Review for The X-Files: The Event Series
I was going to start with a paragraph of whinge about unoriginal studios resurrecting twenty-year-old TV shows to try and recapture that original lightning in a bottle, but I just caught sight of a Star Trek: The Next Generation boxset out of the corner of my eye, demanding to be watched. Hypocrisy aside, there have to be a few questions asked as to why a show is brought back. There are some who might say, and I’d be one of them, that The X Files outstayed its welcome the first time around, and had well and truly ploughed its particular alien conspiracy furrow. It was also very much a show of its time. Had it been made a few years later, after the widespread ownership of camera phones, and before the advent of Photoshop, it would have been a far shorter series. Mulder: “Look, a UFO”... click ... “got it!” The real question is, what have the X Files got to offer in 2016?
The world in 2016 was a far different place than in 2002, when the series ended. The consequences of the Trade Center attacks and the subsequent war on terror continue to unfold, and as a society we are more interconnected and more monitored than ever before. In the name of security, we continue to sacrifice our fundamental freedoms, and we’re ever more expected to conform to a societal ideal defined by whoever our leaders might be at that particular moment in time. Mass media plays a bigger part in our lives, and digital interconnectedness has replaced community. Against all this, the distrust of government is at a record high, or perhaps it’s been replaced by a whole-hearted cynicism, which you might think would make the X Files more appropriate than ever.
Fox Mulder and Dana Scully spent 9 years together on the X Files, that department in the FBI devoted to investigating the strange, the paranormal, and the supernatural, that which couldn’t be defined by conventional means. For Mulder it was a personal crusade motivated by the abduction of his sister Samantha, and his investigations scratched the surface of a far reaching conspiracy, investigations that soon became personal for Dana Scully as well, after she too was abducted. But the X Files were shut down in 2002. Scully has returned to medicine, while Mulder has become something of a recluse, depressed but still pursuing his obsession. But the partnership is about to resume when they are contacted by the host of a conspiracy theory television show.
The six episodes of The X Files – The Event Series are presented across two Blu-ray discs.
1. My Struggle
Tad O’Malley is a man with clout and with a significant reach with his online conspiracy theory show. It’s enough clout to pull Mulder out his isolation to meet with O’Malley. He’s certainly got the hallmarks of a conspiracy nut, insisting that the meeting takes place in his bullet-proof limousine, but he offers more than just words. He introduces them to a multiple abductee named Sveta who has an interesting twist on the usual abduction stories, and then he takes Mulder to a secret location hosting out-of-this-world technology, but from a very terrestrial source. It leads Mulder to question everything that he has believed in up to this point. With what they learn, Tad O’Malley is ready to go public with this new conspiracy, but that’s something an old face won’t countenance.
2. Founder’s Mutation
A suicide under strange circumstances attracts the attention of the newly re-opened X-Files. The bio-researcher Dr Sanjay was behaving strangely, apparently hearing noises no one else could, locking himself in his lab’s server room, accessing some data, before committing suicide by stabbing himself through the ear. The sole clue is a phrase written on his hand, “Founder’s Mutation”. Investigating further Mulder and Scully discover a wall of photos of children in Sanjay’s apartment, all suffering from some sort of genetic abnormality. It’s no coincidence that the lab’s founder, Dr Augustus Goldman works with such children, but it becomes clear that he’s doing far more than just looking for cures. And then Mulder starts hearing noises.
3. Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster
You can tell by the arc of pencils across the office that Mulder is bored. Worse than that, he’s feeling his age, as he can’t seem to muster up the same enthusiasm for the humanoid monster cases that he had twenty years previously. Then Scully shows up with a new case, several people slain by a monster, a lizard creature. What’s more is that there were witnesses as well. Uncharacteristically, Mulder is more sceptical than his partner, but he’s about to rediscover his faith in the paranormal in the unlikeliest of ways.
4. Home Again
Gentrification is in full effect in Philadelphia, with the homeless becoming pawns in between factions wanting their own part of the city clean and homeless free. There’s no one to speak for them, no one except the band-aid nose man, who appears from his garbage truck, tears his heartless city official victims limb from limb, and then takes mementoes from their corpses and climbs into the back of his truck. That’s typically weird X Files territory, only this time Scully is distracted when her mother has a heart attack.
A terrorist attack in Texas sends Agents Einstein and Miller to the door of the X-Files. One of the suspects survived the suicide bombing, albeit in a persistent vegetative state, barely clinging to life. Agent Miller has an open mind about the paranormal, and wants to know of any means of communicating with the near-dead, in the hope of breaking the terrorist cell before they can attack again. The scientific and rational Agent Einstein thinks that they are wasting their time. Mulder and Scully might be able to help, but not in the way that either of them expect.
