Friday, August 30, 2013

The Secret Sun Guide to the X-Files Mythology, Concluded

The video genius of co-author Raj Sisodia

7ABX03 The Sixth Extinction (Carter)

Chris: Scully and an African scientist work to decipher the writings of the beached Godship with the help of an increasingly unhinged Dr. Barnes. The work is stymied by Biblical portents and Scully's own hallucinations. Meanwhile back in the States, Mulder is given injections of psychotropics by a down and out Kritschgau, who recognizes his symptoms from burnt-out CIA remote viewers. Soon Kritschgau comes to realize that hat he sacrificed his career for nothing, since Mulder is himself proof of alien contact.

The Sixth Extinction might have seemed like a new beginning but in fact it was more of what had started with Two Fathers: explaining the nuts and bolts of the storyline so it could be wrapped up and put to bed.

The seventh season of X-Files was not a happy time; David Duchovny seemed to be suing everyone even remotely connected to the series and telling anyone who'd listen how desperately he wanted to leave. With the onset atmosphere tense and the "X-Files Lite" concept bleeding viewers by the millions (even if kept a core of the base very happy), several high-ranking staffers believed it was time to call it a day. Still, an amazing piece of work (a mini-feature film, really) thanks to strong guest-star performances all around and Carter's razor-sharp script. (XXXXX)
Raj: Continuing where Biogenesis left off, we are given more sci-fi alchemical gold in this episode.  Full of threat, import and great performances, it felt like The X Files had finally re-sharpened its knives and was ready to draw blood.  Apocalyptic, gritty and authentic, I was completely entranced when first watching this season opener.  We get to see a lot of Scully looking sweaty and delectable whilst investigating the beached godship on the African coast, which can only be a good thing in my book.  
Also, Mulder’s evolution from a highly-intuitive investigator into something more resembling a mythological god is beautifully handled in this instalment.  Unlike the somewhat broad, heavy-handed and frankly unnecessary third chapter that was to follow. (XXXXX)

7ABX04 The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati (Duchovny/Carter)

Chris: Scully searches for Mulder, who the Smoking Man had moved to a secret military lab in order to harvest his alien DNA. Kritschgau realizes how dangerous the alien agenda truly is and hacks into Scully files in order to blow the whistle. Meanwhile a comatose Mulder dreams of a better life in suburbia with Diana while the Smoking Man plays the great tempter to the man whose DNA could save humanity from the alien apocalypse.

Just how tense things had gotten behind the scenes at Ten Thirteen becomes clear with this strange episode in which strange messianic fantasies are force-fed onto a storyline in midstream. It feels as if the Carter-Spotnitz plotline was possibly even derailed by this interlude. How so?

The first two episodes were clearly building towards some kind of apocalyptic revelation, only to be   detoured into Mulder's subconscious. It's a weird mix, with the usual Mytharc cloak and dagger clashing with Duchovny's dream sequences, florid dialogue clashing with sharp, terse, real-world exchanges.

Carter and Duchovny weren't on speaking terms when this episode was written and you can tell. It's also very telling that Carter brings back Kritschgau from the unfortunate "Skeptic Mulder" storyline simply to lead him to a meaningless death (you'll hear a lot of fans say they only like the first four seasons of X-Files- what they are saying without realizing is that they like the pre-Kritschgau X-Files).

Although The Last Temptation of Christ is cited at the inspiration for this episode, I'm willing to bet good money a remarkably similar sequence in "The Innocent" episode of The Invaders was the original inspiration here. The plot points are clearly parallel- the lonely crusader against alien colonization is kidnapped by the show's main villain (portrayed by Michael Rennie) and seduced with visions of the life he'd forsaken. You have the old friend reappearing and the long-lost love as well, and then the sickening realization that it was all a dream.

The Invaders was a direct and powerful influence on The X-Files' Mythology, so much so that its star Roy Thinnes portrayed a pivotal character in the storyline, alien "miracle man" Jeremiah Smith. The understated Thinnes seems to have been a powerful acting influence on Duchovny as well, since it was the XF star who recommended him to Chris Carter in the first place.

I'm not discounting the Last Temptation influence entirely, but it's immediately evident from a single viewing of 'The Innocent' that it was a more direct and compelling influence on 'Amor Fati'.

What is fascinating to me- and worth the price of admission- about 'Amor Fati' are a series of utterly magical dreams within dreams in which Mulder has premonitions of his human-alien hybrid son. I love shit like that. (XXX1/2)

Raj: Love of Fate, or as I like to call it, “The Last Temptation of Mulder.”  There is a lot I like in this episode, including the dreams within dreams of Mulder on the beach with his inner child and William-foreshadow while they build an alien godship from the sand, identical to the one Scully found on the Ivory Coast.  Also notable is an iconic scene of CSM peering through a window at a hellish post-colonization world, all ruins and fire and red skies.  But for the most part Mulder’s Christlike temptation feels rather flabby, as does much of the dialogue – especially the scenes with CSM in the lab when he intends to steal Mulder’s burden or ‘gift’.  
And frankly I wasn’t convinced by Mulder’s temptation, or that he would ever actually be seduced by it, because it implies that Mulder secretly yearns for simpler pleasures beyond his quest for the Truth.  And I just don’t believe that.  At his core Mulder is a complex and dangerous subversive.  He is a Gnostic Christ with a sword, overturning stalls in the temple, not a Broken Christ trying to hide from the sight of the Creator, or the Truth. (XXX)

7ABX10 Sein Und Zeit (Carter/Spotnitz)

Chris: A young girl mysteriously disappears from her bed, setting off a media circus. Mulder begs onto the case because of a stray line in a note found on the scene threatening the girl's life. Soon a bizarre connection to an earlier case erupts and Mulder once again confronts the mysterious entities known as the Walk-ins. As the crisis reaches a boiling point, Mulder's mother suddenly commits suicide. A cryptic clue given by the shade of the disappeared clue leads the agents to a scene of nearly unspeakable horror.

What gives this episode added kick is the clear parallels it draws to the epic 'Paper Hearts', in that an alternative explanation for Samantha's disappearance is made apparent by paranormal phenomena. The one weak point of 'Hearts'- the threads left dangling as to how Mulder and Roche formed this psychic link- is bolstered by intimations that Walk-Ins were the animating force behind that episode's mystery as well.

