Standalone X-Files (5) The Great

Continuing from my previous post, and finishing my countdown of all standalone episodes on the X-Files from worst to best. These are my favourite ones.

27. John Doe

Season 9
Episode 07
Evaluation: Strong 4
State: XX (Mexico)

In this Redrum-like episode, my boy John Doggett wakes up in Mexico with a severe amnesia. A classic premise–though not completely stale on The X-Files–and I’m not even mad about that. When you have a winning formula, you might as well use it from time to time.

26. The Unnatural

Season 6
Episode 19
Evaluation: Strong 4
State: NM

This feel-good episode was the first to be penned by David Duchovny, and what a great job. The Unnatural is about relationships. In the early stages of the episode Scully urges Mulder to get out of the office on this beautiful spring Saturday. As usual, he uses humour to circumvent her points. But she’s right. And in the final scene, in which he has summoned Scully to hit baseballs with him, he acknowledges it.

25. Unruhe

Season 4
Episode 04
Evaluation: Strong 4
State: MI

Psychological thrillers–almost–always worked on The X-Files, and Unruhe was no exception. It’s nice to be reminded every once in a while (as was the case in the somewhat uneventful but very likable Grotesque) that Mulder is a psychological profiler.

24. The Rain King

Season 6
Episode 08
Evaluation: Strong 4
State: KS

The over-the-top happy ending was not the episode’s strongest suit, but The Rain King is a very enjoyable, lighthearted installment, with our duo bringing the necessary dose of wit.

23. Pusher

Season 3
Episode 17
Evaluation: Strong 4
State: VA

A tense and gripping episode with a strong ending. A very interesting point I’ve seem made by an X-Files fan is that the insight that ‘‘evil is a mundane and human and somewhat pathetic thing” is a recurring theme in Season 3 standalones. I can find specific examples in that season: D.P.O., 2Shy, Oubliette, Grotesque, and of course Pusher. Compare this to the ‘‘intrinsic, pure evil”-obsessed Season 2 (see Aubrey, Irresistible, Die Hand die verletztThe Căluşari) and you’ll get something interesting -maybe a partial explanation of why Season 3’s standalone episodes were much better than Season 2’s.

22. Soft Light

Season 2
Episode 23
Evaluation: Strong 4
State: VA

Despite stark scientific inaccuracy from supposedly physics-knowledgeable MD Dana Scully, this episode is Season 2’s best standalone, thanks in great part to Tony Shalhoub’s talent (this was long before he would go on to star in Monk) and his character’s many quirks.

21. Jose Chung’s From Outer Space

Season 3
Episode 20
Evaluation: Strong 4
State: XX (Unspecified)

One of the show’s most humour-orientd episodes. The opening scene with the alien spaceship-turned-gondola with the starry night sky in the back is pure genius. The X-Files have fun with themselves in Jose Chung’s From Outer Space and joining them is easy.

20. Wetwired

Season 3
Episode 20
Evaluation: Strong 4
State: MD

When I read the synopsis for Wetwired, I expected something similar to Season 2’s Blood. I was not totally wrong, but Wetwired is much, much better. The tension is insanely high here, as both Mulder and Scully become very edgy.

19. X-Cops

Season 7
Episode 12
Evaluation: Strong 4
State: CA

This X-Files-style parody of the show Cops was a very risky exercise, but I liked the result. It helps when you have the great Vince Gilligan as a writer. The concept of the show brought life to what would probably have been a very formulaic Monster of the Week (although the idea to have a monster prey on fear, like JK Rowling’s boggarts, is a nice one). A welcome episode midway through a lacklustre Season 7, not unlike the fairly similar Humbug in Season 2.

18. Je Souhaite

Season 7
Episode 21
Evaluation: Strong 4
State: MO

Je Souhaite was the final Monster of the Week episode where the investigation was led by Mulder and Scully, our favourite duo. It is not the psychological thriller I had come to expect of penultimate episodes in a given season, but rather a softer, warmer installment. Je Souhaite is nicely humane, and fairly unassuming, I thought, which is very fitting for an episode which advertises the value of humility and the dangers of grandiloquence and over-the-top benevolence. An obvious highlight in Season 7, written by none other than Vince Gilligan, who, as far as X-File writing goes, is truly in a class of his own.

17. Hell Money

Season 3
Episode 19
Evaluation: Light 5
State: CA

Set in San Fransisco’s Chinatown, this episode was rather highly polarising. Wikipedia asserts that “The episode received mixed to positive reviews from critics”, but I saw that in more specifically X-File-fandom circles, Hell Money was often maligned. One of the complaints I noticed is that the criminal case at hand was not very heavy on the paranormal/supernatural element, as we gradually learned while following Mulder and Scully’s investigation. This original, intense, emotional episode is in my opinion a very strong standalone, with relatable characters.

16. Unusual Suspects

Season 5
Episode 03
Evaluation: Light 5
State: MD

Season 5’s first standalone episode tells the story of how the Lone Gunmen, Fox Mulder’s nerdy friends and frequent partners in break-in. It’s amusing that those three friends, the suit-wearing, brave, ex-government employee John Fitzgerald Byers, the short, middle-aged, sexually obsessed, techno-geek Melvin Frohike, and the young, Donjons & Dragons-playing, cocky top-notch hacker Carl Langley, teamed up because of an attractive woman.

15. Tithonus

Season 6
Episode 10
Evaluation: Light 5
State: NY

This mid-Season 6 episode was very reminiscent of Season 3’s Clyde Bruckman’s Final ReposeTithonus was yet another great episode for a Season 6 which was coasting at this point. Actually, the whole show was, after the Season 3 turnaround.

14. Oubliette

Season 3
Episode 08
Evaluation: Light 5
State: WA

This strong and intense outing, propelled by Mulder’s personal involvement in the kidnapping of a teenage girl, is a classic X-File. It would be one of the standalone episodes to initiate the above-mentioned turnaround of the show.

13. Ice

Season 1
Episode 08
Evaluation: Light 5
State: AK

In spite of its mild grossness, Ice was the first true Monster-of-the Week gem on the show. It would lead to a handful of similar episodes, based on isolation and quasi-claustrophobia, only of them, fellow Season 1 episode Darkness Falls, standing the comparison. A tense and intensely thrilling episode, it shows that Mulder and Scully trust each other deeply–provided they manage to stay sane.

12. Kill Switch

Season 5
Episode 11
Evaluation: Light 5
State: VA

Violent, black and nocturnal, Kill Switch is a very good episode. Artificial intelligence had been dealt with in early Season 1’s Ghost In the Machine, but this is a much, much better installment.

11. Travelers

Season 5
Episode 15
Evaluation: Decent 5
State: DC

This mid-to-late Season 5 outing is a winner on any day. Dealing with mccarthyism, manicheanism and civil disobedience, Travelers is barely an X-Files episode, as it barely feature Fox Mulder (it does feature much of his father) and none of Dana Scully, but it sure is great TV.

10. Drive

Season 6
Episode 02
Evaluation: Decent 5
State: NV

Season 6’s first standalone, Drive, is really a good episode. It was somewhat reminiscent of early Season 2’s alien mythology installment Duane Barry, with Mulder being taken as a hostage and being almost the only one who could bother to give the supposedely villain a chance to explain himself. This was the last episode I watched before going on a big, nine-month break from The X-Files, in order to watch Breaking Bad. The actor who plays the “villain” in Drive is none other than Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston. And Drive was penned by Breaking Bad’s Vince Gilligan, the best writer on The X-Files by miles and miles.

09. Paper Hearts

Season 4
Episode 10
Evaluation: Decent 5
State: DC

This episode features Mulder at his very best. I was expecting a good episode, but it Paper Hears went far beyond that. There was something almost impossible about this week’s villain John Lee Roche’s gentle ways, which really contradicted much of his actions. Similarly to what happened in Season 3’s Pusher, this episode features a psychological war between Mulder and his opponent.

08. Dreamland

Season 6
Episode 04
Evaluation: Decent 5
State: NV

In Dreamland and Dreamland 2, the only standalone two-parter in the whole series, Mulder accidentally exchanges identities with a high-ranked bureaucrat at Area 51. There’s a rather strange twist to that in that to the viewer, Fox Mulder appears as himself, while his unfortunate “partner in crime” Morris Fletcher also appears as himself. Only every character on the show seems to see Fletcher in Mulder and reciprocally (not only their looks, they really think one is the other and reciprocally). Mulder finds himself briefly living the life of a “man in black”, responsible for hiding UFO tests and other similar stuff from the public. But, more importantly, the life of a husband and father of two with a family in jeopardy.

07. Three of a Kind

Season 6
Episode 20
Evaluation: Decent 5
State: NV

This Mulder-less late-Season 5 episode is very much a sequel to Season 5’s Unusual Suspects. It is little more than an hour of very enjoyable television, and yet more evidence that Gillian Anderson is a fantastic actress.

06. The Pine Bluff Variant

Season 5
Episode 18
Evaluation: Decent 5
State: PA

A taut, intense and supsenseful episode. Mulder narrowly escapes death, but rather through a surprising turn of events than a true deus ex machina. And this is, of course, much better. The Pine Bluff Variant is not too far from being a mytharc episode, and, I think, could have been split into two shows to better explore the plot and premises, and to have Scully evolve from defiance and suspicion to renewed trust for Mulder a little less abruptly.

05. Never Again

Season 4
Episode 13
Evaluation: Decent 5
State: DC

Among standalone episodes on The X-Files there are ‘‘true” standalones that really do stand apart from the rest. Either because of their originality or because of their quality. Never Again is in both these categories, and is arguably to Scully what Season 2′ 3 was to Mulder–except it is immensely better. It is as un-X-Files-like as you’ll ever get, which is great. It was one of the first episodes to feature Scully’s urge for normalcy, her being troubled at how she has no life outside her work.

