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X-Files Mythology, Vol. 2 - Black Oil, The
Not too long ago I had the chance to review the first volume in this compilation series from the popular sci-fi show The X-Files. This compilation series contains selected episodes from the show's nine season run. The focus is on what I consider the most intriguing story from the show, which is dubbed as The X-Files Mythology and what I refer to as the conspiracy story arc. The point of these releases is to target viewers who enjoy the conspiracy story arc, but do not want to shell out the cash for the full season sets. Many people are not very interested in 'the monster of the week' episodes, which make up the other portion of The X-Files.
For those who are not familiar with the series, The X-Files stars two F.B.I. Special Agents, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). The two are distinct individuals. Mulder is fascinated by the paranormal and he is driven by the abduction of his younger sister in finding the truth about aliens and their relation to a government conspiracy. Scully is a medical doctor and a scientist who firmly believes everything has rational and scientific explanation. In the beginning of the first season, Mulder and Scully are partnered together. Mulder had been working on cases known as X-Files. X-Files are unsolvable cases with odd attributes that no one wants to deal with. Scully was put with Mulder in an attempt to debunk his work on the X-Files. Unfortunately for the higher powers that be, Mulder and Scully hit it off. The two characters are very different, yet they work great together in making up for each other's flaws. In a way, this compilation set is disappointing because it does not deliver the same relationship between Mulder and Scully as found with watching the entire seasons.
In the first volume "Abduction", the episodes mostly revolved around alien abduction and how it intertwined into a much larger plot. Be sure to check out my review of The X-Files Mythology, Vol. 1 - Abduction for more details. In this second volume "Black Oil", the story continues by unleashing more about the conspiracy story arc and something new and devilish, the black oil. I won't tell you exactly what the black oil is or what it means to the big picture. Doing so would be an unwarranted spoiler. Needless to say, finding out on your own (watching the episodes!) won't be a waste of time. If you enjoyed any of the past conspiracy episodes, then volume two should be a lot of fun.
The unfortunate part about this compilation set, like the first volume, is loses some details. The character development is the most notable piece missing. Without watching the season sets in their entirety, we miss out on small developments for both major and minor roles. For instance the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) is not a full time cast member and despite his brief appearances the episodes, his character is key to the overall conspiracy story arc. Considering he is at the root of nearly everything Mulder and Scully get into. It's a shame the episode covering his past was not included. Episode seven from season four, "Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man" is one of my favorite episodes from the series. Getting a chance to see how the Cigarette Smoking Man got wrapped up in this government conspiracy is a lot fun. The episode also reveals another side to him, which is important because we don't normally see a trace of humanity in him.
On the plus side we do get most of the developing relationship between Scully and Agent Pendrill (Bredndan Beiser). Pendrill first shows up in "Nisei" and there are only two episodes from the total nine he appeared in not included. Pendrill plays a very minor role in the show, but he's like a love sick puppy whenever Scully shows up and it's a little funny to watch him drool over her. Towards his last appearance, he his role becomes much more important, at least to Scully. In general the character develop lacks a few details, but there is still more than enough to get through the sets without any problems.
Besides character development, there are a few small details missing, or at least not detailed well. The biggest issue comes from Scully's cancer. The problem is more of a flow issue for the box set. There are a few hints that get dropped in random episodes about Scully's cancer, which becomes a big issue. While the overall detail is not lost, the subtle references from past episodes are obviously not there. Scully's condition is an important development for the conspiracy story arc, because it not only puts a character we all love in turmoil, but it also plays a major role in the development of the story introduced in at the end of volume 1, the alien invasion.
All in all besides missing some minor character development and small (yet important) details, the episodes flow pretty well. The fundamentally important points of the story arc are explained and cover pretty well with the fifteen episodes included in this box set. It takes from the notion of alien abductees to an alien colonization (invasion) and how a group of men in the government are at the root of it all. There are also some great appearances from Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea), the character we love to hate, X (Steven Williams), Mulder's dark and mystery source, and a new face Marita Covarrubias (Laurie Holden), another minor character, but important character. These episodes also feature plenty of aliens, alien bounty hunters, and UFOs!
The first episode used in this compilation comes from mid-third season. The two part story "Nisei" and "731" provides Scully with additional insights to her abduction and also ties in what Mulder believes is proof of extraterrestrial life, which comes in the form of an alien-human hybrid. The hybrid is an important development to understanding of the overall conspiracy story arc and how the abductions introduced in the first volume tie in. In the next episodes the black oil begins to surface in the two part story "Piper Maru" and "Apocrypha". There are some important truths revealed about the origin of the black oil in this story, as well as how the pursuit of the truth affects Skinner. The season three finale "Talitha Cumi" is the first half of a two part story. This first part unveils a past relationship between the Cigarette Smoking Man and Mulder's mother that he wishes weren't true. The story continues with the second part of the story and season four premiere episode "Herrenvolk". This is when Marita Covarrubias is first introduced. Her minor role becomes important to later episodes as a pseudo-informant to Mulder. Additionally "Talitha Cumi" and "Herrenvolk" introduces the concept of rebel aliens who opposes colonization.
