Month: September 2015

My Favorite Episodes of Millennium

So, as in my previous post of favorite X-Files episodes, this is a list of my favorite Millennium episodes. As of 2019, I've finished the whole series but haven't yet watched the backdoor finale on X-Files, so there's probably one more update in this post's future.

Monster-of-the-Week Episodes

Season 2, Episode 6: The Curse of Frank Black

A pleasingly spooky, wonderfully minimalist haunted house episode where the true ghosts are loss and isolation.

While it's my favorite episode up to this point in the series, I can't recommend it as a good place to start, because it's not quite as standalone as I'd like; it relies on threads from Pilot, Lamentation, and The Beginning and the End. But you should watch those anyway; they're not just important, they're also good. (See below.)

Season 2, Episode 7: 19:19

The show gets back to the Revelation cultist arc, combining a take on the Chowchilla bus kidnapping with -- because it is 1997 -- Twister. (I was also inclined to blame a popular 1997 film for what I'm going to call the My Heart Will Go On remix of the theme song used as background music throughout the episode, but 19:19 aired a month before Titanic or the single came out, so we can chalk that up to coincidence/something in the zeitgeist.)

The ending is a goofy little bit of deus ex machina, and Lara Means is used as more of a third-act plot device than a character, but the pacing is good and the cat-and-mouse between Frank and the villain-of-the-week is engaging.

Season 2, Episode 9: Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense

While it doesn't quite live up to Jose Chung's From Outer Space, Chung's second appearance is a lot of fun, and a great showcase for Charles Nelson Reilly. While it lacks stop-motion kaiju and its unreliable narratives aren't quite so twisty, it reuses a lot of the devices from that first outing and does a great job of maintaining its tone.

Season 2, Episode 13: The Mikado

I love this one as a time capsule of the Internet circa early 1998 -- a time when connections were slow, a search for "naked girls" would produce hundreds of results, and, most crucially, webcam video framerates were on the order of seconds-per-frame, not frames-per-second.

The hacking scenes are...well, pretty dubious, but probably less dubious than most detective shows' hacking scenes. It makes for a fascinating reminder of how TV shows depicted the Internet in the early days, and it uses the aforementioned video framerate limitation as a very interesting storytelling device.

Season 2, Episode 21: Somehow, Satan Got Behind Me

Four celebrated character actors (Bill Macy, Dick Bakalyan, Alex Diakun, and Wally Dalton) play demons sitting around a table telling each other stories (think Almost Got 'Im from Batman: The Animated Series). I knew this was a Darin Morgan episode before the end of the cold open, and the makeup deserves special praise.

Season 3, Episode 5: ...Thirteen Years Later

Someone's murdering people who are making a slasher movie, improbably based on one of Frank's previous cases, and Kiss guest stars for some reason. It's very meta and very silly; its reach far exceeds its grasp, but it's the first fun episode in season 3.

Season 3, Episode 9: Omerta

This one makes the favorites list entirely because the late Jon Polito is a goddamn delight to watch every time he's onscreen. The rest of the episode -- which concerns the mob, Christmas, a pair of feral women with magical healing powers and, one assumes, magical extremely-well-groomed-and-polite-for-feral-women powers, and an overbearing musical score -- is nothing special. But Polito makes the whole thing shine.

Season 3, Episode 20: Nostalgia

This one isn't pleasant to watch but it's well put-together. It's a return to the "Frank tracks a serial killer" format, by way of the "small town with a dark secret" style of murder mystery.

Twenty years later, it also feels shockingly timely, which you can't say about most episodes of the series. It follows a victim whose death went uninvestigated because she was sexually promiscuous, a suspect who we'd describe as an "incel" these days, and a sheriff who opposes the investigation with the justification, "I know that man, and he doesn't deserve to have his reputation ruined."

Mythology Episodes

Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot

Introduces the series: Frank Black, his wife and daughter, the Millennium Group, and his police contact Bob Bletcher. Frank having a family immediately sets him apart from Mulder and Scully over on the sister show. We also find out that he's a former FBI agent who had a breakdown and has since moved back to Seattle, and that he's got some kind of minor psychic ability to see what happened at a crime scene. The show also establishes the eponymous Millennium Group and vaguely intimates that it's involved in investigating some kind of Satanic apocalyptic cult, but then the show goes episodic and we get a bunch of forgettable serial killer episodes, and really don't get any development on that idea until episode 13.

Season 1, Episode 13: Force Majeure

I think it's pretty clear, looking at season 1, that Carter and company didn't originally intend for this show to take place in the same universe as X-Files, because they cast a lot of actors who had appeared on that show to appear on this one in completely different roles -- this episode, for example, has Terry O'Quinn, CCH Pounder, Brad Dourif, and Morgan Woodward. All of them are excellent, but it's a little jarring.

Anyhow, this episode finally picks up the Millennium Group/Doomsday Cult thread from the pilot. We get the prediction that the world will end on May 5, 2000, and a sinister old man who's breeding clones to survive the coming apocalypse.

Season 1, Episode 14: The Thin White Line

We get a good hefty chunk of Frank's backstory, and some cat-and-mouse with a serial killer who he put away during his time with the FBI.

Season 1, Episode 15: Sacrament

Introduction of Frank's brother, sister-in-law, and nephew; first signs that Jordan may have inherited Frank's psychic ability.

Season 1, Episode 17: Walkabout

This one gets off to a really strong start, with an in media res opening, the other characters not knowing what's happened to Frank, and Frank himself suffering from amnesia and not remembering what's happened to him the past few days.

The last act doesn't quite live up to the setup, but the beginning is strong enough to make for a pretty solid episode.

Season 1, Episode 18: Lamentation and Episode 19: Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions

Another episode where Frank has a run-in with a killer he's faced previously and a potential copycat, this episode features a threat against his family and the death of a recurring character.

And then the second part, despite centering on Frank's quest to find the killer, appears to be completely disconnected from the first part. He matches wits with someone who may or may not be the Devil, someone claiming to be an angel, and at the end of the whole thing there's no resolution and we're left with way more questions than answers.

To put it another way, 19 episodes in Millennium finally feels like a Chris Carter show.

Season 2, Episode 1: The Beginning and the End

(While this technically picks up from season 1's finale, you can skip that episode; it's basically a middling monster-of-the-week episode with a cliffhanger ending. That cliffhanger ending is re-presented, in its entirety, at the beginning of this episode.)

This is a status-quo-changing episode where a lot happens (even if it relies too much on narrative monologues to establish that a lot is happening): Peter gets fleshed out a little as a character, we finally get a few more hints of just what exactly the Millennium Group is, and the Polaroid Man plot finally gets a resolution.

Season 2, Episode 8: The Hand of St. Sebastian

Peter Watts, Cheryl Andrews, a little more history on the Group and signs of internal struggles.

Season 2, Episode 10: Midnight of the Century

The most thorough look to date at Frank's -- and Jordan's, and Lara's, and, we learn, Frank's mother's -- gift, and the toll it has taken on his family over three generations. It's a low-key, talky one, a Christmas episode structurally and thematically similar to the Halloween episode that had recently preceded it. It's an episode about loss and estrangement and family, and it sells the human element effectively, with spare dialogue delivered impeccably by the cast.

Season 2, Episode 12: Luminary

The show literalizes the metaphor of the season arc, by putting Frank out in the wilderness, alone.

Perhaps surprisingly, separating him from the rest of the cast makes for an excellent opportunity to explore other characters' relationships with him, Catherine and Peter in particular.

We also see more of the Group than we've ever seen before, and they don't come across very well. It makes something of a striking contrast between Frank and Mulder: they're both former FBI profilers, and they're both being manipulated by a shadowy conspiracy, but where Mulder seeks to fight and expose the Syndicate, Frank is trying to join the Millennium Group. Though with this episode, he doesn't seem to be trying very hard.

Season 2, Episode 15: Owls and Episode 16: Roosters

Nazis, Masons, ancient religious artifacts, doomsday cults -- it's Conspiracy Theory Bingo Night on Millennium. (They even work alien abductions and the Kennedy assassination into dialogue, though they don't factor into the plot.)

We're introduced to two rival factions in the Group: the Roosters we already know; they're the ones who think the world is going to end in two years in a biblical prophecy. The Owls, on the other hand, don't believe any of that religious hooey, and instead subscribe to the much more rational and science-based theory that the world is going to end in sixty years when the collision of two neutron stars causes the creation of a new universe. Also, there's another group, and they're Nazis.