The X-Files' referential casting methodology is in full effect here as Mark Rolston- who first appeared in a previous Walk-in bugout Red Museum- plays the father of the disappeared girl. We also realize that the Walk-ins were probably the cause of the connection between Mulder and Roche in Paper Hearts. Further casting magick takes the form of Kim Darby, who appeared on Star Trek and starred in The People and Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. She's particularly brilliant here (and curiously resembles a Heaven's Gate cultist). A truly great two-parter, but Sein is the better of the two.
Raj: I agree with Chris that Sein Und Zeit is even better than Closure, but all in all I just love this two-parter.  I love the bold choice of having the final truth of Samantha’s disappearance be something completely left-of-field.  For me Sein Und Zeit is the spiritual sequel to Season Four’s Paper Hearts.  I also love Duchovny’s performance in the scene when he begins analysing his mother’s suicide as though he is almost standing outside of an X Files episode; trying to understand the story-beats and the things he might do in a similar situation to uncover a cleverly disguised murder.  
His desperation, genius and emotional agony all swirl together in this scene, describing it all to Scully as a ‘bad movie-script’.  My heart was breaking when I first watched that scene.  It feels very genuine and very painful. (XXXXX)

7ABX11 Closure (Carter/Spotnitz)

Chris:  Mulder falls under the spell of a police psychic named Harold Piller (brilliantly played by Anthony Heald) who promises to help find Samantha. Piller leads Mulder to an abandoned military base where the young girl's diary is found. This leads Mulder to the most painful revelation of all.

It's amazing to me how game Carter and Spotnitz were to killing off their series' flagship story arc simply because their star didn't want to play it anymore.  But the X-Files' writing staff always took it upon themselves to rise to every challenge, indeed the Mytharc itself only took form as we know it after Gillian Anderson got pregnant.

It's almost certain that the producers wanted to go in a direction other than the one they did after the feature film but to my mind a lot of the Mytharc's tropes had worn out their welcome and needed a rethink. Whatever the backstage drama behind them, these seventh season Myth eps are head and shoulders the highlights of the year for me. If production costs were turning The X-Files back into television, it was helping make the Mytharc more intimate, immediate and personal to the characters. (XXXXX)

Raj: I loved the character of Harold Piller, and the fact that despite his intuitive sensitivity he is unable to accept his son’s death.  Even Mulder is unable to help him accept the reality.  Not everyone finds closure.  Some people remain searching like Holy Fools for most of their lives, unable to accept any alternative.   
While many fans might have balked at such a ‘soft’ conclusion to the Samantha storyline, and even I would have liked to see a little more connection to the clones and general alien-stuff of what came before, I thought it was for the most part beautifully handled and genuinely heartfelt.  Even when the show had passed its high-water mark it was still capable of bold, intelligent storytelling.  (XXXXX)

7ABX15 En Ami (William B. Davis)

Chris: Not really a Mytharc ep but repurposed as one for the box since the seventh season was so light on them. A nice, tight, classic X-File with a dolled-up Scully that makes it worth the price of admission. Bill Davis got schooled in how X-Files episodes get done: the credited writer could write all he wanted, but in the end most scripts were heavily rewritten by Chris Carter. This one is very obviously a Ten Thirteen job constructed over Davis' ideas. A taut little cat-n-mouse thriller and a welcome tonic in a season clogged with novelty. (XXXXX)
Raj: This episode is really very good; a character study that takes the form of a symbolic dance/flirtation between CSM and Scully.  Also, considering that CSM is more than likely Mulder’s biological father – putting moves on the love of his son’s life is supremely creepy, as is Scully kind of allowing herself to be put in such a situation.  
It’s an interesting, complex dynamic and plays out as such to the eagle-eyed.  The episode brilliantly serves a dual purpose.  It humanises and complicates CSM while simultaneously reminding us that he is a pretty disturbing person.  (XXXXX)
7ABX22 Requiem (Carter)

Chris: With only three actual Mytharc storylines this season, Requiem ends a strange and disjointed era in the X-Files' history. One in which it at least felt like the series' star was running the show, whether or not that was actually the situation behind the scenes (though he would later claim that seasons six and seven were the best of the series' run). Duchovny had been itching to jump ship for several years at this point and his performance here is very much that of a man off to do other things.

But it has to be granted that seven years on an exhausting, labor-intensive show like The X-Files was more than anyone could reasonably ask. The show's grueling hours burnt out an army of talent before Duchovny's partial exit, including cinematographer John Bartley and director Rob Bowman.

Requiem has a "last day of school" feeling to it in other ways, an episode that spends all its time looking back instead of ahead. We go back to the show's pilot and catch up with minor characters who seem to loom quite large over the storyline as it gets ready to switch gears back into fourth gear. It's not entirely convincing because you get the feeling that no one involved was really taking it seriously.

Old school X-Files fans would soon get a reprieve; a back-to-basics exercise with a new series lead. In that Requiem feels like a holding pattern. The scene where Scully walks in on Mulder's meeting with Krycek and Marita still packs a punch, though (the original plan for the eighth season was to have Krycek and Marita form the basis of a new Syndicate but Laurie Holden was unavailable).

Soon all of the old toys would come out of the chest-- Gibson Praise, the Alien Bounty Hunter, Jeremiah Smith, the Black Oil, hybrid experiments-- leading one to wonder exactly why they'd been packed away in the first place. (XXX)

Raj: This episode is kind of elegiac, intentionally so, and although I really enjoy it truly does feel like the end of something.  It has some moments of humour in the opening scenes with an FBI auditor who sounds like a television critic lambasting the show itself, ending with Mulder punching the guy – off-screen, thankfully.  The writers revisit the locations, events and characters of the pilot episode.  The plot itself is not as strong as it should be for Mulder’s potentially final adventure, but what works is the creepiness and threat of the downed alien ship.  It is cloaked and rebuilding itself, and seems almost sentient, harking back indirectly to the invisible alien of Season One’s Fallen Angel.  

