18 January 2018

The X-Files: This (Spoiler Review)

Welcome back to my new series of reviews, where I talk about the new episodes of my favourite TV-show, The X-Files. Last week. This week, I'm reviewing the second episode in the eleventh season, titled "This." 

As always, there will be SPOILERS.

If "My Struggle III" still suffered from some of the stiffness and clumsiness of the warm up session that was season ten, "This" is The X-Files' return to fighting form. It's sharp, suspenseful, and most importantly - fun.

Written and directed by the show veteran Glen Morgan, "This" is a monster-of-the-week/mythology hybrid episode. Mulder and Scully find themselves on the run from Erica Price's private army after having received a cryptic message from someone who appears to be Richard Langley - one of the members of the Lone Gunman. 

A quick reminder: The Lone Gunman met their demise in the season nine episode "Jump the Shark", while saving the world from a biological weapon. They were buried in Arlington Cemetery in Virginia as real American heroes. 

Following leads left for them by Langley before he died, the agents discover that Langley had uploaded a copy of his consciousness into an NSA-run simulation, and that his "cookie” was activated after his death. And it was the "cookie" that reached out to Mulder.

Run by Erica Price, the simulation is using digital copies of some of our world's greatest minds as slave labor to aid Price's program of colonizing space. Langley's "cookie" begs Mulder and Scully to shut down the simulation, and the duo go to the NSA: s Titanpointe building, where - after some altercation with Price and her private army they shut down the head server. When the agents later return to Titanpointe, they discover that Price has removed all the physical evidence of her program. The episode ends with Langley's "cookie" reaching out to Mulder again begging him to "shut down the backup server".

If the premise sounds too much like an episode of Black Mirror, that's because it kind of is. Some Black Mirror episodes explore the possibility of uploading a copy of your consciousness into the cloud, and the dangers it can entail. A fan of the British anthology series, Morgan wanted to explore a similar scenario. 

"I admire Black Mirror a great deal and its insights into our present and future relationship with technology is an inspiration. I had followed the theory of computer simulation for some time. It would take a season of TV do to the discussion justice."

"This" isn't the first time The X-Files dealt with the idea of uploading your consciousness into the digital world. I don't know if this intentional, but "This" is a thematic sequel to the season five episode, "Kill Switch" in which a software genius uploads his consciousness into an AI he created. An episode about futuristic technology it also features guest appearances by the Lone Gunmen.

But if "Kill Switch" gives us a more optimistic look at the possibility of hooking up your consciousness into the cloud (think eternal life, and freedom), "This" offers a far less idealistic scenario. It isn't the real you that will be uploaded but the digital copy of your mind. Nothing but ones and zeroes. Moreover, freedom isn't guaranteed as any agent with sufficient amount of power and an agenda can trap your "cookie" inside a simulation and use it for their own gain.

"This" is a classic X-File set in a modern setting. Morgan uses some of the most famous tropes and themes of the show to tell a story that is relevant to our day and age. Mulder and Scully are on the run from the law - again. Skinner is reluctantly helping them - again. And the agents find out a horrifying truth about their government only to have the physical evidence snatched from right under their noses - again.

For those who always say "Why can't Scully just believe? The evidence is right there!", "This" is a reminder that the X-files exist in a shadow territory where the truth is defined by people with power and interests, and often when the case seems crystal clear at first, there is more going on behind the scenes. Real evidence is removed, false evidence is planted, documents are forged, and witnesses silenced. 

"This" continues to answer the question as to how the X-Files - both the show and Mulder's project - fit in today's world. As Tony Black put it in his review:

‘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’.

There is a touching scene at Arlington where Mulder and Scully are standing by Deep Throat's headstone. Deep Throat, who was a former member of the Syndicate, and Mulder's informant famously sacrificed himself to save Mulder's life. A moment of tearful nostalgia, this scene also allows Mulder to wax philosophical about the state of the world.

