Thursday, 24 October 2013

The X-Files Season Seven

The Sixth Extinction Part I written by Chris Carter and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Scully works to unravel the mystery of the spaceship on the beach whilst Mulder loses his mind…

Trust No-One: Mulder’s psychotic screams are haunting and all kudos to the writers for not returning to the status quo at the beginning of the season and giving the chilling idea of the Agent having lost his mind a spin. I feel as if they could have taken Mulder’s extra sensory ability much further than they do but Carter has another trick up his sleeve and an intriguing new direction to take the character in the third part of this story. Mulder’s comatose state would have been the perfect excuse to write him out of the series (although Carter finds another, even more exciting one to do so) and if it weren’t for the one lingering plot detail of his sister hanging he could have departed a whole season earlier without anybody noticing too much of a difference.

Brains’n’Beauty: Gillian Anderson pretty much goes solo in The Sixth Extinction I and proves more than able, delivering a thoughtful performance that never once descends into maudlin introspection. If this is a sign of how the show will develop without Duchovny (it is her best solo work in years) then when is he leaving? Scully has stayed on in Africa despite everything she holds to be true, fighting the fight because Mulder cannot. For Scully to admit that what is happening to Mulder might be extra terrestrial in origin is a huge moment for the character and the long term fans.

Assistant Director: For a moment I thought that Mulder could sense Skinner’s recent nefarious allegiance with Krychek given that his attack is so vicious but it turns out it was just to pass a note to him to try and help him out. I perhaps would have been a little more gentle in my approach.

Faux Mulder & Scully: Fowley seems to be about ready to openly defy Skinner, giving him the filthiest looks when he actively orders her away from Mulder. She clearly thinks she is in a class of her own, protected because of her allegiance with the Smoking Man. Because he can read minds now  (I guess that makes Gibson Praise defunct) Mulder finally realises what a duplicitous bitch Agent Fowley is and warns Skinner of her intentions. No wonder she is about to leap off the mortal coil; without Mulder on side to make Scully get in a tizzy every time she is around, she is practically useless. Despite Mimi Rodgers’ best efforts the character has never really taken off, falling into the same trap as Mr X (who was more successful simply because Steve Williams imbued the character with some real chutzpah) and Martia of the lengthly surname I can’t be bothered to spell out (who only generated some interest once she was tortured horribly by the Syndicate) of being given a vacuous, mysterious character with relatively little background or personal detail beyond what the scripts (or more specifically the arc plot) desires of her.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘I will continue here for as long as I can. As long as your beset by the illness that I saw consume your beautiful mind’ – get used to this kind of cod romantic mush, folks. Season seven is the point where Mulder and Scully finally admit their feelings for each other (off screen, naturally) and occasionally the voiceovers stray into Mills & Boon. Wait until Trust No1 in season nine, that’s the point where the poetic romance becomes unbearable.

Ugh: Blood dashing against a rock in waves is certainly one scene I’ll remember.

The Good: You have to give Chris Carter some credit for daring to pull off some of the more startling imagery in the bible and transplanting into a contemporary setting to suggest the approaching apocalypse. Terrifying swarms of insects, burning oceans, a sea of blood…it has a much greater meaning if you know where to look and they are still memorable set pieces if you don’t. The beach location is a refreshing change of locale for the show and cleverly Manners makes the wide open spaces feel quite claustrophobic thanks to the divine warnings that beset Scully. There’s something edgy and unpredictable Michael Ensign’s performance that really makes him one to watch. Scully initially suspects Barnes but even when her guard was down I always thought he might leap at her and snap her neck clean off her shoulders. When he finally goes crackers and starts slaughtering natives he really is a force to be reckoned with. The last time Michael Kritschgau appeared in the show (Redux) he was accompanied by such a wave of exposition across several scenes that I had to applaud John Finn for even daring to try and vomit it all out in one go. Fortunately Carter has learnt from his mistakes and re-introduces the character having suffered a negative reaction to his faith in Mulder and living an disgraced life having been kicked out of the military.  Considering it is such an ‘out there’ idea I have to give Carter some credit for attempting to plausibly orchestrate a plot that hinges around the idea that aliens had a directed hand in human evolution, perhaps even the creation of the planet. Scully finding scripture on the surface of the craft is a compelling argument for this case.

The Bad: As an introduction to a new season, The Sixth Extinction is a little too slow and pensive for its own good. For that portion of that audience that enjoys exploring deeper themes over stylish action sequences it is a rare treat but if your preferences are the other way around you might come out of this feeling short changed.

Pre Titles Sequence: This sequence, which sees Scully beset by a plague of insects as foretold in the bible, would have been far more impressive had it been played out in silence rather than the purple Chris Carter voice over that is slapped over the top. Way to squeeze any tension out of the moment. Are these Scully’s thoughts or has she written them down and is recounting them to us? As filmed, this is beautifully executed and pretty creepy. As written it is terribly pretentious and overblown. The moment when she returns to the tent to find it crawling with buzzing insects is genuinely skin crawling.

Moment to Watch Out For: The moment when Fowley discloses that she is in league with the Smoking Man to Mulder (an empty gesture since he can already see into her mind) is the most honest moment we have had from the character. When she still says that she loves him after her confession that made me pause for thought, wondering whether she might actually mean it.

Fashion Statement: Loving Scully’s laid back dress code whilst staying in Africa. She still looks every bit the professional but in a casual, studious manner rather than her fashion model look for the past three seasons.

Orchestra: I wish Mark Snow would stop dragging out that sting which mimics the theme tune that he initially created for the series. It makes it feel as though he has run out of ideas and if that is the case then perhaps it is time for him to pass the mantle onto to another musician.

Mythology: ‘Something like ESP called remote viewing. The CIA, Mr Skinner. Extreme subjects would go into arrest, their minds working harder than their bodies could sustain. It became in effect all brain.’

Result: Turn off your ‘The X-Files was crap in it’s final three years’ school of thought and look at this episode for what it actually is; a considerate, well shot and unusually reflective season opener that manages to take hold of the momentous notions that were flaunted in Biogenesis and run with them. Interestingly Mulder is removed from the series (at least intellectually) and it didn’t seem to affect my interest levels one jot – perhaps Carter was paying attention to his leads continuing discomfort in the role that made him a name and was doing a dry run for season eight. Daring to suggest a paranormal influence on the creation of life and the Earth is a daring one for Carter to play about with and for once it is a good thing that this series has one foot in reality. By never mocking religious belief but presenting religious iconography in such a serious way he manages to make the suggestion without anybody being belittled. Kim Manners ensures that this plays out in as vivid a fashion as the budget will allow and the location work on the beach in particular is a treat for the eyes. I really don’t know what to make of this three parter overall because whilst it is in no way this show at its absolute best, all three installments have much to recommend them and dare to do something very different both in terms of their grand ideas and their approach to tell a mythology story (contemplative rather than blockbuster). It doesn’t even bother with a cliffhanger in the traditional sense but simply presents a piece of action that provides an appropriate pause in the action. This episode is the filling of a very satisfying sandwich and I’m pleased to say that it doesn’t ruin the taste one little bit: 8/10

 The Sixth Extinction Part II: Amor Fati written by David Duchovny & Chris Carter and directed by Michael Watkins

What’s it about: Somewhere over the rainbow…

Trust No-One: Perhaps I should be a little frightened that David Duchovny (who shares a writing credit with Chris Carter on this episode) has digested Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ and drawn some parallels between Jesus and his own character in Amor Fati. You might think that the success of a character has gone to a writers head. However Duchovny is too intelligent a writer to be swept away with the religious analogies and he uses the idea to explore the idea of Mulder being tempted with a life beyond his own, one where he has everything he could possibly want. He’s not trying to suggest that Mulder is Christ (the very idea) but that Christ really was the everyman in a tempting situation and one that is similar to what his character goes through here. Thank goodness that Duchovny is engaged (he should be because it is his own material) because this episode required the work of a committed actor to pull off it’s many nuances and the main man is on top form, not afraid to show his characters weaknesses and strengths. Mulder is experiencing so much activity in his temporal lobe that it is effectively destroying his brain, he is dying from the inside out. Rather wonderfully Deep Throat gets to puncture Mulder’s pomposity and egotism, revealing that he is not the hub of the universe or the cause of life and death. He’s just an ordinary man trying to do good work. Within the perfect dream Mulder can embrace Fowley, get married and become a father.

Brains’n’Beauty: Finally Scully and Fowley agree to cut the crap and have it out with each other. About damn time. The moment at the end of this episode where Scully breaks down because she doesn’t know what to believe anymore is another standout one for the character. Anderson plays her indecision so well, Scully has now reached a crossroads where she has been given practical evidence of extraterrestrials and enough that it might tie up with her faith and yet she doesn’t want to believe any of it. By the end of this year she would have come to terms with these feelings, ready to face the task of continuing Mulder’s work without him. I’m pleased that this scene was included, her indecision despite the evidence of her own eyes shows the constant conflict that this character faces. Even when Mulder’s world was falling apart Scully was his constant, a touching reward of admission to her for remaining so loyal over all these difficult years. She is his touchstone, and he is hers and I thought for all the world that this was the point where they would consummate their relationship. Emotionally they certainly have.

Smoking Man: William B Davis is given the chance to fly with Amor Fati, to play a whole new side to the character now that his role in the series has been revealed and made defunct. What else does the Smoking Man have to lose now all of his life’s work has been destroyed? The only thing that is left of importance is to sort out his family affairs, which include that of his son (which is Mulder if this script is to be believed). Now he is a man without a name he has come to love life’s simple pleasures.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘One well placed bullet. A punctuation mark in a mans life and you get to start a whole new chapter.’
‘Extraordinary men are always tempted by the most ordinary things.’ 

The Good: What a wonderful idea it was to have Mulder reunited with so many of the series most memorable characters as he explores his new fantasy life. If there was ever a point where the show should be looking back at past successes it is at the beginning of its seventh year, and the one where one of its stars would depart. Jerry Hardin was only a major player in the first season and yet has never been forgotten as the enigmatic Deep Throat and his surprise appearance in Amor Fati give me a wave of nostalgia for that exciting and much simpler time for the show. Duchovny’s reaction is that of an actor delighted that he is reunited with an old star (Mulder and Deep Throat were never this tactile with each other) but the scene plays in such a delightful fashion it is hard to be critical. The idea that every character that has been shot dead in this show turning up in this idealised version of suburbia tickled me. Does that mean we can expect to see Mr X collecting his mail, Bill Mulder enjoying a cup of tea on the porch and Melissa Scully going for a jog?  I don’t know where they manage to find these obscenely large houses and glorious surroundings (Three of a Kind sported another equally impressive abode) but it is the perfect location to shoot Mulder’s fantasy life. An incredible final image, a sand sculpture of an alien spacecraft.

The Bad: Rebecca Toolan. She’s been especially flown in for this performance and as ever they really shouldn’t have bothered. It is rare for a show as savvy as The X-Files to consistently employ the services of such a weak actress who under delivers year after year. I would have recast Teena Mulder after Toolan’s first appearance. At least I got some sense that Teena loved Mulder this time around, usually she treats him with all the affection that you would bestow on a fish you are about to gut for supper. Didn’t we managed to get rid of Albert Holstein in the last episode? He’s back and spouting more ominous mystical prophecies than ever. Either John Finn isn’t the best actor in the world or he simply cannot engage with this part. He’s painfully wooden when delivering his dialogue and only becomes tolerable when Scully starts slapping him about. Fowley’s murder is off screen, an ignominious end to a character that never impacted the way she should have.

Pre Titles Sequence: As soon as Rebecca Toolan is out of sight this sequence improves, a slow pan away from Mulder as he screams telekinetically for his mother without any response from her. The direction is subtle and absorbing, the light slowly going out over his bed as he is trapped alone in his head with no-one to reach out to.  Is the Smoking Man the Devil trying to tempts Mulder from this life and into another? Is he Mulder’s father? I’m starting to wonder if it even matters anymore, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. The show paints its regulars as mythological characters and their ultimate relation to each other is irrelevant, it is how they interact that is more interesting.

Moment to Watch Out For: Just in case the parallels weren’t made strongly enough, Duchovny and Watkins push the Jesus analogy a tad too far by presenting a mock image of Mulder pinned to a trolley at the wrists in the exact manner of Jesus on the crucifix. It’s the one point where I thought they went a little too far. Countering that is the extraordinary sequence where Mulder lives an entire life in a few seconds, getting married, having children and losing his wife. And the astonishing effects shot that pulls away from the Smoking Man at the window to reveal the alien invasion of the Earth, mushroom explosions billowing in the distance and buildings left as broken husks. It’s the closest we will witness of an actual attack on this scale so lap up these few seconds worth of material.

Fashion Statement: Maybe Duchovny has had too many steak dinners with his fat pay cheques as the series has grown in popularity because he’s looking a little portly in the topless scene where Fowley seduces Mulder. ‘If you lay all this on me after I sleep with you one time what’s it going to be like tomorrow?’

Orchestra: This time it feels entirely appropriate for Snow to include old cues in his score since this is a party full of memorable guest characters from the past. I particularly liked the One Breath theme that re-emerged during Scully’s crisis of faith at the climax.

Mythology: ‘It’s all here, sir. The foretelling of mass extinction, the myth about the man who can save us from it. That’s why they took Mulder, they think his illness is a gift, protection against the coming plague.’  Rather than having to dig through seasons of obscurity, Scully handily finds the new mythology that the show is trying out written on the side of a spaceship. What a stroke of luck for her and the audience. ‘We’re forcing the next step of evolution to save man…’ – the implication being that Mulder’s new faculties are the sort that can save a man from the coming viral apocalypse. Man, had they know that the solution was built into the human psyche they wouldn’t have had to have bothered with that 50 year scheme with the aliens.

Result: I remember when I first saw both parts of The Sixth Extinction and declared that The X-Files had finally jumped the shark. I couldn’t believe that a show that had previously been so exciting was wasting its dying days (I genuinely thought this would be the final season at the time, as did the production team) popping into Mulder’s head and living out his fantasy life and to make things even worse there was a tantalizing glimpse at what an invasion might look like had Carter the balls to actually go through with it. To say I was not satisfied would be a dramatic understatement. Oh what an impetuous youth I was, and how wrong can one person be. Amor Fati is a fascinating experiment and one that could only be carried out once and in a show with a long history that doesn’t have much time left, two of it’s stalwart characters taking time out from their usual games to reflect on everything the show has thrown at them. It’s a big reunion and naturally you are going to get a mixture of characters that worked returning to play their part (Deep Throat, Samantha, The Smoking Man) and those that haven’t (Fowley, although bizarrely in her swansong she finally clicks into place, Teena Mulder, Kritschgau) but ultimately it is great fun to see them all brought together one last time. Carter’s input in the script is noticeable only so much as the story takes itself a little too seriously at times. This wasn’t a problem in the last episode where that sort of grounded reality was needed to slide the potentially objectionable ideas by an unforgiving portion of the audience but when you are talking about the next stage of evolution, an upcoming viral apocalypse and marrying that to a storyline that paints Mulder as a Christ-like figure (made explicit by some overdone iconography)…well let’s just say a little less earnestness and a little more humour wouldn’t have gone amiss. Still I would be disingenuous to suggest that Amor Fati is a failiure, it’s the third overly sedate and yet strangely beguiling mythology episode in a row. The X-Files has a near impossible task of picking up the pieces and running with a new mythology after Two Fathers/One Son and whilst I don’t think we have been set on a new trajectory, this tetrology of episodes has thrown so many fascinating ideas in the air in such a watchable fashion that I’m more than satisfied for the time being. Strong stuff, if a little obscure and open to interpretation. Watch out for the iconic moment when the Smoking Man watches the alien invasion tearing the world apart from Mulder’s window: 8/10

Hungry written by Vince Gilligan and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Rob Roberts and that gnawing pain in his stomach…

Trust No-One: Mulder and Scully are introduced as we might actually see them if they were a part of our lives, walking through the door of Lucky Boy with a confident swagger and an attitude problem. Mulder makes cheap shots at Rob’s profession and subtextually lets him know that he is onto him every time he opens his mouth. You could say that Mulder is quite irresponsible in Hungry, knowing that Rob is guilty from the off and yet saying nothing whilst he can indulge in mind games. Anybody that is consumed throughout the course of this episode could be said to be indirectly his fault as well. Mulder describing their monster of the week as a carnivorous freak and monster to Rob’s face lacks any kind of cordiality, it is amazing how insensitive he can be made to look when the writers are really trying. 

Brains’n’Beauty: Somehow Lucky Boy wouldn’t make Scully’s list of favourite restaurants. Manners chooses the scene where Scully interrogates Rob from his point of view so we can see what it would be like be in that position, grilled under her cool, steely gaze.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I don’t believe in monsters, but I do believe in people. And sometimes they do terrible things. But I do believe that deep down the worst of us want to do good’ – the tagline for Hungry.
‘I’m sorry but this is like good cop, insane cop’ – and that’s the tag line for the series.
‘So they’re a bunch of fat people? So what?’

Ugh: Given that this episode is dealing with a form of cannibalism (Rob is humanoid at the very least), it doesn’t really push things as far as it could go. Perhaps Fox has learnt from previous controversies to steer away from potentially upsetting footage but I would think more of them had Gilligan and Manners gone all the way and shown somebody’s brain being sucked out of their head through an inch thick hole. Ummm yummy. However the humour can be jet black which almost compensates (‘Is that brain matter?’ ‘No, I’d say that’s ground beef’). Speaking as somebody who has a living fear of the dentist, watching Rob remove his teeth and spit some of them bloody into the sink made my stomach flip. Brain steaks on the grill? Are you kidding me?

The Good: Hungry would only work is Rob was a character that we can believe in and sympathise with and fortunately in the hands of Vince Gilligan and actor Chad Donelli neither of these is ever a problem. Everything about Rob screams of him being a victim, either of how other people treat him, his own biological functions or his awkward behaviour around other people. He drives an unspectacular car, has an unspectacular job and goes home to an unspectacular apartment. In every way he is not conforming to the American dream. Even his name, Rob Roberts, shows a distinct lack of imagination on his parents part. Donelli never actively seeks to engage the audiences sympathy but instead pours all of his effort into making the character as awkward and as trapped as possible so we’re behind him every step of the way. There’s nothing more sympathetic than an underdog, especially one who is trying to break out of their situation. How interesting to see a very young Mark Pellegrino in a minor role as Rob’s work colleague long before he would go on to secure the roles of Rita’s abusive husband in Dexter and Lucifer in Supernatural. He has terrific screen presence even in a small role like this. We never leave Rob’s side throughout the episode and so it is easy to sympathise with his persecution because the audience is suffering it too. It’s the sort of thing the show was going for in Terms of Endearment with Mulder dogging the footsteps of Bruce Campbell’s character but this goes the whole hog and casts the Agent in the role of the villain. The private investigator that Rob eats is the spitting image of Mulder and he should be, that’s David Duchovny’s body double. Hunger is a human need, an instinct that we cannot ignore and the unpleasant sound effect of Rob’s complaining stomach really drives home his need (not desire) to feed. When it comes to killing Derwent (what a name) there are three motives; feeding Rob’s constant hunger, getting his medicine back and keeping his mouth shut. The make up for Rob’s mutant form is excellent, not too frightening (he is supposed to be a character that the audience can resonate with) but pretty menacing all the same. The effect of his tongue piercing the skull for easy access to the brain works a treat. For the most part I am not fond of counsellors as depicted on television (in no small part thanks to the yawnsome Counsellor Troi who plagued Star Trek: The Next Generation) but Judith Hoag has a good stab at portraying a genuinely effective example. I love the fact that even after Rob quits she still wants to see his therapy through and even when confronted with the fact that he is the murderer and physically repulsive, she still wants to comfort him. Mindy can see that Rob is a good person deep down, just as we can. The final shot through Rob’s eyes as he takes his dying breath is perhaps the most intimate the audience will ever get to be with a monster of the week on this show.

