Sunday, December 31, 2017

Case 04, File 04: Unruhe

AKA: Mister Police, You Could Have Saved Her, I Thoughtographed All The Clues

It's something that doesn't come up much, but I've always felt that one of the things that helped The X-Files get greenlit is the massive smash success of Silence of the Lambs just two years before the Pilot aired. There's probably an interesting article to write about the debt The X-Files owes Silence, but honestly, it can be best seen in episodes like this one or Irresistible which feel like they could almost be lost Thomas Harris books.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Case 04, File 03: Teliko

AKA: The Gang Kills A Melanin Vampire

Part of what keeps The X-Files unique and engaging is the fact they're always wiling and able to come up with new and interesting ideas for its monsters of the week. Sometimes these were cool monster designs, sometimes they were just a fresh take on an old idea or sometimes they were just presented in a cool way. However, this creativity can occasionally backfire, especially when dealing with other people's cultures

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Case 04, File 02: Home

AKA: The People Who Should Go Back Under The Stairs

I've mentioned (once, twice, a few dozen times) that Season 4 is the moment where the series felt bulletproof enough to take the series in a darker, grimmer direction and it's important to put that in context. The series has always been irrevocably an adult show, but it also a show that was usually pretty restrained in its content, enough so that it managed to keep its Parental Guidance rating at TV-14. So when the series got its first TV-MA, it was something of a big deal.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Case 04, File 01: Herrenvolk

AKA: It Is A Physical Struggle To Not Make A Wicker Man Reference

Season 4 of The X-Files is a special season for me, probably my favorite overall, and part of that was the sheer freedom they were getting from Fox. It was this year that The Simpsons made the crack about the only three shows Fox had that were consistently making money, one of which was The X-Files and the writers seemed to use that freedom to take the show in a bleaker, more brutal direction, that gave the series more bite and made some of the most intense and memorable moments of the series.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Case 03, File 24: Talitha Cumi

AKA: Ancient Aliens' Wet Dream

Honestly, part of the reason I prefer reviewing Monster of the Week episodes is that they have a wider variance of quality and interesting things to talk about. The Mythology episodes can be good and they can be bad, but they very rarely swing as high or as low as some of the Monster of the Week episodes, and I tend to have the same criticisms. I mean, I assume you're as tired of reading that an episode sets up the next one but spins its wheels too much as I am of writing it, but here we are.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Case 03, File 23: Wetwired

AKA: I Think I'm Paranoid

Usually when examining The X-Files, I (along with with most people) divide the series into two kinds of episodes: Monster of the Week and Mythology. And while that's a handy way of cataloging the series, its not actually that clear cut. Several times an episode has appeared to be a Monster of the Week and turned out to Mythology episode (its sort of happened in reverse a couple times but not as notably). Its a hard shift to pull off, as the attempts to conceal the Conspiracy's hand in things tends to leave the episode a little confused and awkward. But there are ways to make the transition work.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Case 03, File 22: Quagmire

AKA: We Can't Actually Send Mulder and Scully to Scotland

In terms of famous Cryptids, the Loch Ness monster is probably second only to Bigfoot in terms of fame, so it was inevitable that The X-Files would want to tackle it. They only had two major obstacles: First that the series in no way has the budget to properly render a giant aquatic monster and second that the Loch Ness monster lives in Scotland, which is pretty far outside Mulder and Scully's jurisdiction. You can fix the second by inventing a similar monster in the US and the first by...well we'll see.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Case 03, File 21: Avatar

AKA: I Don't Know Whether to Make a James Cameron or a Last Airbender Joke

The X-Files is not a show known for a deep well of supporting characters. I'm not saying that it doesn't have engaging and enjoyable secondary characters, but compared to shows like The Simpsons or even Seinfeld, its not exactly leaning on its cast, it's mostly about Mulder, Scully and whatever people they pick up on an episode by episode basis. This can make focusing an episode, not just a subplot but a whole episode, on a secondary character something of a dicey prospect.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Case 03, File 20: Jose Chung's From Outer Space

