201 Days of X-Files – Season 1 Episode 2 – Deep Throat

As difficult as making a workable pilot that’s actually good and entertaining, making a second episode isn’t necessarily a walk in the park (though this could be said about all TV episodes and pretty much all television in general). While the pilot introduced us to the idea of the show and set up what it’s going to be about, this episode needs to keep people watching (again, this could be said about any episode of TV, but especially a second one). And Deep Throat does a great job of continuing this.

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Since the Pilot didn’t use the opening credits and theme song, this is the first time we get to see them in all their early 90s glory. Really I’d say that, aside from the cell phones and computers that Mulder and Scully use, this is the aspect of the show that has aged the poorest. If you produced a TV show with the writing or the cinematography of The X-Files today, it would hold up. If you produced a TV show with these opening credits, people would not take it seriously.

Yet, I say that with a ton of affection, because these opening credits (specifically the theme tune) are some of the most iconic and classic parts of The X-Files, and is one of the biggest influences on pop culture. All somebody has to do is whistle a tune similar to the iconic theme, and you immediately picture aliens and conspiracies. It’s a little cheesy, yes, but it’s really memorable and has lasted as a part of pop culture over the years. It’s cheesy, but it’s rightfully beloved.

deepthroat2Another tangent, but this year I was lucky enough to be able to go to a convention with Gillian Anderson as a guest and go to the Q&A panel. The entire panel, the audience and Gillian had a running joke about shoulder pads. And oh god, are there ever shoulder pads. Add fashion to the things that aged poorly from these early episodes.

The thing that I’m mostly getting from this episode, though, is less the paranormal angle and more of the government conspiracy. Both of those things walk hand in hand throughout The X-Files’ run, but the real intrigue in this episode isn’t what paranormal thing happened to Col. Budahas, a military test pilot, but instead the further exploration of the government conspiracy, in particular with the introduction of the character Deep Throat (obviously borrowed from the famous Watergate scandal informant using the same pseudonym).

This is even the case back in the pilot – the discovery of the metal implant is secondary to the shot of the Cigarette Smoking Man filing it away at the Pentagon. When I was a teenager, the paranormal aspects of the show intrigued me, but now, as an adult, I am finding the conspiracy angle much more compelling.

That’s not to say that this episode’s main plot isn’t compelling; it certainly is. I’m just drawn much more to the idea that the government is covering up what’s happening to these test pilots than to the potential UFO connection. This is a testament to the writing of the show – it utilizes the paranormal aspect, but the biggest strengths are in the writing and the characters. But while UFO technology is a core aspect of the episode, government cover-ups are the real core of this episode. Even though Mulder and Scully work for the government, they still have to fight against the government, a very compelling fight.

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For being a fairly episodic show, I enjoy how Mulder and Scully are slowly getting to know one another, starting to get close with one another but still not completely being on the same page. Their relationship is developing nicely, and these two characters are the heart of the show. They’ve gotten to the point where they can joke around and Scully can start using her patented “I can’t believe you’re actually saying this” look. This is also the first time where Mulder abandons Scully to go investigating on his own, despite the consequences – something that happens more than once on this show.

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With these two characters, this episode is a bit of a shift – while Scully is arguably the protagonist of the pilot, Mulder gets a lot more screen time in this episode. Since this is an episodic show it does work that both characters can be protagonists in their own right, but I generally prefer Scully as a protagonist. Still, this is hardly a complaint, but merely an observation that this episode made a shift to be in both Mulder and Scully’s perspectives, but especially Mulder’s. Scully’s part in this is honestly a lot cooler than Mulder’s, though, as she gets Mulder back by holding military personnel at gunpoint.

Ultimately this is a great follow-up to the great pilot, and does a lot to set up Mulder and Scully as characters as well as the overall conspiracy storyline as a whole. 8/10

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201 Days of X-Files – Season 1 Episode 1 – Pilot

As the new mini season of The X-Files is fast approaching, I’ve been wanting to do a rewatch but I’ve also been wondering how to do it. Luckily, Fox has done the timing for me, and is having an unofficial rewatch. They aren’t airing these episodes (they want you to buy the DVDs or do Netflix), but it is a nice idea to get fans back into the thing.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been wanting to do a rewatch and possible review series for a good long while now, but now seems as good a time as any to do so.

