With Chris Carter writing and directing again, there was never any doubt that the season finale of ‘The X Files’ would be awful. The real question was always just how awful it could be.
We’re back in mythology territory again, of course, despite the fact that the monster-of-the-week episodes are basically the only tolerable parts of ‘The X Files’ anymore. Specifically, the finale’s focus is mainly on Mulder and Scully’s long lost son, William. (Or, as we found out earlier in the season but neither of the main characters knows yet, he’s actually just Scully’s son with involuntary DNA fertilization from the Cigarette Smoking Man.) In a prolonged montage, William narrates the story of how he discovered his super-powers as a child, how he feels a psychic connection to his birth mother Scully, and how evil government agents murdered his adoptive parents. William also claims that the stunt he pulled causing his two girlfriends to nearly murder each other was just a “stupid joke.” Uh huh. What a nice kid.
At the FBI, Deputy Director Kersh has had enough of Mulder embarrassing the agency by talking to the Tad O’Malley podcast and spreading a wild conspiracy theory about an impending viral apocalypse. He orders Skinner to shut down the X Files and fire both Mulder and Scully. (Hasn’t the FBI already done that a couple times before?) When Skinner asks what if the conspiracy story is more than just Fake News, Kersh says he doesn’t care and it’s somebody else’s problem. I can see how such a competent and proactive leader managed to advance so far within the FBI.
When Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) inexplicably decides to call Mulder and tip him off to the whereabouts of his son, Mulder immediately believes her and hops in a car. He drives to an airplane hangar, inside which is a spaceship that the evil Syndicate built to evacuate their chosen few to outer space before the apocalypse. Mulder sneaks inside, straight-up murders a bunch of guards, and confronts the mysterious Syndicate leader named Mr. Y in an office. Mr. Y claims that he doesn’t know where William is. As more guards approach, Mulder pulls some crazy John Woo moves and guns them all down, then spins and shoots Mr. Y in the face too. I guess he won’t be getting any answers from that guy. Why did Reyes send Mulder to his hangar, anyway? Was this just a ploy to trick Mulder into taking out the Syndicate? Good thing he turned into John McClane all of a sudden.
Evil henchmen troops locate William before Mulder does and chase him through an old shipyard. William runs and parkours his way away from them, ultimately losing them in a homeless camp. There’s really no point to any of this except to fill time. Apparently, Chris Carter thinks that parkour is something that viewers still find exciting.
Scully believes that she has found William by tracking lotto clusters. (Is winning lotto one of William’s super-powers now?) She directs Mulder to search for him in Tennessee. Unfortunately, Mulder just misses him when the boy hitches a ride with a trucker. During one of his stops, another evil Syndicate agent places a tracker on Mulder’s car.
It turns out that it wasn’t Mulder who tipped Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale) off to the virus story, but Scully. When she tells him that the alien contagion is about to be unleashed, O’Malley asks, “Did you say unleashed??” as if that was the important word to pick out of the sentence.
For no particular reason, William uses his power to trick the trucker into seeing him as the Ghouli monster. The truck pulls over and William runs. Mulder loses William, but the baddie tailing Mulder sees the boy cross the road and offers him a ride.
Somehow, the action then shifts to Norfolk, VA. Mulder follows William’s trail to one of his former girlfriends. She directs him to find William waiting for her at a motel. Meanwhile, Syndicate heavy Erika Price (Barbara Hershey) finds her agent dead in his car, his body seemingly exploded from the inside out. The tracker is conveniently still there and active, and she uses it to follow Mulder.
Mulder finally catches up with William at the motel and introduces himself as his father. William says that he doesn’t want his help. He just wants to be left alone. Before they can talk any further, Erika and a bunch of Syndicate redshirts storm the motel room, knock Mulder to the floor, and grab William. They boy gives them all a nasty look and goes full ‘Scanners’ on them. One-by-one, all of the soldiers as well as Erika Price splatter into big bloody messes. So long, Beaches.
Defying Kersh’s orders, Skinner decides to help Scully by driving her to Norfolk to catch up with Mulder. He also drops the bombshell on her that the Cigarette Smoking Man is William’s actual father. Why would he tell her this? What good can it possibly do?
Tad O’Malley sounds completely loony as he rants on his podcast about the end of the world, declaring that “Death will hunt you down!” We’re really supposed to believe that people take this guy seriously?
William runs again. Mulder chases him to an old sugar factory. Scully and Skinner happen to arrive just exactly at the right moment to see Mulder speeding off in his car so they can follow him.
