Um…. What? Okay, so this is the episode we’ve been dreading, not just because it means we’ve reached the end of The X-Files’ abbreviated return to TV, but because it means going back to the rocky and wacko mythology that kicked it off to begin with. If there’s a single maddening aspect to “My Struggle II” it’s how rushed everything was; how just last week it was another day and another dollar for Mulder and Scully and everybody, and this week it all ends up $#!% creek without a paddle. Like how “My Struggle” was an exposition dump that thought it could whip enough conspiracy crap at the wall leaving a plot mess that makes some kind of sense, “My Struggle II” does the same thing with every paranoid endgame considered in your average week on Info Wars.
And then the whole thing ended on a cliffhanger! To be honest, that wasn’t terribly bothersome. We were warned that this is the way our X-Files journey would end, and considering the ratings success the revival has enjoyed, the return of The X-Files is simply a matter of time, and a matter of when everyone’s schedules sync up again to deliver how many episodes they see fit to make. I would suggest that creator Chris Carter use that extra time to figure out how to get himself out of the pretty big corner he’s painted himself into, but I think the long-standing lesson of the X-Files mythology is never plan ahead.
Interestingly, there are some strange parallels between this and another Carter series that ended its season on cliffhanger with no guarantee or renewal. Remember Millennium? Carter’s follow-up series to The X-Files about criminal consultant Frank Black (Lance Henriksen) who’s part of a mysterious group obsessed with the end times? It’s second season ended with a pandemic wiping out humanity while the heroes searched for a way to save themselves with a vaccine. Sound familiar? All that was missing was Cancer Man, a UFO, and a crazy man spouting nonsense from his YouTube channel, and I have a feeling Carter might resolve things the same way: we all head down to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for all of this to blow over. Basically.
Part of The X-Files allure was the specter of doubt, the seed of the idea that no matter how much you’ve seen, it may not have actually been what you saw. The series’ effectiveness was that the big moments usually happened in the shadows, and revelations depend on unreliable sources like one’s memory and government spooks with five different agendas. At its best, The X-Files was a teasing fan dance, but “My Struggle II” had all the subtlety of a “dick pic”, it’s intent is obvious and not even remotely subtle because in a world that’s realized much of The X-Files worst paranoid nightmares from the 90s, Carter’s got to outrun the crazy and put some distance between us and it. Hence, an episode that probably made Alex Jones cry in appreciation. “Someone gets it,” he said watching last night’s X-Files with tears in his eyes.
“My Struggle II” reaffirmed again that in the land of the truther, you can’t just ensconce yourself in the idea of the government breaking bad. Over the weekend, Jones started floating the idea that President Barack Obama had Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia killed to pave the way for his “October Surprise” that he’s staying in the White House for another four years. Have you seen Obama on CNN lately? Does he have the appearance of a man that wants four more years of *this*? It’s a messed up world when a son has to take a break from his mourning to say, “No, my father wasn’t murdered by the government,” which is why seeing Tad O’Malley talk about chemtrails and cell towers and the capitulation of the mainstream media in the midst of the serious drama is like nails on a chalkboard.
The point isn’t that there’s no reason to suspect the government, there’s plenty of reason to suspect the government – ask Edward Snowden – but playing Shake ‘N’ Bake conspiracy with modern paranoia and the X-Files own dense mythology was too much. Like “My Struggle”, the episode opened with an exposition dump, but Scully’s version of X-Files flashback went on way too long, and only served to suggest that maybe Carter should have started over rather than take the already messed up collage of clues and coincidences and added to it. When Scully deduces that the deadly virus was initiated with the Smallpox vaccine and shared with subsequent generations, it was at once a nice callback to season three’s “Paper Clip”, and an uncomfortable confirmation bias for anti-vaxxers.
Speaking of call backs, Cancer Man! Now I love me some William B. Davis, but this character’s gone from morally ambiguous to cartoonishly evil, which happens when you’ve been “killed” no less than three times. (Cancer Man’s “makeover” didn’t help with the appearance of not being evil either, think Two-Face meets one of those demons from the Constantine movie.) Naturally, he’s the puppet master in these doings, and his justification in culling the human race is we’re ruining the environment, which makes Cancer Man the evilest hippie that’s ever been and introduces another layer to the character that’s never, ever been remotely implied before. Cancer Man’s face-off with Mulder lent absolutely nothing to their relationship that hadn’t already been said, and on top of it all, if doomsday was just six weeks away, why was “Smokey” so worried about they re-opening the X-Files?
Meanwhile, Scully also encountered an old friend, Monica Reyes. Played by Annabeth Gish, Reyes was one of two new agents, the other being John Doggett played by Robert Patrick, that was brought in during season eight to theoretically carry on The X-Files from Mulder and Scully, kind of like Miller and Einstein who looked quite comfortable ensconced in the mythology madness this week. While the Patrick/Gish seasons get a raw deal, its easy to see Gish’s appearance here as wasted. Not only does Scully not recognize her voice on the telephone at first (ouch!), but he learn she’s been Cancer Man’s sidekick for the last 10 years in exchange for a “get out of the apocalypse” free card, which seems pretty out of character. Basically, Carter needed someone to tell Scully she’s the chosen one (or something) and I guess Gish was available.
So the whole thing ends of a cliffhanger. In spite of the fact that the open credits ends with “The Truth is Out There” being replace by “This is the End,” this is definitely not the end. In the days to come, we will surely start to hear the speculation of a new X-Files movie or TV season and we’ll be off to the races. Obviously, as teased all season, Mulder and Scully’s son William will play a part, and it would be nice to be given some flashback that adequately explains how Scully and Einstein managed to cure a worldwide plague using just themselves, Scully’s alien DNA, and the lab equipment in a small DC hospital. (And how weird was it that Einstein went from zero to Believer in no time flat?)
As for this six-pack, we got one great episode, one very good episode, two decent ones, and two stinkers. The stinkers, coincidentally enough, were the mythology episodes, so may I make a humble suggestion? Leave it alone. Or if you must, allow yourself the time to properly develop it, Carter. It was strange that Tad O’Malley disappeared for weeks (thankfully) and no one seemed to care, while there was clearly developments behind the scenes giving this last hour to have a sense of urgency that’s never earned. When season 11 inevitably arrives the show either needs to be more patient with its mythology storyline and spread it out, or ditch it entirely. At this point, The X-Files doesn’t need the conspiracy hook, and let’s be honest, we don’t need it either.
That’s it for The X-Files! Next week, it’s back to Gotham and Jason McAnelly will have those recaps for you.