills that the rest of the show is aiming for but failing. Folie a Deux presents some intriguing ideas but isn’t sure if it wants you to laugh at them or run away and hide from them. Forgettable but not offensive, this is The X-Files on autopilot and killing time before the move to LA: 4/10

The End written by Chris Carter and directed by R.W. Godwin

What’s it about: Has the X-Files finally been closed down?

Trust No-One: Skinner can see that Mulder’s work on The X-Files is getting him nowhere. He hasn’t found his sister, he’s pretty much destroyed his career and he spends his days in the basement of the Bureau following up hoax abductions and stories that could have leapt from the front pages of the Enquirer. Finally somebody asks the man what he hopes to achieve by following this self destructive path. Given the evidence of the past year I would suggest that Mulder doesn’t enjoy his work anymore and at times it is Scully that seems to be getting more enjoyment from it. Perhaps he is so used to this line of work that he cannot see any future beyond it, despite the fact that it has become a bit of a chore. That way depression lies (or madness, and we saw a little of both in the last episode). Mulder lacks any degree of subtlety when it comes to his work and to get his relationship with Agent Spender off to a great start he walks into a room of professionals and tells his soon to be replacement that he is wrong. Mulder often asks Scully to do his legwork in these investigations and perhaps the best way to appease her with the introduction of Fowley is not to ask his old flame to assist him in this investigation instead. He was never exactly blessed with the social graces but he seems to have taken a crash course in how not to behave of late. Mulder’s quiet ‘I’ve done okay without you’ speaks volumes about their relationship, the fact that he has to say it out loud and the suggestion that she might have been extremely influential when they were together. Finally Mulder gets excited about something – Gibson Praise could be the glue that sticks together all the millions of little puzzle pieces that make up the X-Files. Here is genetic proof of extraterrestrial tampering, a super human enhanced by alien involvement. As angry as he might be, outwardly attacking Spender in the FBI building and declaring his intent to bring him down might not have been the smartest move to make. Especially when this man is about to take on your life’s work.

Brains’n’Beauty: Feel the tension in the car as Scully realises that Mulder and Fowley have history and that she now has a potential rival and one whose mind is completely open to extreme possibilities. The silence is agonising. Fowley suggests that she would have made a better partner for Mulder than Scully, that two like minded people on cases with a paranormal leaning would have been advantageous. Over the past five season we have seen precisely the opposite in operation, that because Scully hasn’t believed Mulder has been forced to work harder and often produced better results because of it. Two like minded individuals might become complacent and there is no sign of that with Mulder and Scully’s clash of ideologies. Scully is clearly riled by the physical closeness between them, she cannot maintain her professionalism and give them the information she has discovered, instead storming out of the building and blowing off steam in her car. However when the office is destroyed and their work is torn from them, it is Scully who attempts to comfort him.

Assistant Director: I guess Mulder’s psychosis in the last episode and his attack on Skinner has been forgotten about since they are now old chums once again.

Smoking Man: He’s paranoid enough to have sensors surrounding his cabin to detect the approach of potential assassins. How the mighty have fallen as we get to witness him fleeing for his life amongst the Canadian mountains, leaving a bloody trail of footprints in his wake. It is always a delight to catch up with the Smoking Man because William B. Davis lights up the screen whenever he appears (the Syndicate scenes have been abominable without him). Although I still fail to see what purpose his death served in terms of the arc storyline except to (once again) pause the action whilst we wait for the movie to air. He has no doubt that the Syndicate tried to kill and once he is reunited with them he politely informs them that the man they sent clearly wasn’t up to the job and they underestimated him. He’s a man with nothing to lose now, no loyalty to these people and he seems to be enjoying himself immensely.

Faux Mulder & Scully: The End marks the point where Mulder and Scully are taken off The X-Files indefinitely and Jeffrey Spender and Diana Fowley are brought in as semi regulars to fill the gap as their replacements. It is an intriguing idea, forcing the agents out of their usual roles and giving us a chance to see if somebody new can do a better job. Spender and Mulder already have history which gives the situation immediate tension and Fowley and Mulder have history (of the intimate kind) which gives Scully a reason to hiss at her every time they cross paths. There isn’t even a hint that Fowley is working for the other side during The End but she immediately gets my heckles up because her presence drives a wedge between Mulder and Scully. Similarly Mimi Rodgers delivers a polished performance where her character is nothing but supportive and helpful and yet you still want to tear her from the series as soon as possible. It is an appealing, uncomfortable atmosphere and one that is well worth exploring further. In a season where things have become a little too complacent this is a great shake up. Is Spender ambitious, arrogant or protecting something? Mulder suspects all three but then Spender is trying to keep him at arms length. Truthfully, I think it is because Spender is intimidated by him, his ability and reputation. The End chronicles the first meeting between Spender and his father, a relationship that would only grow more cancerous as it proceeds.