The Bad: When the FBI is questioning all Lucky Boy employees with the possibility that they might search their homes, leaving a bath of blood and a clearly unsalvageable shirt dunked inside was not the smartest move on Rob’s part.

Pre Titles Sequence: Wow, the guy who drives up to the Lucky Boy drive thru is a real jackass in a way only consumerists can be when they don’t get what they want. I’m not the sort of person to wish ill of people (well not much anyway) but he justly deserves to be gobbled up for threatening to call Rob’s manager and get him the sack over a simple misunderstanding. And the music he is playing is horrible. It has been a while since we have had a good jump out of your seat moment and even though it is obvious from the cracking of bones and gorging on flesh noises that something is coming, the moment is expertly handled by Kim Manners.

Moment to Watch Out For: For once it is not a shocking moment or a twist in the tale that impressed me most but a performance that shows an actor working overtime to try and make an implausible character seem as real as possible. Donelli aces the scene at Overeaters Anonymous and when he talks about his addiction to salty, fatty meats with such relish you can see just how much this craving consumes Rob. It is a genuinely impressive piece of acting. Hilariously, Rob’s mouth watering speech to the assembly has them practically orgasming in their seats.

Fashion Statement: Not that I have a fetish for bald, cannibalistic mutants but Rob in human form is pretty cute. 

Result: ‘I can’t be something I’m not…’ You can always expect something a bit different from Vince Gilligan (his last contribution to the series is a riff on The Brady Bunch for goodness sakes!) and he kicks of the season seven standalones with an innovative piece, one that places Mulder and Scully in the role of the antagonists and spends the entire episode from the point of view of the monster of the week. It’s proof that The X-Files can paint and convincing portrayal of Generation X, Rob Roberts turning out to be the most believable and sympathetic of the shows many teenage protagonists over the years. It is mainly down to Chad Donelli’s achingly sad performance of a boy who cannot control his hunger but Vince Gilligan does a lot of the work too, placing him in a nightmare scenario where Mulder is actively enjoying playing mind games with the kid. There’s not a great to deal discuss about Hungry because of its linear nature and relatively simplistic storytelling but this isn’t a piece of television that is concerned with narrative substance but it’s emotional core. It relies on the relationship between the audience and the protagonist and on those terms it is a huge winner. The conclusion doesn’t even rely on Mulder and Scully’s presence, that’s how invested we are in Rob’s fate by the end. For once, you might want the monster to get away. So far that’s three for three in the much maligned season seven. Even I have always considered this the shows weakest season but if it manages to keep this up it is going to come in for some significant re-appraisal: 8/10

 Millennium written by Vince Gilligan & Frank Spotnitz and directed by Thomas J. Wright

 What’s it about: The climax to a superior series in an inferior episode of another show…

Trust No-One: Two mythology episodes that try and do something a bit different followed by a Vince Gilligan script that casts Mulder and Scully in the roles of the antagonists…that means Millennium is the episode to judge where Duchovny and Anderson are in terms of interest in their roles in their seventh year. Unfortunately they both feel a little bored by the whole affair, whether that is because it is dealing with the leftovers of another series or because they have just had enough of the same roles I couldn’t tell you. Aside from a few notable exceptions, this disinterest is rife throughout season seven. Duchovny is ready to jump ship and Anderson needs something fresh to do to perk her up. By the end of the year both would get their wishes. Neither one of them can be bothered to inject any tension in their differences of opinion any more and since we have seen this dance play out ad nauseum the writers are pretty drained by the same old routine too. Frank Black is not what Mulder was expecting, which I think is precisely the reaction a lot of people had to the character when Millennium first aired. He’s quiet and unassuming, prefer his own company getting under the skin of serial killers than pushing his opinions on others like a certain fresh faced FBI agent was in the first series of The X-Files.

Brains’n’Beauty: Anderson simply cannot muster any enthusiasm in the scenes where Scully and Frank talk about a mythology that she has never been apart of.

Ugh: Even when they have feature a zombie attack the camera seems to shy away from the action. It makes you question whether the writers have ever seen the show before, let alone be two of the most prolific authors. The autopsy scene looks like it might be a good shock moment but the director cuts away from the action again. Even the comedy episode Hollywood AD had a corpse coming to life during an autopsy! When a zombie does eventually show up and attack Scully it’s too little, too late. Besides compare the lame ass make up job in this to the stunningly grotesque zombie make up in The Walking Dead and weep. What should be jump out of your seat material down in Johnson’s cellar comes across more like a keg party that has gotten out of hand and three guys wound up in a darkened cellar scrabbling about for the light switch.

The Good: The one element that does ring true is the human one. Frank is battling a custody war with Catherine’s parents over Jordan and he is losing. One of the main strengths of Frank’s character was how his family anchored him into living his life and the thought of stripping that away from him is affecting because there is every possibility that he would disappear inside his head never to return. He will sell insurance, get well, jump through whatever hoops the authorities want him to in order to have his daughter in his life once again.

The Bad: The writers are in something of a Catch-22 situation where they are in the position to tidy up the ending of Millennium but in doing so they are forced to explain to the X-File audience who might never have seen the show what it was all about. Cue an uncomfortably scripted sequence in Skinner’s office where the backstory of the Millennium group is skipped over in a few lines, reducing what was a detailed premise for the show to something you might read on the back of a napkin. It is pretty shocking that it takes Frank Black a full ten minutes to appear in the episode, especially given this is his swansong to the Carter universe. When The X-Files has the opportunity to cross the is and dot the ts of The Lone Gunmen series, they don’t even bother with the pretence that it is an X-File episode. That’s what they should have done here. Bizarrely the shows homage to COPS is much more faithful in style and content than this is. It is just weird to have Frank Black profiling a killer in The X-Files, especially in an episode this lacking in atmosphere. It genuinely feels as if somebody has intercut two separate episodes, one from each show, and broadcast them together. It doesn’t help that this is the dullest and least frightening serial killer the show has ever presented. Isn’t it amusing that they try and convince that Scully is dead from her zombie attack and show Skinner rushing to the scene and solemnly pulling back a shroud that he thinks she might be under. Like they would kill off one of the lead characters in the fourth episode? Is this really what the Millennium group was attempting to achieve all along? A zombie apocalypse? I never got the sense of that at all when I was watching the show. It feels like glib closure for a frustrating but sporadically genius television show.

Pre Titles Sequence: Admittedly I am not the biggest fan of the zombie genre but even I can think of a better way of revealing that a corpse has returned to life than burying the guy with his thumb on a mobile phone call button and waiting for it to ring. How boring. It would have been far more satisfying to have had something truly gruesome and memorable like him bursting from the coffin in the middle of the service. For a show that almost always aces it’s pre-titles sequences, this is one of those very rare occasions where it fails to generate any interest whatsoever.

Moment to Watch Out For: Frank’s cuddle with Jordan. It’s far more touching than the kiss between Mulder and Scully but gets far less exposure. Duchovny and Anderson look as though they are being forced to kiss each other against their will.

Orchestra: The first time this felt like a love letter to Millennium was when the mournful strings of the music kicked in. 

Result: ‘The world didn’t end…’ When Frank Black says ‘let’s get out of here’ at the climax, I figure he is talking about the series he has wandered into. I also have a question. If you are given a second chance to wrap up a series after a sudden cancellation, a series that you were personally invested in creating and maintaining…how could you fudge it as badly as this? It is an episode that the writers themselves thought unsuccessful, that Lance Henriksen thought missed the point of the series that he spearheaded and a merging of two series that were never going to be happy bedfellows. I hate to say this because I think he is one of the strongest writers in television but Vince Gilligan was not suited to Millennium in precisely the same way that Chip Johannssen (a regular contributor to Millennium) was not suited to The X-Files. Writers can dip their feet into other shows and sometimes it suits their style and sometimes it doesn’t. Millennium (I’m talking about the series, not the episode) was never the sort of show to feature comic book zombies and yet it has suffer the ignominy of this as the climax to its three year saga. Unfortunately this isn’t a particularly good X-File episode either; featuring a dull opening set piece, some plodding interaction between the two leads and a distinct lack of anything either scary or interesting going on. The one beat that feels real is Frank’s love for his daughter but since he only appears in about ten minutes of the episode it is hardly given the appropriate amount of consideration. Millennium features what is possibly the most soporific performances of Anderson and Duchovny and Heinriksen looks bored senseless too. Personally I think shippers give this one a pass just for the Mulder/Scully kiss at the conclusion but you have to work a lot harder than that to impress me. For my money focussing on the regulars of this show at the climax takes away from the reunion between Frank and Jordan and what this episode is supposed to be all about: 3/10

Rush written by David Amann and directed by Robert Lieberman

What’s it about: Something about a wibbly effect that hands out superpowers in a cave…

Trust No-One: Watching Mulder try and relate to the yoof is toe curling. At least he gets slapped down for his troubles, asked how long ago it was since he was a teen as though he was hitting puberty around the cretaceous period. Maybe it is because it is pointed out and I was looking more closely but Duchovny does look old in this.

Brains’n’Beauty: Again neither Duchovny nor Anderson seems particularly captivated by this weeks material and phone in their performances. Duchovny in particular sounds as though he would rather be somewhere (anywhere) else but Anderson is hardly doing her best work either, reacting to the shocks with all the effort of somebody who has done this 26 times a year for the last six years. When Mulder starts going on about territorial and spiritual forces at work Duchovny can’t quite bring himself to believe the material and Anderson looks as though she is about to leave the room. Like Millennium, we have been through this shtick too many times now for anybody to care. Season six pretty much avoided this pitfall by either not including these scenes of disparate opinions at all, going for something completely different or by taking the piss out of it (Field Trip). Now it looks like we have reverted back to form, we’re back in season five territory of going through the motions.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Don’t you think I know what you’re doing. You’re like the tenth cop that’s come in here and tried to relate to me until I confess’ – kids do not speak like this. Period.
‘You must have been a betty back in the day!’
‘Tony, we came here to get a fresh start, get away from them bad schools, the wrong crowd…’ – not only terribly written but also the biggest cliché in the book. Only Joss Whedon made this idea work.
‘Well Mulder he’s a teenager, everything about him is changing. His body and brain chemistry is in a state of unparalleled upheaval, plus there’s peer pressure and substance abuse…’

Ugh: The director manages to include a number of impressive stunts in Rush but if the show got its set pieces wrong at this stage of the game then there would be something very wrong going on indeed. The sequence in the lunch hall is very nicely realised, Mr Babbit is murdered in an extremely violent and bloody fashion involving a table that slices through his chest and a chair that caves his face in. Not a moment to be forgotten in a hurry.

The Good: It says something when your younger guest actors are putting in far more effort than your lead adults but that is definitely the case in Rush. Rodney Scott and Nicki Aycox are both trying far too hard to make their characters come alive, giving the material much more believability than it deserves. Probably the most fun I had with re-watching this episode was the moment when Tony Reed stepped into the breach and accepted the rush gift and that was only because he was shaking wildly in a similar way to the Master’s victims in The End of Time when everybody became a clone of the villain. Yes, that’s how lifeless this is.

The Bad: This is The X-Files, not Smallville. The idea of kids that have gained a superhero power of being able to run a marathon in five seconds is hardly the most impressive of talents anyway. I can think of a dozen more intriguing gifts that could have been bestowed on them off the top of my head (strength, x-ray vision, the ability to read thoughts) that would have been more interesting. It isn’t because the show is in its seventh year and they have run out of fresh concepts (because season six was rife with imagination and there would some terrific premises still to come), it is that the writer has gone for the simplest and least amount of effort with his idea to pull an episode off. I think Max Harden is supposed to be a teenage rebel without a cause that we are supposed to admire but he is written and played in such an unlikable fashion – he’s pretty boring because of it – that any hope of that is out the window. Haven’t we been through the rigmarole of the Sheriff’s son turning out to be the villain of the piece and complete douche bag before? I can remember at least Red Museum as one example but I am certain there have been others. The only reason to stick around is to witness Max’s downfall. Can a kid be so corrupted by an ability that he has been given over others that it would lead him to attack his own father? Maybe, but not a lame-ass power like this one. That just shows that Max was a bit nutty to start off with.

Pre Titles Sequence: How weird to have two such unmemorable pre-title sequences in consecutive episodes. Rush features three kids meeting for a secret rendezvous in the park and one of them murders a local law enforcement officer by means of turning into a blur of colour. Ooh, scary.

Moment to Watch Out For: The one moment that really stands out is the exception effects shot of the bullet bursting through Max’s chest in slow motion. We follow Chastity as she walks past the slow trajectory of the bullet and steps into its path. That was the only thing I remembered when going in for my re-watch. The rest was just a blank. As it will be again.

Fashion Statement: The one decent thing about an episode that centres on a bunch of teenagers on the right side of puberty is that it features some pretty handsome examples of twenty-somethings playing the roles.

Orchestra: Even Mark Snow’s music sounds a little subdued this week. There’s one moment where this is epitomised when Chastity (what a name) goes searching for the spot in the woods that hands out the rush superpowers. It’s not a bad piece of music but compare it to a similar piece orchestrated for when Mulder went searching a landscape for Wallace Shift in Field Trip just six episode back and compare the difference. In the season six installment Snow was driving the action, here he is stifling a yawn with his score. 

Result: Just when you think The X-Files finally has a handle on ‘the yoof’ as exemplified in Hungry, Rush comes along to show that it was just a one off fluke. There’s nothing worse than an older writer trying to get ‘down with the kids’ and write on their level and David Amann fills their mouths with some pretty cringeworthy dialogue. ‘Leave me alone, mom! Will you just leave me alone?’ The dialogue is either utterly functional or ground swallowingly embarrassing and not one of the characters is remotely likable. This feels more like one of those season one episodes of Smallville than The X-Files. Kid gains paranormal superpower, goes a little wild, kid gets brought down, the end. That was the template for the first season of the Tom Welling fronted show and it was unimpressive there as it is here. It’s a pretty weak premise and an episode lacking in substance or decent characters. All that salvages it from the waste bin is a number of well directed set pieces and the odd nifty effect. It’s one of those installments that is just there: 4/10

 The Goldberg Variation written by Jeffrey Bell and directed by Thomas J. Wright

What’s it about: Just why is Henry Weems enjoying such good luck…and why isn’t he enjoying it?

Trust No-One: The only episode where Mulder emerges from the pavement right behind Scully as she whinges about the fact she has made it to Chicago and he isn’t there to meet her. Given Mulder’s disaster with his water bed last year (over and over again) it is asking for trouble for him to approach a leaking tap with a wrench. Mulder’s little karate noise when he mimes the enforcer kicking down the door at Weems’ is delightful.

Brains’n’Beauty: ‘So basically you’re saying that we’re looking for Wiley Coyote’ Watch Duchovny’s face when Anderson says that line, he is dying to crack up. She then returns the favour when he gets a continuous jet of water in the face and falls through the floor. She can’t help but giggle when he comes back with the riposte ‘…yeah its okay, my ass broke the fall.’ Mulder is squeamish about seeing a man put his false eye back in the socket, whereas Scully has seen much worse in her time. There is a definitely shift in the attitude of the main stars in this story. You can tell they were having fun with this material (it’s the fact that there never seems to be a smile far from their lips) in a very different way to how they were going through the motions in both Millennium and Rush. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Technically falling 300-feet and surviving isn’t a crime.’
‘Ma’am, we’re not plumbers.’ 

The Good: Whilst much of the joy of this episode comes down to the intricacies of the plot, it is Willie Garson’s performance as the lovable sap that just so happens to be the luckiest man alive that really sells the piece. Henry Weems manages to be one of those characters that is slightly pathetic and geeky but also entirely lovable and enjoyable to spend time with. It is a role that Garson could play in his sleep and he aces his way through the episode, engaging with the audiences sympathies at every turn. It’s nice to see Mulder and Scully investigating on a busy American street rather than the show constantly hiding out in expansive hillocks, beautiful beaches and deserted back streets. The streets of Chicago feel busy, occupied and sprawling, just how they would if The X-Files hadn’t dumped a camera in the middle of the area. Ghoulishly, the only part of Weems that is left behind to trace him with is his false eye, which leads to the wonderful moment when it is clear that they have found their guy because he is hiding away wearing a comical eye patch (Mulder hands him the eye and asks ‘d’you wanna try this for size, Cinderella?’). It must be something about boys and gadgets but I love the intricacy and the planned randomness Weems’ Rube Goldberg machine and owing from the fact that he sounds as though he has creamed his pants, Mulder does too (Scully stands back, clearly impressed, but being a career woman she refuses to show anything more at something this irrelevant). Bad luck – Mulder and Scully disappear into the lift just as the criminal thug emerges from the stairwell to take out Weems. Good luck – Mulder has left his keys, presses the buzzer and distracts the assassins bullet and all he manages to shoot is a table lamp. This episode is built on these wonderful quirks of fortune. Tapping into dumb luck is said to be Henry Weems’ greatest gift and it’s great that the luck of simply overhearing Scully suggesting that he head down and buy a lottery ticket and gain his fortune that way sets off another string of cause of effect. Check out Marshall Manesh in a delightful little role as the shopkeeper who lies through his teeth to Scully to get his hands on the winning lottery ticket. It might not be the most elaborate interpretation of the Goldberg principle but I still chuckled at the sequence where the stray bullet ricocheted around the room before finding its way back into the chest of the enforcer. The fact that Weems’ efforts have all been for the sole purpose of being able to fly Richie to England and pay for his operation when he isn’t even family, it is simply because Weems is a nice guy that doesn’t want to see the kid suffer, is just lovely. It makes sense of why he would mix with criminals and play the odds on the lottery. You know that Henry isn’t going to die at the climax so the only natural conclusion you can draw is that something horrible is going to happen to the criminals that have kidnapped him. Watching their downfall play out with painful inevitability (emphasis on the painful) is a treat. What a lovely touch it is that the head criminal is precisely the right blood type for Richie and his death is what will ultimately save the boys life. In an episode that promotes co-incidence this might be the only time when such an amazing quirk of luck is vital to its conclusion.

The Bad: A shame that the production didn’t have the finance to pull off the plane crash defying stunt but at least it gets a mention at some point in the episode. I’ve seen some pretty bad examples of jaundice in my time of watching television but Ritchie is a particularly special case. Were the make up team having a laugh? What this episode is lacking is for an ingenious way for Bell to tie the entire episode up, to show that they have all been part of the integral workings of a Goldberg device in action. Mulder starts to suggest that that might be the case but then the show shies away from revealing anymore and instead goes for a sentimental climax. It is beautifully handled so I’m not complaining too much but The Goldberg Variation still leaves you with the lingering doubt that it hasn’t taken its premise to its natural conclusion.

