4 March 2016

Dinara Reviews X-files: Season Ten


 
I know that this review is way too late. In the ideal world, I would have covered each episode separately, wrapping up the season with a long summary. But I didn't want to. The truth is, I have waited for this to happen for so long, that when I finally got to watch all the new episodes,
I just wanted to enjoy the moment, without having to over analyse each episode and report my impressions and feelings. Enjoy it while it lasts, you can review it later.


So now that the season is over and every critic and fan has had their say on the subject, it's time this fan did too.

It is difficult to review this latest season without explaining what the X-files has meant to me. Imagine watching a TV-series when you're still a child. You don't watch it regularly, but it still becomes a part of your life, a part of your childhood. Years later, you rediscover this show, and you fall in love all over again. You buy all the seasons on DVD, and you watch it every week, remembering all the good moments as well as discovering new exciting twists and turns. The problem is, your favourite series has been off the air for over a decade. The anticipated motion picture has been a disappointment, making the chances for any continuation of the story slimmer than a size zero model.

So you survive on those TV reruns and DVD binges. You read fanfiction, all the while hoping for a third movie and dreading that awful word "reboot".

And then, out of the blue, you get the news: it's coming back! There will be a sequel, with the original cast and the original writers. Imagine how you'd feel if you got the chance to revisit your favourite Universe, to meet the characters you love after so many years. What happened to them? How did they age? What new challenges will they meet? How do they fit in the modern world? You're excited but at the same time a little confused. Because when you're in the middle of it, and it still hasn't hit you that you get to watch your favourite TV-show in real time for the first time in almost fifteen years.

So when I watched the new episodes of the X-files with my brother, it was a different experience than watching a new episode of, let's say, Arrow. You look for the same old dynamics between the characters. You look for the easter eggs and throwbacks to the old episodes. You look for the recognisable story-telling techniques and familiar tropes. That's why it's difficult for me to understand how the new fans watch this latest season.

Season ten has had mixed reviews, by critics and fans alike. When you critique this last season, it's important to keep in mind that the creators were dealing with a very difficult task. The show has been off the air since 2002, and starting a new season after such a long time must have posed many challenges. Most importantly, they had to make this season relevant and up-to-date while still maintaining the classic tone and format of the show. That's a very fine line to walk.



Remember the good old Days?
 

I was particularly interested in seeing how Mulder and Scully's work would fit in the new world with Wikileaks, NSA and the Edward Snowden case. Back in the day, Mulder would always rattle important cages in his search for the truth, drawing unnecessary attention to certain groups of people. Would he still be able to do that? (Spoiler alert: no spoilers!)

Before I give my final thoughts on this season, I want to review each episode separately.


My Struggle I

The episode begins with Mulder summarising his life and work on the X-files in the previous seasons, and bringing the viewers up to date on the major events. And this is what My Struggle, I is, essentially. It is a recap episode. It is supposed to usher us back into the X-files world and fill us in on the essentials of the mythology. It also sets the foundation for a new conspiracy, opening a new chapter in the overarching mythology.

We also get so see Walter Skinner who, after all these years is still occupying his Assistant Director's office. As much as I love Scully and Mulder, I was especially happy to see Skinner again. The man hasn't changed at all.

It's high quality television, and Carter succeeds in creating the tension that will build up throughout the season and hit its peak in the finale. We find Mulder and Scully where we left them in I Want to Believe - she is working as a doctor, he is hiding out in his cabin in the middle of nowhere. But they're no longer a couple - a smart decision by Chris Carter. They're back in their familiar dynamic, which re-creates the tension that has been driving the fans crazy for years.

It's a good place to start anew.

"I'm always happy to see you"
"And I'm always happy to find a reason."
 

Founder's Mutation

The more I think back on this episode the more I like it. It's a return to the basics, to the classic X-files format. It's the agents' first case since their reinstatement in the FBI. A stand alone case, which has to do with people and not with monsters. The case brings back memories of William - Scully and Mulder's long lost child - and sets the heroes on an emotional journey, making them question their life choices and imagine what life would have looked like if they hadn't given up their son for adoption.