Reviewing a pilot is an interesting thing. There are so many considerations that go into making a pilot that it’s hard to treat it as a normal episode of television. It’s made to entice TV executives to order more episodes, but it’s also made to get TV watchers to keep watching the show. It’s supposed to be the start of the story but also is supposed to show what a typical episode might look like. Pilots are also notoriously shaky – some of my favorite TV shows have pilots that I would flat out tell people to skip, or insist “no it gets better, believe me.

With all that being said, The X-Files actually has a fairly remarkably good pilot. While it’s not a perfect episode (I think the “this is based off of true events” angle is a bit hokey), and there are certainly much better episodes throughout the series run, it does a pretty fantastic job of introducing the basic premise of the show and getting across the general feel of the show. The firs meeting of Mulder and Scully, for example, has dialogue where he’s explaining why he’s a believer and why she’s a skeptic, and it perfectly conveys what their interactions are going to be.

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The scenes featuring just Mulder and Scully, in particular their first meeting and when they bond in his hotel room, are the strongest scenes of the episodes. The chemistry between the two of them is already there in full force, which makes their partnership relationship wonderful to watch. Honestly, their relationship works almost TOO well right away; it feels like they are already trusting each other from the getgo, which doesn’t quite work with the narrative.

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The rest of the plot is pretty typical X-Files, but again goes a long way in establishing the tone of the show. Possible abductions! Lost time! Possible conspiracy! While the merit of the entire mythology arc has been debated a lot (I personally like them but I understand that there are serious flaws with the mytharc), this episode does a fantastic job of getting to the core of the mytharc and Mulder’s journey.

It’s also almost remarkable how the visual tone of the series is established. This show still looks great, and in part that’s because the cinematography (in particular the lighting) still looks wonderful. When I took a film production class in college, The X-Files was used as an example of effective lighting, and that’s not wrong. The use of shadows and chiaroscuro lighting gives The X-Files some unique visuals, and it looks great.

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The acting is pretty solid for the most part. Gillian Anderson is the always wonderful and David Duchovny manages to hold his own with her. Some of the guest actors aren’t too great (Theresa Nemman’s actress is a little shaky) but, for being a TV show in the early 90s (before film actors and production started to migrate to TV) the acting is solid.

Ultimately this episode (and most of The X-Files) holds up remarkably well for being over 20 years old. The strong writing, characters and cinematography make it work really well. There are a few elements that feel dated (certainly the technology they use is quite dated), but as a show this holds up. I first became an X-Files fan in late 2005 – early 2006, and the show worked well on first watch then, but it still works now.

While there are definitely better, more ambitious episode of The X-Files, this is just about a perfect pilot episode and a great introduction to a great series. 8/10.

Review: Stick it to the Man

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Going through my Steam games that I hadn’t played, seeing a game that had been previously recommended by the Extra Credits folks was intriguing. After looking and seeing that this game has clear Double Fine / Psychonauts influence, I was even more intrigued.

Stick it to the Man is a puzzle platformer with strong adventure game roots. You play as Ray, an average Joe who wakes up after an accident to find himself with powers – he has a giant arm coming out of his head that allows him to read minds and grab objects. This leads to a lot of great narrative and gameplay value – for example, if you are stuck on a puzzle, you might want to read someone’s mind and grab something from that to solve your problem in the real world. It’s a fairly simple mechanic that’s used well to solve puzzles and aid in your platforming.

The art and narrative are where Stick it to the Man shines. This game is genuinely unique visually and has a lot of humor, something more games should take a lesson from. Both of these are remarkably well done and serve to make this a very memorable game.

