Alias, Episode Reviews, TV

ALIAS 1×03: ‘Parity’ (TV Review)

If Alias, in its opening two introductory episodes, flirted with the idea that the show is a post-Cold War espionage thriller attempting to understand and resolve the consequences of the 20th century’s longest-running and defining ideological conflict, then Parity absolutely goes for broke and seals the deal with a loving kiss. 

The third episode, the first not penned directly by series creator J.J. Abrams, cements and solidifies existing, introductory concepts and brings in key new ones which will help frame Alias as a show with a sense of unique, genre identity. In many respects, Alex Kurtzman-Counter (as he was named originally, before losing the Counter) and Roberto Orci’s script is one of the most crucial in Alias’ first season.

It is the first episode which directly picks up from the cliffhanger established in the previous episode. It introduces one of the most interesting (and underused) characters the show ever gave us. And, most importantly, it truly kickstarts the mythology Alias would embrace, grapple with, struggle with, and never truly satisfy its audience with over the next five years.

Parity is a key, early touchstone for Abrams’ series.

Continue reading “ALIAS 1×03: ‘Parity’ (TV Review)”
Episode Reviews, The X-Files, TV

THE X-FILES 11×10 – ‘My Struggle IV’ (TV Review)

How do you end The X-Files? This is a question fans have been asking themselves for quarter of a century, ever since Chris Carter’s show premiered in 1993 on the FOX network and helped define popular culture across the entire decade. My Struggle IV proves, without any shadow of a doubt, that the truth is you don’t. The X-Files is a phenomenon that will never truly come to a close.

Season 11 of The X-Files has been overshadowed, to some degree, by Gillian Anderson’s announcement last October—with several months of shooting left to go—that this was her final go around playing FBI agent Dana Scully, the role she will be immortalised for, as much as David Duchovny will never truly escape her partner, FBI maverick Fox Mulder. Anderson stayed with the original series longer than Duchovny—who jumped ship as a forefront character at the end of the seventh season—so it’s difficult to truly blame her for deciding, after twenty-five years living the part even in the long period she didn’t play her, that Anderson wanted an end for Scully. The revival series, which arrived in 2016 on the trail of a nostalgic comeback tour for various TV shows which were iconic in the days before streaming and cable changed the paradigm of television, was one millions of fans hoped would provide some sense of closure.

The end of the original series, Season 9’s The Truth, came as a disappointment to many fans at the time. Contextualising a mythology many had (falsely) claimed made no sense, and reintroducing the long-absent Mulder, made what fans hoped was a climactic thrill ride for the alien mythology more like a clip show, with an ending that reflected the Pilot but left Mulder & Scully in nebulous waters; were they fugitives? Were they out of the FBI? Were the X-Files shut down? What about Agents Doggett & Reyes, who had taken over the department and failed conceptually to replace the dynamic duo we had followed for seven seasons together? Were the aliens still about to invade?

So many questions were left unanswered, far more indeed than My Struggle IV has left unanswered – and this latest attempt at a finale is, in all honesty, no real finale at all.

Continue reading “THE X-FILES 11×10 – ‘My Struggle IV’ (TV Review)”
Episode Reviews, The X-Files, TV

THE X-FILES 11×09 – ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ (TV Review)

Originally the eighth episode in the ten hour run of The X-Files’ eleventh and almost certainly last season, Nothing Lasts Forever was switched around with last weeks Familiar and you can understand the decision. Karen Nielsen’s script has an undulating sense of finality about it, as if Agents Mulder & Scully know the end of their journey is in sight.

We have, of course, been here before, more than once. Season Five cheekily concluded with The End, Requiem at the end of Season Seven was mooted as being the final episode to segue into a cinematic franchise for the show, before eventually Season Nine’s The Truth brought back an absent David Duchovny and proved to be a hugely divisive (even to this day) mixed bag of a series finale. That was back in the age when a series, certainly in American television, concluded without any real chance of reprisal. British TV has long had a tradition of ending a show and then reviving the property years down the line, but American TV didn’t tend to do it until the advent of streaming services and the full embrace of digital TiVo changed the paradigm of how we digested television. The X-Files itself is proof that while nothing lasts forever, where beloved properties are concerned, we should, to borrow another phrase, never say never again.

