4x01 Herrenvolk (Carter)
Chris: Jeremiah Smith takes Mulder to a secret farm in which clones of abducted children raise bees for the alien apocalypse. Meanwhile, Mulder's mother gets on the Mythology Hospital-Go-Round and a new Deep Throat emerges, this one being young, beautiful and blonde (played by Laurie Holden). A great teaser, and a great death scene for a departing supporting character whose actor was off to star in his own series but not much else. The detour to the bee farm holds some startling imagery but is extremely confusing and anti-climactic to say the least.
Squarely in the tradition of underwhelming season openers and certainly nowhere near the Carter-penned first two episodes of Millennium, where his focus clearly was at the time. Because they are both pure dynamite. The same can't be said for the first batch of Myth eps of this season, however. 'Herrenvolk' signaled the ascent of the show's popularity but also the growing pains of its Mythology. This all felt like homework, not entertainment. It's just that the mystique was so potent at this point they could get away with it.
But at the same time Herrenvolk introduced important themes that would be used to far greater and more emotional satisfying dramatic effect in Zero Sum, Fight the Future, One Son and This is Not Happening, so in retrospect it was homework worth doing. (XXX)
Raj: I agree that this episode is better than Talitha Cumi, but there’s something about it that slightly grates on my nerves. I loved Scully’s scenes with the Bounty Hunter in the first half of the episode, but generally the motivations and actions of the characters in Herrenvolk don’t make a lot of sense. Jeremiah takes Mulder on an arduous hike through rural Canada to see Agrarian clones of his sister, but offers him little or no explanation. And when Mulder belatedly calls him on his vagueness the Bounty Hunter suddenly turns up right on cue like an irritating Deus ex Machina, so Jeremiah is unable to share what he knows.
I can forgive this kind of thing if it services the drama in an interesting way, but this scene is just too neat and ham-fisted. All in all the Talitha Cumi/Herrenvolk two-parter seems slightly parodic to me, and that’s not a good thing because it’s played so straight. But that’s only because The X Files sets the bar so high in terms of consistent quality. This two-parter still outshines most network television, even today. (XXX)
4X07 Musings Of A Cigarette Smoking Man (Morgan/Wong)
Chris: The Lone Gunmen tell the secret history of the Smoking Man. A lot of fans howled in protest at this episode- as did the Smoking Man himself- since it flew in the face of the Mytharc's development of the character, but I've always seen in the POV ethos of The X-Files: this isn't really the Smoking Man's story, it's a USENET conspiracy theory cobbled together out of myth, rumor, speculation and pure invention. In that context, the story makes a lot more sense. The writers originally wanted to end it by killing off Frohike, causing a major behind the scenes battle. That and William B. Davis's very vocal dissatisfaction with the script made for an unhappy shoot but an interesting diversion in the Mytharc. (XXX)
Raj: I get what the writers were trying to do here, but generally I think they failed. Depicting the Cigarette-Smoking Man as the Forest Gump of the Intelligence community falls flat. Rather than a loving, arch look at one possible history of CSM it instead comes off as a silly exercise in mocking the show’s principle villain, robbing CSM of much of his mystique and threat.
I really liked the touch of making CSM a failed writer though. In more skilled hands that could have felt very authentic and made him all the more frightening, but by and large Musings is a clear example of why a horror show should never try to castrate their own Devil. It’s ultimately self-defeating. (XX)
4X08 Paper Hearts (Gilligan)
Chris: Mulder is locked into a psychic link with John Lee Roche, a serial child murderer who he put in prison. The link deepens and the killer (brilliantly rendered by Tom Noonan) begins to invade his dreams and rewrite his history. The agents find a copy of Alice in Wonderland with heart-shaped swatches of the nightgowns Roche's victims wore when he abducted them. Soon Mulder begins to believe that Roche abducted Samantha and a brutal cat and mouse game unfolds between the killer and his captor. An absolute zenith for both Duchovny and Anderson, who burn with a ferocity rarely seen on television. (XXXXX)
Raj: Paper Hearts is probably my favorite X Files episode of all time, and there isn’t an alien in sight. It’s an incredibly dark and sad story that reframes and readdresses the show’s central conceits; Samantha’s abduction and the emotional trauma that drives Mulder to find her. That’s what is so stunning about The X Files – that it can deconstruct its own axioms and present us with an alternative explanation that works as both a deeply human story about grief and also as an intelligent, disturbing thriller.
The fact that the writers leave open the idea that Samantha may have actually fallen victim to a child-killer, that the real truth of her abduction might be horrifyingly squalid and prosaic – it’s a bold and authentic way to close the story, and is completely and utterly chilling. (XXXXX)
4X09 Tunguska (Spotnitz/Carter)
Chris: For a moment we are transported back to the Season Three Mytharc glory days: Krycek tips Mulder off to a militia bombing and then to a larger plot involving Russian diplomats, a bizarre rock containing the Black Oil is discovered and Mulder and Krycek smuggle themselves into Tunguska (the site of a cataclysmic event in the early 20th Century). It goes badly for them and ends with one of the most stunning fadeouts in the series' history. This episode is so packed with iconic set-pieces, you'll be checking to see if you watched a two-parter by the time it's done. (XXXX)
Raj: This episode has a great reintroduction of Alex Krycek who we last saw facing certain doom, vomiting Black Oil while locked in a missile silo with an alien ship. He was apparently and miraculously liberated by militia-members during a salvage hunt, and is now ‘living with the rats’ as he puts it. Although the scene with Mulder that reveals Krycek’s incredibly useful Russian heritage is a little too convenient, Tunguska is definitely the stronger half of the two-parter. Scully’s courtroom drama and Mulder’s experiences in a Siberian gulag play out like something from a Dostoyevsky fever-dream. (XXXX)
4X10 Terma (Spotnitz/Carter)
Raj: The second half of the two-parter is weaker, with some of the overly portentous and slightly parodic features found in the Talitha Cumi/Herrenvolk storyline. While going for depth and interesting ambiguity the script instead comes off as somewhat flabby and confusing. The teaser makes little sense thematically, and Mulder’s escape from the gulag and Siberia itself is too easy. And although the elderly spy-killer Vassily Peskow is a fun character, his plan to destroy the alien meteorite in an oil-well explosion is nonsensical at best.
