Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The X-Files - Series Highlights (Part 2)

a.k.a. Mainstream X-Files

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

For my Series Highlights feature, I was originally going to split the show into thirds - with three seasons covered in each part. But I've decided that the season 5-6 split is such a landmark breaking point for the show, for a number of reasons. The first X-Files movie was released. Production was moved from Vancouver to L.A., marking a drastic change in the feel of the sixth season compared to the fifth. And because I'm anticipating another drastic change between seasons 7 and 8, when Mulder disappears and Robert Patrick comes to the show, I've decided that it makes a lot more sense to split the remaining 6 seasons of the show into three pairs, rather than two triplets. Which means you'll get more entries more often!

Warning: I will repeat (in summary) 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.

Season 4 (7 episodes)

Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man
Paper Hearts
Leonard Betts
Memento Mori
Small Potatoes

Curriculum: Season 4 is really a quality season, so I had to cut out a lot of good episodes. On the other hand, it has less multi-part mythology episodes that I've deemed essential, so that helps make room. Home is an infamous freak-of-the-week episode, and has the reputation of being one of the most disturbed in the entire series, and the first (only?) to require a parental advisory. Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man is a well-crafted biography of the series' central villain. One of Vince Gilligan's ace scripts, Paper Hearts is a gritty episode that posits an alternate (and more terrestrial) possible explanation for Samantha's abduction. Leonard Betts is an all-around good quality episode, which is fun, gross, and has good dialogue. As the series' most-watched episode, it's a good choice for casual fans (whether they've never seen it before, or whether it might be one that they remember). But mostly, it earns its place on this list for the revelation at its conclusion, which forms the central subject of the heartbreaking mythology episode Memento Mori, for which Gillian Anderson won an Emmy. The light-hearted Small Potatoes serves as a brief respite from the emotional weight of season 4. I wouldn't personally vote it one of the best episodes in the series, but its sheer popularity among fans (as well as the much-talked-about "date" scene between Mulder and Scully), legitimately earns it "essential viewing" status. Finally, the season finale, Gethsemane, kicks off another one of the all-time greatest mythology arcs of the series, which will continue into the fifth season.

Extracurricular Episodes (Mythology): Those willing to devote more time to the mythology may want to watch the premiere, Herrenvolk, which continues from the last season's finale, and deals with the colonization plot. It also introduces Marita Covarrubias. Tunguska/Terma is certainly worth watching, particularly for fans of Krycek and/or the Black Oil, even though the mythology content is a bit convoluted. Tempus Fugit/Max is a bit of a detour from the main branch of the mythology at this stage of the show, but is a good couple of episodes, and recommended for fans of the first season's mythology, or especially of the character Max Fenig. Zero Sum is one of those good episodes that I had to cut out for time. It's another Skinner-centric episode, and expands on the deal he makes in Memento Mori, as well as the bees that are involved in the colonization plot, and includes a notable development for Marita Covarrubias' character. Finally, Demons is a recommended watch for those who have the time for it, as it is a captivating mystery-thriller that delves into Mulder's memories of his sister's abduction.

Extracurricular Episodes (Freak-of-the-week): Unruhe, another Vince Gilligan episode, starring Pruitt Taylor Vince as a maniac, while not on the level of Paper Hearts for me, personally, is still very much worth watching. For those who enjoy gross-out, Sanguinarium has much to recommend it. El Mundo Gira is a rather fun episode, about the Mexican legend of the chupacabra. Those who'd like to see Scully's dark side may want to watch Never Again, in which she hooks up with a man who hears his tattoo talking to him (voiced by Jodie Foster!). Personally, I thought Unrequited, about a POW with advanced stealth tactics enacting revenge on the U.S. government, was a very riveting episode. Synchrony may be worth a view for physicists and those interested in time travel paradoxes. Elegy (about a mentally-handicapped man who experiences death omens) is an alright episode, but has some good emotional scenes that tie in to the themes of Memento Mori.

Season 5 (6 episodes)

Redux / Redux II
Unusual Suspects
Bad Blood
Patient X / The Red and the Black

Curriculum: The two-part season premiere, Redux/Redux II, concludes the exciting arc began in last season's Gethsemane, and resolves one of Scully's main character struggles. Unusual Suspects is an entertaining flashback to when The Lone Gunmen first got together. Bad Blood is one of the series' more successful comedy episodes, which examines the case of a possible vampire through the contradicting perspectives of Mulder and Scully. Patient X/The Red and the Black, which introduces Jeffrey Spender and sees the return of Alex Krycek, is one of the more compelling mythology arcs in the series that deals with the Alien Bounty Hunter and the Black Oil, tying them together for the first time.

Extracurricular Episodes (Mythology): This is a short season, and its highlights are once again the mythology episodes, so the really good ones have already been included in the curriculum. Certainly, if you're giving more time to the mythology, you can watch the season finale, The End, which introduces Diana Fowley and mind-reading wunderkind Gibson Praise, although if you're strapped for time, you're better off going straight to the movie. Although in the form of a period freak-of-the-week episode, Travelers is worth watching to see the origin of the X-Files project. Christmas Carol/Emily may be worth viewing if you're a Scully fan (or just like watching Gillian Anderson cry), but is otherwise safe to pass up.

Extracurricular Episodes (Freak-of-the-week): Any of the freak-of-the-week episodes this season are good enough to sit down and watch if you have time - choosing which ones is just a matter of what interests you. Shippers, and those who enjoyed the "conversation on the rock" in Quagmire, will want to watch Detour. The Post-Modern Prometheus - Chris Carter's tribute to Frankenstein - is highly praised, and would probably make most people's essential viewing lists, but I simply didn't like it that much. Kitsunegari features the return of the freak from season 3's Pusher. Schizogeny isn't very highly-rated, but is an imaginative episode about killer trees. Chinga, about a cursed doll, was co-written by Stephen King. Kill Switch is pure cyberpunk. Mind's Eye is about a blind woman who can see through the eyes of a killer. All Souls is this season's episode about Scully's faith. The Pine Bluff Variant is a conspiracy thriller about a terrorist militia with bio-weapons. And Folie a Deux concerns itself with a corporate invasion of insect people. Take your pick!


Stay tuned for Part 3! I anticipate having it ready and posted before Christmas.

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