Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The X-Files - Seasonal Awards (Over and Under)

The unsung (and over-inflated) heroes of The X-Files; that is, the most overrated - and underrated - episodes from each season!

The purpose of this list is merely to communicate my subjective opinion - the goal of any and all self-expression. But also to provide a voice of dissent, in what is often a conformity-driven social economy - which is the hallmark of free speech. I have a lot of respect for independent thought, and so opinions that run counter to popular consensus hold a special appeal for me. I don't court controversy for its own sake, because honesty to one's self means aggreeing with consensus when that's genuinely how you feel - which lends all the more weight to your voice when you speak out against the mold. But if I make some people mad with some of the choices on this list, that means I'm doing it right. On the other hand, I'd be delighted to learn that there are others out there who agree with me (not necessarily on every point), because when you are bucking the trend, it can be mighty comforting to know that you are not facing the whole world alone. Regardless, I hope you'll get some entertainment out of this list either way.

Obligatory Disclaimer: I'm sure I will have reminded you of this plenty of times before the end of this list, but overrated episodes are not necessarily bad episodes, and underrated episodes are not necessarily "good" episodes (although I might very well think so) - they are just the episodes for which my opinion, and the opinion of the general masses (at least to the extent that I can know that opinion, which I fully admit is biased by the too small sample of a few other review blogs I read) differ the most widely.

Season 1

Opinions on the first season are surprisingly stable - everyone loves Beyond The Sea and The Erlenmeyer Flask, everyone hates Space and Ghost in the Machine (while I might not actually hate them as much as everyone else does, I still don't think they're exactly great episodes) - so please note that my picks in this season are going to be "grasping at straws" more than usual.

Overrated: Squeeze
Reason: I'm not saying this is a bad episode - it's actually a great introduction to the freak-of-the-week formula, with a creepy monster. It's just that, considering all the better episodes that followed it in later seasons, the fact that Eugene Victor Tooms was the first doesn't necessarily make him one of the best freaks of the week this show ever had.

Underrated: E.B.E.
Reason: E.B.E. is overshadowed by the season finale, which delivers the payoff that this episode lacks, but it really is a fantastic episode. And the fact that you don't actually see anything in the end only contributes to its riddling theme of not knowing who to trust or what to believe.

Season 2

Overrated: Humbug
Reason: I know Darin Morgan's legacy is unimpeachable, but this is my least favorite of his scripts. The blatantly comedic tone is just all wrong for an episode of The X-Files; and the fact that, in hindsight, it was the catalyst that eventually led to the series embracing comedy en masse, only hurts it further in my mind.

Underrated: Død Kalm
Reason: Putting aside the admittably iffy makeup effects, this is a very moody episode set on a ghost ship that even manages to tie in references to Ragnarök - the Scandinavian Armageddon. What's not to love?

Season 3

Overrated: Oubliette
Reason: Season 3 is a solid season. It gets a lot of love, but then, it has a lot of good episodes. I think that the episodes that get most of the attention really deserve it. To the extent that Syzygy gets any positive attention, I think it could be considered overrated, but I'm guessing that Oubliette is more generally regarded as a decent episode, whereas I found it to be thoroughly underwhelming. It's far from one of the best examples of the show confronting the dark (and clichéd) subject matter of all-too-human monsters attacking innocent young girls. For that, I recommend either Irresistible, or Paper Hearts. But even Sein und Zeit is a better choice than this episode that's best left forgotten.

Underrated: The List
Reason: Call me shallow, but the look and feel of this episode - taking place largely in a prison, and filmed in a sickly green palette - is immaculate. And the fact that not even Mulder with his genius talent can figure out the game by episode's end makes for a satisfyingly frustrating (if that makes sense) scene in which he has no choice but to just give up and let events run their course. You can't win 'em all. For standalone (non-mythology) episodes written and directed by Chris Carter, I'd take this one over The Post-Modern Prometheus and Triangle combined, any day of the week.

Season 4

Overrated: Small Potatoes OR Never Again
Reason: I consider Small Potatoes to be a little overrated in that it's not one of the greatest episodes in the series, but it's still a decent episode. Some people like Never Again, though, and I thought that episode was pretty forgettable. I just don't think it's "cool" or "fun" to envision Mulder and Scully's relationship as being dysfunctional.

Underrated: Unrequited
Reason: I don't know why this episode gets so much hate (or pointed ambivalence, if such a thing is possible), because I found it to be a thoroughly captivating thriller from start to finish, and the social commentary on war vets didn't bother me at all.