Also, the supposed threat of Scully’s courtroom drama falls a little too flat and is explained away in a rather unsatisfying fashion. But despite all that there’s still a lot of fun to be had, and Nick Lea’s presence as Krycek gives this episode some much needed menace. (XXX)
Chris: Yeah, this one is a mess. The teaser is terrific (doing some typical topical XF spinning on the Dr. Kevorkian controversy), but it all disappears up its own backside. The Russian scenes are hackneyed and stereotype-ridden. The scenes in which Scully in thrown into prison are rich but the congressional hearings are deadly. In the end it's one of these over-plotted runarounds that has no payoff and leaves you scratching your head as to why the writers bothered. But again, Chris Carter was focused on Millennium and Fight the Future. (XX)
4X15 Memento Mori (Carter/Gilligan/Shiban/Spotnitz)
Chris: Scully has to deal with the advancing stages of her inoperable cancer while trying to get to the bottom of the conspiracy around it. She bonds with the sole remaining survivor of the MUFON group she met in Nisei while Mulder and a mysterious UFO buff discover an even deeper conspiracy at a government facility. This was one of those episodes that seemed terribly momentous when it first aired but suffer in hindsight because you know realize the stakes were not as high as they seemed. Still some very fine performances make it work, particularly from XF stalwart Gillian Barber. A very deft synthesis of soap opera and thriller elements, and as such a working prototype for the serialized mytharc of Season Eight. (XXXX)
Raj: Although I find this episode to be overwritten at times, I think it is carried by Gillian Anderson’s amazing performance. Mulder and Scully’s respective stories never really meshed in the way I wanted them to, but I’m not sure what I was hoping for. However, any story that delves into the personal lives of the lead characters earns points from me. Ultimately the episode seems to say that life is a series of choices between Now and Then, and it’s important to own those choices…no matter how brutal or unpleasant they appear to be. It’s the difference between victimhood and self-knowledge. Face to face with her own mortality, Scully seeks to somehow acquire this spiritual self-knowledge. (XXXX)
4X16 Unrequited (Gordon/Carter)
Chris: A super-solider episode drifting in from the second season and seeming lost in the fourth. A Viet Nam POW develops the ability to become invisible (harking back to Gordon's Fallen Angel, recalling Frank Spotnitz's dictum that all the episodes are Mythology episodes) and takes revenge on the military brass who betrayed his platoon. Typical Howard Gordon plot (very much 'Sleepless' redux, itself a blending of Gordon and Carter plot points) not done any favors by half-strength Carter. Interesting as a nostalgia exercise but that's pretty much it. Do note the explicit use of Mystery symbolism, however. (XX1/2)
Raj: I understand why Chris has given this episode such a low rating. With an ‘invisible soldier’ storyline that is a barely-veiled metaphor concerning the US government’s treatment of their own armed forces, the episode is mostly obvious and all the beats are practically sign-posted. And yet I love this episode for some reason. Don’t ask me why. Maybe I’m a sucker for stories about disgruntled Vietnam vets, or maybe it’s the ‘creepy assassin waiting to unleash chaos at a public event’ scenario that I find so unnerving. Who knows. (XXXX)
4X17 Tempus Fugit (Carter/Spotnitz)
Chris: After losing its razor edge for several episodes (again, largely on account of Carter's focus on Millennium and the feature film) the Mytharc got its second wind by reaching back to its roots, Gordon and Gansa's pivotal 'Fallen Angel' in this case. Max Fenig returns but brings only death, horror and a particularly ruthless black ops team in his wake. The conspiracy grows and grows, initiating an earnest crash investigator into the UFO reality and bringing tragedy to a beloved supporting character.
This may well be the best two-parter of the entire series, a shocking, gut-punching descent in a commonly-shared nightmare; a plane crash (the story was inspired by the conspiracy theories surrounding a 1996 TWA crash). The air disaster depicted in these episodes is one of the most harrowing committed to film and the obvious source for Lost. All told, an immediacy and relevance injected into the Mythology strongly reminiscent of Duane Barry/Ascension's kick, all the more impressive given the miles logged by this point. That two-parter traded on the power of newness, this two-parter trades on the power of hard-won experience. (XXXXX)
Raj: I love this two-parter. Not only is it a stunning mythology narrative, it also works as a fantastic movie in its own right. You could watch Tempus Fugit/Max without any other awareness of Mulder and Scully and be blown away by how blisteringly exciting, frightening and intelligent it is. It puts most Hollywood thrillers to shame. Not only do the writers bring back Max Fenig, a beloved character from the first season that was already presumed dead, they immediately proceed to kill him for real. Bold story-telling from the start.
Mulder’s discovery of a secondary, potentially alien crash-site at the bottom of a lake is rousing and effectively handled. In many ways Tempus Fugit somehow recaptures the sense of potential and real-world resonance of the pilot episode. It has stunning cinematography and some indelible images. Plus, plane crashes are just damn frightening. (XXXXX)
4X18 Max (Carter/Spotnitz)
Chris: After tossing the deck into air in Tempus Fugit the writers have Mulder, Scully and their deputized NTSB agent pick up the pieces in the most heartbreaking possible fashion. But no one is out of the woods yet- Mulder still has to deal with the black bag squad who are after the stolen alien technology that Max was trying to smuggle to Washington. The scene (written by co-exec John Shiban) in which the squad's leader cooly and calmly justifies the endless death and misery he causes in one of the most chilling scenes in the history of the series, because you know for a fact that our so-called leaders see the world exactly as he does. Solidly-crafted character development as Scully becomes increasingly maudlin and introspective in the face of her cancer diagnosis and Mulder tries to lighten the mood with wisecracks. If I had to pick a storyline that justifies the importance this series has in the culture, I'd pick this. (XXXXX)
Raj: The second half of the two-parter slows down a little, but not by much. It deals more with the personal costs and emotional fallout of the previous episode, and it doesn’t short-change the human relationships. We have the death of Agent Pendrell, another beloved character, who carried a torch for Scully, as well as Mulder and Scully reflecting on the death of Max Fenig. Also, the somewhat low-key finale with Mulder and the covert operative on the plane is a very smart ending, and works incredibly well in conveying ordinariness and deep strangeness both at once.
It’s ordinary because none of the other passengers will recall anything odd; for them it was just a normal flight. But it’s deeply strange because Mulder is able to deduce that the flight was brought under the control of a UFO and that the missing covert operative had become the subject of a mid-air abduction; a successful and non-lethal version of the events that led to the crash in the first half of the two-parter. (XXXXX)
4X21 Zero Sum (Gordon/Spotnitz)
Chris: Like Vince Gilligan, Howard Gordon only co-wrote a couple Myth eps, but they are superlative. AD Skinner makes a deal with the Syndicate to save Scully's life, not realizing that when you deal with the Devil you always get a losing hand. The hand Skinner is dealt is cleaning up after a brutal field test involving smallpox infected bees. Mulder begins to suspect his boss is working both sides of the fence but not in time to prevent a horrific test of the bees on a group of schoolchildren at recess.