Season 2, Episode 17: Siren

A run of strong episodes continues. This one turns on a strong scene between Frank and guest star Vivian Wu, and a glimpse of what Frank's life would have been like if he'd never been recruited by the Group.

Season 2, Episode 20: A Room With No View

A villain from season 1 returns to abduct guest star Christopher Kennedy Masterson and subject him to creepy psychosexual Misery stuff.

If you don't hate Love is Blue before you watch this episode, you will by the end.

Season 2, Episode 22: The Fourth Horseman and Episode 23: The Time is Now

Season finale time! There's a plague that may or may not be the biblical pestilence, Frank's conflict with the Group and Peter comes to a head, Peter gets some flashbacks (where Terry O'Quinn gets to wear a fake bushy mustache over his real pencil mustache, so you can tell that they're flashbacks), and yet another cryptically-named faction is introduced.

And then in part 2 some other stuff happens, but fully ten minutes of the episode is a Patti Smith music video where Lara is tripping balls. Seriously. Ten minutes. It is ridiculous and it is gratuitous and I love it.

Season 3, Episode 1: The Innocents and Episode 2: Exegesis

You might call this a repilot. While last season's plague still hangs heavily over the plot, the show's setting and premise have changed -- and they look a lot more like The X-Files. Frank's back with the FBI and, joined by a female partner, he investigates (against the orders of their superiors, naturally) a CIA conspiracy involving astral projection and clones.

The motivation for the change in direction seems clear: X-Files was at the height of its popularity, and Millennium was on the verge of cancellation. It sure looks like the goal here was to save an unpopular show by imitating a popular one.

Of course it didn't work; this is Millennium's final season. But it still makes for a pretty solid season premier.

Season 3, Episode 6: Skull and Bones

This one's mostly constructed of tropes we've seen before -- Frank arrests a weirdo who turns out not to be the killer but an eccentric who has visions; Emma investigates a creepy empty murder house while an ironically mismatched music cue plays; Peter delivers a couple of purple-prose monologues about how all the shady stuff the Millennium Group is doing is for the public's protection -- but they're well-assembled tropes. We also find out what's happened to Cheryl Andrews since the last time we saw her, and...it doesn't make a whole lot of sense given what happened the last time we saw her, but sure, okay.

Season 3, Episode 11: Collateral Damage

There are some bits in this one that are uncomfortable to watch -- not just the kidnapping and torture, but a show featuring conspiracy theories shared on right-wing talk radio feels a lot different in 2019 than it did in the era the show was made. Much of what made the 2016 X-Files revival uncomfortable is that conspiracy theories that seemed like harmless fictions in the 1990s take on a far more sinister cast in the era of Alex Jones.

That aside? We're back to the Millennium Group/plague plot (and I can't help noticing the symptoms and effects of the plague keep changing). Watts's inner conflict between his loyalty to the Group and his discomfort with their methods continues to be one of the show's richest veins, and it's central in this episode. Here he's pitted against guest star James Marsters, and we see two men on opposite sides struggling with the question of whether the ends justify the means.

Season 3, Episode 12: The Sound of Snow

This one feels like a throwback, in a good way. Frank's back in Seattle tracking an apparent serial killer, much like season 1, except the killer's methods seem more like something out of early X-Files: she kills by sending people tapes of white noise that cause them to hallucinate and panic. The device blurs the lines between paranormal, science fiction, and Cold War government conspiracy theory in a way that wouldn't feel at all out of place on the sister show.

There's solid direction by Paul Shapiro; the hallucination sequences are a highlight. Jessica Tuck puts in a brief but chilling performance as the villain. Plus, a dozen episodes in, we finally get a clearer picture of what happened after the end of season 2.

I like the title, too; it has a triple-meaning: "snow" refers to white noise, the snowfall at the beginning and end of the episode, and also to composer Mark Snow, whose sounds are featured in this and every episode.

Season 3, Episode 16: Saturn Dreaming of Mercury

Another one that feels like a return to the series' roots: demons, visions, weird shit, violence, and ironic music cues.

Remember that subplot about Jordan inheriting Frank's powers? We finally get some development on that front, as she starts seeing demonic faces just like Frank does. It may be the best work Brittany Tiplady does in the entire series.

The episode's not perfect -- the third-act twist is obvious, and the villain's motivations ultimately don't make a whole lot of sense (it seems like a very long game just to fuck with Frank), but by the lowered standards of season 3, it's pretty solid. And the eyeball motif is strong enough to make the cover of the Season 3 DVD set.

Season 3, Episode 21: Via Dolorosa and Episode 22: Goodbye to All That

Actually, Via Dolorosa is not good, but it makes the list because it's necessary as a lead-in to the finale.

And the finale, well, it does stick the landing. It resolves the most compelling arc of the series, Frank's relationship with Peter Watts, and, as loyalties continue to shift, it hints at a new direction the series could have taken. And if you've come this far, you might as well finish the series, right?

As of this writing, I still haven't seen the backdoor finale on The X-Files. I haven't heard good things, but then, I don't always agree with the consensus. I'll see how I feel about it when I get there.

There's also a comic book series from 2015, by Joe Harris and Colin Lorimer. Maybe I'll pick it up one of these days.

My Favorite Episodes of The X-Files

So awhile back I started re-watching The X-Files. It's available on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon (that last one's an affiliate link), and now available in a very nice HD remaster. (Apparently the entire series, except the pilot, was originally filmed in widescreen, so the remastered episodes aren't cropped, they're actually expanded -- except, again, the pilot. And also seasons 5-9, which aired in widescreen the first time, but now they're also in HD.)

I'm also working my way through Millennium (which is not available in any format other than DVD and illegal download), and I'll watch Lone Gunmen when I get to that point in the chronology.

And I got to thinking, you know, I should make a list of what episodes are worth watching -- since, let's be honest, there are a hell of a lot of them that aren't.

Now, X-Files episodes are generally broken down into two categories: mythology episodes (the continuity based ones that deal with the overarching plots about aliens and a massive government conspiracy) and monster-of-the-week episodes (the standalone, one-off episodes). Generally speaking, I like the monster-of-the-week episodes better; they have more variety in both content and tone, they're often a lot of fun, and they don't string you along with the idea that they're building toward some kind of grand resolution. (Spoiler alert: there is no grand resolution; the writers are making the mythology up as they go along.) But, on the other hand, there are mythology episodes I really like, and they're fun in their own way despite the continuity being a hodgepodge and a mess.

So I'm going to split this up into two sections: monster-of-the-week episodes and mythology episodes, and in my next post I'll tackle Millennium episodes. (So far every Millennium episode I've liked has been a mythology episode.) And I'll plan on keeping these posts updated as I work through the series, so expect more episodes to be added, and a post added for Lone Gunmen when I get around to it.

Lastly: I'd be remiss if I didn't link to Monster of the Week: The Complete Cartoon X-Files, a webcomic by Shaenon K Garrity which goes through the series one episode at a time and lampoons them. (Most of them. Some are so good that she plays them straight.) Oh, and if you want a really thorough breakdown, you could give Kumail Nanjiani's X-Files Files podcast a listen too.

Anyway, on to the actual recommendations.

Monster-of-the-Week Episodes

I thought of putting mythology first, but the monster-of-the-week episodes are easier to get into for a casual viewer, so I'm going to put those first. These episodes can, generally speaking, be watched in any order and without any knowledge going in besides "Mulder and Scully are FBI investigators who look into paranormal stuff; he's a believer and she's a skeptic."

Season 1, Episode 3: Squeeze

Introduces stretchy bad guy Eugene Tooms, probably the most memorable of the show's many Monsters of the Week, and one of the few to get a second appearance.

Season 1, Episode 8: Ice

An episode in the "People are trapped in a remote location and start turning on each other" mold.

Season 1, Episode 20: Darkness Falls

A good race-against-time episode with killer insects, albeit with kind of a disappointing ending.

Season 1, Episode 21: Tooms

Tooms's second and final appearance; first appearance of Walter Skinner.

Season 2, Episode 2: The Host

Darin Morgan plays a sewer monster called Flukeman, with some of the best monster makeup in the series; first appearance of Mr. X.

Season 2, Episode 20: Humbug

First episode written by Darin Morgan; first episode explicitly written as a comedy; features circus folk. X-Files is always a little uncomfortable when it deals with anybody who's different (be that ethnic minorities or people with disabilities), and I feel a little bit of that here, but I think it also comes across as a celebration of its guest stars.

