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X Files Season 4 Boxset DVD

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In Season 4 of The X-Files, Scully is a bit upset by her on-off terminal cancer and Mulder is supposed to shoot himself in the season finale (did anyone believe that?), but in episode after episode the characters still plod dutifully around atrocity sites tossing off wry witticisms in that bland investigative demeanour out of fashion among TV cops since Dragnet. Perhaps the best achievement of this season is "Home", the most unpleasant horror story ever presented on prime-time US TV. It's not a comfortable show--confronted with this ghastly parade of incest, inbreeding, infanticide and mutilation, you'd think M & S would drop the jokes for once--but shows a willingness to expand the envelope. By contrast, ventures into golem, reincarnation, witchcraft and Invisible Man territory throw up run-of-the-mill body counts, spotlighting another recurrent problem. For heroes, M & S rarely do anything positive: they work out what is happening after all the killer's intended victims have been snuffed ("Kaddish"), let the monster get away ("Sanguinarium") and cause tragedies ("The Field Where I Died"). No wonder they're stuck in the FBI basement where they can do the least damage. The series has settled enough to play variations on earlier hits: following the liver vampire, we have a melanin vampire ("Teliko") and a cancer vampire ("Leonard Betts"), and return engagements for the oily contact lens aliens and the weasely ex-Agent Krycek ("Tunguska"/"Terma"). Occasional detours into send-up or post-modernism are indulged, yielding both the season's best episode ("Small Potatoes") and its most disappointing ("Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man"). "Small Potatoes", with the mimic mutant who tries out Mulder's life and realises what a loser he is (how many other pin-up series heroes get answerphone messages from their favourite phone-sex lines?), works as a genuine sci-fi mystery--for once featuring a mutant who doesn't have to kill people to live--and as character insight. --Kim Newman

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