Wednesday, September 02, 2015

X-Files Lite, Part II: Season Seven

Season Seven found The X-Files Ship taking on water. The general consensus was that this was the venerable warhorse's final lap. The long, difficult hours were taking their toll and both David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson wanted out. 

David Duchovny was due to leave at the end of the season* and was suing all and sundry for residuals from X-Files reruns, claiming that Fox cheated him by running the show on its cable subsidiary instead of auctioning the series off to the highest bidder (there was a lot of this going on at the time). 

His lawyer included Chris Carter in the suit, claiming the producer took millions in hush money to cheat the star. This turned out to be a typical lawyer move (Duchovny and Carter patched things up and remain good friends- neighbors, even- and Carter even hired Duchovny's lawyers in his own protracted war with Fox), but didn't make for a pleasant atmosphere on-set (or, God help us, online). 

And if Carter and Fox were indeed conspiring, you probably wouldn't have seen the kind of open warfare that broke out between them after Fox unceremoniously cancelled Ten Thirteen's new series Harsh Realm after only three episodes.

According to Bill "Cancer Man" Davis, things were never very happy around the X-Files lot due to Duchovny and Anderson's open warfare. The tension between the two stars was so bad that it became a story unto itself. Money was an issue here as well; Anderson complained that the disparity between her and Duchovny's incomes was sexist and unfair, especially given the fact that she'd become such a major draw for the series. 

Duchovny took to the press to mock her concerns, going so far to protest that her character won more fights than his did (!). With tension now growing between Duchovny and Anderson and Duchovny and Carter (which Carter denied at the time but later acknowledged) and perhaps also between Anderson and her employer as well (though for different reasons), suffice it to say that the atmosphere made everyone's already-challenging jobs more so.

Despite Carter's obligatory mantra in interviews of "getting back to telling good, scary stories," Season Seven would see no such thing. There'd be the same 'wild mood swing' philosophy that we saw in Season Six, only more so. 

Whereas Six front-loaded its screwball comedies at the beginning of the season, Seven sprinkled them throughout the season, created a kind of lurching, stop-start momentum. But unlike Season Six, there'd be few fan-favorites in this batch of boffo-yuksters.

But knowing what we know now, perhaps the showrunner was seeking to lighten the mood onset, and divert the attention of his restless stars by constantly throwing theatrical curve balls, giving them new things to do with their characters, keeping them amused, anything to keep the peace.

And where Six folded the Mytharc into the zany, wacky comedies like 'Dreamland I+II' and 'The Unnatural', Seven seemed to dispense with the Mythology almost entirely. 'The Sixth Extinction' gave way to 'Amor Fati', which used elements of the Mythology but seemed to alienate many fans (no pun intended) with its fantasy storytelling and religious iconography. 

'Sein Und Zeit'/'Closure' resolved the Samantha storyline by reaching back to stories like 'Oubliette' and 'Paper Hearts' for inspiration instead of 'Patient X' or 'Redux'. 'En Ami' is included on the Mythology boxset but is a standard conspiracy narrative with only incidental Myth elements.

With many episodes this season, you get the distinct impression that money was a serious problem (the season ended with Mulder and Scully being interrogated by a hostile accountant), which is why the stories seem so shrunken and claustrophobic. The trains, planes and secret lairs of the Vancouver years weren't even a memory- they were obliterated

These stories all took place in the smallest confines imaginable, the mundane workaday world of Southern California suburbia; fast food restaurants, high schools, banks, copy shops and so on. When the series went widescreen again in Season Eight, it all seemed strange, unfamiliar, disorienting.

Season Seven continued to experiment with storytelling, testing the limits of the series' elasticity. But many fans felt this elastic was worn and cracked and didn't resume its original form after poorly-received episodes like 'First Person Shooter' and 'Fight Club'. 

Entertainment Weekly-- long an X-Files booster-- would later declare Season Seven to be the weakest of the series. Fan forums, which had been growing critical over the past three years, became positively gaseous this year.

All that said, there are some excellent episodes on offer here in this writer's opinion. 'Sein Und Zeit'/'Closure', as controversial as they are, rank up there with the very finest episodes that the series ever produced. The 'Biogenesis'/'Sixth Extinction' had its hooks in me for a very long time, with its subtext of writing as magic(k). The folks behind the camera finally worked out how to wrest some atmosphere out of Los Angeles' sterile skies, and created a powerful visual thruline that gave even weak stories a little extra kick. 

Horror-oriented X-Fans got a rash of solid MOTWs; 'Orison', 'Hungry', 'Theef', 'Rush', 'Brand X' and 'Theef', all of which were solidly crafted and beautifully rendered. The Mythology, such as it was- 'Sixth Extinction', 'Amor Fati', 'Sein Un Zeit', 'Closure', 'En Ami', 'Requiem'- may have been chopped to the bone, but more than made up for that in the quality department.

The X-Files never rested on its laurels, never stopped trying to push at the limits of the television drama format. I appreciate that when I watch other shows-- even good ones-- that seem like they were written on a template. 

But at some point, innovation fatigue sets in and experimentation becomes cliche. 

Season Seven was about a series finding the frontiers of its own possibilities and at the end of it all, realizing it was time to go back to basics and start from scratch.