Pre Titles Sequence: I love that Henry is so daft that he plays a game of poker knowing that he will win despite the fact that he doesn’t know the rules in the slightest and has to ask how the game develops at every turn. He is so utterly naïve that he thinks he can walk away from a poker game with criminal hot rods with 100k of their cash and not lose his legs for the trouble. Right from the start it is clear that this isn’t the kind of setting where you would usually find Henry and that he clearly needs the cash for an altruistic purpose. Look out for the impressive stunt of Weems being tossed off a building and falling through the pavement and getting up and dusting himself down. From the bubbly tone right down to Garson’s performance and Mark Snow’s unusually effervescent music, you can tell this is not going to be your traditional X-File. Given that Rush showed how dull they can be, this is no bad thing.

Moment to Watch Out For: Cause and effect is explored in jet black comedy form as Weems throws his winning lottery ticket in the trash and a particularly irritating faux Goth steals it and goes running out onto the street screaming that he has won a hundred grand and gets hit by a bus. Bet he didn’t see that one coming. It might be improper but I couldn’t help but laugh, especially at Weems’ extreme non-reaction.

Orchestra: Light and bubbly, like a glass of champers. Perfectly scored, this one. 

Result: ‘Maybe his luck is the X-File?’ It’s not quite as fabulous as The Rain King, but The Goldberg Variation is a return to form for a show that had gone to the dogs for a couple of episodes. Jeffrey Bell has managed to tap into something sunny and moving, a lighter version of The X-Files that does tips into outright comedy and which by all accounts shouldn’t work but somehow does. We’ll forgive him Alpha since his remaining episodes are so good (Signs and Wonders is one of the creepiest of the last three seasons and I must one of a few people that really enjoys Salvage). Whilst exploring the delightful irrelevancy of a Rube Goldberg device, this episode doesn’t quite have the mutton chops to pull off something as intricate and deliciously immaterial to be said to be a narrative version of the principle itself but what it does manage to do is put some marvellously clever and amusing set pieces that reveal the glorious inanity of cause and effect. It’s not quite clever enough but it is still clever. The real joy of The Goldberg Variation is that Mulder and Scully seem to have found their mojo again, that sense of fun and gentle humour that has been missing from season seven to date but was rife throughout the previous year. It is proof that the investment that Anderson and Duchovny put into an individual episode can make or break it. I think the reason that I prefer The Rain King is that the premise in the previous seasons episode is so in your face and immediately arresting that it practically sells itself to you on that alone. That and the Mulder/Scully interaction was at it’s all time best when they were visiting Kansas. The Goldberg Variation is a much more subtle, subdued affair but it still has many charms to be unearthed; the bubbly tone, a delightful turn from Willie Garson, some memorable set pieces and an ending that manages to warm your heart. If season seven can keep knocking out episodes like this we will be in great shape: 8/10

Orison written by Chip Johannssen and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: Donnie Pfaster has escaped from prison…

Brains’n’Beauty: What can Gillian Anderson do with an episode as badly conceived and written as this one? Her very best, I suppose, which is what she tries to do. Irresistible was a breakout show for the actress because she was able to show the audience a new side to the character, one that was haunted by her experiences in the hunt for Donnie Pfaster. In the slightly glib tone of season seven Scully isn’t treated to nearly the same amount of care and attention and she waltzes through Orison airily, less troubled and more a bit bored by the whole affair. I don’t like the way the writers randomly bring up her faith every time they write an episode with a religious theme – it should be something that is far more prevalent than it is if she is truly a believer. Kira Nerys in DS9 is my idea of a character with religious beliefs that works because her faith is never far from her heart and mentioned on a regular occasion, whether the episode is centred around such things or not. It was a part of her life. Scully’s religion only seems to be a part of her life when the writers need it to make a point about something. Don’t get me wrong, Pfaster is a nasty piece of work and somebody that needs to be punished for his despicable actions. However I have a real issue with Scully emerging in slow motion and shooting him in cold blood, regardless of whether the episode keeps insisting he is the devil or not. This is supposed to be staunchly religious woman and to reach for her gun and murder a man without compunction just doesn’t sit well with what we have seen from Scully in the past seven years. It doesn’t help that the detailed direction in slow motion rams the scene down our throats. In Johannssen’s hands, I just don’t recognise Scully anymore. It doesn’t surprise me that he never wrote for the series again. When is it ever right for Scully to ignore the law and become an executioner in her own right?

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘We found women’s fingers in his freezer, he’d like to eat them with his peas and carrots’ – with dialogue like that you can tell that Johannssen has never written for Mulder before either.
‘Nobody can stop the world, Mulder, I don’t care how many holes they have in their head’ – Scully is hardly being treated to her usual standard of intelligent dialogue either.

The Bad: Whilst it is understandable given the treatment she received at his hands that Scully would believe that Donnie Pfaster is pure evil (‘plain and simple’), I don’t understand why the writer seems to believe that too. Wouldn’t it have been more of a challenge (especially for the viewer) had Pfaster turned out to have some redeeming features and enjoy indulging in his death fetish. How could you reconcile the two? By making him purely evil you simply have a monster that needs to be removed and a problem where the conclusion is forced to turn Scully into a cold blooded murderer. And that isn’t acceptable on any level. Wow, not only does the script go down the obvious route of having 666 (or rather 606) to point to the fact that Pfaster is the Devil (in that peculiar Carter obsession with digital clocks no less) but Johannssen also feels the need to explain its significance to a less sophisticated audience members. I would assume that anybody who has made it to The X-Files’ seventh season is a reasonably intelligent individual that doesn’t need to be spoon fed the obvious. As for the significance of ‘Don’t Look Any Further’ playing throughout the episode…beats me chief. Something about reminding Scully of the time when she first discovered the concept of evil in the world. It’s supposedly a portent of Scully’s oncoming danger but I found the use of a smooth love song to introduce Scully to a world a pain quite unpleasant. It is rare for me to criticize moments of direction in this show and especially not the work of Rob Bowman, who has been the most consistently excellent director on staff…but I really didn’t like the way he kept shoving the camera in peoples faces, particularly Pfaster’s. He’s trying to get us right down the guys throat, to experience the lust that he is feeling for these women but it is really uncomfortable to endure. It’s not bad direction by any means, just not to my tastes. The simple fact of the matter is that with all the religious overtones, Pfaster is a far less interesting character than the nasty death fetishist that he was in Irresistible. Nick Chinlund has nothing to get his teeth into here, he’s simply a walking nasty that is lusting after the completion of his attack on Scully. In his debut, Chinlund was able to play the everyman who deliveries groceries and is let casually into peoples homes and then flip that on its head and become a predator to women in the evenings. Being portrayed solely as a killer lacks any kind of finesse in comparison. Half the time it feels like the Reverend Orison is a conceptual character, a representation of Pfaster’s guilt that is his dogging his every footstep and the rest of the time the episode suggests that he is a real person that is suffering for his perseverance with the Devil in human guise. The fact that there is that confusion at all is cause to panic. The sequence where Orison gets Pfaster to dig his own grave is symptomatic of this episodes confusion where it comes to its characters. One moment Pfaster is pleading for forgiveness and weeping and the next he’s smiling sadistically and attempting to murder his saviour. It’s a switch that could be pulled off if the writing and acting were strong enough but as realised it feels like the internal workings of these characters is being improvised as the story develops. Why dress Donnie up as a literal devil? It didn’t work in Irresistible and it especially doesn’t work here. How did Pfaster figure out where Scully lives? How did he get in? The direction is so confusing in the climax that as a piece of visual storytelling, Scully shooting Pfaster makes little sense. You don’t get to see the gun discharging for ages after it has happened with too many tight shots on the actors faces and the bizarre distraction of the exploding light fittings still baffles me to this day. That last scene is trying to be ambiguous but really it is attempting to justify Pfaster’s murder by suggesting that another presence was at work inside Scully when she pulled the trigger. Bollocks to that. She should just stand up and admit that she wanted him dead. It wouldn’t make the climax any more reasonable but it would at least show some guts, instead of this chicken shit attempt to get her off the hook.

Pre Titles Sequence: I take issue with the Church taking to prisons and attempting to indoctrinate prisoners and lead them onto a better road. Not because I think they will be successful in giving them a better life, because I object to anybody preying on the weak and attempting to bend them to their will. So Orison rubbed me up the wrong from the very beginning. I’m not sure what the significance of the man who chops all of his fingers off with a saw is all about aside from the fact that it is a crude and cheap way of shoving some gore in your face before the credits have hit. I’m a much bigger fan of psychological horror but I do think there is a place for gore within the genre when it is justified. This really isn’t. Not even the slow motion techniques employed were enough to convince me otherwise.

Moment to Watch Out For: We haven’t seen Scully attacked like this for a long time. We have never seen her attacked with this much fury and determination. Kudos to director Rob Bowman for going all out to show how desperate and violent this struggle is…but that still doesn’t make it a very nice sequence to watch. She tears at his eyes and rips flesh away, he smashes her repeatedly against a mirror, she throws all manner of furniture at him and he purrs over the thought of running her a bath and playing with her hair and nails. The piercing scream she releases when she realises that this is the end is truly discomforting to witness. I can’t decide whether this is any good or not. It’s precisely executed but I wouldn’t want to be the sort of person that enjoys watching this.

Orchestra: There’s a wonderful element of foreboding to the episodes early scenes thanks to the unearthly music that plagues the scenes of Scully sensing something is wrong. Snow bashes out all of his frustrations on the piano to give Pfaster his own furious theme that expresses all his inner rage. It’s really quite powerful. 

Result: ‘You’re the one that got away…’ From one the lightest episodes of The X-Files to one of the most uncomfortable. And I don’t mean that in a good way. Chip Johannssen is clearly still yearning to write for Millennium and tries to shoehorn an extra episode into The X-Files with little success. The last time Donnie Pfaster turned up in this show it was fresh faced and still trying to impress but his return appearance is merely a trying experience; nasty for the sake of it, featuring some sick moments of gore, cod religious connotations and an ending that would try the patience of the most ardent of the series’ fans. You would think that after a year and a bit of near constant comedy and light drama that a return to something black and grisly would be welcome but for once I would say that The X-Files has gone too far. There’s trying to shock and there’s sheer tastelessness and whilst some might say that the show already ticked that box with season four’s Home at least the Morgan and Wong script indulged in putrescence playfully with lots of sly winks to the audience. Orison is played so earnestly that it manages to be boring. The one thing I will say is that the few scant moments where it is trying to be vicious and scary it does manage to achieve that, but only by treating Scully like a victim again (I thought we had jettisoned that cliché from the series long ago) and by having her shoot a man in cold blood at the climax which is completely out of character. Was Donnie Pfaster the Devil? Was the show ever going to come out and actually declare that? Of course not. If you are looking for a more responsible if overly simplistic parable on religion then check out this seasons Signs and Wonders. My measly score for this episode belongs to Rob Bowman for forging ahead bleakly with such a flawed script and generating an uncomfortable atmosphere and Mark Snow who delivers one of his more chilling and furious scores. An episode far too mired in its own self importance to make any impact aside from revulsion, this is one for those of you who enjoy watching women being mistreated abominably: 3/10

The Amazing Maleeni written by Vince Gilligan, John Shiban & Frank Spotnitz and directed by Thomas J. Wright

What’s it about: A magicians severed head rolls away from his body after his most impressive trick…

Trust No-One: ‘The Great Muldeeni!’ Both Mulder and Scully are getting in on the fun of this episode. He’s talking like Tony Randall and staging everything as a magicians reveal and she shows a real aptitude for party trickery that leaves him completely baffled.

Brains’n’Beauty: Mulder has performed the neatest trick of all by convincing Scully to drop everything and get on a plane to Los Angeles for this open and shut case. All that is missing from Scully’s reaction to Maleeni’s disability in the face of Mulder’s outrageous accusations is a polite cough. I’ve read that Anderson was having so much fun on this episode that she had to keep reminding herself and Duchovny that this was still the investigation of a potential murder and that they had to treat at least that part of the case with appropriate gravity. She failed at that totally but the atmosphere of the episode is so bubbly that had she walked around with her usual sincerity it would have felt really out of place. Or she would have felt like the one party pooper. Instead the chemistry between her and Duchovny is back in full force as they play tricks on one another and generally waltz through the piece enjoying each others company. Bizarre how their interest in the script determined their on screen relationship these days but the days when it is on, it is really on.  

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘We built you a ramp!’
‘Behold! The Amazing Maleeni’s wallet’ ‘You picked his pocket?’ ‘No I pilfered it from the evidence room to prevent them from completing their final act prestidigitation.’

Ugh: The severed head looks horribly real. Kudos to the make up department on that job.

The Good: It helps that real life magician Ricky Jay is on hand to perform embody the role of Maleeni and he’s every bit as self deprecating (I jest) and cynical as all the conjurors are. Aware of his own abilities but refuse to sugar coat them for the masses, he walks through this episode as if he owns the place and makes it a far more interesting experience for it. He’s back up by his partner in crime (within the story at least) Billy LaBonge, played with a furious lack of charm by Jonathan Levit and I love the idea that there are rivalries between magicians and they would attempt to spoil each others pitches. The fact that their rivalry is all one big con and that they are working together is probably the most impressive trick The Amazing Maleeni pulls off. LaBonge is dicing with death pulling a trick on a known gang boss but he gets away with it through sheer confidence and pulling off the neatest visual trick in the show, the flaming hand extinguishing to reveal his wallet in his palm. Lots of lovely little moments and visual gags that make this a sweeter experience like the doves that come flying out of Maleeni’s van and scare the life out of Mulder.

The Bad: There’s a point around the 25- 30 minute mark where this episode seems to have fallen off the track. It’s clear that some kind of deception is in progress but it is mired in pretty standard bank robbery plot that fails to generate much interest. It doesn’t help that the gangland boss is faceless. Maleeni refrigerating the body of his brother, sawing his head of and using that to pull off his head rolling trick and to fake his death manages to be both blackly funny and quite a disappointing explanation. But then aren’t all tricks disappointing once you’ve learnt how they are done? Maybe that’s why this episode was never going to completely satisfy, because it always had to reveal the inner cogs and workings of the deception that has been attempted. I’m not sure that the final wrap is satisfying in any way. Not just because the actual plotting of their episode is quite linear and by the book and his been dressed up to appear to be more complicated than it looks but also because the motive behind it all, to get back a somebody who made Maleeni’s life hell in prison, is so mundane. It feels like it should be aiming higher somehow. This whole thing has been about accessing electronic fund transfers using Mulder’s fingerprint and badge number? Yawn. It’s a good thing that the tone is so frothy and enjoyable.

Pre Titles Sequence: Maybe it is the way that it is executed but I found that the head twisting trick that Maleeni performs in the teaser just as tedious as the cup and balls trick. Perhaps because it is something that has been mimicked from The Exorcist too man times but I was expecting something really grandiose and death defying. The pre-titles sequence is almost like the episode in a microcosm; fun, a neat idea but not fully realised.

Moment to Watch Out For: The glorious moment of sick comedy when Mulder accuses Maleeni of killing his brother and attempting to pull off the greatest trick in the annals of magic before he pushes backwards from his desk and reveals that he has no legs. It’s funny because it’s wrong in all the best ways. I suppose we were warned (‘that poor man…’).

Fashion Statement: You know how we all have our weird crushes that we try and keep to ourselves in fear of scorn and ridicule? Well I have no problem with revealing that mine are Russell Howard, Richard Ayeoade…and Robert Webb. I bring this up because Jonathan Levit is the spitting image of Webb and so I was quite distracted during the moments when he was on screen. He even plays Billy LaBonbe with Webb’s trademark dangerous humour and unpredictability that really floats my boat. Basically he could have performed any trick on me (no, not like that) because in my mind was somewhere else. It’s a point I have made ever since season four but it seemed to vanish through much of the last two years but it is hard to buy into characters like Mulder and Scully when they walk around looking like perfectly coiffured supermodels. Establishment authority figures that look as though they have stepped out of Cosmopolitan – I can’t imagine many in the audience identifying with them. Their look in season seven is more artifical and stylised than ever, Scully rarely has a hair out of place in her perfectly styled do and they are both squeezed into fitting and flattering designer suits. Although Scully looks hot in a top hat, it has to be said.

Orchestra: Playful and memorable; why is it that all Snow’s best scores feature in the lighter episodes these days? 

Result: The Amazing Maleeni is rather like an experience at a Chinese buffet. You get excited going in and enjoy your way through it’s very appealing looking component parts and yet once you are finished you realise that you are a little glutted of this kind of thing and that the meal has been rather unmemorable. It is a sleight of hand narrative that has to play out like a perfectly executed trick but that only pays off if the reveal exposes how beautifully plotted the whole thing has been. Instead this seems to be built around moments of pure luck and co-incidence, and it is far too overly complicated for its own good. On the other hand it is so much better than Orison (not a difficult feat, I grant you). As an overall experience it might one that is better suited to those who dip in and out of the series casually rather than an ardent fan who might pick it apart to see if it makes sense – I remember watching this with my brother in law when it first aired and he was delighted by the whole experience. It’s an episode that is massively boosted by the efforts of it’s performers and there are two fantastic partnerships that are great fun to watch; that of Anderson and Duchovny and also Ricky Jay and Jonathan Levit. It’s rather nice to have an episode that has no connection to the paranormal whatsoever, although it is interesting to note that Vince Gilligan described writing this piece as ‘agony’ because there are signs that for once he was struggling and the extra names on the credits shows that this was one time when he needed to ask for help. Exposing how season seven is a performing a notch down on season six, the relative proximity of lighter episodes such as The Goldberg Variation and The Amazing Maleeni reminds me of the string of comedy gems that piled up in the first half of last year but they are not aspiring to the heights of shows like The Rain King or How the Ghosts Stole Christmas. Flawed but fun: 7/10

 Signs & Wonders written by Jeffrey Bell and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: A war between churches and their respective Priests handling of snakes…

Trust No-One: Mulder thinks that somebody offering you all the answers can be a very powerful thing. Is he pining for Deep Throat? It’s a rare serious showing for Duchovny where he looks like he gives a toss in early season seven, which is why it is so frustrating that he suddenly sounds flat and uninterested at the climax when he needs to make the reveal about Mackay count. When he says ‘stay where you are’ he sounds just like Ninestein from Terrahawks, and we all remember what a charmer he was.

Brains’n’Beauty: Trust Scully to spoil the party and bring religion into the episode when it was chugging along just fine with it’s hissing snake set pieces. Personally I find a massive difference between Scully being attacked in Orison and the treatment she receives by O’Connor in Signs and Wonders. In the former episode her personal space was invaded in the most intimate way, she is beaten up in an extremely nasty way and it all feels as though something that could (and probably does) happen in real life. To make entertainment out of a woman having the shit kicked out of her like this just doesn’t sit well with me. Whereas this is the much more comfortable fantasy violence that The X-Files usually promotes where she is held down against a pit full of snakes (eugh!) and her sins are judged. It’s slightly ridiculous and that makes all the difference (it also helps that I can understand why O’Connor behaves this way whereas Pfaster took to beating on Scully simply because he enjoyed it…brrr).

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘These particular serpents actually were serving evil? Are you going to type that on our travel request?’