04. Darkness Falls

Season 1
Episode 20
Evaluation: Decent 5
State: WA

Season 1 manages to sneak a second episode into the mid-show stronghold that is the Top 15 of this list (this Top 15) indeed features four Season 4 episodes, four Season 5 episodes and five Season 6 episodes. Darkness Falls, which runs along very similar lines to fellow Season 1 episode Ice, only with less paranoia, is really one of the true standalone gems of the early X-Files years.

03. Milagro

Season 6
Episode 18
Evaluation: Decent 5
State: DC

A damn good episode which really defies categorisation, although many would call it standard sci-fi. This episode revolves around Mulder’s new neighbour, a strange male writer and a character for the ages, really brought to life by fantastic acting on the part of John Hawkes and directing (that scene where he invites Scully to his apartment is spellbinding). After episode upon episode of hammering the point that Mulder and Scully live lonely lives, I think it makes sense that at least one of them would yearn for some company. Especially, in the case of Miss Scully, from a fascinating man. So I can’t understand why man people thought that Special Agent Dana Scully was written out-of-character in Milagro.

02. Folie à Deux

Season 5
Episode 19
Evaluation: Decent 5
State: IL

Just because of the stupid “it’s starting all over again somewhere else” ending–one of the worst recurring clichés on the show–this episode does not get a Strong 5, and hence misses out on the first spot. Some plot elements would have needed further development, but, all in all, this is an extremely tense, original episode with an unlikely villain that comes out of the blue, or rather, out of a very nice, brave, unselfish man–or seemingly so.

01. Small Potatoes

Season 4
Episode 20
Evaluation: Decent 5
State: WV
I actually said “Wow !” at the end of this episode. Like in Dreamland, someone manages to steal Mulder’s identity, to the point where everyone thinks he is Mulder. Only this time the character is played, at that moment, by David Duchovny. And the first order of business of this impostor–who utters one of the most memorable one-liners of the series–to Mudler: “I just think it’s funny. I was born a loser, but you’re one by choice.”–apparently, is to woo Scully.

Standalone X-Files (4) The Good

Continuing from my previous post:

54. Arcadia

Season 6
Episode 15
Evaluation: Light 4
State: CA

I really expected to like this episode, which takes place in a planned community where rules are rules and those who don’t conform pay the price (in that sense this is reminiscent of Season 2’s Our Town). And I did.  Not as much as I expected from the, say, first twenty-five minutes of the episode. From then on things get too straightforward, the week’s monster being, as pointed by many, quite ridiculous. Even though, this installment brings quite a bit of fun, based on solid situation comedy, with Mulder and Scully going undercover as a (more or less yuppie) married couple.

53. Sleepless

Season 2
Episode 04
Evaluation: Light 4
State: NY

In all honesty I remember very little from this early Season 2 episode. I know it deals with former soldiers who were experimented on in order to suppress their need to sleep.

52. Elegy

Season 4
Episode 22
Evaluation: Light 4
State: DC

All in all a pretty decent episode, though the resolution was frankly botched. The importance of Scully’s cancer in the plot blurs, to some extent, the boundaries between the series’ mythology arc and the traditional standalone episode concept. Though Elegy is undoubtedly a standalone, it acknowledges her illness skillfully.

51. Unrequited

Season 4
Episode 16
Evaluation: Light 4
State: VA

A strong, rather original episode which combined a lot of standard elements of the show: conspiracy, supernatural human abilities and social/political commentary. Unrequited is a rather good illustration of the fact that Season 4 was quite experimental, often for the best.

50. Chimera

Season 7
Episode 16
Evaluation: Light 4
State: VT

This episode was by no means the trainwreck I was fearing -and partly expecting- from reading its short synopsis (“Mulder investigates what appears to be a missing case of a woman from a small town, but soon turns out to be a murder by a spirit summoned from the underworld”.). Except for one of them which was easy to see coming, the plot twists kept me guessing. Michelle Joyner as the unlikely villainess had a strong performance, and she was a natural in this very Arcardia-like suburban environment. Scully on her boring, unrelated stakeout provided the comic relief for a decent installment.

49. Grotesque

Season 3
Episode 14
Evaluation: Light 4
State: DC

A frankly underrated episode in my opinion. One of the darkest of the series, very anxiogenic and with a lot of black, white and gray, and notable music. One of the episodes where Mulder’s background as a psychological profiler is most relevant. Here, our hero seems to flirt with madness as he tries to understand a killer obsessed with gargoyles and his copycat.

48. Roland

Season 1
Episode 23
Evaluation: Light 4
State: WA

Roland, a mentally handicapped but complex janitor in a research facility, is possibly my favourite character from the first season, and easily this episode’s best asset, since the plot is standard average X-Files standalone stuff.

47. D.P.O.

Season 3
Episode 03
Evaluation: Light 4
State: OK
When it comes to portray clueless, warm-hearted yet selfish, borderline stupid lower class twenty-somethings, Giovanni Ribisi is a genius, as Friends watchers will know. This episode is another one to make great use of music.

46. Schizogeny

Season 5
Episode 09
Evaluation: Decent 4
State: MI
Though the criminal case at hand was, in all fairness, rather weak, this is a very decent episode, thanks to emotion and relatable characters, especially that teenage boy played by a fantastic Chad Lindberg. Not unlike Giovanni Ribisi in D.P.O., though. And of course there’s Mulder and his legendary “Hey, Scully, is this demonstration of boyish agility turning you on at all?” while climbing a tree.

45. Empedocles

Season 8
Episode 17
Evaluation: Decent 4
State: DC
This episode had me fawn over my boy John Doggett (for whom there was a possibility that the case at hand was linked to his son’s murder) and actor Robert Patrick even more than usual. And this, despite the fact that it is one of the only episodes to feature not only Mulder and Scully but also Doggett and Reyes. 

44. Dæemonicus

Season 9
Episode 03
Evaluation: Decent 4
State: WV
For his first X-File investigation without his X-File mentor Dana Scully, John Doggett is in the rough, and his new partner Monica Reyes’s smiley-looney approach does not convince him.

43. Alone

Season 8
Episode 19
Evaluation: Decent 4
State: NY
In this late Season 8 outing Doggett gets teamed up with young Leyla Harrison, an FBI agent more used to office work than facing danger, but who greatly admires the work done by Mulder and Scully on the X-Files. Apart from Doggett walking away unhurt from what must have been an eight-metre fall (that’s almost more supernatural than a man-snake hybrid), this was a very good episode.

42. Quagmire

Season 3
Episode 22
Evaluation: Decent 4
State: GA
A lighthearted late Season 3 episode in which Mulder and Scully are as close as they’ll ever get to investigate one of the world’s most famous superstitions, the Loch Ness monster. Instead they go to a lake in Georgia. I liked this episode which features both comedy and strong, intricate interplay between Mulder and Scully.

41. Field Trip

Season 6
Episode 21
Evaluation: Decent 4
State: NC

It was hard for me to make up my mind about this episode. I was expecting a rainbow-colored cliché, and got this dark, multi-layered shared hallucination. The plot, to be honest, was a tad too intricate–and maybe too extreme as far as the content of the hallucinations was concerned–for the episode to be a complete hit. With the episode starting as a bona fide standalone, then veering into mytharc spoof in Mulder’s hallucination, and then going to character plot in Scully’s, it could be argued that the writers got a little greedy. But the concept was very good. And, ultimately, so was the episode.

40. 4-D

Season 9
Episode 04
Evaluation: Decent 4
State: DC
For what is only Doggett’s second investigation with Reyes, things escalate quickly as he finds himself gravely injured. Though the plot might have been a bit of a stretch, I thought this was a strong, elegant episode.

39. Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man

Season 4
Episode 07
Evaluation: Decent 4
State: DC

Though this looks, on a superficial level, as a look into the life and past of Mulder’s archnemesis, this ultimately doubly fictional (most events depicted here are arguably playful departures from the series’ canon, as having a single man assassinate both John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Martin Luther King would be a huge stretch even for the X-Files writers) episode was hardly relevant as far as the series mythology is concerned, but a decent character study.

38.How the Ghosts Stole Christmas

Season 6
Episode 06
Evaluation: Decent 4
State: MD

As was the case for Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man, the events depicted here are probably outside of the series’ canon. Which really doesn’t matter, as this is only really supposed to be a solid forty-five minutes of television. Which it is.

37. Squeeze

Season 1
Episode 03
Evaluation: Decent 4
State: MD

The very first standalone episode in the whole series greatly expanded the show’s horizons and scope, offering something beyond the gripping alien conspiracy.

36. The Gift

Season 8
Episode 11
Evaluation: Decent 4
State: PA
This episode sure benefited from the revelation in the early part of its fourth act, which showed Mulder’s humane and compassionate nature, and, shortly after, Doggett’s. This episode was a bit too reminiscent of Season 1’s Gender Bender, and the central idea in the plot was a one-to-one rehash of early Season 8’s Roadrunners. This is what got me thinking that “It’s a good thing that Doggett’s investigation here is ultimately about Mulder, because otherwise this would just be a ludicrously early rehash of Roadrunners“. At least that’s what I thought before the fourth act, when the episode really took another dimension.

35. Monday

Season 6
Episode 14
Evaluation: Decent 4
State: DC

The synopsis for this episode (“The world is trapped in a time loop, and only one woman seems to know. Each day the events that happen differ slightly; “free will”, as Mulder calls it. A bank robbery is committed over and over again until they can stop the eventual bombing of the place from occurring”.) had really given me hope but I did not end up disappointed. This episode lived up to its promise. No more, no less.