NOTE: Readers should be aware that Raj and I are both hardcore Myth/conspiracy X-Files guys, so that's where our personal bias lies. The episodes I compiled for our Mythology guide are my essential X-Files, and are the episodes I watch most when I watch the series. There are very few episodes I actually disliked in the entire series (I can count them on my fingers) and most of these episodes I enjoyed for at least their initial viewings. 

There are very few TV shows that I am able rewatch episodes of, no matter how much I may have enjoyed the initial viewing. I've lost count of how many times I've rewatched X-Files episodes, even the bad ones. Finally, all of the evaluations here are X-Files episodes in comparison to other X-Files episodes, so bear that in mind as well.

Check out Raj's blog at Amid Night Suns. He also writes XF fanfic too!

7ABX03 The Sixth Extinction (Carter)

Raj: For me this episode is another barn-stormer.  It’s an exciting, high-stakes thriller, with both the Washington and Ivory Coast parallel narratives being equally suspenseful.  I found Skinner’s uneasy alliance with DOD operative Michael Kritschgau in an attempt to save Mulder’s life particularly powerful.  With Mulder bed-ridden and close to insanity it’s Skinner who has to carry the risk-taking heroics of the Washington narrative.  

Also, now that Kritschgau is no longer played as a completely expositional character his presence here feels far more realistic.  Michael Ensign as the psychotic Dr Barnes continues to be menacing and utterly engaging in this episode.  In fact, the entire supporting cast seems to be bringing their best to the table.
Chris: The X-Files found an interesting way to deal with the cost restrictions imposed on it by the unilateral move to Los Angeles; go for broke in the storytelling. For inspiration, the writers reach back to a then-forgotten sci-fi classic, Quatermass and the Pit, and tie the themes of alien intervention (resurfacing in the culture thanks to the success of Stargate) in with the general Ten Thirteen theme of apocalyptic anxiety with the approach of the coming millennium (and remote viewing, both on loan from the last season of Millennium). 

There seems to have been a storyline that was developing but got thrown off course- the resurrection of the dead prophesied in the Bible to be the feeder source for the alien's shock troops for the final colonization. Or perhaps this was a metaphoric foreshadowing of the "supersoldiers" or alien replicants who emerge as the human host body dies. 

Either way the incredibly negative atmosphere around The X-Files' set was only compounded by the lawsuit and seemed to put a crimp in a storyline that seemed like was meant to replace the Colonization arc.

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

Raj: As much as I love anything mystically-oriented, for me this is a completely unnecessary coda to the previous two episodes that were simply stunning.  Duchovny’s writing just feels portentous and far too on-the-nose for any kind of subtlety.  While the Cigarette Smoking Man attempts to exploit Mulder in a dangerous experiment we follow the agent’s journey through a strange wish-fulfilment dreamscape.  It’s oddly messianic but without the nuance that would sell such a premise.  We know Mulder is an archetypal hero with mythic traits but none of us actually thought he was Jesus, did we?  Having said all that, in the right mood this episode is still kind of fun – especially the dream-within-a-dream sequences where Mulder builds a sandcastle Godship on the beach with an eidolon of his unborn child.
Chris: As I wrote before, this was one of my favorite episodes for a long time. But Time seems to have been its enemy. I don't have the same regard for it I once did, and it must be said that this was very poorly received by many fans when it aired (though Duchovny's fans loved it, certainly). 

In hindsight I think it would have worked better had there been more effort made in selling the dream sequences as reality, since they seem to go wobbly a bit too soon. And knowing now that the model for all of this wasn't Last Temptation of Christ, but in fact the thematically-identical dream sequence in an old episode of The Invaders, a knockoff that was never cited or acknowledged-- well, that spoils the fun for me a bit.

What is perhaps apparent in hindsight is that Duchovny was trying to derail a storyline he wasn't interested in playing (the alien apocalypse storyline) and redirect the narrative from Scully's major revelation (discovering the spaceship was huge for her) back onto Mulder, where he believed the focus of the show belonged. Because as fans have noted over the years, 'Biogenesis' and 'The Sixth Extinction' seem to be going in one direction and 'Amor Fati' takes the story down an entirely different side road. 

And of course, fans would holler that this storyline seemed to go MIA without explanation should ponder exactly why it popped right back up again in the ninth season…

NOTE: From what I'm hearing about Season 10, my suspicions that the Godship may have been of a different race of alien than the Colonists may in fact be true. See Existence and Providence for further information.

7ABX01 Hungry (Gilligan)

Raj: This is another comedy episode, but one that works rather well in my opinion.  Rob Roberts is an apparently mild-mannered regular guy working at a burger joint, but he hides a terrible secret.  He is in fact a monster, some kind of humanoid shark with an unstoppable appetite for human brain tissue.  Unusually, we follow Rob’s story, with Mulder and Scully’s investigations constituting the very pared down B-story.  But it works so well because Chad E. Donella plays Rob with such amicability and sweetness.  There are flashes of genuine darkness in his character aside from his monstrous compulsions, but for the most part we see clearly that Rob doesn’t really want to hurt anyone.  This ‘nice-guy monster’ conceit might have failed miserably in lesser hands, but here I found myself invested enough in Rob’s plight and the larger story to be genuinely affected by the inevitably tragic conclusion.