Since the game is very narrative driven, those looking for replayability won’t find much in Stick it to the Man. It’s a relatively short game, depending on your puzzle prowess and dexterity in some of the platforming sections, and unless you want to experience the game again or get some missed achievements, you probably won’t need to go back into this world.

That said, Stick it to the Man is an entertaining, fun game with a lot of charm, creating a very memorable and worthwhile experience.

Mechanics and Story in Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

NOTE: THIS CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BROTHERS: A TALE OF TWO SONS
I’m not the type of person who normally thinks a lot about game mechanics. I know when there are mechanics that are particularly interesting (like in Papers Please), but other than that it’s not something that makes me think. I focus a lot more on storytelling and the visual aesthetics, things that come from my media degree background. However, it has been something I’ve been thinking about since I finished playing Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons yesterday.
In the game, you simultaneously control two brothers. The controls are relatively simple and intuitive; you control the older brother with the left thumb and trigger, and you control the younger brother with the right thumb and trigger. Both are fairly similar to control, except you learn that the older brother is generally stronger and more capable at doing things than the younger brother. He can lift heavier things,  he can swim (whereas the younger brother hangs on) and he can pull heavier levers.
I liked this game a lot throughout the whole thing. It’s really beautiful and the gameplay was enjoyable. There are certain sequences (one where the brothers are connected by a rope comes to mind) I’d like to replay. However, I had the bias of seeing the game on multiple year end lists of 2013 (part of the reason I got the game) and I wondered what made it so remarkable to some. It was beautiful and well-made, but what made it stand out?
At a pivotal moment in the game, the older brother dies. I was shocked; how was I to play a game where suddenly half of it was gone? I knew that the game was near the end, but it seemingly made me keep on going as the younger brother. I got to a point where the younger brother had to swim. I was puzzled; how was I supposed to get this one to swim? I kept trying to go towards the water, wondering if I just hadn’t triggered a cut scene or something.
I’m not sure when the correct answer dawned on me, but that moment of realization is when I realized the brilliance of this death. I used the controls for the older brother, and suddenly the younger brother was able to swim. He was able to jump higher and use the heavier levers with the left trigger. He had grown up, not only in the game but with the mechanics.
This could have been told just narratively if the younger brother was now able to do these stronger things. It would have still resonated, knowing that now he could do things that he was unable to do before. However, this choice of playing with the game’s core mechanics made it all the more surprising and all the more moving. The older brother’s death not only turned the narrative upside down, but it played with the core experience of playing Brothers, which I imagine would make anyone playing take notice.
Looking back at 2013, I’d still put Papers, Please, among others, above Brothers. However, this one moment made the game more memorable, and showed what playing with game mechanics can really do to reinforce the narrative.

My Steam Summer Sale Haul

Steam Sales, man. The twice year game buying binge.

All in all, it was a fun year. My friend and I played a game with the sales, I managed to get a badge (and gave trading cards to others), and bought more games than a (then) unemployed person should. Ah, well, I have a lot to keep me occupied! Here’s the rundown of what I got this sale, and my thoughts.

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations

I still haven’t finished Brotherhood, whoops. Still, I love the series, and I’m fairly confident that I’ll be pleased with Revelations. Even if it’s only half as good as ACII, I should be happy. Assassin’s Creed III is on the top of my list of games to get at the next sale. It was still a bit too pricey for my tastes this sale, but I know I want to give it a shot, despite it supposedly not being as good as its predecessors.

Chivalry: Medieval Warfare

My friend and I had a game; every time a game we voted for won a vote, we had to buy it. I cheated once by not buying a game, but then I had to buy another. Really, this was just so we bought more games. I actually enjoy Chivalry, for what it’s worth. I’m not a big multiplayer gamer, myself; I like story. However, Chivalry’s a fun take on the first person multiplayer action game, and occasionally I’m not half bad at it. I’m mostly bad, though, so we’ll see how much more I play of it.