It's hard to remember now how shocking The X-Files could be, given the passage of time and all of the imitators that followed in its wake. Episodes like Zero Sum changed your perception of television in a way that you could never go back again. The writers seemed to revel in finding the most primal horrors they could get away with depicting and rubbing their viewers faces in them. The killer bee attack in a post office bathroom was bad enough but the killer bee test on a group of schoolchildren at recess was like a kick to the stomach, especially in the pre-9/11 halcyon days. All the more so, considering the enthusiasm the Syndicate displayed realizing that the smallpox infected bee experiment was going live and that plans were on the board for the bees to kill off billions of human beings. (XXXXX)
Raj: Zero Sum is an exceptional piece of work. Not only is the story supremely creepy, but Skinner manages to serve as antagonist and protagonist , as well being a very capable leading man who uncovers enough odd details to rival Mulder himself. Featuring a brilliant teaser and a terrifying bee attack in a schoolyard the episode is full of frightening ideas and tense scenes. But for me the most disturbing detail was a rather small one – Skinner’s discovery of a huge honeycomb hidden behind a restroom wall. Such a thing is an indelible image, as well as its context being ominous and terrifying in its own right. It’s these kind of disturbing out-of-place details that help to make X Files the work of genius that it is. (XXXXX)
4x22 Elegy (Shiban)
As with "Paper Hearts", a psychic scarefest repurposed to suit the Mytharc, in this case to focus on Scully's fears of dying from the cancer caused by her abduction. A severely autistic man has premonitions of murders of girls who showed kindness to him at the local bowling alley where he helped out. Scully herself then sees one of these apparitions and is badly shaken, leading to a bravura (and probable multiple award-clinching) performance by Gillian Anderson as Scully visits FBI therapist Karen Kosseff. As with Season Three, the Mythology became the center of gravity towards the end of this season and likewise it would also lead to a somewhat disappointing conclusion. (XXXX)
4X23 Demons (Goodwin)
Chris: Mulder wakes up in a motel room with his clothes soaked in someone else's blood. The investigation leads to an MK ULTRA-type doctor, a group of suicidal abductees and the final revelations of the Smoking Man's relationship with Teena Mulder.
Another pivotal MythArc episode --that was inexplicably left off the Mythology boxsets-- and a personal favorite of this writer. Inspired by when Exec Producer Bob Goodwin bought one of those New Age pulsating light goggle contraptions (which gave everyone who tried it blinding headaches) 'Demons' ventures into the murky world of abduction and mind control yet again. But the real emotional climax of this episode comes when Mulder confronts his mother about her relationship to the Smoking Man, and the bitter sense of betrayal and humiliation practically leaps from the television screen. Never let it be said that David Duchovny couldn't sell a very thorny moment when the spirit moved.
It's quite possible the producers were using this storyline to try to justify Mulder's abrupt change of personality beginning in the following episode, yet another notch in the X-Files Unspoken Subtext holster. (XXXXX)
Raj: I love this episode for its dream-suffused glimpses into Mulder’s mind and his past. What I find interesting about Demons is that Mulder seems to grasp the fact that all he has are a tissue of subjective, tenuous interpretations with regards to Samantha’s abduction - and he is thus so willing to risk his life and sanity for even the vague promise of objectivity. Really, this episode should be subtitled ‘Mulder is batshit crazy, and pretty goddamn dangerous.’ Both Duchovny and Anderson understand the raw edge involved here, and play to it with expertise and finesse. Their interactions have a faintly taboo, unsettling quality as they inch around each other, and as Mulder continues to take greater and greater risks. Dark and wonderful stuff. (XXXXX)
4X24 Gethsemane (Carter)
Chris: With his contract running out and Carter's attention now focused on the feature film, David Duchovny began to lobby Carter to alter the basic nature of his character. Having openly declared his intention to make changes to the Mythology storyline in the press, Duchovny used his star power to force Carter to (briefly) rewrite believer Fox Mulder as skeptic David Duchovny.
You can practically feel the resistance in Carter's script as Mulder's life's work is breezily dispensed with based on the testimony of a shady intelligence operative, who introduces himself to Scully by pushing the cancer-stricken agent down a flight of stairs.
But the crisis of faith really makes no sense and that was probably intentional on Carter's part.
Mulder already knew full well that Scully's abduction was carried out by the government (See Blessing Way/Nisei/731) and that the tests performed by human scientist working for the Syndicate were the cause of her cancer (Nisei, Memento Mori) so that he would pay any attention at all to Kritschgau is extremely puzzling given that he's not telling Mulder anything new in this episode.
And what's more, Kritschgau lies about the source of Scully's cancer- she contracted cancer because she removed the chip from her neck. Hell, if you want to get down to it, Mulder didn't even think the craft that took Scully was a UFO to begin with (see 'Ascension').
It was at this point that The X-Files passed its high water mark in the Zeitgeist Sweepstakes and began its descent. Ratings would begin a sharp, irreversible decline when the series moved to Los Angeles, but there was still a lot of excellent work to come. Aside from the season opener in which this unfortunate new storyline was continuing to be serviced, there'd be very little fat in the fifth season- even the lesser standalones were pretty compelling and the MythArc episodes were all killer, no filler. (XX1/2)
Raj: I agree completely with Chris here, the first two episodes of the Gethsemane / Redux three-parter are pretty much failures. Mulder’s conversion from passionate believer to broken skeptic makes absolutely no sense and is rather unconvincing. Not that I would have been at all opposed to seeing Mulder’s faith tested and his beliefs reversed for a while, as such can be the stuff of great drama, but this particular way of going about it was basically turgid and nonsensical.
Chris is absolutely right that a character like Kritschgau would not have swayed an intuitive genius like Mulder; a guy who would be very familiar with psy-ops and propaganda tactics. It’s almost like Mulder is suddenly a newbie to the ufological field, suddenly lacking in the hundreds or thousands of hours spent reading and researching that he obviously had under his belt. More to the point it’s like Mulder becomes a cipher for the audience, a really clueless audience, which Carter attempts to half-heartedly turn skeptic, or perhaps over-stimulate, with a barrage of information on military history. (XX)
Season Five Episodes
5X02 Redux (Carter)
Chris: Mulder and Scully run around trying to find a cure for her cancer. Aside from some striking visuals-- the killing of the spy upstairs, the grim experiments in the pentagon basement, the montage of Cold War highlights-- this is pretty deadly stuff.
There's a conspicuous lack of action that is worsened by leaden, purple voiceovers, as if Carter were slogging through a story he didn't want to write (this episode is just begging for a fan remix in which the voiceovers are replaced by Mark Snow music- it would improve it immeasurably).
In fact, Carter repeatedly let fans knew this plot was not his idea and the producers let it be known in the fan press that this detour made writing this very taxing season more difficult than it should have been.
Kritschgau's long-winded monologue laying out his theories rings especially hollow. Worse, it's delivered in language that sounds more like a political manifesto than a conversation. Surely, Mulder received countless "UFOs are military psyops" lectures throughout his career; hearing it from a provable scumbag like Kritschgau should have convinced him beyond all doubt UFOs were in fact extraterrestrial.
