The X-Files Are Closed

It’s now been almost a month since the latest (and probably last) season of The X-Files ended. I’ve had a month to think over and reflect on the latest season, what it means to the overall legacy of the show, and whether or not I even want another season (if it ever even happens, of which I’m doubtful).

Anyway, The X-Files returned a couple years ago with a six-episode run. The show had been off the air since May of 2002, with a single movie released in 2008 (a movie I’ve not seen, but have not heard good things about). Season 10 had only one good episode, and that was written by Darin Morgan, who wrote or co-wrote some classic X-Files episodes (including “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” and “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space“. (For those keeping track, I’m speaking of the episode “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster”. That episode was great.)

Season 10 began and ended with two atrocious episodes (“My Struggle” and “My Struggle II”), both written solely by series creator Chris Carter. The episodes continued the series’ core mythos arc, but 14 years later, was anyone still remembering where the show left off after those last several seasons? These two episodes are examples of what not to do with a show. There was excessive meddling with the mythos arc, taking it in crazy new directions that made no sense, and repeatedly changing direction. The editing and pacing was way too fast paced and hectic. There was also plenty of misogynism. The episodes made me no longer care about the mythos arc.

Season 11 had 10 episodes. It also began and ended with Carter-penned “My Struggle” episodes, the creatively-titled “My Struggle III” and “My Struggle IV”. The first episode again changed direction with the mythos arc but I’d given up caring. Apparently season 10 was just a vision Scully had or something like that, it doesn’t really matter. Carter had some original idea way back when, but his writing has gone insane.

Episode 11.02 carried on the story of the Lone Gunmen. I remember, in the months leading up to season 10, reading the comic book continuation of the show, the I guess officially unofficial season 10 (muddled a bit because the comic books had support from Chris Carter). One element of the comic books was that the Lone Gunmen, all three, were still alive and were now working for the government in a base hidden underneath Arlington Cemetery. Of course, the Lone Gunmen died in the original X-Files, so having them return would ruin that episode. Season 10 had a cameo by the Gunmen (or at least from Langly) in a sequence that probably didn’t really happen. There’s a scene in this episode (called “This”, by the way) where Mulder and Scully are tracking clues from Langly that lead them to Arlington Cemetery, to a specific tombstone. My first thought was that Carter was actually following the story of the comics and would bring back the Gunmen. However, that wasn’t the case. This episode shut the book on whether the Gunmen were still alive. They are all dead. They’re not returning. Glad that at least Langly had a final episode, though.

Next memorable episode is 11.04, “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat”. I remember the promos playing this up as a humorous episode, which it was. This was a great episode. Introducing a character who has supposedly been part of the main character cast all along but we just have never seen him (or we remember a false history), this episode plays a lot with the Mandela Effect (or the Mengele Effect, as our mystery character, Reg, puts it). There’s a lot of playing around with false memories, and a lot of hilarious scenes. Stuart Margolin is great as Dr. They, in some well acted and well shot scenes with Duchovny. This is a great parody of the show itself, and the scene at the end with Skinner is just great. Already this season is better than season 10.

11.05 is one of those Major Episodes, finally introducing us to William. He turns out to have a superpower of manipulating how people see him, because of course he does. Best thing I can say about this episode is that at least it wasn’t written by Carter (it was written by James Wong, who wrote/co-wrote such classics as “Squeeze”, “Tooms”, “Home”, and “The Field Where I Died”). Of course the episode ends with Mulder and Scully just missing William, encountering him without knowing they encountered him, and William runs away. We’ve still got four more episodes followed by one more mythos episode.

11.06 is probably going to go down as the best episode of this season. It’s a Skinner-focused episode (I think only the second episode to be such). Mitch Pileggi is fantastic in this episode, and it’s great that he gets an entire episode about his character. Anything more I say will ruin the surprises of this episode. Give it a watch, I think you’ll enjoy it.

11.07 is a letdown, overall. It has some great ideas. Doing an episode with minimal dialog is a great approach, and is done well here. That it all leads up to a pretty bad joke is a disappointment. It has some great moments, such as Mulder wondering why Scully has a better house than him. There’s a great underlying message about how we, as a society, have become so focused on our phones, though.

11.08 is a classic in the creepy ghost and supernatural vein. There are so many different styles of a classic X-Files episode, ranging from UFOs/aliens to monsters to ghosts to the unexplained. This is the creepy ghost variety.

11.09 is pretty forgettable, but it was in the classic vein of those episodes that are just really morbid and grotesque.