34. Roadrunners

Season 8
Episode 04
Evaluation: Decent 4
State: UT
For John Doggett’s second investigation on the X-Files, he spends most of his time doing office work for Scully who’s on the ground in Utah. Through chance she finds herself in a strange village. Roadrunners had me think of season 1 episodes Ice and Gender Bender, as well as season 6’s Arcadia. Many TV reviewers complained that it wasn’t explained why the cult members thought a giant mutant slug was the Second Coming of Christ. Like they’ve never heard of cults…

33. Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose

Season 3
Episode 04
Evaluation: Decent 4
State: MN
Maybe because of the rather elaborate plot and the high amount of dialogue, this strong outing, universally praised, was strangely forgettable to me.

32. Gender Bender

Season 1
Episode 14
Evaluation: Strong 4
State: MA

This mid-Season 1 episode, which, despite what Wikipedia says, got a lot of hate as well as a decent amount of mild praise, is original, visually impressive and highly suspenseful. The only drawback, which, I’ll admit, is pretty damning, is the stupid ending whereby the Amish-like community Mulder and Scully investigate seem to have escaped on a flying saucer.

31. Dreamland 2

Season 6
Episode 05
Evaluation: Strong 4
State: NV

In Dreamland and Dreamland 2, the only standalone two-parter in the whole series, Mulder accidentally exchanges identities with a high-ranked bureaucrat at Area 51. There’s a rather strange twist to that in that to the viewer, Fox Mulder appears as himself, while his unfortunate “partner in crime” Morris Fletcher also appears as himself. Only every character on the show seems to see Fletcher in Mulder and reciprocally (not only their looks, they really think one is the other and reciprocally). Among others, Fletcher tries to make use of his newfound Mulder-esque good looks to try and woo Scully. All of this makes up for good comedy, but Dreamland 2 does not quite match its earlier, better half Dremland.

30. Medusa

Season 8
Episode 12
Evaluation: Strong 4
State: MA
This mid-Season 8 installment was the first episode in ages to go along the lines of Season’s Ice (isolation, danger, panic). This is, to some extent, a recipe for success for the show, and Medusa, which takes place in the Boston subway system, is no exception, though I expected just a little more of a thriller out of this. The idea to have Doggett put himself on the line while Scully was safely directing the operations from ground level brought some novelty in the Ice-like motif.

29. The Walk

Season 3
Episode 07
Evaluation: Strong 4
State: MD
This elaborate episode makes a great show out of essentially nothing.  One of the most memorable things about this one for me was how the backwards-masked message the killer sent one of his victims, which went “Your time has come, killer”, and thus bacwards-masked, approximately sounded like “[hardly audible: Relik] mox ahmitruy”, was transcribed on some website by someone who apparently thoughtit  sounded like “Fox, my dream” (pretty close to “mox ahmitruy” I guess).

28. Redrum

Season 8
Episode 06
Evaluation: Strong
State: MD
In this one a prosecutor, who’s also an old friend of John Doggett’s, wakes up behind bars because he’s the primary suspect in the murder of his wife. It’s a Friday. When he wakes up the next day, it’s a Thursday. But of course, for everyone else than him, the day before was Wednesday and not Friday. Neat concept. Neat episode.

 

Standalone X-Files (3) The Decent

Continuing from my previous post:

81. Kitsunegari

Season 5
Episode 08
Evaluation: Decent 3
State: VA

This episode is centred on the “comeback” of the villain from Pusher, one of Season 3’s stronger episodes. Kitsunegari (Japanese for “fox hunt”, after Mulder’s first name) does not come close to matching the intensity of the former. Too bad.

80. Brand X

Season 7
Episode 18
Evaluation: Decent 3
State: NC

This copiously gross episode is reminiscing to some extent of Season 2’s F. Emasculata, but the plot, centred on genetic manipulation of tobacco, is more interesting.

79. Rush

Season 7
Episode 05
Evaluation: Decent 3
State: VA

Probably one of the most standard, most typical and most median-quality episodes of the whole show. Rush is in fact so average I find it remarkable. This small town teenage angst mixed with small town paranormal phenomena recipe was a recurring trope on The X-Files.

78. Lazarus

Season 1
Episode 15
Evaluation: Decent 3
State: MD

Reincarnation is pretty much as tacky and cliché a superstition the show could tackle, but this rather suspenseful and intense episode handles it pretty well.

77. Scary Monsters

Season 9
Episode 14
Evaluation: Decent 3
State: PA

This rather strange episode used the less than impressive trope of creepy children. Mystery and suspense are the only saving grace here, and they work wonders in an episode where little happens beyond a child drawing messed up things.

76. Invocation

Season 8
Episode 05
Evaluation: Decent 3
State: OK

One of the first standalone episodes to feature John Doggett, this installment introduced us to the tragedy of the death of Doggett’s son. Which explains Doggett’s intense interest in this case, in an episode which could be called a largely improved version of Season 2’s The Căluşari.

75. Sanguinarium

Season 4
Episode 06
Evaluation: Decent 3
State: IL

Taking place in a plastic surgery clinic, this is one of the series’ goriest episodes. Despite dire prospects for the interest of the plot rising at the midpoint if the episode,  there was more to it than boring old satanist rituals. Mulder and Scully are not really in the limelight in this episode, which is not necessarily a bad change, but has as an unfortunate consequence the fact that the potential for humour was barely exploited.

74. Audrey Pauley

Season 9
Episode 11
Evaluation: Decent 3
State: DC
A very Christian episode, with an innocent ignorant woman fighting a malevolent doctor, whose motivations are sadly not explained. Could have been better.

73. Alpha

Season 6
Episode 16
Evaluation: Decent 3
State: CA
A truly old school Monster of the Week episode. The criminal case at hand is average and features little if any mystery, but Karin Berquist’s character of a socially handicapped canine biologist romantically interested in Mulder (whom she met online, “two professionals exchanging informations”, as Mulder clarified to a smirking Scully) was an interesting one. It seems likeMulder attracts the weirdest people.

72. Born Again

Season 1
Episode 22
Evaluation: Decent 3
State: NY

This episode is, after fellow Season 1 episode Lazarus, a second encounter with reincarnation for our agents. Born Again starts out pretty strongly but mostly goes downhill after that.

71. Improbable

Season 9
Episode 13
Evaluation: Decent 3
State: XX (Unknown)
Easily one of the strangest episodes in the whole series. I’m not quite sure what’s going on, but the individual scenes are enjoyable.

70. Firewalker

Season 2
Episode 09
Evaluation: Decent 3
State: OR
Right after Scully is returned to Earth a couple of episodes after having been abducted, she tags along with Mulder in a remote location where scientists work around a volcano. This episode is built along the lines of Season 1’s Ice, with our agents and a couple of other people trapped in the middle of nowhere but something very dangerous lurking around.

69. Detour

Season 5
Episode 04
Evaluation: Strong 3
State: FL

With Detour the writers accomplish the tour de force of turning an extremely weak and cliché mystery story into a very decent installment. It was a reconnection episode for Mulder and Scully, and makes the point that they don’t need some fancy, boring, mandatory communication convention (to which they were reluctantly headed before running into this criminal investigation and being sucked into it) to work as a team.

68. The Amazing Maleeni

Season 7
Episode 08
Evaluation: Strong 3
State: CA

This episode featured an interesting plot which might have been used a little more often on the show: this mysterious case turned out not to involve any paranormal phenomenon.

67. Lord of the Flies

Season 9
Episode 05
Evaluation: Strong 3
State: NJ
A surprisingly decent episode in what is a surprisingly rural setting for New Jersey. The Dumbass (a spoof of Jackass) story arc gave the episode lightness and depth, though it made me think this would be a much less middle-of-the-road episode than it ended up being.

 

66. Leonard Betts

Season 4
Episode 12
Evaluation: Strong 3
State: PA

This week’s villain, eponymous character Leonard Betts, though he emerges as a cold-blooded murderer, is relatable. In several ways, this is very reminiscent of Season 1’s Squeeze, with a needy rather than evil villain. Mulder was funny throughout, and the episode was more lighthearted than could be expected, until we learn about Scully’s cancer, which would go on to be a major part of the mythology part of the show in Seasons 4 and 5.

65. Young At Heart

Season 1
Episode 16
Evaluation: Strong 3
State: DC

Mulder meets his old nemesis in this episode, a criminal which he failed to stop from killing two persons. And a man who’s ready to go to just about any length to mentally torture Mulder.

64. The Goldberg Variation

Season 7
Episode 06
Evaluation: Strong 3
State: IL

I expected more from this episode. It was always obvious that this was going to be an original, horrorless X-File, and the opening scene was a winner. But the bulk of the episode had its low points. All in all, a nice, enjoyable entry, though.

63. Patience

Season 8
Episode 03
Evaluation: Strong 3
State: ID

What I feared was going to be a trainwreck turned out to be a pretty decent episode, if almost in spite of the criminal case at hand. For Doggett and Scully’s first standalone together, the writers obviously wanted to show that Doggett can fit in a Monster of the Week framework, and maybe they showed it a bit too much. The monster was frankly ridiculous, and the scenes in which it was featured were by far the least interesting in this episode. Fortunately, the vengeance and hiding elements of the case added welcome layers of complexity to the plot.

62. All Souls

Season 5
Episode 17
Evaluation: Strong 3
State: VA

The X-Files’ Christian episodes are interesting because they treat religion as deeply personal, but also as any other supernatural phenomenon, as mentioned by Mulder here. All Souls is a very slow but very intense episode.