I remembered having a terrible sinking feeling when this was over, particularly after the underwhelming finale of the previous season. Even if none of this turned out to be true, the Spell was broken- the "skeptical Mulder" storyline broke faith with the audience. Ratings began to tumble, sharply, and online forums turned decidedly negative around this time. (XX)
Raj: I’m usually pretty easy on The X Files, especially the mythology episodes. I love this show beyond words. But my God, are the endless overwrought voiceovers in this episode boring as hell. None of it adds weight or gravitas to anything, like it’s supposed to, and after a while I eventually stopped caring. And for me to literally not care about an episode of the X Files – something must be wrong. You can truly feel the exhaustion in this episode. Where the show is usually muscular and quick and intelligent, this episode is corpulent, stationary and dim-witted. And yet the final episode in the three-parter is amazing. Go figure. (XX)
5X03 Redux II (Carter)
Chris: And out of nowhere comes Redux II, which takes a dramatic flamethrower to the confounding Gethesemene and exhausting Redux I and puts The X-Files back on top. A remarkable turnaround that portends a remarkable winning streak for the Mytharc that, with only a stray exception, would last until the end of the eighth season.
From this point forward a much more interesting story began to take shape than Mulder's search for his sister: the evolution of Scully from skeptic to believer.
Carter also moved away from the rather unconvincing explanations for Mulder's disillusionment from the previous installments towards a much more compelling motive; that Mulder's irresponsible pursuit of his beliefs had wreaked havoc on those around him, that his quest had hurt those he loved most.
Whatever drift the MythArc had experienced since Talitha Cumi was reversed and the Mythology storyline now became a thing of searing emotional violence. Carter had taken a forced move that could have sabotaged his show and turned it all to his own advantage. As with Herrenvolk, Redux I- for all its many faults- acted as a setup for a emotionally satisfying payoff in this conclusion.
We realize that Kritschgau is simply an unwitting pawn of the Smoking Man who is using Mulder's disillusionment as a way to lure him out of the FBI and into the Syndicate. A livid Bill Scully reduces Mulder to tears by blaming him for the unbearable tragedy his family is being put through because of Mulder's quixotic crusade. (Pat Skipper's portrayal of Bill was consistently note-perfect, as was his role as teller of uncomfortable truths- the audience is bound to hate him but he's a man watching helplessly as a stranger destroys his family).
Mulder meets another Samantha clone who has been programmed to believe she was in fact his real sister (we have no real signal this is not actually Samantha here, which bears out the wisdom of a total curveball in 'Closure'). Section Chief Blevins attempts to convince Mulder to name Skinner as a traitor. It all ends in an breathtaking operatic montage strongly influenced by The Godfather Part II.
This is Duchovny's hour; he shows off a magnificent range that sells each and every emotion. All of which is to say that this grand finale stomps the living shit out of its first and second parts. And god damn if Mulder and the Smoking Man don't look like father and son. (XXXXX)
Raj: Compared to the first two parts of this story-arc Redux II is brilliant, with a plot filled with twists and turns that actually seem to matter. The episode concludes the Scully’s cancer storyline that began the previous season. It is anchored by some excellent performances from both Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, including Mulder’s heart-wrenching discussion with one of Scully’s brothers – who holds Mulder accountable for his sister’s fate. Also, the Cigarette Smoking Man is gunned down while clutching a photo of young Fox and Samantha Mulder. (XXXX)
5X01 Unusual Suspects (Gilligan)
Chris: We take a trip down memory lane to a more innocent time of dial-up modems and ginormous cellphones to discover how three paranoid nerds and a whistleblowing government scientist initiated a young and idealistic FBI agent into a world of paranoia, pilfered cable TV and hallucinogenic drugs. A brilliantly-rendered exploration of late 80s hacker culture and a cracking thriller on its own. Conspiracy buff Richard Belzer guest-stars, playing his Homicide: Life on the Street character. (XXXXX)
Raj: This episode is admittedly a lot of fun, with a wonderfully bizarre teaser in which a naked Mulder is found in a wooden box, bellowing insanely about aliens. We get to witness how the Lone Gunmen first met and how they first encountered Mulder. Despite all the fun and hi-jinks involving government conspiracies and trippy asthma inhalers, Scully’s absence is felt quite strongly in this episode. But the reappearance of Steven Williams as X is a welcome surprise and brings a satisfyingly darker edge to the light-hearted episode’s conclusion. (XXX1/2)
5X05 Christmas Carol (Gilligan/Shiban/Spotnitz)
Chris: Scully returns to San Diego to spend time with her family but begins receiving phone calls from her dead sister. Soon she is in the middle of a vast conspiracy revolving around a three year girl, a pharmaceutical giant and shape-shifting MIBs. Given that David Duchovny was making noises in the press about not renewing his contract at the end of the year, John Pyper-Ferguson's return to the series as a skeptical detective very much feels (and looks) like an audition reel; you can clearly see the seeds for the Doggett character already gestating at this very early date.
Still, this is very much a showcase for Gillian Anderson's superhuman acting chops and an important milestone in her own character's development, making its omission from the Myth box all the more baffling. This one is in my Top 3 All Time X-Files. (XXXXX)
Raj: The Christmas Carol / Emily two-parter is filled with great character moments and a stunning performance from Gillian Anderson. The introduction to the mystery feels especially fresh and engaging, which is probably why this episode seems slightly stronger than the one that follows. It explores the existence of a young girl called Emily Sim who Scully at first believes to be her dead sister’s secret daughter, but eventually learns Emily is her own child; a unique hybrid. It’s a story that explores how the present is often haunted symbolically and quite literally by the past. (XXXXX)
5X07 Emily (Gilligan/Shiban/Spotnitz)
Chris: Mulder returns and we are back in a very traditional Mytharc ep: hospitals, shapeshifters, toxic green blood- you know the drill. As with so much of the Mytharc we are in the realm of the ancient Mysteries- Scully plays the part of Demeter searching for Persephone in the teaser (a reference that went over viewers' heads). It's interesting to see Mulder in debunker mode while surrounded by hybrids and shapeshifters. Yet another winner for Season Five Mythology. Come to think of it if some bright spark out there were to replace all of the voiceovers in Redux I with Mark Snow music cues you'd have an unblemished run of killer Mythology for S5. (XXXXX)
Raj: The second half of the story continues to re-anchor Scully’s character and remind viewers of her frailty and humanity as well as her incredible strength. Gillian doesn’t do much over-the-top emoting in this story, instead she gives us a complex and honest depiction of a woman struggling with a shocking turn of events. Scully tries to come to terms with the fact that she is Emily Sim’s biological mother.
It features a stunning teaser with Scully travelling through a desert dreamscape while dressed in a billowing gown, searching for the cross necklace she gave to Emily in the first half of the two-parter. By the episode’s heart-breaking finale Emily has slipped into a coma and eventually dies. Scully is left with only her grief, and the final disrespect of having Emily’s body replaced with sandbags. Scully is reunited with her cross necklace, recovered from Emily’s coffin, but the talisman now has darker, more painful connotations. (XXXXX)
5X13 Patient X (Carter/Spotnitz)
Chris: A new abductee and a dangerous new chapter in the alien colonization campaign emerge. Here we see sci-fi vet Veronica Cartwright brilliantly cast as Cassandra Spender, UFO guru, mother of an ambitious young FBI agent and linchpin of the Syndicate's post-apocalyptic plans (Chris Owens made his debut as Jeffrey Spender here). But a new threat has emerged; grotesquely disfigured aliens who are summoning abductees to the colonists' alien lighthouses in order to slaughter them in such a fashion that their deaths can't be covered up.