At the factory, Skinner separates from Scully and heads outside, where he sees Monica Reyes and the Cigarette Smoking Man in a car. Even though he’s supposed to be working with them now, Skinner has decided that he’d rather stick with the good guys, so he pulls his gun and shoots. He hits Reyes in the head, killing her. The CSM guns the car to run him down, but if you pay attention to the scene, you can see Skinner clearly leaping to the ground beneath the car just before it smashes into another vehicle. The CSM sees Skinner’s unmoving legs poking out from beneath his car, but just leaves him there without bothering to confirm whether he’s really dead.
Scully catches up with Mulder, who strangely tells her that it’s time to let William go because no one can protect him. Scully doesn’t want to hear this. Suddenly, another Mulder calls out to Scully and we realize that the one she’s been talking to was really William making her see Mulder. William runs again. Scully and the real Mulder chase him.
The CSM sneaks up on Mulder and pulls a gun on him, cackling that, “The boy is mine!” Mulder tells him that William would rather die than join him, and dares the CSM to shoot him, as if calling his bluff. But it wasn’t a bluff. The Cigarette Smoking Man shoots Mulder in the head, and his body falls off the dock into the water below. Oh no!
Hold on a sec… That wasn’t Mulder at all! It was William, who really would rather die than be used by the CSM. The real Mulder runs in and shoots the CSM a bunch of times (none critically, by appearances) and stupidly shoves him into the water to his presumed death.
When Scully catches up (where was she?), she tries to console Mulder, who’s moaning about the loss of a son. She debates for a second whether to tell Mulder that he wasn’t really the father, but wisely thinks better of it. Instead, she says that William was an experiment and she was never truly his mother. When Mulder asks, “What am I if not a father?”, she puts his hand on her belly to indicate that, surprise!, she’s pregnant again. Mulder exclaims, “That’s impossible!” She responds, “It’s more than impossible.”
The episode ends with Mulder and Scully holding each other, crying. Out in the water, William surfaces, alive. Not even a bullet to the brain can kill him.
Episode and Season Verdict
Make no mistake, the finale episode is pretty bad, just as the Chris Carter-written season premiere was, and the premiere and finale of last season were. It’s very confusingly structured and edited, with repeated flashbacks and time jumps that are not clearly identified and leave you constantly lost as to when any particular scene takes place. The characters behave without much motivation or reason. William suddenly has all new sets of super-powers that were not hinted at previously (and he still seems like a major creep). The plot just amounts to everybody running around this way and that, killing each other. This one hour of television practically contains enough scenes of characters running to sustain three Tom Cruise movies. It’s a lot of needless, frantic action that serves little narrative purpose.
The mythology of this series is a mess. It’s been that way for a while, of course. The alien invasion storyline that sustained nine previous seasons was already ret-conned away earlier this year. I guess that Mulder presumably killing the Cigarette Smoking Man is supposed to end his viral contagion plot as well. It sure is a good thing that, other than Reyes, he didn’t have anyone else working with him on his evil master plan to destroy the world. It’s not like, logistically, such a thing might require more than two people to accomplish.
That said, on the comparison scale with this show’s other endings, this one’s not quite as bad as the original Season 9 series finale or even the Season 10 finale. At the very least, it makes an effort to actually wrap up some storylines (however nonsensically) and it provides Mulder and Scully with a nice emotional note and a measure of hope to close out on.
It’s an open ending, because Chris Carter still doesn’t understand what closure is or how it’s supposed to work. I have no doubt that he wants to make another season after this. If that were to happen, I’d say that there is a 100% certainty that the Cigarette Smoking Man would be back, fully recovered from his gunshots and drowning. He’s been killed off more than once before. If literally taking a rocket to the face didn’t stop him, nothing will. Skinner of course also survived his fake-out death.
Considering this season’s poor ratings combined with Gillian Anderson’s decision to leave the series, I’m not sure whether that will happen – at least, not anytime soon. Perhaps the best fate for ‘The X Files’ will be to let it sit for a few more years and then reboot it with new characters – and hopefully without Chris Carter. The guy may have created the show, but he’s also the one most holding it back at this point.
All told, Season 11 had two genuinely good episodes, and a couple more that were (if flawed) decent, old-school monster-of-the-week adventures. The others, especially the premiere and finale, may have been garbage, but that’s still a better success rate than Season 10 had. As a longtime fan, I’ve had to make my peace with the fact that the series will inevitably frustrate and annoy me. I’m willing to suffer through the rest for those two good episodes. If we do by chance get any more ‘X Files’, I’ll surely do the same again.