"(Deep Throat) is dead because the world was so dangerous and complex then. Who would have thought we would look back and say these were simpler times?"

The times have indeed changed. If anything, Mulder and Scully's work has become more demanding, and the agents seem to have adapted to these demands. Physically, at least. 

If you ever wondered what it would be like if Scully and Mulder were full-blown action heroes, "This" gives you a taste of that. One of the most memorable moments of this episode is Scully sliding under the table in the middle of a shoot-out, looking more like an agent of Shield than FBI. 

The action is one of the things that gives this episode its energy boost (the dialogue is the other). The actions scenes are fast, brutal, and suspenseful. I really like Mulder’s fight choreography. He isn’t a martial arts expert, but he can still kick some major ass (as first displayed in "My Struggle II"),  

Some of the action could have been edited better, and there are a few details that deserve an X-file of their own. Like, how could Mulder and Scully overpower a group of armed thugs while still handcuffed to each other

One of season ten's weaker points, was the writers and the actors trying to find their way back to the show. As a result, most of the episodes, though very good, felt too plot-driven, and "safe". In "This", it seems that both Morgan and the actors have found their stride again. The story is exciting, the writing crisp, and the atmosphere buzzing with energy. It feels like the creators can play with their characters and their own tropes. They take more risks; the story doesn't feel like it's bound too tightly to the plot.

This freedom is especially evident in the interaction between Mulder and Scully. In an interview, Glen Morgan said that one of the mistakes he did in "Home Again" which he wrote was separating Mulder and Scully for most of the episode. He learned from that mistake because in "This", he never lets the dynamic duo be apart for more than a few minutes in the third act of the episode. 

And boy, am I grateful for that decision! The energy between Duchovny and Anderson is insane, and their quippy flirty banter is a joy to take in. You can see that these people enjoy doing what they do, and how comfortable they are stepping into these characters' shoes again. This is the funniest that Mulder and Scully have been since perhaps season seven. Their dialogue has a lot of energy, and warmth.

There are a few issues I do have with this episode. One of them being the tone. "This" is the funniest episode since "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster" (written by the younger Morgan brother), but it's not a comedy. The subject matter and themes discussed here would suggest that "This" was supposed to be a lot darker in tone. But the quippy dialogue, and the jokes (some of which were improvised by the actors) give the story a more light-hearted feel. Most of the jokes work but when a scene in which an innocent woman get shot is directly followed by a scene where Mulder calls Scully "adorbs" it feels jarring and kind of disrespectful. 

That occasional tonal dissonance can be explained by the pacing. This is one hell of a story to tell in just over forty minutes, and things are progressing at top speed. A part of me thinks that "This" would have worked (even) better had it been a two-parter. 

But these are all minor quibbles that you can forgive in an episode that accomplishes as much as "This" does. A tribute to the 1970's spy thrillers, it's an old-school X-File that nonetheless feels fresh and relevant in 2018. 

I would be amiss if I didn't mention some of the Easter eggs and tributes to the show itself and to its history. The conversation by Deep Throat's headstone, for example; Mulder and Scully napping on the couch, which is a visual callback to the season seven episode "All Things". The Ramones playing in the background is a nice touch, given that Langley was a die-hard Ramones fan. The whole episode also works as a posthumous tribute to the Lone Gunman, and their contribution to Mulder and Scully's search for the Truth. I wasn't the biggest fan of the Lone Gunman during the show's original run (I have yet to watch their short-lived spin-off), but given how much these characters meant to the world of The X-Files, "This" seems like a much better send-off to the beloved trio than the rushed, and jumbled "Jump the Shark".  

Links and sources

Exclusive: X-Files Writer Glen Morgan Tells Us About The Making Of "This" - Syfy Wire

The X-Files: 5 Questions Answered About "This" - Den of Geeks

The X-Files: "This" - Cultural Conversation

16 January 2018

My Ten Bookish Goals for 2018

Welcome to another round of Top Ten Tuesday: a weekly meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl 

This week's theme is ten bookish resolutions/goals for 2018. Let's list some goals then! 