More real-world drama informing the Mytharc- the deaths of the Solar Temple cult were the inspiration for this arc. We still get an unwelcome dose of debunker Mulder here, but it all serves to act as a dramatic setup for a fresh alien revelation in the second half. Carter simply took the opportunity to show how petulant and obstinate the so-called skeptics become in the face of experiences that can't be explained away. And our hearts all belong to Scully by this point anyway.
The voiceover in the teaser is far meatier and revealing than others like it- in the context of what follows it takes on the air of a manifesto for the entire franchise. (XXXX1/2)
Raj: I adore this two-parter beyond words. Like the Tempus Fugit / Max story from the previous season, it succeeds in making The X Files feel dangerous again. It is a full-bodied, sexy and surprisingly violent voyage into the heart of the Purity Project and the Alien Colonists intentions for the fate of Earth. I call it the ‘War in Heaven’ two-parter. Filled with stunning visuals, great concepts and frightening new developments, you can feel the epic scale of this storyline. You can also feel how dark it is. It also manages to make the Skeptical Mulder arc seem actually relevant to the story the writers are telling.
It blew my mind when first watching it and left me deliriously satisfied. Especially because it felt so much like a story I could imagine writing myself – a seamless blending of horror and sci-fi that managed to elevate and strengthen both genres. For me, this two-parter shares a special place in my heart along with Tempus Fugit / Max. As much as I love Fight the Future, Patient X and The Red And The Black was definitely the X Files movie I wanted to see. (XXXXX)
5X14 The Red And The Black (Carter/Spotnitz)
Chris: A brutal massacre on a remote dam leads to Scully undergoing a regression hypnosis session (one of the most memorable and highly regarded sequences in the series' history) that has the tinge of both the sacred and the erotic beneath the terror. The race to recover a Russian vaccine against the Black Oil gives way to a race to rescue an alien rebel, and the "skeptic Mulder" storyline is dismantled. This two-parter is unlike any that came before and would come later- it's the work of a writing team at the peak of its confidence and a series at the peak of its influence.
The torch of believer is passed from Mulder to Scully. The series was always being told from her point of view but now it's being told from the point of view of a scientist trying to reconcile her science with experience she cannot deny. But the Greek equivalent of the Latin Science is Gnosis, isn't it? (XXXXX)
Raj: Heaven and Hell, Water and Fire, Angels of Light and Darkness; it’s all in this episode, executed with trademark X Files ingenuity. Featuring a terrifying close encounter at Ruskin Dam, witnessed through Scully’s hypnagogic flashback, I remember being on the literal edge of my seat for the entire duration of this episode. Not only is it a brilliantly conceived science fiction thriller, but I resonated so personally with it that it felt like the Gods of X were talking directly to me. It’s not an overstatement to say that numerous deconstructions of this two-parter made me a better artist, deeply influencing my own understanding of tone and atmosphere as a budding horror and urban-fantasy writer. (XXXXX)
5X15 Travellers (Shiban/Spotnitz)
Raj: Travellers is our introduction to the legendary Arthur Dales, the spiritual ‘father’ of the X Files, played by Darren McGavin of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, a show that Carter often cited as an inspiration for The X Files. Dales eventually becomes a rather broad ‘television’ character, more a kind of meta-textual homage than an actual person. But at least here he still resembles a human being. The story mostly revolves around an extended flashback to the US of the early fifties, which blends McCarthy-era paranoia with trademark X Files dark sci-fi. The episode is actually interesting and well-made, but I simply never truly warmed to the way the Arthur Dales character was handled; as a whimsical and kindly Twilight Zone uncle, a harbinger of the sillier Los Angeles based X Files that was on its way. Dales didn’t really fit into the dark and subversive Vancouver X Files that I personally related to so deeply. (XXX)
Chris: Another trip down an imaginary memory lane- and a not-so-subtle jab back at Dark Skies. A good solid hour of politically charged sci-fi with a brilliant portrayal of the reptilian Roy Cohn by David Moreland. You can bet the producers of Taken were watching closely. Very closely. (XXXX)
5X17 All Souls (Shiban/Spotnitz)
Chris: A seeming throwaway- a solid but unremarkable MOTW in which Scully investigates a series of murders of severely handicapped girls and concurrent sights of a bizarre creature. But there's a very crucial detail revealed when Scully is conducting an autopsy on one of the victims; she has a protracted vision of her recently departed alien hybrid daughter Emily in the victim's place. Since the girls are later identified as Nephilim, the offspring of human mothers and fallen angels, we get a very clear sense of where the Mythology is going once the Colonization storyline is done away with next season. (XXX1/2)
Raj: Part of me really likes this episode, and part of me finds it at times uncomfortable or slightly silly. Uncomfortable because God or his Angels seem so brutal to these innocent children, literally burning their eyes out of their head because of the awesome power of his Light, or sumthin’. The idea of God burning out the eyes of children just doesn’t sit well with me. Scully gets to see what appears to be more than just a glimpse of the seraphim, and her eyes and life survive intact. Also, I just don’t trust priests with children, even seemingly benign priests who try to protect children from supernatural demons. I’m weird like that. The silliness factor comes from the character Aaron Starkey as a cartoonish devil, complete with shadow-horns and the inability to enter a church like some low-rent vampire. Still, the episode does succeed in being genuinely creepy in places, and should be commended for trying to explore Scully’s feelings concerning Emily Sim’s death from earlier in the season. (XXX)
5X18 The Pine Bluff Variant (Shiban)
Chris: Mulder's anti-government rant in Patient X earns him the attention of a Neo-Nazi militia and the games begin. But an infinitely more dangerous group of men are using them to conduct a field test of biotoxin, and the crosses and double-crosses will leave you breathless until the very last moment. A tense, solid script that no other show with no other leads could sell with this level of conviction. This is one of the last times The X-Files would tap so directly into the zeitgeist's mainline- the spell would break the following season as a string of novelty episodes written to keep the series' star engaged turned the show into a burlesque. It wouldn't be until the end that the series would predict the dystopia we are living in now. (XXXXX)
Raj: This episode is brilliant. It’s a tense and truly suspenseful undercover storyline, with Mulder posing as a dirty agent working with dangerous terrorists. With a great performance from Duchovny, Mulder must stop them from unleashing a devastating biological weapon on unsuspecting US citizens. The episode features a truly memorable sequence in a movie theater, with the skeletal bodies of the victims of the bioweapon test still sat in their cinema seats. (XXXXX)
5X20 The End (Carter)
Chris: A bungled hit on a chess prodigy named Gibson Praise coincides with the reemergence of Mulder's ex-wife Diana Fowley, who helped him create the X-Files division. We soon realize this is all a grand game on the part of the Syndicate- Gibson Praise is living genetic proof that human beings were created by the aliens and with the aliens coming back to reclaim the planet, his very existence threatens their planned Rapture. Diana drives a deep wedge between Mulder and Scully while the Syndicate secretly plans to take the X-Files away from them. Gillian Anderson's performance here is astonishing, her jealous rage practically leaps from the TV screen and grabs you by the throat. Whatever emotion she was drawing on here must have been very powerful indeed.
