Tony Black looks at the thirteenth story in The X-Files: Secret Agendas anthology, ‘All Choked Up’…
Written by Lois H. Gresh
Edited by Jonathan Maberry
Sometimes you get an X-Files story that just doesn’t feel like The X-Files, and Secret Agendas serves one up here in ‘All Choked Up’ from Lois H. Gresh. There’s just something as a bit too pulpy and on the nose about Gresh’s story that feels off in terms of Chris Carter’s series, and while it’s nice to see Scully once again get the focus (indeed in first person as well), her inner monologue didn’t always sound like you’d imagine Scully would; moreover, certain interactions between our leads with characters such as Skinner (who feels too wily & playful) and the Cigarette Smoking Man (who comes across too cartoonish) just don’t track. Dare I say it, the whole story feels very much like an X-File written by someone who hasn’t seen much of The X-Files.
Whether or not that’s true, it’s hard to judge, and I wouldn’t serve to presume. Gresh writes straight up, pulls no punches, and there’s nothing especially wrong with her prose, it’s her story that for me was full of problems. For example, Mulder & Scully talk throughout about the ‘Syndicate’ as if it’s common knowledge as a name like they’re talking about ‘SPECTRE’, say – they just didn’t do that in the show, it wasn’t a reference point. Also, a sub-basement for secret, clandestine experiments… right under FBI headquarters? Accessible only by secret codes? Really? Even for this show, that’s a silly stretch. It also leads to a really cartoonish fight with the Smoking Man which is entirely out of a different
It also leads to a really cartoonish fight with the Smoking Man which is entirely out of a different series and didn’t sit well at all. What’s a shame is that the central mystery–involving a piece of AI technology which may be crushing people inside clothing they wear–is quite clever and unique, but it’s dealt with in a jarring manner. Ironically, it doesn’t have enough time to breathe.
‘All Choked Up’ is probably my least favorite tale in Secret Agendas because it simply doesn’t feel personal and befitting to Mulder and Scully, that it could have been ported into various different shows and tweaked a slightly different way. It lacks that focus, that tonal accuracy, the character voices aren’t always there, Scully’s POV doesn’t seem to have much point, and there are one or two plot holes that stood out (why, Skinner, did you care so much about Curlie?). While I admire the attempt, this one falls short.
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