Season 3, Episode 3: DPO

Giovanni Ribisi plays a slacker teenager with lightning powers who hangs out in an arcade (where the Sonic the Hedgehog music is inexplicably playing even though that is not an arcade game). Jack Black plays his sidekick.

Season 3, Episode 4: Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose

Okay, here we go. If you only watch one episode of X-Files, ever, it should be this one. It's pretty much perfect in every way, and it won two Emmys, one for writer Darin Morgan and the other for guest star Peter Boyle.

Boyle plays a lovable but curmudgeonly old psychic who can see the moment everyone around him dies.

I think I'd give a slight edge to Jose Chung's From Outer Space (also written by Darin Morgan) as my all-time favorite episode. But this one is more accessible.

Seriously, if you haven't seen Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose, you can skip the rest of this list until you've seen it. It's not just X-Files at its best, it's TV at its best.

Season 3, Episode 11: Revelations

Gets into Scully's Catholicism a bit; it's the second religious-themed episode where the leads reverse their roles and she plays the believer against Mulder as skeptic. (The first is Beyond the Sea; it's down below in the Mythology section.)

Season 3, Episode 12: War of the Coprophages

Another episode written by Darin Morgan. It has what may very well be the dumbest premise of any episode (people are being killed by swarms of cockroaches, which turn out to be alien robot cockroaches sent to observe us), but Morgan's script is sharp enough to overcome it. This one's got some of the funniest dialogue of the entire series.

Season 3, Episode 13: Syzygy

Mostly fun for Mulder and Scully being really bitchy toward each other. Guest starring Lisa Robin Kelly and (briefly) Ryan Reynolds.

Season 3, Episode 20: Jose Chung's From Outer Space

The final episode written by Darin Morgan (though he did a rewrite on Quagmire; see below). As noted above, I think this one edges out Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose as my favorite. It's got unreliable narratives within unreliable narratives, men in black played by surprise guest stars, stop-motion kaiju, and Charles Nelson Reilly.

Season 3, Episode 21: Avatar

Skinner episode.

Season 3, Episode 22: Quagmire

Lake monster episode. Mostly forgettable, except for a scene where Mulder and Scully get to talking while they're stranded on an island; that scene was written by Darin Morgan.

Season 4, Episode 2: Home

Okay, I'm going to say it: Home is overrated.

It's impeccably directed (by Kim Manners), and it's possibly the most memorable episode of the whole series. But it's memorable entirely because of cheap shock value.

I think it's one of those episodes you've just gotta watch once, and it will stick with you. It blew me away the first time I saw it. But when I came back to it 18 years later, I was a lot less impressed. (So okay, maybe this one shouldn't be on a list of my favorites. But it's definitely a must-watch episode, so I'm putting it here anyway.)

Season 4, Episode 5: The Field Where I Died

This one's got a few plot holes (how can the Cigarette Smoking Man be a reincarnated Nazi prison guard if he was alive during the Holocaust?), but it's got some great character moments for Mulder, and showcases Duchovny's acting range in a way that most of the rest of the series doesn't.

Season 4, Episode 10: Paper Hearts

Mulder matches wits with a child molester who he helped put in prison. Potential retcons to the story of Samantha's abduction, but then no they don't pan out and that's why this isn't under Mythology Episodes.

Season 4, Episode 11: El Mundo Gira

The Chupacabra episode!

Season 4, Episode 12: Leonard Betts

One of those "Nice unassuming man who starts killing people because he has a weird power" episodes. Also, foreshadows Scully's cancer.

Season 4, Episode 13: Never Again

A Scully-centric episode where she gets a tramp stamp of the Millennium logo and almost hooks up with a guy with an evil Bettie Page tattoo.

Season 4, Episode 20: Small Potatoes

An episode written by Vince Gilligan and guest starring Darin Morgan as a shapeshifter. The highlight of the episode, far and away, is a scene in which he shape-shifts into Mulder and then channels De Niro in Taxi Driver. This is probably Duchovny's finest performance in the show's entire run, and shows he's really got some serious comic chops; everything from his delivery to his body language to his facial expressions is brilliant.

Season 5, Episode 5: The Post-Modern Prometheus

So before I go and recommend this one, there's one caveat I need to get out of the way: this is an episode where two women are drugged and impregnated without their consent, and then the ethical implications of this premise are barely acknowledged.

And it's a shame that this episode has that ick factor hanging over it, because aside from that it's a delight. Carter handles both the writing and direction on this one, and it's an homage to classic monster movies, beautifully filmed in glorious black-and-white and guest-starring Seinfeld's John O'Hurley as its mad scientist. It delivers what its title promises: both a Frankenstein pastiche and postmodernism. It's weird, it's melancholy, it's funny, it's got Cher on its soundtrack, and there's more than one moment that feels like a Mel Brooks homage. If its morality is a little muddy, I'm inclined to be charitable and chalk it up to the episode's heightened reality. The plot doesn't make a hell of a lot of sense, but it's not supposed to; it feels like a dream and it prioritizes style over substance. And it is stylish as hell.

And man, that ending is beautiful.

Season 5, Episode 12: Bad Blood

A stone-cold classic. Vince Gilligan does Rashomon with vampires; guest-starring Luke Wilson and Patrick Renna.

Season 6, Episode 2: Drive

The most notable thing about this episode is that it's written by Vince Gilligan and guest-stars Bryan Cranston. It led directly to their later collaboration on Breaking Bad.

The episode itself is a cross between Scanners and Speed, with a side of Outbreak. Cranston plays Patrick Crump, a man afflicted with a condition that requires him to keep traveling west or he'll die. He carjacks Mulder, and a tense race against the clock ensues.

When this episode was made, Cranston was best-known as the dentist from Seinfeld. Now he's a celebrated dramatic actor. Drive is an important step in that evolution.

Season 6, Episode 3: Triangle

1998's love of swing music and doomed ocean liners combines with time travel and the Bermuda Triangle. In 1939, Mulder fights Nazis aboard the Queen Anne, while in 1998, Scully and the Lone Gunmen try to find him. The two stories mirror each other's plot beats in unsubtle Chris Carter fashion, while some splitscreen shots near the end make for some interesting visual work.

Season 6, Episodes 4-5: Dreamland

Introducing Morris Fletcher (Michael McKean), who switches bodies with Mulder. Hilarity ensues, including one of the all-time best sequences in the series, a riff on the mirror bit from Duck Soup.

Season 6, Episode 6: How the Ghosts Stole Christmas

A haunted house episode guest-starring Lily Tomlin and Ed Asner. There's a bit of a Beetlejuice vibe here, with Tomlin and Asner in the Geena Davis/Alec Baldwin roles.

Duchovny and Anderson do great work here too, from the opening scene where he launches into one of his excited-puppy tales of the supernatural and she just smiles because she's grown to find it more charming than annoying, to the third act where she's paranoid and waving a gun around and he's doing his best Jack Torrance.

Season 6, Episode 8: The Rain King

A fun little "weird shit happens in a small town" episode; Clayton Rohner has a particularly enjoyable turn as an oily grifter who holds rain dances in the style of tent revivals. The third act's got a Back to the Future vibe: like Back to the Future, Mulder plays matchmaker to a nerdy guy whose creepy behavior is depicted as lovable; like Back to the Future, the object of the man's affections falls for Mulder instead; and like Back to the Future, the climax takes place in a high school gym. Scully doesn't do much in this episode, but Anderson's put-upon exasperation is at its finest.

Season 6, Episode 10: Tithonus

This Scully-centric episode about a man who can tell when people are going to die runs a real risk of being a retread of Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose. But Vince Gilligan's script, and Geoffrey Lewis's performance as Alfred Fellig, thread the needle to tell a different story (while still, in its own subtle way, acknowledging Bruckman at the end of the episode). Fellig is not like Bruckman: his powers aren't quite the same (Bruckman could see how people were going to die, whereas Fellig can tell when someone is about to die), and, more importantly, their characterizations are much different: where Bruckman was sardonic and wry, Fellig is haunted and creepy.

Season 6, Episode 21: Field Trip

This episode, perhaps more than any since Quagmire, shows how in the right hands, a deeply silly premise can be transformed into a memorable character piece.

The first half's a little weak, but it's all setup for the main attraction, which centers on Mulder and Scully's relationship and, on a meta level, the show's (increasingly implausible) formula. Not only do Mulder and Scully need each other, not only do they need the arguing and the pushback, but they've reached a point where they can't accept a world where they're not arguing and pushing back against each other.

