Thursday, February 11, 2016

"The Old World Falls Away"

We are pleased to present Christopher Irish’s review of The X-Files FAQ by John Kenneth Muir. Published by Applause books, 2015 – Matt Allair

This book was a very informative and useful resource for seasons 1-9 of The X-Files, as well as both movies. It had a lot of information regarding the background of the series as well, which was very interesting to read. The book itself begins with the actors and background talent that brought Chris Carter’s vision to life. It covers seasons 1-9 by Muir selecting a few episodes and giving an overview.

First of all, this book was a real treat to review. John Muir has a very firm grasp of the material, and it shows. His 368-page, 31-chapter book covers a lot of ground regarding The X-Files series as well as both films. We discuss his book, as well as a plethora of topics related to The X-Files and Chris Carter, in an interview that will also be posted to The X-Files Lexicon.

The first thing about The X-Files FAQ is that Chris Carter himself wrote the introduction. Muir mentions in his interview with me how he came across the opportunity to have Chris Carter write the introduction for his book Horror Films FAQ and how that opened the door for him to write The X-Files FAQ and have Chris Carter return to write a second introduction for him. It was very impressive to know that Chris Carter was enthusiastic about the project, and that tells me that Muir really knows his stuff if the creator is willing to give it his stamp of approval.

The first three chapters of the book address inspiration for the series, and the creative power and actors involved. I found the chapter regarding the inspirations for the series particularly interesting. There are a few that are fairly well known to most fans, like The Twilight Zone and Twin Peaks, but there are less-known series that Muir mentions, like The Invaders and Beyond Reality. This is a great source for anyone who might want to watch any of these shows. The next chapter covers the talent behind the camera: the writers and directors, including Chris Carter, who have all put in hard work making the series what it is today. It’s a great chapter to me because I always found the writing for the series to be excellent, and each writer has a distinctive style, and each episode they made has a certain feel. Almost the same as each season has a different tone and arc to them. Muir details each director and writer excellently. Another entry in the chapter discusses Mark Snow, whose contribution to the music of the series was indispensable. Muir acknowledges that the whole series was a special epoch for American pop culture, not just in the 90s, but also beyond. His chapter that covers the stars of The X-Files is also very informative. David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, and others are featured in this chapter. It’s not a very long chapter, but it does include some interesting information regarding the actors we’ve spent so long following both on The X-Files and in their various other projects.


Still from season seven, "Closure", FOX publicity

Chapters 5 and 6 relate to the pilot episode and the opening montage. Scully is clearly suspicious of Mulder’s methods, and Mulder is suspicious of Scully’s intentions. That first moment in the show when we see the silent Cigarette-Smoking Man observing as Scully receives her first assignment to follow Mulder’s work sets the tone for the beginning of the season. The lost time and alien involvement in the pilot really sets the series apart from other science fiction on the big or small screens. Generally, the depth in the genre was lacking during that period. His notes regarding the pilot episode are insightful and on point. As for the opening montage, what can be said other than it’s one of my favorites of all time. Oftentimes, personally, if I watch a show I get tired of seeing the same opening repeatedly. I’m not sure if it’s out of nostalgia or if it’s just great, but I never skip The X-Files’s montage. Muir covers the details of the montage and goes in depth on the scenes and images throughout.

Chapters 7 through 15 address every season of The X-Files. The level of detail that Muir goes into for each season is amazing. He really knows what he’s talking about, and it doesn’t come across as condescending at all. In our interview, Muir told me that he still has moments when he watches where he picks out details he might not have noticed the first time through. This notwithstanding, Muir’s grasp and knowledge of the entire arc of The X-Files is vast. In each chapter he highlights a handful of key episodes in each season that warrant deeper discussion. If he covered every single episode of the series, it would far extend the 368 pages the book already is. I have no doubt that Muir could easily expound on each episode though. His choice of episodes to review is great. Some episodes he discusses might have been overlooked compared to others, and others (like the infamous “Home”) practically scream for details. Like I mentioned before, each season has a certain tone. Again, Muir comments on this subject in our interview, but his book covers each season very well. The manner in which Muir handles the reviews really lends itself to both longtime fans as well as any newcomers who want a deeper appreciation of the series.