Nonetheless, Season Eleven does, at this stage, appear to be the final curtain. Nothing Lasts Forever therefore, should that be the case, will go down in X-Files history as the last ever standalone episode. I’ve discussed the importance of the standalone story versus the ongoing mythology in previous pieces—indeed in last week’s Familiar I touched on the subject—but to fans the difference has more sharply moved into focus with the revival series. Arguably, many felt we simply didn’t have enough episodes where Mulder & Scully investigated strange goings on across the American landscape, and episodes such as Plus One, Familiar and Nothing Lasts Forever have worked hard to remedy that.

Familiar goes the furthest to position itself akin to a historical episode of the original run of the series, but Nothing Lasts Forever stands out as a stranger brew than anything else the entire revival run over both seasons has yet given us.

Continue reading “THE X-FILES 11×09 – ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ (TV Review)”
Episode Reviews, The X-Files, TV

THE X-FILES 11×08 – ‘Familiar’ (TV Review)

There is something familiar and unfamiliar about Familiar, one of the last truly stand-alone ‘monster of the week’ tales The X-Files will likely ever do.

Anyone who has followed Chris Carter’s series from its inception will be aware that his show was divided between the ‘standalones’ and the ‘mythology’ episodes. At the time, back in the 90’s, fans lived for the mythology, the ongoing story of Fox Mulder & Dana Scully against the conspiracy to cover up the existence of alien life, and far darker deeds beyond. Time and distance however, for many, have seen the standalone tales grow in currency; in a world now built on the kind of serialised storytelling The X-Files flirted with, while still keeping to a model ripe for syndication, fans have craved from the revival season a truly stand-alone story. One where Mulder & Scully arrive in a small town, investigate some weird deaths, and find themselves embroiled in the strange and spooky. It’s taken almost two revival seasons, but Familiar gets us there.

Oddly enough now, however, what once was considered a standard, typical X-File, has become essentially the aberration. If you look at how experimental both revival seasons have been, from comedy episodes or Hitchcockian espionage homages, down to episodes like last week’s Followers which pushed the envelope the furthest the show has gone in a long time, Familiar stands out because it’s now unfamiliar. Benjamin Van Allen’s story is almost a throwback, a relic of the original series The X-Files was built on, and were it not for certain fairly indirect but potent allegorical references to modern-day political Americana, you could position Familiar in one of the early seasons of the show. It might sit quite well nearby Die Hand Die Verletzt, perhaps its most intrinsic bedfellow.

For that reason, alone, it feels uniquely old-fashioned.

Continue reading “THE X-FILES 11×08 – ‘Familiar’ (TV Review)”
Episode Reviews, The X-Files, TV

THE X-FILES 11×07 – ‘Rm9sbg93zxjz’ (TV Review)

The X-Files has always been interested in technology, right from the word go, and Rm9sbg93zxjz (which we will henceforth refer to as its translation, Followers) feels like the ultimate, final (if this is to be the last season) encapsulation of our pervasive anxiety around surrendering our world to artificial intelligence. More than any other X-File that concerns AI, it serves as a potent cautionary tale.

Much has been made about how the second revival season of Chris Carter’s seminal series owes a debt to Charlie Brooker’s modern science-fiction anthology show Black Mirror. Followers, honestly, could have been an episode of Brooker’s series, a show which absolutely owes a debt to the stylistics and conceptual ideas put in place over the last quarter-century by The X-Files.

Carter’s show has, in many ways, come full circle in many aspects across Season 11, and Followers truly embraces and explores our combination of social media, applications which track our movements and allow us quick and easy access to everything from dining to transport to home appliances, and the accursed addiction to the ‘black mirrors’ of our ‘smart’ technology. It suggests, as many cautionary tales about modern technology do, that this obsession may be far from a good thing.