61. Irresistible

Season 2
Episode 13
Evaluation: Strong 3
State: MN
This famous Season 2 episode features a character, Donnie Pfaster, who takes both creepiness and death fetishism to the next level. This polite and shy yet assertive character soon sets his views on Dana Scully, who finds herself in danger. And struggles to overcome her intense discomfort with the crimes.

60. Humbug

Season 2
Episode 20
Evaluation: Strong 3
State: FL
A very important late Season 2 episode, which introduced comedy-centred episodes to the show. Though the episode easily stands up on its own, and constituted a refreshing gust of wind starkly needed by the show’s standalone part at the tail end of a Season 2 which was overall very much lacking in that domain, it is its legacy of opening up a whole new dimension for the show that makes it such a crucial installment.

59. Beyond the Sea

Season 1
Episode 13
Evaluation: Strong 3
State: NC

This highly praised episode is slightly too intricate to totally connect in my opinion, but remains a rather strong outing, with a complex villain. And, of course, as noted everywhere, it reverses the believer/skeptic dynamic between Mulder and Scully, in the wake of the death of Scully’s father.

58. Via Negativa

Season 8
Episode 07
Evaluation: Strong 3
State: PA

I was a bit disappointed after seeing on Wikipedia that “The “eerie” atmosphere was praised by critics, with one referring to it as a “superb [X-File]”. The good thing, paradoxically, was that I realised early on that this was never going to be a “superb X-File”. There were many interesting elements (Scully’s pregnancy troubles, the Skinner-Doggett collaboration, Assistant Director Kersh’s characteristically unpleasant behaviour, the first meeting between Doggett and the Lone Gunmen), but there were too many such points for any one of them to be explored with enough depth. This also caused the exposition and exploration of the criminal case to be somewhat underdeveloped, at least in my opinion. The fourth act of the episode, though, had me sit on the edge of my seat.

57. Sunshine Days

Season 9
Episode 18
Evaluation: Light 4
State: CA
The X-Files’s very last standalone episode, Sunshine Days, turned out to be a pretty strange outing. The show’s creators made the right call in having star writer Vince Gilligan pen the final standalone of the series, though this one is subpar according to Gilligan’s very lofty standards.

56. Badlaa

Season 8
Episode 10
Evaluation: Light 4
State: MD

A pretty nice episode–unfairly lampooned, in my opinion, by most critics. Though one can see why they would object to a butt-crawling villain.

55. Hungry

Season 7
Episode 03
Evaluation: Light 4
State: CA

In Season 7’s first standalone episode, the villain is also the protagonist, and we see and feel things very much from his perspective. While we see rather little of Mulder and Scully, it’s quite enough for both of them to make an impression. The former’s investigation almost feels like it’s done by Lieutenant Columbo, as Mulder quickly identifies the culprit and then proceeds to slowly narrow in on him like Mulder is centre-bound on a spiral around him. As for Scully, she’s very discreet in this one, and as breathtakingly beautiful as she’s been in the entire course of the show.

 

 

 

Standalone X-Files (2) The Average

Continuing from my previous post:

108. Signs and Wonders

Season 7
Episode 09
Evaluation: Light 2
State: TN
After Milenium and Orison,Signs and Wonders is another heavily Christian early Season 7 episode. The premise of the episode is very weak and if you’ve got no particular phobia of snakes, at least on screen, then the scares are not that bad. There is something interesting about the final reversal of roles between the snake-handling, Bible-thumping religious extremist who ends up as a caring, if immensely frightening father, and the truly evil moderate priest, but it really lacks nuance, as does the entire episode.

107. Theef

Season 7
Episode 14
Evaluation: Light 2
State: CA
Not really a bad episode but a very unspectacular one. It is an unambitious installment of The X-Files, and the result is the one you’d expect from a lack of ambition. With the exception of Millenium, this is easily the least impressive episode penned by Vince Gilligan who, before he went on to create Breaking Bad, was the best writer on The X-Files, hands down.

106. First Person Shooter

Season 7
Episode 13
Evaluation: Light 2
State: CA
I had rather high hopes for this episode, but it ended up being little more than a Ghost in the Machine rehash. If you’re going to copy and paste an episode, at least pick a good one. The first in-game scene in the incipit of the show (which is centred on a virtual reality video game) was rather impressive but it got a bit stale after that. Here too the writers really lacked ambition in my view, going for a simplistic plot and underdeveloped characters.

105. Hellbound

Season 9
Episode 08
Evaluation: Decent 2
State: VA
Given the nature of the criminal case at hand (a man having premonitory visions of skinless people), the best this episode could accomplish was to stay clear of trainwreck territory. Which it did. Giving more depth to the Monica Reyes character was always going to be beyond the reach of such an episode.

104. Trevor

Season 6
Episode 17
Evaluation: Decent 2
State: MS
This story about an inmate escaping prison to find his son is not exactly original. The episode has its moments but the paranormal aspect of the case was rather lame.

103. Salvage

Season 8
Episode 09
Evaluation: Decent 2
State: IN
Season 8 featured many standalone episodes which were neither good nor bad. My hypothesis is that, in the absence of Mulder, abducted at the end of Season 7, and only back in the second half of the season, the writers were playing it safe during the ten episode standalone-marathon that made p for the bulk of the first half of Season 8. Still, with Salvage, the writers might have been playing it a tad too safe.

102. The Jeresy Devil

Season 1
Episode 05
Evaluation: Decent 2
State: NJ
The Jersey Devil was the first X-Files episode not to be really convincing. It uses a popular myth to go as far as possible, that is, pretty much nowhere except in fairly corny territory. The good subplots, including Scully’s attempt at getting away from work to go on a date, and Mulder’s lending his motel room to a homeless man for the night after the guy answered his numerous questions, really save the day here.

101. F. Emasculata

Season 2
Episode 22
Evaluation: Decent 2
State: VA
A pretty gross but somewhat watchable episode with interesting characters, in which the writers might have wanted to put just a little too much.

100. Eve

Season 1
Episode 11
Evaluation: Strong 2
State: CT
Human cloning and secret state-run clone jails could have made for a great episode. But this creepy kid cliché has never been
 my thing.

99. The Host

Season 2
Episode 02
Evaluation: Strong 2
State: NJ
With The X-Files closed down by the FBI after the Season 1 finale, Mulder and Scully no longer officially work together. So Mulder follows a lead he got, and leads the pack in the investigation, requiring Scully’s medical help. This oft-praised episode is too gross for my own taste.

98. Blood

Season 2
Episode 03
Evaluation: Strong 2
State: PA
A strong, emotional incipit makes the villain of this episode quite relatable but the episode progressively loses momentum thereafter. Too bad.

97. War of the Coprophages

Season 3
Episode 12
Evaluation: Strong 2
State: MA
With the show rarely shying away from gross visuals, with such a title, this episode promised to be a feast of disgusting sights. It was rather far from that. This episode played the self-deprecating card, which almost worked.

96. Død Kalm

Season 2
Episode 19
Evaluation: Strong 2
State: XX (Norway)
This episode features a very rare trip out of the US for our two FBI agents. Marooned at sea with a couple of unfortunate and less than cooperating companions, and facing a force that has them aging with blinding speed, Mulder and Scully manage not to lose their heads, despite the isolation. Had it not been for the lack of action and the unavoidably miraculous resolution, this could have been a good episode.

95. Fearful Symmetry

Season 2
Episode 18
Evaluation: Light 3
State: ID
I was really nervous before watching this episode, because it followed a fantastic alien mytharc two-parter which was really welcome in the wake of a string of bad standalone episodes. I feared Fearful Symmetry would be a return to the sloppy standalone standards of Season 2. It wasn’t. It was almost a decent episode, and surely turned a very skinny script into a watchable forty-five minutes of television, but nothing more.

94. The Post-Modern Prometheus

Season 5
Episode 05
Evaluation: Light 3
State: IN
This episode, entirely in black-and-white, is one of the least typical on the X-Files, featuring Cher’s music and Seinfeld’s John O’Hurley as the villain, playing a sort of a Frankenstein. To some extent this is like Home‘s light-hearted twin episode.

93. Revelations

Season 3
Episode 11
Evaluation: Light 3
State: OH
Christian-themed episodes of The X-Files were rather interesting in that they treated religion as a paranormal phenomenon among all the others encountered by Mulder and Scully. Except that it reversed the believer/skeptic dynamics between Mulder and Scully for one episode.

92. Terms of Endearment

Season 6
Episode 07
Evaluation: Light 3
State: VA
One’s appreciation of this episode is highly dependent on what importance one gives the contrived, forced resolution. Maybe a result of the initial villain giving himself away too soon? In the end, I think the episode had enough depth without the twist at the end, especially thanks to great acting on Bruce Campbell’s part in the role of the villain.

91. Kaddish

Season 4
Episode 15
Evaluation: Light 3
State: NY
The episode was rather beautiful, but did The X-Files really need an episode with Jews and neonazis? This episode, just like Revelations, considers religion as a standard paranormal superstition. And all paranormal superstitions are true on The X-Files.

90. Surekill

Season 8
Episode 08
Evaluation: Light 3
State: MA
Similarly to Salvage, which preceded it in Season 8, Surekill is not spectacular, but a watchable episode nonetheless, with its poor man’s love triangle.

89. Triangle

Season 6
Episode 03
Evaluation: Light 3
State: XX (United Kingdom (Bermuda))
I’m going to go ahead and assume that this was a bottle episode. It really felt like one (though it was a feel-good episode, but there’s no reason why that should be contradictory). Much footage of Scully running around the FBI building and of Mulder running around in the dark inside a ship. The plot, as far as I can tell, was rather confusing. The dialogue was difficult to follow, with all the accents and the speaking in German. That matched the dark corridors of the ship quite well.