This year, I want to: 

1.  Devote more time to reading

This is as good a time as any to announce that I cancelled my subscription to Netflix (oh my!) so this should leave me with enough hours each week to sit down and read. I still have Viaplay to get my X-Files and Buffy fix.

2. Read at my own pace

3. Read one book at a time

4. Be more consistent with my reading journal

5. Loan more books at the library

6. Finish the series I'm already in the middle of before starting new series 

In 2018 I also want to read more:

7. Classic sci fi

8. Non-fiction 

9. Classics 

Which all boils down to my ultimate 2018 reading goal:

10.  To only read books that I'm interested in. 

So, what are your reading goals for this year? 

14 January 2018

The X-Files Season 11: My Struggle III (Spoiler Review)

It's 2018, which means The X-Files is back for a new (and possibly final) season. For the next ten weeks I will be talking about all the new episodes, starting with the season opener, "My Struggle III".

Warning: there will be spoilers not just for this episode but for the show as a whole. 

My Struggle III

As a season opener for what will most likely be the last season of The X-Files, "My Struggle III" has a fair amount of pressure to succeed. The question is: is this episode up to the task?

Written and directed by Chris Carter, "My Struggle III" is a mythology episode that picks up right where the season ten finale left off. It's a talky, exposition-heavy episode that has a lot more going on under the surface than you might catch on the first viewing. Carter uses some well-established "truths" and tropes from the show to play on and to subvert the audience's expectations.

The episode opens with the Cigarette Smoking Man monologuing over a video montage that combines footage of real-life events and flashbacks from the show. Much like in "My Struggle parts I and II" Carter uses the monologue and the montage to bring us up to speed on the character's history, only in the case of the CSM a lot of the history is subtext. 

We see once again that he was responsible for making contact with the aliens, and that he was the one who assassinated JFK (as first suggested in the season four episode "Musings of the Cigarette Smoking Man"). Most of this is old news, but there are some surprises as well, like the CSM being the mastermind behind the alleged moon landing hoax, and that his real name is Carl Gerhard Bush.

After the opening credits, the iconic tagline "I want to believe" morphs into "I want to lie". This is a mission statement from Carter and informs the nature of this episode. While "My Struggle parts I and II" focused on Mulder and on Scully respectively, the final part of this trilogy is CSM: s episode. And it's his lying and deceptive nature that sets the basis of this episode.

The episode proper begins with Scully being taken to the hospital after having suffered a seizure. As her doctor explains to the concerned Mulder and Skinner that the special agent has abnormal brain activity, Scully wakes up and starts rambling about the Spartan virus and the CSM who she believes to be alive. Turns out, the virus outbreak and the space craft we saw hovering above Scully at the end of "My Struggle II" were all a part of Scully's visions.

Staring in the eye of your worst fears

My biggest concern with this episode was how Carter would resolve the cliffhanger from the season ten finale. And the way he goes about is kind of frustrating. It feels like a cop-out, but it's also pretty clever. Carter subverts our expectations, turning the apocalyptic events of the past into a paranoid prophecy.

Scully believes that her visions are being sent to her by William - the son she had to give up for adoption sixteen years ago to protect him from the alien supersoldiers. William's conception and the reason for his existence have been on the forefront of seasons eight and nine, with Scully having good reasons to believe that her baby had alien DNA and that she was just used as an incubator in a project to create a human/alien hybrid. Remember that Scully had been made barren after being subjected to horrific experiments during her abduction in season two, and while Mulder called William's conception a "miracle", there has always been a possibility that William was a part of the alien colonists' program. The fact that Baby William showed to have superpowers only supports this theory.

William is now seventeen, and wherever he is it looks like he's aware of the plans of the not-so-dead CSM, and he is trying to warn his biological mother. Scully is sure of it, and in a nice little role reversal, it is now Mulder who is the skeptic and needs to be convinced that Scully's visions are the real deal.

