Saturday, June 25, 2011

Mulder And Scully Switch Places For The Near-Perfect Fifth Season Of The X-Files!

The Good: Great acting, Interesting character work, Some truly clever concepts with interesting executions
The Bad: "Chinga." Seriously, that's it.
The Basics: A twenty-episode season is robbed of perfection by one seriously lame episode! Great character work and creativity on the other 19, though!

How much weight can one episode of television have when evaluating a season? When considering the fourth season The X-Files (reviewed here!) I knew it was falling well shy of my litmus test to be rated as a perfect season, though the episode "Home" (reviewed here!) was not the sole reason. The fifth season of The X-Files is better than the fourth, in the running with the third season for the best season of the show. But for me, I kept thinking of "Chinga," the episode written by Stephen King.

Wow, that episode bites. "Chinga" is one of those episodes that might have been better in any other series; it could have a been a fine episode of Friday The Thirteen: The Series but as an episode of The X-Files, it's just plain terrible. After rewatching the fifth season and being blown away episode by episode - the first two discs in this boxed set are some of the greatest consistent episode to episode television I have ever seen - I let it come to a coin toss for my rating of this boxed set. The only reason I let it even come to that was "Chinga." When I flipped a coin for my rating, I accepted it and finished the review and I'm comfortable with that because, well, that episode is such a drag on the season . . .

Virtually impossible to understand without seeing most - or at least the final episode - of the fourth season, The X-Files: The Complete Fifth Season still makes for a great and worthwhile DVD purchase. The episodes are far more serialized and the character work is easily some of the best and most intense work ever done on the series.

Having been declared dead with Scully's help, Mulder hunts down Kritschgau within the Department Of Defense and the latter agent is shocked that Mulder is still alive and has breached DOD security. Determined to get a cure for his son, Kritschgau steers Mulder toward the most top secret facility with the cure for his son and Scully's cancer. Scully, dealing with a mole within the FBI comes to suspect Skinner may be the one responsible for leading her and Mulder on the alien hunt for so many years. Unable to trust him, Scully collapses before she can implicate the Assistant Director.

Mulder does, in fact, manage to find a cure for Scully's cancer with the help of the Lone Gunmen and the Cigarette-Smoking Man! The process, however, leaves Mulder deeply suspicious of his entire past and the mission of the x-files. Convinced now that extraterrestrial interactions on Earth are all a smokescreen for a larger conspiracy involving the attempt to control DNA, Mulder becomes skeptical of all he sees and does with Scully. Scully, for her part, opens up to solutions at extreme ends of probabilities for what she encounters.

In this season, the pair is cheered by the apparent assassination of the Cigarette-Smoking Man, plagued by the return of Krycek who is in league with alien rebels who are making Earth the place where they will stand against the Black Oil, and they meet Cassandra Spender, a multiple abductee who has a son in the FBI. There is an origin story of the Lone Gunmen ("Unusual Suspects"), a Cher-loving genetically-manipulated man ("The Post-Modern Prometheus"), and creatures that live in a woods and are hunting humans encroaching on their territory ("Detour"). Scully learns that she has a daughter and Mulder is forced to explain how that came to be, an old enemy returns, as does a new AI which appears to be outfitted with a weapon's platform! There are humorous episodes involving a trailer park full of vampires and a series of escalating terrifying stories involving domestic terrorism, biblical creatures and a frightening being that is able to hide in plain sight and is stalking Mulder! The season climaxes with a boy who has the apparent ability to read minds and is wanted by all sides!

And then there's "Chinga." "Chinga" is Stephen King's standalone episode involving a cursed doll that is compelling people to kill themselves, claw their eyes out, etc. It's a real peachy cute episode. For those not fluent in sarcasm, that last sentence can be translated accurately to read: "It is obvious, not nearly terrifying as anyone who has seen a horror film would tell you, repetitive for prior episodes that were done far better (thank you Darin Morgan!), utterly predictable and quite within the niche of Stephen King." The problem with "Chinga" is it seems like an episode of an entirely different and vastly inferior series. Unlike other episodes which might defy the conventions to tell an old story in a new way, "Chinga" tells a painfully obvious story in a blandly straightforward way.