AKA: The Ballad of Lord Kinbote

I said this during my review of War of the Coprophages, Darin Morgan's first four episodes left a big mark on the series, and all four of them are constantly in the running for best episode. But I, being a stickler, always felt the need to determine which of the four was the best. And for my money, only one episode manages to find the absolutely perfectt balance where it's both deeply affecting and side splittingly funny.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Case 03, File 19: Hell Money

AKA: Big Trouble in Little San Francisco

Look, The X-Files is a pretty white show. Its leads are white, its creator is white, the vast majority of the writing, directing and producing staff are white, it is a white show. I've mentioned this in the past, as the series has dipped its toe into other people's cultures and it came across as awkwardly white in the way 90s products often are. But this time the series has less dipped its toe in other people's culture and more dived in headfirst.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Case 01, File 18: Teso Dos Bichos

AKA: Faster Kitty Cat, Kill Kill Kill

Despite my nitpicking of some individual episodes, if I'm being 100 percent honest, The X-Files has been batting 1,000. The entirety of season 3 up to this point has had some of the best episodes of the series, most of the others have been exceptional, even the weaker ones have been pretty damned good. I knew, instinctively, that such a run of great episodes had to end, even the first time I watched it. I just didn't expect it to collapse in such spectacular fashion.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Case 03, File 17: Pusher

AKA: Push It Real Good

Way back in the day when I first discovered that Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad, wrote for The X-Files, I went back over the episodes he wrote to see if there were any connections. And while there is a fairly obvious one I won't talk about until a Vince Gilligan penned episode WAY down the line in Season 6, I always found this story, about a man with terminal cancer who decides he's going to live out his final days doing illegal things and being a dick about it to have some connection to Gilligan's masterpiece.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Case 03, File 16: Apocrypha

AKA: Aliens Drink Your Milkshake

Back when you first start watching The X-Files, you are always under the impression that the show has a long term plan for its Myth Arc that will eventually bear out. Once you've finished it, you realize that it was mostly just making it up as it goes, which is good preparation for disappointment from stuff like Battlestar Galactica or Lost. That isn't necessarily a bad thing; Junji Ito's Uzumaki was written by the seat of its pants and it has a great story and ending. It does make some individual episodes kind of messy though.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Case 03, File 15: Piper Maru

AKA: Oil Is Usually Black, Right?

Ah, the Black Oil. One of the most key components of The X-Files' internal mythology, and yet it didn't show up until over halfway through the third season. It's definitely one of the most memorable aspects of the mythology, visually distinct and utterly unique from most of the previously established alien mythology (which, aside from the Alien Bounty Hunter, have been pretty straightforwardly pulled from general UFO ephemera). And its introduction would mark a major turning point in the story.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Case 03, File 14: Grotesque

AKA: Gargoyles Are My Design

A lot of great horror is found in subtly, ambiguity, the sense of not being sure what's going on, which is why it's a bit of a shame The X-Files doesn't indulge in it very often. The Shining is one of the greatest horror films ever made, and that final shot, which makes you question everything that came before, is one of the big reasons why. Although, I will say, the usual lack of any ambiguity makes those moments where it pops up very memorable.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Case 03, File 13: Syzygy

AKA: You Guys Ever See The Craft?

The X-Files is a fairly adult show. I don't mean that there's lots of sex and violence (although it can get pretty violent at times). I mean that the characters are entirely adults, who have finished college, have steady jobs and have no children (and generally no desire for them). The only way the show could be more adult is if we saw them doing taxes on screen. This isn't a complaint but it does mean the moments where the show dips its toe into actual contemporary teen culture...odd.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Case 03, File 12: War of the Coprophages

AKA: Kafkaesque on the Shore

Darin Morgan is one of those X-Files writers who is really really excellent in a way that's very hard to quantify if you're not an X-Files fan. I've heard him compared to Larry Charles for Seinfeld, but Charles is important because he wrote a huge number of episodes, Darin Morgan only wrote 5 (and one of them was in the new season). But he made an indelible mark on the show in those 5 episodes, to the point where the show was still imitating him seasons after he stopped writing for them, and even the least of his episodes is a stone cold classic.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Case 03, File 11: Revelations

