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20th Century Fox presents
The X-Files Mythology, Vol. 2: The Black Oil (1995-1997)

"Men can never be free... because they are weak, corrupt, worthless and restless. The people believe in authority. They've grown tired of waiting for miracle and mystery. Science is their religion. No greater explanation exists for them."
- Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis)

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: October 07, 2005

Stars: David Duchovny, Gilian Anderson
Other Stars: Mitch Pileggi, William B. Davis, Nicholas Lea, Tom Braidwood, Dean Hagland, John Fitzgerald Byers
Director: Various

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (intense moments, violence)
Run Time: 011h:08m:00s
Release Date: August 02, 2005
UPC: 024543190714
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Entering its third season, The X-Files had gained considerable popularity and appeared poised to break out into the mainstream. Instead of copying earlier successes, creator Chris Carter and his writing team expanded the series' mythology and developed intriguing concepts that raised it to a much higher level. One of their best ideas was the Black Oil, a vicious alien entity that could occupy a human host by force. This frightening enemy was nearly impossible to contain and would jeopardize the life of anyone in its path.

The X-Files Mythology, Vol. 2: Black Oil includes the next 15 episodes of the mythology storyline chosen by Carter to continue the overall plot. In actuality, only four episodes directly involve the Black Oil, but it symbolizes the more ambitious nature of the show’s third, fourth, and fifth seasons. The collection begins with a two-part "alien autopsy" tale that immediately showcases the larger budget, increased tension, and wonderfully developed narrative of each entry. The Black Oil arrives in Piper Maru and quickly reveals its malevolent abilities. It works even better in the two-part Russian adventures of Tunguska and Terma, which brings Mulder into direct conflict with this alien force.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson perform wonderfully throughout this collection and effectively showcase our heroes' growing emotional bond. These episodes also provide more standout moments for Mitch Pileggi as Skinner and the fascinating William B. Davis as the Cigarette Smoking Man. The recurring actors are excellent across the board, especially John Neville (Well-Manicured Man), Nicholas Lea (Krycek), and Steven Williams (X). This group of episodes represents a significant improvement over the first offering, which were very solid on their own. The stories become more complex, the relationships achieve a greater maturity, and the shocks reach an even more feverish pitch. The following paragraphs offer brief descriptions of the 15 episodes included in this collection. The spoilers are minimal here, but if you are new to the series and want to be surprised, please halt your reading immediately.

Mulder acquires an alien autopsy video involving Japanese scientists that may actually be the real thing. His vigorous exploration brings him into conflict with a group of mysterious government figures who will do anything to hide its existence. Meanwhile, Scully learns new details regarding her abduction and meets a group of women who possess special knowledge of her experience. The first of two mid-season two-part episodes offers an intriguing beginning and leads well into the conclusion with an action-packed finale.

Mulder enters a mysterious train that may be holding an alien-human hybrid, but complications ensue that may end his existence. Trapped aboard a train car wired to explode, he must find a way to escape from a dire fate. Once again separated from her partner, Scully encounters a grisly leper facility that may reveal even more secrets regarding her abduction. This tense episode reveals the larger budgets and higher stakes offered during the show’s wonderful third season.

Piper Maru
The Black Oil makes its first appearance in this nasty two-part episode from the latter half of the third season. This mystifying alien substance appears on a downed World War II plane recovered by a doomed French salvage team. Mulder’s investigation of this incident brings him into contact with his nemesis Krycek, now working as a freelance operative. Skinner also takes a stand against his superiors and may face the consequences for his actions. Writers Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz raise the stakes again with this fascinating introduction to one of the show’s most unique villains.

Mulder pursues Krycek in hopes of gaining access to the DAT tape and the proof that it contains, but does not realize his dangerous proximity to the black oil. Skinner uncovers a stunning revelation about the killer of Scully's sister that may lead her to seek retribution. The Cigarette Smoking Man must act to protect their mission and to retain his place within the Syndicate. This riveting episode again shows the writers in top form and prominently displays the series’ timelessness.

Talitha Cumi
Mulder's mother has a strange meeting with the Cigarette Smoking Man that implies a close past relationship between the unlikely pair. Meanwhile, Mulder and Scully search for Jeremiah Smith (Roy Thinnes), an older man who possesses the amazing power of healing and shape shifting. This investigation leads them into conflict with X (Steven Williams) and reveals a powerful alien weapon. The episode concludes with a tense cliffhanger that will require you to immediately view the next entry. It also offers hints to an even larger conspiracy on a planetary scale.

Mulder and Jeremiah Smith face a relentless pursuit from an alien bounty hunter determined to end Smith’s existence. They journey to a strange farm housing bees that are not of the typical household variety and a girl who closely resembles Mulder's sister. While Scully attempts to protect his mother, the Syndicate uses her in an attempt to plug an information leak. The series' fourth season begins in stunning fashion and continues to complicate their search for the ultimate truth.

Alex Krycek (Nicholas Lea) reappears on the scene and is apprehended by Muller and Scully during an FBI raid. He directs them to a strange rock that may have originated from a meteor that struck the earth in 1908. The Black Oil returns again to wreak havoc when it's discovered among a passenger’s contents during an airport customs search. Armed with new information, Mulder takes Krycek and journeys to Russia in hopes of finding the truth about the meteor. This episode crackles with tension and again involves the conniving Cigarette Smoking Man’s plans. Nicholas Lea also performs well as Krycek, who might actually be trying to help Mulder this time. The action ends with one of the most shocking cliffhangers in series history.

