Monday, December 14, 2015

The X-Files - Series Highlights (Part 3)

a.k.a. L.A. X-Files

(View Part 1 for an introduction to this series).

Warning: I will repeat the spoiler warning I used for the last installment. While I don't intend for this post to be especially spoilerry, those viewers wishing to be totally surprised by what they find in a given episode (especially as regards which episodes certain characters appear in, or survive unto) may want to skip over the text passages and, if trusting my episode selection, merely browse the episode titles for a guide to what to watch.

Fight The Future

Curriculum: Obviously, I couldn't pass up putting the first X-Files movie on my essential viewing list. If it's not the best thing The X-Files ever produced (and it might be), it's definitely up there, and it's a noted pinnacle of the series. It's a perfect summation of the X-Files' mythology writ large, on the big screen. And it's designed to be just as enjoyable to first-time fans as hardcore obsessives. If you only have time to watch one X-Files thing - make it the movie. It's the best way to get a satisfying taste of what The X-Files is all about, without diving into a long time commitment that requires more and more episodes of viewing with every corner you turn. (Although that approach has its merit, as well, for those with the time and inclination to dig deeper into the series).

Season 6 (6 episodes)

How The Ghosts Stole Christmas
Two Fathers / One Son
Field Trip

Curriculum: Post-Fight The Future, the sixth and seventh seasons of The X-Files were originally planned to be the last. As such, the mythology is largely concerned with tying up loose ends. Unfortunately, the answers we get are not equal to the questions that have been posed, and so the mythology is not as captivating as it's been in the past. On the other hand, one would be hard-pressed to resist the curiosity to see how the series attempts to wrap up various parts of its mythology. For that reason, I include Two Fathers/One Son, billed as "full disclosure" for the government conspiracy involving the colonization of the planet by an alien force. As I said, the conclusion to this story thread is neither truly conclusive, nor fully satisfactory, but it's worth watching just for the importance of its position in the series' overarching mythology.

As for the rest of the season, I've chosen a nice handful of very good quality (in spite of the overall lighter tone of this season) standalone episodes. First is How The Ghosts Stole Christmas, which is a heartwarming hybrid of a Christmas and Halloween episode, and my favorite of those non-mythology episodes both written and directed by Chris Carter. Monday is a fun episode wherein Mulder gets trapped in a Groundhog Day-like time loop. Milagro is an excellent, dramatic episode where Scully is targeted by an eerily charismatic writer. And Field Trip is a compelling foray into a Lynchian world of hallucinations that examines Mulder and Scully's raisons d'etre.

Extracurricular Episodes (Mythology): I would have included Biogenesis (and the following two episodes that continue the story arc into the seventh season) in the curriculum, which better capture the feel of the show's classic mythology, and may even be better episodes than Two Fathers/One Son, if not for the latter's myth-ending importance, and the fact that it wouldn't be fair (or make sense) to include that many myth episodes in the highlights reel when I had to cut even better episodes from earlier seasons out. Nevertheless, they remain compelling episodes if you have the extra time for them. The only other myth episode in this season that's worth seeing is the surprisingly good standalone S.R. 819, a conspiracy thriller that critically examines Skinner's mission statement.

Extracurricular Episodes (Freak-of-the-week): This is one of those seasons where fans' opinions on the best episodes are greatly divided depending on what you like. I've picked out my favorite of the more serious, darker-toned standalone episodes. If that's what you like, you might also want to watch Drive (written by Vince Gilligan and starring Bryan Cranston), Terms of Endearment (starring Bruce Campbell as a man cursed with fathering the antichrist), and Tithonus (a grim portrait of immortality). Triangle is a popular episode - although, frankly, I didn't like it much. It's one of Chris Carter's directorial experiments, in which Mulder gets warped via the Bermuda Triangle to a confrontation with the Nazis.

If you're more of the romantic and/or comedy persuasion, you'll probably enjoy such episodes as the two-part Dreamland (in which Mulder switches bodies with an Area 51 employee to arguably humorous results), The Rain King (a sappy-funny Valentine's Day episode), Arcadia (in which Mulder and Scully go undercover as a suburban married couple), and The Unnatural (a period episode about baseball, written and directed by David Duchovny). Finally, if you can't get enough of The Lone Gunmen, you won't want to miss Three of a Kind, although it's little more than a rehash of season 5's Unusual Suspects.

Season 7 (4 episodes)

Sein und Zeit / Closure
En Ami

Curriculum: It's sad, but, aside from one, I don't feel that any of the episodes in this season are really essentials - highlights of the series. There are good episodes, to be sure, but no true standouts that demand to be watched. I mean, it's like, if you have extra time to watch more episodes by this point in the series, you may as well just go back and catch some of the great episodes you skipped earlier in the series, that didn't make the list because there were just too many of a high quality to include them all. Depending on which ones you pick, I can't honestly say any of the episodes in this season would be a better choice.

That having been said, I've included Sein und Zeit/Closure for the same reason that I included Two Fathers/One Son from the last season. This is the two-parter that concludes the Samantha arc, and finally reveals the answer to the singular question driving the series: what happened to Mulder's sister. The answer is more than a little disappointing, but given the importance of this storyline to the series, one struggles to ignore it, like peeking through one's fingers at a scene of horrible carnage. In contrast, En Ami - an episode written by William B. Davis with a focus on Scully - is the one episode of the season that I would consider a standout. Requiem is included also as the season finale, which at the time served as a potential series finale. It's a nostalgic throwback to the pilot, and the period at the end of the sentence that is the Mulder-era of The X-Files, leading way into the eight and ninth seasons when David Duchovny left the show and Robert Patrick came in to replace him.

Extracurricular Episodes (Mythology): Looks like I covered all the mythology episodes in this season already, except for The Sixth Extinction/Amor Fati, which is probably even better than Sein Und Zeit/Closure, and maybe even Requiem, but was left off for reasons that were explained above in relation to Biogenesis. If you have the time, you can certainly watch them. You're also free, of course, to veto my selections and watch the three-part season-wraparound instead of the episodes I picked, but before you accuse me of making the wrong decision, just go ahead and try to skip the episodes that explain what happened to Samantha. I dare you.

Extracurricular Episodes (Freak-of-the-week): If you want to sample the best of this season's straightforward freak-of-the-week episodes, I recommend Signs & Wonders, and Theef. Millennium is also good, but serves as a coda to Chris Carter's other series of that name, so will appeal mainly to fans of that series. I also liked Brand X, although it's not rated as highly, and Rush is a good middle-of-the-road freak-of-the-week episode involving teens. Fans of season 2's Irresistible - and its freak, Donnie Pfaster - will surely want to catch Orison. Vince Gilligan fans will note his episodes, which tend to run lighthearted and experimental this season: Hungry, told from the point of view of the monster; X-COPS, a clever if flawed crossover with the show COPS; and Je Souhaite, in which Mulder meets a genie who grants him three wishes. Fans of Gillian Anderson might be curious about the episode she wrote and directed - all things - although I don't like it enough to recommend it; David Duchovny's episode this season - Hollywood A.D. - on the other hand, is worth watching (more so than his episode last season), but mainly if you enjoy comedy and self-parody.


Stay tuned for Part 4! (The final part!)

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