In many ways this was the end- The X-Files would never be quite as great as it was at this moment. This episode was the culmination of a superlative season of television- after the obligatory Redux I, the Mytharc burned hotter than it had since the second season and it would not be until the eighth that the storyline would have anything approaching the focus and intensity we saw here. Such was its gravity that even the standalones seemed drawn into the vortex. The move to Los Angeles was a terrible shame but perhaps inevitable- you can only sustain this level of intensity for so long.
Raj: Gibson Praise...how frickin’ cool is Gibson Praise? The answer is awesomely cool. A child chess prodigy with a partially alien genetic structure, who also happens to be a gifted telepath, he’s a kid who manages to be wise and soulful beyond his years without ever seeming annoyingly precocious. In fact, it’s how normal he is despite his amazing gifts that make the character, and Mulder and Scully’s interactions with him, feel so genuine and compelling. But the episode has more than just this awesome character.
We’re also introduced to Special Agent Diana Fowley, an old colleague and lover of Mulder’s. Fowley’s introduction complicates the Mulder-Scully dynamic, as suddenly another woman is vying for Mulder’s attention, and Scully must share the stage with another very capable if untrustworthy female agent. The end of the Vancouver-era is capped off with an act of arson in the X Files office, started by the Cigarette-Smoking Man as a powerful symbolic attack which leaves Mulder’s life’s work in apparent ruins. (XXXXX)
The X Files: Fight the Future (Carter/Spotnitz)
Chris: Orpheus rescues Eurydice...from a spaceship buried beneath the polar ice. The X-Files Mytharc is aptly named since it basically takes ancient Mystery dramas and adds spaceships and DNA. Which is probably a return to first principles. This is a good, solid bit of Hollywood popcorn fodder which seemed like a retreat after the epochal fifth season. It's essentially a two-part Mytharc ep on steroids so we see the usual riffs, Terry O'Quinn as a bad good guy, the Oklahoma City bombing replayed as an alien conspiracy, the Smoking Man smoking, the Lone Gunmen being goofy, but it all seems a bit too overblown on the big screen. Martin Landau is terrific as a former conspirator turned Cassandra (and how he's dealt with is informative) but I must say I like it a lot better on the small screen than I did on the big.
The main disappointment I had with this film was it was no match at all for the stunning catharsis of the Season Five mytharc, from Redux II to the The End. Those episodes were made after the feature film and were just miles above it in clarity and power. Nothing the movie offered could match the emotional power of Christmas Carol or The Red and the Black, two episodes that left me literally breathless and retain their power even after all these years. The fact that there would be such an obvious agenda to derail the Mytharc and put the focus back on Mulder after the film also dims its power for me. (XXX1/2)
Raj: I know Fight the Future could be a lot stronger structurally and isn’t as wonderfully labyrinthine as the television series, due to the fact that Carter had to service the newbies as well as the fans, but as Hollywood summer blockbusters go Fight the Future is still tons better than most of them. There are some plot-holes and lapses in logic, but these can usually be forgiven in something as bizarre as The X Files. Among the many well-handled set-pieces are some cool prehistoric flashbacks, the bombing of a Dallas federal building, a North by Northwest homage, and the finale where an alien mothership rises from its hidden slumber, and Mulder and Scully are forced to try outrunning a superheated, crumbling ice-shelf as the ship begins its ascent.
In terms of mythology we learn that there is a taller, almost warrior-like caste of Grey alien, and that the evolved pathogen codenamed Purity was perhaps the first lifeform on Earth. More than anything what I enjoy most about the movie are the Underworld resonances, with Mulder as Virgil, Orpheus and Dante all combined, seeking to rescue his love from the alien World Below. (XXXX)
Season Six Episodes
6ABX01 The Beginning (Carter)
Chris: Mulder and Scully are reassigned as a scientist at a Syndicate lab gives birth to an alien Grey (the Greys use other organisms to gestate inside of). The Smoking Man places Spender and Fowley in the X-Files office and soon a wild hunt is afoot in the Arizona desert to find the runaway Grey before he's discovered. Gibson Praise escapes from the Smoking Man's custody to help Mulder track the Grey down to a cooling tank inside a nuclear power plant.
And none of it really sings.
This seems to have been written as an "X-Files by numbers" to help get the new LA crew up and running, a mere template to break in the new hands. It may have been a logistical necessity, but after a feature film that surrendered the dark intimacy that made the show the phenomenon it was, it seems in hindsight like this was the spellbreaker.
The problem definitely seems more on the execution side than the conceptual, as if the LA people simply didn't get the subtle rhythms that made this stuff soar in Canada. It's all hyper and over-rendered where it was once calm and understated. The writers try very hard to pack the story with the X-Files Greatest Riffs, but we realize how crucial Bob Goodwin's steady, sturdy hand- and Vancouver's otherworldly ambience- was to making the incredible feel hyperreal.