The rest of the episode is a back-and-forth between trying to find out William's whereabouts, and expositioning about CSM: s sinister plans. We are introduced to new characters: Mr. Y and his associate Erica Price, who claim to belong to a government syndicate. It's unclear if this is the same Syndicate from the show's original run given how most of those conspirators were killed off by the faceless alien rebels in the season six episode "One Son".

The pair explain to Mulder that the reason the aliens never came to destroy the human race is because we’re doing their job for them. The Syndicate now claims to have a new objective: to let a chosen elite colonize space, while leaving the rest of the humanity behind on the dying Earth.

Erica Price: the new Diana Fowley or Scully's doppelgänger?

The real-life implications of this new development in the mytharc are explained much better in a review by Tony Black from Cultural Conversation (link below). Suffice it to say that Carter is trying hard to bring the show's narrative up to date with the current political events. The X-Files originated in the "80's paranoia and government mistrust" and had its roots in Carter's own experiences growing up with the Watergate scandal. The show has always had a certain political angle, reflecting the political climate of its time very well. It's no wonder then that the recent developments the US and world politics have been so incorporated in the new and improved mytharc.

I also like the fresh take on the colonization theme in that it is now the humans who want to colonize other worlds. The X-Files helped popularize the alien invasion trope but given how popular culture has become oversaturated with these kind of scenarios, it's refreshing to see Carter take his mythology in a new direction.

As Mr. Y is mansplaining the new plans to Mulder, Skinner is ambushed in a parking garage by the CSM and Monica Reyes (fresh from the Syndicate Villain Academy, apparently). In the show's infant years, Skinner acted as a double agent for the CSM, but his loyalty to Scully and Mulder eventually gave him courage to stand up to the devil incarnate and tell him to "pucker up and kiss my ass!" ("Paper Clip, s.3 ep.2). Now, as Cancerman is planning to release the Spartan virus on the unsuspecting mankind, he needs Skinner's help. Gee, I wonder what horrible mind-boggling secret he will drop on the Assistant Director to make him betray not only the dynamic duo but the mankind itself?

Back in the hospital Scully is attacked by one of Mr. Y's goons, but is saved by Mulder who makes it just in time to slice the guy's throat with a scalpel. The question of a conveniently placed scalpel aside, I kind of love this scene. It's brutal and shows a side of Mulder I haven't really seen since he almost killed Duane Berry, Scully's abductor from season two. It seems that Mulder's dark side emerges when Scully's life is in peril.

As Scully and Mulder are sharing an intimate and quiet moment in the aftermath of the gruesome attack, Skinner walks into the scene looking all conspicuous. Having smelled cigarette smoke on the Assistant Director's clothes Mulder immediately suspects that Skinner has been in contact with the CSM, and Skinner's standoffishness tells us that the old Smokey did get to him after all. But what could he possibly have said to make Skinner betray his friends?

In what will go down in the history of The X-Files as either the biggest twist of them all or the greatest lie, the CSM reveals that he is William's real father, not Mulder. Calling upon the events in the season seven episode, "En Ami", where he and Scully went on a road trip together, he claims to have used the opportunity to impregnate a sleeping Scully "with science". And just like that William's questionable conception is brought to the forefront of the story once again.

Puberty hit William like a runaway flying saucer

In a typical X-Files fashion Carter drops the plot twist that successfully upends the comfortable assumptions and ideas that have been so ingrained in the fans’ collective mind that some of us have started taking them for granted. But in the universe of The X-Files nothing can be taken for granted. And yet, the twist isn’t unwarranted. It’s not something that Carter just pulled out of his ass. Whether or not Carter planned for this to happen, the stage for the revelation has been set long ago, back when William B. Davis wrote "En Ami". And I love how well it fits CSM: s profile as the most vile human being to ever walk this Earth. 