Ugh: SNAKES! Snakes, snakes, snakes, snakes…..snaaaaaaaaakes! Naturally The X-Files goes for broke and acquires the services of the nastiest looking, slippery, hissing and snapping reptiles they can get their hands on and the net result is this reviewer watching most of the episode from between his fingers. I don’t know what it is about snakes that terrifies me so much (I would hazard a guess that it is because they are about as far from the human form as you can get with their lithe, slithery bodies, beedy eyes and flicking tongues) but if I’m near one in a zoo I suddenly come over with apoplexy. The sound effects deployed in Signs and Wonders are enough to give the willies all on their own without even seeing the snakes crawl into view. At one point, what looks like it is going to be a perfectly ordinary shot of O’Connor handling a python (or as ordinary as such an act can be) Manners suddenly gains focus on the snakes hissing face which is reaching towards the camera and the unsuspecting audience. I nearly fell off my seat. If I was Iris I would have screamed and screamed when the snake suddenly emerged from the sink. She turns and is confronted by a tangle of reptiles all baying for her blood. What are they trying to do to me? Just when you think it can’t get any more repulsive, O’Connor’s snake bite wounds start oozing with yellow puss.

The Good: It is thanks to the work of Randy Oglesby as the Reverend Mackey that the twist about him being the antagonist is kept hidden for so long. The script wants you to believe so badly that Mackey is virtuous and that O’Connor is as perfidious as a snake that you know things can’t quite be as simple as they appear. As good as Oglesby is, he cannot match Michael Childers who throws himself into the role of the furious evangelist with everything he has. He lights up the screen whenever he appears, exactly the sort of over the top preacher that you might role your eyes at when you accidentally switch over to GOD TV but absolutely terrorizing with it. Whilst it might be an overly simplistic overview of religious congregations, I rather liked the intercut scenes of the two churches as they enjoy their evening mass. One is an evangelistic nightmare of hysterical verse and promises of salvation and miracle cures and the other is a solemn and contemplative expression of brown study. The former is so dramatic (‘…if you are lukewarm he will vomit you out of his mouth!’) so that the latter can be disguised as the one that is innocent when the truth of the matter is the snake in the grass is Mackey and not O’Connor.  The Church of Signs and Wonders brews up such a frenzied atmosphere it exposes everything that I despise about this kind of Church, indoctrination through hysteria. The playful final shot is the perfect way to close this unpretentious slice of horror.

The Bad: The one point where the snake attacks don’t really work (I know because I was breaking out in a cold sweat at this stage) is during the climax. Mulder shirking off a ton of rubbery examples that have been draped over his jacket doesn’t really cut the mustard. However Manners saves one moment, where the snake stares Mulder out and bites him suddenly in the neck, until the very last moment. That made me jump out of my skin.

Pre Titles Sequence: Unlike season six which was pretty much light with the odd shade of darkness thrown in to remind us that this was still The X-Files, season seven seems to switch tones on an episode-by-episode basis. Millennium was dark, Goldberg was light, Orison was dark, Maleeni was light and now Signs and Wonders is dark again. You can pretty much tell with season seven from the first scene whether this is going to be a light or dark kind of show of which this with its storm lashed creepy house, spooky silhouettes at the window and attacks by vicious snakes is most definitely the latter. After three episodes with unmemorable opening set pieces, the gang of fat, slimy, hungry snakes that attack are a magnificent return to form and a real touch of that classic horror that the show used to promote far more than it does these days.

Moment to Watch Out For: One of the most memorably grisly sequences on the show in some time, Gracie giving birth to a mass of writhing, bloody snakes has never left my mind since I first watched this episode. It’s obscenely graphic and might just be the most vomit inducing thing that Kim Manners has put on screen since Home, perverting the sanctity of birth with something truly grotesque. I love how it is staged as an attack and yet the twist at the climax turns the whole sequence on its head and they are actually trying to save Gracie.

Result: I knew this day would come…snakes! They are one hundred percent my worst phobia to a point where I literally get the sweats at watching them slithering about on my 52 inch TV. You can keep your spiders and your confined spaces and heights, these reptiles get under my skin like nothing else. After what feels like a long string of episodes away, Kim Manners is back in the driving seat and the inconsistent tone that has plagued the series since his last effort has gone (in reality it has been a measly five but for Manners it is rare for him to be absent from the schedules this long). I have moaned an awful lot these past two seasons when the show has tried to go down the nostalgia route and failed by attempting a monster of the week episode with no novelty. That’s a little unfair since that is a formula that works, otherwise the show would never have taken off as it did. Signs and Wonders proves that it can still work with a little effort (that’s the key difference between this and non entities such as Alpha and Rush) because there is nothing here that specifically states it has to take place in season seven, it could just as comfortably snuggle into the shows first two years without complaint. It’s got a terrifying monster, some nice twists, energetic performances and lashings of atmosphere. It has all the things that put this show on the map. It is weird to say that a story that is this creepy as hell is a refreshing change, but that is where the show is at for the moment: 8/10

 Sein und Zeit written by Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz and directed by Michael Watkins

What’s it about: The abduction of a little girl unearths some stirring emotions in Mulder…

Trust No-One: A little girl being abducted from her home at night is bound to bring all sorts of feelings to the surface for Mulder. His simple but demanding ‘I want this case’ says everything you need to know about his head space. Duchovny sounds subdued but this time it is because he is trying to bottle up Mulder’s emotions and release them only a bit at a time. If he wasn’t invested enough in this case already, the death of his mother encourages him to plunge into his work with even more passion. There was never a particularly strong bond between Mulder and his mother and his awkward reaction to her death reveals that more than ever. His life has been on a continuous trajectory of conspiracy and murder so naturally he links the two things in to his mothers death, suspecting foul play. It’s quite pathetic really because this is a simple case of an old woman’s heart giving out. He’s a man that is struggling with his work, suffering something of a nervous breakdown at the loss of another family member but determined to forge ahead regardless. Scully can only stand by and comfort him as he heads down a path of self destruction.

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully rather bluntly states that Kethy was convicted in a court of law for the murder of her son. Pretty tough talk for a woman who got away with cold blooded murder just a few months back. She is decidedly uncomfortable with the idea of performing an autopsy on Teena Mulder and it proves the strength of feeling that she has for him that she goes ahead anyway.

Assistant Director: How wonderful to finally get a chance to see Skinner heading an investigation that isn’t solely about Mulder’s work with The X-Files. He comes across very strongly in this episode with an almost paternal affection for Mulder, understanding that the men under his control have to blow of steam in whatever way they see fit given the nature of the case and even serving as a man of action in the last five minutes when he finds and halts the sick work of the predator in the Santa grotto.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘No one saw a stranger on a Friday at a fairly early hour enter into a locked and lighted home and remove this little girl undetected.’

Ugh: Somebody is filming little kids playing in the garden throwing autumnal leaves and getting a thrill from it, sizing up his next victim. It might just be the most shuddersome moment the series has presented yet, all the more chilling for how understated it is. We don’t realise that it is a portent of something rather wonderful and uplifting at this stage and so the ghostly visitations of the dead children chill the blood and serve as a reminder to what the parents have lost. Taking into account this isn’t the work of aliens but a fat, perverted, middle-aged man who dresses up in a Santa costume and films children visiting his grotto every Christmas; this episode is every parents worst nightmare come true.

The Good: Considering this episode is about the abduction of children by a paedophile you would think that The X-Files would have to tread a very careful line. However Carter and Spotnitz pull their punches in what has to described as their most hard hitting script. Gone is all the tosh about alien bounty hunters and killer bees and instead they are focussing on real human drama and tragedy. They clearly thought that this was an avenue that worked for the show because they pretty much borrowed this story wholesale as the backstory for John Doggett next year too similarly dramatic effect. The subtle mention that the Agents in Skinners office have a pool going guessing whether Amber-Lynn is dead or alive really hits home how these people cope with the stresses of the nastier aspects of their job. Not even the appearance of the stiff as plywood Rebecca Toolan can spoil the accomplished tone of this episode. I can understand why the FBI believes that the parents had a hand in the abduction of their child since all the evidence points in that direction but Carter and Spotnitz’s script is clear enough that they are entirely innocent, even before Mulder’s intervention. That means the clock is ticking for him to prove their virtue. In an episode full of fantastic performances, Kim Darby shines the brightest but does so by delivering one of the least charismatic of characters. Kethy Lee Tencate is such a plain, uncomplicated woman who has fallen victim to circumstances out of her control and tried to make the best of a bad situation by owning up to the murder of her child, despite the fact it isn’t true. She’s exactly what the LaPierre’s will be in five years if Mulder doesn’t make an adequate case for them. The sad truth of the matter is that Kethy has been living with the lie of killing her son for so long that she has even started to believe it herself. And that’s horrible. How about the family defence lawyer who is in over his head with this case? What a lovely, realistic character. In an episode where quiet emotion is favoured over melodrama, the death of Teena Mulder (hooray!) happens off screen and isn’t sensationalised. It is a rather more dignified ending than the character deserved but I appreciated the naturalism of it all the same. The Walk-Ins, old souls looking for new homes, are barely touched upon in the first episode, but sound like a genuinely interesting prospect. Here’s to learning more about them. I like the idea of a child’s soul being coaxed from their body to prevent them from having to go through an uncomfortable experience – it gives hope to all those parents who have lost their children to despicable acts of cruelty or co-incidence. Maybe it is because I know precisely the sort of practices that are being conducted on the premises that makes me feel this way but there is a certain unpleasant atmosphere to the Christmas themed ranch. It doesn’t quite have the stylish sheen you would expect from such a place, looking more than a little run down. Everything about Skinner’s pursuit of their felon is beautifully executed; the crisp, sunny location chosen, the fluid camerawork and Mark Snow’s dynamic score. Few shows can claim to have literally taken my breath away and given me goosebumps at the same time but the cliffhanging pull away from Mulder and Scully to reveal an obscene number of protubences in the ground definitely qualifies. The graves of the dead children.

The Bad: The only thing that doesn’t quite ring true about this episode is the co-incidence of Scully, Skinner and Mulder driving past the sign for the Santa’s grotto where their nasty is conducting his obscene business. That and Rebecca Toolan, of course.

Pre Titles Sequence: Quietly haunting, this is one of the best pre-titles sequences of the year and every parents worst nightmare. I like how it plays out at such a sedate pace with the LaPierre’s putting their daughter to bed and going through their nightly routines (he stays up to watch a late night movie, she goes straight to bed one Amber is tucked up). I’m not sure what is more horrific, the visual horror of Amber being stone cold dead in bed and covered in bruises or the conceptual horror of her mother being taken over by the spirit of the kidnapper and quietly writing out the ransom note. Either way it is not going to look good for the innocent parents. Because this is a two parter it can play out over five minutes and it is all the more chilling for it.

Moment to Watch Out For: The moment when Mulder finally breaks down, unable to cope with the mundanity of his mothers death when he was so determined that she was taken from him for some grand purpose. The fact that this is a case of suicide in the face of a horribly incurable disease and Mulder’s determination that she was murdered feels right.

Result: Season seven continues to veer between the traditional and the pioneering and this is an exceptional example of the latter. One the most unreliable pairings on this show, Carter and Spotnitz clearly needed to clear the decks a lot sooner because since all the baggage was tossed out the window in Two Fathers/One Son their mythology have all been very strong and as we move into the eighth season will only get stronger. Before the show kicks off a new chapter at the beginning of the next season, the abduction of Samantha is the final box to be ticked of the mysteries that powered the shows first seven seasons and this feels like the perfect time to final spill the beans. Sein Und Zeit is a beautifully scripted human drama that favours strong performances over any kind of sensationalism and so I can understand why people approaching The X-Files for thrills and spills might be disappointed but as an example of the type of story it is trying to tell it is practically flawless. Atypical in it’s subtlety and injection of realism, you’ll unearth a number of exceptional performances in this episode from all three regulars right down to the impressive guest cast all playing their part in making this as discomforting an experience as possible. If this isn’t quite as flawless as the two part classic that stood proud in the middle of season six (but then few episodes are), it is still very, very good and easily the most accomplished piece of the season seven puzzle to date: 9/10

 Closure written by Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Mulder finally learns the truth about his sister…

Trust No-One: There has never been much doubt surrounding Mulder’s belief that his sister was abducted by aliens before (perhaps in the stunning season four episode Paper Hearts but I don’t think anybody was convinced that this would be the work of a paedophile) so it is interesting to witness that he was given treatment by a psychologist that doubted the credence of his story. Look at that shot of Mulder in the half light with his ghostly mother talking away in the background, it is hauntingly achieved. The scenes between Harold and Mulder are vital because Harold is precisely who Mulder could become if he let the search for his sister consume him totally to the exclusion of all else. It’s another indictment of Scully who managed to keep him centred and engaged with his work. Carter is on record as admitting that Duchovny was bored with going through the same old rigmarole over the potential solution to the Samantha problem and he promised that this was the last time he would have to go through this routine. There is something of that season seven laxity to his performance here but it works in context of the episode, Mulder is as sick of getting his hopes up for a solution as Duchovny is. The flat emotion in his voice during certain scenes (not all) actually helps to sell how this character cannot take any more false promises and how much his mothers death has robbed him of his spirit. It is what makes that smile of blissful contentment at the climax so rewarding. It is important that we see Harold stomping off in the last scene and refusing to believe that his son is dead. It contrasts beautifully with Mulder who has found peace through acceptance at last.

Brains’n’Beauty: It is when Scully, his rock, tries to force Mulder to accept the fact that Samantha is dead that he finally loses his temper. It’s the last thing he wants to hear from the woman he trusts the most but she is doing it for his own good.

Smoking Man: I like the fact that the Smoking Man (somehow I can’t justify calling him CGB Spender, it’s just so boring) still has a role to play in the series after his plans to prevent the colonisation of the planet went to the dogs. At the beginning of the season he was used as a conduit for Mulder to explore where his life’s work has brought him and to try and offer him something more worthwhile (whilst dropping the unconvincing clanger that he is his father, which we shall assume was a fib since it is never mentioned again). His role in this episode is mandatory because he has been so caught up in the answers during Mulder’s search for Samantha. Had he not had a hand in her abduction and subsequent disappearance after all the hints and whispers to the fact, it would have made a mockery of so much material gone by. Now they are no further threat to his plans, now there is nothing to protect any more, he can start spilling the beans and proving himself an ally to Mulder and Scully. Despite the fact that they would never buy into him as a reformed character. William B. Davis achieves some of his best work in season seven (with En Ami to come), the only one of the regulars who is at their zenith this year. The Smoking Man was ultimately responsible for bringing Samantha to the airbase and raising her for a short while with Jeffrey, but the Walk-Ins soon intervened when they realised what fate he had in store for her. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You don’t know how badly I wanted her to be in one of those graves’ – take a second to digest what Mulder is saying here. He is so tired of looking for answers when it comes to his sister that he would be fulfilled with the explanation that she was interfered with an murdered by Truelove. Wow. He just wants it to be over.
‘Who wrote that?’ ‘You did…’ – one of those spine-tingling moments that creeps up on you. It explains away Billie LaPierre’s ransom note in the last episode rather neatly too.

Ugh: Just when it feels like the story might be over with the discovery of Samantha’s diary, there is a terrific shock moment where Teena Mulder lurches at her sleeping son and starts talking mutely at him. Nice to see her final shot is a surprising one.

The Good: We don’t even need to witness the interrogation of Ed Truelove because that isn’t what this episode is all about. It would be far too obvious to go down the route of a traditional police investigation (we can leave that to countless other X-Files episodes that stick to convention) when his guilt was simply a stepping stone to get from Amber-Lynn to Samantha. Continuing the spread of phenomenal performances across these two episodes, Closure is spearheaded by a bravura turn from Anthony Heald as Harold Piller. A man who has also suffered a personal loss and is chasing after the memory of his son, he is a character that undergoes several shifts throughout the episode from assisting investigator to potential psychotic to a tragic victim of circumstance like all the other parents featured. Certain members of the audience couldn’t get their heads around the ideas of the Walk-Ins, possibly because of the fairytale nature of being described as ‘good spirits.’ Liver eating mutants, giant bloodsucking fluke worms and men that re-grow their heads when decapitated are all fair game but when it comes to something as Disney as this then all bets are off. I don’t buy it. It reminds when ardent fans of Doctor Who watch a story and declare the ideas implausible and embarrassing and yet they have bought into a show that features a centuries old alien that travels all of time and space in a police box. Egg on your face. I think the concept of a benevolent force that extracts the souls of children that are about to undergo some awful trauma is rather beautiful, The X-Files offering a positive spin on the supernatural for a change. Discovering Samantha and Jeffrey’s hand prints in the cement at the air base is a small moment for the episode but a massive moment for the series. It is the promise that the end is nigh for this extended narrative, such a playful symbol is far too intimate to be mocked up. It guarantees that the answers to her abduction are here.

The Bad: Minus half a point for that terrible, terrible wig that they shove Duchovny in to try and suggest he is ten years younger. How clumsily scripted are Samantha’s diary entries? ‘…but he gave me such a chill when I asked would he crush out his cigarette’ is such an awkward way to tell the audience of the Smoking Man’s involvement.

Pre Titles Sequence: Even the usual pretentious voiceover seems more powerful than usual but then how can it not when it is playing over the excavation of a crime scene that consists of so many dead childrens hastily dug graves. Detectives weep as they drag the muddy corpses from the ground. It’s almost too tragic to bear witness to and easily one of the most powerful things that either Carter and Spotnitz have scripted. When starlight descends over the scene and the souls of the children start emerging from the graves it is a blessed relief. I couldn’t handle an entire episode that depressing. To shift tone so effectively from something so sick and upsetting to an altogether more uplifting affair shows a confidence that only a show in its seventh successful year can pull off.

Moment to Watch Out For: Two sequences in Closure count amongst my favourites of the shows run. The first comes halfway through the episode and features a beautifully directed séance where Mulder, Scully and Harold all hold hands and call forth the spirits of the dead. If that sounds glib then I’m not explaining it very well because the resulting sequence where the faces of the dead stare curiously at them is perfection itself. Snow’s score here is rarely bettered, playing my emotions like a coaxing music from an instrument. The second is the climax to the episode which finally reunites Mulder and his sister in a way that nobody expected, and it is all the more poignant for it. Samantha is dead, her spirit existing in an eternal playground in starlight and because he has allowed himself to believe that it is true Mulder can finally see the truth. It has been his assurance that she was abducted by aliens that held this moment back, his own faith was his worst enemy. Surprising, shot in beautiful sapphire sunshine, featuring a stunning soundtrack (My Weakness by Moby) and managing to be touching without every descending into maudlin territory, this is about as perfect an ending for the Samantha storyline as I could have hoped for. Duchovny’s performance is the icing on the cake, this is probably the last time he would truly break my heart in the series and the sense of contentment and joy that he expresses in Mulder’s smile as he embraces his sister is one of those rare moments that provokes tears.

Orchestra: One of my favourite Mark Snow scores and one that I wish I could find on a soundtrack, Closure features one beautiful piece of music after another which perfectly captures the delicate tone of the piece and eases the audience into feeling all the right emotions at the right times. I love the way this man manipulates the piano to get a rise out of me and his achingly poignant elegy during the séance sequence remains my favourite of all his pieces of music. 