And that brings us to the finale, 11.10, “My Struggle IV”. If you go into something expecting to be disappointed, you’re rarely surprised. This is Carter’s finale to the series. I’m wondering if he wrote this expecting to do another series or not. Gillian Anderson has said in recent interviews that she’s done playing Scully, so that puts to rest any real possibility of a new season. (Also, Skinner is apparently killed in this episode, so that’s a disappointment) Mulder and Scully both finally and officially meet William and he’s supposedly killed but the final shot of the episode proves that he is in fact still alive (does that surprise anyone?). Cigarette-Smoking Man is also shot and falls into a river but does anyone expect that to really be his end? The guy survived missiles launched from helicopters to the face. This isn’t gonna hurt him. Frantic pacing and editing plague this episode. Also, Carter has an obsession with car chases. Seriously. Also, Scully is pregnant again.

And that ends The X-Files. Season 11 had some great episodes, among the series’ best, but the mythos is such a mess that I don’t see how anyone can care anymore. It’s sad that the series ended on such a bad note, but at least “My Struggle IV” offered some sort of closure, unlike “My Struggle II”. The let-down of that is enough to make me rather the series had not come back, but I’m glad that this last season gave us some new classic episodes. It was like reuniting with an old friend and realizing you’ve both gone separate ways enough that a brief meeting is enough. Society has changed. The world is different. The X-Files belongs to a different, past era. Let’s close the book and move on.

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Rest in Peace, Art Bell

Radio legend Art Bell passed away today at the age of 72.

Bell was best known as the creator and original host of late-night radio show Coast to Coast AM, where he covered all sorts of supernatural and paranormal topics. His show aired from midnight to 3am east coast time. Popular subjects on his show included alien/UFO sightings, ghost recordings/sightings, out-of-body experiences, “shadow people”, remote viewing, and even “reverse messages” (that last was about taking recordings of people talking and playing them backwards to hear subliminal messages). In many ways, Bell helped create the culture that would embrace The X-Files.

It wasn’t until the late ’90s that I discovered Coast to Coast AM, and thus Bell. I was able to pull in a station on my radio late at night that carried the show. I found the show fascinating. I really found the callers interesting. I knew many of them were silly (esp. those calling on the time traveler line), but it was neat to hear them talk about possible futures and alternate realities. This was at the time Sliders was on, and X-Files had reached its peak. Bell’s topics were part of the fabric of national culture. Paranormal, supernatural, and extraterrestrials were a national fascination. We were all about UFO sightings and ghost recordings. I remember FATE magazine, which covered similar topics. Bell’s voice, the way he respected callers regardless of how ludicrous they seemed, was great.

Bell would eventually step down from Coast, to be replaced by current host George Noory. I never listened to many of his shows. Back in 2015, I had my first shortwave radio, a Tecsun PL-310, and late at night I’d scan the shortwave dial. I picked up a station out of Tennessee that carried Bell’s new show, Midnight in the Desert. I found that during his second episode, and would try to stay up late just to listen to it most weeknights, my sleep schedule be damned. Midnight was much like Coast, just with a different name. Bell broadcast out of his home in Pahrump, Nevada, the Kingdom of Nye.

I remember when Bell stepped down as host of Midnight. The situation was that someone was threatening him and his family, and would act if Bell continued on the air. Bell took the threats seriously when he heard gunshots outside his house one night when he was on the air. Heather Wade took over as host and remains to this day.

Back when I was still doing Radio Free Caemlyn’s Friday Night Trivia, there was an idea from Bell that I wanted to use, called “Truth or Trash”. For that, Bell would have people call in, volunteer to serve as “judges” (three people for that). Other callers would tell stories that the judges had to guess were either true or false. Bell wanted the stories to be strange, the sort that Rod Serling would be proud to have penned. I wanted to use this on Trivia, but could never work out how to implement it. For anyone who remembers that I had a round I was working on but never got to use, that was it.

More recently, the guy who plays T. Rucker on the YouTube/Vaughn/Twitch series “Haulin’ Ass” has launched a new show, called “The Vortex”, where he plays a character named Ira Cutler. This show and character are based entirely on Bell and Coast/Midnight. A popular recurring guest on Bell’s shows, Richard C. Hoagland, is planned to be introduced, to be played by the guy who plays Bob Croft on “Haulin’ Ass”. Hoagland is another story entirely. I guess he still hosts his own show, The Other Side of Midnight.

Anyway, rest in peace Art Bell. You will be missed.

Update: Wait, this is the remembrance NPR posts? That isn’t a remembrance as much as it is a mockery. They mock the radio legend. “Hey, remember that kooky radio guy who talked about Bigfoot?” Ugh. She calls him “quirky”. Wow.

Games I Don’t Think Anyone Remembers: Shimlar

Doing something a bit different today. Usually for this series I post about old PC games, specifically DOS games, but this time I’m gonna talk about an old MMO, one that was text-only.

Shimlar is an MMO that I discovered back in high school. A neighbor told me about it, and we both started playing. I played it a lot for a couple years, getting a couple high-level characters before moving on with my life at University.