Yes, there is a gap here.

I am still working my way through old X-Files and deciding which episodes to put on this list. However, I am also watching new episodes. I will be filling in the rest of seasons 7-9 as I go, but in the meantime here's one from season 10.

Season 10, Episode 3: Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster

Darin Morgan's still got it. A roaringly funny monster mystery guest-starring Rhys Darby, Kumail Nanjiani, and Tyler Labine, featuring Morgan's usual narratives-within-narratives and Mulder's midlife crisis. X-Files at its absolute goddamn finest -- and a pleasingly standalone episode, though longtime fans will enjoy a couple of callbacks to Clyde Bruckman and a nice tribute to the late, great Kim Manners.

Mythology Episodes

These aren't necessarily the most "important" mythology episodes, the ones with plot details that play out through the rest of the series (though some of them are); they're just the ones I like. And anyway, even if you do watch all the mythology episodes expecting them to eventually make sense, you're just setting yourself up for disappointment.

There are some spoilers down here, including character departures.

Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot

Season 1 is a little rough but I love it despite (or because of) its flaws. There's a lot of stuff the show gets right right from the beginning, and the chemistry between Duchovny and Anderson is at the top of the list.

Season 1, Episode 2: Deep Throat

A fun guest appearance by Seth Green and lots of Area 51 stuff.

Season 1, Episode 10: Fallen Angel

Mulder's got fanboys! Introduces abductee Max Fenig, who's something of a template for the Lone Gunmen.

(Max also shows back up in a two-parter in season 4, but it's not on this list because it's boring.)

Season 1, Episode 13: Beyond the Sea

Guest appearance by Brad Dourif; death of Scully's father; first time Mulder is the skeptic and Scully is the believer.

(You could argue that this one's not a mythology episode because it doesn't deal with the aliens/conspiracy arcs, but I'm putting it here because it establishes a lot of Scully's background that is referred to throughout the rest of the series.)

Season 1, Episode 17: EBE

First appearance of the Lone Gunmen.

Season 1, Episode 24: The Erlenmeyer Flask

This is one of those episodes where everything changes, except that it doesn't; everything snaps right back to status quo in season 2: the X-Files get reopened, Scully goes back to being a skeptic even though she's seen an alien fetus in a jar, and while Deep Throat's departure is made out to be a big deal, Mr. X takes over and fills the exact same role in seasons 2 and 3 (after which he's replaced by Marita Covarrubias, who still pretty much fills the same role). Regardless, this one's exciting, and a lot of stuff happens; we've got human/alien hybrids, the Crew Cut Man assassinating people, and the departure of Deep Throat.

Season 2, Episode 5: Duane Barry and Episode 6: Ascension

Scully's abduction and Krycek's betrayal, two plot points that continue to come back up for the rest of the series. It's also got a guest appearance by CCH Pounder.

Season 2, Episode 8: One Breath

Scully's return. She spends most of it in a coma dreaming she's in a boat, but the rest of the cast really gets a chance to shine. There are some great scenes between the Smoking Man and Skinner, Mulder and Skinner, and Mulder and the Smoking Man, and some excellent moments from Mr. X and Frohike too.

Season 2, Episode 16: Colony and Episode 17: End Game

More hybrids; Bounty Hunters; clone colony; first return of Samantha; first appearance of Mulder's father and revelation that he was part of the Syndicate.

Season 2, Episode 25: Anasazi, Season 3: Episode 1: The Blessing Way and Episode 2: Paper Clip

Some really cringe-inducing stuff with Native Americans, but aside from that it's the first appearance of Teena Mulder, and more on Bill Mulder's history with the Syndicate. And there's some Lone Gunmen stuff and a Nazi scientist.

Season 3, Episode 9: Nise and Episode 10: 731

Mulder investigates an alien autopsy video; Scully finds an alien abductee support group (and the first hint that she may have cancer).

Season 3, Episode 15: Piper Maru and Episode 16: Apocrypha

First appearance of black oil; return of Krycek; some more stuff about CSM and Bill Mulder.

Season 3, Episode 24: Talitha Cumi and Season 4, Episode 1: Herrenvolk

More hybrids; more Bounty Hunters; more clone colonies; first hints that the Cigarette Smoking Man may be Mulder's biological father; departure of Mr. X and his immediate replacement by Marita Covarrubias.

Season 4, Episode 7: Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man

A lot of fans hate this one, and I guess I can understand the perspective that it demystifies the CSM in a way that makes him less interesting.

But I don't agree, and I love it, because it's so deliciously over-the-top. And the reason it's over-the-top is that it's all unreliable-narrator stuff; this is CSM's backstory filtered through his own fiction, published in a porno magazine (whose staff changed some of the details), and then related to Mulder by Frohike.

Basically, it's a tall tale, which ties the Cancer Man to the Kennedy and King assassinations and every other alleged government conspiracy of the twentieth century -- and all because he couldn't get his short stories published.

Season 4, Episode 8: Tunguska and Episode 9: Terma

Return of Krycek and the Black Oil; Mulder and Krycek go to Russia.

Season 4, Episode 14: Memento Mori

This is the "Scully Has Cancer" episode. It's loaded up with Chris Carter purple prose monologues. It's also got the Lone Gunmen, clones, and a callback to that episode where she met the other abductees.

Season 4, Episode 22: Gethsemane

The script is generic cliffhanger-finale fare (though the first act has some nice bits with Mulder, briefly, expressing skepticism), but it's got some truly gorgeous mountain shots that make a great argument for the widescreen HD remaster, some of the coolest creature effects of the series, and some great dramatic work from Anderson. But don't get too excited when you see "John Oliver" in the credits; it's not the John Oliver you're (probably) thinking of.

While this episode is the first of a three-parter, I don't recommend the other two parts; they are boring as fuck. All you really need to know is that Mulder isn't dead and Scully doesn't have cancer anymore.

Season 5, Episode 3: Unusual Suspects

The first episode to focus on the Lone Gunmen as its main characters (with Mulder in a minor role and Scully not present at all) tells their origin story and would eventually lead to their own spinoff. Written by Vince Gilligan, directed by Kim Manners, and for some reason guest starring Richard Belzer as Detective John Munch. (Which I guess puts X-Files, Lone Gunmen, and, by extension, Millennium in the Tommy Westphall Universe.)

Season 5, Episode 13: Patient X and Episode 14: The Red and the Black

This is more or less the midpoint between the season 4 finale and the movie, both chronologically and narratively. Krycek, black oil, Tunguska, the Syndicate, Scully's abduction, the Assassins -- it all plays a bit like a Greatest Hits collection. But perhaps most importantly, Mulder's still smarting from the revelations of last season's finale and this season's premier, and doesn't believe in aliens anymore. And I'm always a sucker for the role-reversal Mulder-as-skeptic, Scully-as-believer episodes.

Also introduces Agent Spender. I remember when these episodes first aired, there were rumors in the fandom that Duchovny was planning to leave the show and Spender was going to replace him. Those rumors turned out to be pretty close to true; we wound up with Doggett, not Spender, but Mulder did leave and get replaced with a new agent. Scully even has a similar "she's the believer now and has a skeptic of her own to deal with" dynamic with Spender here that she eventually has with Doggett.

Season 5, Episode 15: Travelers

'50s X-File! Arthur Dales (Kolchak himself, Darren McGavin!) recounts the story of how he and Bill Mulder investigated Nazi alien experiments and fought the most fiendish villains of all: Roy Cohn and J Edgar Hoover.

Season 5, Episode 20: The End

The plot of this one is dumb. The sniper is dumb; the FBI is dumb. The love triangle with Mulder's ex is forced (Diana Fowley? Seriously? Her name is Diana Fowley?); the King of the Hill cross-promotion is forced.

But there are enough great character moments in this one -- CSM and Krycek! CSM and the Syndicate! Mulder and Skinner! Mulder and Spender! CSM and Spender! Scully and the Lone Gunmen! -- to recommend it. And the final scene...even though it turns out to be maddeningly unimportant in the show's future direction, the cast and the photography really sell it as a big moment. Plus it sets up the movie.

X-Files: Fight the Future: The Movie

The movie is, ultimately, pretty inconsequential, partly because it's stripped down to be accessible to moviegoers who've never seen the TV show. It's a lot of stuff we've seen before; aliens and conspiracies and domes and cornfields and bees and black oil and Scully having to testify before a panel and seriously, how many different roles does Terry O'Quinn play in this series, anyway? But it's got some very pretty photography, and Martin Landau is in it, and it's perfectly decent as a big-budget, extra-long episode. And there's a Rifftrax!