Result: Closure has seven years worth of expectation stack against it so it was bound to displease a certain portion of the audience. Like the conclusion of Lost and Dexter that would come later, you cannot dangle a carrot in front of your audience for so long and snatch it away not expect your loyal audience to be a little upset. Sometimes I feel that the fact that some long held is ending is enough for some people to throw their toys out of the pram. I thought this was rather beautiful, defying every expectation that I had for the conclusion of the Samantha arc and doing something rather delicate and imaginative rather than plumping for the more obvious route of pomp and circumstance. It’s true that her storyline ends with a whimper rather than a bang but it is such a exquisitely crafted whimper that I really can’t find much to fault it other than it wasn’t what I anticipated. Mind you we have had so many possible outcomes for this character thrust under our noses over the years pretty much any definitive answer would have satisfied me at this point. Closure continues on from Sein Und Zeit in that it is a perfectly pitched script that plays with the audiences emotions expertly, and Kim Manners directs this piece as an illusory fairytale that helps to heal some of the gaping wounds left after the stunning cliffhanger of the previous episode. What astonishes me about this climactic (in terms of its aims, not its content) two parter is that so much of the story is conveyed almost entirely through the characters rather than relying on stylish set pieces to drive the piece forwards. It makes a very refreshing change (so much so future episodes John Doe and Release would repeat the formula to similar success) and means the performances are more vital and impressive than ever. There are a few moments of over sentimentality but overall the emotion that runs through this story is perfectly judged. Featuring two of my favourite sequences, a contender for Mark Snow’s best score and an ending that surprises in its quietness, Closure is not at all what I was expecting and is all the better for it. The fact that they manage to package an anti-climax so beautifully is a credit to the writers and director: 9/10

X-Cops written by Vince Gilligan and directed by Michael Watkins

What’s it about: ‘Bad Boys, Bad Boys…what’cho gunna do when they come for you?’

Trust No-One: It looks like Mulder still doesn’t have that filter that tells him when to hold his tongue and stop talking paranormal gubbins when his audience isn’t responding well. Paula asks to see his badge again because she is convinced that he is a nutter. Vince Gilligan has to write for Mulder and Scully in a very different way than usual, like they are making up what they are saying as they go along rather than delivering perfectly scripted speeches. It means Duchovny and Anderson get to improvise a lot more in their performance…but the net result is they seem much less charismatic than usual, even dour. Mulder agrees with Keith that it is hard to have a fast track career in law enforcement when everybody thinks you are nuts. He’s found a kindred spirit in the Deputy.

Brains’n’Beauty: Here’s our chance to see Mulder and Scully in the cold, crisp light of day instead of being expertly lit and shot to make them look as gorgeous as possible…and they still look absolutely stunning. Gillian Anderson gets to have the most fun with this episode as the camera shy Scully, trying to duck behind whatever objects are available rather than being exposed on national television as the sort of woman that investigates paranormal. Mulder is flattered that she doesn’t want him looking foolish to an audience of millions but Scully stops him in his tracks with the hilarious statement that she doesn’t want her looking foolish. The running joke that the FBI has nothing to hide made me howl, especially when Scully delivers it straight to camera with a cheeky smile. Brilliantly, she slams the back door of their rental car, refusing entrance to the COPS cameraman. I’ve only just noticed it but Scully says ‘Oh God!’ with alarming regularity considering her religious leanings. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Mulder have you noticed that we are on television?’ ‘I don’t think it’s live television, Scully, she just said f*ck.’
‘I’m ready for my close up!’ 

The Good: Here’s a chance to see what The X-Files would look like if it was shot on video instead of film and the results aren’t as cheap as you might think. Because The X-Files is so well lit, X-Cops looks snappy and stylish rather than flat and uninteresting as shows often can when losing the sheen of film work. Shot documentary style, X-Cops feels like a real life drama playing out rather than a lavish piece of genre television. The resulting effect is something cold and crisp and very refreshing. This is also the only X-Files episode to be shot in real time (Triangle flirted with the idea with its blocks of continuous scenes but always took an ad break and wound up somewhere else in the narrative when it came back) and exploits the drama of investigating an unknown nasty over the space of one night with all the build up of tension that comes with it. The cast deserve real kudos for their performances in this episode, having to drop the pretence of playing characters in a fictional show and pretending to be real life figures in a police documentary. They all do a fine job, especially Dee Freeman who injects that little extra melodrama into her performance as one of those people who are in front of camera and pretend to object to its presence but in reality love the exposure. Paula Duthie is your standard police sergeant, talking the talk, strutting with attitude and not taking any of Mulder’s paranormal bollocks as an explanation for what is going on (‘with all due respect what the f*ck are you talking about?’). I usually hate it when gay stereotypes hit the airwaves because it does nothing but confirm the more ignorant members of the audiences expectations but every now again I stumble across some hilariously done screaming queens that are just a delight to be around and Steve and Edie definitely qualify (Armand and Albert from The Birdcage are right up there too). They just love the camera and play up for it at every opportunity, either by spreading malicious gossip or plastering their uber dramatic domestics all over national television. The raid on the drugs den proves to be a stimulating set piece because we go in over the shoulder of Mulder and Scully and get to witness what a turbulent panic the atmosphere is. Gilligan manages to plot out an effectively chilling story within this format with the audience informed at every stage that each victim of this creatures is seeing the thing that they fear the most. It means we never have to actually see the monster of the week because it will take on a different guise to each person. X-Cops features some of the best ever autopsy scenes with Scully having to cope with a real hypochondriac of a lab assistant who is convinced they will succumb to some kind of contamination. It’s a very clever piece of writing, showing the assistants fear of contagion and then having her suffer from it, thus exposing the nature of this weeks threat in the flesh without having to show us any kind of ‘monster’ to spoil the realism of the piece. In the search of the darkened crack den by the Deputy you have one of the most genuinely frightening moments in The X-Files. We know this thing can be anything now and he is trapped inside with it. I’m not sure what is funnier – finding the COPS camera crew hiding in the cupboard, screaming or Scully’s reaction (‘I hate you guys!’) and slamming the door on them again.

The Bad: Was it worth Vince Gilligan having a paddy over the ‘viewer discretion’ at the beginning of the episode? Yes and no. It wasn’t absolutely necessary because as soon as Mulder and Scully appear in character it would clear to everybody watching that this isn’t a genuine episode of COPS. But given the Ghostwatch furore and the similarly art invading life a nature of broadcasted panic such as The War of the Worlds it was probably a sensible idea. I’m always saying that writers should treat their audience with intelligence but the truth is there are daft people out there that would probably be reaching for the phone after the pre-credits sequence thinking that a copper has genuinely been mauled to death by a werewolf. By the very nature of the episode we cannot hope for a satisfying conclusion in the way that the show (sometimes) wraps things up with a polished set piece. This is trying imitate real life and real life doesn’t work like that. As a result, listening to Keith being attacked behind a closed door doesn’t quite live up to the rest of the episode.

Pre Titles Sequence: I try and steer clear of reality television on UK TV so I certainly don’t seek it out in the US (despite a friends’ endless attempts to get me to watch something called Dog the Bounty Hunter) but even I have heard of COPS and recognise the famous theme tune. To have clips of the episode assembled into a montage and having Bad Boys slapped over the top produced a delighted reaction in me. The X-Files is having fun again, experimental style. The teaser itself is very well done because it reveals instantly that they are going for a very authentic look. Not only that but the attack that takes place with the cameraman being pursued through the garden and then attacked in the police car is absolutely terrifying because we are seeing the whole thing through the lens. We are there with them the whole time the car is being flipped and crushed. It’s one of the best pre-title sequences because it pulls off the potential of The X-Files/COPS merger straight away and shows that this is really going to work whilst being heart stoppingly tense at the same time. The director manages to tell the story and make the footage look entirely random. It proves that old adage is true that it is far scarier to not see the monster. We are pursued by something and the frenzied panic is much more frightening because we don’t know what it is. 

Moment to Watch Out For: The brilliant moment when Mulder and Scully think that Steve and Edie are being attacked by the creature but it turns out they are just having a periodic bitch fight with plenty of screaming and wailing. The scenes of Mulder trying to placate the gay couple and get them communicating again are worth the admission price alone. Duchovny’s reaction to ‘He wont make love to me…’ made me scream with laughter.

Orchestra: The bizarre thing about the dearth of music is how little it is missed and how much atmosphere is created without it. Go figure.

Result: X-Cops is the fourth excellent episode in a row…after a pretty shaky start has season seven turned a corner? To marry The X-Files and the police reality show is such an inspired, obvious idea that it is astonishing that nobody has ever thought of it before and it works brilliantly as an example of both, offering much for the audience of both shows. This is an extremely skilful piece of direction on Michael Watkins part because he has to shoot this episode documentary style and yet still ensure that the camera catches all the right pieces of visual information for the audience to be able to put the story together. It’s nice to have all the fluffs and bumps and awkward moments that comes with live television kept in too. Because this played out in real time there is a chance to build an atmosphere of terror unlike anything seen before and since in The X-Files and the action feels gripping and immediate. It borrows The Blair Witch Project’s giddy style of filming but applies to a far more satisfying script and the end result is a piece of television that is revolutionary, clever and very frightening in places. The only reason this isn’t getting full marks (because it probably deserves it) is because the idea runs out of steam just before the end and leaves the audience waiting for a denouement that never arrives (but then life doesn’t package things up in tidy endings). That aside, X-Cops is an unexpected delight that takes risks and wins and proves that Carter is still willing to push the boat out at the seven year mark: 9/10

First Person Shooter written by William Gibson & Tom Maddox and directed by Chris Carter

What’s it about: Words fail me…

Trust No-One: There was one quick moment that made me laugh when Scully mentioned computer games and Mulder tries to tart it up calling it ‘digital media.’ It reminded me of my husband who calls a graphic novel a ‘comic book’ much to my chargin. Mulder calls Scully sexist in his defence of the game…does not compute. He thinks that playing video games allows men to get out all those violent and sexist impulses that civilised societies deny them. Clearly he is just as bad as the rest of them, losing his instincts for survival in the face of a (skankily dressed) vixen. Somehow I thought more of him than that. The sight of Maitreya straddling a tank in combat gear was probably enough to make Mulder cream his pants. 

Brains’n’Beauty: The fact that Scully calls Maitreya a ‘voluptuous vixen’ rather than a ‘male wank doll’ proves that she really doesn’t understand what she is talking about. ‘What kind of moron gets his yayas out like that?’ Scully condemns halfway through the episode…so can you imagine where she ends up by the climax and absolutely loving it? 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Mulder, why does this game have the effect of turning grown men back into moony adolescents?’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Woah, it’s a total massacre out there!’ is about as sophisticated as the dialogue gets.
‘The blood thirst is unquenchable’ – would even the most anal of geeks say a line like that?
‘She’s packing a flintlock’ ‘That aint all she’s packing’ – Mulder and the Lone Gunmen lusting over a leather clad non-entity that is bursting out of her top.
‘No fair picking on a girl’ – picture me as the comic book guy from The Simpsons when I say this…worst line ever.
‘Scully’s on fire!’ ‘The bloodlust is unquenchable!’ ‘Are you witnessing this?’

Ugh: Pretty much my reaction throughout.

The Bad: Right from the start this episode assumes that it is only tubsters and geeks that enjoy playing games that take you away from reality, an assumption that certainly doesn’t work in my world. The only two people that I know lose themselves in a virtual world are both full engaged with the real world, mature and extremely attractive. Sending the Lone Gunmen are talking like horny illiterate teenagers who cannot string a sentence together unless it is stitched up by yoof slang and over excitement. They’ve never sounded like this before and they never will again, it is Maddox and Gibson taking their love for the trio to an extreme and as a result handing them their worst interpretation in the entire nine years on the show. Try hard as I might, I have encountered few characters as irritating as Ivan Martinez in my long trawl through television archives. Self centred, amoral, cowardly, geeky and sexist, there is so little going for this guy I am astonished that he makes it out at the end. I’m not entirely sure why everybody is so in awe of Darryl Musashi beyond the fact that he has a real aptitude for using his thumbs to play video games. Big woo. That’ll come in handy during the apocalypse. When he is plugged into the game he doesn’t appear any more skilled than the guys we saw playing in the teaser and yet the Gunmen simultaneously sing his praises whilst yanking on their little soldiers. I know I have been asked to get my head around a lot of amazing concepts during the first seven years of this show but I have really stuttered in First Person Shooter. I’m like K.9 going round and round in circles screaming ‘does not compute…does not compute…’ I don’t understand how a virtual character, somebody that has no physical presence whatsoever, can will herself into existence and start murdering people. You can’t make something out of nothing. And the guilty party can be found hiding away in the back of most scenes, Phoebe embodying the role of the female underdog casting worrying glances throughout. If you haven’t figured out that she is responsible ten minutes in then your deductive faculties have short circuited. Brilliantly, Maddox and Gibson hang a lantern on the notion that simulated violence might be actualised in the real world, a debate that belongs in a far more intelligent piece of work than this. But they want you to know that they have considered it for about five seconds so you can’t object when they get back to the fury of orgasmic violence. The climax, which features Mulder and Scully decked out in shooter gear in a Wild West setting blasting the crap out of a cowgirl vixen duplicates, is so awful I thought I had stepped through into an alternative universe where The X-Files was written by monkeys. To be fair they probably would have done a better job. Carter tries to pitch the climax at as tragic loss of a game that would make millions, Ivan the power mad creator suffering a breakdown at the loss of his world. It’s just insane. Wow, there’s even an atrociously written voiceover to close this abhorrence of the sort we haven’t suffered for some time. Marvellous, the last scene suggests a sequel.

Pre Titles Sequence: I suppose the opening sequence does have a certain mad energy to it, although to the less kind it could just be called volume (screaming, rock music, alarms, bullets bursting from barrels). What is immediately obvious is that even if this was the sort of thing that I would like to engage in (which it really isn’t) it is actually a rather boring game consisting of wandering around a street shooting at motorbikes. And what kind of pleasure am I supposed to get out of that precisely? Perhaps the Grand Theft Auto crowd can fill me in. I understand the adrenalin rush of shooting a gun but surely you could come up with something a little more imaginative than this. Shooting out warehouse windows is hardly the pique of excitement. Still at least the fat guy buys the farm, his gut looking as though it has literally burst pus from excitement. That’s what you get for eating too many burgers before getting your kicks. Just so you know precisely what this episode is about before the end of the teaser along pops Maitreya, armed with a knife for butchering pigs and enough collagen in her lips to consume a small continent. She’s a walking sexist cliché disguised as a figure of female empowerment and she’s here to slice through the perception of women in the media and set them back a few decades. In comparison to the pre-titles sequence of their other X-Files episode, Gibson and Maddox have dropped the ball completely here. The only way that Phoebe can strike a blow for women in a male dominated industry is to create a buxom vixen that turns up as a surprise executioner during a shoot’em up. I can’t believe I just strung that sentence together, let alone that Fox green lit a piece of work with such a putrescent premise and motivation.

Moment to Watch Out For: The police all standing around outside the interrogation room practically rubbing themselves with excitement at the hooker that is incarcerated inside. An unbelievably misogynistic moment of television in a show that has done so much to promote a strong female lead. The camera that is positioned for perfect exposure when she opens her legs (much appreciated by a drooling Mulder) is obscene.

Fashion Statement: It’s impossible to describe just how ridiculous Mulder and Scully look dressed as techno warriors but if I ever suggest that the pair of them walking around decked out like catalogue models is detrimental to the show again, remind me of this moment. 

Result: They should have called this episode Jump the Shark. About as bad as you can imagine The X-Files getting if nobody involved was taking it seriously and then some. First Person Shooter and another upcoming episode to feature in season seven are my two least favourite episodes of the show, the only time that the discomfiture of almost no marks is assigned to this incredible series. It reminds me of the Neil Gaiman experience over on Doctor Who. An established, popular author writing an episode of a even more popular TV series that goes down a storm…and then following that up with an absolute stinker. It is David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson that I pity the most, having to suffer the indignity of fronting a show that would put out something as retarded and misogynistic as this. Slow (despite the furious energy of some scenes), brainless, sexist, weighed down by atrocious dialogue and directed with all the subtlety of a B Movie with a budget, First Person Shooter feels like everybody involved was trying to make this episode as insulting as it can be. I really wanted to turn this off halfway through (and it took me nearly a week to prepare myself to watch it again after a four year gap since the last time I put myself through it) that’s how bad this is. Above everything, the game itself is really crap too: 0.5/10 (it only gets that half point because there is an even worse, ungraded episode to come)

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

What’s it about: A simple calculation: Fresh Bones + Sanguinarium = Theef

Trust No-One: ‘Mulder, why are we here…?’ He’s getting in there before her these days, pre-empting her grumble. There’s an attempt to play about with the formula in Theef and have Scully keeping Mulder on his toes by offering surprising insights of her own. It’s different, but at this stage feels like another variation on a theme to keep things interesting rather than a natural development. What this show needs is a larger ensemble and a shift around in central characters. Tick and tick next year. Until then let’s just see the rest of this inconsistent year out. 

The Good: If I were feeling generous I could give the climax a kind word or two but I had been so numbed into a comatose state by that point that I could barely wake up to muster any enthusiasm. Mark Snow is working his damdest with the choral score to add some chills, Anderson plays a blinded Scully with the fervour that she is lacking elsewhere and the direction in general steps up a notch. Manners was poorly during this shoot so we’ll let him off this once.

The Bad: We’ve dealt with both voodoo (Fresh Bones) and witchcraft (Sanguinarium) before so I guess the writers figured if they allowed the two to join forces it might equate to something original. They thought wrong. My biggest gripe with Theef is that whilst it is very well cast for the most part (The X-Files usually is but there is no weak link in the chain here), they are all playing desperately underwritten characters. Everybody from the celebrated Doctor and his whiter than white family to the landlady (she’s the sort of character that pops up all the time on this show, an innocent that stumbles on the horrors of the week), right through to Peattie himself whose backstory we learn but I never got a sense of who this man is or why he would go to such extreme lengths to murder his daughters inadvertent executioner. It’s like asking very good actors to fill a void, to improvise characters to life. Actually if that was the case you might have had better results.  Pamela Gordon cameos in a role as ‘Proprietor’ (she’s so unimportant that she doesn’t even get a name) and all the little tics that make this character work are in the performance. As written she is a tenapenny magic shop owner. They manage to track down Peattie because Mulder randomly catches a news report?

Pre Titles Sequence: In true horror movie fashion, if the establishing scene is full of pretty, happy people then something grisly has to happen to them before the day is out. When Irving takes a photograph to mark this evening and his son-in-laws achievement he might as well have written out a hit list for everybody in it. Peattie is a creepy presence and the music goes some way to crawling under your skin but overall this merely a so-so pre titles sequence of the sort we have seen a dozen times before. The writers are desperate to make an impact these days and so include more blood than is probably necessary to make the moment count.

Moment to Watch Out For: How can you fail to squirm during the sequence where Nan is roasted alive inside the scanner. Peattie combines hex craft and technology by putting a doll in the microwave and timing it just right so she is fried alive inside the machine. The charred corpse that slides out is pretty gruesome. 