After addressing each season, Muir has a chapter titled “Do You Remember the One Where?” that covers pivotal moments in the series. The highlights are from various episodes containing important moments that affect the rest of the series. If you are a newcomer to the show, it would be best to follow along with these moments rather than read ahead, just to save yourself any spoilers. If you’re an old fan, this chapter is a good way to get refreshed on important moments throughout the series.

Still from season four, "Home", FOX publicity

The next chapter was one of my favorites from the book. Muir covers a few of the most memorable Monster of the Week episodes. One of my earliest memories from the series when it first aired was “The Host” episode, where the parasitic man-worm creature injects larvae into its victim’s backs. There are a lot of memorable monsters the X-Files team dreamed up, so I felt this chapter was particularly entertaining.

Muir picks up on the technology-based episodes after he discusses the monsters. This is another running theme in the series as a whole, and definitely warranted a chapter devoted to it. The chapter covers a few technology-based episodes, including “Ghost in the Machine,” which I always felt got overlooked by a lot of fans. The way Muir reviews the episodes he selected make it so you want to take a harder look at them since the points he makes are valid. After he addresses this topic, he gets into another large subject The X-Files touches on: Christianity. Interestingly, this subject has always been an area where Mulder and Scully’s roles are reversed. Muir picks out a few highlight episodes with poignant moments regarding religion and The X-Files.

Next, Muir delves into Americana and The X-Files. He goes over some events from 90s culture and how The X-Files took from that culture and put its own spin on it. Again, he selects a few choice episodes that highlight how effectively the series made social commentary via real-world inspirations. Muir selects some really good episodes that demonstrate exactly what he’s getting at. I found the points he made very interesting and spot on. He then goes on to discuss serial killers throughout The X-Files in his next chapter. The series used the angle more often in the first few seasons, and Muir remarks on this fact. Chris Carter’s series Millennium picked up on the serial killer aspect of his imagination (and if you haven’t seen it before, you should. It’s excellent). After covering a few episodes and expounding on serial killers in the show, he goes on to discuss “Lazarus species.” This is another subject that eerily mirrors reality. I’ve seen plenty of events through the years where frozen viruses or just odd creatures get dug up from eons past. A lot of classic X-Files episodes like “Ice” and “Firewalker” revolve around this idea, and Muir covers them well.

Muir’s next chapter regards “Xenophobia and Ethnocentrism,” which are two subjects that have remained a constant problem in worldwide culture. The way The X-Files handled these subjects was very interesting throughout the series. Muir’s comments on this subject again are very spot on, and his selection of episodes is excellent. The next chapter brings up another massive part of our culture: teenagers and adolescents. Some of these episodes were among my personal favorites when watching it in the 90s. Watching these episodes now gives one a definite nostalgic feel for how the youth of the 90s lived. Granted, most of us weren’t abducted by aliens, or weren’t witches, but it was an interesting time regardless.


Still from season three, "Talitha Cumi", FOX publicity

From these cultural topics we move on to the paranormal. This is a pretty broad topic for this series since the vast majority of it could be classified as “paranormal,” but Muir’s commentary is entertaining to read and covers a lot of good episodes. The way Mulder and Scully delve into the world of the paranormal varies and gives each character depth and progression. The next chapter gets into specific “based on a true story” episodes. Muir’s reflections on these episodes are interesting, and I honestly learned a lot of details on where these episodes sprang from.

After Muir delves into background cultural information in the last few chapters, he lists notable guest stars over the series. I loved this chapter just so I could review and see how many people actually appeared in the series. After this, he gets into the two X-Files films. The two movies are so vastly different, and the fan reception of them seems to be different. Muir’s comments on each are great to read, regarding both Fight the Future and I Want to Believe. After the movies, Muir devotes a chapter to other series Chris Carter made. Millennium, Harsh Realm, The Lone Gunmen, and The After are all shows Chris Carter created aside from The X-Files. Each series has a good summary written by Muir. Two of the shows (Millennium and The Lone Gunmen) tie into The X-Files, while the others are stand alones.

When a show is as successful as The X-Files, it’s bound to spawn its fair share of imitations. Muir mentions a lot of series that took a direct line of influence from The X-Files. To be honest, a lot of these series I never heard of. That made this chapter very entertaining to read, since it was a learning experience! Muir details each series in a summary of what the plot of each show was about. The last chapter discusses The X-Files’ legacy in other forms of entertainment, with the comic series (the old Tops issues as well as the new IDW series) and toys. The last entry is a bibliography for the book.