Far better in the season are the creative episodes like "The Post-Modern Prometheus," which is a modern "Frankenstein" tale presented in black and white complete with music by Cher and a woman who was originally slated to be played by Rosanne Barr! It is funny and completely reinvents the story and it does it with a beautiful sense of camp.

On the other end, there is "Christmas Carol" and "Emily," a two-part episode that is both heavily dramatic and intensely The X-Files. As Christmas approaches, Scully visits her brother and finds herself wrapped in a murder investigation. Intrigued by a little girl who bears a striking resemblance to her sister at the same age, Scully becomes convinced that her dead sister Melissa might have had a child that she put up for adoption. The truth is much more tragic and it leads Scully on an emotional journey that is absolutely heartbreaking.

The fifth season of The X-Files is a great balance of episodes that expand the mythology of the show as well as shake up the central characters. New recurring guest stars enter, old ones return and at least one is killed! At the heart of all great television are the characters and here is how the fifth season finds the primaries on The X-Files:

Fox Mulder - Devastated to learn that all he has believed in is likely a lie, Mulder becomes disillusioned with his work on the x-files and does what he can to denounce the U.F.O. movement. Distrustful of the regression hypnosis he once believed in, he falls in with a group of domestic terrorists. His faith gets reborn under the most unlikely of circumstances, mostly through an attempt to take on a new, younger agent at the FBI, one who is heavily biased against Mulder and his work,

Dana Scully - Turning to god in her moment of need, Scully embraces Mulder's found cure for her cancer, letting her faith guide her. Soon, though, her faith is challenged when she finds she has a daughter - one who meets a rather tragic end - and then has a close encounter of her own after meeting Cassandra Spender. She surprises virtually everyone by embracing some of the more extreme possibilities, including coming to believe absolutely in the mindreading powers of Gibson Praise,

Assistant Director Walter Skinner - Continues to be an ally to Mulder and Scully, he comes to rely even more on the pair, though Mulder comes to trust him sometimes to the exclusion of Scully! Still an upstanding, decent guy,

Krycek - Having "sanitized" a scene where alien shapeshifters showed up to try to massacre collaborators with the Black Oil aliens, he takes a powerful hostage and trades her and the vaccine to the Black Oil for his return to power within the Syndicate,

The Cigarette-Smoking Man - Attempting to tempt Mulder to switch to his side, other members of his group have him shot when he fails.

By this point, the two stars of The X-Files have their beats down pretty well. David Duchovny continues to play Mulder as a fairly brilliant schlump who does what he can to get by. In this season, Duchovny has the joy of playing a severely disenchanted version of Mulder and he does it remarkably well, making the transition seem perfectly normal and within character. In other words, Duchovny manages to makeover Mulder into a skeptic without playing the part as Scully. Duchovny doesn't simply play Mulder like Scully had been played and as a result, the character and the performance, still work!

Even better, though, is Gillian Anderson. Omitted from at least two episodes ("Unusual Suspects" and "Travelers"), Anderson more than makes up for it by carrying almost all of the "mythology" episodes this season as well as recreating Scully as a faith-based character. Anderson plays Scully as both more open-minded and contemplative and her body language is less stern or angry this season, which completely sells the viewer on the character's transformation!

On DVD, The X-Files - The Complete Fifth Season has two decent commentary tracks, one by Chris Carter on "The Post-Modern Prometheus" and one by writer John Shiban on "The Pine Bluff Variant." Carter's commentary is surprisingly insightful and enjoyable while Shiban's is hardly revealing. As well, there are several deleted scenes, with branching options to put them back into their appropriate episodes at the correct points, which is a nice touch. There are two blase featurettes and the usual promotional spots for the episodes.

All in all, this is an intense season of television that is incredibly well-executed that has Mulder's faith shaken and opens Scully up to the possibility of alien life on Earth, biblical creatures and extreme genetic mutants. After five years, it's about time!

This set is better than most anything else that is out there and it it certainly worthy of the time and attention of anyone who likes science fiction and/or drama. Then again, fans of The X-Files would probably be better served by purchasing the Complete Collection, which is reviewed here!

For other notable fifth seasons, please check out my reviews of:
Star Trek: The Next Generation - Season 5
Lost - Season 5
Six Feet Under - Season 5


For other television reviews, please check out my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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