Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The X-Files - Season 5 (1997-8)

[ Season 4 <<< The X-Files >>> Season 6 ]

Season 5 runs about a month shorter than the four seasons that preceded it, but this is due in large part to production on the series' first feature film, released during the summer following this season. The show remains as polished as it was the previous year, but this is the first time in the series where I've felt that a season hasn't improved in quality from one year to the next. The freak-of-the-week episodes are all of a generally high caliber, but fewer of them stand out the way they did in the previous season. With fewer episodes, the mythology has less room to explore, but there is still much to get excited about.

The resolution to last season's finale in Redux/Redux II, and Patient X/The Red and the Black - a return to form which finally begins to tie some of the disparate mythology elements in the show together - are some of the highlights of the season, and fare better than when the writers resort to the kind of emotional schmaltz that worked better in the last season. We are introduced to some new recurring characters, in the form of Agents Jeffrey Spender and Diana Fowley. The season finale is a mixed bag, but features a heartbreaking conclusion that rightly leaves room for the upcoming movie to do the talking.

As if to counter the heavy emotional weight of the mythology episodes at this point in the series, lighter elements of humor are added more consistently to the freak-of-the-week episodes than ever before. But I'm not sure that's for the best, as I like a good, dark freak-of-the-week episode. Vince Gilligan is once again the MVP of the season. Bad Blood - a comedic approach to the Rashomon effect with vampires - is the highlight of the season, but Unusual Suspects is also an entertaining treatment of The Lone Gunmen's origin story. Travelers is another flashback episode, which explores the origins of the X-Files project in the era of Mulder's father.

Kill Switch, Mind's Eye, and The Pine Bluff Variant are all good, serious episodes, while Detour, Schizogeny, and Folie a Deux are the season's straightest examples of a more traditional freak-of-the-week approach. The Post-Modern Prometheus - an homage to Frankenstein both written and directed by Chris Carter (and filmed in black-and-white) - is highly-praised, but I found its quirky, self-conscious tone to be frankly a little off-putting. Kitsunegari brings back a popular freak from a previous season's episode, and Chinga is notable in that it was co-written by Stephen King.

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

S5:E1 "Redux" (Chris Carter)
S5:E2 "Redux II" (Chris Carter)
S5:E3 "Unusual Suspects" (Vince Gilligan)
S5:E4 "Detour" (Frank Spotnitz)
S5:E5 "The Post-Modern Prometheus" (Chris Carter)
S5:E6 "Christmas Carol" (Vince Gilligan, John Shiban, Frank Spotnitz)
S5:E7 "Emily" (Vince Gilligan, John Shiban, Frank Spotnitz)
S5:E8 "Kitsunegari" (Vince Gilligan & Tim Minear)
S5:E9 "Schizogeny" (Jessica Scott & Mike Wollaeger)
S5:E10 "Chinga" (Stephen King & Chris Carter)
S5:E11 "Kill Switch" (William Gibson & Tom Maddox)
S5:E12 "Bad Blood" (Vince Gilligan)
S5:E13 "Patient X" (Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz)
S5:E14 "The Red and the Black" (Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz)
S5:E15 "Travelers" (John Shiban & Frank Spotnitz)
S5:E16 "Mind's Eye" (Tim Minear)
S5:E17 "All Souls" (Shiban/Spotnitz; Billy Brown & Dan Angel)
S5:E18 "The Pine Bluff Variant" (John Shiban)
S5:E19 "Folie a Deux" (Vince Gilligan)
S5:E20 "The End" (Chris Carter)

Monster-of-the-week Episode of the Season: Bad Blood
Mythology Arc of the Season: Gethsemane/Redux/Redux II (although Patient X/The Red and the Black is also fantastic)
Clunker of the Season: The popular choice would be Schizogeny, but I found it to be an imaginative episode. I'd hate to vote Chris Carter's experimental The Post-Modern Prometheus, even though I didn't really enjoy it, so I'll pick All Souls - this season's "Scully is religious" episode - instead.
Underrated Gem of the Season: Schizogeny - I'm not claiming it's one of the best episodes of the season, but for all the disdain it receives, it's a perfectly enjoyable standard freak-of-the-week episode. Does nobody else appreciate the inherent cool factor in killer trees?

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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