What seems evident to me is that although Season Seven managed to partially arrest the fall begun in Season Six, and is slightly less parodic and broad, it still feels strangely slight and not as rich as it should.  For the most part there is a conspicuous lack of aliens and Bounty Hunters and truly dark sci-fi, probably because of the Sein Und Zeit/Closure mid-season mythology episodes that would normally fulfil this function.  So Requiem ends the season not as sharply or as compellingly as we would have hoped, which is why when John Doggett steps onto the scene in the Season Eight opener Within/Without it felt like the show had been injected with some alien form of nitrous oxide.  Chris has already written the definitive review of Season Eight, but it is truly cinematic, breathtaking stuff; gritty, sexy, dangerous, intelligent and X Files as all hell. (XXXX)     

Season Eight episodes

8ABX01 Within (Carter)

Chris: The FBI treats Mulder's disappearance as a crime and launches a manhunt with by-the-book agent John Doggett put in charge. Scully and Skinner are faced with an alien clean-up crew, who are removing evidence of their existence wherever they can find it. Soon, all eyes turn to Arizona, where an alien bounty hunter is set to abduct Gibson Praise.

Just exactly why the Mytharc had been back-burnered in the sixth and seventh seasons would become clear in the eighth, when the Mythology took up half the season.

That may have been OK with a certain segment of the audience but the show's appeal to a wider audience rested on its synthesis of police procedural and old-fashioned thriller, almost in spite of the paranormal drag. The goofiness played well on the Internet but not so well on the Nielsens: the show lost several million viewers in the sixth and seventh seasons. The ratings plunge was so stark that the producers were tempted to throw in the towel.

With the series lead now on guest-star status, the writers could get back to writing the stories they wanted to tell: X-Files stories not Moonlighting or Mad About You stories with increasingly goofy monsters.

No matter how loudly a vocal minority protested, the addition of John Doggett did two very important things to The X-Files: first, it added a new layer of dramatic tension, given that Scully could no longer play the skeptic convincingly. After The Sixth Extinction experience, she just sounded petulant. Second, the Doggett character staunched the massive hemorrhaging in the ratings with men, who were turned off by the silliness of the sixth and seventh seasons. Ratings would stabilize in the eighth season; a remarkable feat for a show (especially a Fox show) eight years into its run. (XXXXX)
Raj: As much as I love the character of Fox Mulder, I can’t over-emphasise just how thrilled I was by the introduction of Robert Patrick as John Doggett.  Not only was I happy with the casting, I was thrilled with the sheer level of cinematic quality of the Within/Without two-parter.  The sharp increase in raw power compared to Requiem, the previous season’s finale, felt like a shot of adrenaline for me.  
Suddenly I was excited about The X Files in a way that I hadn’t been since Season Three; in an intoxicated, new horizons kind of way.  I have watched this episode so many times and am always utterly engaged by it. And yet, somewhat surprisingly, the plot for Within is deceptively simple, culminating in the return of child prodigy and telepath Gibson Praise, and a Bounty Hunter who takes Mulder’s form in order to abduct the boy.  (XXXXX)

8ABX02 Without (Carter)

Raj: Scully continues to search for Gibson Praise in the Arizona desert in an effort to protect him from the Bounty Hunter, and must strike up an alliance with Skinner in order to succeed.  This episode has a stunning set-piece where the Bounty Hunter impersonates Scully and ends up crushing the throat of an FBI agent.  This second half of the two-parter oozes style, confidence and intelligence.  Coupled with the first half of the story it makes for a truly absorbing sci-fi thriller that surpasses any number of bloated, big-budget Hollywood spectacles.  Like a phoenix from the ashes of Seasons Six and Seven, it’s an edgier, sexier X Files – more streamlined and more powerful by far. (XXXXX)
Chris: The titles of 'Within' and 'Without' reference the fact that most of the action of the former is indoors and in the desert (that most ancient of initiation places for those meeting angels and demons) for the latter. Just to drive the point home, Gibson Praise's friend is name Thea Sprecher (literally, "the Goddess Speaks").

And here Doggett is initiated into the world of the X-Files; he comes face to face with the Alien Bounty Hunter (who shapeshifts as Mulder, Scully and Skinner), and then faces up to the cold realization (delivered by Skinner, the messenger archetype) that he's been set-up to fail by Kersh, who sees Doggett as a potential rival.

X-Files two-parters had a reputation in the early seasons for strong setups and lesser followups, but 'Without' is even better than 'Within' and is one of my top 10 episodes of the entire series. Truly suspenseful and shocking, this is old-school, widescreen, deeply paranoid X-Files mythology, a return to the southwest of the pivotal 'Anasazi' three-parter. Only this time they really are shooting in the desert, not a spray-painted Canadian quarry. (XXXXX)

8ABX11 The Gift (Spotnitz)

Chris: This is a solid MOTW that doubles as a now-traditional quasi-Myth entry (Alone and Empedocles also act as quasi-Myth eps, in that they both deal with past events in the arc). Doggett goes to Pennsylvania to investigate unauthorized trips --and the unauthorized discharge of his weapon-- made by Mulder before his disappearance (Duchovny appears in a few brief cameos). There he encounters a hideous creature that the local townsfolk seem to claim as their property.

This works in a pitch black, second season kind of way, but it would have worked a lot better in some primeval British Columbian forest. Luckily, the difference is split with some luscious Hollywood rain and a relatively subdued palette. (XXX)
Raj: For some reason this episode is one I didn’t appreciate much on first viewing.  As thrilled as I was with seeing Mulder on screen again, I found his presence somewhat distracting – even though the story was focused on Mulder trying to cure his own illness.  I guess I had engaged so much with Doggett and the new, edgier vibe he symbolized for this season that I was worried Mulder’s reappearance might take away from some of that.  However, on repeat viewing I quickly warmed to the story. 

I realized that due to the Soul-Eater’s resurrection of Doggett, his character had now been truly initiated into the inner circle of X Files magick by experiencing the requisite rebirth ( something that Mulder undergoes more than once), a renaissance that all leads on the show must experience, at least in part.  Without fully understanding it, Doggett and Mulder are now bonded in some uncomfortable, metaphysical way because of this rebirth. It’s a bond that is further hinted at in the two-parter This Is Not Happening/DeadAlive, and later in Vienen.  (XXXX)

8ABX08 Per Manum (Carter/Spotnitz)

Chris: It was a this point that The X-Files became a de facto serial, and the back-to-basics philosophy of conspiracy-driven sci-fi with a sharp political edge was brought out in full force. With the ascendancy of the neocons the zeitgeist may have been working against the Mytharc, but that only seemed to strengthen the writers' resolve.