This really is a topic that needs its own analysis but the outrage of the fans who feel that Carter seemingly robbed Scully of her agency with this twist misses the point. What needs to be done is to look beyond what is being said by the CSM and see how it all fits into the narrative of the show and informs his actions throughout the show’s run. Not just his actions but the actions of the Syndicate as a whole. The real horror of this dark and violent universe are the crimes of these powerful rich men whose power goes unchecked, and the heinous acts they commit against the oblivious and innocent people, especially women. David Duchovny said it best: "(...)These are obscenely powerful people, not elected in any way. (...) And those have always been our villains". 

Fox Mulder: son of the Syndicate

Then again, there is a good chance that the CSM is lying, just as he has been lying about... well, everything. Carter not only reflects on the “fake news” and “alternatives facts” phenomena in this episode but he makes these concepts work for the story he wants to tell, making them part of the narrative. As far we're concerned, everything that the CSM has ever said in this episode is a lie. 

The real power of these "obscenely powerful men" is that they can alter the truth to suit their own purposes. Like the Orwellian Ministry of Truth, they rewrite history until there is no way of telling the truth from the lies. 

So, this is "My Struggle III": a clumsy yet secretly brilliant episode that takes risks and gets the conversation going. It makes the show's themes of deception and ambiguity its mission statement. It uses old tropes to subvert our expectations. It surprises us, and disrupts the status quo without compromising the show’s integrity.   

Twists and conspiracies aside, I was especially happy with the return of Jeffrey Spender. I would like for Carter to someday explain how the poor guy got his face back, but I'm glad he recovered from being shot in the face and then tortured by his own father. If Spender isn't the living testament to the Cigarette Smoking Man's evil I don't know who is.

Welcome back, face!

Sources and links:

My Struggle III review on Cultural Conversation

Declassified: The End Of The World | Season 11 | THE X-FILES

The X-Files Wiki (for the pictures)

9 January 2018

Ten Books I Meant To Read In 2017 But Didn't Get To

Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday! It's a weekly meme hosted by the girls at The Broke and the Bookish

So many books, so little time. Here are ten of the many books I meant to read last year but didn't get to.


1. Glenn Miller Declassified by Dennis M. Spragg 

I requested this title on Netgalley, and I had read a good eighty pages before realising I would never finish it on time

2. Charmed: A Thousand Deaths by Erica Schultz

Another Netgalley request that I didn't even open (I'm going to stay away from Netgalley for a while).

Physical copies

As for the rest of the books on this list I'm not in a hurry. Their time will come. 

3. Leviathan Wakes by James A. Corey

4. "Deny All Knowledge": Reading The X-Files by David Lavery and Angela Hauge (editors)

5. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

6. Two Serpents Rise by Max Gladstone

7. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

8. Paper and Fire by Rachel Caine

9. Legend by Marie Lu

10. Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo

31 December 2017

The Last Post of 2017

It's the last day of 2017 and I thought I'd do a little summary of my reading year, and share with you some of my goals and dreams for the next year.

But first, I want to give shoutout to author Robert Eggleton, and his book, Rarity from the Hollow. It's a science fiction story about a girl who lives in an abusive home, and who has to save the Universe from an economic crisis. It's one of the strangest books I have read, and it deals with really heavy issues like child abuse, depression, and alcoholism. The author is a former mental health psychotherapist, who worked with victims of child abuse, and this book cuts deep into that subject matter. Moreover, the author proceeds from the book go to Chrildren's Home Society of West Virginia which is a nonprofit organisation. 

Now, I haven't read as many books as I wanted this year but I did meet my goal of thirty one books. I have tried to keep my goals simple and realistic, by only reading one book at a time, and not bringing home piles of library books that I know I won't have time to finish.

Most of the book I read I ended up loving and luckily there weren't any books that I found offensively bad. Some of them were just disappointing, like American Gods by Neil Gaiman (I will post that review on my Instagram). As far as my movie year goes, my favourite new movie was probably Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, while Blade Runner 2049 was the most disappointing movie I have seen (ever).

