Issue 12 - May, 2000

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The 11th Hour

The X-Files
"Brand X"

Airdate: April 16, 2000

"I'm telling you, sir, wire-rims are out. It's all about blue plastic."

Continuing the trend that commenced with the adaptation of The Blair Witch Project into "Rush", persisted with the reworking of American Beauty in "Chimera", and will no doubt culminate in the upcoming (and creatively named) "Fight Club", The X-Files maintained its (to put it kindly) tribute to prominent films of 1999 with "Brand X", the destitute man's The Insider.

What a waste of an episode.

I'm not even sure I want to write this review, as I'm feeling more and more like that Comic Book Guy on The Simpsons lately with his constant mantra of "Worst Episode Ever". Despite popular opinion, I'm not hot on feeling this way -- it's just that the series has reached such a level of constant, utter suckdom that there's really no alternative. (Just ask poor old David Duchovny.) See, the thing is, "Worst Episode Ever", on The X-Files, used to mean something. I can remember past moments of W.E.E. -- watching "Tesos dos Bichos" in the third season, feeling so happy it was a mere anomaly in my favorite show. Viewing -- and then, ultimately, painting my nails during --"Travelers" at the close of the disappointing fifth season, sure it could get no worse than this. But then came "Rain King". And "Alpha". And so, so many more. After watching "Brand X", the only real summation that can be made is "Worst Season Ever". And the award goes to season seven, hopefully, mercifully, the series' last.

Smoking is wrong... and so are tank tops on skanky old men.

That said, "Brand X" did have potential. Sure, its storyline -- a man about to rat out the tobacco industry pursued by evil corporate cigarette makers -- borrows greatly from Oscar nominee The Insider, but on The X-Files, it could have worked. After all, what other series has so blatantly used cigarette smoking as a symbol for deadly, uncompromising evil more than this one? X-Files has always been a non-smoker's delight, with vaguely demonic and thoroughly icky Cigarette Smoking Man standing in as the main villain. Odd incongruities aside (see, or don't see, "Travelers") X-Files has often used smoking as a metaphor for all that is deadly and cancerous in the world, and they could have done well with a good anti-tobacco tale.

Of course, they wouldn't think to, oh, say, put the Cigarette Smoking Man in the episode or anything. No. That would have made too much sense.

And from the darkest archives of X-Files fan fic...

Instead, new scribes Steven Madea and Greg Walker created a deadly boring tale of inconsequential characters that resembled everything "War of the Corpophages" mocked four years back. This was The Insider by way of ooky bugs -- senseless, insipid, and incredibly dull. The sentiment of the episode -- cigarettes are unhealthy and the tobacco industry is corrupt -- is the one thing that could have saved the episode for me, but "Brand X" reminded me of all those idiotic, corny anti-smoking ads the government puts out that make me almost embarrassed to be an adamant non-smoker. The acting was terrible, the plot laughable, and the message therefore thoroughly mixed. I wouldn't be surprised if "Brand X" received a thank-you note from Marlboro, given its inept execution and rather unseemly ending -- Mulder, his disease cured by injections of nicotine, considers taking up smoking. Nice message for the kids, guys. There are few things in the world that annoy me more than smoking, but cop-outs like this are definitely one of them.

-- Sarah Kendzior

The X-Files airs at 9pm EST, Sundays on Fox.

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