88. Underneath

Season 9
Episode 12
Evaluation: Light 3
State: NY
The monster that week was kind of lame, or at least, not very convincing in terms of making some sense. But our protagonists carried the episode on their shoulders, especially my boy John Doggett. They carried it not to the X-Files Hall of Fame, far from it, but to the end of an acceptable, if ultimately forgettable, forty-five minutes of television.

87. Release

Season 9
Episode 17
Evaluation: Light 3
State: DC
Like Fox Mulder, his successor, so to say, on the X-Files had a terrible trauma in his past: the murder of his son. Like Fox Mulder, Doggett was haunted by the fact that this crime had been left unexplained and unpunished. Release closed this story arc. Unspectacularly.

86. Mind’s Eye

Season 5
Episode 05
Evaluation: Light 3
State: DE
A classic X-Files episode, really reminding of the early days of the show, especially Season 1. Mulder is under the spotlight here, connecting with an outcast blind woman suspected of murder. Scully stays in the background. There’s nothing very memorable here but a decent, emotional if sometimes lengthy episode. Ultimately, good acting by Lili Taylor and David Duchovny makes up for a fairly thin plot.

85. Our Town

Season 2
Episode 24
Evaluation: Light 3
State: AR
The final standalone episode in Season 2 was quite acceptable by that season’s sloppy standards. This story of a little Souther town whose economy is centred around chicken meat, with a cult of human sacrifice makes up for a memorable, if not particularly impressive mix.

84. Bad Blood

Season 5
Episode 12
Evaluation: Light 3
State: TX
This comedy episode, which was almost universally praised, is in my opinion a big overkill, though it is funny enough to manages to survive its own excesses. But boy, does it feel long after twenty-five to thirty minutes: the character study is pretty good, but not great enough to really stay interesting until the end of the episode. Even at that point of the show, which was pretty much the zenith of The X-Files, pretty much every character study-oriented episode depicted the relationship between Mulder and Scully as passive-aggressive, dysfunctional and sometimes downright spiteful.

83. all things

Season 7
Episode 17
Evaluation: Light 3
State: DC
This episode, written by Gillian Anderson, was enjoyable BS but BS nonetheless. It was too drastic a rewriting of Scully on the part of Gillian Anderson: what does it really say about gender biases that the moment a woman is given creative control over her skeptic, scientific female character, she goes Buddhist on us? I think Anderson was a bit too ambitious, if not pretentious. The episode felt warm at times, the scene at the Eastern-decorated house, especially so. But in this scene the postmodern “I was a physicist but I’m happier being a wishful thinker” bomb is dropped by Scully’s host, and it really is the symbol of this episode.

82. 2Shy

Season 3
Episode 06
Evaluation: Light 3
State: OH
This episode is quite similar to Season 2’s famous episode Irresistible, only more gross. The idea to deal with internet dating is good and contributes to a decent episode, which features likable characters.

 

Standalone X-Files (1) The Bad

In some contrast to the invariably solemn and ominous alien conspiracy arc of the X-Files, the large majority of the show was devoted to standalone (“Monster of the Week”) episodes which featured, for the most part, a one-off encounter with a strange, unexplained phenomenon. The quality of standalone episodes varied widely on a weekly basis. Here I give my complete classification of these episodes (including an evaluation ranging from 0 to 5, with Light, Decent and Strong as a refinement), starting with the worst ones. If you want to know what The X-Files was about, but don’t want to watch the entire show, simply steer clear of these episodes.

135. Space

Season 1
Episode 09
Evaluation: Light 0
State: TX
Look for every list of the worst X-Files episodes and you’ll see this unfocused, uneventful (apart from a nervous woman communicating with a spaceship through radio, nothing really happens for forty-five minutes) episode featured. Ironically, it didn’t even deliver on its purpose of being low-budget.

134. Home

Season 4
Episode 02
Evaluation: Light 0
State: PA
While Space was universally derided, Season 4’s first standalone episode Home has been very polarising. It seems like people’s opinions of this episode improved over time, however. I found this episode not only twisted and sick with its inbreeding theme, as it was supposed to be, but also linear, predictable and ultimately boring.

133. The List

Season 3
Episode 05
Evaluation: Decen
t 0
State: FL
A decidedly boring early Season 3 episode, from which I only remember the omnipresent green glow inside the jail, and the avalanche of gross visuals including maggots. A rare but catastrophic Season 3 misstep.

132. Fresh Bones

Season 2
Episode 15
Evaluation: Decent
 0
State: NC
Not a terribly bad episode until the resolution kicks in. A laughably bad one, really. Add to that some unsavoury visuals and the wear and tear of this episode’s appearing at the tail end of a frankly unimpressive five-episode string of standalones, and Fresh Bones can almost epitomise the nadir of the show.

131. Shapes

Season 1
Episode 19
Evaluation: Strong 0
State: MT

An episode about werewolves and how everyone in rural Montana (pleonasm) is mean to our FBI duo, from the Indians who only see the Feds when they need something to the local law enforcement who only see the Feds when they need something. But mostly, about werewolves.

130. Shadows

Season 1
Episode 06
Evaluation: Strong 0
State: PA
Shadows holds the dubious distinction of being the first bad episode in the history of the show. It is as unoriginal as one could think of. And pretty uneventful.

129. Orison

Season 7
Episode 07
Evaluation: Light 1
State: IL
A “reunion show”, so to say, involving the villain from one of Season 2’s few better episodes, Irresistible.  The writer for Orison, Chip Johannessen, probably thought he was being profound with his ravings on God and evil, which I found hard to follow at times. I had trouble seeing cohesion and consistency in the plot, especially before the death of the eponymous character Reverend Orison.

128. Miracle Man

Season 1
Episode 18
Evaluation: Light 1
State: TN
Mulder and Scully’s incursion into the deep heart of the Bible Belt makes up for a very forgettable late Season 1 episode. Little happens except for shallow and contrived mind games.

127. The Căluşari

Season 2
Episode 21
Evaluation: Light 1
State: VA
This episode fails to live up to its strong premise (a young boy seemingly using his paranormal powers to cause the death of his baby brother), ending up as a catalogue of bad X-Files Monster-of-the-Week clichés.

126. Teso Dos Bichos

Season 3
Episode 18
Evaluation: Light 1
State: MA
This installment was almost universally panned as one of the worst episodes in the series. With good reason. It is a rather uneventful episode, and the resolution is easily one of the most infamous in the whole show.

125. Chinga

Season 5
Episode 10
Evaluation: Light 1
State: ME
This mid-Season 5 shocker was, at that point, the first bad episode for more than a year. Without Mulder, staying at the office for the weekend despite the mutual promise that both our heroes would take the weekend off, Scully’s interaction with  her one-time partner is the only thing that keeps the episode interesting (well, there also is her ruggedly cool vacation outfits). The creepy doll is cliché and falls short, and the episode quickly gets irritatingly repetitious.

124. Fire

Season 1
Episode 12
Evaluation: Light 1
State: MA
There was some promise to this episode (that of a non-manichean story, told in part from the point of view of the villain, and that of some personal character development with Mulder’s ex-girlfriend from the UK) but it was all in vain, really.

123. Agua Mala

Season 6
Episode 13
Evaluation: Light 1
State: FL
X-Files episodes where Mulder and Scully found themselves isolated from the outside world, away from civilisation and with no means to get back to it, confronted to a lurking monster, were a recurring type of episode ever since Season 1’s great installment Ice. With its unimpressive plot, Agua Mala was easily the worst of those.

122. 3

Season 2
Episode 07
Evaluation: Light 1
State: CA
With Dana Scully abducted by the aliens in the previous episode (in real life, Gillian Anderson was on maternity leave when 3 was filmed), the writers faced the first episode with our duo separated. Mulder, following a lead to distant California, would find himself investigating vampires. Clichés abound here, including the eroticism of vampires, and the episode isn’t saved by David Duchovny’s strong performance.

121. Fight Club

Season 7
Episode 20
Evaluation: Decent 1
State: KS
An over-the-top episode if The X-Files ever had one. This is an example of a show wanting to be original but ending up being rather terribly cliché.

120. Millenium

Season 7
Episode 04
Evaluation: Decent 1
State: MD
During the run of The X-Files, show creator Chris Carter started another series, Millenium. That show was cancelled, which prompted Carter to use The X-Files to bring closure to the plot of his other show. Such themes as necromancy, zombies and christian eschatology, prevalent in the present episode, have little to do with what little I know about Carter’s other show, which left me guessing as to why they were featured here. I guess the eschatology, with the 2000 New Year’s Eve as a world-ending event, makes at least a little sense, but I can’t see much else sense in this. The case plot was really beyond my understanding.

119. The Field Where I Died

Season 4
Episode 05
Evaluation: Decent 1
State: TN
Despite its accurate portrayal of religious extremism as blind, violent, self-destructing madness, this corny episode didn’t really make it for me. It had a somewhat faux complexity to it, so that a couple of minutes after I was done watching it I saw how void it was.

118. Ghost in the Machine

Season 1
Episode 07
Evaluation: Decent 1
State: VA
Dealing with artificial intelligence, Ghost in the Machine holds the distinction of being probably the most easily predictable, unsuspenseful episode in the entire series.

117. Aubrey

Season 2
Episode 12
Evaluation: Strong 1
State: MO
Apart from the moment when we hear that Mulder has “always been intrigued by women named BJ”, there is little here to make this episode anything less than boring.  Aubrey opened a string of mid-Season 2 episodes where the writers were apparently interested in pure, intrinsic evil. Which makes little sense, if any. 