Season 6, Episode 1: The Beginning

Picks up the threads from The End (Gibson, Spender, Fowley) and Fight the Future (alien chest-bursters and the virus spread by bees).

But it's more interesting as an inflection point for the series. This is the episode where shooting moved from Vancouver to LA (doing a convincing impression of Phoenix). It also has Spender and Fowley replacing Mulder and Scully as the official X-Files team, and while this change turned out to be temporary, it paved the way for Doggett and Reyes in the later seasons.

Season 6, Episode 11: Two Fathers and Episode 12: One Son

We finally get a resolution to the "Mulder and Scully are off the X-Files" arc, after half a season of flopping around pointlessly. We also see a slew of other threads picked up: the Spender family! The Mulder family! The Syndicate! The Lone Gunmen! Krycek! Marita! Fowley! Alien fetuses and human hybrids! The rebels! At this point the series mythology has devolved into self-parody, but at least it's entertainingly delivered, with the Smoking Man delivering smug, sinister monologues and Mulder and Scully shooting a train.

And then AD Kersh delivers his best line, as he responds to one of Mulder's purple-prose monologues with, "What the hell does that mean?"

What the hell does that mean? indeed, Assistant Director Kersh. What the hell does that mean? indeed.

Season 6, Episode 19: The Unnatural

Duchovny writes and directs the story of an alien who played in the minor leagues in the 1940s, and how he met Arthur Dales.

But what pushes this from merely a fun '40s Baseball vs. the Klan, with Aliens fairy tale into something even weirder is the framing device. Darren McGavin had a stroke and was unable to complete filming the present-day Arthur Dales scenes -- but they'd already begun shooting the 1940s-era scenes with Fredric Lane as young Arthur Dales. And so, one hasty rewrite later, this episode marks the first and only appearance of Arthur Dales's brother (M Emmet Walsh/Fredric Lane), who is also named Arthur and looked exactly the same in the '40s.

Getting Sprint LTE to Work on CyanogenMod 12

Update 2015-10-12: My new advice for getting Sprint data to work on a Nexus 5 phone running CyanogenMod 12 is "Don't bother." I never did get it working right, and had to reboot at least once a day to get it working. I've since reverted back to KitKat. Original post follows, but if you want my advice it's "Stick with CM11."


First, let's get one thing out of the way: if you're using a custom Android ROM on your phone (or any device that can receive text messages), you're going to want to make sure it's up-to-date. There's a vulnerability in an Android component called Stagefright that is potentially devastating; it allows an attacker to gain control by doing nothing more than send a text message, and there are now attacks in the wild.

If you've got the stock firmware on your phone, and your phone is relatively recent, you should get the patch to fix this vulnerability automatically. (If, for example, your phone is running Lollipop, either because it came with it or automatically updated to it, you're probably good.)

But if you're running a custom ROM and don't have automatic updates enabled, you're going to want to check on whether you're running a current version that includes the Stagefright fix.

I'm a CyanogenMod user. If you're using the latest version of CyanogenMod 11.0, 12.0, or 12.1, then you've got the Stagefright fix.

I recently took the opportunity to upgrade my phone to the latest 11.x series to get the fix. And I figured while I was at it, why not upgrade to 12.1 and see if it's any good?

So I installed CyanogenMod 12.1, and everything looked like it was working fine at first -- when I was using it in my own house, on my wifi network. It wasn't until a day or two later that I realized my Sprint data connection wasn't working.

It took rather more searching than it should have, but it turns out there's an easy solution (albeit an annoying one if you've already got your phone set up the way you want it, because it involves wiping it to factory again).

mjs2011 at XDA Developers links to a sprint.zip file assembled by somebody named Motcher41, and gives these instructions for use:

The fix should be flashed during initial installation, so:

  1. Flash ROM
  2. Gapps
  3. SU (if necessary)
  4. Sprint APN Fix zip

I can confirm that you don't need to worry about setting up root before sprint.zip; it's fine if you do it afterward (my recovery, for example, sets up su right before reboot). However, I can confirm that you need to install sprint.zip after Gapps and before your first boot; if you install it before Gapps or after your first boot then it won't work.

Update 2015-09-30: After a few days my data connection quit working again. I rebooted to recovery, reinstalled sprint.zip, and it started working again. So never mind about not working if you install it after you've already booted the ROM; it will still work just as well. Unfortunately, "just as well" appears to mean "just for a few days"; I'm not sure what happened that changed my settings to make it stop working, but if I figure it out I'll update this post again.

You may notice that the linked thread is old (it's from November 2013) and was written in reference to pre-11.0 versions of CyanogenMod. However, I can confirm that it applies to the 12.x series too. This issue appears to be a regression; CM fixed it in version 11 but then broke it again in version 12.

So if you're a Sprint customer and you just installed CyanogenMod 12 on your phone and then discovered Sprint data was no longer working, this is what you're gonna wanna do to fix it.

Fanboy Rationalizations

There's one more thing I want to get to before I close out my run of Ken Penders posts, and that's fanboy rationalization.

There's a meme that I've seen infect the anti-Penders fanboys, since the suit was settled: "If only Ken had been nice when he asserted his copyrights, the fans wouldn't be so angry at him."

Here's somebody named Strike Carson making that argument to me in a 2013 comments thread at TSSZ News (via archive.org since TSSZ News appears to have nuked its comments section in a software upgrade):

Penders did something behind the backs of Sega and Archie that strained the relationship and almost got the comic cancelled. Maybe I’m mixing the two stories up… But still, Archie may have ignored him for the royalties, but it was Penders decision not to let Archie know what he was going to do if he wasn’t given the compensation he deserves as stated by law. You know, that whole threatening legal action thing if he’s not paid for what’s legally his? Had he done that in the first place, perhaps he would have had much more sympathy from us.

And here's the same argument, as put forward by Tylinos on the Ken Penders messageboard:

While it'd be silly to deny that The Spice Must Flow is a significant factor in it, it should be pointed out that the most commonly cited reason here was the attitude of the whole thing, and how absurd it all looked. (Even outsiders who don't read or even dislike the comic have been among those against how Ken went about it.)

Ken could've even underminded The Spice Must Flow mentality a bit by easing into the situation with some psychology, starting out slow with a "Well, I did make these characters" and nothing more and slowly building support up to saying "I should get payment for their use," instead of immediately starting out with that.

Heck, odd as it is, even among people against how he's acted, there's been near-unanimous agreement toward him getting reprint compensation for the stories he wrote. (Which, I know, isn't in the way of the spice anyway.)

The Spice Must Flow definitely factored in, but it's fairly clear that going about the whole thing a different way would've changed fan reaction immensely, and could've bitten past it.

And jameygamer in the same thread:

If he had been a lot less uptight when this whole mess started, he would be better off in terms of reputation.

These are people who, during the years Archie was suing Penders, said they were mad at Penders because his claims were frivolous and false. Since it turned out his claims weren't actually frivolous or false, they've changed their rationalization; now they say they would totally have been on Penders's side if only he hadn't been so rude about the whole thing. We have always been at war with Eurasia.

Of course, that's nonsense; it's rationalization. They're not arriving at their conclusion based on facts; they're starting with their conclusion (Rrrr, Penders bad!) and then cherry-picking facts to support it.

A rational person changes his opinion when confronted with new facts. When I first heard about Penders asserting his copyrights, I reacted with disbelief; I thought it was unfathomable that Archie would have neglected to make him sign a contract.

As it became clear that I was wrong and that was exactly what had happened, I changed my opinion. (Not for nothin', I also admitted I was wrong and apologized for being kind of a dick about it.)

These fanboys, of course, are not rational; they haven't changed their opinions, only their justifications for those opinions.

And, needless to say, I don't believe for a second that there is anything Ken Penders could have done differently that would have prevented fanboys from howling for his blood. If he'd done exactly what Strike Carson, Tylinos, and jameygamer said he should have done, then Strike Carson, Tylinos, and jameygamer would be up there saying that they would have taken his side if only he'd done something else instead.

Well, maybe not Tylinos. He seems like a pretty reasonable guy, at least.

And I'm not just saying that because he was (at least partially) agreeing with something I'd said earlier. When he said "The spice must flow," he was referring to a phrase I'd used in a post about Jim Starlin back in 2012:

Guys like that? It's not about the law and it's not about the ethics. It's The Spice Must Flow. It doesn't matter how Marvel treats creators, as long as it keeps putting out product to consume.