Chris: This is an interesting episode because director Kim Manners hated the script and told writer Gilligan as much (which the writer didn't appreciate). But the final product ended up being a highlight of the season. What's also interesting is that Duchovny and Anderson were not available for a full schedule of shooting so their stand-ins were used extensively throughout the episode. Duchovny's photo double even plays a small role, as an unfortunate private detective.

This is a wonderful episode that corrects a lot of the mistakes made in the sixth season, even if it may seem a bit too relaxed at times. But it did show that the new crew found a visual vocabulary to make the tedious, overly-familiar scenery and atmosphere of Southern California glisten with its own kind of mystery.

7ABX05 Millennium (Gilligan/Spotnitz)

Raj: For me this episode is a failure.  It works neither as a continuation of Millennium’s own potent mythology nor as a particularly strong X Files standalone.  Really it feels like a completely squandered opportunity to bring the character of criminal profiler Frank Black into official XF canon.  Its central conceit of ex-Millennium Group members becoming zombie ‘Horsemen’ to usher in the Apocalypse feels like lazy writing.  It doesn’t connect to the show Millennium in any discernible way aside from the inclusion of Lance Henriksen’s Frank Black, and his character is given no story-arc whatsoever in this episode.  All we are told is that he’s engaged in a custody battle for his daughter and has checked himself into a psychiatric hospital in an attempt to ‘get better’.  Henriksen is still great as Frank Black, especially considering how little he was given to work with in this episode.  It’s definitely not a Millennium story though, and at best it’s a very lukewarm X-File.

Chris: There are really two episodes in one here. One that begins as a fascinating horror/mystery with religious overtones and the other one that ends up with two guys shooting at zombies in a basement. There are a lot of great moments here but I think everyone thought the climax was beneath the show's dignity, most of all Lance Henriksen, who was openly critical of the episode.

It's also difficult to wrap up another series' mythology on your show, and here again we see that zombie theme (introduced in 'Sixth Extinction') re-emerge, a theme that would get a serious rethink by season's end. On the plus side, Henriksen is very good as is guest star Holmes Osbourne. And of course for the 'shippers, it ends with their deepest wishes being granted.
(Millennium fans are recommended to check out the MM graphic novel from IDW- the writer has a far better grasp of the series mythology than he does of The X-Files)

Note: Millennium would be paid tribute to throughout this season in another way...

7ABX06 Rush (Amann)

Raj: One of the better standalone episodes of the seventh season, Rush is about a group of high-schoolers who are gifted with incredible speed after entering a mysterious subterranean chamber.  I’m sure that Josh Trank, the writer-director of the 2012 sleeper-hit Chronicle, was a studious fan of Rush – seeing as how elements of that movie are lifted directly from this episode.  

The execution of the super-speed sequences are impressive and clever, as is the revelation that the newly empowered teens are displaying numerous micro-tears in their musculature from moving so fast in bodies not designed to handle such speed.  It’s the little details like this that I appreciate in fantastical storytelling, grounding the events in some kind of reality and making suspension of disbelief that much easier.  It’s what The X Files used to do so well. 
Chris: The X-Files hadn't done teen angst for a while, so they don't quite get the cadences right (the kidtalk seems more 80s than 00s). It seems kind of out of place at this stage in the game, like it's something the show had outgrown. That being said this is a pretty taut thriller, and makes good use of the underused Chuck Burks. 

There's a tremendous amount of visual imagination on display here, so much so that some of the riffs would be recycled for the season finale. Unspoken but implied for those who do their homework is that the source of the power on display here is alien, both by its reuse in 'Requiem' and by Carter and Spotnitz's maxim that all episodes are mythology episodes since human beings are part-alien (a fact made explicit at the beginning of this season).
 (Note: This is very much the kind of story Supernatural would rip off so often it will make your head spin) 

7ABX02 The Goldberg Variation (Bell)

Raj: I’m back and forth on this story.  I find it rather enjoyable and annoying in equal measure.  It’s another comedy episode, about the connections between a preternaturally lucky man, Chicago mobsters, and a very sick young boy.  The story is slight and sweet, but miles apart from the dark storytelling that the show was once famed for.  It’s not a bad episode, per se, it just doesn’t feel like The X Files.  It feels more like a generic cop-show-with-a-twist idea, an episode of Bones or Castle or something similar.  I can imagine Mulder and Scully being substituted here by two attractive local police-officers and a will-they-wont-they brewing romance, and the narrative would feel exactly the same.
Chris: Another attempt at Twilight Zone storytelling that falls flat. There are some interesting ideas here but the rendering derails them at every turn (for instance, the cartoonish Mafiosi) I don't know who was running the show that week but this is the kind of soft-focus fantasy that X-Files was meant to do away with. A young Shia LaBoeuf appears as a cliched sick neighbor boy, adding to the tired Amazing Stories ambiance of it all. 

We were a world away from 'The Pine Bluff Variant'.
7ABX07 Orison (Johannessen)

Raj:This episode is a sequel to the second season’s 'Irresistible'.  We see the return of Donnie Pfaster, a death fetishist (network-code for necrophiliac) who kidnapped Scully five years earlier.  Although this sequel takes Pfaster’s ambiguous monstrousness far more literally than its excellent predecessor, there’s no denying this episode has a grim kind of power.  

