Top critical review
on May 21, 2002
Season five marked several highlights in the production of The X-Files. It was the show's last season in Vancouver before moving to Hollywood, and because The X-Files movie was shot in a few months right before, season five was the shortest to date, totaling 20 episodes compared to the average 24. With the movie set to take place AFTER season five, Chris Carter and crew had to, for the first time in the show's history, pre-plan the mythology arc, and structure it to lead into the summer release of the film. This made for some challenges, most notably in the characterizations of Mulder and Scully, who reversed roles after the events in the Gethsemane-Redux trilogy. Mulder becomes a disillusioned skeptic. He's shown that his obsessive quest for the truth about aliens was merely the impetus for a hoax he unwittingly perpetuated for a shadow government. Scully, meanwhile, becomes more of a believer after inexplicably defying the odds against surviving her cancer.
This dynamic is best explored in "All Souls." Mulder tries to persuade Scully into thinking that the mysterious deaths of quadruplet sisters are nothing more than the work of a religious psychopath. However, Scully has trouble reconciling the conflict between her scientific knowledge and rejuvenated religious beliefs. Though somewhat similar in structure to season one's "Beyond the Sea," "All Souls" is a deeper character piece seldom seen in seasons past.
Overall, the standalone stories in season five are less fantastic than in previous seasons (but no less entertaining). There's fewer flukemen and Mexican goatsuckers, and more of reality-based material (terrorists in the taut "The Pine Bluff Variant," artificial intelligence in the hip, cyberpunk "Kill Switch," mass hysteria in the off-beat "The Post-Modern Prometheus").
The X-Files mythology, on the other hand, gets even more convoluted with the introduction of the faceless rebels, the Spenders, Agent Fowley and Gibson Praise. Fans were curious to see how the movie might resolve or expand upon the new conflicts beset by these characters, only to be disappointed that they weren't even featured, or at least mentioned, in the film at all.
The X-Files hit its peak by season five, reaching a mainstream audience and losing its cult status. With the movie, the creators tried to maintain the show's integrity for longtime, hardcore fans without alienating the new ones. Unfortunately, this politican approach followed into subsequent seasons, marking the beginning of the end.
I want to clarify the popular misconception that The X-Files--The Complete Fifth Season isn't truly widescreen. I just compared the DVD's with the original broadcast episodes I recorded on VHS, and I found that the DVD's are in fact, widescreen. The picture is constrained from top to bottom (not cropped), noticeably diminishing the onscreen text but not so much the actual photography; the lateral field of vision is greater, showing the viewer more from left to right.
That said, I appreciate Fox and 1013's decision to release this set in widescreen format, serving to accentuate the cinematic aesthetic of the show. Chris Carter & Co. always treated each episode of The X-Files as a 44-minute featurette, and with Season 5 in widescreen on DVD, fans can experience that theatrical quality in full effect. If only seasons 1 through 4 were shot in widescreen....
One glaring flaw of this set that hardcore X-Philes should be aware of, though, is the omission of alternate taglines for certain episodes. In the main titles for "Redux," the tagline reads the usual "The Truth is Out There" instead of the alternate "All Lies Lead to the Truth." The same goes for the finale, "The End," where the tagline should read "The End." This may be something that the casual viewer could care less about, but for true, nitpicky fans like myself, this oversight needs to be rectified, if not for season 5, then at least in the future DVD releases of seasons 6 through 9.