Alias – ‘Parity’ (1×03)

ANNA ESPINOSA: I heard about your fiancé. Very sad. I thought perhaps it was a security execution sanctioned by your employer. Maybe you said something in your sleep you shouldn’t have. But then why would you be here in service for the men that killed your true love?

If Alias, in its opening two introductory episodes, flirted with the idea that the show is a post-Cold War espionage thriller attempting to understand and resolve the consequences of the 20th century’s longest-running and defining ideological conflict, then Parity absolutely goes for broke and seals the deal with a loving kiss. 

The third episode, the first not penned directly by series creator J.J. Abrams, cements and solidifies existing, introductory concepts and brings in key new ones which will help frame Alias as a show with a sense of unique, genre identity. In many respects, Alex Kurtzman-Counter (as he was named originally, before losing the Counter) and Roberto Orci’s script is one of the most crucial in Alias’ first season. It is the first episode which directly picks up from the cliffhanger established in the previous episode. It introduces one of the most interesting (and underused) characters the show ever gave us. And, most importantly, it truly kickstarts the mythology Alias would embrace, grapple with, struggle with, and never truly satisfy its audience with over the next five years. Parity is a key, early touchstone for Abrams’ series.

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The X-Files – ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’

MULDER: I’ve always wondered how this was gonna end.

Originally the eighth episode in the ten hour run of The X-Files’ eleventh and almost certainly last season, ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ was switched around with last weeks ‘Familiar’ and you can understand the decision. Karen Nielsen’s script has an undulating sense of finality about it, as if Agents Mulder & Scully know the end of their journey is in sight.

We have, of course, been here before, more than once. Season Five cheekily concluded with ‘The End’, ’Requiem’ at the end of Season Seven was mooted as being the final episode to segue into a cinematic franchise for the show, before eventually Season Nine’s ‘The Truth’ brought back an absent David Duchovny and proved to be a hugely divisive (even to this day) mixed bag of a *series* finale. That was back in the age when a series, certainly in American television, concluded without any real chance of reprisal. British TV has long had a tradition of ending a show and then reviving the property years down the line, but American TV didn’t tend to do it until the advent of streaming services and the full embrace of digital TiVo changed the paradigm of how we digested television. The X-Files itself is proof that while nothing lasts forever, where beloved properties are concerned, we should, to borrow another phrase, never say never again.

Nonetheless, Season Eleven does, at this stage, appear to be the final curtain. ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ therefore, should that be the case, will go down in X-Files history as the last ever standalone episode. I’ve discussed the importance of the standalone story versus the ongoing mythology in previous pieces—indeed in last week’s ‘Familiar’ I touched on the subject—but to fans the difference has more sharply moved into focus with the revival series. Arguably, many felt we simply didn’t have enough episodes where Mulder & Scully investigated strange goings on across the American landscape, and episodes such as ‘Plus One’, ‘Familiar’ and here ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ have worked hard to remedy that. ‘Familiar’ goes the furthest to position itself akin to a historical episode of the original run of the series, but ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ stands out as a stranger brew than anything else the entire revival run over both seasons has yet given us.

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The X-Files – ‘Familiar’

MULDER: Mass hysteria. Salem. McCarthyism. What happened to the precious presumption of innocence? Which is rooted in a very democratic ideal.

There is something familiar and unfamiliar about ‘Familiar’, one of the last truly stand-alone ‘monster of the week’ tales The X-Files will likely ever do.

Anyone who has followed Chris Carter’s series from its inception will be aware that his show was divided between the ‘standalones’ and the ‘mythology’ episodes. At the time, back in the 90’s, fans lived for the mythology, the ongoing story of Fox Mulder & Dana Scully against the conspiracy to cover up the existence of alien life, and far darker deeds beyond. Time and distance however, for many, have seen the standalone tales grow in currency; in a world now built on the kind of serialised storytelling The X-Files flirted with, while still keeping to a model ripe for syndication, fans have craved from the revival season a truly stand-alone story. One where Mulder & Scully arrive in a small town, investigate some weird deaths, and find themselves embroiled in the strange and spooky. It’s taken almost two revival seasons, but ‘Familiar’ gets us there.

Oddly enough now, however, what once was considered a standard, typical X-File, has become essentially the aberration. If you look at how experimental both revival seasons have been, from comedy episodes or Hitchcockian espionage homages, down to episodes like last week’s ‘Followers’ which pushed the envelope the furthest the show has gone in a long time, ‘Familiar’ stands out because it’s now *unfamiliar*. Benjamin Van Allen’s story is almost a throwback, a relic of the original series The X-Files was built on, and were it not for certain fairly indirect but potent allegorical references to modern-day political Americana, you could position ‘Familiar’ in one of the early seasons of the show. It might sit quite well nearby ‘Die Hand Die Verletzt’, perhaps its most intrinsic bedfellow. For that reason, alone, it feels uniquely old-fashioned.