Civilization 5

See last What I’m Blanking entry. But this is a seriously fun game. I didn’t know what I was expecting when I started it, but I’ve gotten into strategy games now, I guess. This is completely addicting, and I’m very glad I bought this.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

People told me to wait until the new edition came out. However, this game was $3! I still haven’t gotten around to playing that much of it, but I’m really trying for maximum stealth and minimum kill. As someone who’s terrible at stealth games, this is making my game a LOT longer!

Dust: An Elysian Tale

I’ve wanted this game ever since it was an XBox exclusive; I’m SO glad it got ported, and now I got it! The art style’s really nice looking,  the action is fluid and fun, and it’s a really nice game.

Fallout: New Vegas

This is one of those games that I really wanted to pick up during this sale! I really like the post-apocalyptic setting and the gameplay, and it’s a really fun game. To be honest, I find the Fallout games a bit difficult to marathon play, but I know I’ll be coming back to this one.

Final Fantasy VII

This was my punishment for not buying a game. I haven’t tried it yet, but this is one of those classic games I’ve never played. So I’m pretty excited.

Organ Trail

It’s Oregon Trail. But with zombies! Basically, that’s the best description for it. My friend and I both bought it and named characters after each other. The only thing I dislike is the shooting mechanic, but it’s ultimately a fun game that I got for pretty cheap!

Skyrim

Seriously, it’s Skyrim. But I’ve had a lot of fun with this one, as well; see one of my previous What I’m Blanking posts.

Surgeon Simulator

I bought this again because of that bet my friend made. This is frustration: the game. Basically, look up any gameplay vid of it, and you see why. Not sure how much of this I’ll play, but I got it anyways.

What I’m Blanking #7

Starting a new job is stressful. So I took a week off of this while I started my new thing. It’s not necessarily a huge job (it’s part-time), but it’s nice to be working again.

 

What I’m Playing: Civilization 5

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The Steam Summer sale is over. It’s always a bittersweet feeling, like the days after Christmas. I ended up with a pretty good haul, all things considered, but what I’ve been playing lately is Civilization 5. I bought this mostly on a whim;  I’m not much of a strategy game player. However, I’m completely addicted to Civ 5. I think the thing I like is just the freedom of building up my empire; you can try to be friendly, bloodthirsty, or whatever you want to build yourself up.

The first couple of games I played ruthlessly; I built up huge armies and destroyed all my neighboring civilizations. However, this most recent game I decided to try to get a more cultured, science-minded civilization, and win through that. I made friends with neighboring civilizations, and was excited to start a more peaceful game. Then Napoleon stabbed me in the back, and tried to take over some of my cities. It’s something I should have expected, but nonetheless interesting.

Like I said, I bought this on a whim. However, it might open up my interests to more games. Not that I need to buy more games, but it’s a good thing to broaden my horizons.

What I’m Watching: Pacific Rim

I loved this movie. Before I saw it, my friend was a bit hesitant about recommending it to me, I assume because it’s not necessarily the most cerebral of movies. However, I tend to like movies that are good at what they’re trying to accomplish and set out to do. I went into Pacific Rim wanting robots fighting monsters. And that’s what I got. That’s not to say it was a perfect movie; there are definitely parts that could have been improved. My sister pointed out that it didn’t pass the Bechdel Test, though Mako Mori, being badass, female and a woman of color, ends up bringing the movie up on that front. There could have been more characterization for the characters, as well. Some of the science didn’t cut it. But really, the one thing you should be going into this movie for is a big robot fighting a big monster. And we got that, spectacularly.

The lack of focus on characterization unfortunately is one of the things that would prevent this from being a really great, memorable film. If there had been a little more focus on characters and story, it would probably be a lot more memorable. As it stands, I’m not quite sure where this will stand in the test of time, and if it will be a staple like, say, The Matrix is, when I want to watch an action movie. However, it was a really good time in the movie theater, and I’m definitely really glad I saw it.