This is in no small part due to Nick Chinlund’s soft-spoken turn as Pfaster, who exudes flesh-crawling menace as a predatory deviant with an unconsummated lust for Scully.  The last act, with Scully escaping her confinement and executing Pfaster in cold blood, is well-helmed and extremely chilling.  Scott Wilson also turns in a genuinely unsettling performance as the mysterious Reverend Orison who initially breaks Donnie Pfaster out of prison.  Glory, Amen. 

Chris: I actually much prefer this episode to 'Irresistible'. The writers (be aware that writers' credits on TV shows often have nothing to do with who actually writes a script; this was largely written by Carter and crew) here give Donnie's evil a lot more room to breathe and the Reverend Orison's magic and the recurring synchronicity of the old R+B hit give much more of an X-Files jolt than its predecessor, which by Carter's admission was more a dry-run for Millennium. Outstanding direction by Rob Bowman, and a truly memorable and intense climax. Just a bigger, badder and bolder take on the character. 

Magical realism seemed to be the overarching theme for this season, a theme that didn't always produce dramatic dividends. But here it most certainly did.

7ABX08 The Amazing Maleeni (Gilligan/Shiban/Spotnitz)

Raj:Again, this episode feels a lot like 'The Goldberg Variation' in its cop-show-with-a-twist idea.  It’s not a terrible episode, but it doesn’t feel like The X Files.   Remove Mulder and Scully, and it could be an episode from any generic crime show. The script is convoluted and yet so slight, with nothing really at stake, that it was hard for me to get invested.  While the themes were ostensibly concerned with the nature of misdirection and performance, the episode itself felt like a kind of awkward performance – a very network-television vibe.  It’s amusing and clever in places, but ultimately rings hollow to me.  

If anything the episode is a good analogy for how the show had changed after season five and the relocation to Los Angeles.  The X Files used to be genuinely dark, concerned with real magick and its consequences.  But it had become a lighter show about stage magic – where there are no real consequences, and where the trickery involved has become the main attraction.  The emotional violence and resonance that used to typify the show significantly withered in the Hollywood glare of the sixth and seventh seasons.  
Chris: While the guest star turns by Ricky Jay and Jonathan Levit give this episode a nice air of authenticity, it's undone by the cheats, the screenwriter-magic put in place of actual magic tricks. There's so much here that goes unexplained (which is fine for the paranormal, a downright ripoff when you're talking stage magic) that it all feels airy and insubstantial. 

It's a shame because there probably was a really satisfying episode here but what you're left with is a story one that's merely diverting, thanks mostly to some fine performances. But it also suffers from following so close from the very, very similar 'Goldberg Variation', so much that the two begin to bleed together in the memory.

7ABX09 Signs and Wonders (Bell)

Raj: Give Me That Old-Time Religion, huh?  This episode reminds me of that famous gospel song dating back to the nineteenth century.  I’m not too sure about the story’s implied celestial politics – the twist that Reverend Mackey, of a more inclusive and tolerant church than Enoch O’Conner’s, is revealed as the episode’s truly satanic villain – but as a slice of deep-fried Southern Gothic it works surprisingly well.  Priests as villains always freak me out, regardless of their politics, because there is no need whatsoever for me to suspend my disbelief.  The final scene where the relocated Reverend Mackey is revealed as some kind of demonic entity – where a snake emerges from his throat to eat a mouse – is definitely a memorable image.
Chris: The problem with the overabundance of comedy and novelty episodes in the X-Files Lite years is that as it strove to keep the show's leads engaged, it gives the flow of the seasons a choppy, disjointed feel, a violent lurching from one extreme to another. And since so few of the comedy eps are actually funny this season, that becomes a serious liability for the show, both in the ratings and among the online fan community (who were up in arms this particular year). 

To go from candy-fluff like 'Amazing Maleeni' to a dark bit of Grand Guignol like 'Signs and Wonders' is at the very least, disorienting. It implies the writing staff seems uncertain in which exact direction to go. 

By itself, 'Signs' is an old-school horror episode, with the prerequisite hellfire and brimstone religious overtones. It's perfectly serviceable, but for Scully to make a dismissive crack about flying saucers after spending an entire episode studying one leads the viewer to wonder if this weren't a leftover from the previous season thrown into the schedule to fill up space at a time when the networks don't expect large viewerships. At the very least it makes one wonder if this episode's writers are actually watching the series they are writing for (and not for the first time, either).

But Michael Childers is excellent as the hellfire-preaching Enoch O'Connor and Millennium vet Tracy Middendorf is perfectly fine. I love how the episode subverts the usual Hollywood narrative and points the finger back at a Rockefeller church as the center of satanic evil.

