Season Five of the X-Files begins as an immediate successor to Season Four before veering off into what feel like wildly different directions. The characters are the same, the paranormal elements are (usually) there, but something about it isn’t quite parallel. Mulder’s new-found skepticism is a big part of it. It’s as though, after coming so perilously close to The Truth by the end of last season, there was some need within the narrative to pull away from that. But whereas the previous odd-numbered season did it by injecting humor and whimsy, this one uses a more serious tone and plays with other, neglected1 tropes.
Season Five seems to rely on some role reversals: Scully as the (reluctant) believe, Mulder as the doubter, conspiracies that are present but mundane and solvable. In a lot of ways, it’s the spiritual successor to Season Two because it shows our protagonists at important crossroads. Considering Season Five’s position in the Series timeline2, perhaps there are sound reasons to construct this arc in the narrative.
- Redux. As the episode’s title suggests, it picks up where Season Four left off. In many ways, it is a reiteration of events from the Season Four finale: some gaps are filled in, some alternate perspectives on the events are explored3 — but overall it is a strong start to the season. We are right in the thick of it and the conspiracy angle is strong, especially with respect to how they have wrapped the “extraterrestrial” bits into a larger and perhaps scarier proposition — that the government uses such preposterousness as a smokescreen for more mundane but more wicked experimentation.
- Redux II. Part two of two, and a game-changing episode. Mulder is so close to the conspiracy he has chased that he must be able to taste it; the “false positive” that closes the previous episode turns out to be a copy of the chip in Scully’s neck4 and the cure to her cancer. Cancer Man approaches Mulder, trying to cut a deal with him, offering Scully’s cancer cure, offering him a meeting with his sister Samantha5 but in the end, of course, Mulder refuses. He and Skinner chaise their own leads, leading them to the name of a biotech company named “Roush”6 only to have it all snatched away when the story arc has the Syndicate (apparently) assassinate the Cancer Man.
- Unusual Suspects. Possibly the best episode of the Series thus far. It’s all flashback, showing how Mulder came to meet The Lone Gunmen7. Nothing truly paranormal going on, just with characters and government conspiracies about bioweapons.
- Detour. The sense of humor seems to be back in this episode but the Ents-esque monster(s)? A little weak.
- The Modern-Day Prometheus. Again: the sense of humor seems to be back but not in its fullest form. There is a carnival or circus freak atmosphere to this episode that plays on all of the right symbols but that also lapses into a Frankensteinian story that is a big short-sighted and predictable.
- Christmas Carol. Except for the briefest of cameo appearances, there is no Mulder8. This episode focuses entirely on Scully and works over a weird confluence of classic X-Files tropes: government conspiracies, Scully’s (alien?) abduction, voices from beyond-the-grave… It all centers around a child that all genetic markers indicate is Scully’s offspring. We are to believe that this episode resumes the core Mythology arc but something feels off about it.
- Emily. Part two of two. Though “Christmas Carol” felt a bit flimsy, there seems to be enough in here to make up for it. Not that Scully cannot stand on her own as a character but she works better as a foil to Mulder, so it’s a relief to see him drawn into this plot thread. The “alien conspiracy” aspect of the Syndicate/Mythology episodes is more present here and for a little while it even seems like we’re going to resume that story full-bore, like it will remind us why we’ve been watching for the past four seasons. But by the end, the resolution is a bit vague, the symbolism a bit heavy-handed, and we start to wonder why they didn’t circle back on the “Roush” name that cropped up five episodes ago.
- Kitsunegari. The return of the “Pusher” character from Season Three. There are enough feints and twists to make it interesting though (that bit with his sister, for example?). A good episode with some strong writing.
- Schizogeny. There is a possession/multiple-personality thing going on here that doesn’t seem to offer much to the story. Besides, didn’t we already do an Ents-esque monster-of-the-week this season?
- Chinga. The fact that this one is set in Maine ought to be the dead giveaway that Stephen King was co-author on this episode. That said, it definitely feels like a recycled version of Child’s Play. It isn’t terribly original feeling; it isn’t bad, it’s just average. Also: is David Duchovny on sabbatical this season?
- Kill Switch. My first reaction to this episode was: Hey, I liked this better when it was called “The Matrix”. But this episode pre-dates the theatrical release of that film by about a year. It’s no surprise however, that it’s co-written by William Gibson and Tom Maddox. Reflecting more deeply on the episode, I find that it has picked up more of Maddox’s influence9 than Gibson’s10.
- Bad Blood. This episode battles “Unusual Suspects” for best episode of the Season (Series?); it is well-written and returns the humor and some of the whimsy of Season Three. What makes this episode remarkable is how the first and second acts are where Dochovny and Anderson act their characters OUT-of-character depending on whose version of the story (i.e., Mulder’s vs. Scully’s) is being told. It is a fun take on vampire folklore made perfect by casting Luke Wilson as a small-town Texas sheriff who just happens to be the head vampire.