AKA: God Needs To Talk About Kevin

When The X-Files decided it was going to make Scully religious, they probably realized they were eventually going to need to center episodes around it, which means they were gonna need to find a way to make it into a conflict. So by flipping the tables in the religious themed episodes, making Scully the believer and Mulder the skeptic, they have an episode that (in theory) puts a unique spin on its central relationship. Of course, if they bungled it, the episode would still be mediocre.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Case 03, File 10: 731

AKA: Murder on the Alien Express

You know, there's, probably an interesting thinkpiece about the uh...let's say problems with The X-Files appropriating real life atrocities (for example, the Unit 731 experiments or, you know, the fucking Holocaust) but good lord do I not want to be the one to write it. There's probably a lot to examine in it, but it's not going to be a fun examination, and it's going to run into a lot of issues with how culture as a whole treats tragedies. And for the most part, I come to The X-Files to have fun. So despite addressing it in my opening paragraph, that's not what this review is going to be about.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Case 03, File 09: Nisei

AKA: Aliens On A Train

By this point The X-Files has settled into it's comfort zone when it comes to mythology episodes: Two linked, plot heavy, episodes somewhere in the early part of the season, two linked, plot heavy, episodes somewhere late in the seasons, plus season premiers and finales. It's a good comfort zone to be in, as it means the series can get a lot of stuff done in a couple episodes and get back to what the series does best.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Case 03, File 08: Oubliette

AKA: It Means A Room That Only Has Access Via A Trapdoor, Okay?

Mulder's sister having been abducted is a huge part of his character, but it's one that doesn't seem to come up much. That's not a complaint, nothing is more irritating than a character who feels the need to spout off their character traits every few scenes, but it's just something that winds up totally downplayed. That's healthy for the show, since it means the moments where it comes out feel natural and real, and it often functions as background motivation for some of Mulder's obsessions.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Case 03, File 07: The Walk

AKA: I Guess They Briefly Say "The Walk" At One Point So That Title Is Okay?

I mentioned during The List that the "Revenge from beyond the grave" story is basically a template for The X-Files, and one that doesn't necessarily require the person seeking vengeance to be dead. The basic plot template can be grafted onto a lot of settings, characters and motivations. That's not a criticism, the show has 200+ episodes to fill and it's gotta lean on something. It all just boils down to how interesting the episode's characters and motivations are.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Case 03, File 06: 2Shy

AKA: Let The Right Fat Vampire In

The X-Files is usually, if we're being honest, a show with a lot of female empowerment motifs. Scully is never talked down to by Mulder (at least when it's actually Mulder, and he's in his right mind) and she's honestly a lot tougher than he is. Mulder may have 9 inches on Scully, but if the shit is about to go down, Scully is the one I want watching my back. I normally feel like this stuff goes without saying, but it only feels like it needs to be verbalized with the show kind of fails to live up to it.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Case 03, File 05: The List

AKA: Orange Is The New Dish Best Served Cold

You know, when I first entered the second season, I assumed The X-Files would leave the 'Revenge From Beyond The Grave" in the first season, but more and more I've found that to not be true. And I think I know why; They're easy to write and produce. They basically function like X-Files madlibs; You have your basic structure, you just come up with your hook and your reason for revenge, and you can knock the script out in a week. Unfortunately this means they start to feel a little samey after a while.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Case 03, File 04: Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose

AKA: How To Psychically Save A Life

Addressing death and mourning is always going to be difficult in the context of a TV show, especially a show that isn't geared to give those issues the weight they deserve. I'm already not the biggest fan of The Office, but I found the bird funeral in Grief Counseling exceptionally cloying and the less said about How I Met Your Mother's attempt to make us feel grief in the final season, the better. But, when a show does it right, it becomes legendary, like Scrubs' My Old Lady, Buffy's The Body and, indeed, Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Case 03, File 03: D.P.O.