Overall, the book was very useful, and I enjoyed reading it. It covered a lot of subjects that influenced the show as well as the show itself. Muir’s writing conveys that he is a big fan of the show, not to mention an expert on the subject. This is a good book that any fan would benefit from owning, either as a quick reference or to delve deeper into the series for a better appreciation of it.

Special thanks to A.M.D for editorial assistance.

Please check out our exclusive interview in two parts, part one and part two, with John Kenneth Muir, you can find The X-Files FAQ at Amazon, or your local book store.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

New podcast appearance on The X-Cast

Another podcast appearance in short order. The X-Cast is a fairly new UK podcast, and Tony Black was gracious enough to invite me to appear for about an hour.

We cover a range of subjects, and in spite of exhaustion, and missing a few questions on a quiz, it was fun times indeed. Everything from the premiere, favorite episodes, the history of the XFL site, The Syndicate platform, my brief thoughts on the paranormal and Carl Jung, music and film projects, and where to go next.

Mr. Black is a nice gentlemen and the podcast is worth a look.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

New Podcast appearance on Sci Fi Fidelity about XFL

Hi Everyone,

This has already been making the rounds, but the first of two podcast appearances this month. I did a brief interview with Michael Ahr, and Dave Vitagliano on Sci Fi Fidelity / Den of Geek, nice couple of gentlemen.

Where we talk about our favorite episodes, interesting segment.

You can listen here.

A little hint about our next exclusive, can you guess?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Thought Experiment: Identity Branding

Recently I’ve been mulling over various issues related to life, and related to everyone’s role in the internet, and pondering a new term to describe a set of ideas – “Identity Branding”, meaning a device used by people in the blogosphere, or internet media, where the identity of being angry, or superficial, or ultra intellectual, or crass, has become its own brand within on-line discussions. While terms like “Identity Politics” is freely thrown around like confetti in this day and age, perhaps we should consider this. My terminology is still being developed, and I realize the very phrase, some might argue, seems like an oxymoron or a misnomer. The Blog, in the past have explored related subjects in depth, here, here, here, here, and here and it’s time to expand the dialog. I see the results of this phenomenon, Identity branding, frequently, and how I came about this epiphany has been a slow process that I couldn’t articulate as I was working through my own frustrations for a good number of months. This phrase could be elaborated on as “Ideological Identity Branding” as well. When I think of the slogan phrase from The X-Files: “Trust No One”, I think of it as having several layers of meaning, one being don’t trust the government, don’t trust corporations, or trust religious institutions based on dogma.

But my personal interpretation of the phrase has been more along the line of “Don’t accept things at face value.” Retired political Radio personality Randi Rhodes, while acknowledging the cesspool that is talk radio used to say: “I know the company I keep, don’t take my word for it, and look it up yourself.” This crystallizes for me the problem of Identity branding in relation to the internet. We all participate in identity branding, all of us who writes blogs, I do too, and this isn’t about discouraging anyone from the business of blogging, but it was about starting a dialog to become mindful of the mechanizations of identity branding. There’s a relationship between the writer and the reader indeed, while this process can be beneficial, it can be detrimental when the writer is perceived as an authority figure in excess. Identity branding can victimize the reader to lose all sense of themselves, to the point of becoming too invested in championing the point of view, or agenda of the writer. The byproduct of identity branding is that the very notion of ‘free thought’ on either side of the political divide is gone. What is left is a kind of white noise that leaves everyone with closed minds, and the inability of listen. Therefore, the ability to process and accept and reject what you wish to on any given point has been taken away, all for the sake of the validation of a higher figure. This also applies to discussions about gender equality, racial equality, or sexual orientation.

Instead of the goal to encourage free thought, this identity branding is like a Frankenstein creature of unintended consequences, where people form around their own clicks to such a degree, the intention of democratic dialog dovetails into uniform thinking within those clicks. This device is used to demonize people whom, in most areas, share the same goals, but differ on certain points. I really had assumed that this phrase was already part of the Lexicon of the advertising world, or marketing world, but it seems to not be the case. Therefore I will be developing this term and refining it, and hope readers will start to ponder this point while going on with their day to day lives. More to come.

