The X-Files
The Complete Fourth Season

Starring: David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson
20th Century Fox
RRP 34.99
Certificate: 15
Available 27 December 2004

As the agents continue their paranormal investigations, Mulder is still haunted by the abduction of his sister Samantha, while the aftermath of Scully's own abduction takes a deadly turn for the worse...

The third season of The X-Files was a hard act to follow. Even bearing this fact in mind, Season Four feels, in general, rather bland by comparison. It has been claimed that creator Chris Carter neglected the series while he paid closer attention to the first season of his new show, Millennium, although the interview material among the extra features in this box set steer clear of this controversial topic.

There is a higher proportion of weak episodes in Season Four than in any previous year. One of the worst ones, Teliko, is another in a long line of rehashes of the first season's Squeeze, even down to the killer's contortionist abilities. Unruhe and Unrequited are merely OK. In spite of their embrace of new supernatural subjects, both El Mundo Gira and Kaddish also lack distinction. El Mundo Gira, in particular, is very silly and, in terms of plot, all over the place. Synchrony is a time-travel story that offers great potential, but ends up being a muddled mess. Small Potatoes is an attempt to recapture the offbeat style of writer Darin Morgan (who plays the guest-starring role of loser Eddie van Blundht). This culminates in some superb Mulder/Scully scenes, but is let down by a monumentally nonsensical explanation for Eddie's shape-shifting abilities. Why couldn't his mutation have been tied in with the alien shape-shifters, if no better explanation could be concocted?

Although the series' production values continue to rise, particularly during the "mythology" episodes, there is an increasing tendency for the two-parters to overlook the need to offer viewers a sense of resolution. Both Herrenvolk, the conclusion to the third season cliffhanger Talitha Cumi, and Terma, the continuation of Tunguska, favour spectacle and sensation but lack substance. Granted, the mysteries of the deeper conspiracy need to remain a secret at this stage in the game, but previous "mythology" instalments, such as Season Two's End Game and Season Three's Paper Clip, nevertheless managed to round off the drama with a satisfying sense of closure. Herrenvolk and Terma just leave you wondering what the plot has achieved and what these shows are trying to tell us.

That said, this season also includes the excellent two-parter, Tempus Fugit/Max. This is a more self-contained affair, even though it reprises a character from the first season: the amusing and sympathetic abductee, Max Fenig (Scott Bellis). Zero-Sum is an enjoyable one-shot "mythology" episode, full of excellent Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) scenes and scary bee moments.

Other episodes that make this box set worth buying include the intensely moving The Field Where I Died, Memento Mori and Paper Hearts (featuring a chilling performance by guest star Tom Noonan). Like Paper Hearts, Demons delves into Mulder's recollection of his sister's abduction. Both of these episodes question whether the event actually had a more down-to-earth - and perhaps less comfortable - explanation than Mulder (David Duchovny) has always believed. The spotlight turns on Scully (Gillian Anderson) in Never Again, an eyebrow-raising episode that shows a sexier and more dangerous side of the agent than she usually allows anyone to see.

This season also contains some of the scariest and most disturbing images of the series' entire run. Top of list has to be Home, a deeply distressing (some would say distasteful) tale of in-bred country bumpkins, echoing the style of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The runner-up prize must go to the medical nastiness and pitch-black humour of Sanguinarium. Then there's the gruesome regenerative powers of Leonard Betts (guest-starring E.R.'s Paul McCrane). This is another variant on Eugene Victor Tooms, but a far more imaginative and stylish one than Teliko.

Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man is an extremely peculiar episode, which encapsulates some of the strengths and weaknesses (including Carter's lack of attention) of the entire season. Written and directed respectively by Glen Morgan and James Wong, who returned to the X-Files fold as consulting producers following a one-year absence, this instalment purports to reveal the pivotal role that the Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis) has played in American history since the 1960s. This account is not only extremely - and amusingly - far-fetched, but it also clashes with the 1950s flashback in the third season's Apocrypha. Does this mean that the account is a fictionalised version of CMS's career (he also tries to get a work of fiction published during the course of this episode) or was the continuity gaff simply the result of Morgan and Wong having been away from The X-Files during Season Three? Chris Carter has always claimed that the flashbacks in Musings were never intended to represent the "truth", but I'm not so sure that this was Morgan and Wong's intention.

During their sabbatical from The X-Files, Morgan and Wong launched their own series, Space: Above and Beyond, which was cancelled after its first season. An interesting game that you can play while watching Season Four is "spot the ex-Space: Above and Beyond actor"! For example, the role of Lee Harvey Oswald in Musings is played by Morgan Weisser. Watch out also for Rodney Rowland in Never Again and a stunning multiple-personality performance by Kristen Cloke in The Field Where I Died.

The episodes are accompanied by the now familiar selection of extra features. The documentary, The Truth About Season 4, is slightly longer than usual, at 24 minutes. To compensate for the lack of Private Conversations with Chris Carter, of which there is only one this time - for the two-part Tunguska/Terma - there are four similar short interviews with other members of the production team. Memento Mori can be viewed with an audio commentary by writer Frank Spotnitz, while Small Potatoes offers a commentary by writer Vince Gilligan. As well as the usual behind-the-scenes spots, episode trailers and special effects clips, there is an impressive array of deleted scenes from seven episodes, including a four-minute sequence from Memento Mori and two minutes from The Field Where I Died.

This is certainly a below-par season by X-Files standards, but somewhat better than I had remembered it - and definitely still great value for money.

Richard McGinlay

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