From the very first minute of the teaser we are back in old-school Mythology territory, with a harrowing scene of a woman giving birth to an alien Grey before she is put to death by her doctors.

Mulder appears in a series of flashbacks dealing with Scully's infertility, brilliantly intercut with her present dealings with an increasingly suspicious Doggett, and a new Deep Throat appears in the form of Knowle Rohrer, a shady Naval Intelligence operative played by Adam Baldwin (Firefly). But this and the following episodes are Gillian Anderson's and Robert Patrick's alone, showcases for their acting chops and their own dynamic chemistry. It's truly a shame we didn't see a lot more of that in the ninth season. It might have saved the show.

The appearance of a CIA mole named Duffy Haskell (played by Jay Acovone, who also guest-starred in Bob Goodwin's S4 Mytharc stunner, 'Demons'). who is working with doctors to create human-alien hybrids leads to one of the most gut-punching three seconds I've ever seen on television: the withering look of anger and betrayal Doggett shoots at Scully when he realizes she's been keeping her secret from him. As producer/director Kim Manners later said, the greatest moments of this series are wordless. The look of horror of Doggett's face when he realizes that Scully has been set up by Haskell is a close second. (XXXXX)
Raj: This is great, pitch-black thriller stuff.  Filled with sinister plans to hybridize babies with alien DNA, and the resultant paranoia that comes with such a premise, this episode has great performances from the entire cast that elevate the already interesting script.  Seeing as how I had acclimatised to ‘Mulder in flashback’ since The Gift, I wasn’t thrown off-balance by his appearance in Per Manum.  In fact, his presence is welcome, fitting, and surprisingly touching.  We’re reminded just how much chemistry Duchovny and Anderson can muster on-screen.  
But truly this is Robert Patrick’s and Gillian Anderson’s episode.  Both of them shine here, and the Doggett-Scully chemistry is as obvious and equal to the Mulder-Scully chemistry, although of a more complex ilk.  Robert Patrick plays Doggett as someone with a lot of complicated feelings for Dana Scully, some of them above and beyond the professional.  His performances in this regard are very subtle, but also very genuine and appropriate.  (XXXXX)

8ABX14 This Is Not Happening (Carter/Spotnitz)

Chris: TV just doesn't get any better than this. Full-tilt, old-school X-Files Mythology; skies full of saucers, Darth Vader SWAT teams terrorizing the already traumatized, new faces (new agent Monica Reyes, Absalom- a classic XF UFO cult leader- played by V star Judson Scott) and old (Invaders star Roy Thinnes as shapeshifting alien messiah Jeremiah Smith, multiple abductee Teresa Hoese, UFO hunter Richie Szalay) all scouring the Montana countryside as the Colonists dump dying abductees like sacks of garbage.

The introduction of Monica Reyes (pre-S9 makeover Monica, that is) is an X-Files classic. Rather than being presented as a feminist cartoon, Reyes seems like a real person; intelligent, good-natured and charming, but socially awkward, self-contradicting and clearly uncomfortable with the position of authority she finds herself being put in by Doggett.

Carter was clearly casting Monica as a reincarnation of Melissa Scully, who was killed during a similar crisis five years before. Reyes is also presented as sexually ambiguous and-- for all her boasting of empathic sensitivity-- oblivious to other people's feelings. A real person, in other words.

It all explodes in a stunning final two minutes that are as harrowing as anything I've seen on TV, particularly the final two seconds. (XXXXX)
Raj: This is the first half of another blistering two-parter.  Somehow the writing of Season Eight’s mythology episodes reacquires a subversive, dangerous quality.  It feels stripped away of any pseudo-pretentions and is more lean and brutal.  To me, Season Eight and this two-parter in particular feels like an illegal street-fighter of narrative storytelling.  It may be incredibly lucid and savvy – but its foremost concern is busting your face wide open.  The context for the story and what the Colonists are doing to the abductees is truly horrific.  There are so many truly horrific things occurring in this two-parter, both literally and emotionally, and they are wedded with sheer ingenuity to pulse-pounding thriller dynamics.  

The end result is a kind of delicious toxicity; a dark, taboo sex appeal that suffuses the entire proceedings – a palpable vibe that The X Files had only genuinely matched back in Season Three, with only a few hints of it in Season Four and Five.  We have so many great moments in this episode, including the introduction of my beloved Monica Reyes.  I adore Annabeth Gish in this role, especially the ambiguous, complex version of Reyes we find in this season.  Scully eventually finds Mulder dead, only to realize that the alien healer Jeremiah Smith can save him.  But minutes later she discovers that she’s too late, and the healer has already been taken by an alien ship.  At this point, Scully’s desperate scream to the heavens feels gut-wrenching and utterly genuine.   (XXXXX)

8ABX15 DeadAlive (Carter/Spotnitz)

Raj: The second half of the two-parter deals with the emotional fallout of This Is Not Happening.  But it barely slows down in terms of excitement and interest.  It simply turns such excitement into something more intimate and small-scale.  Set three months after the events of the first episode, DeadAlive’s genius is sealed with the reappearance of Alex Krycek – who we haven’t seen since the end of the previous season.  Krycek’s intentions are more appalling than ever.  He continues to torment and manipulate Skinner, he mercilessly taunts Doggett with a potential vaccine for Mulder, and tries to indirectly murder Scully’s unborn child.  The episode ends with Scully managing to save and revive Mulder despite Krycek’s best efforts.  A weakened Mulder jokes darkly with Scully that he doesn’t remember who she is, before comforting her with an exhausted smile. (XXXXX)
Chris: "Within/Without" was a mandate for the Mytharc in S8- widescreen drama followed by its aftermath in more intimate settings. Without was followed by the interior drama of 'Per Manum', most of which took place in the FBI offices and a military hospital, and 'Dead Alive' too centers the action in a Naval hospital.