Addendum: The XFL Blog will be resuming its reviews by Christopher Irish, who has been busy elsewhere with a special project.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Wise Up

I feel I must post this, I am weary, I've had some revelations about our racial divide over the last few weeks, and now this attack in France and the sad, inevitable reaction of more the same, more war, more closing boarders. Sometimes, words need to be few:

I am just weary.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Chris's Comic Corner - The New Season, Issue 2

The next, and delayed, review by Chris Irish for IDW’s season 11 of The X-Files comic, there’s a couple of surprising, and disturbing developments with Mulder in this issue. –Matt

Season 11
“Home Again Part 1”

Written by: Joe Harris
Art by: Matthew Dow Smith
Colors by: Jordie Bellaire
Letters by: Chris Mowry
Editor: Denton J. Tipton
Executive Producer: Chris Carter

    This issue begins with a satellite flying above the earth six weeks before the events in the last issue. While there is some communication between the controllers and CENTCOM via speech bubbles, one speech bubble pops up over a black panel, saying, “This is your stop, Mulder,” then there is a rush of colors that harkens back to the time-travel scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey. The next scene has a bus driver waking Mulder after a long ride. Once Mulder is off the bus we see that he’s somewhere in Garden Country, Nebraska. He makes his way to an oil field in the middle of a Nebraska corn field (nice reference to the mythology of The X-Files). Mulder asks a man working on the oil rig about a farm in the other field. As he leaves for the farm, the workers get back to the rig, and we see a “Cantus” logo on the office trailer.

The image will remind fans, or evoke memories of The X-Files season one episode, "Space". -Matt
We join Scully in a Washington, D.C., street cafĂ©. She finds A.D. Skinner sitting at a table and tells him to follow her. Once they are away from public view, they discuss Mulder’s possible return and Gibson Praise’s manipulation. Skinner mentions that Mulder is still wanted by the federal government, and he saw the warrants being filed before he was relieved. Scully points out that the F.B.I. is in a weakened state but Cantus has more resources, and they’ve been digging into old X-Files cases. One such case is the Peacock family, a classic “Monster of the Week” family of cannibalistic inbred mutants in the episode “Home” (season 4, episode 2). Scully recounts the events the night she and Mulder raided their home, how two of the brothers were killed, but the matriarch and a brother escaped. Skinner thinks Gibson is aiming to finish what Mulder couldn’t, and Scully tells him that she has an idea where Gibson’s plan is going, but she’s sure he would be ahead of her in his overall plan.

Back to Mulder, he finally arrives at the house in the field he asked the oil rig workers about. He knocks, but no one is home. He lets himself in, looking for anyone, and ends up in the back of the house, where a barn is standing. He finds a young lady milking a cow. She pulls out a shotgun and asks if he’s a tax collector (reminded me of a scene in O Brother, Where Art Thou?). Mulder uses his cover name, “Blake,” when he introduces himself, and we find out her name is Molly. He brings up the gas-drilling operation, and Molly tells him that they won’t sell the farm. Mulder (or Blake) mentions the amount of fracking the oil rig is doing nearby and how they’re surrounded. Mulder walks out as Molly comments for the second time how good-looking he is, just as some shadowy figures drop down from the rafters. Mulder crouches down to look at some pigs eating in the mud just as a small horde of misshapen mutants charge him from behind, sending him crashing to the ground. The little mutants all chant, “Poppa,” and Mulder utters an uncharacteristic “I don’t believe this.” Molly tells them to get him “home,” and everything goes black.
We rejoin Scully at F.B.I. headquarters, where A.D. Morales catches up to her in a hallway. Scully tries to get away from her, but Morales is insistent on bringing up Scully’s saving a member of the board when Gibson caused them to black out or go into seizures. Morales grabs Scully’s arm to finish her statement, when she tells Scully that there’s a discrepancy in the report concerning the events in the meeting room. As this exchange is going on between them, Morales mentions how hard Mulder and Scully have had it over the years because of pressure from management. She hands Scully a file, and Morales tells her that she believes in her. Morales walks away, and Scully reads the file. It has a large “Cantus” logo on it.
Back to Mulder, he is awakened by someone saying his name. When he opens his eyes he sees a hulking mutant standing over him. Molly arrives at the door and tells the mutant, named Edmund, not to scare Mulder, because it “makes the milk sour early and curdle up.” She tells Mulder that Edmund holds a grudge against him for killing his brothers (in the episode “Home”). She asks Mr. Blake what he’s really doing there as Mulder tries to get out of bed, only to find his pants missing. Mulder discovers that Molly is a member of the Peacock clan, even though she has none of the characteristic defects. She informs Mulder that Edmund has reached the end of his potency and they are in need of “new blood.” The small Peacock horde climbs on Mulder, crouching in his bed chanting, “Poppa,” again. Mulder asks Molly what she’s suggesting, although he has to know by now what the plan is. She explains the plan, but Mulder declines the offer. Molly scoffs at him for assuming she was who was going to breed with him, and the Peacock matriarch wheels out from her spot from under the bed.

