Thursday, October 8, 2015

The X-Files - Season 4 (1996-7)

[ Season 3 <<< The X-Files >>> Season 5 ]

Although I didn't watch it during its original airing, the fourth season is when The X-Files moved from a Friday night cult hit to a Sunday night prime time sensation. (Chris Carter's other show, Millenium, debuted that same year in The X-Files' old Friday night slot). As such, it feels a little more polished than previous seasons. Fans rightly call the first three seasons "classic X-Files", but I will always consider the fourth season part of that group, as it marks the point after which I graduated from "catching up" and became a contemporary fan.

Season 4 doesn't open quite as strongly as season 3 did, but its quality is scattered more evenly across the season. It's also the first time since the beginning of the second season (when the X-Files project was shut down) that so much mythology-related material has been sprinkled into one-off episodes, to welcome dramatic effect. Tunguska/Terma marks a point where the series' convoluted mythology falls behind the spectacle of its action sequences. Tempus Fugit/Max features a refreshing throwback to season 1's mythology. But the highlight of the season is the revelation hinted at in Leonard Betts, explored more fully in Memento Mori (an episode that won Gillian Anderson an Emmy), and then followed up on in Zero Sum. It is the greatest hurdle Scully has had to face yet. Mulder faces his own hurdle in the devastating season finale, Gethsemane.

As the mythology continues to grow in complexity - increasingly threatening its stability - we find the monster-of-the-week episodes continually improving. Not having to build upon every episode that comes before it, the monster-of-the-week episodes stand to benefit from the crew and creators' acquired experience, while having the freedom to start afresh each week. As such, this is the first season where I've found myself looking forward to the monster-of-the-week episodes as much as the mythology episodes, if not even more.

Vince Gilligan really comes to the fore in season four, with some excellently crafted episodes - Unruhe, Paper Hearts, and the fan-favored Small Potatoes, which takes a more comedic approach, akin to Darin Morgan (who stars in the episode!)'s scripts from season 3. Another fun episode is El Mundo Gira, which tackles the legend of el chupacabra. This season also marks the return of writing duo Glen Morgan & James Wong, not seen since season 2. Their episode Home earns the reputation of being one of the series' most disturbing, and in Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man they effectively tackle the background of the series' central villain. Also worth mentioning is R.W. Goodwin's Demons, an episode centered on a mystery with dire emotional consequences.

As in all seasons, there are hits and misses, but there are at least as many hits, and far fewer misses, in this season than average. Overall, I daresay season 4 is as strong as season 3, if not stronger. If I were pressed, I'd be tempted to say that season 3 had the better mythology episodes, but that season 4's monster-of-the-week episodes are consistently better.

For your convenience, here is a list of links to my reviews of each of the episodes in the fourth season (names in parentheses are the episodes' writers):

S4:E1 "Herrenvolk" (Chris Carter)
S4:E2 "Home" (Glen Morgan & James Wong)
S4:E3 "Teliko" (Howard Gordon)
S4:E4 "Unruhe" (Vince Gilligan)
S4:E5 "The Field Where I Died" (Glen Morgan & James Wong)
S4:E6 "Sanguinarium" (Valerie Mayhew & Vivian Mayhew)
S4:E7 "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man" (Glen Morgan)
S4:E8 "Tunguska" (Frank Spotnitz & Chris Carter)
S4:E9 "Terma" (Frank Spotnitz & Chris Carter)
S4:E10 "Paper Hearts" (Vince Gilligan)
S4:E11 "El Mundo Gira" (John Shiban)
S4:E12 "Leonard Betts" (Vince Gilligan, John Shiban, Frank Spotnitz)
S4:E13 "Never Again" (Glen Morgan & James Wong)
S4:E14 "Memento Mori" (Carter/Gilligan/Shiban/Spotnitz)
S4:E15 "Kaddish" (Howard Gordon)
S4:E16 "Unrequited" (Howard Gordon, Chris Carter)
S4:E17 "Tempus Fugit" (Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz)
S4:E18 "Max" (Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz)
S4:E19 "Synchrony" (Howard Gordon & David Greenwalt)
S4:E20 "Small Potatoes" (Vince Gilligan)
Sinking Into The Mythology (And Marathon Madness)
S4:E21 "Zero Sum" (Howard Gordon & Frank Spotnitz)
S4:E22 "Elegy" (John Shiban)
S4:E23 "Demons" (R.W. Goodwin)
S4:E24 "Gethsemane" (Chris Carter)

Monster-of-the-week Episode of the Season: Home (although I really liked Paper Hearts, too)
Mythology Arc of the Season: Memento Mori/Zero Sum (but only because I'm waiting to award Gethsemane in the next season, along with its two-part follow-up)
Clunker of the Season: It's unanimous, The Field Where I Died just doesn't sit right as an episode of The X-Files.
Underrated Gem of the Season: Unrequited - I don't know why this episode gets so much hate, because I found it to be a thoroughly captivating thriller, and the social commentary didn't bother me at all.

Heavy Mythology Content (These are the essential mythology episodes).
Light Mythology Content (These episodes feature light or incidental mythology-related content).
Must watch! (If you're short on time, or just want to revisit the highlights of the series, these are the best episodes the show has to offer).
Recommended. (While not being the best of the best, these are quality episodes; I recommend viewing them if you have the time).
Good for a viewing. (These are not essential episodes, but if you want to dig deeper into the series, they're worth sitting through).
Skippable. (Unless you are, like me, dedicated to absorbing the series in its entirety, these are the episodes that you can afford to skip).

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