Boy Genius: What to make of Gibson Praise? The idea of a boy who can read the minds of everybody is an intriguing one and it serves a great purpose in this episode as he spills out everybody’s secrets (‘I know what’s on your mind. I know you’re thinking about one of the girls you brought’). However nobody likes a smart alec kid, especially when they are played with this amount of despondence. Jeff Gulka is only doing what the script asks of him but there were several moments when I wanted to reach into the TV and strangle him. Interestingly once his balls have dropped (Within/Without) and he has had a little more experience of television acting, Gulka is far less irritating to watch. Gibson is no chess master, he just has the unfair advantage of knowing what move the other player is going to make next and can counteract that accordingly. He has activity flaring in the God module part of the brain, which isn’t just abnormal or anomalous but absolutely unheard of. He’s a genuine paranormal phenomenon, potentially the key to everything in The X-Files.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You’re allowed to investigate the X-Files as an indulgence but draw the wrong kind of conclusion and they’ll shut you down.’ 

Ugh: This is arc material all the way so there is relatively little horror on display.

The Good: Blimey, it feels as though we are in movie territory already with the impressive pre-titles sequence and then a cut to a stunning mountain range and a near execution in the snow. Has genre television ever looked this good? It is extremely downbeat to close a season with the heroes beaten, stripped of their work and any future assignments together and forced to accept that their enemies have won. The shot of the X-Files office being eaten away by flames sticks in your craw and the aftermath of Mulder and Scully stepping into the ashen remains of their work endures. Where can the series go from here?

The Bad: Whilst I would buy that the kid may have pushed backwards away from the kill shot, I wouldn’t automatically assume that he had sensed the assassination pre-cognitively. Maybe he was just lucky. ‘Control the board, know which pieces to sacrifice’ - I think there is supposed to be some kind of chess motif being played throughout the episode but it isn’t clear enough in the writing (mind you check out Doctor Who’s Curse of Fenric when the motif is made so abundant that it starts to irritate). Besides who ever heard of somebody setting fire to the board because they have lost.

Pre Titles Sequence: Have we really got to this stage where this show can make something as undynamic as a chess match the most visually exciting event of the year? Or did Chris Carter decide to take up a challenge of turning the most intellectual of contests into something dramatically satisfying to watch? The norm with crowd sequences of this nature is to film a section of the audience and then cut and paste to make it look as though you have an extras count of Ben Hur proportions. Carter decided to ask as many fans as possible to attend the session in the stadium as a thank you for their patience and welcome for the past five years of filming in Vancouver. It must have been a hell of an operation but the resulting scene is one of the most visually impressive in the shows nine years. A chess board picked out in harsh spotlights, a child genius being targeted by an assassin and a shocked crowd as it misses its target. My one question is whether this many people would attend a chess match but maybe that is my hermitage that is at fault – I really don’t know much about the game (beyond how to play it) and there might be tournaments on this scale all the time. A great looking opening set piece, and a fine final farewell to Vancouver and the incredible production team that worked so tirelessly to make this show as good as it is.

Moment to Watch Out For: Gibson’s ability to read minds provides some effective moments, in particular when he informs Fowley that the assassin is outside and is aiming directly at her.

Orchestra: Snow knows precisely how to score the season finales, offering up an epic and exciting whirlwind of music that suggests that important things are happening.

Mythology: ‘Most of us have genes that we don’t use, they lie there dormant, turned off. Science doesn’t know what they’re for, why they’re there or where they came from. There’s a long held but unpopular theory tied to prehistoric evidence of alien astronauts’ – Mulder is putting the two elements together as an answer to Gibson Praise’s abilities. This is setting up the movie to some extent where we get to witness the meeting between prehistoric man and the first alien visitors to the planet.

Foreboding: The movie is coming…

Result: As I thought, now the wilderness year is over and we have reached the movie all the gang are back together (the Smoking Man, the Syndicate, Krychek, Skinner, the Lone Gunmen) and we can resume from pretty much where we left off at the end of season four. It feels, a few decent standalones aside, like this is the season that never was. The End is a fun hour that takes the time to shake up the format at a time when the show was starting to feel a little complacent. Spender returns (one element of season five to make an impact) and immediately starts butting heads with Mulder and Scully takes an instant dislike to Mulder’s ex flame Diana Fowley who seductively slides between them and starts stealing his attention. The foreknowledge that this pair will be taking over the X-Files next season has me genuinely excited, there is a larger ensemble building and it is one that is loaded with tension. Carter often writes best when he is focusing as much on character as he is on plot (Redux II was far more agreeable the season opener because he injected some strong character material into the mix) and whilst he can be guilty of plying the show with soap opera elements (there is a strong whiff of that here) the performances are usually decent enough to overcome that and produce something very watchable. Gibson Praise manages to be both fascinating and irritating in equal measure, but his abilities offer some potential for future storylines. It genuinely feels like the end of an era with Mulder and Scully stripped of their jobs, the Smoking Man reducing their office to ashes and two replacement waiting in the wings. If the show was ever going to take that step into a movie franchise this would have been the perfect time. I for one am glad that the TV series continued because two of my favourite seasons are still to come but I know there are many that believe that this was a good place to stop churning out episodic X-Files and concentrate on big screen adventures. The End leaves far too many threads dangling to be a completely satisfying episode but it has plenty of tasty material within. It closes a relatively uneventful season of The X-Files on a memorable note: 8/10


Audrey the Leviathan Vampire Girl said...

"Last night's Itchy & Scratchy was, without a doubt, the worst episode ever. Rest assured I was on the Internet within minutes registering my disgust throughout the world."

Doc Oho said...

Comic book guy: Worst. Episode. Ever.