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Mulder and Scully close an X-File no one asked for

Gillian Anderson (left) and David Duchovny
Gillian Anderson (left) and David Duchovny
Photo: Shane Harvey (Fox)
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Give it this much: “My Struggle IV” does its level best to tie off loose ends. Season 10 ended with a wildly ambitious (and utterly absurd) vision of a world tipping over the edge; the season 11 premiere immediately walked that back by explaining that it literally was a vision, and there was still time to stop everything from going completely kerblooey. It set the tone for the mythology episodes through the rest of the season, with a more focused, more personal plot that followed Scully and Mulder’s efforts to save their son from the various villains struggling to exploit him for their own ends. Hell, even the conspiracies got reduced; instead of squads of shadowy men in dark rooms, we had Cancer Man, Barbara Hershey, and the Fat Man. Oh, and Reyes showed up eventually, because I guess Annabeth Gish needs a paycheck as much as the rest of us.

If we’re still being generous, we could say that season 11 achieved its ends and offered narrative closure. Mulder wipes out most of the remaining conspiracies; Reyes gets a bullet in the head courtesy of Skinner; and Cancer Man gets shot a lot in a way that really honestly has to be fatal. The alien plague is still out there, presumably, but the immediate threat has passed, which for The X-Files is as close to victory as anyone ever gets. I suppose there are a few loose ends—Skinner’s fate, for one—but this does feel pretty complete. Mulder and Scully think William is dead (he’s not), but that’s okay, because Scully is pregnant with Mulder’s baby for real this time. All very textbook screenwriting, more or less.


And it’s bad. Not the worst the show has ever been, and better than the mess that ended season 10, but still: bad. As in not good, as in not worth it, as in kind of brutally depressing to watch everyone go through the motions for this nonsense. Gillian Anderson acts her fucking heart out just as she has all season, and to what end? So Scully can be reduced to the eternal mother, and Mulder can get revenge for what everyone else did to her body? Their final exchange—which could very well be their final exchange ever, given Anderson’s decision to leave the show—is tone deaf to the point of absurdity.

But really, so little of this works on an emotional level (despite Anderson’s efforts) that it’s hard to get that upset about it. I spent most of my season 10 finale review ranting, but I’m hard pressed to find the energy for that anymore. This is a story that doesn’t need to be told, and it shows; even when it more or less makes sense, there’s a hollowness at work, a fundamental absence that drags down every interaction, every exchange, every motivation. It’s not a new thing—there are plenty of shows that have run past their prime, or books or movies called into existence when they would’ve been better off left unrealized. But this particular variation of dullness seems peculiar to reboots, tedium mixed with nostalgic pleasure that leaves you feeling vaguely ashamed.

It’s not like we need to dredge any of that up again, though. This is the most obvious criticism to make of the nu-X-Files, one that pretty much everyone has been making since season 10 began. The show should’ve ditched the mythology completely and stuck to telling one-offs—even when those don’t work, the failures are self-contained. When a mythology episode craters, it doesn’t just collapse on its own terms; it leaves a rotten foundation that every future mythology entry has to struggle around. So we get scenes like the one with Kersh yelling at Skinner about Mulder ranting online about conspiracies like any of this means anything. (Turns out Scully was actually the one responsible for the rants, which is at at least a change.) Kersh says he’s going to close the X-Files and he wants Mulder and Scully’s badges. Again. Is this the fourth or fifth time the office has been closed? More? Who cares? I don’t even know how they have FBI jobs anymore.

There are no stakes here. We’ve seen the X-Files closed before, we’ve seen Cancer Man die before, we’ve seen the world threatened by an alien whatever. And while Scully and Mulder struggling with the potential responsibilities of having a teenage son with the power to explode people with his mind is relatively new, it’s barely relevant. William gets his own monologue this time around, and we get a little more of a sense of him. He could’ve been interesting—a teen who doesn’t really understand anything that’s happening to him, and keeps making bad choices not because he’s inherently evil, but because he can. Someone who can do just about anything (the show makes no effort at define or limit his abilities) but who can’t bear to leave his girlfriend behind.


There’s something there, but it gets lost in everything else, to the point where William never really comes into his own as a character. He gets a single awkward scene with Mulder; he has another conversation with Scully while he’s pretending to be someone else; then he “dies.” It’s like the whole season was just a longer version of one of the monster-of-the-week episodes where our heroes arrive on the scene just in time to accomplish absolutely nothing. (Admittedly, Mulder did shoot a lot of people this time, so he has that going for him.)

I wouldn’t call season 11 a complete misfire. Most of it was watchable, some of it was pretty good, and a couple entries were outright excellent. I have no idea if the show is supposed to come back or not, but it’s strange; after being happy to see it come back, and after enjoying a lot of it, I still hope this is the end. It’s not a particularly good ending, but given that the writers have had two seasons to figure this reboot thing out, and it’s still saddled with the same problems, I think it’s past due to let go. I’d rather not have to write the same review again.


Stray observations

  • Duchovny just seems tired. There were hours this season when he was having fun, but I don’t think he has Anderson’s ability to dig deep when the material doesn’t merit it.
  • This isn’t the show’s fault, exactly, but boy do I hate the fact that “fake news” has become a thing people just regularly say now.
  • I do like the idea that William, having seen a vision of the future where the Cancer Man shoots Mulder, takes Mulder’s place to save him. It’s a nice flip of the show’s usual doomed fatalism.
  • Chopping up the timeline here was really unnecessary, especially considering how the episode opens with William’s monologue—it’s just forced obfuscation to create the illusion of stakes.
  • Tad O’Malley returns! So Joel McHale got another paycheck.
  • I love Scully demanding Skinner explain why he’s violating Kersh’s orders, after asking him to violate Kersh’s orders for the umpteenth time. It’s like a Beckett play at this point.

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