But as with much of S8, there is the return of what made The X-Files great in the Vancouver era; a star-worthy supporting cast, weird science and, of course, all of those parking garage scenes inspired by All the President's Men. 'Dead Alive' brings back Billy Miles (from the pilot ep) and archvillian Alex Krycek, whose behavior here is despicable, even for him. (XXXXX)

8ABX18 Three Words (Carter/Spotnitz)

Raj: For me Three Words is one of those episodes that felt a little flat at first but have improved greatly with repeated viewing.  Perhaps my expectations were too high following Mulder’s return and I was hoping for something bigger, although This Is Not Happening/DeadAlive is as big as it gets.  After watching Three Words a few times I began to realize its low-key brilliance, and well-executed sense of menace.  Also, its teaser is a killer.  (XXXX)

Chris: Back without, on the White House lawn for an eerily prescient scene foretelling a takeover of the government by alien forces and on a West Virginia roadgang site where Absalom escapes to seek out John Doggett. Knowle Rohrer reappears like a shade from the fourth day of the Condor. Indeed, all of this is strongly reminiscent of the classic 70s conspiracy films that inspired both Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz.

Then more Vancouver-worthy scenes at a Census Bureau HQ where the Lone Gunmen replay their action-hacker role from 'Memento Mori', helping Mulder break in and access a Census data mainframe. It avoids pastiche because an alienated-Mulder (no pun intended) is using the case in an attempt to recapture his old mojo in an increasingly-hostile environment.

You get the distinct impression the next season that Carter and Spotnitz regretted killing off Absalom when his doppelganger Josepho shows up in 'Provenance'. All in all, a classic blast of old school X-Files. (XXXXX)

8ABX16 Vienen (Maeda)

Chris: It doesn't get any more widescreen than this. Or back to basics. Mulder and Doggett investigate a murder on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico only to discover it's not light sweet crude they're pumping, but Purity (aka the Black Oil), missing in action since Fight the Future

This is pure Vancouver-era Mythology in the 'Tunguska'/'Terma' vein, with Doggett standing in for Krycek while Scully phones from home. A much needed jolt of big sky, Black Oil and big things going boom. Director Rod Hardy- who came aboard this season- saw this as his chance to direct a classic X-Files Myth ep and goes out of his way to hit all those great Rob Bowman story beats with LA-era production values. Deep Space Nine's Casey Biggs guest-stars, the second Cardassian to make a major appearance on XF.

If you don't like 'Vienen', you simply don't like The X-Files.(XXXXX) 
Raj: My God, I love this episode.  Purity, the Black Oil, is finally back with a vengeance, and infecting rig-workers left, right and center.  It’s great fun to see Mulder and Doggett sharing lead status in an episode that manages to blend dark, paranoid sci-fi with big, cinematic action – and have it all make a reasonable amount of sense.  I tend to think of Vienen as the Die Hard episode of The X Files, with the John McClane role split equally between Duchovny and Patrick.  The episode is also noteworthy for a fun little moment where Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries starts playing over a radio during an attack by infected rig-workers, prompting a comment of exasperated disbelief from Mulder.  (XXXXX)

8ABX20 Essence (Carter)

Chris: Within again, as Scully tries to return to the life she left behind before joining the X-Files. No such luck. Scully soon finds out that the nursemaid her mother hires is working for Duffy Haskell and when she's arrested she reveals she was a doctor on the Syndicate's payroll.

At the same time Billy Miles-- or the Terminator-like "replacement human" that has taken his form-- is wiping up the Syndicate's old mess, killing the doctors that were treating Scully. Krycek resurfaces to tell the X-Files team that they're really screwed now- the aliens have changed tactics and are taking no prisoners now. (XXXX)
Raj: The Essence/Existence two-parter is deeply satisfying.  While this first half has a few hiccups in terms of tone and pacing, along with an uninspiring voiceover from Duchovny in the teaser (who sounds like he’s been munching opiates like Peanut M&M’s), it’s still really exciting high-stakes stuff.  With the birth of Scully’s baby looming, the thriller-dynamics take on an urgent, all-or-nothing quality.  I loved Alex Krycek’s appearance where he runs down Billy Miles with a car, saving Mulder and Scully from certain doom.  But the fun isn’t over yet; back at FBI headquarters Billy Miles manages to gain access to the building and continues his hunt.  Mulder manages to shove him off the roof and into a garbage truck that finally crushes and obliterates him…or does it?  (XXXX1/2) 

8ABX21 Existence (Carter)

Chris: And back without. Fleeing Billy Miles, Scully and Reyes hide out in a Georgia ghost town. However Scully has forgotten that the implant was reinserted into her neck four years earlier and so the aliens know where she is at all times. Soon the ghost town is crawling with terminator aliens. At the same time, Doggett and Mulder discover Krycek has cut a deal with the aliens and has sold the X-Files team out.

All of this is leavened with genuine suspense (including a chilling encounter with Knowle Roher and an escape from Billy Miles), Reyes getting all sapphic on the ready-to-pop Scully and probably the greatest teaser in the show's history (as well as the best death scene of a major character since 'Erlenmeyer Flask'), not to mention that kiss.

As always, Robert Patrick's and David Duchovny's wildly-underrated chemistry in playing Mulder and Doggett as frenemies adds a kick to these episodes I wish the producers had more of a chance to explore. The only off-note was the setup for the dreadful S9 opener, but that didn't bother me at the time.

In an ideal world this would have been the end of the Mulder-Scully storyline. Barring that we would have had another season of Doggett-Scully with Reyes as supporting player.  It was a mistake to headline a character that had no real identity or direction. While I will always defend Annabeth Gish from her critics, I do understand where their arguments are coming from. If she remained as the "source of light" we saw in the eighth season (or in Improbable) I don't think there would have been so many problems in the ninth. (XXXX1/2)
Raj: The teaser for Existence is both terrifying and just cool-as-fuck. Billy Miles begins to regenerate from a single metallic spinal vertebrae, that begins spinning and duplicating itself on a medical table in the Coroner’s office.  As X Files villains go, this scene elevates the human replacements/supersoldiers to a whole new level of badass.  Existence is filled with suspense, action, biblical allusions and great character moments.  We are treated to a great chase scene within FBI headquarters, Krycek finally getting his come-uppance, William’s birth, and some wonderful Mulder-Doggett and Scully-Reyes moments.  The season finale is very satisfying. 