There's always a fresh rationalization on the horizon. "He signed a contract." No he didn't. "Well, he's dead now." Okay, but this guy's alive. "The character we know is the work of dozens of creators over a period of decades, so no one person can really claim credit to him." Even if that were true in some cases, Thanos is unmistakably Jim Starlin's character. "Well, it was only a tiny cameo, so he's not entitled to anything." And once Thanos has more than a cameo, it's going to be "Well okay, that's terrible, but the industry's not like that anymore; it's all better now." (A point Scott Kurtz raised recently, right about two weeks before Static co-creator Robert Washington III died of multiple heart attacks at the age of 47 and his family had to turn to charity to get him buried.)

There is and will continue to be a vocal minority of comic book fans who will side with the publishers no matter what. (Oh God how I hope it's a minority -- but I think it is. You can find a vocal population of people on the Internet who will angrily, zealously defend absolutely any dumbass position you can possibly think of.)

And here's what I said to Strike Carson:

Every single comic book copyright dispute in history says the fanboys would have been just as enraged no matter what he did.

Siegel and Shuster sell Superman for $130? Tough titty; they signed a contract.

Jack Kirby gets no royalties for any of the work he did at Marvel? Tough titty; he signed a contract.

Point out that Jack Kirby didn’t actually sign a contract? Well, that’s just how things were done back then, man!

DC continues to exploit Watchmen against Alan Moore’s wishes, even though in 1985 they made a big thing of how it was a creator-owned book? Tough titty, man, he signed a contract!

Marvel demands $17,000 from broke Gary Friedrich and demands he stop referring to himself as the creator of Ghost Rider? They’re just protecting their interests!

Archie screws creators out of royalties for decades, grinds anyone who legally challenges them into paste, actually removes Dan DeCarlo’s name from reprints, then a creator comes along asking for what Archie legally owes him, Archie doesn’t respond, he provides sufficient evidence to back them into a corner and get them to agree to a settlement — and you’re complaining that he didn’t issue enough legal threats beforehand? Seriously, dude?

Yeah. I’m sure if Penders had threatened to sue Archie in 2010, all the people in this thread who are crying for Penders’s head for the crime of, um, asking for the rights he is entitled to by law, would have totally been on his side.

To the anti-creator fanboys, the facts don't matter, the law doesn't matter, the ethics don't matter, and actual human beings do not matter. All that matters is that they get the comics they want.

They'll tell you differently, and they probably believe it -- after all, most people don't realize when they're rationalizing, and most of these are individual people opining on individual cases. By and large, the guy dumping on Penders is probably not the same guy dumping on the Kirbys is not the same guy dumping on the Siegels is not the same guy dumping on the Shusters is not the same guy dumping on Wolfman is not the same guy dumping on Friedrich is not the same guy dumping on Starlin (or Ditko or Gaiman or Moore or DeCarlo or whoever). If you're not the sort of person who follows these stories, who's seen this conversation play out dozens of times in different permutations, you don't see the pattern.

But there is a pattern. And the pattern is, there are always fanboys who care more about the product than about the human beings who created it. That's the long and short of it. The justifications may change from case to case, but the attitude is always the same: "Fuck that guy, I just want my comics."

That's it for my Penders coverage. But I'm sure we'll be right back here talking about exactly the same things the next time a comics creator has a dispute with a publisher.

Fanboys Miss the Point

The plan was that this would be my last Ken Penders post for awhile, because this is not the All Ken Penders All the Time blog. Sometimes it is the Long Rambling Post About the Past 20 Years of Web Design blog.

However, the post wound up running long, and had a nice natural break in the middle, so now it's going to be two posts. There will be at least one more Penders post after this one.

But while Ken Penders is the focus, these posts aren't just going to be about Ken Penders. I intend to make a few unflattering generalizations about anti-creator fanboys in a minute here, and you may be interested to read them even if you don't care about Penders, Archie, Sega, or Sonic. If you like my posts about creators' rights, this is one of them, and the next one will be too.

So what brought me back to Ken Penders, anyway?

Well, awhile back I was looking at my site stats, and found a referral from a DeviantArt post titled A Summary of ACP Vs. Ken Penders, posted in a group called Save Archie Sonic, which is dedicated to petitioning Archie Comics to bring back all the Penders-created characters that it wrote out of the series. It was a pretty old post by the time I saw it, but at any rate it flatteringly linked to my previous Penders coverage.

And the second comment down, by a guy named CMAugust, had this to say:

The rest of this guy's articles on the subject are great too, well worth reading. On another cool note, this is the same fan who got the first online letter printed in the comic, way back in issue 40.

Holy God, what a thing for somebody to remember after all these years.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, there you have it: the most obscure and inconsequential piece of Sonic the Hedgehog trivia ever. And it's me.

CMAugust went on to say:

Oh yeah, and if you check out his stories about other comic book people tagged under "creators rights," you'll find that whenever there's a creator vs publisher court case, the fanboys will dump on the creator every time. Sad but true, most fans only care about whether their favorite characters are featured month after month and attack anyone who rocks the boat. No matter who it is.

This is a depressing but entirely accurate observation. I will be coming back to it in my next post.

The third reply down took rather a different and less coherent tack. Somebody posting as THEATOMBOMB035 wrote:

where do we stand? same as last time
Penders is a greedy prick who doesn't deserve the right to even be remembered in the Sonic world after what he is done
he is now a living reason why we exist and why we must stand as are own group of Freedom Fighters
Penders, you are a shame to Sonic fans everywhere

It's the third line that really got me. The part where he compared the fanboys -- the people calling the guy who created or co-created a raft of their favorite characters "a greedy prick" -- to the Freedom Fighters.

And this got me thinking about something I've thought of often before.

The fanboys in these stories -- the ones who insult Jack Kirby's family, or Jerry Siegel's family, or Joe Shuster's family, or Marv Wolfman, or Gary Friedrich, or Jim Starlin, or whoever -- are, invariably, fans of a certain type of fiction. Specifically, these are fans who are extremely passionate about stories where a ragtag band of underdogs strives against impossible odds to defeat an evil empire that is far bigger and more powerful than they are.

And they sure like those stories, but they really don't seem to understand them.

Here is a guy, right here, who looked at Sonic the Hedgehog -- the story of a scrappy band of Freedom Fighters squaring off against an evil empire to regain control of their homeland -- and then looked at Archie v Penders -- the story of a lone cartoonist squaring off against a multi-million-dollar corporation to regain control of his own work -- and thought that in this analogy, the people siding with Archie were the Freedom Fighters.

I just don't get it, man. I don't get how you can be so passionate about a work of fiction while simultaneously failing so utterly to understand its message even a little bit.

Speaking of utterly failing to understand a message, I also found my Penders coverage linked from a comments thread under a piece of fan art called Bunnie's Choice. A user named AlcyoneSong said,

yeah its just sad, because the whole comic has had a reboot due to Penders lawsuit.

And then he linked to my Ken Penders coverage.

My Ken Penders coverage which contains the following passages:

And it is important to remember, throughout this discussion, that while fanboys continue to misstate the basic facts of the case, Archie sued Ken Penders, not the other way around.

and

If Archie does permanently drop Penders's characters and cease reprinting his comics, make no mistake: that's out of spite, not legal obligation. That's not Archie being forced to stop using those works, it's Archie choosing not to use them so it doesn't have to pay Penders for them.

Emphasis in originals.

I mean, for fuck's sake, maybe actually read the thing you're linking to before you describe it.

There was a time in my life where I would probably have gone to the trouble of signing up for a DeviantArt account just so I could argue with year-old posts misstating the basic facts of the case and the content of my posts. Fortunately, I'm past that now, and content to merely criticize them in really long blog posts.

Work-for-Hire, Royalties, and Freelancing

In my previous post, I linked to a piece on Ken Penders written by TheAmazingSallyHogan, and I said that I had a few minor quibbles with it that I'd come back to. So here they are.

Ms. Hogan says this about work-for-hire law:

Under Work for Hire contracts, a creator is paid a flat fee for producing content. All artwork, stories, characters, plots, symbols, etc. become the property of the employer (or a third party, which would be SEGA in this example). Under Work For Hire, a creator does not receive further compensation/royalties if their work is reprinted, if their characters are reused due to popularity, or even if their work results in merchandise/mass media. This is not a salaried position – at any point a publisher can decide to simply stop asking a creator to submit work.