116. Teliko

Season 4
Episode 03
Evaluation: Strong 1
State: PA
As illustrated by the presence of HomeTeliko, and The Field Where I Died, the early goings of Season 4 were not very convincing. Fortunately, this would not last. Teliko is one of only a handful of standalone episodes where the famous “The Truth Is Out There” tagline at the end of the opening credits is replaced, this time by “Deceive, Inveigle, Obfuscate”. Maybe the most notable thing about this episode, if not the only one.

115. Syzygy

Season 3
Episode 13
Evaluation: Strong 1
State: NH
Several episodes of the show emphasised the difficulties of working together with the same person (namely, Scully or Mulder) every day. The strained relationship between our two FBI agents is a focal point here, and diverts from the rather lame criminal case at hand. But it’s treated with so little nuance it hurts.

114. Die Hand die verletzt

Season 2
Episode 14
Evaluation: Light 2
State: NH
This episode features an intriguing premise and mystery is clearly abundant, but the story is much too unfocused to connect. And what’s up with those messed-up dissection scenes ?

113. Hollywood A.D.

Season 7
Episode 19
Evaluation: Light 2
State: CA
A comedy episode about, among others, a bogus movie loosely based on the FBI’s X-Files. But this episode is also about an X-File investigation, and writer David Duchovny failed to properly connect the two main arcs in the episode, namely, the investigation, and the parody movie (the few scenes from the movie being very fun, though). This episode was too complicated for its own sake, and ended up failing on most fronts. Too bad.

112. El Mundo Gira

Season 4
Episode 11
Evaluation: Light 2
State: CA
The episode is almost decent, despite the omnipresence of fungi (this might be the episode with the most gross-outs in the whole show, though not the worst ones). Comparison with previous Hispanic-oriented episode Teso dos Bichos makes El Mundo Gira look pretty good, but that’s not saying much. Predictably, this episode, taking place in a migrant workers’ camp in California, runs along similar lines to Fresh Bones (which took place in a refugee camp) and carries a heavy-handed social message.

111. Tooms

Season 1
Episode 21
Evaluation: Light 2
State: MD
This episode features a comeback of the villain from the first standalone episode in the whole series, Eugene Victor Tooms who was featured in Season 1’s SqueezeTooms, unfortunately, is a very poor rehash of Squeeze, which had the merit of eliciting some sense of empathy from the audience for this freaky killer.

110. Excelsis Dei

Season 2
Episode 11
Evaluation: Light 2
State: MA
The mystery in this episode was pretty terrible–really, not much more than a rehash of what already was one of the worst episodes in the show, namely, Shadows. The depiction of this decrepit retirement house where the most caring person ended up doing more harm than good was more interesting, but not enough to salvage this boring episode.

109. Synchrony

Season 4
Episode 19
Evaluation: Light 2
State: MA
The science in this one is so poor it hurts. I know this is a TV show and hence I can cope with stark inaccuracy, like in Season 2’s Soft Light when Scully, who supposedly majored in Physics before becoming an M.D., says that quarks had never been observed. But what we get in this episode is just ridiculous, the low point being reached when it is implied that biologists would attend a conference where a guy talks about tachyons, and then understand it. When in real life many physicists wouldn’t understand.

My Ideas on the X-Files (2) The Evolution of the Show

When the X-Files was conceived, series creator Chris Carter only had in mind the plotline about the alien conspiracy and abductions. Early on, the series really was propelled by this story arc. Though the “monster-of-the-week” (MotW) episodes were introduced because “series creator Chris Carter thought that the show could not sustain its momentum unless it branched out from the previously UFO-centered plots”, many MotW episodes in seasons 1 and 2 really felt like fillers, those of season 2, often obsessed with pure, intrinsic evil, being particularly weak. For all its MotW dullness, however, season 2 also saw the introduction of a whole new dimension of the show: comedy episodes. With late season 2’s Humbug, a flawed but surprising episode, the show gained in depth.

Season 3 would be a major turnaround for the show: MotW episodes became rather consistently good, a trend that would strengthen in Seasons 4, 5 and 6. Meanwhile, the alien conspiracy plot was losing steam, especially in the eyes of the diehard fans who were sitting on an ever increasing list of inconsistencies they had been carefully compiling. To them more than to the careful yet fairly casual watcher I was, it became clear that Chris Carter and his acolyte Frank Spotnitz were just making it up along the way. Of course it’s hard to do otherwise when you run a show which might last only two seasons or maybe ten. Season 7, which for a while was supposed to be the last one of the show, and which ended up as the final season to feature Fox Mulder in all episodes, was the weakest since Season 2.

Seasons 8 and 9, where Fox Mulder had been replaced, so to say, by my boy John Doggett, and later, and to a lesser extent, Dana Scully would be replaced by Monica Reyes, were more of a swan song than anything else. Many individual episodes in Season 8 were strong, but the overall storyarc of the show was getting more self-contradicting every week.

For all its flaws, the X-Files provided countless hours of good television. In intend to give my full ranking of MotW episodes in a series of upcoming posts.

My Ideas on the X-Files (1) General Opinion on the Show

Yesterday I watched the second X-Files movie, The X-Files: I Want to Believe. And with that I finally completed my “adventure” with this juggernaut of a show. I started watching the X-Files in the early autumn of 2011. And so I ended in the early summer of 2015. With a long break between the late summer of 2013 and the late spring of 2014 (during which I watched Breaking Bad).

As a whole I enjoyed this show. It usually is good TV. Decent entertainment. The most famous episodes, the ones dealing with plots of alien abduction/invasion (which make up about a quarter of the show’s episodes) are often intense thrillers. And the perhaps less symbolic standalone episodes, during which the heroes of the show faced the proverbial “monster of the week”, went from hit-or-miss at best in the early seasons to fairly consistently good in the mid-show seasons.

Chronologically, I would classify the nine seasons if the X-Files in three eras: the early era consisting of Seasons 1 and 2. The bulk era spanning Seasons 3 to 7, and the late era with Seasons 8 and 9.

In Seasons 1 and 2, I thought the show is really carried by what is known as its mythology. Namely, the story arc about aliens. All the episodes dealing with the mythology arc are strong and memorable, and very few standalone episodes match their quality and intensity.

In Season 3 what I’d nerdily call a phase transition happens: the standalone episodes improve in quality and consistency. This carries on to Seasons 4, 5, and 6. Meanwhile, the alien mythology arc becomes ever more convoluted. Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz, the usual writers for the mythology episodes, keep opening new storylines without ever closing any. I still enjoyed almost all mytharc episodes of this bulk era, but this is due in part to my being a casual watcher. To the hardcore, diehard fans who spent much of their free time compiling everything they had learned so far about the alien conspiracy, however, many new mytharc episodes from Seasons 4 to 6 were confusing and contradictory. I cared rather little. Season 7, however, was very weak: not only was the mythology losing steam, but the standalone episodes were only slightly better than those of Seasons 1 and 2.

And then of course came Seasons 8 and 9. Following David Duchovny’s demands, the show’s writers made Fox Mulder a recurring character instead of the main character he had been. His partner Dana Scully would find herself paired with Special Agent John Doggett. His tough but unassuming demeanour, his ex-military no nonsense attitude made him a favourite of mine, which was really the only way a longtime watcher of the show could get over, so to say, Mulder’s largely diminished role.

The ending of the ninth Season was notoriously unsatisfactory. Not that the series finale was a terribly bad episode, but the way Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz simply seemed to have shied away from even trying to bring a conclusion to the elaborate story arc they had been weaving for a decade was fairly shocking.

YouTube Channels Worth My Time (5) In Your Face

Two new additions to the list of my favourite YouTube channels:

The Atheism-is-Unstoppable channel and its three daughter channels (only the third of those is still active as of today).  As their name indicates, these channels are about in-your-face secular badassery. One recurrent theme is the exposition of the embarrassing double standard and hypocrisy of the Western left on Islamism. It’s not uncommon for Devon Tracey who runs this channel with a kangaroo as his avatar, to put thirty to fifty minute-long videos where he plays “news” flashes put out by progressive news outlets, only to shred the unbreathable hypocrisy to pieces. See here for a fine example.

Another great channel is run by evolutionary psychologist Gad Saad. Prof. Saad has this series which he playfully calls “The Saad Truth”. It’s a glorious cradle of ethnocentric oppressive male heterosexist linear thinking scientific rationalism and irony. Prof. Saad is a rare gem in a social science world flooded by dogmatic social constructivism. He’s of course been called a sexist pig for trying to understand biological factors for human psychology.

Thoughts Around Books (6) From Higher Superstition to Higher Indoctrination

In their 1994 book Higher Superstition, Paul R. Gross and Norman Levitt open the fifth chapter, “Auspicating Gender”, with the sentence “American universities have adopted feminism”. Twenty years later, their diagnosis is confirmed and generalised to Canadian universities by a Professor at the University of Ottawa Department of English. Janice Fiamengo has given several talks where she voices her concern about academic feminism. She argues that this academic feminism has largely lost sight of the initial feminist goal of equality under the law, to replace that with the imposition on campus–and, as far as possible, throughout society at large–of a decidedly ideological worldview whereby Western society is inherently biased–and violent–against women, men being the perpetrators of violence and the beneficiaries of an intrinsic privilege.

As an insider, Prof. Fiamengo has a lot to say about the takeover of ideological feminism in humanities Departments and the large-scale politicisation of academia that resulted, about the shabby academic standards of the flagship feminist discipline, Women’s Studies, and about the dreadful state of free speech on campus.

Two particularly good talks of her can be found here and here. Her soft-spoken delivery and unassuming demeanour are praiseworthy.