I want to do things differently next year. I'm not saying I want to read less books, I just want my reading to be more goal-oriented, and... smarter? This year, I requested a bunch of titles on Netgalley out of sheer curiosity, and then ended up not finishing them (which totally ruined my score, by the way). Now, I want to read books that I'm actually interested in. I want to read more nonfiction, and more classic sci fi.

As far as my writing goals go, I want to start writing every day, even if it's just going to be a few hundred words a day. I also want to start writing more essays and analytical posts. And finally, I want to share my writing more with others. This is pretty ironic coming from someone ho has made their hobby critiquing other people's writing but I am very self-conscious when it comes to my own writing, and aside from a few fanfics I wrote way back when, I haven't actually publsihed anything yet.

Well, that's it for me for now. Happy new year, and I will see you in 2018!

Last links of 2017

My Top Ten Books of 2017
Top Ten Books on My Winter TBR

Rarity Hollow on Amazon:

22 December 2017

End of the Year Book Haul

I haven't done a book haul in a while, so how about an end of the year haul? 

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams - this is the sequel to the surreal mystery Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. I loved it, and it was only a matter of time before I got the sequel.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber - I don't read a lot of YA fantasy but this book got a lot of positive buzz on Booktube, which made me quite curious.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë - love, love, love Jane Eyre! I read the library copy years ago, and it was about time to get my own.

Gold: The Final Science Fiction Collection by Isaac Asimov - got this as a present for my brother the last time I was in Stockholm. We both love Asimov so it seemed like the perfect choice.

Alright, that was my last book haul of 2017. As you can see I didn't get a lot of books this semester, but I put a lot of thought behind every purchase. 

Merry Christmas!

20 December 2017

Name Change and Other News

Hello everybody! 

Today was the last day of school (phew!). I prepped my last plastic tooth, and I returned all the instruments I've been working with this past semester. I've gotten quite acquainted with such lovely tools as the excavator, the bur, and the periodontal probe (they're not as scary as they sound). And now I rest... For like two days, because then I have to start studying for the finals that are in three weeks. 

Before I go back to the school library, and hit those textbooks hard, I want to share some news and updates. This blog has been in this weird half-life for months now, partially due to the increasingly demanding schedule, but mostly due to my extra-curricular commitments. For the past year, I have been the chairman (woman? person?) of our faculty's cultural committee and, though a lot of fun, this job has been taking a large chunk of my personal time. 

I decided not to run for a second term (I sound like a damn politician), so that I can have the time to focus more on this blog, and on writing in general. 

In the nearest future, I will be writing my review for Neil Gaiman's American Gods, and I will be posting more X-Files related content just in time for the season eleven premiere (which is in January 3rd, save the date!). 

My new series, Before They Were Blockbusters, is continuing, and this time I will re-read and review Who Goes There? by John Campbell, which was the basis for John Carpenter's The Thing. Btw, I know that movie wasn't exactly a blockbuster when it first came out, but it's a cult classic now, and it's one of my favourite movies. 

In other news, our holiday giveaway of Silent Fear by James and Lance Morcan is still active, so make sure to sign up by going to the "Featured Post" to your right. I haven't read the book myself yet, and I'm very excited to read it. It's a crime thriller, and it seems to be a good book to read on a cold dark December night. 

If you have been missing some of my good old-fashioned book reviews, I have an Instagram account, where I will be posting shorter, simpler reviews, along with some artsy companion pictures. In the future, I want to post most of my book and movie reviews on Instagram, because it's a very simple and straightforward method, but also because I want to mix up the content of this blog with more essays and discussion posts. 

The biggest news is that I will be changing the name of my blog. The domain will remain the same (for the time being), but the clunky and way-to-long-to-remember title card will be gone. So, it's just going to be "Dinara Tengri" from now on.

That's it for now. Happy Holidays! 

And because it's Christmas, here are some holiday related pictures from my Instagram! 

Keeping it simple
Outside of the school's scrubs supply closet

This one was taken for the school paper