Season 5

Overrated: The Post-Modern Prometheus
Reason: Yeah, yeah, people cite this as a pinnacle of the series - an artistic (ooh, it's shot in black-and-white!) tribute to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, one of writer/director and series creator Chris Carter's primary influences. But it neither captures the horror nor the wonder of Frankenstein. It relies too much on goofy humor, and a puppy-dog-eyes conclusion. The final scene involves the cast dancing at a Cher concert. Need I say more?

Underrated: Schizogeny
Reason: 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 cool factor inherent to the concept of killer trees? And you people say I'm no fun!

Season 6

Overrated: Triangle OR The Unnatural
Reason: Both of these episodes are adored by fans, and I found both of them to be exceedingly dull. I'm not sure which is worse. Triangle at least has a neat camera trick going for it, but that's really not enough to salvage it, when it devolves into a swingin' brawl between Mulder and an eerily familiar cast of WWII-era Nazis. The Unnatural, meanwhile, has a lot of "heart", but that's not what I'm looking for in an X-Files episode.

Underrated: Milagro
Reason: There are a few surprisingly good episodes in this season - S.R. 819, Tithonus, and Trevor among them - but I don't think any of them are seriously lacking in fan appreciation. This includes Milagro, but, going at least by The AV Club's review (and they're a fairly influential website), it seems to me that, for as good as I think the episode is (you'll note that it made my Top 12 episodes list for Thanksgiving, in spite of turning up in the sixth season), I do think it's under-appreciated. And as far as I'm concerned, no amount of praise for this episode would be enough.

Season 7

Overrated: X-COPS
Reason: This is another example of an episode that is not bad, per se, but whose reputation I feel is a little over-inflated. Honestly, it utilizes a brilliant premise - a crossover between The X-Files and COPS - but the result is less than exceptional. And contrary to some fans' opinions that I've encountered, this is not one of the best episodes of the season. It's not "the last great X-File", either. (That would have to be Field Trip, unless you're counting the Doggett years, in which case Roadrunners or Via Negativa are strong contenders).

Underrated: The Sixth Extinction
Reason: I considered picking En Ami, which is really one of the only true standout episodes in this season, but while I don't hear a lot of people extolling its virtues, I don't hear a lot of people panning it either - it doesn't get much attention either way. On the other hand, opinions on The Sixth Extinction are split. Amor Fati may not have been a completely satisfying conclusion to the three-parter, but I'm of the opinion that The Sixth Extinction is one of the better mytharcs in this late era of the series. Instead of unsatisfyingly wrapping up long overdue story threads - like Two Fathers/One Son and Sein und Zeit/Closure were laboriously tasked with doing - this episode and its predecessor, the season 6 finale, Biogenesis, most closely captured the adventure and excitement of the series' earlier mytharcs.

Season 8

Overrated: Redrum
Reason: I had heard good things about Redrum - and don't get me wrong, it's a perfectly solid episode. But it's not one of the best episodes of the season, not even within the standalone format. In comparison, Roadrunners is an episode that deserves its reputation as one of the highlights of the season, and Via Negativa (which I'd heard less about beforehand) is even better.

Underrated: Badlaa
Reason: Again, I won't go so far as to say that this is a good episode, but it's one of those that is so easy to single out, that I think it gets more criticism than it deserves. Yes, the premise is ridiculous. And yes, this episode is probably the worst offender in terms of demonstrating poor taste in a series that occasionally delights in grossing out its audience. But it's really got a lot of guts; it doesn't hold back at all. And for that, I think it deserves at least a little bit of respect. Plus, it has to earn at least a few points for effectively creating nightmare fuel. Right?

Season 9

Overrated: Sunshine Days
Reason: I think Improbable is pretty overrated, too, but since I already singled it out as the worst episode in season 9, and I've already listed at least two of Chris Carter's other "masterpieces" (said with tongue planted firmly in cheek) on this list, I'll go with Sunshine Days. Vince Gilligan's last script for the series, I've heard a lot more positives than negatives about it, even though I feel it fumbles with the potential of its concept - an eerie take on a cheery icon of familial bliss (the Brady Bunch house) - and drowns in the end under its sappy, feel-good tone, which also infects the closing scene of the series finale that followed it.

Underrated: Underneath
Reason: To be honest, I was surprised when I learned that there are people who actually dislike this episode. I thought it was great! It's a good, old-fashioned X-File featuring a serial killer with a supernatural twist. Although I guess that's its problem, because at this stage of the series, fans are used to preferring the wacky episodes like Improbable. But Underneath gives us a fascinating look into Doggett's past as a New York cop (that doesn't involve his son for once), has some great fx, and does a good job of balancing Scully in with Doggett and Reyes in a season where Scully was little more than set dressing in the non-mythology episodes.

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