And to top it all off we get a beautiful tableau of Scully and Mulder holding their child, while finally sharing a real kiss.  This is where The X Files should have really ended, and in point of fact it’s where all the truly interesting mythology developments did end.  Season Nine would still give us some exceptional work and brilliant storytelling, that still leaves most network television begging for mercy, but for the most part the mythology episodes would be variations on already established themes.  (XXXXX)

Season Nine Episodes

9ABX01 Nothing Important Happened Today I & II (Carter/Spotnitz)

Raj: Mulder vanishes without a trace, apparently at Scully’s behest, for ‘reasons’ that are virtually incomprehensible.  Mulder’s life is in danger because of the supersoldier threat, which is why he abandoned his soulmate and their newborn child.  Yeah, right.  This reasoning is so absurd and so out of character for Mulder that it put me in a bad mood for the entire episode.  I could more believe that Mulder simply bailed because he was terrified of being a father, that it would interfere with his quest, rather than the lame reasoning the writers came up with.  Plus, they saddle Monica with an unbelievable hetero ex-relationship that serves absolutely no purpose aside from the obvious.  Anyway, yeah…this episode is kinda boring.  Nothing important happens.  Heh.  (XX)

The second half is better, only because it obviously becomes more of a thriller.  I wanted to see more of the female supersoldier Shannon McMahon, played by Lucy Lawless.  I thought she might bring an interesting dynamic to the mix, especially if the used her in an ‘uneasy ally’ kind of way.  But the McMahon character is never seen again.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved the idea developed in Season Eight of William potentially being some kind of AstroGnostic messiah, but this was not the way to get that storyline back on its feet again.  At least something big explodes by the episode’s conclusion.  (XXX)

Chris: The Nothing Important Happened Today's are so overstuffed and frenetic that they play almost like an X-Files parody. You have a lot of interesting elements; a terrific teaser with a shocking climax, Lucy Lawless playing an interesting new villain (albeit one who was never seen again thanks to Lawless' pregnancy), British heartthrob Cary Elwes brought in as a new AD with uncertain loyalties, Reyes hitting on Scully during an autopsy (giving the SRR girls a thrill and the Fox suits a coronary, surely) and a twist in the alien conspiracy where a chemical is being put into drinking water in order to alter the DNA of pregnant women. A chilling, Vancouver-worthy sequence in which William's telekinesis comes to be made manifest. And production-wise there was a slicker, darker look and more sophisticated color palette.

But you also have a boatload of bad: New baby-daddy Mulder disappearing with no attempt at an explanation given other than that David Duchovny was no longer on the show. Reyes suddenly given a gender-preference reassignment via a particularly unconvincing backstory with the Elwes character, aforementioned Scully-flirtation notwithstanding. Doggett running an incomprehensible investigation of Deputy Director Kersh that goes absolutely nowhere. The recently-canceled Lone Gunmen and the recently-dead Knowle Rohrer appearing for no discernable reason than to give the XF bench airtime. A portentious and misleading subplot aboard a naval ship that unfolds like a particularly bad Tom Clancy novel.

And worst of all, the searing emotional violence the Mytharc perfected was replaced with over-rendered, whispery melodrama and way too many Scully crying scenes. I've tried several times to rewatch these episodes, thinking I didn't watch them in the proper frame of mind, and every time they just get worse and worse. There are very few X-Files I immediately disliked upon first viewing and never changed my mind on but these are two.

The weird, extremely un-X-Files use of salty language only serves to confirm my suspicion that the network was trying to impose its vision on provisional showrunners Spotnitz and Gilligan (Carter didn't renew his contract until Season Nine was already in production), since it disappeared immediately afterward with Carter's return.

I can only assume that the exhaustion left in the wake of the epochal Season Eight and the behind-the-scenes confusion kicked loose the bearings for a while. The season would get much better almost immediately. (NIHT 1: 1/2 X, NIHT 1: XX)

9ABX08 Trust No 1 (Carter/Spotnitz)

Chris: The jarring melodrama is back as well as the overly-Byzantine (if not incoherent) plotting and a few dissonant bits of purple prose, but there is a definite point to be made here about the constant invasion of privacy and electronic surveillance taking place under the pretext of the "War on Terror." This ep shows us that not even FBI agents are immune to the intrusions of faceless bureaucrats who sit behind the monitors and coldly record everyone's most intimate details.

Televisually, Trustno1 offers up a nice goodie bag. If you can stomach the mush ("Dearest Dana?"), there is a lot to like. You get Terry O'Quinn as guest-star. O'Quinn was known as "Mr. Ten Thirteen" before he landed the gig in Lost, having co-starred in Millennium and the short-lived Harsh Realm and appeared in various X-Files stories. He doesn't have much to do here, alas.

The surveillance theme is chilling, there's a operatic shootout on a crowded commuter train platform, and in keeping with Season Nine's sapphic undercurrents (see Lawless, Lucy), there's some UST between Scully and a troubled young woman she meets in a coffee bar, climaxing in a L Word-worthy scene in which a blushing Scully -- realizing she won't be getting any from Mulder any time soon -- invites the damsel-in-distress into her apartment. Fans howled that Scully should have known better than inviting a stranger into her home, but - as usual - they weren't paying attention to the subtext (or the long, meaningful glances, deep breaths and bashful smiles). (XX1/2)
Raj: Although this episode is kind of scrambled and incoherent, I must admit to really loving it.  I loved it when I first watched it, and I love it still.  Not just for the MSR retrospective, but also for the implications and subtexts regarding Scully, and the fact that I found it to be a surprisingly rousing thriller.  Plus, the magnificent Terry O' Quinn graces the screen with his presence.  There is not much to his role of mysterious Shadow Man, but he manages to convey menace and gravitas with the little he’s given – and that’s talent.  (XXXX)

9ABX10 Provenance (Carter/Spotnitz)

Chris: An attempt on William's life by a rogue FBI agent (who fears William is the alien Antichrist) drives a Raelian/Dominionist synthesis of a cult (led by a supersoldier-worshipping retired Army colonel) to abduct the baby and shelter him on their compound in Canada (where a new Godship has been discovered).