What I’m Blanking #6

What I’m Playing: Skyrim (oh, and everything because Steam Sale)

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If you aren’t a big video game player and you check out this blog from my Facebook/twitter/tumblr/Idolminded (thank you for recommending me Chiima!), every year there are two huge sales for PC game fans. They’re both on the digital client Steam, which pretty much dominates directly downloading games. There are other great sites out there (Amazon, greenmangaming, GoG, etc.), but Steam has gotten a lot of recognition for its massive sales. While in past sales I’ve bought more games than I might have needed (to be fair, most of those games were around 75% off), this year I’ve been a bit more frugal and just bought Skyrim, the fifth major installment of the Elder Scrolls series.

Here’s the thing: I’ve played bits and pieces of Morrowind and Oblivion, the two previous installments. They were fine, but I never really got into them all that much. Yet I’ve been really enjoying Skyrim a lot. Skyrim’s really popular, but among Elder Scrolls fans, from what I see online, Morrowind  is generally regarded as the best game. The rationale I’ve heard mostly has to do with Skyrim being a bit more accessible whereas Morrowind and Oblivion are a bit more complex.

I can definitely appreciate that, but I definitely prefer Skyrim. Maybe it’s the graphics (Skyrim is a GORGEOUS game), maybe it’s that combat feels a lot improved, maybe things feel a little easier (as opposed to my experience playing Morrowind where I had no idea where I was going most of the time). In terms of difficulty, Skyrim is definitely easier. I’m playing on the default difficulty, and things have been much easier than Oblivion or Morrowind. However, I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I think playing difficult games can be somewhat overrated. There’s kind of a stigma that exists in the video game community against playing a game on easy, but in my opinion if it  makes the game more fun then you should play however you want to. I know I play Dragon Age: Origins on Easy mode, because all I really care about is playing the story, not the combat.

Still, I’ve really enjoyed Skyrim. I usually prefer more story-focused RPG games, but it’s just fun to ride a horse around this really gorgeous world. I do wish there was more of a story, but I’m having so much fun doing the small quests that I take a long time actually doing the main missions. The weird thing is, while I usually have trouble with open-world games like this, I do find myself making up a narrative more and more. My character, for example, is protective of her horse more than anything else (I really like my horse even though it’s not even that fast).

So yeah, it may be a bit watered-down and simplified. But I guess I have bad taste, because it totally worked for me.

What I’m Watching: Parks and Recreation and New Girl

I’m dabbling in other things (I’m going to start to watch Orange is the New Black and The Fall on Netflix), but at the end of the day I keep coming back to some of my favorite comedies. I’ve been rewatching Parks and Rec on Hulu (so rewatching the full 5th season), but I had to jump on New Girl because it was just added to Netflix and I haven’t seen every episode of the first season (because I studied abroad and didn’t watch too much American TV that semester).

Parks and Recreation is my favorite show on TV right now. I initially wrote it off because its initial season was less than stellar and I thought it was just a bad Office spin-off. However, after seeing many recommendations I decided to give it a shot. The reason I really love it so much is that it’s a really positive comedy. The characters all have flaws, but at the end of the day the show is about good people who genuinely care about one another (for the most part) and what they do. This can be rare, as comedies get more and more cynical. I like dark comedy as much as anyone, but it’s refreshing to see comedy that has so much heart to it. I can think of three separate episodes where I’ve sobbed happy tears while watching Parks and Rec. All of this was because I really root for Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope, and I want her to succeed more than any other TV character. The show is just full of so much warmth and love, that it is the definition of a feel-good show.

That doesn’t stop it from being hilarious; there’s a lot of really great humor in the show. Which is almost more remarkable; that it lets you love all the characters on the show, but still is completely hilarious. This is rare, and something I appreciate.

New Girl is also interesting. I was very excited for the show when it first came out. When I saw it I liked it, but didn’t love it. Then slowly, this past season it’s grown to be one of the funnier network comedies out there. Season 2 grew stronger and stronger, as opposed to season 1 which was funny, but more sporadically so. I think a lot of shows, comedies especially, need a bit of time to find what they’re going to be. So if you wrote off either of these shows based off their first seasons, I’d suggest checking them out again.