William is the red thread that runs throughout the whole season. He plays a major role in his absence. In this respect, season ten does what the movie failed to do - have Mulder and Scully deal with the consequences of their decision.

This is also the episode that tells us that this season isn't going to try and be like any of the shows  that are running today. It's not going to try and imitate its imitators. It's the X-files the way we remember it.


Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster

This one's for the hardcore fans. Best of the best. An instant classic. Darin Morgan never fails to deliver a story that is both funny and deep and existential. Starting with his season two hit, Humbug, Morgan has contributed to the show what no other writer has: the self-referential humour, the tongue-in-cheek jokes that are only outshined by the questions about human nature, about regret and life itself.  Morgan has the ability to bring out something in these characters that makes them more romantic, more accessible. In this episode, Mulder is questioning his entire life's work, and the role reversal with Scully being somewhat of  a believer is very refreshing.




Morgan's episodes have always had a dreamlike quality, a surreal tone, and this one is no exception. If and when Fox green-lights season eleven, hopefully with more than six episodes, he should be given a chance to write at least two.


Home Again

This is the episode that I am a little ambiguous about. It is yet another classic X-file. As the agents are trying to solve a series of particularly gruesome murders, Scully gets summoned to her mother's deathbed. It's a very dark and gory episode, and it raises even more questions about Scully's past and her decisions. Anderson really shines in this one, proving once again that she is a strong actress with a wide range of emotions.

Business as usual
 
It's a real X-file and you don't expect anything less from Glen Morgan - Darin's brother and another show veteran. But do I like it? No, not really. But it doesn't mean that it's bad. Looking back on the previous seasons, there have been so many episodes that I didn't like. Usually, it's the very dark and depressing ones. Home Again is exactly like those episodes. It's a good story, it's just not my kind of story. It's simply a matter of taste.

One of the things I love about this show is that it can be very dark one week, and funny and self-referential the next, while still maintaining its own distinct feel.


Babylon

This is the one that has divided the fans the most. Some of us hate it. Others like it. A lot. The story of a jihadist bomber is important and relevant in today's political climate, and it's understandable why Carter wanted to tell a story like that in his own way. But does Muslim extremism really belong in the X-files Universe? Throughout the show's run, there has been a number of interesting cases involving religious cults (Red Museum, Our Town, Signs and Wonders, Roadrunners), but the show never flirted with the delicate subject of Muslim extremism and prejudice against the Muslim people. It felt a bit as if Carter was stepping outside his comfort zone. And with little success, I may add.

Questionable subject matter aside, the addition of the "younger" versions of Mulder and Scully is unnecessary. As I understand, Fox has approached Carter with an idea of a spin-off with new leads, and that these characters have been his response to that. Was that his not-so-subtle way of saying that Mulder and Scully cannot be replaced (again)? I sure hope so.

And I sort of understand what it was that Carter wanted to do by creating agents Miller and Einstein. They are supposed to give our heroes a chance to look back on their lives, to reflect on their own journey and past experiences. The problem is, this gimmick doesn't work. Miller and Einstein only exist as one-dimensional mirror images of Mulder and Scully. For instance, Doggett and Reyes have always been independent characters, with their own fully developed arcs. Doggett is the skeptic, Reyes is the believer, but they are as different from Scully and Mulder as you'll get. Miller and Einstein have no depth at all. Miller is wooden and plain, and Einstein is aggressive and irritating. Scully has never been this aggressive nor thick-headed. This negative criticism, by the way, has nothing to do with the actors portraying them. While I'm not familiar with Lauren Ambrose's work, I do watch Flash and I know that Robbie Amell can be very good given good material. He has nothing to work with here.

It's been done...

When you only have six episodes to work with, it seems like a very bad idea to spend so much of the precious screen time on characters that contribute nothing to the story, and have no arcs of their own to develop.

And with the wasted cameos of the Lone Gunmen as the cherry on top, Babylon is, in my book, the worst episode of all the ten seasons.


My Struggle, II

Here were are: the grand finale. Watching this episode was a little bittersweet. Over the past five weeks, my brother and I started a new cool tradition, watching a new episode of the X-files every Thursday and even sitting through the painfully long commercial breaks. And now it's over.