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The X-Files – ‘Ghouli’

SCULLY: I should have had the courage to stand by you, but I thought I was being strong because it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done: to let go, and to know that I was going to miss your whole life.

When plans for the latest season of The X-Files were announced, quite a number of fans were surprised to be informed by FOX head honcho Dana Walden that Season 11 would feature only two episodes concerning the ‘mytharc’, Chris Carter’s long-running, labryinthian mythology which has coursed through the series over the last twenty-five years. ‘Ghouli’ proves that statement was never entirely accurate, and continues what was already established in ‘This’ – the mythology is being weaved in more with stealth than grandiosity.

Ostensibly, of course, ‘Ghouli’ is a monster story – two teenage girls try and kill each other, each believing the other to be a tentacled beast from some kind of Lovecraftian nether realm. It recalls Season 5’s ‘Folie a Deux’, which memorably dealt with the literal idea of an unspeakable ‘thing’ hiding in plain sight, with a dash of Season 3’s cosmically apocalyptic black comedy ‘Syzygy’ (just without the laughs). Before the episode, a neat level of viral marketing presented the fictional ghouli.net discovered by Agents Mulder & Scully in the episode as a real site fans could click on, reading the fictional urban legend recounting of people seeing or encountering the mysterious Ghouli. Everything about the episode, on the face of it, points to a classic monster of the week.

If not for a character named Jackson van de Kamp, who very swiftly establishes himself as the raison d’être for James Wong’s entire piece. Look away now—no seriously, don’t say I didn’t warn you—but Jackson is, of course, Mulder & Scully’s long-lost biological son William (or Scully’s for certain, at least). William was born at the end of Season 8 having been coveted by alien super-soldiers and later bonkers cultists for being some kind of supreme alien/human hybrid being, indeed prophecies exist about how he may either save humanity or lead the aliens to their complete destruction (in Season 9, so we try and forget about all that). Nevertheless, William is important with a capital I. He was crucial to the last two seasons of the original series. He played a key, off-screen role in Season 10. And he is central to everything about ‘Ghouli’.

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The X-Files – ‘This’

MULDER: “How do you like that? The FBI finally found out what it’s like to be looked on as a little spooky!”

‘This’ doesn’t just feel like an episode of The X-Files. It feels as much like a core distillation of not just everything the show says today about the state of global surveillance, conspiracy and government, but rather everything it *used* to say. If ever an episode of the show was designed to remind us we’re no longer watching The X-Files of the 1990’s, it’s, yes, ‘This’.

The X-Files operates in an interesting place today. In my review of ‘My Struggle III’, part of the discussion revolved around how Chris Carter’s seminal series struggled when it was revived in 2016 precisely because it sat between what is now the world of yesterday (Obama’s stable, if divisive administration) and the world of today (Trump’s unstable, chaotic regime). Much like how all six episodes we’re figuring out how to re-conceptualise their storytelling for a new age of television, so Carter’s series attempted to find its place in a rapidly changing America. If the Season 11 premiere felt saddled by continuing mythology beats and was swamped by the narrative twist regarding Scully’s child, which had a mixed reception to say the least, then Glen Morgan’s follow up has the freedom to truly make the most of where The X-Files fits in the current paradigm.

Glen Morgan, and his oft-producing partner James Wong, were always two of the greatest assets The X-Files ever had. When they left firstly midway through the second season and later, following a brief return, midway through the fourth, there is no doubt both were missed. Morgan & Wong, as a duo, are responsible for some of the strongest episode the original series of The X-Files (as I’m now calling Seasons 1-9) ever produced – chiefly among them the peerless ‘One Breath’, which to some degree ‘This’ resembles. Not in story or even in style, but placed in terms of how it frames the characters of Mulder & Scully within a post-Watergate arena of paranoia, with mythological grandmasters operating at the head of the table. Though Morgan goes solo with ‘This’, everything he taps into feels like an extension and evolution of the kind of stories both were telling in the 90’s.

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The X-Files: Mythology within Mythology

When you apply the word mythology to the fabric of modern television, you have to pay a great deal of lip service to The X-Files, because it was really the first TV show to couch its storytelling in that terminology. Chris Carter’s seminal 1990’s series, one of the most significant pop-culture features of the decade, invented what became known as the ‘mytharc’ – not just a continuing narrative regarding the presence of extra-terrestrial life on Earth and a sinister, global conspiracy to cover their existence up, but a veritable mythological template on which to tell a story, depict archetypal character journeys, and immerse viewers in a world where they could theorise, suppose and contemplate.

The X-Files built its entire success around its sense of mythology, alongside the chord struck by its partnership duo, FBI agents Fox Mulder & Dana Scully, and those fans who didn’t show up to see Mulder & Scully get it on, almost certainly were there to enjoy the kind of continuity, richness and adherence to ‘canon’ with almost the fervour of the Star Trek or Star Wars fanbases. Which is why, when The X-Files finally returned to TV after almost a fifteen year break, it was almost for many fans baffling to see Carter seemingly contradict and downright reject the mythology he had so painstakingly created.

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