Continue reading “THE X-FILES 11×07 – ‘Rm9sbg93zxjz’ (TV Review)”
Episode Reviews, The X-Files, TV

THE X-FILES 11×05 – ‘Ghouli’ (TV Review)

When plans for the latest season of The X-Files were announced, quite a number of fans were surprised to be informed by FOX head honcho Dana Walden that Season 11 would feature only two episodes concerning the ‘mytharc’, Chris Carter’s long-running, labyrinthian mythology which has coursed through the series over the last twenty-five years. Ghouli proves that statement was never entirely accurate, and continues what was already established in This – the mythology is being weaved in more with stealth than grandiosity.

Ostensibly, of course, Ghouli is a monster story – two teenage girls try and kill each other, each believing the other to be a tentacled beast from some kind of Lovecraftian nether realm. It recalls Season 5’s Folie a Deux, which memorably dealt with the literal idea of an unspeakable ‘thing’ hiding in plain sight, with a dash of Season 3’s cosmically apocalyptic black comedy Syzygy (just without the laughs). Before the episode, a neat level of viral marketing presented the fictional ghouli.net discovered by Agents Mulder & Scully in the episode as a real site fans could click on, reading the fictional urban legend recounting of people seeing or encountering the mysterious Ghouli. Everything about the episode, on the face of it, points to a classic monster of the week.

If not for a character named Jackson van de Kamp, who very swiftly establishes himself as the raison d’être for James Wong’s entire piece. Look away now—no seriously, don’t say I didn’t warn you—but Jackson is, of course, Mulder & Scully’s long-lost biological son William (or Scully’s for certain, at least). William was born at the end of Season 8 having been coveted by alien super-soldiers and later bonkers cultists for being some kind of supreme alien/human hybrid being, indeed prophecies exist about how he may either save humanity or lead the aliens to their complete destruction (in Season 9, so we try and forget about all that). Nevertheless, William is important with a capital I. He was crucial to the last two seasons of the original series. He played a key, off-screen role in Season 10.

And he is central to everything about Ghouli.

Continue reading “THE X-FILES 11×05 – ‘Ghouli’ (TV Review)”
Episode Reviews, The X-Files, TV

THE X-FILES 11×04 – ‘The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat’ (TV Review)

There have been several back and forth opinions regarding the latest season of The X-Files as to whether or not the show has too often tried to layer its fantastical stories with too much overt American political commentary. The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat will definitively put that argument to bed – not only is Season 11 now almost certainly going to be the final run of this iconic show, Darin Morgan’s comedic entry is a pointed response to the Trump, Fake News, Post-Truth era. It is also, as you may expect from the man, a minor work of brilliance.

Darin Morgan’s comedy episodes have become their own sub-genre within The X-Files since very early on in the second and third seasons, delivering gems such as Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose or Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’, episodes which took the essential concept of Chris Carter’s series–two FBI agents investigate the paranormal–and inverted it into a comedic romp filled with one-liners, flashback gags and histrionic, heightened levels of reality.

Some have argued The X-Files was so successful precisely because each writer brought a different canonical sensibility to the series – Carter’s arch grasp of symbolic theme, Glen Morgan & James Wong’s fusion of pulp and thriller stylistics, or Vince Gilligan’s blue-collar horror tales, but Darin Morgan’s stand out the most for being almost non-canonical, a pocket universe of wry, format-breaking, ‘meta’ stories which shine an alternative light on The X-Files and prove, without a shadow of a doubt, it has a remarkable elasticity of tone.

Continue reading “THE X-FILES 11×04 – ‘The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat’ (TV Review)”
The X-Files, TV, Writing

THE X-FILES 11×03 – ‘Plus One’ (TV Review)

Bread and butter indeed. There is a strong argument brewing that Plus One, the third episode of The X-Files eleventh season, is the purest example of a ‘classic’ X-File since the year 2000.

I’ve discussed previously how we need to start thinking of the first nine seasons of The X-Files the way we do 1960’s Star Trek, as the ‘classic’ series of the show. The revival seasons have proven The X-Files, in order to adapt to an evolving and changing television landscape, has found for better or worse (and fandom are strictly divided as to the answer) the need to reinvent itself, to some degree. Season 10 was filled with episodes which reconceived the series’ legendary ‘mytharc’, indulged in the nostalgia of the show’s comedy episodes, and fused both ‘monster of the week’ stories with character journeys for Mulder and Dana Scully, alongside a bizarre experimental piece from creator Chris Carter. Not one of those episodes, truly, felt like the ‘classic’ series.