Despite some of the usual Season Nine whispery dramatics, this two-parter succeeds for me where all of the other S9 Myth eps failed because it's basically about one event (the kidnapping of William), not this, that and the other thing and the kitchen sink, besides. There are no confusing red herrings or triple-crosses.

Provenance offers up some Shootin' Scully (when she busts caps into her son's attempted murderer) and some Sapphic Scully (some breathless UST scenes in Monica's apartment which the SRR gals swooned over) and some Sassmouth Scully (when she sassmouths the FBI brass). In short, a much more aggressive and proactive Scully than we saw in most of the season. (XXXX1/2)
Raj: The standalone episodes of the ninth season are actually pretty good, but the Provenance/Providence two-parter is the only mythology of this season that I was really able to engage with.  The writing and sense of threat and atmosphere all reached a certain level of acceptability, and I was finally able to let go of my gripes.  The visual palate for Season Nine is darker, but there is also a glossier, more network-TV look that is a sharp contrast to the leaner, grittier look of Season Eight.  I much prefer the aesthetic of the eighth season.  For me it symbolized a wonderful realism that the show managed to recapture, that was largely lost again by Season Nine. 

A UFO cult has discovered the location of a buried Godship identical to that discovered by Scully in Africa two years previously.  This cult finally succeeds in acquiring William for themselves; believing that his existence is connected to a prophecy concerning the coming colonization of the planet.  (XXXX)

9ABX11 Providence (Carter/Spotnitz)

Raj: Doggett is hospitalized and the UFO cult has William.  The rogue FBI agent possessing a fragment of the Godship reveals the cultists plans to Scully, but pays for the transgression with his life.  It’s a lot more sedate and hospital-bound than the first half, but it all leads to a pretty cool finale in which the cultists are immolated when the Godship is finally reactivated by William’s presence.  The ship ascends into the sky, leaving the cultists dead and the enclosure in flames, but William is miraculously unharmed – as though the craft was protecting him, or he was subconsciously protecting it.  (XXXX) 
Chris: Directed by Carter, Providence opens up with an somewhat prescient battle scene in Iraq and cannily depicts the rogue colonel as a man whose fanaticism keeps him in a narcotic - even erotic - state of bliss. It also piles up the mawkish religious cliche and sentiment, all the while deviously subverting it by having the characters ascribe the power of the alien Godship to Yahweh and his angels. Doggett isn't revived by prayer; he's revived by the alien radiation that Scully absorbed from a Godship fragment. He doesn't hear the voice of his guardian angel; the radiation temporarily instills the same psychic powers that Mulder possessed in The Sixth Extinction. Jesus doesn't save William, the baby's alien DNA does.

The main shortcomings here are a bit too much Monica/not-Monica, a bit too much melodrama (Carter was scripting while he was shooting, which always means trouble) and too many inert hospital scenes, all of which is in keeping with the old XF two-parter tendency to shoot its load (ie., spend all its money) in the first half. Fantastic teaser, though. (XXX1/2)

9ABX15 Jump The Shark (Gilligan/Shiban/Spotnitz)

Chris: The episode brings back Area 51 MIB Morris Fletcher (played by Spinal Tap's Michael McKean), and the spinoff's token eye candy, Jimmy Bond and Yves Adele Harlow (an anagram of Lee Harvey Oswald). It's essentially a Lone Gunmen ep guest-starring Doggett and Reyes, but adds intentional discordant notes by repeated references to the then-current anthrax panic. (XXXX) 
Raj: Despite having mixed feelings about the death of the Three Wise Men of XF mythology, I must admit to really liking this episode.  I was glad that the Gunmen went down swinging, and that many of the threads from their own cancelled show were resolved here.  Plus, as Langley tells MIB Morris Fletcher, if you never sell out and never give up, you never die.  (XXXX)

9ABX17 William (Duchovny/Spotnitz/Carter)

Raj: Unlike many fans, I really loved the William storyline.  I thought the alien messiah concept was a logical extension of the Ancient Mysteries-inspired mythology that The X Files had developed over the course of its run.  While I think the show should have ended at the Season Eight finale, it was still fun to see certain aspects of the mythology revisited in the Provenance/Providence two-parter. 

But making William somehow normal with an all-too-easy magical injection of magnetite was sheer nonsense.  I didn’t buy it for a second.  Also, I’m one of those fans who couldn’t forgive the writers for having Scully give William up for adoption.  After everything they had been through, I just don’t buy the idea that Dana Scully would’ve given up her child ‘to protect it’.  I choose to perceive it as a momentary psychotic break, as that is the only way I can reconcile it in my mind.  The drama in this episode is mawkish and pretentious, resulting in a discordant feeling to the entire thing.  The writers could have found a thousand inventive ways for William’s presence to not hamper any future storylines.  But all they succeeded in doing was fucking up an interesting arc in which I had become quite invested.  When this episode ended, I felt angry and cheated.  (X) 
Chris: David Duchovny returns to direct (he was trying to raise financing for his feature film House of D and need to bolster his directing resume for the backers) but unfortunately brings some Lifetime Channel melodrama with him. He also brings back Jeffrey Spender, who was unceremoniously jettisoned along with the Mytharc. Seeing as the actor who played him- Chris Owens - went through the trouble of relocating from Vancouver to LA only to have his character killed off not halfway into the season, I can't help but think his reappearance/resurrection here might speak to Duchovny's guilty conscience, seeing as how Carter had originally planned to play Owens in a never-to-happen Mytharc heavy S6 (Owens was in fact contracted to play most of Season Six).

