Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The X-Files - Writers Roundup (Part 1)


In this feature, I will place a focus on the various writers that contributed to The X-Files throughout its nine seasons. In this part, we will take a look at the early trailblazers who left their mark and then left the show before it had reached its halfway point.

Glen Morgan & James Wong

Glen Morgan & James Wong only wrote 15 episodes for three of the first four seasons, but they were right there from the beginning, earning the first writing credit after Chris Carter. Their writing was, for the most part, consistently good (notwithstanding The Field Where I Died, and their connections to 3). They wrote the very first freak-of-the-week episode (Squeeze), and its sequel, as well as the episodes in which The Lone Gunmen and Assistant Director Walter Skinner first appeared (E.B.E., and Tooms, respectively). They also wrote one of my favorite standalone episodes in the entire series (Beyond The Sea), as well as my top favorite single mythology episode (One Breath). Also very popular is their first season episode Ice, a tribute to sci-fi/horror classic The Thing.

After giving us our first flashback to Samantha's abduction in Little Green Men, the writing duo left the show in the second season - their farewell episode, the Satanic-themed Die Hand die Verletzt, a loving celebration of the kind of scary fun stories The X-Files was created to tell - in order to launch their own show, Space: Above and Beyond. But after it was cancelled following its first season, Morgan & Wong returned to The X-Files in the fourth season, to write four more episodes before leaving for good. Two of those episodes are all-time greats - the stark and horrifying Home, which was the first episode in the series to earn a content advisory warning, and Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man, which constructed a larger-than-life biography for the series' main villain.

 Season 1: Squeeze, Shadows, Ice, Beyond The Sea, E.B.E., Tooms
 Season 2: Little Green Men, Blood*, One Breath, 3**, Die Hand die Verletzt
 Season 4: Home, The Field Where I Died, Musings of a CSM***, Never Again

* Story by Darin Morgan
** with Chris Ruppenthal
*** Written by Glen Morgan; Directed by James Wong

My Ranking (from best to worst):
One Breath, Beyond The Sea, Musings of a CSM, Die Hand die Verletzt,
Little Green Men, Home, E.B.E., Ice, Tooms, Blood, Squeeze,
Shadows, 3, Never Again, The Field Where I Died

Howard Gordon

I feel like Howard Gordon doesn't get enough credit. Everybody talks about Morgan & Wong, Vince Gilligan, Carter & Spotnitz, but I rarely hear about Howard Gordon, who later went on to work on the hit series 24. Yet he wrote or contributed to the writing of 20 episodes throughout the first four seasons of the show - as many or more than Morgan & Wong were responsible for, rivaled only by Chris Carter himself, at least until Frank Spotnitz burst on to the scene. Perhaps he didn't write as many standout episodes, but I feel like he was the reliable backbone of the series in its early years - like the bass player in a rock band.*

*(Chris Carter would have been the singer and main songwriter. Morgan & Wong would have been the original guitarist and drummer. Frank Spotnitz would have been the keyboard player that was added on their second album, to share the songwriting duties. After Morgan & Wong quit the band, Darin would have been the interrim guitarist who recorded for one album before leaving, after which Vince Gilligan would have joined the band full-time. I guess that makes John Shiban the new party animal drummer).

With his writing partner Alex Gansa, Gordon laid down six episodes in the first season that included the mythology-laced Conduit and Fallen Angel, and several middle-of-the-road freak-of-the-week episodes (my favorite being Lazarus). I feel like the quality of his episodes improved in the second season, with such gems as the underrated and highly atmospheric Død Kalm, and the truly standout F. Emasculata, which he wrote with Chris Carter. But even Sleepless and Fresh Bones are solid episodes.

In the third season, he was responsible for D.P.O., and another one of my favorites - Grotesque - while contributing to the mythology episode Nisei, and working with David Duchovny on the story to create the first Skinner-centric episode, Avatar. In the fourth season, Gordon wrote a couple more middle-of-the-road freak-of-the-week episodes, along with the underrated Unrequited, which he again wrote with Chris Carter, and the second Skinner-centric episode, Zero Sum, with help from mythology maven Frank Spotnitz.

 Season 1: Conduit*, Ghost in the Machine*, Fallen Angel*,
                 Lazarus*, Miracle Man**, Born Again*
 Season 2: Sleepless, Firewalker, Fresh Bones, Død Kalm*, F. Emasculata**
 Season 3: D.P.O., Nisei***, Grotesque, Avatar
 Season 4: Teliko, Kaddish, Unrequited**, Synchrony††, Zero Sum†††

* with Alex Gansa
** with Chris Carter
*** with Chris Carter & Frank Spotnitz
† with story ideas from David Duchovny
†† with David Greenwalt
††† with Frank Spotnitz

My Ranking (from best to worst):
Nisei, F. Emasculata, Grotesque, Zero Sum, Fallen Angel,
Død Kalm, Unrequited, Conduit, Synchrony, Sleepless,
Avatar, Fresh Bones, Lazarus, D.P.O., Teliko, Kaddish,
Firewalker, Ghost in the Machine, Miracle Man, Born Again

Darin Morgan

Much has been made of Darin Morgan elsewhere, and by fans who have a more thorough appreciation of his work than I do, so I'm not going to say a whole lot here. Darin was a smart and funny writer, who first appeared (under heavy makeup) as the Flukeman in the season 2 episode The Host. From there, he contributed the story to the episode Blood, before writing his own script. That script was Humbug, which was the first time anyone had envisioned The X-Files as a comedy. In the third season, Darin wrote his best episodes, which are some of the best episodes of the entire series. My favorite is Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space', which is a clever deconstruction of the show. But Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose (which won an Emmy for writing, as well as for guest star Peter Boyle) is also very good. War of the Coprophages is not as fantastic, but is still a funny and original episode. Though uncredited, lore has it that Darin Morgan also contributed to the episode Quagmire, which is another standout episode from the third season. His last connection with the show was in the role of Eddie Van Blundht in the fourth season episode Small Potatoes, written by Vince Gilligan.

 Season 2: Blood*, Humbug
 Season 3: Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose, War of the Coprophages,
                 Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'

* Story credit; Teleplay by Glen Morgan & James Wong

My Ranking (from best to worst):
Jose Chung, Quagmire (uncredited), Clyde Bruckman,
War of the Coprophages, Blood, Humbug

Stay tuned for Part 2, in which we tackle series creator Chris Carter!

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