Plus One is the first episode since the show returned to buck that trend. Season premiere My Struggle III bravely took the mythology to controversial new places and This, Glen Morgan’s follow up, pitched Mulder & Scully in the middle of a breakneck Hitchcockian conspiracy thriller with shades of that same mytharc. This had plenty of touches to please any ‘classic series’ fan but equally engaged in action stylistics and storytelling choices which kept it firmly in the realm of ‘revival series’. You can see why Carter would have wanted to write Plus One, because for the first time in years he has the space, breathing room and position to create a true ‘monster of the week’ tale, even if that term can sometimes be used too broadly. Plus One doesn’t have a Tooms or a Pusher or even a Rob Roberts.

Yet at the same time it’s the most standalone piece The X-Files has given us in a long time.

Continue reading “THE X-FILES 11×03 – ‘Plus One’ (TV Review)”
Essays, TV

THE X-FILES and Alternate Universes

As the much-anticipated eleventh and almost certainly final season of The X-Files kicks off 2018, a remarkable fan theory has begun to arise in certain social media groups from the first two episodes: that The X-Files has slipped into an alternate universe. On the face of it, the notion sounds as crazy as the kind of cases Agent Fox Mulder has in his basement office, but could some nugget of possibility ripple beneath this theory?

A major factor backing up the assertion was confirmed in season premiere My Struggle III, in the fact Agent Dana Scully imagined the previous Season 10 finale My Struggle II in her mind’s eye, a remarkable twist eradicating the events of an entire episode only sold to the audience by virtue of Scully having been gifted of it thanks to a vision from her long-lost son William.

The catastrophic, world-ending, apocalyptic events of the Season 10 finale ended up simply as information for Scully to understand, a warning perhaps of knowledge to help she & Mulder prevent the release of the deadly Spartan Virus that wipes out humanity. So the theory goes, however, Scully’s vision wasn’t just a prophetic warning of terrible events to come, but rather an entire alternate reality she, and we, have experienced since The X-Files returned to our screens.

Continue reading “THE X-FILES and Alternate Universes”
Episode Reviews, TV

THE X-FILES 11×02: ‘This’ (TV Review)

This doesn’t just feel like an episode of The X-Files. It feels as much like a core distillation of not just everything the show says today about the state of global surveillance, conspiracy and government, but rather everything it used to say. If ever an episode of the show was designed to remind us we’re no longer watching The X-Files of the 1990’s, it’s, yes, This.

The X-Files operates in an interesting place today. In my review of My Struggle III, part of the discussion revolved around how Chris Carter’s seminal series struggled when it was revived in 2016 precisely because it sat between what is now the world of yesterday (Obama’s stable, if divisive administration) and the world of today (Trump’s unstable, chaotic regime). Much like how all six episodes we’re figuring out how to re-conceptualise their storytelling for a new age of television, so Carter’s series attempted to find its place in a rapidly changing America. If the Season 11 premiere felt saddled by continuing mythology beats and was swamped by the narrative twist regarding Scully’s child, which had a mixed reception to say the least, then Glen Morgan’s follow up has the freedom to truly make the most of where The X-Files fits in the current paradigm.

Glen Morgan, and his oft-producing partner James Wong, were always two of the greatest assets The X-Files ever had. When they left firstly midway through the second season and later, following a brief return, midway through the fourth, there is no doubt both were missed. Morgan & Wong, as a duo, are responsible for some of the strongest episode the original series of The X-Files (as I’m now calling Seasons 1-9) ever produced – chiefly among them the peerless One Breath, which to some degree This resembles. Not in story or even in style, but placed in terms of how it frames the characters of Mulder & Scully within a post-Watergate arena of paranoia, with mythological grandmasters operating at the head of the table.

Though Morgan goes solo with This, everything he taps into feels like an extension and evolution of the kind of stories both were telling in the 90’s.

Continue reading “THE X-FILES 11×02: ‘This’ (TV Review)”