AKA: 'Electric Slackers' Would Be A Good Name For A Rock Band

I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: One of the things that makes The X-Files so lasting is that, for the most part, it was pretty unstuck in time. It was a show that was at the pinnacle of cultural relevance at the time, but never really tapped into the cultural mentality of the time the way Seinfeld did. But that doesn't mean it can't be influenced by the way the culture was feeling at the time, and thereby tap into the zeitgeist, even accidentally.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Case 03, File 02: Paperclip

AKA: Oh, So That's Where All The Plot Went

I said in the last couple reviews that a lot of my estimation of the previous two episodes depends on how it resolves. That wasn't me being facetious for the sake of my own amusement, several details about the resolution to this little trilogy had escaped my memory. I am not perfect, and as I've indicated several times, the Mythology Episodes aren't usually the ones that make this my favorite show of all time, so they sometimes fade a bit. Which is a shame, because some of them are legitimately awesome.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Case 03, File 01: The Blessing Way

AKA: That...That Doesn't Mean Anything Right?

Seasons 3, 4 and 5 of The X-Files are generally considered the series' golden age, the time when the series really adapted to what it wanted to be. It was also the time when the series realized it was completely insulated from being cancelled, since it was one of only a handful of shows Fox that was consistently successful. And each of the seasons handled their newfound freedom in different ways. Season 5 went big, with high concepts and big names, even behind the scenes. Season 4 went dark, with bleaker storylines and more horrifying content. But Season 3...Season 3 went weird.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Case 02, File 25: Anasazi

AKA: No, No, No, Anansi Is The African Spider God

Ah, the X-Files cliffhanger finale. At this point The X-Files figured out it was safe from being cancelled and started writing their finales with their planned season premiers in mind, rather than as possible series finales as well. So with that in mind, they began planning increasingly elaborate finales and premiers, often multi-part epics with big impacts on the plot and characters going forward. And with us about to hit the third season, big impacts are just what we need.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Case 02, File 24: Our Town

AKA: Cannibal Summer

I've mentioned before that The X-Files is a very subjective show. There are episodes that we all know are good, there are episodes we all know are bad, and there is a rainbow of a hundred different quality levels in between, and how you feel about individual episodes can be up to a myriad of different factors. This is my long form way of saying, I really like this episode, but I have trouble quantifying why.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Case 02, File 23: Soft Light

AKA: This Watchmen Fanfic Kinda Goes Off The Rails

There are a lot of reasons to like a specific X-Files episode. An interesting character, a cool concept or even just a fun effect. Less often cited are genuinely great performances, outside of our two leads. Oh a lot of people give solid work (Tony Todd in Sleepless or Brad Dourif in Beyond the Sea), but they're usually paired with a great script, so they don't have to carry the whole episode. There are, as you may have guessed, exceptions.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Case 02, FIle 22: F. Emasculata

AKA: No One Is Getting Emasculated, I Don't Know Why It's Called That

The X-Files is a paranoid show. I don't really know how to defend or elaborate on that premise, it's just so blindingly obvious to me. The premise of the show is literally that the government is, in fact, out to get you (although the cognitive dissonance that is the fact that the two leads are government agents is something the show consistently fails to deal with). What I do wish it did more of though, is spend some time acknowledging that, while the government can be evil sometimes, it has nothing on what the private sector can do.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Case 02, File 21: The Calusari

AKA: The Omen-Corcist

That The X-Files occasionally cribs ideas from pre-existing media is, in my mind, a given, although my indulgence for it varies from episode to episode. We established, as far back as Ice that the series is not above pulling whole plot outlines from other movies, and I guess I'm conceptually okay with that. Creating a new story every week is hard, and if you can borrow from another story to create the bones to build yours on, well that's no crime. You do have to build an interesting story on top of those bones, which is what trips some episodes up.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Case 02, File 20: Humbug

AKA: One Of Us, One Of Us

I've been referring to The X-Files as a horror show, and I will continue to do so, but that's not all it is. It's more often than not very, very funny, mostly due to David Duchovny's deadpan quips. So eventually, someone around the writers room got it in their head, why not try to make an entire episode that's intended to be more funny than scary. And while not all of them were hits, the good funny episodes are often counted among the best.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Case 02, FIle 19: Dod Kalm

AKA: No, No, No, Benjamin Button Goes The OTHER Way

Alright, first review of 2017. Let's do this.

The X-Files is a show of ideas. Some of them are big ideas, some of them are small ideas, but what's always set it apart from other shows is how weird and unique some of the concepts they came up with were. But that uniqueness can be a double edged sword; In order to find cool and interesting new concepts, The X-Files had to experiment. And, well, some experiments fail.