The X-Files
The Complete Second Season

Starring: David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson
20th Century Fox
RRP 34.99
Certificate: 18
Available 11 October 2004

The X-Files have been shut down, and Agents Mulder and Scully have been given separate assignments. But strange circumstances, and a mysterious new informant called X, ensure that their quest for the truth cannot be silenced so easily...

Having been granted a second season, the producers of The X-Files found they had a couple of problems. At the end of the previous season, Mulder's paranormal investigations had been forcibly terminated, while in real life Gillian Anderson was now heavily pregnant. Thus the early episodes of Season Two struggle, with varying degrees of success, to re-establish and ultimately re-open the X-Files, while also attempting to work around Anderson's pregnancy.

Although the attempts to conceal the actress's condition are, in retrospect, extremely noticeable, the need to write her out of the show while she gave birth led to the series' first multi-part story, Duane Barry/Ascension, in which Scully is abducted. The enforced reduction of Anderson's screen time also meant larger roles for William B. Davis as the Cigarette-Smoking Man and Mitch Pileggi as Assistant Director Skinner, as well as the introduction of Alex Krycek, played by Nicholas Lea, whose role provided one of biggest surprises of the entire season. The broadening of the show's central concepts coincided with a creative drive toward more cohesion and consistency among the "mythology" episodes. Hence the toxic, green blood of the human-alien hybrids in the two-part Colony/End Game deliberately harks back the previous year's The Erlenmeyer Flask.

As the show became more confident, it began to paint in bolder strokes. Much of the first season's vagueness about the possibility of extra-terrestrial visitations was dispensed with. Little Green Men offers us living, breathing aliens, while Duane Barry also vividly depicts their spacecraft. Little Green Men also re-enacts, and thus effectively makes more "real", Mulder's recollection of his sister's abduction. (The "reality" of such matters would, of course, be questioned in later seasons, but that's another story.)

Season Two also pushes the show's boundaries in terms of horror. The gore just gets nastier in episodes such as The Host, a gruesome variation on Season One's Eugene Tooms episodes, and F. Emasculata with its plentiful popping pustules. The terror is decidedly less fantastical in Irresistible, an episode that stands out as a psychological thriller in its own right, and which inspired Chris Carter to create his second Fox TV series, Millennium.

Other highlights include Aubrey, the witchcraft-themed Die Hand Die Verletzt and the Exorcist-inspired The Calusari, all three of which contain brilliantly engineered twists and deceptions regarding the true identity of their respective villains. The wonderfully offbeat Humbug is conspicuous as The X-Files' first overtly comedic episode, setting a pattern that the series would increasingly rely upon, though rarely render so exquisitely, in later years.

Among the weaker entries, Firewalker is okay, but its "deadly life form from the dawn of time" means that this episode is too much like Ice or Darkness Falls but in a different environment. Dod Kalm, an obvious rip-off of the Deadly Years type of Star Trek episode, isn't bad, but the solution to Mulder and Scully's condition seems far too quick and easy - just like in The Deadly Years, in fact! Little Green Men contains many powerful images, but the script is rather too muddled and confusing to make an effective season opener. The real dud, however, is Fearful Symmetry - okay, so aliens might wish to abduct zoo animals, but why do the creatures become invisible when returned to Earth?

As with the first season DVD set, this collection contains a new 15-minute The Truth Behind... documentary, 12 brief Chris Carter interviews (originally seen in the VHS box set), nine Behind the Truth spots from the Fox network, a DVD-ROM game, foreign language clips aplenty, and TV trailers for each episode. The trailers for Dod Kalm are noteworthy for giving the game away regarding the cause of the Agents' apparent ageing in that episode (i.e. it's not due to a time warp)!

The Season Two box contains a wider selection of behind-the-scenes clips (from End Game, Humbug and Anasazi) and deleted scenes (from Sleepless, 3, Humbug and Anasazi). The branching versions of episodes, incorporating the deleted scenes, are more user-friendly than those in the Season One box... with the exception of Sleepless. Due surely to an oversight, the deleted scene from this particular episode, featuring Natalija Nogulich (alias Admiral Nechayev in Star Trek: The Next Generation) as the original choice to play X, cannot be accessed while watching Sleepless. Even more annoying, we don't get to hear Nogulich's delivery of dialogue because of a non-optional commentary by Producer Paul Rabwin.

On the whole, though, this package is at least as attractive as the first season box.

Richard McGinlay

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