Shimlar is presented as a text-only game. You roll a character, choose a race and class (basic stuff like elves or dwarves and mages or soldiers, etc). Each race has a home area, where you have the same basic locations (healing locations, banks, stores, and so on).

For combat, you choose an enemy name from a drop down list. The list is in ascending order in terms of difficulty; grind against the earlier enemies on the list before tackling those at the bottom or you’ll be wiped out. Occasionally you’ll fight against special versions of enemies, who have different stats and may drop rare items. You’ll level up quickly in your starting zone, and can choose which stats get more of a boost. I typically played elven mages, so I would use spells instead of weapons. Basic stuff.

Once you felt you’d leveled up enough, you could venture outside your starting area. The main overworld was much larger, and was also a PvP area (you were safe from other players as long as you stayed in your starting area).

You could visit other starting areas, but they were all mostly the same.

Each character had an alignment stat. Depending on if you fought other players in the overworld, you could alter your characters alignment, from good to neutral to evil. There were certain late-game areas that were only accessible if you had the corresponding alignment.

There was a constant chat window on the bottom of the screen. This was divided into the main chat and role-play chat. This was in the days before Twitter or even Facebook, back in the “web 1.0” days I guess they might be retroactively called.

Occasionally, enemies would drop gems of different types. These could be fitted to weapons or spells to grant stat boosts. You’d constantly see people offering to buy, trade, or sell these in the main chat.

One unique area in the overworld offered quests. Earlier I mentioned the special types of enemies you’d occasionally run into. These quests would have you track down and defeat specific ones.

The game offered clans you could join. I guess most of what I’ve been typing is run-of-the-mill for MMOs, with the only thing to set Shimlar apart is the text-only approach. You had lists of links to click, directional arrows to click, drop-down menus, nothing visual. It was all played in a browser. This was back before my family had Internet access at home, so I’d play it a lot whenever I went online at the local public library. I’d also play it a lot on library computers at my University my first year there.

In the end, Shimlar didn’t really do much unique. You had traditional level-up systems, characters mastering different weapons/spells, some PvP, quests to complete, an active chat community back in the day. It was a fun way to kill time.

I briefly revisited this game a year ago, surprised to see that it still existed. Of course, my old characters had long since disappeared (they have server wipes at least twice a year, with inactive characters being removed).

I might update this if I remember more about Shimlar, but until then, does anyone else remember this game?

Games I Don’t Think Anyone Remembers: Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure: Forbidden Planet

I’ve not written a new entry in this series in years. It’s time I post something new, so here it is.

Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure was another shareware game I played as a kid. At least, I think it was shareware. Maybe it wasn’t. Either way, I remember getting a box of floppy disk from an aunt that had all sorts of games. Maybe it was on a full-size floppy disk, but was probably a 3 1/2″. Or maybe it was a game I got from the dollar store. I clearly remember having a sleeve for this game (a thin, paper case with the box art on the front, info on the reverse. The box art I posted above is not what I remember, and neither is what shows on Wikipedia).

Anyway, it was yet another DOS game. Remember having to type up commands in DOS prompt to start games? “cd\cosmo”, enter, “cosmo”. I still remember that.

This was a sidescrolling platformer, in which you play as a small, green humanoid alien with suction-cups for hands. Those let you climb walls and poles, adding a lot of verticality to otherwise left-to-right horizontal stages. There are lots of collectibles along the way, springs to bounce off of. There are also some hovercraft stages. It’s all alien and space-themed, which kid-me really enjoyed.

Reading through the Wikipedia page, I see Duke Nukem had a cameo (though referred to as Duke Nukum). I don’t remember this, but I do remember an old DOS Duke Nukem game. And I wouldn’t remember this, as it was in the second game, which I never played. Was it ever released? Must’ve been for a reference to be on the Wikipedia page.

There’s also the scrolling. Apparently this scrolls past at 8 pixels instead of one, which definitely adds to its aesthetic. Of everything I remember about this game, it’s that. It kind of glitched across, as I remember, instead of scrolling smoothly. I guess in my mind I chalk that up to it being a DOS game, but who knows.

A main reason I remember this game, besides it being a fun, simple game, is how vivid the worlds were designed. They were all so lush, so alive, so fantastic. It was so neat to visit those realms. In particular, I remember stage five had a system of pipes you could travel around in. Later on, when I played The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and saw those pipes in the Turtle Rock stage, I immediately thought of this game.

I also remember how the game ended, with Cosmo falling down a long pit, only to be eaten by some large creature. That was the cliffhanger leading to the second game, which I never played or even knew existed. That ending always freaked me out, as a kid. Maybe that’s another reason I remember this game so well.

All said, it was a fun little game. I never hear anyone mention it. Maybe I’ve seen it mentioned once in relation to a GamesDoneQuick marathon or some other speedrun thing.

Anyone else remember Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure?

