It’s the end of the world, and The X-Files feels awful

It’s the end of the world, and The X-Files feels awful

“He needs stem cells in him right now.”

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The X-Files

"My Struggle II"

Season 10 , Episode 6

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Caveat: Due to some clumsy scheduling on my part, I missed the first ten minutes of “My Struggle II.” I got caught up this morning; I missed the opening recap through Scully’s conversation with Tad O’Malley in Mulder’s ransacked apartment. These scenes did not substantially change my opinion of the episode, but I’ve tacked on a Stray Observation below with my additional thoughts.

Reboots, or restarts, or whatever the hell you want to call them, are a dicey prospect. There’s the automatic pull between our nostalgia for the shows we used to love, and our common sense understanding that these rebirths are nearly always terrible. You can’t recapture lightning in a bottle, you can’t pick up a great series where it left off just because we all really, really want to. I was thrilled when I heard The X-Files was coming back, but I had my reservations—and I was practically a Pollyanna compared to other, more sensible critics. Now that the miniseries (or tenth season, or whatever you want to call it) is over, and ended so badly, it’s easy to say this never should’ve happened. It’s easy to scoff at anyone foolish enough to believe it might have worked.

Because “My Struggle II” is a mess. There are ideas buried under all the nonsense that could’ve had promise, and the ambition is impressive; for the first time in the entire run of the show, Chris Carter actually attempts to have a conspiracy crisis strike the entire country. No more waiting for shit to go down—here we see the Cigarette Smoking Man’s plans come to apparent fruition, with a nation crippled by a sudden onset of anthrax thanks to markers buried in their DNA by smallpox vaccinations. Something like that, anyway. And while the scope of this never really works, it’s conceptually fascinating to see the other shoe finally drop for once. After so many years of Mulder and Scully stumbling over bad news that was always a few years away from actually happening, it should’ve been a relief to watch the world finally burn. At its best moments, the finale is feverish and crazed and almost gripping. Carter swings for the fences on this one, and he deserves acknowledgement for the risk.

It’s a shame that he’s a terrible writer, then. To be fair, he was always a terrible writer. The show’s early success can be attributed to its aesthetic, its two protagonists, and, okay, Carter’s grasp of the cultural zeitgeist. He stumbled onto one great idea, and he did what he could with it, and god bless him for that, but that dour, po-faced bullshit no longer sells. His dialogue sounds like it was translated from the Greek by a person who speaks excellent German, and his plotting is… well, you all watched tonight, right? It’s nonsense. It’s not even fun nonsense anymore. It’s just forced and laughable and, yeah, kind of painful for anyone who loved the series in its prime.

Shall we unpack this? Like I said, I came in late, but the CSM is behind a global (well, national at least) pandemic that’s set to depopulate the planet using implanted viruses that are activated by the aluminum in chemtrails. Scully is immune because of her alien DNA, but Mulder is not immune, and the CSM calls him over for a visit to offer him a deal, because the CSM is fond of him. Monica Rayes made a deal with the CSM because she was scared or whatever, and she gives Scully all this information because I guess Annabeth Gish forgot to change her phone number after season nine. Mulder refuses the CSM’s offer, and Miller rescues him because he’s apparently the only person at the FBI bright enough to bother tracking Mulder’s phone with a program on Mulder’s computer. (Mulder apparently uses a phone finder program, because hey, super paranoids are always losing their phones.) Everybody but Scully is sick, she realizes that Mulder’s going to need a lot of stem cells if he wants a cure, and that William is their only hope. Then the ship we saw in “My Struggle” shows up, and—

It’s a fucking cliffhanger. For a miniseries. One with no announced return date. Sure, the ratings have been solid, and there’s every chance the show will come back for another round if the various creative folks involved want it to, but this is still a dick move, one that would squander what little goodwill the revival had left if it, in fact, had any left. And what’s even more infuriating is the knowledge that if the show does return, we’re going to lose at least one episode to wrapping all this idiocy up. Maybe William is flying in spaceships now. Maybe aliens. Who knows.

So yes, this was not very good at all. and there were points where it turned cringe-inducingly awful. Forcing Scully and Einstein to go through the most fucked up episode of House ever made was bad; watching Duchovny struggle to give a shit as he confronted the man who destroyed his life was worse. I didn’t hate “My Struggle,” and my overall feelings towards this collection of episodes is mildly, if ruefully, positive; it was shorter than season nine, at least. But even I’m not going to defend this.

It’s just… I still think this could be good. If we get another season of The X-Files, I will be happy and I will look forward to it, because the core is still sound. Mulder and Scully are still great characters, and if this was treated more like an anthology series, one that brought in new writers with fresh ideas, there’s no reason why it couldn’t be a terrific, scary ride again. The problem is, you’d need to junk the mythology completely. And you’d need someone other than Chris Carter in charge; or else, if he’s going to stick around, someone convince him to stop writing scripts. Otherwise this is just going to keep getting worse. and as someone who lived through season nine, I know exactly what “worse” means.

Stray observations

  • On those first 10 minutes: giving Scully a chance to do her own opening narration is a nice piece of narrative symmetry than serves no apparent effect beyond that symmetry. As prep for the insanity that’s about to unfold, it’s effective enough, but if you need a three minute refresher five episodes after your last major mythology episode, maybe you need to streamline. Also, Tad O’Malley was kind of a waste of time, huh? Joel McHale did his best, but the character never made a lot of sense, and the subversive thrill of having the “truth” come from a right-wing conspiracy nut wore off fast.
  • On the plus side, Agent Einstein was considerably less annoying this week. Miller was still wait who was I talking about?
  • Skinner really put a lot of time into this revival, didn’t he?
  • “There’s talk on the internet.”—Miller
  • Why bring back Rayes? Was Robert Patrick too smart to get caught up in this mess?
  • The Cigarette Smoking Man looked legitimately creepy when he took off his face.
  • “With the ultimate weapon—the ability to depopulate the planet.” That is a terrible line.
  • “Alien DNA is all that can save us.”