As with most Duchovny/Carter efforts, this script is a bit heavy on the purple prose and melodrama. The X-Files was simply on the wrong side of the zeitgeist in 2002 and the Mytharc couldn't win for losing. (XX1/2)

9ABX19 / 9ABX20 The Truth (Carter)

Raj: The truth is…I didn’t really like The Truth when it first aired.  I remember sitting there thinking, ‘Is this the best Carter can do?  Why am I watching this Seinfeld bullshit?’  For me, the whole Mulder-on-trial thing was just distracting and obtrusive.  All the other plot elements were pretty engaging, but it felt like Carter was purposely giving fans the opposite of what he knew they wanted.  All I personally wanted for an X Files finale was something on the level of the best two-parters – something like Piper Maru/Apocrypha or Tempus Fugit/Max.  I wasn’t expecting some huge resolution to nine years worth of mythology.  But I felt like what I got instead was a stagey, talky lecture in which Mulder and Scully weren’t allowed to be the most dynamic versions of their characters doing what they do best.  After an entire season as the new leads Doggett and Reyes are relegated to the background.  I was hoping for them to be more relevant and integrated with the action somehow.

So, after countless re-watchings of The Truth I’ve warmed to it greatly, and come to the conclusion that it’s a solid piece of entertainment with a few remaining subversive touches that remind me just how brilliantly the X Files star used to shine.  But, I still largely stand by my original take on the finale as a wasted opportunity.  I wanted so much more from Carter and Co.  I didn’t want the world.  I just wanted something that felt like X Files firing on all cylinders; ingenious, visceral and utterly thrilling.  Instead I felt like what we were given was only half X files at best; far too aware of itself as a retrospective rather than concentrating on telling an exciting tale of dark science-fiction.  If I sound bitter or saddened, don’t worry…all my issues with that wasted opportunity were utterly erased by the second motion picture, released in 2008.  The X Files: I Want To Believe is a thoroughly underrated, misunderstood masterpiece that returned the show to its edgy, hardcore origins.   
Chris: I've been all over the place with this episode over the years - I absolutely loved it when it first aired. Be advised that my opinions and feelings on all of these shows is based on repeat viewings.  In all fairness, a show should be judged on a single viewing, and in that regard The Truth was a success.

Of course, the finales of Battlestar Galactica and Lost have since displaced 'The Truth' as famous disappointments for long-suffering fans. But I would argue that it's impossible to wrap up a series - as Chris Carter said, you don't want your characters to end. And in all fairness to the X-Files staff, 'The Truth' is a second finale- a coda, really. They did wrap up the Mulder-Scully story -- perfectly, in my opinion -- with the Essence/Existence two-parter.

The only reason 'The Truth' itself existed at all was that Gillian Anderson signed on for Season Nine to get a large bonus. I think in retrospect that was a major error, for all involved. A Doggett-Reyes X-Files would have stood or fallen, but the Mulder-Scully X-Files could have hit the big screen while it still mattered, not six years after the show faded after struggling against the zeitgeist.

Even so, 'The Truth' continued Chris Carter's then-Quixotic war against the War on Terror, putting Mulder in a Guantanamo-like military prison and subject to psychological torture, sleep deprivation, and finally a kangaroo court in which a guilty verdict (and death penalty) was a forgone conclusion. This surely made him no friends in Rupert Murdoch's inner circle of arch-neocons, and one can't help but wonder if all of the legal harassment he dealt with after 'The Truth' - and then watching his underfunded and wildly underrated X-Files 2 thrown under The Dark Knight Working bus- might not have been coincidental. (XXX)

Note: Since I've already written extensively on the second X-Files feature film, I'll give Raj the floor here for the ultimate review. Raj has kicked ass way above and beyond the call of duty on this series so be sure to check out his Amid Night Suns blog.

The X Files: I Want To Believe (Carter/Spotnitz)

Raj: The reason I love this movie so much, and felt so vindicated by it when so many other fans felt let down, is because it was a return to all the ingenuity and subtexts that made The X Files what it was.  It was a Vancouver Phoenix rising from the ashen snow.  We have a powerful, multilayered narrative that evokes and invokes the Ancient Mysteries - a return to the Underworld, Death and Resurrection themes that were a defining characteristic of the X Files spiritual architecture.  We have a movie filled with subversion and creativity, and risk-taking.  At the heart of it all is a character study and love-story revolving around a middle-aged Mulder and Scully.  Our heroes are now forced to live in a post 9/11 world that has rejected even the mere suggestion of enchantment and mystery.  Chris has already written the definitive review of this movie, exploring its brilliant use of allegory and symbolism – and how the film reinterprets the entire X Files Mythology in an even more secretive, subversive manner.  I have only a few things to add to this. 

I think there is a level of symbolism that Carter intentionally chose to encode into this film, in line with Chris Knowles’ interpretations of the ‘hidden mythology’.  I believe that the character of Christian Fearon isn’t simply intended as a William analogue, but is quite literally the spirit of William knowingly returning to interact with Scully.  Scully and the boy’s interactions have a knowing, ethereal quality.  Carter is subtly implying that Christian is psychic, but it is more than that. I think Carter is implying that the boy is well aware of his alternate identity in some strange sense.  Christian/William is still the alien messiah, the last reliquary of enchantment in this now grey and brutal world, symbolized by his strange brain disease.  In typical XF dream-logic, if he dies the last remaining link to hope and salvation for humanity will die with him. 

In line with this, the paedophile priest Father Joe Crissman is much like a Gnostic Archon turned unwilling prophet – a former predator and conspirator who has renounced his part in the perverse colonization of the human imagination, symbolized by his previous desecration of children (and his desecration of the sacred, of magic and enchantment in general, that Christian/William embodies).  By the film’s conclusion Mulder manages to discover the location of a sinister snow-bound genetic-research facility in order to rescue a young woman.  Following a death/resurrection experience, he literally descends into a hellish Underworld.  But in ‘hidden mythology’ terms the breach of the compound is Mulder gaining access to a cloaked mothership, to rescue an abductee; recalling the finale of Fight the Future where he attempts something similar in order to save Scully. 

He is almost executed by the symbolic supersoldier Janke Dacyshyn, but is saved at the last minute by Scully who follows him into the compound.  Scully eventually chooses to risk Christian/William’s life by going ahead with the medical operation, thereby potentially protecting the last reliquary of magic, hope and potential salvation left to the human race.  For anyone who thinks I Want To Believe is about something other than the X Files Mythology – you’re dead wrong.  In my opinion Chris Carter manages to execute a Kubrickian feat of multiple-narratives and nested symbolisms with this film.  It’s a work of genius that improves each time I watch it.  It may very well be one of my all-time favourite pieces of hardcore X Files Mythology.  (XXXXX)