7ABX10 Sein Und Zeit (Carter/Spotnitz)

Raj: Damn, this stunning two-parter is undoubtedly the best thing about the seventh season. It’s an incredible piece of work from ideas to themes to execution.  In a show that had by this point lost most of its sense of authenticity, Sein Und Zeit kicks us in the stomach, grabs us by the heart and doesn’t let go.  It doesn’t rely on familiar XF tropes, it plunges valiantly into a world of heart-breaking grief, lost children and spiritual entities composed of starlight.  Mulder is forced to reconsider his sister’s disappearance and the abduction narrative he had built up over decades.  Not only is the script dark and disturbing, it’s also incredibly tender and nuanced.  And the acting, from both the leads and the supporting cast, is on-point and completely beguiling.  Of particular note is an absolutely haunting performance by Kim Darby as jailed mother Kathy Lee Tencate.  In an episode filled with such strangeness and risk-taking, this is as real and dangerous as the seventh season has ever felt.  

7ABX11 Closure (Carter/Spotnitz)

Raj: The conclusion to the two-parter is also a genuine work of art, with a heart-rending performance from Anthony Heald as police psychic Harold Piller.  With the capture of serial child-killer Ed Truelove, and with help from Piller, Mulder and Scully are led to an Air Force Base that might hold the answers to Samantha Mulder’s true fate.  The scene where Mulder reads Scully excerpts from his sister’s diary is gut-punching and exquisitely acted, as is the final scene where Harold Piller is unable to accept Mulder’s confirmation that his own missing son is also dead, but in a better place. It’s powerful, soul-wrenching stuff.

Chris: I have a major problem with 'Sein Und Zeit' and 'Closure'. It's a very serious problem, one that impacts on my enjoyment of Season Seven as a whole. 

And that is that they are so great, so impactful, so revelatory, so cathartic that they make the rest of the season seem stale in comparison. I don't believe Kim Darby plays Kathy Lee Tencate, I believe she is Hecate, witch-oracle of the dead. Anthony Heald's performance is so brilliant I immediately forget all the other TV shows and movies I've seen him in. He is no longer Anthony Heald from Boston Public and Silence of the Lambs- he is Harold Piller. 

There are no two ways about it.

It took me a long time before I could watch these episodes without being cut up into shreds. They retain their power some 15 or so years later. I can't for the life of me understand some of the criticism 'Closure' got, well at least not until I look at where it's coming from. There's really nothing in the sixth season that equals this two-parter for me, though Biogenesis certainly has its own impact (any episode with Jealous Scully is a favorite of mine). 
This is the series that gave us 'Duane Barry' and 'Paper Hearts'. How refreshing to see it again.
7ABX12  X-Cops (Gilligan)

Raj: This is a novelty-comedy narrative presented as an episode of the hit television show Cops.  This idea is the literal embodiment of the cop-show-with-a-twist atmosphere that had come to permeate much of the seventh season.  It’s clearly influenced by The Blair Witch Project from the previous year, and is innovative in as much as it anticipated the slew of found-footage and horror mockumentaries that were to come.  'X-Cops' is fairly engaging for what it is.  Mulder and Scully’s investigations into a ‘monster’ terrorising downtown Los Angeles are hampered by the shooting of a Cops episode, and in this meta-context the story is actually quite a bit of fun. Although I have to say that I found the broad caricatures of the gay couple Steve and Edy a little insulting. It felt a bit too much like we were supposed to laugh at them rather than with them, but maybe that’s just me.

Chris: This is an interesting idea that doesn't quite seem to gel. As with Season Six, the imperative seemed to be to come up with novel ideas, not necessarily coherent stories. And while I guess you have to do this as a comedy it probably would have done well to see more horror sprinkled in for leavening. It's the same principle as salt bringing out sugar. The "monster" here loses any sense of menace because it becomes a laughline almost immediately. And with some of Gilligan's concepts it really doesn't have much internal logic either.

But all of that seems to be besides the point at this stage in the show's development. For the fans the producers were trying to reach, having Mulder and Scully on Cops was enough and the rest was gravy. I just expected a little more from a writer like Vince Gilligan.
7ABX13 First-Person Shooter (Gibson/Maddox)

Raj: I’m sorry, Gods of X, but this episode is just fucking atrocious.  Mulder gets sucked into a video game and Scully has to go in to retrieve him.  Yeah, I know.  I have no idea what went wrong here, but along with Fight Club this has to be one of the worst episodes of The X Files I’ve ever seen.  It’s lewd, boring, childish and spectacularly stupid.  It says nothing and means nothing.  I like to pretend it doesn’t exist, and have nothing else to say about it.
Chris: Have you read any of the X-Files comics, whether from the 90s or the recent series? I'm not going to make a value judgement as to their quality but they are a perfect example of writers doing Mulder and Scully without understanding the characters' personalities or grasping their unique voices. The same holds true for 'First Person Shooter', which seems almost like a MAD magazine parody of The X-Files rather than an inhouse self-parody. Gibson and Maddox just don't get it (which is probably why Kill Switch was so heavily rewritten).

 It's a bad episode as far as X-Files episodes go, but also somehow seems to sync with its time, just at the dawn of the dotcom/tech bubble burst. Entourage fans take note…

7ABX14 Theef (Gilligan/Shiban/Spotnitz)

Raj: While I don’t think this episode concerning Appalachian hexcraft is particularly inventive, in comparison to the season’s cop-show-with-a-twist vibe I mentioned earlier Theef is a solid back-to-basics X-File.  It’s well directed by Kim Manners and fairly well-paced.  We’ve seen these kinds of stories on The X Files many times before, we know most of their story-beats off by heart, but it’s a welcome bit of darkness in a season mostly bereft of the intoxicating demon-poetry that gave the show its legs in the first place. The finale with a vulnerable, magically-blinded Scully is particularly creepy.
Chris: 'Theef' is an episode that works as well as can be expected but would probably have worked better in the eighth season, when Carter and Spotnitz had reasserted a more consistent tone over the storytelling. Following the unapologetically dumbass 'First Person Shooter', it gives the viewer a bit of whiplash with its pitch-black tone. 