Result: Considering the writing and directing talent that went into Theef, the fact that it is merely an adequate episode of The X-Files is quite a surprise. Perhaps everybody is suffering from fatigue at this point and needed a little break. There are no real surprises throughout the episode since we learn precisely who is responsible in the teaser and so all that plays out is a string of murders, and not very imaginative ones at that. This might be my shortest X-File review of all because there really isn’t much to discuss it is lacking so much substance – it’s not that it is an appalling piece of work like First Person Shooter because both the direction and the script are competent but that just serves to make the piece even more unmemorable. Duchovny looks as though he has given up and Anderson is only a beat behind, either somebody needs to give them a kick up the ass or the show needs a desperate shake up. The performances are all very good but the characters they are playing simply go through the motions. Apparently the script came in late and they were pretty much winging it throughout with very little preparation time so I guess the nicest thing I can say is that it at least pulled together adequately enough to broadcast. If you were coming to the show with fresh eyes and this was your first episode you might get something from this collection of gruesome moments but if you have been with the series for seven years there is nothing you haven’t seen before in better stories. So traditional it hurts, surely this is nobody’s favourite X-File: 5/10

En Ami written by William B. Davis and directed by Rob Bowman

What’s it about: Scully is off on a road trip with the Smoking Man…

Trust No-One: Mulder knows Scully’s behaviour at this stage of the game and so can tell when she is behaving out of character. Interestingly last season when Scully was beguiled by Mulder’s author neighbour there was no sense of jealousy at all. Only a feeling that he wanted to protect his partner. When it comes to her putting her faith in the Smoking Man things are very different and the sense of betrayal comes off Mulder in wafts. 

Brains’n’Beauty: In a script that favours Anderson and gives her something completely new to play, she finally wakes up after snoozing through the last few installments (you can actually plot the moments in season seven when Anderson is engaged and it is at all the points where her character breaks out of the mould and is allowed to stretch her wings). I really like the early scenes where she goes and visits Jason because they manage to merge two of her opposing beliefs, her faith and her knowledge of medical science, in a way that doesn’t quite feel right. How can Scully resist a potential cure for cancer? Especially after her own personal experience of the disease. However beguiled she is by the prospect of a medical breakthrough, she can barely sit through the Smoking Man’s pop psychology overview of her relationship with Mulder without squirming.

Smoking Man: When I heard what the central premise of this episode was I wondered how on Earth Davis thought he was going to pull it off. The Smoking Man has been a bitter rival of Scully and Mulder’s for so many years now that the thought of him being able to seduce the former and get her to lie to the latter given the level of distrust between them left me thinking that there would be a ring of falsehood about the episode. Actually that isn’t the case at all and it takes a very clever approach, seducing her with a medical marvel, the one thing that would entice her to do whatever he says. This episode wouldn’t work at any other point in the shows history but because it is set after the destruction of his work with the Syndicate you can buy into the idea that Smoking Man is dying of lung cancer and wants to share his secrets with somebody who can do some good with them. One of the reasons that the character has worked so well over the years is that Davis has always believed that the Smoking Man is the hero of the show and when his hand in the conspiracy was finally revealed, he was proven right. He was trying to save the Earth from colonisation, he was just using terrible methods to go about it. An anti-hero, perhaps? Or a benevolent villain? It isn’t such a leap that he would want to ensure that a medical miracle is exposed before his lungs give way. To bequeath a cure to millions of people and make his name. He admits that he has always had an affection for both Mulder and Scully, despite them being on opposing sides and that his intentions on this trip are honourable. Good, I don’t think I could handle him lusting over her. In the much maligned but more substantial than usual Doctor Who episode Boom Town there is some fascinating discussion between the Doctor and the villain where he states that every now and again you let one victim go to cleanse your conscience of the terrible things that are committed. The visit to Marjorie Butters is the embodiment of that idea; the Smoking Man selecting one kind, gentle woman and affording her the gift of a cure for cancer and basking in the affection she has for him. It is probably enough to convince him of his altruistic deeds whilst he is organising the next round of mass executions. Whilst I question whether it was all an act or not, the Smoking Man’s quiet humility in choosing evening wear for Scully is gorgeous. He is not used to handling people as gently as this and it shows.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘How many people are dying of cancer? And here we are wasting time on the past’  - with an argument like that how can Scully possibly resist?
‘Tenants like having an FBI agent in the building. It gives them a sense of security’ ‘Do you know how many people have died in there?’
‘To have this power. To visit this woman and see her joy. It must be why you became a Doctor.’
‘How do you take your coffee?’ ‘Unadulterated, thank you.’ 

The Good: The Smoking Man is a clever sod and no mistake. He sets his trap elaborately and ensures that Scully sees everything that she needs to in order to get her precisely where he needs her. Davis makes better use of the Lone Gunmen in their brief appearance in En Ami than Maddox and Gibson managed in an entire episodes worth of material for the trio in First Person Shooter. Their disguises are comically inept. An extraterrestrial cure for all human disease, perhaps the ultimate expression of the shows paranormal leanings and it’s penchant for keeping one foot planted in the real world. Scully in a black coat sailing on a boat, her red hair contrasting with the greyness of the sky, reminded me potently of One Breath from season two. Gosh, that feels so long ago now. How like the Smoking Man to have this all sown up from the start; the fake office, the false correspondence between Scully and Cobra, the assassin. What plays out is a series of inevitable events but only inevitable after they have played out. Davis convinced me of his characters altruistic intentions whilst simultaneously pulling the wool over my eyes. It is the point where he asks to see the disc where this all falls into place, the Smoking Man clearly palming the real one and handing her back a fake. He has set up this whole affair to get her play her role in obtaining the disc. This whole episode has been building to moment where she gets in that boat and obtains the information for him. The release of the information that offers the cure to all human disease would revolutionise the world as we know it (think of Torchwood: Miracle Day) and would have to be handled in a delicate way so that the population could be kept under control in a manageable way. It is dangerous information. But that still doesn’t give the Smoking Man the right to destroy it and allow all that suffering to continue. In doing so it is the most evil act we have ever seen him commit. Did he do it to cure himself…or did he destroy the data and his own chances of survival as well? I like that we don’t find out here.

Pre Titles Sequence: I am so used to scenes of alien abduction on this show nowadays that the merest hint of a light through the window is enough to let my imagination run away and figure that all sorts of nasty things are going to happen to Jason. Instead Davis is cleverly subverting my expectations and it turns out to be the blinding lights from a car and men in suits approaching to help cure his cancer. Bowman’s direction is creative right up to his last episode on the show and he helps to sell this cheat brilliantly. What’s immediately obvious as well as that Davis isn’t just interested in spectacle, the idea of parents refusing medical aid for their son who is a cancer patient on religious grounds is enough to get a lively debate going amongst anybody in the audience. Given the fact that Jason is cured, you would consider this a reward of your stringent faith.

Moment to Watch Out For: Gillian Anderson can capture so much emotion in her face with a single look and her emotional conflict when she realises they could be on the brink of the cure for all human disease is an astonishing piece of acting. Snow’s music during this sequence is gorgeous too, a pleasing piano melody that captures the enormity of the moment.

Result: ‘What we are being given is not the cure for cancer. It is the Holiest of Grails, it’s the cure for all human disease…’ It would appear that the actors on this show are writing more accomplishedly than the writers these days. Given the recent struggling labours of Gilligan, Shiban and Spotnitz, Carter’s appalling Fight Club just around the corner and newcomer David Amann’s unmemorable efforts, you are presented with a writing team that is desperately in need of something inspirational to coax something fresh and exciting from them. On the other hand the wilderness latter half of season seven is strengthened by three efforts by Davis, Anderson and Duchovny that all try and do new things with the characters and add some sanity to proceedings. They aren’t all perfect (particularly Andersons) but they are all taking the show into original places. It marks the last effort of director Rob Bowman who has brought so much excitement and visual panache to the series over the years that he is one of the core group of people that made the show the success it was. I consider it a good sign of a strong episode that I headed into the re-watch with a vivid memory of the majority of the material, in particular the subtle Mark Snow score and the stunning location filming and the clever interaction between Scully and the Smoking Man. En Ami (terrific title) has two secret weapons up its sleeve; one being the astounding concept of a potential cure for all human disease which opens up much discussion and the other being the rarely featured partnership of Scully and the Smoking Man which, Closure aside, I cannot recall them spending a single scene together alone in seven years. I never thought that Davis could pull off a romantic sojourn between these two characters but he achieves it by allowing both of them to remain entirely in character and come together for a logical common cause. It is a small intimate story that has a big heart and winds offering a lot more substance than the louder, more garish examples of the season. I thought it was rather charming, not a classic by any means but a very solid example of the series trying something new and succeeding in its twilight years: 8/10

Chimera written by David Amann and directed by Cliff Bole

What’s it about: Murder in suburbia…

Trust No-One: Chimera feels like it belongs in the first half of season six where Mulder and Scully were department-less and were being forced to rake through the FBI dustbin for the worst assignments that are being handed out. However it is quite a nice change to see them doing some down and dirty field work rather than waltzing onto a murder scene dressed to the nines and arrogantly assuming authority – I was starting to think they were working for Torchwood! Stripped of his interplay with Anderson, Duchovny delivers a far less sitcom-based performance than I am used to of late and seems to appreciate a story with it’s feet planted firmly in reality. It is a shame that he chose to abandon the show in it’s eighth year because there is about to be a wealth of material of this nature to come. Next year we get many examples of The X-Files featuring Scully without Mulder and this is rare opportunity to see how the show would fare with that order in reverse. Not at all badly is the answer. Perhaps the success of this show isn’t as tied up in Mulder and Scully as I previously thought, or at least maybe it isn’t solely tied up in their interaction. Here’s a chance to see how things might be if Mulder was married and cared for by a kind woman and the results are rather pleasant. Things would have been very different on this show had that been the case from the start.

Brains’n’Beauty: When Skinner reassigns Mulder to work without Scully he is giving Gillian Anderson carte blanche to head off and direct All Things. Amusingly this means that Scully is settling in for the night in a crack den watching prostitutes whilst Mulder is tucking into a home cooked meal in a nice, warm house.

Ugh: Ravens pecking at the face of a corpses isn’t an image you’ll forget in a hurry.

The Good: The set designers have gone to town with the stinking dive that Mulder and Scully are staking out in, a graffiti strewn rat hole and the sort of location that we don’t usually find the agents hanging around in. Amann has clearly thought about his guest cast quite hard and figured out what makes this community tick and how they all fit into each others lives. There is certainly more attention to detail in the characterisation than there was in Arcadia, which is aided by some honest, pragmatic dialogue. Whoever came up with the idea of shattering glass to herald the presence of the demonic creature is a genius, it sells the horror of the beast with a dramatic statement. I’ve seen ravens handled very effectively in film and television before, the famous playground sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and even Doctor Who’s Stones of Blood chillingly used crows as a symbol for malevolence. The assertion that they are the companions of evil is a frightening one, the birds aren’t dangerous in themselves but they signal that death is about to come knocking. Ellen being menaced through the house and saved by her husband leaves you with some doubt that the creature might be him. The episode plays little tricks like that to provide a number of suspects as the identity of the demon. In hindsight the clues were all there that Howard was having an affair with the two victims; the perfect existence that Ellen maintains for him strikes of somebody trying too hard to keep her man after a near split and he looks decidedly uncomfortable when talking about both of the victims around his wife. Because we have gotten under the skin of this household through Mulder the confirmation of his adultery still manages to cut deep. The punchline to the Scully plot, that the leggy blonde prostitute turns out to be a dark haired evangelist who is saving the souls of hookers, is worth waiting for. It ties very nicely into the central plot too, allowing Mulder to realise that the killer has been hiding in plain sight. If Duchovny’s performance falters at the climax, then the direction is better than ever and more than compensates as Ellen attacks Mulder. The final explanation, that this is a physical representation of multi personality disorder, caps things off very nicely.

The Bad: Gina Mastrogiacomo is playing the hard down by neighbour from the rough end of town and so the natural urge is to play the character a little melodramatically, which she does. It’s not a bad performance, per se, just one that could have been toned down a little. She’s playing what people like to call a ‘certain sort’ and whilst acceptable, I would have bought more into the characters innocence had it been brought down a notch or too. Saying that I did quite like the scene in the hotel which  reminds us that Jenny has a son and that she is whoring it up in order to provide a good life for him before dispatching the character. It adds a touch of tragedy to her story. There’s a bizarre moment in the middle of Chimera where Mulder phones Scully for help and she is distracted by something that is going on through her telescope. It feels as though the two plots are about to marry up somehow but that is not the case at all. The purpose was to cut this catch up with Scully short so we can have another one in ten minutes time where she can give him the information he is after. This was simply included to remind us that Scully exists. 

Pre Titles Sequence: The one thing you can never count on is the weather. Ever since the show re-located to Los Angeles the show has taken on a far sunnier disposition than previous years and yet the one time when that brilliant weather was needed, during the pre-titles sequence to Chimera, it is nowhere to be seen. Trying to open on a modern day domestic paradise, the camera pans across delicious food and people having fun in a gorgeously cultivated garden. It is the very image of contemporary suburban bliss, except for the hulking dark rain clouds that appear in the back of every shot. Cut to scenes in a forest where sunlight can be simulated streaming through the trees, or filmed on a completely different day. The scares come thick and fast in the teaser so it is easy to jump and dive under a cushion, everything from a beady eyed crow watching Martha on the phone, the mirror shattering and a disgusting hulk menacing her from behind. Bole directs these shocks quickly and cuts away to the credits before we even know what hit us. It left me quite dizzy with fear.

Moment to Watch Out For: The realisation that Howard has been having an affair means that the identity of the killer can only be one person…

Result: Part whodunnit, part Nightmare in Suburbia and part Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, this is an episode that wears its influences with pride and forges ahead confidently to become one of the stronger standalone tales of season seven. That doesn’t necessarily equate to it being a classic since the standard is quite inconsistent this year but I will say that Amann’s script knows precisely what it is doing and Cliff Bole adds some real scares to the piece with his judiciously cut fright moments. Chimera is the serious version of last seasons Arcadia; either less entertaining or more realistic depending on which angle you are coming from. Characterisation is tops and far more convincing than it was in Arcadia but Chimera lacks the gorgeous Mulder/Scully chemistry that was rampant in the former episode. I rather like the idea of Mulder helping out one family and horrors that are besetting their home, it has a much more intimate atmosphere but by it’s very nature is going to be less ambitious and heavyweight than usual. Michelle Joyner gives a lovely performance as Ellen and shares a gentle, relaxed chemistry with David Duchovny, which is subtly different from his usual interaction with Gillian Anderson and quite refreshing. I enjoyed Chimera a great deal but it was a little too ordinary in places to stand out as something really special. The X-Files always has one foot planted in reality, but Chimera shows what it would be like if it tentatively put the other foot in too. This is every bit as traditional as Theef but is put together with a great deal more care and class: 7/10

all things written and directed by Gillian Anderson

What’s it about: Is Scully about to leave Mulder for the love of her life?

Trust No-One: To be fair to Scully her criticism of Mulder’s latest wild goose chase makes a lot of good sense. How is seeking out the latest crop circles to do the rounds even remotely FBI related and what does he hope to prove by seeking out those who created them? The implication at the climax seems to be that Mulder and Scully spent the night together in whatever capacity that you care to read into it. Their discussion about all roads leading to this point seem to indicate that they have made their emotional choices and are happy with the idea of a union. If it weren’t for this moment then next season’s Per Manum might have made far less sense but actually its events slot in rather neatly after this tale and the conclusions that the two characters draw about their relationship.

Brains’n’Beauty: The whole purpose of All Things is to show Scully at a crossroads in her life, wondering whether she should try and settle down and find a normal one or continue to pursue Mulder (both in her career and in her love life). It’s a decent enough starting point but it comes about three seasons too late. At this stage in the game Scully is far too engaged with Mulder both professionally and romantically and has been for quite some time. It is jarring to have sequences such as those that concluded How the Ghosts Stole Christmas and The Unnatural and then follow them up a year later with this kind of indecision. The two don’t marry up. However had this come at the tail end of season four when Scully was still suffering from cancer and had a very good cause to look back at her previous choices and question where she was going, it would have made perfect sense. Coming at the end of season seven it feels oddly out of place. In her own penned script Anderson can’t even be bothered to go through the whole she-bang of Scully pooh-poohing Mulder’s latest whacky investigation and instead has her showing open contempt for their work by preparing and eating her lunch whilst he takes her through the latest slide show. How rude, I hope he reminds her of this moment the next time they are re-assigned and she starts pining after the chance to work with him on The X-Files again. She’s not interested in tracking down some sneaky farmers that aced geometry in High School when she has more important things to do with her weekend like have a bath. Scully has never been the reckless sort so I find it hard to imagine her younger self being the sort of student to fall for an intoxicating married professor of medicine. She was probably too square for that. Scully learns that when his marriage broke up, Daniel moved to Washington to be closer to her. When it came to Scully discovering the Buddhist temple and rocking herself in beams of light as she undergoes a spiritual experience I have to admit that I had lost the plot slightly. I thought Scully was a devout Christian? Faces and images from the past seven season flash before her eyes as she undergoes an intense flashback through her life. She’s not the same person that she was who had an affair with Daniel all those years ago and she can’t pick up where she left off. She considers what she would have missed had she spent her entire life with Daniel. 

The Bad: I’m very wary of slow motion sequences in television. I usually feel as though they have to justify their use by highlighting a particular twist or reaction or nuance that deserves being shown at an unhurried pace. Anderson liberally sprinkles this episode with slow motion sequences that prove to be distracting rather than necessary. In Daniel, Anderson is asking us to care about man who is an extremely significant part of Scully’s past that we have never heard of in the previous seven seasons. It doesn’t wash that somebody who was this important in her formative years would remain anonymous for so long and turning up this late in the day feels like a last ditch attempt to drag some romantic value from Scully, long after she has handed her heart to Mulder. Even the X-File angle of the episode is a little too tepid for my tastes. There is no reason why Buddhist philosophy cannot be married to science fiction effectively. Doctor Who managed to explore its ideals and profundity whilst still providing a rip roaring tale that involved twenty minute long chases, giant spiders and the death of the shows main star. Marrying such a gentle supernatural angle to a bland soap opera style of drama means that there is such a light atmosphere to this piece, both emotionally and intellectually, that a gentle breeze would carry it away. It’s not an insulting piece like First Person Shooter or Fight Club but it has about as much academic weight. Maggie Wasterston is an irritating character, not because she is wrong in her condemnation of Scully but also because she is written far too single-mindedly and played in a very one-note fashion. Whilst I always think that the best person for the job should be put forward, rather than a place being deliberately found for individuals it does strike me as odd that this is the first time in nearly seven entire seasons that this show has been directed by a woman. It shocks me that the thought hadn’t occurred to me before.

Pre Titles Sequence: Given the opportunity to write her own script Gillian Anderson has the chance to take the show in any direction she wants for 45 minutes. Does she use it as an opportunity to study the intimate details of her character as William B. Davis did with the Smoking Man in En Ami? Or push the show in a wild direction as David Duchovny would shortly do in Hollywood AD? Nope, Anderson instead chooses to ape Chris Carter’s penchant for depressing and self-deprecating purple prose. The opening narration tells you everything you need to know about All Things and it is mostly telling you to keep away. This is going to be an episode that delves into the love life of Agent Scully and question whether she should finally end up with Mulder or not…a pairing that has all but been consummated anyway but that Carter seems unwilling to go through (until Duchovny exits anyway).