6. My Struggle II
Right wing commentator and conspiracy theorist Tad O’Malley has resurfaced with a new angle following his previous report. This time he’s focusing on human DNA, which he believes has been tampered with by the government, the insertion of alien DNA a prelude to the depopulation of the planet. It looks like this particular conspiracy is already coming to pass, as disease outbreaks reach epidemic proportion and the nation’s hospitals are quickly overwhelmed. And while Mulder has gone missing, his house trashed, the one chance of survival might lie in Scully’s blood.
The X Files gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer, and it’s a joy to see it in HD. It was broadcast on Channel 5 before the HD channel went free to view in the UK. The image is clear and sharp, detail levels are excellent, colours are strong and consistent, and there is no problem here with compression or digital banding, and given the X Files usual propensity for darker scenes, that is very much a good thing. The special effects look fine for a television show, although there are a few too many of them. The show was always about misdirection and suggestion, rather than in-your-face effects, so the opening episode’s UFO crash and alien survivor is a little too much. The episode Home Again also offers some flashback clips to the original series, in native HD, and they look pretty good, which bodes well for that complete X Files Blu-ray collection I have on my to watch pile.
You have the option of DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround English, DTS 5.1 Surround French, Spanish, German, and Italian, with subtitles in these languages plus Danish, Dutch, Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian. The iconic theme tune and opening titles are still there, but there was no need for the remix of the end theme. The dialogue is clear throughout, which is the all important thing in the X Files. But generally the audio does a good job in giving this television series a certain level of theatricality when it comes to action and ambience. Mark Snow’s music still sounds as fresh as ever, which after this much time is a delight.
You get two discs in an Amaray case, with one on a central hinged panel, all wrapped in an o-card. The sleeve is reversible too.
After an anti-piracy menu, the discs boot to animated menus. The player will hold the discs’ place in memory when ejected, and pop up a progress bar when pausing or navigating through a disc. You can play all, or select an episode individually.
Disc 1 offers two commentaries, with the first a somewhat mellow but informative commentary on Founder’s Mutation from Chris Carter, and writer director James Wong.
The second is for Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster, and in it, Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny were recorded together, as were writer director Darin Morgan and actor Kumail Nanjiani, and the two commentaries edited together into one. Even given that, it’s still gappy, with Duchovny and Anderson apt to watch the show and giggle rather than comment. It’s a fair commentary regardless.
Disc 2 has the other extra features, beginning with the commentary on My Struggle II from Chris Carter, and producer Gabe Rotter. It’s a somewhat dry track.
There are two deleted scenes on this disc running to 5:21 in total, including the brilliant full length Mulder dance from Babylon.
43:45 – The Makings of a Struggle comprises 5 featurettes, which with a Play All option run to 53:35, and look at the return of the series and the production of the first episode.
Season X gathers 13 featurettes, running to a Play All total of 83:16, and look at all aspects of behind the scenes production detail from all 6 episodes of this mini-season.
You get a 9:38 Gag Reel, which is genuinely funny for a change.
Monsters of the Week: A Recap of the Wildest and Scariest From the Original Series is a long title for a short 10:54 featurette, where fan and actor Kumail Nanjiani counts down a top ten.
The X Files: Green Production last 2:44 and shows how they saved the planet while making the show.
Finally Short Film – Grace by Karen Nielsen is just that, 9:36 long and a completely unrelated story filmed by the script co-ordinator of this mini-series. It is worth a watch though.
The X Files hasn’t dated, which is a surprise, given its 1990s technology and cultural zeitgeist. It’s to do with character writing and cinematic production values which make one of those original series episodes just as watchable today as they were back then. Compare it to something like Star Trek, which back in 1989 wholly looked as if it belonged in the 1960s, and conversely Star Trek: The Next Generation today which has 1980s written all over it. That is to say that despite the smartphones and high speed broadband of our 21st Century era, these X Files episodes could just slot back into the original series with ease. So often revisiting a show decades down the line is a disappointing experience, but this time the magic is very much still there.
It also means that the problems are still there. When the X Files began, much was made of its mythological arcs, the dark, shadow government, the alien conspiracy reaching back to the Roswell crash, and for the first five years this was the best aspect of the show. The standalone 'monster of the week' episodes were good, but we really wanted to see the Cigarette Smoking Man. Yet you could only take that conspiracy arc so far, trying to balance veiled mystery with revelations for eager fans. Post season 6 we entered a cycle of reinvention and reinterpretation that seriously muddied the waters, and got more and more ridiculous. By the time we got to the final season’s Supersoldiers, most fans had turned off, or like me just tuned out the conspiracy arc. Besides, the standalone monster of the week episodes, the deft blend of comedy and horror was by far the best thing about the show, its real strength that had only gotten better and better since the first season.