In keeping with the Millennium reunion vibe that ran throughout all four seasons of the LAX-Files, we see 'Dead Letters' vet James Morrison as the bewildered doctor.

There are some interesting twists here- Appalachian folk magic is unexplored territory for the show and Pamela Gordon's turn as a witch store proprietor is delightful, adding a lovely dose of authenticity to the proceedings, reminiscent of the bewildered astrologer in 'Syzygy'.

7ABX15 En Ami (Davis)

Raj: This is a solid low-key thriller that actually takes a lot of risks and poses a lot of questions if you’re paying attention.  It’s a kind of more real-world accompaniment to the fourth season’s Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man, and serves to further explore the complex psychology of the show’s iconic villain.  The entire episode is a kind of dance or strange flirtation between Scully and CSM, where he attempts to symbolically seduce her with a potential extra-terrestrial cure for all human disease.  An interesting and engaging episode, with a well-crafted atmosphere of uneasiness.
Chris: Rob Bowman's swan song on The X-Files is a solid conspiracy thriller that gives us a sense of how much William B. Davis loved his character. It's also a far superior showcase than 'Musings'. But there's also an appropriate strange sense of finality, a darkness lurking at the edges in every frame, a palpable sense that things were coming to an end. Mulder and the Smoking Man would disappear at the end of this season and Bowman wouldn't return to the X-Files universe until the notorious Lone Gunman pilot.

7ABX16 Chimera (Amann)

Raj: Again, like the previously mentioned Theef, this episode harkens back to a darker, more vicious X Files.  While Scully’s lonely stakeout is still played for laughs, Mulder’s investigations into a series of brutal Raven-linked murders is compelling, especially in comparison to the overall lighter tone of the season.  The underworld entity responsible for the killings works as a frightening creation, and is genuinely menacing.  But the episode suffers somewhat from having to find a reason to separate Mulder and Scully for its duration. And perhaps it’s just me but something seems to be missing in Duchovny’s performance here.  Perhaps the actor was just so eager to leave the show, but Mulder feels somewhat lifeless to me in this episode.

Chris: Wow, yet another Millennium alumni! I really like this episode, it's very much 'Arcadia' redone dark. A taut, terrific script that takes the same ideas but shrinks them down to size and makes the horror more intimate, more personal. And just like so many X-Files episodes we see the usual themes of mysterious paternity and things not being what they seem and so on and so forth. 

Michelle Joyner (from a previous 1013 mysterious paternity story) is terrific and the rest of the cast is as well, not something I'm inclined to say all that often about The LAX-Files. Duchovny's laidback playing serves the material and his producing skills were in evidence here as well; it was he who suggested the Scully stakeout scene in order to give Gillian Anderson time to work on her directorial debut.

7ABX17 All Things (Anderson)

Raj:  While I accept that this episode might be a touch too New Age and soft-focus for some palettes, I truly love 'All Things'. Penned and directed by Gillian Anderson, it delves into the complex relationship between Scully and an old flame.  The narrative complicates Scully’s character in interesting ways whilst remaining true to her core.  And due to a charismatic performance from Nicholas Survoy as Daniel Waterston I can totally buy that he and Scully were once very intimate lovers.  Strong support is given by Stacy Haiduk as Daniel’s grieving daughter Maggie.  Also rather compelling is Colleen Flynn as Colleen Azar, a former physicist turned crop-circle researcher.  While the character is painted in broad New Age strokes the actress invests her with an earnestness and intelligence that rings true.  And that’s the highest compliment I can give 'All Things'.  It’s a slow-burn character study that feels earnest and refreshing, but also intelligent and poignant.  For me this episode doesn’t feel cynical, and as such it stirred a little bit of wonder in me.

Chris: Yeah, 'all things'. Well, I guess you can say it's beautiful to look at. Slow motion and Buddhist temples and Stonehenge and synchronicity, all set to a moody Moby soundtrack. But this one got a right kicking on the Internet.  It has its charms, kind of like "What if The X-Files were a Lifetime Network series?" And the 'shippers loved the teaser, for obvious reasons.

But yeah, they just don't write 'em like that anymore. Know what I mean?

7ABX19 Brand X (Walker/Maeda)

Raj: This episode is notable for a stand-out performance from Tobin Bell as Daryl Weaver, a chain-smoking psychopath.  I find the character of Weaver almost hypnotically watchable in this episode.  Bell would later go on to achieve cult-fame as the ingenious Jigsaw in the Saw movie-franchise.  The story itself isn’t particularly creative, aside from a genuinely terrifying premise, but it’s Bell’s performance as Daryl Weaver that makes the episode work for me.  