Moment to Watch Out For: Parts of all things play out like a particularly embarrassing pop video advertising a love song. Scully walks in slow motion through a busy street to ostentatious music suggesting that something really important is happening.  Scully undergoes a montage of scenes where she walks through her flat (in slow motion, naturally) and up to Daniel’s bed in the hospital. The net result is something a little humiliating rather than something reflective. 

Result: The X-Files has never been about Scully and her love life and every time it has touched on the subject the show has been on pretty shaky ground. She was initially given a boyfriend in the pilot who was summarily deleted because Carter thought that it would be fresher dynamic without a distracting third wheel, The Jersey Devil revealed how awkward she is when dating and Never Again exposed how uncomfortable it was for her to go wild and have a one night stand. Only En Ami really worked because Scully was an unwilling recipient of the Smoking Man’s charms. Unfortunately all things pushes the domestic angle of the last two seasons too far and winds up looking more like a bland daytime soap opera than a riveting installment of a science fiction anthology series. Whilst it’s nice to see that the show can pretty much tip its hand to any genre…that doesn’t necessarily mean that it should. When it comes to older ex-tutors that Scully had an affair with in medical it is details I could have happily have never been privy to. She was the young, eager medical student, he was the dangerous, maverick teacher…it plays out like a Mills & Boon novel with about as much of the depth, despite pretension to the contrary. Unlike David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson is not a natural director and she is asking the cameraman to perform all manner of distracting and unnatural movements to sell her story. I’m not sure if Anderson intended all things as a one-off or whether she genuinely felt that the show needed to be taken more in this direction but for all its earnestness, this doesn’t stick out as a particularly memorable episode in exactly the same way that no individual episodes of a daytime soap stand out as being especially memorable. It’s not unpleasant to watch but if this is your favourite episode of The X-Files then you are watching the wrong show. Anderson acts this beautifully but if all things proves anything then it is that performing is her vocation, not writing or directing. Minus one extra point for the capital-less title that is trying to push the levels of self-importance even further: 4/10
Brand X written by Steven Medea & Greg Walker and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: A dangerous new brand of cigarettes is on the market…

Trust No-One: The funniest thing to happen in Brand X is Mulder’s potential new addiction to smoking which afflicts him because he allowed Daryl Weaver to smoke in his presence. That’ll teach him for being polite. This could have run for his little remaining time as a central character on the show, Mulder lighting up in the back of scenes to get his fix whilst Scully gets on with interrogating people. I jest of course, but what made me chuckle was how seriously this was all dealt with and how because of that it made me laugh all the more. For once Mulder’s life is in danger from something as mundane as a tobacco beetle…imagine if that was what finally finished him off? Mulder has the taste of a cigarette lingering now and whilst he throws the pack of Morleys in the bin publicly, as soon as he is left on his own he stares longingly down at the packet…

Assistant Director: A very different kind of Skinner-centric episode than in the past. Before when the writers have wanted to focus on the character they have opted for atypical examples of the show, one dealing with Skinner as a potential murderer, one showing him in the pocket of Alex Krychek to obtain the cure for Scully’s cancer and one where he is seen to be dying and the agents have to work overtime to try and save his life. However this is the first occasion that he has been handed a traditional X-File of his own to solve with only peripheral involvement from Mulder and Scully. It makes you wonder if they are test driving the idea before his increased role in the series in season eight, seeing how he fares taking Mulder’s place for a short time. He’s been around long enough for this not to feel out of place and Mitch Pileggi is such a natural, charismatic presence he is putting more effort into this episode than Duchovny is in half of the current season.

Ugh: If you aren’t a bug person then this might not be the episode for you. Prepare yourself for scenes of half devoured corpses with nasty little tobacco beetles crawling about all over. The very thought of inhaling something that hatches inside of you and eats its way out is enough to poison the digestive juices of most. I personally think that the writer doesn’t go far enough with the implications of smoking but the deaths that are seen are certainly fairly graphic. The scene where Brimley vomits up a load of CGI bugs is so grim it might make you bring up a little bile yourself.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘It’s all just part of the scientific process…’

The Good: Let me tell you a little story about a woman so stubborn that she would rather ruin her own health than quit an addiction that she knows I bad for her for the simple reason that the government is telling her to do it. My mom is a special case indeed and as much as I love her to pieces she has been chain smoking since she was sixteen and despite the fact that everybody else in the family has managed to quit (I’m the only member of my family who never started), the more government warnings appear on packs and they spread the word about lung cancer and how the habit kills, the more she digs her heels in and refuses to be told what to do. It costs a fortune, it makes her house reek and it is damaging her health. I can’t tell you how much this frustrates me. Hurrah then for The X-Files who decided to take on the inclination and turn it into something so obscene that it might make even the staunchest addict think twice about lighting up. Unfortunately for me although my mother was a massive fan of this show in its early years (yep, that old chestnut), she  gave up around series six and never got to watch this warning against the dangers of smokers. Needless to say going into Brand X, I already heartily approved of the premise. I like that the cigarette company are so powerful that they think they can arrogantly ignore the presence of the FBI. Darryl Weaver is such a vile character, it is hard to consider him as any kind of victim of circumstance. We visit his property where he is sitting in a barely furnished, filthy room choking down cigarettes like they are going out of fashion. It isn’t any kind of life, it is barely what I would call existing. Tobin Bell never shies away from the uncharismatic nature of this man, and the way he underplays the villain is commendable. He’s more frightening that way. All he wants is money and smokes and once he realises that he is onto a winner with the tobacco company he is perfectly happy to expose their secret and kill to get them. He’s a small man that thinks he is onto something big and that is a dangerous combination. Weaver is the real star of Brand X, a genuinely chilling ‘little person’ who has suddenly come into the possession of a frightening gift.

Pre Titles Sequence: It’s one of those tense moments in The X-Files where you are left screaming at the TV. This time it was when Skinner approaches a body with is turned away from him and pulls it around so we can see the full horror of what has happened. I was yelling ‘don’t turn it over!’ but it was too late and the half eaten face was exposed to poison stomachs up and down the country. There’s lovely. The irony of trying to genetically engineer the tobacco to make it hardier but instead turning it deadly, allowing the eggs of the tobacco beetle to exist within the substance and be inhaled into the body, is so deliciously ironic. Trying to make more money out peoples misery but ultimately murdering your client base and facing a potential lawsuit that could cost the company billions.

Moment to Watch Out For: Skinner gets to kick start this investigation, he’s there for all the important digging and he’s the one that confronts the bad guy during the climax. He’s superb and you can see why he was given a much larger role in episodes such as Within/Without and Via Negativa.

Result: ‘I’ve got all the coffin nails I can suck down…’ I like Brand X a lot but it is another example of how The X-Files isn’t quite firing on all cylinders in it’s seventh season. It is a competently told story with a great premise but it never feels as though it pushes the horror far enough. There is far too much focus on the politics of the situation and not enough focus on the physical ramifications of a tobacco on the market that when inhaled will literally eat you from the inside out. Where were the scenes of smokers on the street falling to their deaths en masse to really driving the point home? Perhaps a town that was tested with the drug that is left a pestilential graveyard of half eaten bodies? How very like The X-Files to take on something as massive as smoking but to not want to offend anybody. However the premise is pure gold dust and the characterisation of Skinner and the antagonist of the week (played with creepy conviction by Saw’s Tobin Bell) is superb and marks out newcomer Steven Medea as one to watch. His contributions to subsequent seasons would be some of the strongest standalones of their respective years (Redrum, 4-D, Audrey Pauley). A little more humour wouldn’t have gone amiss either, this is another extremely po-faced season seven episode in a show that is starting to feel like it has lost the fun. It’s a story without any great surprises because everything is spelt out early on but it has a nice, grisly atmosphere and for once Mulder’s life is in danger and it isn’t any of the mythology elements that are responsible. Solid, not standout: 7/10
Hollywood AD written and directed by David Duchovny

What’s it about: Mulder and Scully become the inspiration for a movie…

Trust No-One: ‘You’ve seen this movie 42 times? Doesn’t that make you sad? It makes me sad..’ Shandling likes the way that Mulder and Scully work – no warrants, no permission and no research, like studio executives with guns blundering in. Or at least that might be how they appear from an outside observer. Hollywood AD shows how badly people can get it wrong when observing this couple and their work for just a few weeks. Basically Duchovny is taking the mickey out of the non-fan and their potential perception of this show, the godawful movie being the representation of what they think The X-Files is week in, week out, a camp, mock scary b movie with little substance to speak of. Had this come a couple of years back it would have had even more of an impact but coming after the wave of comic gems in seasons six and seven you could make an argument that the show really is this Hollywood these days (The Rain King, The Amazing Maleeni). Mulder’s method of watching movies that are so profoundly bad in such a childlike way that they free up the smart side of his brain to make brilliant deductive leaps is genius. That is also why I watch creaky old SF and B Movies until the cows come home. Oh yes it is. How about that moment where Shandling is indirectly asking Mulder about his sexuality and he declares ‘to the left…most of the time.’ Mulder has no interest in Tea Leoni but seems intrigued by the interest of Shandling.

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully has been asked to rationalise some pretty funky things in the past, sometimes to the point of obstinacy, but you have to give her credit for trying to explain and bunch of bones grooving away in a crypt. Some of that gorgeous season six Mulder/Scully chemistry leaks into this episode thanks to the warm material that Duchovny writes for them both. It’s there when Scully tells Mulder the story of the criminal activities of Sister Spooky (‘That is a very cool story coming from you, Scully’), when they bitch and indulge in a bubble bath (not together I might add) and when after the movie when Mulder ponders their reputation and Scully confirms that it was in the gutter anyway. I think this episode comes as close to see Duchovny and Anderson on screen rather than Mulder and Scully and given their partnership is about to come to an end I can think of no better time to indulge in that sort of celebration of their work. Either Scully has been chomping down on mind altering drugs or her hallucinations of Hoffman waking from the dead and speaking from the lips of Jesus are symptomatic of the stress of a heavy workload.

Assistant Director: ‘Sir, have I pissed you off in a way that is more than normal?’ It’s not implausible that Skinner would have gone to school with somebody who became a movie executive but I question whether he would give them all access to Mulder and Scully’s work. Perhaps Gary has been badgering him for ages and after the X-Cops debacle, transmitting an X-Files case all over national television, he finally relented. Maybe he figured it couldn’t get any more embarrassing than that. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘He’s like a Jehovah Witness meets Harrison’s Ford’s Witness.’
‘One more pun and I’ll pull out my gun.’
‘Crazy people can be very persuasive’ ‘Well yes I know that…’ 
‘Hey Scully, Skin-Man is calling me from a bubble bath!’ ‘That’s still me Mulder…’
‘Hoffman and O’Fallon were these flawed, beautiful people and now they’ll just be remembered as jokes because of this movie.’
‘Hopefully the movie will tank.’

The Good: Wayne Fenderman manages to redefine the term irritation but since that seems to be the point of the character I can’t really object too much. I say character, this turns out to be a real person pretending to be making a movie and that horrifies me more than anything. A genuine star, scripted and made to sound even more Hollywood than he probably already is. Terrifying. His dialogue is so packed with pop culture references that it would take me far too long to list them all but needless to say Duchovny is having a go at topping the amount you can cram into one episode – previously held by Joss Whedon. The idea of meeting one of candidates of the first American Pope is exciting and it needs a strong character actor to fill that role and I can think of none finer than Haris Yulin. In a story that is packed full of sitcom performances, Yulin gives a respectful, understated turn as the disgraced Cardinal. The awkward moment when everybody checks their phone and it turns out O’Fallon has one too is blissful (mind you didn’t we already do the mobile ringing from a buried corpse in Millennium?). Arresting O’Fallon for the murder of Hoffman as he walks into the church might be the most embarrassing moment of both Mulder and Scully’s careers (‘Best case scenario…you get to keep your jobs’). Some of the in-jokes work a treat; I especially enjoyed Duchovny’s coy performance in front of his real life girlfriend of the time Tea Leoni and Scully’s attempts to show her how to run in heels, literally dashing back and forth in the foreground of the scene.

The Bad: At the heart of this tale is a very poignant story of a Cardinal that has been duped into thinking his faith has been rewarded by the existence of genuine biblical artefacts. Whilst Yulin plays the part wonderfully, it is not given enough exposure because Duchovny is desperate to get to Hollywood and have some fun and so a lot of the aching sadness that made The Unnatural so successful is missing. You’ve got all the fun of doing something different without the heartbreaking sentiment to make it a nourishing watch. All style and no substance? Not really, because there is plenty of intelligent detail and discussion. Instead let’s call this all glitz and no heart. The scene where Micha Hoffman wakes up on the autopsy table and asks for his heart back fell flat for me and not just because the make up job is appalling but because I have seen so many weird and wonderful things on this show by this point that this kind of shock that would work on other, straighter shows fails to make an impact at all. Man wakes up from the dead and has a stretch? Seen it all before. What a shame that the O’Fallon/Hoffman that made up so much of the first two thirds of this episode should be concluded off screen (the murder/suicide would have made for an astonishing climax) in favour of the shallowness of the Hollywood setting. Imagine if at the last stretch Duchovny had abandoned the glamour and really gone for the jugular?

Pre Titles Sequence: Whilst hugely enjoyable to watch as a one off, the X-File movie as portrayed as a blockbuster shows precisely how awful the cinematic release could have been if some Hollywood exec had gotten hold of the show and done their own thing with it. Plots involving the Lazarus bowl where the Cigarette Smoking Man is an insane Cardinal, hunting down Mulder in a foggy graveyard with sniper zombies and Scully being used in the role of the traditional victim. It’s just dreadful but the point is within this episode it is supposed to be, justifying Mulder and Scully’s appalled reaction at the screening. Slow motion action, godawful dialogue (‘I’d rather serve in heaven than rule in hell’), this is The X-Files without a decent creative hand at the rudder. Chris Carter is in the audience, Skinner is loving every second of it, Tea Leoni is the spitting image of Gillian Anderson in the right light and Mulder and Scully’s reactions pretty much sum it up perfectly. A gleeful opening.

Moment to Watch Out For: I think I can pinpoint the moment when most fans would have been reaching for their remotes and declaring this the ‘worst episode ever.’ Once a show that could chill you to the bone, now it is one that has them dancing around a crypt in a quirky CGI sequence complete with comedy music and a sitcom reaction from the guest artist of the week. If there was ever a point where you could say this show went Hollywood with it’s success, this is it. I object to the notion of it, but the scene still made me laugh. The final set piece of the dancing zombies is so far from The X-Files mission statement that it should be embraced. We’re never tipping over the edge more than this.

Fashion Statement: Here’s your chance to lust over Mulder, Scully and Skinner in a three way bubble bath. Make of that what you will.

Orchestra: I’m not sure I have ever had to say this before but there are moments in this episode where the score felt a little off. Snow’s music can border on the repetitive at times (and is it any surprise given how many episodes he has scored?) but it usually feels tonally right for whatever scene he is scoring. However I don’t think he went Hollywood enough in this episode, for example the first shot of the studio lot is accompanied by a slight tickling of glitz when the full blown trumpet horn of a musical number was needed to drive him the moment. 

Result: It is a shame that David Duchovny didn’t continue to contribute towards the show in the shape of a writer or director in season eight because these skills equal and in some cases surpass his talents as an actor. I don’t mind a little taste of the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and paired with the inestimable talents of the actor ensured that this is an intelligently written and put together installment. However if you wanted to point at this episode and declare that it is the moment where The X-Files jumped the shark or reached the point where it had sold out completely and become something so different from its original conception that you could never watch an episode again…well I wouldn’t blame you if this was the episode you chose. This is about as far as you can take the show away from it’s horror roots as you can get, it is blatantly bastardised and distorted out of all recognition. However it is also a great deal of fun and I would rather go with it the tide of change than fight it. Hollywood AD is shot through with a wonderful sense of humour and more great lines than you can shake a stick it and whilst certain scenes verge on parody, they are still amusing to watch. The problem I have is that the show cannot go any further than this before it becomes something that it is not and so in order for it to survive in it’s final two years it needs to pull back to something recognisable again. The lighter episodes worked a treat in season six but have become a little strained in season seven (First Person Shooter and Fight Club are so wide of the mark it is baffling how they ever got made) and I am pleased that the stream of jet black horror is about to be injected back in the show as it enters a new phase. Hollywood AD shows to what extreme this fluffiness can go to if pushed and still work but I am pleased to say it never goes any further. If you are one of those cynics who erroneously state that Duchovny and Anderson share no chemistry and inject little charisma into the series then you could do with sticking this episode on and seeing how wrong you are. Another example of why seven has taken a step down from six, Hollywood AD is terrifically pleasurable but not a patch on Duchovny’s previous writing/directing effort, The Unnatural. This is the madness that ensues when a show believes it can do anything: 8/10

Fight Club written by Chris Carter and directed by Paul Shapiro

What’s it about: You tell me…

Trust No-One: Mulder and Scully are clearly a pair of seasoned agents to not recognise that the agents in hospital are the spitting image of them and that they have worked together for exactly the same amount of time. In an case involving twins. Carter tries to be cute with his dialogue about the doubles not being involved but the whole situation is so retarded that any attempts to miss the obvious and slip in sly gags is like shoving the audiences face into a barrel full of sick. There were rumours that Duchovny and Anderson couldn’t stand the sight of each other by this point and so the climax where they kick the crap out of each other with such ferociousness that they require major treatment might stand as a symbol of their true feelings. It’s a spiteful move on Carter’s part, contributing to the episodes malicious tone.

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘I got sucked into a storm drain’ – a line so offbeat that it requires some kind of explanation but Carter expects Scully to just go with it. Mulder really spent the better part of a day climbing through the sewers?
‘What does it all mean?’ – note to Carter, don’t pose the question if you are going to give such an inconclusive answer.

Ugh: The whole episode.

The Bad: To put it simply, Kathy Griffin is not an actress. She’s an entertainer. As such she is entirely unsuited to appearing on a show like The X-Files because she exclaims every line as though the audience is just out of reach and reacting with guffaws at her every utterance. She has no screen presence and yet paradoxically has  too much (she’s too loud, too childish, too everything…). The gag (and I use the term as loosely as possible) of a faux Mulder and Scully turning up to investigate the violence that has occurred but being shot as though it really is them doesn’t work because: 1) Steve Kiziak doesn’t quite look like David Duchovny from behind and 2) their voices are so appallingly dubbed over the action. I don’t understand the logic of this sequence – why would the identical twins of Mulder and Scully sound like our Mulder and Scully and how many absurd co-incidences would have to fall into play to have the doubles find each other and end up working together? That you have to experience the fight sequence again but this time with the false Mulder and Scully at each others throat is a further indignity, especially when this is executed in even more of a stilted fashion. This is always where I manage to reach in every previous viewing of this episode. Going forwards, it is all new material and I have never done that with any other episode of any other show. There is zero chemistry between Cobb and Griffin which might have made the unlikely pairing of Betty and Burt work. It’s just weird. It is never actually explained how the convergence of two twins causes such terrible calamities, we are just supposed to accept it. By the conclusion we are watching a boxing match that has spiralled out of all control, where the audience is so hyped on bloodlust that the propinquity of the redheads induces a violent frenzy. The direction is insisting this is funny by the nature of the sitcom performances and jazzy music and yet the outbreak of violence is disgusting…it is so tonally defective I had to wonder if the writer and director had ever met. It’s so atypical from anything The X-Files or television itself has ever done before…and there is a good reason for that. Duchovny probably thought he was onto a good thing getting out at this point.