In the first talk–”Academic Feminism from the Inside”–Prof. Fiamengo gives an alarming picture of on-campus politics. Ideological feminism, she informs us, has seized power to the point where students are forbidden to create groups discussing men’s issues or gender relations outside of the feminist framework. From the professorship to the highest levels of universities’ administrations, she argues,this ideology is dominant and unchallenged. And the consequences are starkly dire, especially for male students. She cites several instances where unsubstantiated rape accusations levelled at male students were enough for the university administration to take drastic–and completely disproportionate measures–against not only the suspects but their wider social circles. These accusations were later proved to be unfounded. She argues that the takeover of ideological feminism in universities means that male students are viewed as an on-campus danger and are often treated as “guilty until proven innocent”. A memorable passage is when she informs us that the assistant Dean of students at Vasser College stated that while she recognised the pain of being falsely accused of rape, she thought facing such false accusations was not really a bad thing as it could help male students reflect along the lines of “If I didn’t violate her, could I have?”.

In the second talk–”What’s Wrong With Women’s Studies?”–Prof. Fiamengo–after giving some arguments against the relevance of the  notion of “patriarchy”–focuses on the academic discipline of Women’s Studies, which she argues is less higher education than higher indoctrination. She contrasts the extremely scrupulous–if not consistently so–examination of women’s issues and gender relations in Western countries of a typical Women’s Studies course to the largely fantasy-based focus of a course on gender in Modern Islam, which, as she instructs us by reading and commenting on the course syllabus, only really discusses the ideals of Islamic societies as to the role of women, with no mention of bigotry, misogyny, homophobia, etc. A byproduct of this discussion is the highlighting of the soft bigotry of lower expectations that humanities teaching seems to apply to Islamic culture. This sheds an interesting light on our contemporary Western political landscape, where people who identify as left-of-centre reliably defend Islam from even moderate critics, while having radically different expectations from Western governments and institutions. The failure of many feminists, especially, to speak out against the conspicuously patriarchal nature of Islamic society, speaks volumes to the prevalence of cultural relativism on the left and within its academic arm. With such a contrast on the content between the two above-mentioned courses, this paradigm seems at least slightly less strange. And as long as this dichotomy remains business as usual in academia, generations of students will become misinformed adults.

Thoughts About Books (6) Gross & Levitt – Higher Superstition

Biologist Paul R. Gross and mathematician Norman Levitt’s 1994 Higher Superstition gives  an alarming picture of the takeover of Social Science and Literature Departments in American universities by highly politicised and intellectually dubious scholarship. Such is the forcefulness with which the authors give their diagnosis that it drove New York University’s mathematical physicist Alan Sokal to put the authors’ claims to the test. And of course that particular episode has had some importance of its own.

Back to Higher Superstition though. At the sight of the book’s subtitle “The Academic Left and Its Quarrels With Science“, the reader who–unlike me–would be unfamiliar with the target of the book might imagine a very political essay motivated by right-of-centre sentiments. That would be a mistake as the book is rather an attempt to show how political sentiments (here, left-of-centre) often get in the way of serious thinking. It is a stellar book, and its first one hundred or so pages made my Transatlantic flight back from Canada quite fun.

The first chapter in this book is almost eponymous to the subtitle: “The Academic Left and Science”. It is a good summary of the content of the book, and features a particularly memorable passage also noticed by whomever wrote the Wikipedia page on the Sokal affair: after mentioning the “recent” (in 1994) attack by the “academic left” on science’s methods and insights, in which they correctly argue that such an attack could only be worth one’s time if it was formulated by people who do know something about science, Gross and Levitt notice that

It would seem to follow, then, that the last eight or ten years should have seen of flock or earnest humanists and social critics crowding into science and mathematics lecture rooms, the better to arm themselves for the fateful confrontation. This has not happened. A curious fact about the recent left-critique of science is the degree to which its instigators have overcome their former timidity, or indifference towards the subject, not by studying it in detail, but rather by creating a repertoire of rationalizations for avoiding such study. Buoyed by a “stance” on science, they feel justified in bypassing the grubby necessities of actual scientific knowledge. […] The assumption that makes specific knowledge of science dispensable is that certain new-forged intellectual tools […] and, above all, the moral authority with which the academic left emphatically credits itself are in themselves sufficient to guarantee the validity of the critique.

This is one of the central theses of the book, and it is argued for in the following chapters, Not quite in the second chapter though, which is more of an appeal to history. Gross and Levitt argue–and it is not too hard–that the political causes espoused by the academic left can be linked straightforwardly to reactionary, anti-Enlightenment thought of the previous centuries–and even decades. A passage that I think worthy of quotation reads

The dethronement of Western modes of knowledge and their claims to objectivity is said to be justified on a number of grounds. To some, it is the inherent instability and cloudiness of language that does the job. Others appeal to fairly traditional Marxist notions of class consciousness. Feminists champion “women’s ways of knowing”, while Afrocentrists have their own version of the blood-and-soil myth. The important point, however, is that each faction thinks the job is complete and that Western paradigms have been effectively demolished.

Among academics, such attitudes are nowadays extremely common. They are conjoined, however, with other habits of thought characteristic of intellectuals as a class. There is, for instance, an abiding cabalistic faith that excursions into theory, if pursued at great enough length with sufficient intensity, will tease forth all the deepest truths of human experience. This adds considerably to the impression, common outside of academic-left circles, that the “critical theory” in which academic leftists take such delight is a swamp of jargon, name dropping, logic chopping, and massive attempts to obliterate the obvious. The irony is that this faith in the omnicompetence of theory runs particularly strong in those who claim to abhor “totalizing” theories.

Chapters three to seven are what I would call the “bulk chapters”. They detail the case that Gross and Levitt have built against some schools of thought. Chapter three, “The Cultural Construction of Cultural Constructivism”, has a self-explanatory title. Gross and Levitt first distinguish between weak constructivism–which is really simply history or serious sociology–and strong constructivism–which holds science as a social convention like any other. They then focus on the strong form, that of Barry Barnes–who is not mentioned in this book–and David Bloor–who is. The most notable targets of Gross and Levitt’s arguments are Stanley Aronowitz and Bruno Latour. Aronowitz, who was at the time of the book an editor of Social Text, the journal which was to feature Alan Sokal’s hoax article, seems to deserve special treatment in the eyes of Gross and Levitt, who grace the heading of this third chapter with an epigraph of his–”The point is that neither logic nor mathematics escapes the contamination of the social”–and make no mystery of what they think of his book Science As Power:

Aronowitz’s major work is a turgid and opaque tract entitled Science As Power. It constitutes a major attempt to justify the cultural (or social) constructivist viewpoint and is clearly motivated by the belief that since science and technology are key elements in the substructure of modern capitalism, it is one of the duties of the oppositional social critic to demystify science and topple it from its position of reliability and objectivity. The major premise from which this work of demystification proceeds is that science is “situated” knowledge, conditioned by the historical circumstances that engender it and reflective of the ideological patterns of dominance and authority that prevail in the society.

Ambition, however, is one thing and achievement quite another. Aronowitz’s book is notably clumsy in its approach to argument. Its chief method seems to be to invoke from the philosophy of science as many names as possible, in as small a space as possible, and to present their views, as paraphrased by Aronowitz himself, briefly and cryptically, cementing the whole business together, finally, with a wash of the author’s pontifications.

Latour, on the other hand, is shown to be self-contradictory, in his principles as well as in his deeds, as well as more interested in words and concepts than sociological facts.

The book’s fourth chapter “The Realm of Idle Phrases: Postmodernism, Literary Theory, and Cultural Criticism” takes on exactly those three–essentially equivalent–juggernauts which, in turn, are closely related to cultural constructivism. While reading the book, I was even rather surprised that Gross and Levitt did not group cultural constructivism with postmodernism and the other two schools of thought. If I understood correctly, the main distinction is one of the academic Department to which the “academic leftist” belongs: Sociology Departments are the harbour for cultural constructivism, a rather more formal idea which sees science as sustained by political and economic power, while Literature Departments are the general quarters of postmodernism, a more ill-defined notion where the focus is shifted on “language games”. That emphasis on language is beautifully summed up by the following passage, found early in the chapter:

The idea that close attention to the words, tropes, and rhetorical postures of a culture gives one transmutative power over that culture finds acceptance for a number of reasons. First of all, it shifts the game of politics to the home turf of those who by inclination and training are clever with words, disposed to read texts with minute attention and to attend to the higher-order resonances of language. At the same time, it allows scholars of a certain stamp to construe the pursuit of their most arcane interests as a defiantly political act against the repressive structures of society. This is exhilarating: it is radicalism without risk. It does not endanger careers but rather advances them. […]

One startling aspect of postmodernist thought is its belief in its own omnicompetence. It pronounces with supreme confidence on all aspects of human history, politics and culture. […] Postmodernism is, among other things, a device for amplifying the special insights of a narrow area of literary criticism or rhetorical analysis into a methodology for making judgments of the entire cultural spectrum.

Necessarily, this entails intellectual coarseness. The confidence of the postmodern cultural critic is the confidence of a generalizer who excuses himself from many of the usual obligations of erudition. Under this dispensation, a wide variety of disciplines may be addressed and pronounced upon without requiring a detailed familiarity with the facts and logic around which they are organized. A recent article by Heather MacDonald wryly analyzes this phenomenon, which, in its most impudent form, generates scholarly essays that seem to have as their subject everything in general and nothing in particular […].

The rest of the chapter is chiefly devoted to how postmodernists, to different extents, try to make science a language game, a mere metaphor. The interplay with cultural constructivism is apparent throughout, and especially in passages where the authors examine such writings as those of Andrew Ross, who apparently has lamented the relegation of New Age and the “paranormal” to pseudoscience, arguing that this hierarchy is a social construct. And of course, no full-length work on postmodernism and science would be complete without a refutation of the nonsense that has been written on chaos theory. Higher Superstition is no exception, and takes to task Steven Best and N. Katherine Hayles for the frivolity and incompetence with which they wrote about chaos when trying to claim it–a recurring trope–as the best example of “postmodern science”.