But Mulder being infected by the tobacco-beetles, and them hatching their eggs in his lung tissue, is far too serious an injury for the character to sustain in what is otherwise a throwaway standalone.  Scully saves him, of course, inoculating him with massive doses of nicotine.  By the episode’s end Mulder seems fine, with little more than a sore throat despite his trauma.  I can forgive this kind of thing when it serves a grand mythology-storyline, but in a standalone it just feels like lazy writing.  If you’re going to keep hospitalising your lead characters, have it mean something more than just an inconsequential brush with killer cigarettes. 

Chris: Tobin Bell takes what is a rather conventional conspiracy-type script and makes it sparkle with his delightfully-menacing performance. It had special resonance for me, knowing quite a few Darryl Weavers growing up in the suburbs of Boston. Quite a few. 

And what's that I see- yet another Millennium holdover? So many appear (and will appear) it seems like an editorial comment on Carter's behalf. Not a particularly memorable X-file but a welcome relief from the novelties. Obvious nods to the Russell Crowe film The Insider are not your imagination. Solid if unspectacular episode that may have been better served in Season Eight

7ABX18 Hollywood A.D. (Duchovny)

Raj: You know, as someone with an unrepentantly Gothic sensibility I adored the documentarian sci-fi and horror that The X Files let me cut my teeth on.  So, to have to sit through stuff like this makes my inner Goth sigh a little in desperation.  This episode is fun, I guess, in the right frame of mind.  But it isn’t good, let alone great.  

You could make the argument that it is in fact terrible.  It’s full of meta-winks and nods to things outside of the X Files universe, as with the stunt-casting of Gary Shandling and Tea Leoni as B-Movie versions of Mulder and Scully.  It’s very Los Angeles, perhaps more so than all of season six.  For the most part the seventh season’s failures felt simply bland and generic, rather than the aggressively self-aware parody that occupied most of the sixth season.  

But Hollywood A.D. goes all out in trying to divorce Mulder and Scully from any notion of grounded reality.  In this episode they kind of wander around through a bunch of scenes that make no real logical sense.  At this point not only is The X Files a victim of its own success, but Duchovny decides to write an entire self-indulgent script about that very fact. When I enjoy this episode I enjoy it in a very defeated, heart-broken way.  Dr Chuck Burks is in it though.  Chuck’s cool.  
Chris: This claims to be a satire of Hollywood but feels more like Duchovny satirizing what he thinks The X-Files will become without him. 

So much of his fake movie lifts riffs from 'The Sixth Extinction' storyline and 'Millennium' that a fair assessment can be reasonably made. The conflict between Micah Hoffman and Cardinal O'Fallon feels like a placeholder for Duchovny's own conflicts with his boss, since Hoffman looks and acts like an idealized version of Duchovny himself (who, lest we forget, was writing himself to be the new Christ at the start of this season). Having Chuck Burks replay his scene from 'Biogenesis' pretty much seals the deal, connection-wise.

Spotting the connections is fun because this story doesn't make a nickel's worth of sense. But all of that doesn't make much never-mind since unlike many of the other comedies this season, 'Hollywood AD' is actually very funny. 

Wayne Federman takes his performance right up to the edge but never steps over. Shandling and Leoni feel a bit indulgent but seeing Skinner in a bubblebath more than makes up (if you watch The X-Files carefully, you'll notice all the very subtle hints that Skinner is gay).        

7ABX20 Fight Club (Carter)

Raj:  This episode shares double-billing with First-Person Shooter in being my least favourite X-File.  I definitely hate this episode a little less, but Fight Club is still garbage in my opinion.  I hate to say that about my beloved TXF, but it is what it is, man.  It’s yet another ‘comedy’ episode, but I have to say that virtually none of the jokes land.  As a result the entire episode feels horribly awkward and indulgent.  I mean, what the hell is this episode about, besides pointless doppelgangers? 

 I know that this is some kind of oblique continuation of the show’s meta-critique that began in season six, especially considering Fight Club’s bizarre teaser.  I don’t know what Carter is trying to say here, but I’m sure he’s saying something.  Still, there’s no real theme here, no emotional resonance that would make all the meta-hijinks and turgid run-arounds feel worthwhile.  Worst of all, this episode is simply boring.  If I sound scathing it’s because The X Files is very dear to my heart.  It may be flawed at times, but almost never bores me.
Chris: I've often wondered what the hell Carter was thinking when he wrote this clunker, since it was so wildly out of phase with the unalloyed masterpieces he dropped this season. I know he's saying something, something so occulted and arcane that we can't parse it, yet compelling enough that he'd throw away an episode as the season wound up (and as many people assumed the series was winding down) to say it. Two FBI agents at each others throats? An aging performer constantly asking for bags of money and thinking he's destined for the big time? Volatile pairs that spread unhappiness and disharmony amongst those around them? And so on and so forth...?

Whatever could he be referring to here? I guess we'll never know. Weird, wild, wacky stuff.