While that's true of Archie's work-for-hire agreements, it's not true of work-for-hire in general as Hogan suggests. It is entirely possible to have a work-for-hire agreement that does allow for royalties, or other profit-sharing arrangements; for example, the audiobooks I've recorded were all produced under work-for-hire agreements that only pay royalties, with no money upfront. Likewise, while the creators who produce work for Archie Comics are freelancers and not employees, it is possible (and indeed standard practice) for an employment agreement to include a work-for-hire clause.

And while Hogan correctly notes, here, that Ken was not an employee on salary, she incorrectly uses the word "employment" several times throughout the article to describe his work for Archie. But a job is not the same thing as employment. Ken was not an employee; he was a freelancer and Archie was his customer.

Hogan goes on to say:

These “no royalties” contracts are no longer the norm in the industry for creators working extensively on titles.

This is true (though the qualifier "extensively" is unnecessary); DC and Marvel both have royalty clauses in their work-for-hire contracts (Comic Book Resources has discussed both DC's current royalty policy and Marvel's). Archie is not the only comics publisher that does not pay royalties, but it is lagging behind the Big Two in terms of compensating its creators.

The point of all this is that all work-for-hire means is: Alice hires Bob to create something, under a contract which stipulates that for legal purposes, Alice is the creator.

That's it. That's what work-for-hire means.

How Alice pays Bob, whether Bob is Alice's employee or Alice is Bob's customer, and any other details of the arrangement between Alice and Bob are separate issues, and not determined by whether or not the work is for-hire. All work-for-hire determines is who is the legal creator of the work.

Some work-for-hire agreements pay a flat fee, some work-for-hire agreements pay royalties, some work-for-hire agreements are between a freelancer and a client, some are between an employee and an employer.

But in Archie's case, Hogan is correct: money upfront, no royalties; freelancers, not employees.

Go, Ken, Go! -- Part 6: Penders v Sega Dismissed

I'm going to talk about Ken Penders for a bit, because apparently somewhere along the line my blog became the Internet's foremost resource for information on Archie v Penders. And I never did get around to writing about the conclusion to the other suit, Penders v Sega et al, so I should probably start there.

To read my previous Ken Penders coverage, peruse the handy Ken Penders tag.

The gist: Archie forgets to make Ken Penders sign work-for-hire agreements prior to his work on the Sonic the Hedgehog comic, Penders asserts that he still owns or co-owns the copyrights to all that work and will be working on his own sequel, Archie sues him and writes all his characters out of the comic, fanboys flip out, Archie and Penders settle for undisclosed terms. And that's where I left off back in 2013.

Well, there were two lawsuits: Archie v Penders, where Archie sued Penders to assert that his work was for-hire and he held no ownership stake in it, and Penders v Sega et al, where Penders sued Sega and EA over Sonic Chronicles: The Dark Brotherhood, a game which featured characters similar to the Dark Legion he had created in the Knuckles the Echidna comic.

Last I talked about this, Penders v Sega was still awaiting resolution, but I learned recently that last year it was dismissed on a technicality.

I took a look at Ken Penders's messageboard a little while ago (I'll come back to that in a future post), and he linked to a Tumblr post by TheAmazingSallyHogan, citing it as an authoritative and scholarly rundown of the case.

I have a couple of minor, tangential quibbles with Ms. Hogan's piece, such as how she defines work-for-hire; I'll get to them in a later post. But they're not relevant to the specifics of the Penders case, which, near as I can tell, she has exactly right, and describes in great detail.

And as for the conclusion of the Sega case, here's what she has to say:

On September 26, 2011, Penders’ lawsuit against SEGA/Electronic arts was dismissed, with the Judge essentially telling Penders that he needed settle matters with Archie first, and then he could re-file. Penders re-filed on September 30, just four days later. The same Judge dismissed the case a second time, saying very firmly that Penders needed to settle matters with Archie before re-filing against SEGA/Electronic Arts.

[...]

In May 2012, Penders’ council appealed the dismissal of his case against SEGA and EA. Penders’ determination to have a case in progress against SEGA/Electronic Arts, instead of just waiting to re-file, was because there is a three year statute of limitations on US copyright claims – a legal time limit intended to make sure cases are tried while the evidence is fresh. Sonic Chronicles was released September 25, 2008, almost exactly three years earlier. Filing a new case later would mean he would lose the chance to sue SEGA for Sonic Chronicles’ sales, so Penders appealed the dismissal. The importance of these dates was not stated in his appeal, an omission that would later prove crucial.

[...]

On October 11, 2013, Penders’ appeal (concerning his case against SEGA/Electronic Arts) was heard. While the judges agreed that the timeline was highly relevant and that if the case was dismissed he would largely lose the ability to seek compensation for Sonic Chronicles, his previous lawyer had failed to state why the dates were important in the appeal, and thus the judges could not take that issue into consideration. Shortly after, the court rejected his appeal and upheld the dismissal. While he could re-file, Sonic Chronicles had been released September 2008. It was now well past three years later, putting essentially all sales outside of the three year statute of limitations window. However, any new usage of the characters introduced in that game (such as an appearance in the comic), could potentially lead to a lawsuit from Penders. Late October, Penders stated “this case may yet end up in the US Supreme Court if a resolution isn’t found prior to that”.

So there it is: due to a mistake in Penders's lawyer's legal filing, Penders v Sega was dismissed, and he missed the statute of limitations for collecting any of the money generated by Sonic Chronicles. No ruling, no settlement, no resolution. While I wouldn't be surprised to see some fanboys take the words "case dismissed" to mean that Penders's case against Sega was flimsy or lacking in some way, that is not what this dismissal means; the case was dismissed due to a mistake in filling out the paperwork, and no other reason.

I wouldn't expect to see Sega re-release Sonic Chronicles any time soon, as that would open them up to a new suit.

Penders's allusions to a Supreme Court case notwithstanding, this is most likely the end of it, though he's still got his own series coming at some point, whatever form it may take.

I noted before that a lot of the other writers and artists who worked on Sonic around the time Penders did could potentially file for their own copyrights (and that Scott Shaw already had). I haven't heard anything more about that. However, given how the Penders case went, I would expect Archie to quietly settle with any other creators who made similar claims, on similar terms, without suing them, and it's entirely possible this has already happened. It's one of those things we'll most likely never know.

Meanwhile, if you're interested in the case at all, I highly recommend that you read the entire piece by TheAmazingSallyHogan. It's as good and thorough a summary of the case as you'll find anywhere.

Web Design Got Complicated

It's probably not surprising that rebuilding my website has gotten me thinking about web development.

The first six years I ran this site, I did it all by hand -- my own HTML, my own CSS, no scripting languages. I thought that CMS software was for pussies.

But ultimately, plain old HTML just doesn't scale. I conceded that when I started using b2evolution for my blog back in '06, and it's truer now than it was then.

You can poke around some of the old sections of the site a bit, the ones that haven't been updated significantly since the turn of the century -- KateStory's a good one, or the Features page (though I'd like to get at least the Features page up to date sooner than later, and maybe the KateStory one too, so maybe there'll be people reading this post well after those pages shed their 1990's style) -- and they get the job done. Breadcrumb navigation at the bottom of every section, leading you back to either the parent page or the main index.

But Jesus, you can only manually copy and paste "Back to Features / Back to Index" so many times.

And maintaining a years-long blog archive without a CMS to automate it for you? It gets old.

So, you want some automation? You're going to need a scripting language. That usually means PHP for server-side, and JavaScript for client-side.

I got to thinking the other day -- man, it's weird that you need extra toolsets to perform such common tasks as, say, reusing a navigation bar. It's weird that there's not some way just to write up a navigation bar and then write code, in HTML, no scripting required, to embed that common HTML block on the current page.

I thought this was a pretty smart observation.

For about three seconds.

At which point I realized I had just described fucking frames.

Course, the biggest problem with frames is that they weren't exactly what I'm describing. I'm talking about just an HTML snippet in some secondary file that you call from a primary file -- like an include in PHP.

That's not what frames were. Frames were complete fucking HTML pages -- <html>, <head>, <body> (or, more likely, <HTML>, <HEAD>, <BODY>, because in the old days we wrote HTML tags in all-caps) -- which is, most times, downright stupid and wasteful, and was much moreso in the days of 14.4 dialup. Even worse than the load time was the logistics -- if you used frames to build a website with a header, a footer, and a sidebar, you'd have a total of five separate web pages -- a content area, the three other sections, and some kind of main page that all of them were embedded into. This was a fucking nightmare for linking, both for the developer (who had to remember to set the target attribute on every single link, lest the page load in the navigation bar instead of the content area) and the end user (because the URL in the location bar would be the container page that called all the other pages, not the content page the user was currently looking at).

