Fourteen years have passed since ‘The X Files’ closed on television, with one box office dud feature film in between. Riding the current wave of nostalgia for any property that used to be popular once upon a time, Fox has resurrected the supernatural drama for a new six-episode season, complete with stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson back in their iconic roles. As before, original creator Chris Carter is both the visionary guiding force behind the series and also its greatest weakness and liability.
Any fans who bothered to ride out the original show to its bitter end will remember what a mess it became in the later seasons. The core “mythology” story arc involving alien abductions and an impending invasion grew increasingly nonsensical and incomprehensible with every episode. Any of the fun from the earlier seasons was long gone by the end, and the clip-show series finale in 2002, which desperately attempted to tie together the morass of contradictory storylines, was one of the most unsatisfying episodes of television I’ve ever sat through.
Nonetheless, the fundamental premise of the series (FBI agents who investigate the paranormal and unexplainable), and the appeal of its lead characters Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, were so strong that fans have eagerly awaited the show’s revival, hoping for a return to greatness, even despite their disappointment with the ‘I Want to Believe‘ movie in 2008.
The new six-episode run is not a reboot in any sense of that term. This is very much Season 10. Important cast members are back, even some who were killed off previously. (Ret-conning away character deaths was an unfortunate hallmark of the old show.) The episodes even start with the old opening credits and theme music (which look and sound like crap in high definition). Chris Carter is back in the driver’s seat. He both wrote and directed the first episode, which aired on Sunday this week.
Sadly, the first episode is a reminder of how badly the show went downhill the first time around. Quite frankly, it’s terrible. A friend of mine asked on Facebook, “Am I watching ‘The X Files’ or a bad ‘SNL’ parody of ‘The X Files’?” I felt the exact same way. The premiere is an embarrassment all around.
First off, what exactly is Chris Carter trying to say with the episode title ‘My Struggle’? I have to assume he’s aware that, translated into German, that’s the title of Adolf Hitler’s autobiography and political manifesto. Is he trying to draw an intentional parallel here? If so, it’s not evident from anything on screen.
As we last saw them in the ‘I Want to Believe’ movie, Mulder and Scully were confirmed to be in a romantic relationship. They’ve apparently drifted apart in the years since. Mulder has retreated further into his hermit-like existence, and Scully works in a Christian hospital performing surgeries on children with birth defects. They’re both called back into service when their old boss, FBI Asst. Director Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), asks them to meet with billionaire conspiracy theory crackpot Tad O’Malley (comedian Joel McHale), host of the wildly popular ‘Truth Squad’ podcast. (The fact that Chris Carter believes anyone can get rich from podcasting just goes to show how out of touch with reality he is.)
O’Malley asks for their help busting the most evil conspiracy in the history of human existence. Scully rolls her eyes, but Mulder is intrigued. O’Malley brings them to meet a woman named Sveta (Annet Mahendru from ‘The Americans’), who claims to be the victim of multiple alien abductions and impregnations. She says that she can also read minds and has some telekinetic powers due to being experimented on with alien DNA, though conveniently she’s not able to demonstrate them on cue. Scully humors her by taking a blood sample to run some tests on.
O’Malley also brings Mulder alone to a secret warehouse housing an “ARV,” or Alien Replica Vehicle. His engineers say that it’s a reconstructed spaceship built from alien technology that has been in possession of the American government ever since the 1947 flying saucer crash in Roswell. (The episode is interspersed with flashbacks to that event, starting with an extremely cheesy depiction of the crash.) The ship supposedly runs on “free energy,” which has been kept secret from the public at the behest of the evil fossil fuel industry. Mulder is given a demo of the ship levitating and disappearing right before his eyes. He’s impressed, and fully on-board with helping O’Malley.
However, that attitude changes radically when Sveta privately tells him that she wasn’t actually abducted by aliens, but rather by humans who experimented on her. Suddenly, Mulder has a crisis of conscience. Apparently forgetting everything he’s seen or experienced in the past (which include meeting aliens and being abducted by them himself), he questions whether everything he’s ever believed has been a lie. “What if there is no alien conspiracy?” he asks Scully while laying out a brand new convoluted conspiracy theory about a secret cabal trying to take over the United States and then the whole world. What if all the alien abductions over the past 70 years were a smokescreen staged by humans all along?
Yes, in one episode, Chris Carter attempts to ret-con the entire nine previous seasons of the show, as if nothing that ever happened in them was true. Why, then, did we ever bother watching them?
In short order, Sveta publicly denounces Tad O’Malley and his podcast goes offline. (Would anyone really notice or care?) A black ops military squad storms the warehouse, destroys the ARV, and kills all the engineers working on it. Scully reveals to Mulder that Sveta’s blood test came back positive for alien DNA (how convenient she has a test for that!), and in fact so did her own blood test. Unfortunately, Sveta tries to skip town but gets blown up by a spaceship.