I am still impressed that the book’s longest chapter, its fifth one, is the one about feminism. “Auspicating Gender” is a whopping forty-two pages long. With a look at how an authoritarian, ultra-ideological brand of feminism has reached hegemonic status in many humanities Departments–not to say university campuses altogether–in North America (more about that in my next post), one can only praise Gross and Levitt’s visibly large concern as visionary. The immense relevance of their discussion of feminism in 2015, though, seems more due to the fact that feminism’s power grab was already well under way in 1994, rather than to any special foresight on the part of the authors. Gross and Levitt open the chapter with the sentence “American universities have adopted feminism” and spend most of the remainder of the chapter to provide examples for this claim. Their diagnosis of how academic feminism picks a new target–mathematics education is an example they give, a more recent one with which I am familiar is militant secularism in the US–, complains that it is inherently biased and sexist, and proceed to demand that it be made to conform with the dogmas of feminism, is eerily adequate to describe recent events. Write Gross and Levitt:

Metaphor mongering is the principal strategy of much feminist criticism of science. It is invoked to accomplish what analysis of actual ideas will not. “Toward a Feminist Algebra” is a particularly childish example of this […]. The worst thing about this paper […] lies […] in the fact that that the ultimate aim of the authors is not really to advocate devices for improving the mathematical education of women and other disempowered classes. Rather, one finally discovers, the purpose is to justify the use of mathematics classrooms as chapels of feminist orthodoxy. The purpose of the carefully tailored feminist language and imagery is not primarily to build the self-confidence of woman students, but rather to convert problems and examples into parables of feminist rectitude. […] Campbell and Campbell-Wright really want mathematics instructors to act as missionaries for a narrow, self-righteous feminism.

The authors then go on to examine several of many attacks made by academic feminism on the insights of biology. These themes were further explored–among others, by Paul R. Gross himself–in A House Built On Sand.

Chapter six, “The Gates of Eden”, deals with a topic with which I was much less familiar, that of radical ecology. Gross and Levitt expose not only the notorious antiscientific tendencies rife within ecological movements, but also the rather “liberal” approach that is often taken with respect to facts, events and data. Seen from 2015, Gross and Levitt’s insistence that some scientific issues around Earth’s climate change were not settled in 1994 sound a little quaint, but they still make much more sense than any excerpt they reproduce from “deep ecologist” writings. And in the end, their sensible vision is beautifully summed up in the penultimate paragraph of the chapter:

To us, it is self-evident that a 1 percent improvement in the efficiency of photo-voltaic cells, say, is, in environmental terms, worth substantially more than all the utopian eco-babble ever published. In this sense, we are unabashed technocrats, unashamed of the instrumentalism behind such assertions. An accomplishment of this kind will almost certainly not come from the ranks of the ecoradicals, most of whom would, no doubt, denounce it with scorn as a “techno-fix”. Yet technology and the scientific thinking that stands behind it are, for all their vexed history, indispensable tools for providing humankind with a stable environment in which it can live on honorable terms with itself and with nature. The attempts to replace them with phantom visions of global consciousness change or cultural paradigm shift are wrong-headed […].

The last “bulk chapter”–as I’ve called them– is chapter seven, “The Schools of Indictment”. Unlike the previous four chapters, it deals with several, clearly different ideologies. The three main points of focus are AIDS activism, animal rights activism and Afrocentrism. They are rather minor targets when compared to, say, feminism. What makes them interesting is that their relevance is more local, either in time–for AIDS activism, as the epidemic is now largely under control in the West–or in space–for Afrocentrism, which is really only a factor in the US. To see how postmodernist cultural critics pounced on AIDS to make sweeping judgments about the whole of American or even world society is jaw-dropping to say the least. Meanwhile, AIDS activists outside the academia were accusing the US administration of committing a genocide by its supposedly purposeful failure to stop the spread of the virus. As Gross and Levitt point out: “It is painful to call attention to the absurdities of people whose suffering is undeniable”. But the citations they reproduce leave no doubt that many absurdities have been uttered. The space devoted to animal rights is smaller, but still eyebrow-raising sentences abound here. Gross and Levitt know enough about the issue to separate the sound and sane arguments of a Peter Singer–who can here be seen to argue for generalised veganism and clearly comes out as the best debater in the room–from the shrill and hysterical activism seen in some corners of the academic left. The authors argue forcefully for a responsible use of animals in experimental biology, for medical purposes. And insist that the choice is between just that and accepting “life on Earth as it was before science”. Apart from the third choice that they give–experimenting on humans, rather than on animals, for which they do their best to (presumably, coin, and) present some brief arguments–I indeed do not see what else could be done. The topic is then shifted to Afrocentrism, which they argue, using extensive research by anthropologist Bernard Ortiz de Montellano, is as dangerous as it is wrong. Afrocentrism is not content with setting the historical record straight and denouncing the injustice of colonialism, it purports to offer–ideologically driven–new insights in research and education. It goes much further than quaint but well-meaning–if ill-advised and naively pseudotribalistic, or, as Gross and Levitt put it, “mechanistic and unnecessary”– notions that black students might like to know about the–visibly modest–mathematical “achievements” of various African peoples. Rather, it asserts that much of Greek civilisation–and thus, by transitivity, European civilisation–was derived from African civilisations, especially the Egyptian one (incidentally, Afrocentrism seems very insistent on asserting that ancient Egyptians were ethnically similar to today’s citizens of Senegal or Togo, a controversial claim to say the least). Even more egregious claims follow, and a compendium would be an overkill here, but let’s just mention Hunter Adams’ affirmation that the Egyptians commonly used gliders. Near the end of the chapter, Gross and Levitt regret that

All this strongly suggests that even if the universities of this country eventually succeed in developing effective antidotes to the myths of fervent Afrocentrism (and failure to do so will leave many black students in an intellectual ghetto), they will do so without much help from most of the campus left; more than likely, they will have to proceed in the face of its indignant opposition. This may seem an unkind characterization, but the direct evidence, sadly and shamefully, supports it. The experience of Bernard Ortiz de Montellano provides an example. […]

When Ortiz de Montellano and some of his colleagues […] attempted to present a critique of Afrocentric pseudoethnography at a recent meeting of the American Anthropological Association, their proposal was rejected. The tone and manner of this rejection suggest strongly the heavy hand of a new orthodoxy among cultural anthropologists, one that pretends to atone for the putative sins of ethnography during the era of Western imperialism and colonialism by abandoning the “Western” prerogative to judge the narratives of “non-Western” peoples in the light of objective knowledge and scientific methodology.

The penultimate chapter, “Why Do the People Imagine a Vain Thing?”, is a sort of a pre-conclusion. I’ve noted several striking passages, and will focus on one that I find especially important. Here Gross and Levitt note that for all the supposed value-freedom of cultural constructivism and postmodernism, and the supposed empirical or epistemological merits of feminism or Afrocentrism, these worldviews are strongly normative and just about exclusively political:

The natural view–that science gives power to those who understand and underwrite it precisely because it sees accurately into the workings of nature–is, of course correct; but it sorts ill with the temperament of the would-be exorcist. Thus the drive, fragmented and incoherent but energetic, to impeach science not merely as amoral handmaiden of the wickedly powerful but as flawed at its conceptual roots. The moralistic imagination always demands such an iconographic degradation of that from which it wishes to turn away. Science cannot be seen merely as dangerous; it must also be revealed as false in some essential way.

It is actually this moralism, rather than any solid philosophical commonality, that unites the various critiques we have examined. Moralism has the bad intellectual habit of excusing itself, on its own grounds, for weak and shoddy arguments.

In the final chapter, “Does It Matter?”, Gross and Levitt diagnose the low intellectual level of public discourse and the shoddy standards of science education. But, less conventionally, they also reflect on the future (from a 1994 point of view) of academia. They regret the way a fashionably radical posture can help one breeze through one’s career steps and, less conventionally still and more controversially, they go so far as to ask the question of whether science Departments should secede–or look to have humanities Departments do just that–from universities. They might go an inch too far when they suggest that scientists could, if given the time, teach history and philosophy with good competence–I know many who maybe would, and many who probably wouldn’t-but, in the face of the barrage of nonsense that has been coming from actual university professors in the humanities, one can still see their point: a naive and incomplete curriculum would be much better than the feeding of propaganda to students that has been going on in some lecture halls. This question is largely an exercise in fiction–if not fantasy–of course, but when we read that

We know of mathematics departments where the most straightforward pedagogic housekeeping task–that of giving placement exams to insure that students are assigned courses commensurate with their background and ability–is complicated by the insufferable intervention of ideologues, who insist that such tests are inherently “culturally biased” or “gender biased”, an intervention whose probable consequence is to make life miserable for the poor undergraduates who are shoehorned, courtesy of their would-be benefactors, into courses they aren’t ready to handle.

one is ready to reexamine the issue at some length.

Despite its twenty years of age, Higher Superstition is an urgently relevant book today. Rather than receding and hiding in a scholarly corner, the academic left has kept increasing its influence on campuses throughout the United States and its sister country Canada. Dogmatic feminism seems now to be the default ideology not only of university professors and their students in Women’s Studies Departments, but also of universities’ administrative bodies. I intend to get back to this topic in my following post. In the United Kingdom, meanwhile, there is more and more evidence that university campuses have become a platform and a recruiting place for islamists and jihadists. And the academic left, embodied by the National Union of Students, refused to condemn the Islamic State for fear to appear islamophobic.