Old fans of the show will no doubt be familiar with the Peacocks. The episode “Home” is one of the most infamous X-Files episodes ever aired. The heavy theme of incest and murder pushed the limits of what TV episodes could air. This, no doubt, will prove to be a creepy and disturbing turn for Mulder. Although the Peacocks are absolutely disgusting, it is nice to see the story line revived.

Special thanks to A.M.D. for editorial assistance.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Benjamin's Millennial Compendium - Comics 5

Benjamin’s new, and final review, of the Millennium comic from IDW is here, written by Joe Harris, and art by Colin Lorimer. His final review is very candid, and we hope it will be helpful. -Matt

This Is Who We Are

Before we get into the final review of this series I wanted to call your attention to covers. Each issue has two covers (with the exception of the first, which had a limited third cover by Paul Shipper). One of the covers in each set is done by menton3 and the other is a photo from the series. The work by menton3 is very atmospheric and well done. It matches the mood and even offers some subtle foreshadowing. I am less fond of the photo covers. They are dated. The idea of this story is that we have moved with Frank Black into the present time. The photos are not evocative and except for brand recognition seemingly serve no purpose. I say all this because if you have not been seeing menton3’s covers you are really missing out.

This issue is the last in the series, and given the respect for the source material and the high quality of this story, the bar was set very high. Did the last issue meet expectations? Let’s dig in and find out.

The story picks up where we left Mulder, entering Frank’s old yellow house. The place is in disrepair, and Mulder is able to quip with his characteristic humor. He moves down to the basement and finds, written on the wall, the words “The Time Has Passed.” Suddenly the woman we met on the sidewalk last issue (though fans of the show have been meeting her in all her incarnations since the first season; here she is Lucy Butler) is beside Mulder and holding the black cat he found down there. After a brief conversation, in which Lucy praises Mulder’s abilities, the shadows reveal Mulder lying on his back with Lucy on top of him, and the assumption is that they are about to have sex.

The scene shifts, and Frank, Jordan, and Quentin (Jordan’s patron) are in a rental car lot. Without clues as to where Mulder went, and with time of the essence, Frank apologetically asks Jordan to use her gift. (This is another departure from Frank. Frank’s visions seemed to come or not without an ability to call them. Jordan can call hers.) Jordan tries but only sees her father, as she did in the last issue, caught by a demonic form. Jordan tells Frank, “I don’t see him…” Now a vision comes to her unbidden. A voice says, “Watching.” And she sees red eyes. It catches her off guard, and she cries out and falls to her knees. Quentin says sharply, “That’s enough!” but the vision does not let go that easily. She hears, “Waiting,” and sees the outline of what may be Lucy Butler.

Frank rushes to her side and wants to know what she sees. Quentin and Frank argue for a moment, but the vision continues and takes its own course. Jordan says that she sees the old house. Frank gets a car and leaves Jordan and Quentin behind to arrange their own transportation. Actually, Frank manages to find a seventeen-year-old red Jeep Cherokee right at the front of the lot. If you can suspend your disbelief for just a moment, it is a lot of fun to see Frank drive off.

Frank arrives at his old home and recognizes that the car out front must belong to Mulder. As he enters the home, his vision flashes for a moment to happier days, when Jordan was still a little girl. The black cat from earlier eyes Frank warily as he moves down the stairs. Suddenly he sees, in a vision, Bob Bletcher. (For those unfamiliar with the series, Bob was killed by Lucy Butler in the first-season episode “Lamentation” and hanged from a rafter in the very basement Frank is entering.)