It happens again in this tenth, mini-season, four relatively stand-alone episodes, bookended by two mythology arc episodes, which once again re-invent the conspiracy, this time making it a wholly human one right from the beginning. There are no aliens actually involved, except for the alien technology that the shadow government was secretly using to subvert the world. For this fan, who had eagerly been awaiting the ‘alien invasion of 2012’ prophesied in the original series finale, this was one reinvention and retcon too far. These mythology arc episodes are the worst in the whole run of the X Files. It’s a shame as the four standalone episodes once again show the X Files at their finest, a blend of horror, comedy and drama with the relationship between Mulder and Scully at the show’s heart.
I think what rankles me most about My Struggle, other than the reinvention of the conspiracy, is that it lays its cards on the table from the get go. The thing about the conspiracies in the original series, even at their daftest, was that there was always a degree of obfuscation, a sense that they were giving with one hand, and snatching back with the other, offering just enough fact to keep the viewer tantalised, but always cloaking it enough to keep the viewer guessing as well. In My Struggle, right from the beginning, we see the UFO crash, the alien, we get told the new nature of the conspiracy, we get alien DNA, we get Mulder taken on a whistle stop tour of a UFO factory, there’s nothing hidden anymore. And to top it all off, The X Files resurrects an antagonist that we last saw disintegrating in a ball of napalm fire. Then there’s my pet Hollywood hate of magic medicine, where doctors come up with a cure for a disease in a matter of hours, test it, mass produce it, and presumably get Federal approval for human use by the end of the episode. If only real life worked like that. There are times when the My Struggle two-parter feels like a parody, and the worst is left for the final scene, an obvious holdout for a follow up series with one of the X Files trademark cliff-hangers, only this time it feels unearned.
It’s odd, as a couple of the stand-alone episodes might be considered parodies in a way, but they wind up feeling more like heartfelt homage, rewarding the faith of long-term fans instead of insulting their intelligence. Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster is the perfect example of that, a comedy episode in the vein of some of the best such X Files, this time seeing the intrepid duo take on a monster that turned into a human once it was bitten. Beginning with a Mulder bored and disillusioned in the X Files office, it takes him on a journey of rediscovery, finding what made the paranormal and supernatural so compelling to him in the first place, and in a way, the viewer goes on the same journey as well. It pushes the boundaries of credibility at times (Mulder’s ringtone is the X Files theme), but it’s a delightfully nostalgic episode.
The same could be said of Babylon, although it balances its humour with a rather dark and contemporary storyline about Islamic terrorism, exploring what it takes to convince a young man to sacrifice his life in the name of a twisted ideology. Perhaps it’s with a view to a future series that this episode introduced the Mulder and Scully clones, Miller and Einstein, a couple of younger agents with similar outlooks to Mulder and Scully when it comes to the mysterious, although they are obviously at the start of their journey. They serve as a mirror for the main characters and things do get a little meta again, while Mulder’s mushroom trip is probably the funniest moment in the mini-series, which also temporarily brings back a trio of fan favourites, although they at least have the good sense to stay dead.
The other two episodes are darker, more serious, and play strongly with the show’s mythology, the characters back stories, specifically Mulder and Scully’s son William, who was given up for adoption soon after birth to protect him from the conspiracies that so often endangered his parents. Fifteen years on, it’s understandable that thoughts of their son play on Mulder and Scully’s minds, particularly in Founder’s Mutation, which sees a scientist experimenting on children, altering their genes in the womb. It carries on from the Alien DNA storyline in My Struggle, although in a more considered way. This has resulted in a menagerie of children with genetic disorders that he ostensibly researches, but it turns out his actual research is funded by the military, looking to breed their own X-Men.
I had flashbacks to one of the X Files more controversial episodes when I got to Home Again, but thankfully it’s not a sequel to Home. It is this season’s creepiest episode though, with property developers thinking little of uprooting and relocating the homeless, and with only an urban myth, a piece of street art brought to life through the power of suggestion, standing as their champion. The Band-Aid Nose Man is a monster of the icky order that’ll get your skin crawling. And pity poor Mulder and Scully’s families, who tended not to survive the X Files. Of their parents, only Scully’s mother survived to this point, and her one appearance here is as a heart attack victim, the b-story running in parallel to monster storyline, once again forcing Scully to confront the choices she has made in her life, most particularly that of William.
It was The Event of last winter, the long awaited return of a much loved series, three years too late. There really should have been a movie in 2012, or a series looking at the alien invasion, but by missing it, it required a re-invention of the show’s mythology that resulted in two of the weakest mythology episodes of the X Files to date, and that includes season 9. But all is not lost, as the four standalone episodes in this mini-series are classic X Files, and well worth shelling out for if you are a fan of the original show. This Blu-ray release doesn’t stint on the extra features either, while the original series Blu-ray collection actually has a gap in the box for this season.