In a way, it's kinda weird that nobody's gone back to that well and tried to do it again, but do it right this time. Update the HTML spec to allow an HTML file to call a reusable snippet of HTML from another file, one that isn't a complete page.

Given all the concessions HTML5 has made to the modern Web, it's surprising that hasn't happened, even given how slowly it takes for a spec to be approved. We've got a <nav> tag, which is nice and all, but who the hell uses a <nav> tag without calling some kind of scripting language that automates code reuse? There really aren't that damn many reasons to use the <nav> tag for code that isn't going to be reused on multiple pages throughout a site.

And I dunno, I'm sure somebody's brought this up, maybe it's on the itinerary as a consideration for HTML6.

Which is another thing, really: the people making the decisions on the specs do not want the same things I want.

I liked XHTML. (In fact, lest this whole thing come off as a curmudgeonly damn-kids-get-off-my-lawn diatribe against new technologies and standards, I'd like to note that I was using XHTML Strict back when you pretty much had to be using a beta version of Phoenix -- before it was Firebird, before it was Firefox -- for it to render correctly.) I thought it was the future. I wish XHTML2 had taken off. HTML5 feels ugly and inconsistent by comparison, and, as legitimately goddamn useful as it is to be able to put something like data-reveal aria-hidden="true" in the middle of a tag's attributes, it always feels dirty somehow.

But I digress.

Point is, in 2006, I switched the blog from just plain old HTML and CSS, and added two more elements: a MySQL database to actually store all the shit, and a PHP CMS (originally b2evolution, later switched to WordPress).

And then came smartphones.

We live in a world now where every website has to be designed for multiple layouts at multiple resolutions. You wanna try doing that without using an existing library as a base? Try it for a few days. I guarantee you will no longer want that.

I think my resistance to picking up new libraries is that every time you do it, you cede a measure of control for the sake of convenience. I don't like ceding control. I like my website to do what the fuck I tell it to, not what some piece of software thinks I want it to.

I've spent the last decade arguing with blogging software to get it to quit doing stupid shit like turn my straight quotes into "smart" quotes and my double-hyphens into dashes. Just the other day, I built a page in WordPress and discovered that it replaced all my HTML comments with fucking empty paragraphs. Why would I want that? Why would anyone want that?! And that's after I put all the remove_filter code in my functions.php.

And that's the thing: WordPress isn't built for guys like me. Guys like me use it, extensively (it is the world's most popular CMS), because it automates a bunch of shit that we'd rather not have to deal with ourselves and because when we're done we can hand it off to end users so they can update their own site.

But I still write these posts in HTML. I want to define my own paragraph breaks, my own code tags, the difference between an <em> and a <cite> even though they look the same to an end user.

(And okay, I still use <em> and <strong> over <i> and <b>; there's really no explaining that except as a ridiculous affectation. I recently learned Markdown and used it to write a short story -- I'll come back to that at a later date -- and I could see switching to that. HTML really is too damn verbose.)

...and that was another lengthy digression.

So. Mobile design.

Bootstrap is the most commonly used toolkit for responsive websites. I've used it, it works well, but it's not my favorite idiom, and I've decided I prefer Zurb Foundation. So that's what I used to build the new site layout.

Except, of course, then you've got to get two dueling design kits to play nice to each other. Square the circle between WordPress and Foundation.

I started to build the new theme from scratch, and I'm glad I was only a few hours into that project when I discovered JointsWP, because that would have been one hell of a project.

JointsWP is poorly documented but has proven pretty easy to pick up anyway.

So. I've gone from HTML and CSS to HTML, CSS, and WordPress (HTML/CSS/PHP/MySQL), to HTML, CSS, WordPress, Foundation (HTML/SCSS/JavaScript, importing libraries including jQuery), and JointsWP (ditto plus PHP). And on top of that I'm using Git for version tracking, Gulp to process the SCSS, and Bower to download all the other scripts and toolkits I need and keep them updated.

So, going with Foundation (or Bootstrap, or whatever) as a standard toolkit, you get somebody else's codebase to start from. That comes with some elements that are a necessary evil (I hate fucking CSS resets, and think writing p { margin: 0; } is an abomination in the sight of God and Nature -- but if it means I can assume my site will look more or less correct in Mobile Safari without having to go out and buy an iPhone, then I guess I'll take it), and others that are actually pretty great -- I find SCSS to be really exciting, a huge saver of time and tedium, and it's hard to go back to vanilla CSS now that I've used it.

Course, with increasing complexity, you still hit those things that don't quite work right. One example I've found is that Foundation sets your placeholder text (the gray letters that appear in an "empty" input field) too light to be legible, and does not have a simple definition in _settings.scss to let you adjust it to darker. I've found a mixin that allows you to create such a definition pretty simply, but for some reason JointsWP doesn't like it (or maybe Gulp doesn't). So until I get around to finding a fix, the text stays light, and I'll just have to trust that you the user will be able to determine that the input field under the phrase "Search for:" and to the left of the big blue button that says "Search" is a search box.

I've also got loads of optimization still to do; part of that's going to mean figuring out what parts of Foundation's CSS and JS I'm not actually using and cutting them out of the calls, and part of it's probably going to mean minification.

Minification is one of those things I resisted for awhile but have come around on. It can be a real hassle for debugging, not being able to view a stylesheet or script in full, and it may not be practical just to save a few kilobytes (or a few dozen, rarely a few hundred) -- but on the other hand, well, it's not so different from compiling source code to binary; the end result is still that you take something human-readable and turn it into something much less human-readable.

And of course now that I'm using a preprocessor, my CSS file isn't my real source code anyway; it's already the result of taking my code, feeding it through an interpreter, and outputting something that is not my code. If you want to look at the stylesheet for this site, you want to look at the SCSS file anyway (it's on Github), not the CSS file. And if I'm already telling people "Look at the SCSS file, not the CSS file," then what's the harm in minifying the CSS file and making it harder for people to read?

For now -- prior to removing unnecessary code calls and minifying everything -- I feel like the site design's a lot more bloated than it needs to be. And even once I slim it down, there are going to be some compromises that go against my sensibilities -- for example, when you loaded this page, you loaded two separate navigation systems, the desktop version (top navigation and sidebar) and the mobile version (just a sidebar, which contains many of the same elements as the topnav and sidebar from the desktop version but is not exactly the same), even though you can only see one of them. That redundancy makes me wince a little bit, but ultimately I think it's the best and simplest way of doing it. Sometimes, good design does require some redundancy.

All that to say -- man, there have been a lot of changes to web design in the last twenty years. And while there are trends I really don't like (if I never have to build another slideshow it'll be too soon; gradients are usually dumb and pointless; and the trend of making visited links the same color as unvisited ones feels like a step backward into 1995), there are also a lot that I've eventually warmed up to, or at least accepted as something I've gotta deal with.

Anyway. Welcome to the new corporate-sellout.com.

And one more thing about the site before I go: it's probably worth noting that this site is different from the other sites I build, because it's mine. Its primary audience is me. I like having an audience, but frankly I'm always a little (pleasantly) surprised whenever anyone actually tells me they enjoyed something I put on this site.

Because this site isn't one of my professional sites. I didn't build it for a client. It's not my portfolio site, which I built to attract clients. This one? It's for me. As should be clear from this rambling, 2200-word stream-of-consciousness post about the technical ins and outs of web design, as it applies specifically to me and to this site.

Frankly I'm always surprised when anyone actually reads anything like this.

I'll Call It a Good Start

Well, that's the update done, and you should be looking at the new theme now.

It needs work (the current "Archives" list in the sidebar is 67 lines long and I need to remember how to limit it to just the last few months like in the old version), but it's a start.

I'll be puttering around behind the scenes for a little while yet. Course, the point of all this is that I'd like to start blogging regularly again; there's not much point to going to all this trouble to pretty it up if I don't start using it.

As you might expect, just the update itself gives me plenty of things to talk about -- what I like about modern Web design and what I don't.

More to come, I should think.

Hang On to Your Butts

Gearing up for a major site update -- first I'm disabling all my plugins, then I'm updating WordPress, then I'm installing a brand new theme, and then I'll be beating the theme into working shape. Things may break at any and all points of this process.