In this conclusion to the gripping two-part story, Mulder attempts to escape from a Russian prison conducting deadly experiments. Scully and Skinner must respond to a Senate subcommittee regarding his whereabouts or face the consequences. Back in Russia, Krycek meets a group of survivors who try to “save” him in a strange manner. In addition, a former KGB spy is reactivated to clean up a possibly nasty mess. This action-packed episode again brings Mulder and Scully closer to the truth, while risking their life in the process. The fourth season’s high quality level continues to amaze me and arguably improves on the wonderful previous year.

Memento Mori
Remember when the X-Files had simple episode titles like Deep Throat and Little Green Men? The more unique names correlate well to the increasingly complex mythology arc displayed impressively in this episode. Scully is diagnosed with inoperable cancer that may relate to her abduction experience. While she undergoes treatment at the hospital, Mulder searches for the truth and discovers another piece in the grand scheme. Gillian Anderson's acting has always been excellent, but her performance here is especially impressive.

Tempus Fugit
Frequent alien abductee Max Fenig (from Fallen Angel) becomes the focus of Mulder and Scully's investigation into a downed commercial airliner. Riding aboard this plane, Fenig possibly had discovered concrete evidence of the existence of aliens. The case brings them into a violent conflict with the military and the forces who attempt to hide the truth. Events culminate with Mulder making a stunning discovery and Scully attempting to hide a witness, with disastrous consequences. This episode has the atmosphere of a first-season episode, which lends a nostalgic feel to the story.

This solid conclusion to the previous episode continues the investigation into the mysterious crash of the commercial airliner. The military releases its cover story, which implicates several men but keeps them safe from discovery of the larger conspiracy. Obviously skeptical of their story, Mulder digs deeper into Max Fenig’s claims and discovers a possibly alien device. However, the government pursuers’ desperate attempts to halt his activities could have dire consequences. This two-part entry probably represents the weakest aspect of this collection, but it still offers an interesting story.

In its fourth season finale, the series takes a brave leap and submits the idea that all of Mulder's discoveries are a hoax. While investigating the possible location of a frozen alien, he comes into contact with Department of Defense employee Michael Kritschgau (John Finn) and learns some startling news. Meanwhile, Scully's cancer takes a turn for the worst, a fact that she keeps from Mulder. The season ends with another surprising cliffhanger that initially left fans counting down the days until the next year.

Luckily, this collection allowed me to immediately continue this three-part tale and discover Mulder's status. This episode jumps 24 hours prior to the events culminating the previous entry and offers a clearer picture. In the fifth season premiere, Mulder infiltrates the Department of Defense and attempts to find a cure to Scully's cancer. She testifies before an FBI committee and explains the previous day to her superiors. This compelling episode includes considerable voice-over comments from both Duchovny and Anderson. Their statements avoid any cheesy touches and instead enhance the personal stakes for both characters.

Redux II
Life-changing events occur during this concluding episode of one of the show’s most complex stories. The Cigarette Smoking Man gives Mulder a possible cure for Scully's cancer and provides him with another even more amazing revelation. Of course, any gifts will come at a price. Meanwhile, the Syndicate begins to wonder about the methods of the CSM, and the identity of the FBI mole is revealed. This episode closes some story arcs and opens countless others that will continue to expand as the fifth season progresses.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: In similar fashion to the first X-Files Mythology volume, this release offers a solid presentation that improves over the television version but still faces the limitations of the original format. Certain scenes are grainy, especially during the nighttime moments, but they never reach the point of becoming a major distractions. The Vancouver scenery remains impressive, and the picture does not include any major defects.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Spanish, Frenchno

Audio Transfer Review: This collection also contains the expected 2.0-channel Dolby Surround track, which helps to enhance the numerous suspenseful moments. It never reaches the premier level, but that is not surprise for this type of audio transfer. The dialogue and sound effects spring well from the front speakers and help to generate an acceptable presentation.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 180 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Documentaries
3 Feature/Episode commentaries by Director R.W. Goodwin on Talitha Cumi; Director Rob Bowman on Memento Mori; Kim Manners on Max
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: This release includes similar extra features to the first Mythology collection, but it actually offers fewer commentaries than its predecessor. The primary supplement is the second part in the Threads of Mythology documentary, which runs for about 30 minutes and covers the primary mythology aspects of the included episodes. Unfortunately, it also reveals a few spoilers from future episodes because of their connection to the Black Oil. Chris Carter appears at the beginning of the feature, but most of the comments are dominated by other directors, producers, and crew members. We do learn some interesting material about the effects needed to create the Black Oil and make it believable.

Directors R.W. Goodwin, Rob Bowman, and Kim Manners contribute episode commentaries to this collection, and the result is a mixed bag of informative and tedious discussion. Once again, the worst track comes from Goodwin, who exhibits an extremely dry tone that makes listening difficult. Bowman does the best job and truly understands the type of information that the viewers want to hear. Instead of wasting time discussing intricate specifics about the location, he talks about the series' larger concepts. Manners has an enthusiastic personality, but he leaves some significant gaps and also veers into plot summary at times.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

20th Century Fox isn't wasting any time in releasing the X-Files Mythology boxed sets. The third volume, Colonization, hit the streets on September 27. In similar fashion to the other volumes, The Black Oil includes 15 compelling episodes that rank among the best of each season. However, it is recommended only for casual fans or devoted completists who must have the new commentaries and documentary.


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