Some truly awful "look at me, Ma" performances by substandard character actors remind us we're not in Vancouver anymore. The LAX Files was not off to a promising start. (XX1/2)
Raj: I’m surprised by how similar Chris’ takes on individual episodes is to my own personal views. When the Dreamland comedy two-parter is better than the season opener, you know you’re in trouble. For the most part The Beginning is slow and un-engaging. And this show can do slow to perfection, but rarely is it ever un-engaging. So when it is, it hurts. Coming into their sixth season off the back of their first motion picture, I really wanted better from the X Files creative team. Perhaps it was the show’s change of shooting-locale and reincarnation as The LAX Files that killed a lot of the dangerous, subversive quality of the show. Season Six becomes increasingly whimsical and wink-wink from here on in. And while they try to go for serious storytelling in this opener it all seems a bit tired and “who cares?” Although the following season’s Hollywood AD comes close, at least none of the episodes in Season Six was an actual musical. But I remember holding my breath there for a while. Seriously. (XX)
6ABX02 Drive (Gilligan)
Chris: Leave it to Vince Gilligan to steer the ship back on course, at least for a brief moment. This may be a blatant Speed ripoff- and Gilligan doesn't try to deny it- but it's also classic, hardcore X-Files. Military experiments with ULFs (ultra-low frequencies) are killing people and animals in a rural area and future Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston plays a desperate man trying to run away from the agonizing pain inside his head. Mulder and Scully, in the area investigating fertilizer purchases, work to unravel the mystery. The scene in which Scully is met with the stonewall of official denial is worth the price of admission alone. Rob Bowman's widescreen eye and cinematic staging gives this a numinous jolt and excitement that elevates the material considerably. (XXXX)
Raj: This is a great episode that features the brilliant Bryan Cranston as a man forced to drive westward or his head will explode. Yeah, it’s better than it sounds. It’s a story about a man forced to keep moving, that intentionally recalls the movie Speed. What’s great about Cranston’s performance as Patrick Crump is that the character is clearly an aggressive, anti-Semitic asshole, and yet Cranston somehow manages to make him kind of sympathetic and almost likeable. He’s a man who is terrified of dying in the most horrible way, and doesn’t care who he offends. This doesn’t absolve Crump of his shitty beliefs, but it does present him as a multidimensional character – a real person with various and sometimes contradictory traits. We get the impression that even Mulder reluctantly warms to him over the course of the episode, and is saddened when Crump befalls the fate he was trying so desperately to avoid. (XXXX)
6ABX04 Dreamland (Gilligan/Shiban/Spotnitz)
Chris: A sabotaged stealth aircraft engineered with UFO technology creates a rift in the space-time continuum, switching the bodies of Mulder and an Area 51 MIB played by Michael McKean. This one is a mess- there's some solid sci-fi at work but also some truly awful comedy, jokes so broad they play like ALF rejects. Duchovny's increasing disenchantment with the show is writ large in the single worst idea of the entire series: a rehash of Harpo Marx's Duck Soup mirror gag, a tired, hackneyed bit of Vaudeville that threatens to single-handedly undo all of the previous five years' hard work. McKean and fellow SNL vet Nora Dunn keep their dignity but reportedly this was a two-parter that Darin Morgan- who pioneered the comedic X-File- took personal offense to. The gripping final scene helps undo some of the damage. (X1/2)
Raj: I actually don’t have a problem with the comedy episodes, even when they’re as broad as this. They have their own kind of brilliance and I’ve watched each of them countless times, but they are not indicative of the show I fell in love with. If The X Files had been from the start a whimsical, humorous Twilight Zone with FBI agents I would have adored it on its own terms. But for me The X Files will always be dangerous, subversive thrillers filled with horror, politics, sci-fi and razor-sharp ingenuity. The Dreamland two-parter isn’t really that funny, to my mind. I find it more warmly amusing than anything else. Which is fine, but a body-swap story is also just a little too TV-Land for my tastes, especially the way it was executed. But Chris is right that the second half is more enjoyable simply because it has more sci-fi. (XXX)
6ABX05 Dreamland II (Gilligan/Shiban/Spotnitz)
Chris: Over the summer of 1998, Chris Carter had promised that the sixth season would be Mythology-heavy and yet there's very little proper Carter-Spotnitz Mytharc this year, and two of those put an end to the storyline they'd spent the past five years developing. The key here is the fact that their star was only originally contracted for five years and the producers were extremely concerned that he was going to walk (William B Davis goes into some detail about this in in his autobiography). In that light we have to look at Dreamland as a compromise- blending the Mytharc elements the producers wanted with the self-parody direction the star clearly wanted the show to take during his final two years as full time lead (as borne out in his two solo eps).
Dreamland II balances the broad comedic elements but whittles them away as the episode goes forward until we're left with a fairly traditional X-File by the time the credits roll. In that it's a lot more successful than the first part, but in hindsight feels as if it were the product of a lot of behind the scenes wrangling. (XXX)
Raj: Even though the second episode is better than the first, the Dreamland story as a whole is so slight, with no real revelations or character growth, that it really doesn’t warrant a movie-length duration. It’s an amusing bit of fluff, that I have admittedly warmed to considerably on repeat viewing, but if I personally had Mulder and Scully break into Area 51 - shit would seriously go down. At the end of this episode, because of some temporal elastic band (seriously) literally nothing has happened. Mulder gets a new bed and Scully gets a magic coin, but that’s it. It’s a plot device that says, “What you just saw was completely irrelevant, and so ridiculous in the larger scheme that we are not even going to allow our characters to recall any of it.” (XXX)
6ABX10 SR 819 (Shiban)
Chris: The Syndicate makes one last attempt to bring Skinner under their control so they infect him with nanobots that can bring him to the brink of death. This is one of those episodes that began life as a standalone and was the retrofit to the mytharc. Perhaps realizing how far off its moorings the series had drifted, Raymond Barry is brought back as Senator Richard Matheson, a nod to a fading past. This is very much an oddity- hardcore back to basics Season Two/Three X-Files in a series that was madly sprinting away from itself. Unfortunately, it wasn't a harbinger of things to come. Quite the opposite as we would soon find out. (XXXX)
Raj: SR819 is one of the few episodes I reach for in my Season Six boxset when I’m jonesing for something gritty, meaty and dark that isn’t Two Fathers/One Son or Biogenesis. Plus, Krycek with a beard. Unfortunately though, Mulder doesn’t say these immortal words like he should have: “Who, that Krycek-looking guy with the beard? That’s Krycek.” This omission in no way spoils the Dead On Arrival dark-sweetness of the story. (XXXX)
6ABX11 Two Fathers (Spotnitz/Carter) see footnote
Chris: With Cassandra Spender finally evolved into a full human alien hybrid, the faceless alien rebels strike and systematically destroy the Syndicate's worldwide infrastructure and thereby destroying their chances at surviving the alien apocalypse. The aliens strike into the very heart of the Syndicate, triggering a meltdown among the conspirators. This is a two part episode, ending the original X-Files alien colonization Mythology. (XXXX)
Raj: I really appreciate both halves of this story. While it still has a touch of the Los Angeles about it and occasionally borders on the hokey in a few scenes, it mostly gets everything right. I was thanking God that the first real serious mythology two-parter didn’t suck. Krycek is back for real this time, which naturally elevates the whole affair. I also love it for the continuation of the plot threads begun in Patient X and The Red and the Black, continuing its faceless rebels / War in Heaven theme. When viewed against the rest of Season Six it is positively incendiary, so to speak. (XXXXX)
6ABX12 One Son (Spotnitz/Carter)
Raj: This episode is fun in a lot of ways. The timetable for colonization is at risk of being abandoned, and an invasion could soon be imminent. Mulder and Scully are thrust into a last-ditch effort to thwart it. We learn more about Samantha’s abduction, the Syndicate’s deal with the Colonists, and CSM’s conviction that he is actually some kind of hero. By the story’s close, as Mulder says, all bets are off. Plus, we witness Jeffery Spender’s apparent death at the hands of CSM, his own father, gunned down in the X Files office no less. (XXXXX)
Chris: The party line became that Chris Carter had grown tired of the Mythology and felt that it had become bogged down with exposition, but in fact it was the crippling costs of production that killed the Mytharc as we knew it. On the contrary, the plan was ramp up the Mytharc before the reality of doing business in LA set in (see end notes). You can clearly see the difference here; the sweep, scope and cinematic grandeur of Season Three Mythology often reduced to endless scenes of characters talking in darkened rooms.