MST3K Returns! (A Non-Spoilery Review of 11.01)

Today, the 9th of April, 2017, saw the advance online screening of Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode 11.01 for the Kickstarter backers. I was sure to be awake at 3am local time so I could start watching it the moment the stream launched.

I backed the MST3K Kickstarter at a sufficient level to allow me digital downloads of the entire season once available. Recent updates from Joel have revealed that I can start streaming the new season on Tuesday.

Anyway, my thoughts on 11.01, while giving away as little as possible (because this episode works best when you don’t have anything given away).

In the months leading up to this, I wondered if they would explain the hiatus in any way within the narrative. I also wondered if they would explain how our new main character, Jonah Heston, ends up on the Satellite of Love and as the subject of these experiments. Joel Robinson was already there at the start of the show (in both versions of the narrative (Joel Hodgson as a lone survivor on the Satellite of Love and Joel Robinson as a guy not-too-different from you or me who is shot up into space because his bosses didn’t like him) and Mike Nelson just ended up there after Joel’s last episode (his arrival on the SoL implied but never explicitly shown on-screen other than what was used in the title sequence). Turns out this episode’s intro handles all of this quite deftly, combining an “origin story” with the title sequence, setting the stage for this new season nicely. (The only nitpick I could possibly have is that the Satellite of Love is back and the bots are on board. How did that happen? Did Kinga build a new SoL? Did she kidnap the bots away from Mike (and steal Gypsy back from wherever she was)? I should really just relax)

With backstory out of the way, we’re tossed right into the first experiment. It’s a bit jarring to see an HD print of a movie used but, hey, technology marches on and it fits with modern-day broadcast resolutions (a thing I neither care about or keep up with (4k 8k or whatever doesn’t really mean anything to me)).

Riffs were fast and frequent, but sometimes they flew by so fast that I wasn’t able to catch everything. This is kind of par for the course, especially with the Mike-era of the show. This episode introduces some really neat visual effects for the silhouettes, especially for Servo. Even Gypsy visits the theater a couple of times. Riffs involved references both old and new fans of the show will get. This, the real meat of the show, felt true to form and convinced me that MST3K is really and truly back.

Host segments are back, although they all feel a bit rushed. There’s a single gag and the segment is over, ended all-too-quickly by movie sign. There was a really great song in this episode which had a great segue into movie sign, though. It’s just…after rewatching a lot of Mike-era episodes, the host segments in this first episode felt like an afterthought (which isn’t to say they weren’t entertaining, they were).

The door sequence has been nicely updated, with tons of visual easter eggs to sift through. There’s even a replacement Crow head hidden in the last section before the theater.

Felicia Day and Patton Oswalt join the cast as the new Mads. There’s not much to say about the characters at this point as they were only barely in the episode (they were in the title sequence and the segment just before end credits, but that was about it). I like the idea of the characters, but it’ll take some more episodes to get a better feel for them.

Something I’ve seen a lot of people complain about is the blatant use of “Mystery Science Theater 3000” as a name within the lexicon of the show itself. The name is referenced several times by main characters, and the moon logo is even seen within the world of the show itself. Is this a problem? I don’t think it is. Going back to the Joel era, you’ve got numerous mentions by Dr. Clayton Forrester to his “Mystery Science Theater” or “Mystery Science Theater 3000” project. KTMA episodes have Joel “Hodgson” referencing the theater as “Mystery Science Theater”. It’s been years since I’ve seen the movie, but I think Dr. Forrester again mentions MST3K by name as his project in the movie’s intro. Usage of the name died off in the Mike-era, though, and I don’t think Pearl Forrester ever used that name. So, is having Kinga referencing MST3K by name a problem? It really is not, and helps to tie the show back to its earliest seasons.

The show will air on Netflix, and being there the show will not have advert breaks. The original show was built around advert breaks, with host segments leading to those. In a recent interview, Joel Hodgson said he was including those segues again not just to hold true to the show’s history but also because he found that relic of TV show evolution to be fascinating. These new episodes retain those cutaways to advert breaks and do so in a really neat way. There are references to the original show in these interstitials as well.

The sets hold true to the show’s original spirit of kitbashing, or taking stuff from various models and kits and throwing them together. To me, though, the SoL bridge feels a bit empty. They’ve a lot of screen-space, but there’s little going on in the background when compared to Joel- or Mike-era SoL sets. Maybe this is a minor complaint, because it all looks good on screen, it just doesn’t have a lot of personality.

Overall, the show looks great and has the sense of humor and fun of the original, which is what I wanted. Jonah fits right in as test subject, and is already establishing a different connection to the bots than Joel or Mike had. Joel was their creator. Mike was their big brother. Jonah is trying to fit in and the bots are already resigned to this guy going away and being replaced.

I enjoyed the first episode. Bring on the remaining 13 episodes and many seasons more!