- Patient X. It took 11 episodes to get back to “the point” of the Series11. This brings back the Black Oil and it brings back Marita Covarrubius and Krycek12. It is interesting to see the reversals playing out between Mulder and Scully (i.e., believing vs. doubting) and for the first time in Season Five, it’s starting to feel like home again.
- The Red and the Black. Resist or Serve. Part 2 of 2: we round out the story arc from “Patient X”. Mulder’s newfound skepticism continues while Scully agrees to go under hypnosis to validate beliefs she might not have admitted to having in the previous season. The character reversals aside, it seems like there are many continuity errors here: wasn’t Cancer Man dead? (wasn’t his body found?) and didn’t Krycek only have one arm? The title of the episode seems to be a tip of the hat Stendhal’s novel and throws a little color around Jeffrey Spender’s character13, though this seems only to make his entrance seem that much more perpendicular to the Series.
- Travelers. It’s like retro X-Files! Flashback to 1990 to find Mulder (smoking?) interviewing an old FBI agent and then we flashback to 1952 and McCarthyism and xenotransplantation, etc. We discover (with no surprise) that Mulder’s dad has been playing this conspiracy game for a long time and has had his conscience plagued almost as long.
- Mind’s Eye. The episode feels a bit off-the-subject but is very well-written, well-shot, and well-acted. Though it won’t take “best of the season” away from “Bad Blood” or “Unusual Suspects”, this episode strings the viewer along through a minefield of gray-areas and moral ambiguities as it assesses the nature of good and evil.
- All Souls. Watching this episode brings it home that the X-Files’ attempts at tying religion to the supernatural/paranormal just don’t work. It’s as if the religious superstitions are thin stand-ins for the monsters and aliens we have come to expect. They don’t fit into the Series’ milieu very well; every time we get an episode “like this” I get the same feeling and wind up wondering how the show might have been different if religion played more of a role. But aside from adding a little depth to Scully’s character, it doesn’t do much.
- The Pine Bluff Variant. A cool but non-paranormal episode revolving around (again) government conspiracies and secret bio-weapons programs and “the New Spartans” (an anti-government militia). Overall, it is a good, complete-feeling episode that works within the milieu in ways that (e.g.) “All Souls” did not. I get the feeling that this here is the writers’ attempts to set up the Series for some kind of “next step” — it’s a kind of preliminary exercise in “where to from here?”
- Folie a Deux. Interesting and not without its charms but we are really beating Mulder’s new-found doubt to death this season. As events transpire throughout the Season Five, Mulder’s new cynicism makes sense and the lapse that occurs here makes sense. Still, it seems (as this season comes up several episodes shorter than its predecessors) that the writers had a hard time working through this plot arc.
- The End. I am uncertain as to how I feel with respect to this ending here… There are enough hooks to leave it open for additional Seasons but they also do a good job of tearing apart the X-Files (what with the fire and all that). It’s as if the writers were trying to one-up each other in a series of annihilating feints until they only option left was to bring back Cancer Man with a bit of deus ex machina. To go so far as to link Cancer Man to this new Agent Spender character is… I don’t know, it seems like it might be too much14 and where is the closure on this particular story arc? I realize that we need to lead in to Season Six by way of the film, right…?
- ”Less familiar” doesn’t seem to be the right phrase but might be closer. [↩]
- Viz. the final season filmed in Vancouver; viz. the first season broadcast in the widescreen format; viz. the season just before the first feature film. [↩]
- Perhaps introducing contradictions? (Didn’t the ice core samples get stolen?) [↩]
- The chip she had removed in Season Three. [↩]
- Which, let’s back up a second here, didn’t they already do that song and dance already? Was the first sister a clone? And/or how do we know that this one is not? [↩]
- A plot thread that disappears just as quickly as it arrives. [↩]
- Before they were even formed up as The Lone Gunmen. [↩]
- Was he even on-screen for a full second? [↩]
- Viz., the disintegration of empathy and the corruption of humanity when cybernetic influences are introduced. [↩]
- Who can be dystopian but has this sentimental soft spot. [↩]
- Not counting the two episodes in the “Emily” arc; it doesn’t really work for me. [↩]
- Who, let’s face it, is really getting a great second wind here. [↩]
- Whom, the astute viewer will notice, played the young Cancer Man in Season Four, and as such, the foreshadowing is almost painful. [↩]
- Who else is Cancer Man related to? You start to wonder if Cancer Man would turn out to be JFK’s long lost twin or something. [↩]
About Rob FrieselSoftware engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →
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