In a couple of wrap-up scenes, we learn that the nefarious Cigarette Smoking Man, who we last saw getting blown to smithereens when a rocket was fired directly into his face in the Season 9 finale, is of course still alive and behind the whole evil conspiracy. This is at least the third time his death has been ret-conned away. He’s very annoyed that the FBI has reopened the X Files.
Everything about the premiere episode feels off. The writing and dialogue are awful. The production values are dodgy. The staging and direction are flat and lifeless. Even the performances are stiff. Say what you will about ‘I Want to Believe’, but at least Anderson and Duchovny were able to slide back into their old roles like a comfortable pair of slippers for that movie. Yet here, the Mulder/Scully relationship just doesn’t feel right at all.
If we were to judge based only on this episode, the big return of ‘The X Files’ would appear to be a disaster. Lest we pass judgment too quickly, however, the second episode which aired the following day was a notable improvement. I’ll have a recap of that one shortly.
Was it really supposed to be a podcast that O’Malley was running? I thought it was something more akin to a syndicated TV version of Bill O’Reilly/etc … (they even name-checked O’Reilly once or twice).
Seemed like a podcast to me. Scully repeatedly has to Google it (excuse me, Finder-Spyder it) to watch online, because she apparently can’t remember the web address no matter how many times she visits. At the end, she gets a “Page Not Found” error. If it had been a TV show, it would be replaced with another program.
Had no issues with premiere at all, after a long hiatus between the two, it felt off for a reason to me. They havent been together in quite a long time and they arent who they used to be, trying to find that rhythm together is part of the fun. Sure there were some stupid things like her using Finder-Spyder (why cant FOX just pay Google to use a real search engine?) but otherwise everything felt just fine to me, X-Files is back and I’m very happy. As far as O’Malley’s show? I believe that was a TV show with probably a website that was taken down, no way would some online blog thing be that huge that he’s driving around in a limo making that kind of cash. I took it as him being a crazy talk show host type and that Scully was searching but ended up finding that everything that had to do with that show is now gone
Just for clarification, Chris Carter has stated that “My Struggle” isn’t taken from Hitler’s book, but from the series of books written by Karl Ove Knausgard.
Problem is – if Carter retcons the first 9 seasons as a smokescreen – that means that Mulder and Scully are complete MORONS. And that ain’t good for business.
UNLESS, Mulder’s being manipulated yet again. My biggest concern is part two of this episode is going to be the FINAL one we see…and I suspect it was shot at the same time as Part 1 – so chances are it’s equally as weak. Add that to the fact that Chris Carter’s third episode is the next-to-last one and a lot of folks may be complaining that this ‘re-launch’ (a better word than ‘reboot’ in this case) was pretty ineffective. We’ll see.
Huh, you lost me here, you saying that FOX is playing these out of order again? Didnt they learn something from Firefly….obviously not. If that isnt the case, I have no idea what you’re talking about 🙂
No, they’re not out of order. The season finale will be a follow-up to the premiere’s storyline called ‘My Struggle II’. All the episodes in between will be monster-of-the-week cases.
I remember watching X-Files for the first few seqsons when it was almost exclusively “monster-of-the-week” type episodes as you call them. I checked out when the show turned into being more about the government conspiracy instead of paranormal activity because it wasn’t nearly as fun. I’m PVR’ing these episodes and will prolly catch up with them over the weekend.
Question: How did the writers excuse Mulders character when Duchovny left the show and Robert Patrick stepped in? Where had he supposedly gone?
[Spoilers for the original show.]
Mulder was abducted by aliens at the end of Season 7. Agent Doggett (Robert Patrick) was introduced at the beginning of Season 8 and assigned to find Mulder. Halfway through the season, Agent Reyes (Annabeth Gish) joined the team. In that same episode, they found Mulder.
Duchovny only appeared in about half the episodes of Season 8. He left the show again after the S8 finale and was missing during almost all of Season 9 with the explanation that Mulder had gone into hiding. He then returned for the series finale.
Actually they ARE being aired out of order, but part two to “My Struggle” was always intended to be last. However, apparently this episode (the James Wong one) was actually supposed to be Episode 5 and the original Episode 2 (Chris Carter’s “Babylon”) got moved to Episode 5. He’s said in an interview they had to tweak a line or two in post-production to make it fit the switch.
My Bad above…when I said “THIS” episode, I actually meant Episode 2, the James Wong one…thought I was in the other X-Files episode thread 😉 But I’m sure most of you caught that.