Pre Titles Sequence: Comic Book Guy Moment: ‘Worst Pre-Title Sequence Evah…’ Surely Carter could have concocted a more imaginative scenario than this to expose the nature of the twins. Religious indoctrination turned Reservoir Dogs? It’s not only childish and offensive, it is irritatingly executed (not something I often accuse this show of) with a horrendously cheap and nasty score (read the previous brackets again). When it comes to the two missionaries kicking the shit out of each other until they are covered in blood, I was appalled. It leaves an unpleasant taste in your mouth and that is not the way to kick start an episode of The X-Files.

Moment to Watch Out For: Watch the sequence where Scully has to try and remonstrate with Angry Bob and see the point where Anderson gives up trying to act and just wings her performance. This material hasn’t earned the right for her to put any effort into it. She’s about two second away from cracking up at the mess of hysterics this episode has devolved into. 

Result: And so we reach the worst episode of The X-Files, just about edging out First Person Shooter as the most abominable piece of trash this show ever vomited up. It is a piece so far off the mark that you have to wonder how Chris Carter could get it so badly wrong when he has shown of late (How the Ghosts Stole Christmas, Milagro, Closure) that his creative juices are still flowing strongly. Fight Club is trying so hard to be quirky it is literally ramming the tasteless notion down your throat in a sarcastic and violent way. You not only have to watch tedious, badly executed sequences…you have to watch them twice! Double the pain, none of the enjoyment. Either this is the work of sheer exhaustion or the result of somebody complacent in the knowledge that this show is about to come to an end (as Carter thought at the time) and any old garbage can be tossed at the audience to see them through to the finale. Duchovny and Anderson try so hard to capture the magic that happened between them in season six in their scenes but the material is so weak they are fighting a loses battle. The only thing more painful than watching their endeavours is the double performance by Kathy Griffin; so bad that I had all but blocked it from my mind. Why does the proximity of twins cause such devastation? Why the earthquakes? The violence? Why does Mulder fall down a manhole and spend half a day trying to get out the sewers? The most disturbing thing is I’m not even that bothered that none of this is adequately explained. It doesn’t deserve an explanation. It’s not even a case of the show not trying to be scary anymore, it isn’t even trying to be clever now. The sad thing is that Fight Club is trying so hard to be funny it misses the point entirely and winds up being tasteless. If you want to see Carter attempting to try his hand at something quirky and succeed then go watch season nine’s Improbable. All I wanted during this experience was for my twin to turn up and try and kill me…: 0/10

Je Souhaite written and directed by Vince Gilligan

What’s it about: You’ve got three wishes…

Trust No-One: ‘He unrolled me…’ Where Scully is giddy with excitement at the potential advancements to science with her invisible man, Mulder is less keen to jump the gun. He’s going on about a man with a colossal raging boner instead (‘Schwing!’). Poor Mulder thinks he is doing the whole world a favour by wishing for peace on Earth but he forgets who he is dealing with. Jenn has a devious side and even when whisking the entire population of the Earth back into existence ensures that Mulder is humiliated as he is suddenly ranting in the heavily populated office of Walter Skinner. As he is about to be stolen away from the series, Mulder and Scully share one last evening together with popcorn and a movie. If watching the last seven years was just to reach this gorgeous, simple moment it was worth it.

Brains’n’Beauty: ‘It’s gonna change the boundaries of science!’ Mulder and Scully can pretty much talk entirely in body language these days; her walking into the office and gesturing to their visitor, him warning her that it is not going to be a pretty sight…and yet she still yelps at the sight of Anson’s sliced open mouth. Whilst it perfectly suits the tone of this episode, the way that Mulder and Scully are having a blast going through the usual motions of him presenting her with an unexplainable mystery and her throwing potential solutions at him goes to show why the show does need a shake up. It’s lost its dramatic value now and they pretty much understand the formula that they have to go through each week and are enjoying it. That is fun here but had the final two seasons featured this level of unwinding attitude the show would have died a lingering death. Instead the drama is about to be injected back into the show in a big way. It is funny that both Vince Gilligan written and directed episodes (this and Sunshine Days) involve Scully obtaining proof of the supernatural and getting excited at the thought of showing other people what she has discovered only to have the evidence snatched away from her. Anderson plays the moment where Scully brushes the corpse into existence hilariously, at first confused, then shocked and finally giddy with excitement as she powders Anson into visibility. I always thought it was Duchovny who came across as being the most bored at this stage of the game but actually it is Anderson who is giving the least amount of effort and playing the part as pretty much herself. Fortunately for her that means Scully is looser than ever and great fun to be around where Duchovny is still trying to inject Mulder with a certain dour gravitas. This version of Scully is much more fun to be around but it is a complete divergence from the character we spent the first five years on this show with. She will be back next year with a vengeance so let’s enjoy the silliness while we can. The moment when she excitedly asks a group of her peers to the autopsy lab to view the invisible body when we know that he has been willed back to life and moved on might just make you laugh and cry and the same time. Bless her, finally validated and she has no proof and is made to look the fool in the process. Now she knows how Mulder feels. Mulder admits that he never made the world a happier place and Scully leaps in to tell him that she is much happier for knowing him. If that isn’t an argument for their relationship then I don’t know what is.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘They had to make me a whole new mouth!’
‘Your wish is breathtaking in its unoriginality.’
‘You missed a spot here. I can see straight through to his ass.’
‘Unsurprisingly we don’t have any evidence to support any of this…’
‘You don’t remember disappearing off the face of the Earth for about an hour this morning?’ 
‘You examined an invisible body, didn’t you?’ ‘I thought I did’ ‘Ohhhhhh!’ – Mulder speaks for the entire audience.

The Good: What a glorious visual the sailing ship in the middle of the trailer park is. Affluence and poverty existing side by side. I remember when I first watched this episode with friends and it led to a conversation where we started naming what we would desire for if we were granted three wishes. Gilligan manages to subvert the usual clichés by writing in a sly genie who is so bored with the whole wish fulfilment gig that she interprets her clients wishes as she pleases, usually giving them exactly what they have asked for but not where or how those desires are usually placed. Hence the boat that is beached in the middle of a trailer park. As my friends and I were talking pretty much every wish we mentioned could be misinterpreted in some way or another. Have a go…it’s really quite hard to be specific when it comes to wishes. Kevin Weismann was always my favourite performer on JJ Abrams’ Alias, the gorgeously normal technical support guy who tried to juggle a normal family life and his periphery role in the CIA. He’s a completely different character here but just as delightful. Now he’s playing a down and out who is so bad at everything he can’t even get three wishes right. Jenn isn’t without redeeming features, she tries to point out to Anson that he could restore his brothers ability to walk but she isn’t allowed to say that directly and he is too stupid to understand her pointers. You just know that something is going to go hideously wrong once Anson has turned invisible but even I didn’t think the Gilligan would push the black humour so far as to have him knocked down by a truck that cannot see him. That is probably the best ‘invisible person affecting objects’ sequence I have ever seen. You would think that it wouldn’t be a recurring theme in television but you’d be surprised (especially if you are a fan of low budget science fiction – invisible aliens are extremely popular). The POV shot of Anson turning towards the truck that is screaming towards him and the bike that flies over his invisible body at the side of the road are both very funny moments (in the darkest of ways). How funny is the sight of Jenn sighing disdainfully behind President Nixon…and all the implications that come with that? Leslie is even more retarded than his brother, figuring that he could wish for a solid gold wheelchair rather than the use of his legs back. The tragic inevitability that the moment it finally dawns upon him is when he finally slips off this mortal coil in a particularly explosive way is pure irony being a bitch. The fact that Jenn twists wishes because they aren’t more specific because that is the mistake that she made all those years ago is a nice touch. Ultimately she isn’t a villain but rather a tragic figure that has become caught in the mechanics of her own desires. All she wants is to live her life moment by moment and watch the world go by with a cup of coffee in her hand. That’s a lovely sentiment, it’s something that a lot of us should probably do but never seem to find the time to savour the smell of roasted beans (if coffee isn’t your poison then adapt to whatever you do like to drink) and appreciate the world we live in because we are so busy. The last scene in the coffee shop is just gorgeous.

Pre Titles Sequence: From the very beginning of Je Souhaite you realise that it is going to be another light-hearted piece. It’s a genie locked away in rug locked away in a storage locker for goodness sakes! It doesn’t inform you directly that this is going to be a genie in a bottle episode but all the pointers are there – Anson’s big mouth being sealed up suddenly after giving the other Anson and earache is a massive clue. It’s perhaps a little too quiet an introduction even for a comedy X-File but it is such a step up from last week that I’ll let it go.

Moment to Watch Out For: ‘Oh crap…’ The deliberately small scale nature of the episode (wish making in a very personal experience after all) lead me to believe that this was going to be the cheapie of the season but as soon as Mulder made his wish one of the most expensive set pieces of the year emerged. As soon as Mulder wished for peace on Earth and the sound died away both he and I realised what a dreadful mistake he had made. He might have made an altruistic wish that benefited all of humanity but that is only worth it if humanity is there to enjoy it. Cue an impressive scene of Mulder rushing out onto what should be a busy Washington street and finding it completely devoid of life.

Fashion Statement: Jenn is the chicest genie I’ve ever seen, right down to her specified eyewear. 

Result: ‘It’s like giving a chimpanzee a revolver…’ This is Vince Gilligan in a particularly frivolous mood and it works for all the reasons that Fight Club didn’t; it is heart-warming, funny, clever and sentimental. There’s only one episode that Gilligan would pen that is even lighter and more gorgeous than this and that is the very last script he contributed to the series. This is a genie in a lamp (or rather in a carpet) tale and so you can imagine the fun that Gilligan has with the well worn premise, and being the writer that he is he subverts expectations at every turn. The conclusion that he seems to draw is that wish fulfilment is a pretty scary business, especially given the series of cock ups with one mans wishes leads him to commit suicide and one of Mulder’s causes the removal of humanity from the face of the Earth. Paula Sorge gives a terrific performance as Jenn, the bored genie who is tired of everybody’s tedious, self serving wishes and wants somebody to surprise her. Just once. This is sitcom X-Files but being played as straight as possible with Anderson in particular taken gleeful delight in material that allows Scully to be the optimist to Mulder’s pessimist for a change. The whole piece twists in the last third as Mulder is granted any three wishes and then Gilligan really starts having fun. Je Souhaite is a delightful little episode to lead us into the finale and is polished off with a pair of touching scenes that left me feeling all cuddly inside. This is the last classic X-File episode to feature just Mulder and Scully. Cherish it: 9/10
Requiem written by Chris Carter and directed by Kim Manners

What’s it about: Returning to the scene of Mulder and Scully’s first X-File…

Trust No-One: ‘There’s so much more than this…’ After everything that has been thrown at him over the past seven years it appears that the thing that is going to bring Mulder down is…the FBI accountants. There is a very telling moment when Mulder watches Scully playing with Teresa’s baby and smiles. It might not mean anything important at this stage but it ties in beautifully with the cliffhanger at the end of this episode and the question of Scully’s baby’s parentage. In fact it would be revealed in Par Manum next season that Mulder and Scully had already discussed the idea of him being a sperm donor and if I’m honest there is every possibility that they could have sealed the deal after the concluding scenes of Hollywood AD or Je Souhaite. It’s gorgeously played by Duchovny and serves a very real purpose. Mulder holding Scully in bed and telling her to get back to Washington and get on with her life without is both heartbreaking and very sweet. The personal cost of his crusade has been too much, there is no denying that, and he now wants to protect the woman he loves the best way he can. Even if that means losing her. It should be naff but Carter scripts this scene sensitivity and both actors are determined to make this moment count. The way he touches and kisses her are the actions of a man who has been in this position before, I rather think they consummated their relationship off screen at some point during the season. The way his abduction plays out is as if he wanted to go. Perhaps to save Scully, perhaps for answers for his life’s work…

Brains’n’Beauty: Scully tries to explain that whilst their track record might not be stellar, she and Mulder do open doors. It’s nice to hear her defending the work she can so often be found criticising herself. Scully turning up at Mulder’s room in the middle of the night is another cute kiss to the past but more than that it sets up her pregnancy reveal at the end of the episode. What should be a ridiculous soap opera moment of Scully admitting she is pregnant salvages a depressing final scene with a ray of hope for the future. It really works.

Smoking Man: So I guess the Smoking Man wasn’t lying to Scully in En Ami when he informed her that he was dying and that he really did destroy his potential cure. That’s some death wish. We re-visit him here on his death bed; his hair whitening, a tracheotomy operation rendering his speech grisly, an old man on his last legs making one last attempt to make his name. He wants to rebuild the project with a new alien craft, for him, Marita and Krychek to join forces and kick start a whole new power base in the vacuum left behind by the Syndicate. After everything he has been through because of him, Krychek wants to damn the soul of the Smoking Man and he is even willing to do a deal with Mulder to make sure it happens. Tossing him down the stairs to his death was probably no more than he deserved. He has outlived his usefulness at this stage it is a good time for him to leave but William B. Davis is such good value and the writers always find something interesting for him to do so I will miss him anyway. It is such an undignified way to go, it feels perfect for this moment in time.

Assistant Director: I wish we had seen more of Skinner in season seven (was Mitch Pileggi juggling this and Stargate at the time?) because the scene between him and Mulder shows that these two characters are very relaxed around each other these days. He calls him Walter and apologises if his actions have repercussions for the Assistant Director – back in the day Mulder wouldn’t have given a shit whose careers his crusade trampled on. His scene with Scully at the climax is probably the best moment the character has had to date, a genuinely heartfelt moment of acceptance in the existence of extra terrestrials. His chemistry with Scully is gorgeous too, offering much hope for the future and his increased involvement.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What it comes down to Agent Mulder is that they don’t like you.’

Ugh: Teresa being dragged away from her screaming baby to her death is pretty horrific. You don’t see anything but the very idea of a bond being severed between mother and daughter permanently whist the baby is in distress leaves a horrible taste in the mouth. The last thing Teresa would have heard is her child screaming out for her.

The Good: Given that Carter thought this was the final X-File to be transmitted (there may be potential movies but as far as the production team were concerned this was the end of the road for the TV series) it feels absolutely right that we should return to the scene of the very first X-File all those years ago. Things have moved on so much since then that coming back to Oregon where it all began brings with it that sense of anticipation that the pilot had, when the show was fresh and new and could go anywhere and do anything. Lost time, something wild going on in the woods, Billy Miles up to his old tricks…it’s so deliriously nostalgic it makes me want to start the whole process all over again. How bizarre to see Eddie Kaye Thomas in such a small role before his career took off, but it is not unwelcome. Here’s a chance to reboot the series’ mythology with a crash in Oregon that mimics the Roswell landing, an alien spacecraft up for grabs. It just goes to show how far the show has moved on since season one. In the pilot the alien involvement was all hints and whispers, the series not established enough to go all the way and confirm everything that Mulder believed. Now crashed alien ships are tenapenny and the Syndicate’s conspiracy can be laughed at by FBI accountants. Would Mulder’s painted cross still be visible from seven years ago? Who cares, it is a lovely nod to the pilot. What a lovely little gift to have all the original actors that played the parts of Detective Miles and son and Teresa Nemen from the first episode. Think of all they have missed out on in the interim. It’s nice to see that these characters had legs (no, not like that) because they have all gone on to do something with their lives once Mulder and Scully moved away. Billy found a career in law enforcement and Teresa got married and had children. Those developments were nowhere near on the cards when we first met them. The idea of the aliens taking their previous abductees away, cleaning up their dirty work on Earth before (hopefully) moving on is both logical and rather chilling when you think about what that means for Scully. It is a brilliant red herring because we’re led to believe that it is Scully’s life that is in danger but as soon as the final piece of the puzzle is put into place – that the abductees have all displayed abnormal brain activity – then the target is shifted to Mulder in a heartbeat. And it’s Mulder that’s sniffing around at the crash site…

The Bad: Some money must have been spent on the effect but Scully’s crazy dance in the forest looks a little comical. 

Moment to Watch Out For: The last thing I ever expected was for Skinner to move out of the way and be escorting Krychek and Marita to Mulder’s office. It’s a genuine heart-in-mouth moment.

Fashion Statement: Let’s not beat around the bush, the Marita and Krychek pairing is the hottest thing to have ever come out of this show. Their extra curriculum activities might be enough to make a portion of the male audience to stand to attention and the ladies to be itching to get home to their honies.  I certainly don’t object to seeing Nick Lea in the shower either. Maybe I just have the raging horn whilst watching this but Billy Miles is a cutie too.

Orchestra: Check out the music during Mulder’s abduction sequence. That is exactly the sort of beautiful, unearthly, epic music I would expect to play out had Snow gotten the chance to score a genuine alien invasion of the Earth.

Mythology: To possess the alien craft is to possess the answer to all things. It is nice to see that the ideas touted in The Sixth Extinction about the alien involvement in the development of the Earth and humanity being brought up again and tied into the central narrative. To be honest they were too good to waste.

Foreboding: Mulder has been abducted, a move that has massive ramifications for the series…

Result: ‘I’m not going to risk losing you…’ Rather lovely, if feeling a little like ending the party with a whimper. Had this been The X-Files series finale it would have been a little too quiet for its own good, despite all the lovely kisses to the pilot to bring the show full circle. Returning to Oregon is a smart move because it allows us to put into perspective where the show began and how far it has come since then. The attempt to built up a new mythology (something that season seven has vehemently avoided until this point) feels a little pointless if this was going to be the end and a little quiet if it was going to continue. All the ingredients are there (an alien craft, abductions, the Smoking Man and Alex Krychek, shapeshifters) but it just needs a little shake. What counts is the beating heart that runs through the script that means that for once there is a personal stake in events. I’ve always said that Carter’s best scripts are the ones where he can marry big ideas with emotional content, so we are engaged on both counts. He usually fails when one or the other is missing (usually the latter) or occasionally when both are entirely absent (Fight Club). In this case the ideas are old hat but the relationship drama that is playing out between Mulder and Scully is almost entirely fresh and invigorating. It would appear they have consummated their relationship and reached an emotional understanding but coming back to Oregon makes Mulder realise everything he has put Scully through and wants to try and set her free despite how much it would break his heart. You would think he would have learnt not to wish for things like that (especially after the previous episode) because fate has a cruel way of making these things happen in the way you least suspect. Mulder’s abduction is almost the opposite of drama, it feels inevitable given how the episode plays out. Whilst it might lack drama here, it opens an exciting new avenue for the series to explore in the next season. It was a great move, one that I felt should have taken place a year ago. Requiem is an odd piece, one that is full of fantastic material but doesn’t quite come together to have the impact of a classic X-File. Still this is a much better finale for the series than the one we eventually got. Bring on the delightful Agent Doggett: 8/10

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