Frank quickly finds Mulder and suggests they leave. Mulder does not seem to be himself and says haltingly, across three panels, “I-I don’t… …know… …if that’s possible.” The last panel on the page shows Mulder with his finger on the trigger and his weapon pointing down, saying, “Y-You need… to go… …Frank…” Chillingly, he continues on the next page, “Does she… know you’re here yet… …Frank?” Frank’s eyes grow wide, and while he asks who Mulder is talking about, it is clear he already knows.

Lucy emerges from the shadows. I will not fragment or try to recreate the dialogue here, but suffice it to say that Lucy is cruel and written true to character. I know I have said this before, but it bears repeating: the story and dialogue shows tremendous respect for and knowledge of the source material.

After a moment of conversation, Mulder indicates that he cannot control his arm or weapon any longer. He fires and puts out the light, and Lucy says, “You have to admit, Frank… …for two old players like us… …staying out of the game could only stick for so long.” Now, Jordan appears at the top of the stairs and states, “You think you’re playing games here.” Lucy responds, “I am winning them, child.” Lucy’s form becomes bestial, and she growls, “We are Legion. We create the game.”

Legion reaches umbral tentacles toward Jordan. Frank tackles it from behind and begs Mulder to shoot, though Mulder is unable to get a clean shot. Jordan does not flinch from the tentacles, and as Frank and Legion tussle she raises her arms slightly, and with eyes white and a resplendent countenance she accuses Legion of the harm it has caused her and her family and countless others.

The next panels are not clear. It seems that Jordan has in some way contained the creature Legion. Afterward, she falls to her hands and knees. Frank runs to her, to help her, but she flees from him. In another scene of heartbreak, you can see her face clenched in pain and sorrow as she runs up the stairs and away from him, saying, “I’m sorry, Daddy…” as she goes.

This is one of the low points of the series. Not making clear what was going on in the concluding scene is nearly unforgivable. In fact, if the rest of the series had been so ambiguous, I would not be able to recommend it at all.

It gets more confusing when Frank and Mulder get outside. Mulder notes, “Looks like your ride left without you. Want a lift?” But the red Jeep is right there. And that Jeep is as iconic as anything in the series. Even weirder, the position of the Jeep has now changed in relation to Mulder’s car. And Frank declines the ride and says he wants to walk? This page ends up being a confusing mishmash. Having suffered a horrific encounter with Legion, Mulder seems mostly concerned with (1) how Frank is going to get home, (2) making sure Frank does not tell Scully about the intimacy with Lucy (even though we have not seen Scully and Frank together for this whole series!), and (3) offering Frank a job at the FBI, even though Frank retired from the FBI already, is likely too old, and has not shown the sort of stability that the government prefers in their agents. And all this assumes that Mulder is a recruiter for the FBI or has the authority to make job offers.

The last page of the story shows the yellow house again. The black cat is on the roof. Suddenly the cat changes shape into Lucy. Earlier Lucy held the black cat, so there must have been two of them? She says, though she is alone, “True good and evil never die, Frank. They just lay low for a bit, lick their wounds, and wait for the cycle to start again… …for an entire millennium, if necessary…”  If Legion does not believe good can be defeated, nor evil, why does it behave like it does? I am sorry to say that the ending of the book nearly ruined it for me. It was careless and sloppy in a way that neither the show nor the previous books in this series have been. A little more time editing here, and we would have a real gem for both fans and newcomers. As it stands, fans will no doubt like the series, as I did, and wish for more, but it will be hard for people who are approaching this world for the first time to give this another chance. This may be a real wasted opportunity to expand the large fan community online. In some ways it seems eerily like the abrupt ending of the show itself.

One final note: IDW has collected all the material from this series (but not the appearance of Frank Black in the X-Files book) into a softcover compilation (ISBN 978-1631403767) for $19.99. The production quality is good, and while there is little more that needs to be said by way of the story, it should be noted that there are several pages of the art of the series in various degrees of completion, and all the covers are reproduced. Not lots of extras, but a few tidbits for hardcore fans.

Special editorial thanks to Bellefleur.