The waiting was the hardest part. No, I don’t mean the 14 year break between episodes of The X-Files, nor do I mean the wait from when its revival was announced almost a year ago. In this instance, I’m talking about 24 minutes. The 24 minutes Sunday night when the nerds of the nation were left raging as Fox marinated on the decisive victory of the Carolina Panthers over the Arizona Cardinals. Hardly the clash of the titans, and in the meantime, The X-Files and its fans were left wanting, and after the premiere episode, admittedly, this X-Files fan is still left wanting. The highly anticipated return of the show devolved into a mishegoss of conspiracy theory babble, and that is not [completely] what we come to The X-Files for.
“My Struggle” had its promising bits. First off all, they didn’t bother updating the opening credits, which was awesome! (I doubt it will stay that way, because the picture on Skinner’s I.D. looked recent, so with Mulder and Scully re-joining the Bureau…) Flashing back to Roswell itself, in what I believe is a first for the series, was a compelling and engaging start followed swiftly by the introduction of the nameless Doctor, and the Man in Black. It’s classic Ufology, if there is such a thing, reaching back to the things that made The X-Files so great in the first place, storytelling at the intersection where folklore, history, and speculation meet-up. And then we meet Tad O’Malley…
No disrespect to Joel McHale, but seeing him play a conspiracy guru akin to Alex Jones stuck out like a sore thumb, if only because Alex Jones himself is too much of a caricature already to be properly contextualized in any serious way. Hearing McHale’s O’Malley drawing straight lines from 9/11 to government cover-up to alien invasion is as gag inducing as it sounds whether it’s coming from a fiction conspiracy buff or whether it’s the top story on Info Wars, but if O’Malley were to be the vessel though which Mulder and Scully go back down to the FBI basement and start cracking cases, then so be it. Sadly though, that’s not where it ended.
In modern terms, The X-Files goes full truther. At a Clue-like gathering in Mulder’s parlor including Scully, O’Malley and abductee Sveta (Annet Mahendru), Mulder lays it all down: Aliens? Forget about them! This is all the doings of corporate overlords looking to toss the Constitution and take over America. As Mulder talks about his “deduction”, O’Malley joins him in what I called in my notes a “conspiracy-off.” It was a free-style conspiracy battle in which Mulder and O’Malley each added new details as if to see who could say the craziest crap imaginable. It’s a wonder it took Scully so long to get up and leave.
Look, no one’s saying that Mulder doesn’t have cause to distrust the government, and skepticism is healthy in a vital democracy, but there’s an important difference between believing in a world where the revelations of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange are legit, and believing in the idea that FEMA’s prepping death camps. I realize Chris Carter couldn’t have known this when writing and directing “My Struggle”, but right now in Oregon there a group of men that believe this apocalyptic vision is reality, and not fiction. Although Mulder opines that UFO believes are laughed at and mocked, there aren’t people militantly preparing for Independence Day like those that think we’re one Friday away from government orchestrated anarchy and re-education.
Truthfully (heh), this latest version of The X-Files all-encompassing, worldwide alien conspiracy is its weakest yet. Sure, there are five episodes left, and maybe some more truth to learn, but it feels more like Carter is trying to put lip stick on a pig he created for nine years rather than just starting again with a clean slate. After all, in the series finale, weren’t we told that colonization was to begin in 2012, not coincidentally on the date of the so-called Mayan apocalypse? So yeah, what happened to that? Of course, The X-Files true gift in its prime was to make you think you’ve got it all figured all out only to then pull the rug out from under you, so let’s take a minute and suppose that with just six episodes, Carter will utilize an economy of storytelling and make some sense in the end.
One re-write that won’t be missed, I think, is ending Mulder and Scully’s romantic relationship. I was never one of those fans that, again, to use the modern term, “shipped” Mulder and Scully, and in casually re-watching the series in the last couple of weeks, its clear that no one meant this partnership to be anything more than platonic; an affair of the minds more than the hearts. Having said that, it’s hard to swallow Scully sipping champers in the back of O’Malley’s bulletproof limo, even if he does have Jeff Winger’s face. At any rate, having Mulder and Scully be ex-partner partners might add an interesting new dynamic to their working relationship.
Getting Mulder and Scully back together professionally seemed a little rushed though. One minute, Scully (like me) had enough cuckoo conspiracy talk for the week, and then one day later, with Sveta’s recanting and O’Malley being pulled from the internet, she’s ready to roll with the X-Files again. Sure, economy of storytelling, whatever it takes to get the ball rolling, but even taking into account The X-Files: I Want to Believe, Scully’s had the most trepidation about getting back into bed with the FBI, where as Mulder, like an addict, doesn’t need much a push to get back into the fight. Did it just occur to Scully that the enemy might push back to letting the Truth, whatever it may be, get out?
But despite the concerns detailed above, if there’s one thing that The X-Files did really well was fit comfortably back on my TV. Mitch Pileggi is still bad ass cool as Skinner, and William B. Davis return in the final moment as Cancer Man was wicked with a side of dread, even if he was only there to receive the ominous (for him) words: The X-Files have been re-opened. Yes they have, and despite reservations there’s still room for optimism because the show’s season openers, heavy in the series’ mythology, was never where the meat of The X-Files lie. Like any good sandwich, the meat’s in the middle.