7ABX21 Je Souhaite (Gilligan)

Raj:  Yes, it’s another comedy episode.  Yes, nothing that happens is of any real or lasting consequence. So you might be surprised to learn that I kind of love this episode.  I’m not suggesting that it’s good, only that for some reason it works for me on almost every level.  It’s more like a whimsical Twilight Zone story than an X-File, yet I find it has massive re-watch value for me.  Despite myself, I find Will Sasso and Kevin Weisman hilarious as the Stokes brothers.  And Scully’s excitement over getting to autopsy an invisible Anson Stokes will melt even a cynic’s heart, surely?  The last act is a lot of fun too, where the genie’s intentional misinterpretation of Mulder’s wish for world peace results in him becoming the only human being left on Earth.  Not only is the scene funny, it’s also kind of epic and haunting.  In some oblique way the episode and that scene in particular seem to fit with the elegiac season finale that was to follow.  I don’t know, maybe I just love genies.

Chris: I love Vince Gilligan as a writer but he kind of reminds me of Paul McCartney, in that he didn't always observe the gravitas of the occasion with his writing. 'Sunshine Days' is likewise a fun, well-crafted romp, but does it really suit the occasion of the penultimate episode of the series?

Similarly, Will Sasso was one of my favorite performers on MAD-TV but seeing here takes me right out of the X-Files Universe. Paula Sorge's performance is fine, but left me wondering the whole time if they tried and failed to cast Janeane Garafalo in the role. 

As with many of these novelty episodes the story is clever and well-rendered but I never feel a burning need to rewatch it. Like much of the season, the episode is very much of its time and very remains there. This would be an excellent episode in a season with only a couple comedy episodes, it's just a fine episode in a season with eight of them.

7ABX22 Requiem (Carter)

Raj: I still really enjoy this season finale, even though I’m aware of all its flaws.  The narrative feels like a retrospective more than a forward-thinking story in its own right, and David Duchovny seems rather disinterested in the whole thing – seeing as how his lead-actor status was finally at an end.  But nevertheless, there are things to like in this episode.  The threat of the cloaked alien ship that is slowly rebuilding itself feels sinister and stylish, and harkens back indirectly to season one’s Fallen Angel.  

Also, Laurie Holden and Nick Lea are on fine form here as Marita Covarrubias and Alex Krycek.  The script is nowhere near as tight or as interesting as it should have been for what was potentially the last ever episode of The X Files, but considering the stress and behind-the-scenes hostility that Chris Carter had to endure it’s no wonder his writing-juices weren’t flowing as freely as they once did.  

What happened to The X Files in the sixth and seventh seasons is unfortunate, but perhaps what’s really surprising is how the show managed to burn with such multidimensional power for so long – way longer and with far greater finesse than anyone could have imagined.  But TXF was indeed offered an eighth season.  With Duchovny out of the picture, temporarily at least, Carter and the writing staff threw down the gauntlet in terms of reinvigorating the series mythology.  

With the introduction of Robert Patrick as the world-weary John Doggett the eighth season got back to the business of creating blistering, intelligent sci-fi and horror thrillers.  Gone was the self-parody of season six, and the cop-show-with-a-twist atmosphere of season seven.  In its place rose a cinematic phoenix of genre storytelling – sexy, dangerous and lucid once again.  The Truth is Out There. 
Chris:  With the show's male lead out the door, can it be a coincidence that the comedy and novelty storylines --by now an established X-Files tradition--were set to leave with him? Is it coincidence that the next season had as many alien colonization episodes as the two that proceeded it combined? Perhaps Duchovny's lack of enthusiasm for the material is indicated by his somewhat lowkey performance here (Duchovny's performances throughout the LAX-Files would become an evergreen source of debate for fans).  

'Requiem' revisits the set and setting of the series pilot as if rebooting the series, creating a new pilot for a new era. But it would be the sensibility of the second season, not the first, that the series would revisit in the eighth season, with Mulder's abduction playing as an extended remix of Scully's abduction, all the more so given Scully's pregnancy.

But the show would also eschew the Robert Ludlum/Ian Fleming trappings it took on in the fourth season to return to a more basic (and intimate) narrative of abductions and conspiracies taking place just beneath the attention of the world at large. 

The conspiracy got so huge in the middle of the series that it seemed impossible to imagine the world not noticing. Here, the people signing off on the investigations do so only with great reluctance, since they all believe this business about aliens is crazytalk. Hell, even the new X-Files investigator refuses to believe it. That kind of disbelief gave the stories more gravitas, since they felt like they took place in a world you recognize. 

The genius of The X-Files is that, with the exception of the third season, every season finale could exist as a series finale. Requiem was no different. With the start of the following season a new imperative would be followed; a deliberate and delineated campaign to jettison the excesses of X-Files Light and return the series to its roots; sci-fi, conspiracy, horror and the paranormal.

Yet the envelope continued to expand- after clearing the decks of some solid but unexceptional MOTWs, the series shed its episodic format and finished the season as a serial, a clear harbinger of the genre serials that would follow in its wake.

NOTE: Marita and Krycek were supposed to form the backbone of a new conspiracy in the eighth season but Laurie Holden was unavailable. Too bad- would have been cool to see The Syndicate: The Next Generation.

*Perhaps if Millennium hadn't flamed out in the ratings in its second season Ten Thirteen may have rolled the dice and called the star on his bluff -- as some within Ten Thirteen were lobbying for--in order to keep the series in Vancouver with a casting arrangement similar to the eighth season. Fox weren't having it- to them The X-Files was The Mulder and Scully Show, period.