I knew from the promos that the finale was going to be epic and mind-blowing. And I will go against the popular opinion here and say that I was not disappointed.

The episode starts with Scully telling her side of the story, and you can tell just by how long her intro is compared to Mulder's, that Scully has a lot more going on in the mythology than he does. Even though it's Mulder who is the hero, the main mythology has always been about Scully, starting with her abduction, then cancer, and having her baby.



The truth is that the mythology has played itself out already in season six. It has become less interesting since then, and the monster episodes have been the major attraction. But in this season, Carter offers a fresh twist on the narrative and tries to inject new life into the mythology. And you know what? He succeeds. Without spoiling anything, in case you haven't been watching the show, this is an interesting new take on the invasion mytharc, that is also completely in line with the overarching mythology revolved around a secret government plotting against the American people (or people of the world, generally).

If the first episode has been a look back, then the finale turns our eyes forward, towards a very uncertain future.

The episode ends on a cliffhanger, leaving us with more questions than we can handle. It's a strong conclusion to a suspenseful season. Fans complain about the cliffhanger, but this is how every previous season has ended. There has always been a strong cliffhanger in the finale followed by a climactic resolution in the next season opening.

On the downside, the finale does seem a little rushed. The story is too much for one episode to handle. This is, of course, due to the limited runtime. If this season were at least eight episodes long, there would have been more time to develop this storyline, without rushing it. But this is what we get. The people involved in this project all took time off their busy schedules to film this season, and with a limited amount of episodes, something's got to give.

The return of the Cigarette Smoking Man is one the strongest parts of the entire season. It appears that he didn't die in the season nine finale, and that he's still controlling the world from his secret hideout. His return, of course, raises one unavoidable question: how did he survive? Is his surviving plausible? Firstly, there's a saying that goes "nobody really dies on the X-files". Secondly, when the show was cancelled in 2002, Carter closed a lot of arcs, and burned a lot of bridges for our heroes. Which means that he was now faced with a tricky task of re-opening the arcs, and rebuilding those bridges. This calls for the viewers to suspend their disbelief a little. How did CSM survive? How did Mulder and Scully get reinstated in the FBI so quickly? Lastly, this isn't the first time that Cancerman escaped a certain death. Even Alex Krycek couldn't kill him (Also, Chris Carter, if you are by any chance reading this, please bring back Krycek if season eleven gets green-lighted. If CSM can survive a missile blast, then a tiny bullet to the head shouldn't be a problem for someone as tough as Krycek).



"Every man has his weakness. Mine has always been cigarettes."
 
Another welcome return is that of Monica Reyes, with Annabeth Gish reprising her role as a whale-singing FBI agent. It is certainly nice to see her again, but I'm not sure if I like the turn that her story has taken. She has made certain choices; choices that she now regrets. And while her motivations are justifiable, her actions are not. I'm not sure Carter really knows how many fans have grown to like Reyes, and that her new role in the mythology is a real kick in our collective shin.


The verdict

Okay, so all things considered, did I like X-files: season ten? I am satisfied with it? Let's put it this way: a few years back, when they announced that the X-files would be coming back in comic book form, I said to myself, "well, at least it's coming back". And now they gave us a new, live-action season. Not a remake or a reboot or any of that nonsense. So just for that fact alone, I am grateful and happy.

But am I happy with the execution of this season? Am I satisfied with the direction in which the story went? The answer is, yes. The thing is, you can't meet every fan's expectations. You have a better chance at making E.L. James write a strong female protagonist. What the creators of any TV- show need to focus on is originality and on staying true to the show's roots. And this is exactly what the people behind the X-files have been doing this season. Not every single one of my expectations was met, and I was disappointed with certain aspects of the story. The journey has been a little bumpy and a tad rushed. But despite its shortcomings, this season knows exactly what it is - a part of a strong, character-driven TV-series with an interesting premise and intelligent writing,

Because the truth is, the X-files is as original and relevant today as it was twenty years ago.

And this is how I like my X-files.



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