In "Tunguska" and "Terma", the conspiracy story arc continues to focus on the black oil and ties in its origin to Tunguska, Russia. Both Mulder and Krycek get caught up in the mess, as well as Scully and Skinner become the center of attention with the Senate Select Subcommittee on Intelligence and Terrorism. "Momento Mori" is about Scully learning more about her abduction and this episode introduces her illness, brain cancer. In the two part story "Tempus Fugit" and "Max", Max Fenig from the season one episode "Fallen Angel" returns. In this story Mulder and Scully try to unravel the truth behind a Military cover up of the plane crash of civilian Flight 549. Of all the episodes included, this two part story adds the least to the overall conspiracy story arc.
The next episode "Zero-Sum" is an awesome episode. In this story Skinner is coerced into working for the Cigarette Smoking Man. What makes this episode great is Skinner getting down and dirty by doing some cloak and dagger type stuff. As an episode, there are some subtle, yet important details revealed about colonization. The last three episodes included in this set feature the season four finale "Gethsemane" and the first two episodes from season five "Redux" and "Redux II". This last story for the black oil box set proposes a few important advancements for the conspiracy story arc. The most important is the understanding Mulder obtains in the episode "Gethsemane". With the help of a man from the Pentagon's research division, Michael Kritschgau, Mulder and Scully learn that not everything is what it seems. The story continues in "Redux" and "Redux II" and our favorite F.B.I. agents learn more about how they have been pawns in a much larger picture.
Overall I enjoyed the watching the exclusive mythology episodes back to back. The conspiracy story arc driving the series is certainly one of the most interesting things about the show. Despite it is missing a few details in characters and whatnot, the episodes flow pretty well together. This is a great addition for fans or casual viewers interested in just the conspiracy episodes.
1. "Nisei", Season 3, Episode 9
2. "731", Season 3, Episode 10
3. "Piper Maru", Season 3, Episode 15
4. "Apocrypha", Season 3, Episode 16
5. "Talitha Cumi", Season 3, Episode 24
6. "Herrenvolk", Season 4, Episode 1
7. "Tunguska", Season 4, Episode 8
8. "Terma", Season 4, Episode 9
9. "Momento Mori", Season 4, Episode 14
10. "Tempus Fugit", Season 4, Episode 17
11. "Max", Season 4, Episode 18
12. "Zero-Sum", Season 4, Episode 21
13. "Gethsemane", Season 4, Episode 24
14. "Redux", Season 5, Episode 1
15. "Redux II", Season 5, Episode 2
The video is given in its original television aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full frame color. The transfers used for this compilation set are the same found in the season releases. However the two season five episodes are presented in anamorphic 1.78:1 ratio widescreen color. Starting with season five, the series was filmed in widescreen. Like the first volume release, I was slightly disappointed with this because the transfers are the same as the original season sets. It definitely could use some touching up. Generally the picture is slightly rough and there is a fairly noticeable grain. The video also suffers from frequent compression artifacts. Overall while the picture does not look great, it is average and works fine. Although the season five episodes look better than the season three or four episodes.
The audio track included comes in Dolby digital stereo surround and is offered in three languages: English, Spanish, and French. The sound quality is good. It is mostly dialogue driven, which is fairly flat. Sound effects and music have a fairly dynamic feeling and take advantage of channel separation. There are also subtitles in English and Spanish. The original season sets came with audio options in only English and French.
In comparison to the first volume "Abduction", this box set has fewer extras. In volume one there were five audio commentaries, a featurette, and the first part the mythology timeline. This release has the same stuff, except there are only three audio commentaries instead of five. They include "Talitha Cumi" with R.W. Goodwin, "Memento Mori" with Rob Bowman, and "Max" with Kim Manners. They come off as pretty standard recordings and will probably only interest the biggest of fans. I, myself, I had a hard to getting through them. It is important to note these are new commentaries not found on the original season sets. The featurette Theads of the Mythology: Black Oil (31:37), hopefully not a surprise, is mostly about the black oil and its relationship to the series. There is discussion from special effects guys and how they visually incorporated the black oil into the show and a couple of other special effects related comments. There is also general discussion about how some developments to the story was made, in regards to both characters and events. Overall the featurette is enjoyable for a watch. I enjoyed the portion about the character Krycek. The Mythology Timeline is something I did not get with my review copy of volume one. This is actually pretty cool. It is a paper fold with information about key events/episodes (and their dates) relating to the black oil. There are also some character biographies for key players.
The X-Files is one of my favorite television series. I enjoy both the conspiracy story arc and the non-related 'monster of the week' episodes. Together they make up some very entertaining stories. But while I do enjoy both parts of the series, I prefer the conspiracy episodes more and since this review does cover volume two in the mythology series, I have nothing but positive things to say about it. These fifteen episodes were all great to see back to back. They did a pretty good job covering the important details and key characters, with a few missing details and fortunately enough detail to not leave you in the dark. The bottom line, whether you are a fan who already owns the season sets or casual viewer just interested in the mythology episodes, I can't help but give this box set the highly recommended rating. And if you haven't, be sure to check out my review of The X-Files Mythology, Vol. 1 - Abduction.