That's not to say this isn't some very exciting science fiction. But the producers knew the moment for alien conspiracies had passed in the culture and it was time to move on to something new. But in a season filled with high-concept set-pieces, ending the Syndicate arc seems like just another sweeps-week gimmick. Both of these episodes are very well-written, well-acted and well-produced. They just feel slightly hollow at the center. And many fans felt cheated by the jettisoning of mysteries and plotlines that inspired an entire subculture debating on the Internet. Some quit the show for good at this point.
So given the disconnect between what the producers had promised and what actually transpired, the question must be asked: What was really going on behind the scenes? (XXXX)
6ABX19 Three Of A Kind (Gilligan/Shiban)
Chris: Not so much a sequel than a straight remake of Unusual Suspects, only set in present day Las Vegas and featuring the now-obligatory SNL vet (the late Charles Rocket). A lacklustre mind control yarn redeemed only by an adorable performance by Gillian Anderson as Scully on happy juice. (XX1/2)
Raj: This episode is vaguely amusing, but that’s about it. The only time it gets truly funny is the scene where Scully is drugged and flirting with a bunch of desperate defense contractors. It’s a moment where Gillian Anderson’s comedic timing is truly allowed to shine. But the scene has the unfortunate side effect of bringing into relief just how bland the rest of the jokes are in comparison. (XXX)
6ABX20 The Unnatural (Duchovny)
Chris: With the Colonization MythArc suddenly and rather shockingly ended and the show increasingly embracing self-parody, I was very much starting to lose hope (and I certainly was not alone). I don't know how many tone meetings the star sat in on but The Unnatural (and the following year's 'Hollywood AD', which is immeasurably better) shows just how completely he had recreated the LAXFiles in his own image.
Not so much a "comedy episode" (Hollywood AD would be more of a straight comedy) as a kind of Hallmark Channel version of The X-Files, The Unnatural is pure, soft-focus liberal fantasy- a New York baby boomer's vision of 1940s race relations that has all the gritty realism of a Thomas Kincade painting. Sadly it was supposed to feature Darren McGavin again as Arthur Dales but McGavin took ill, forcing the rather embarrassing substitution of another, even hammier actor as Arthur Dales' brother Arthur.
A Dreamland-like mockery of the Mytharc, The Unnatural is told in flashback as another Arthur Dales investigates an alien Grey playing baseball for a Negro League baseball team. That's the entire plot. Yeah, I spent a lot of time in the 1998-1999 season picturing Fonzie strapping on the ol' waterskis. (X)
Raj: Ok, here’s the deal – I can only watch The Unnatural and enjoy it when I view it as some kind of bizarre wish-fulfillment on David Duchovny’s part; the warm and fuzzy ideal of how he might have liked things to be as far as racial equality in 1940s America was concerned. Either that or the episode is some strange joke and Duchovny kept the punchline a closely guarded secret. Plus, the whole Arthur Dales not being Arthur Dales, except clearly being Arthur Dales in the flashback, is…well…yeah. In order to make the substitution work at all Duchovny had to paper over the cracks with a whole lot of wackiness. It never really makes any kind of sense. But actually, when I can put all these concerns aside, I must admit to enjoying The Unnatural as a kind of guilty, nonsensical pleasure. It does make me chuckle at a number of points, which comedy tends to aim for. (XXX)
6ABX22 Biogenesis (Carter/Spotnitz)
Chris: And then, when all hope seemed lost, came the proverbial bolt from the blue...
Fragments of metal bearing Navajo writing wash up on a beach on the Ivory Coast, setting into motion a chain of events that will activate the dormant alien DNA in Mulder's bloodstream, with terrible consequences. Navajo elder Albert Hosteen returns, acting as translator for one "Doctor Sandoz" who is possession of some of the "alien tablets" (hint, hint, nudge, nudge).
Diana Fowley and chronically underused maverick researcher/expositio-spouter Chuck Burks are drawn into the drama as an African doctor is murdered by a celebrity debunker, who is in fact secretly searching for the keys to our alien origins. Here we get to the core of what this series is all about- alien origin of humanity, DNA as data storage, hallucinogens as oracles, the true struggle being one over inner space.
An absolute scorcher of an episode, immeasurably better than the entire season that preceded it and a stage-setter for a more explicitly mystical phase of the Mythology. After a season filled with self-mocking, viewers were once again reminded just how hot this show could burn. One of my absolute favorite episodes of the entire series and an unalloyed piece of pure prophecy. I could have used a whole season of this. (XXXXX)
Raj: Oh my God, Biogenesis is an electrifying piece of hardcore science-fiction. Strange artifacts, a mysterious alien ship inscribed with Holy Scripture, Mulder going insane and simultaneously developing telepathic powers, the convergence of science and shamanism – all brilliantly conceived and beautifully told. Suddenly the X Files is dangerous, ingenious and sexy once again, and the season ends on a seriously high note. Plus, the episode features a great performance from Michael Ensign as the sinister Dr Barnes. Biogenesis is definitely a firm favorite of mine. It simply oozes style and resonance. (XXXXX)
NOTES: Although Carter and Spotnitz later claimed ending the Colonization Mytharc in Season Six was part of their master plan, it's more likely it was the result of budgetary pressure (the forced move to LA tripled production costs) as well as pressures coming from outside the writers' room. In fact they repeatedly and explicitly claimed before Season Six that they would expand the Mythology in Season Six.
But having now shown viewers at least part of his hand, Carter’s not planning to cheat.
“We have this mythology now where we have seen a spaceship and we have seen aliens,” he said. “We’ve got to deal with it, and so that will become an ongoing storyline.” - Philadelphia Daily News, July 1998
Meanwhile expect intrepid FBI Agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) to come to terms with their experiences in Antarctica, and to convince others of the fantastical events they witnessed there. “It will have to be dealt with as the series goes forward. But that’s the fun of the series. It’s going to be getting people to believe that this is, in fact, going to happen,” Carter offers. “And Mulder and Scully still may have been told some lies. We still don’t know. We’ll play with this and continue on with that conspiracy.” A central component of the mythology thus far, Scully’s abduction back in season two and the consequences of that abduction, will be addressed in the coming year, as will questions surrounding what really happened to Mulder’s sister, Samantha.-
When conceiving the series pivotal mythology episodes, Carter knows where he’s ending up, but not necessarily how he’s going to get there. “I have a big general idea of what the conspiracy means and what the conspiracy is,” he explains, ” but as we go forward, we find new little things to do to add to it. And so that’s the fun of it. If you set everything down too clearly for yourself in the beginning, I think you end up without the sort of wonderful discovery of new things to add in. So, I think flexibility is important in this kind of storytelling. Also the faith that you’re going to make the right choices as you go forward.”