When The X-Files left the air in 2002, nobody cared.
Fine, people did care, myself included. It wasn’t the end of an era for me. It was more of a mercy killing. The "take the old horse out to pasture” type, that kind that happens off screen. Season 9 was a complete departure from what most loved about the eight or so seasons that came before it, swapping its signature paranoid sci-fi atmosphere for the whimsical glow of a Lifetime Original movie. In short: it wasn’t The X-Files anymore. As far as the general public was concerned, The X-Files was over the day Duchovny stopped showing up to work. Plus, that whole national tragedy thing didn't help matters, either.
Half a decade later, the franchise was still laying dormant, with no interest gained and no rumors in sight. Suddenly, it was 2008. A writer’s strike! “Quick, let's make that X-Files sequel!” So they did, in the middle of winter, in Vancouver. After much secrecy, and speculation, and a frustrating werewolf fake out, the film was dumped off by the studio around the same time The Dark Knight hit. And, still, nobody cared.
Now, though, people finally do care. The X-Files is revived, this time with the sufficient amount of public interest, ready to recreate that ‘90s black magic. But, as I found out by watching "My Struggle", it needs a new cauldron or something because it really can't. I'm not saying it sucks and I'm not saying it doesn't suck. I'm saying this episode made me ambivalent to this endeavor.
But, hey. At least Mitch Pileggi's in the credits. That is well worth the price of admission.
The X-Files may have potential to recapture its past glory, but it can’t replicate one of the biggest qualities that made fueled its charm: the alien conspiracy angle. Those aren’t the kind of stories we tell anymore. Aliens and UFOs don’t quite fit with today’s culture, as we we’ve become desensitized to such phenomenon by the big media push that The X-Files itself inspired anyway. This kind of stuff is quaint now, and associated with older Wal-Mart employees. In the age of social oversharing, it doesn't capture the public's imagination anymore.
That said: it's great to be with Mulder and Scully again.
I had to watch “My Struggle” again before I could actually sit down and gather my thoughts. My first reaction fell somewhere between quizzical and traumatized. Traumatized is a strong word, but seeing how this episode actually played out compared to how I dreamed it would was rough. My cautious optimism was not rewarded, and my expectations were bruised by how quickly this episode fell into a curious pit of self-parody. Self-parody, yes, because that’s what happens when the guy from Community chokes on dialogue that’s as dense as a thoroughly researched Wikipedia entry.
Speaking of which, Carter seems to have forgotten that the real stars of the show are Mulder and Scully, not the intricate and pointless conspiracies themselves. He's crafted “My Struggle” to be an breathless infodump, a middle finger to the corporations that control the country, and a thesis on the paranoid delusions found on message boards in post 9/11 America. It's a subversive risk, and it doesn't pay off like it should because it lacks punch.
Perhaps what hurts the most here is witnessing an episode of a show that has forgotten its own lore. The X-Files has such a rich history full of questions that have answers that still go unexplored to this day. Why toss it all out? Mulder acts like all of the extraterrestrial evidence he’s seen has been fabricated from the get-go. He even says this:
“No, I just want to believe. Actual proof is strangely hard to come by.”
Uh…? Excuse me?
Haven't you met multiple shapeshifting extraterrestrials that dissolved into noxious acid if you poked them in the back of the neck? And didn't you also infiltrate a buried UFO in Anarctica that time Scully was taken as a host for the incubation of an alien baby?
Also, what bout the time that you discovered another buried spacecraft covered with writing from all religious texts ever that drove you insane with its magic powers?
And, hey - what about Gibson Praise, Fox? Did you forget all about him? I thought he was "the key to everything in the X-Files." His junk DNA was enough proof to make you believe that aliens created all of humanity in the '90s. Now that you have an Android you just disregard that info?!
And what about that one time that YOU WERE ABDUCTED BY A FRIGGIN' SPACE SHIP AND STRENUOUSLY TORTURED FOR DAYS BY HAVING YOUR FRIGGIN' CHEST RIPPED OPEN AND THE ROOF OF YOUR MOUTH DRILLED IN UNTIL YOU FRIGGIN' DIED BUT IT WAS OKAY BECAUSE YOU CAME BACK TO LIFE A FEW MONTHS LATER BECAUSE ALIENS?!
AAAAAAAAAAARRRGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH AND WHAT ABOUT THE SUPER SOLIDERS
Whew. Okay. Serenity now. It’s going to be all right. Mulder’s just getting older. His memory isn’t what it used to be, y’know? He had a shitload of paranormal encounters crammed into a short period of time. Some details fade more than others. See? That makes sense. Just say yes, for my sake, so we can move on. Thank you.
After all he’s been through, why would Mulder believe that aliens aren’t real? Why is that coming into question at all by this point? There is absolutely no reason for him to be pulling a Scully here. No reason! And there’s no reason for the show to, either. Just seeing one ARV (Alien Replica Vehicle) is enough to convince Mulder that ten years of close encounter after encounter after encounter with the third kind was just a clever trick by another clandestine group of old dudes?! I'm shaking my damn head at you, Mulder. SMDH @ U !
I don’t buy into this new direction the mythology is taking. It may be a different perspective on things, and an intended game changer to update and reformat to the times. But it's insulting to long term philes. I’ll hold out and see what the rest of Carter’s plan for this is, but right now? I don’t want to believe in what he wants to believe at the moment.
The X-Files may have been resuscitated for the fans, but which kind? I’d say the casual one who hasn’t seen all of the episodes multiple times, since it has no memory of itself. The sort of fan that went to go see Batman instead of these two sexbombs in summer '08. The ones who can't pronounce the name Marita Covarrubius.
Talk to most acquaintances you have, and I bet you they’ll have a clear memory of classic moments from the first few seasons but will remember nothing of what came later. They won’t recall anything about the two-part series finale clip show that resulted in Mulder and Scully fleeing to Arizona as fugitives from a tedious phony murder trial in someone’s basement, awaiting the final invasion in 2012 that never came. Nor will they have any memories of the second movie, because only seven and a half people saw it and I was one of them. "The majority don’t care and it’s been about a decade, let’s just toss it all out and start from scratch, shall we? Fuck it. It's more marketable that way."
Let’s take a minute to talk about something important here: the acting.
Say what you will about Duchovny and Anderson, but I’ve never been let down by their performance in anything I’ve ever seen them in. That includes the worst episodes of The X-Files, The Red Shoe Diaries, and certain late night talk show appearances. Until now.
“My Struggle” is unevenly acted by both. That’s putting it politely. This is not an affront to either of their acting skills, which have only gotten better over the years (I mean, have you seen Goats or The Fall?), but is more of a question about their passion for this project.
It’s hard to hide that Anderson’s bored with being back in a drama that under-utilizes her talents. She’s worked incredibly hard over the past decade at developing her craft, and her palette is more sophisticated now that she’s worked with far richer material than this script allows her.
In fact, her whole appearance is like the wardrobe department's idea of a rebellion against the revival. She doesn’t look like Scully anymore; she's just Gillian Anderson. And she's going to wear whatever the hell she wants. (Especially if Duchovny gets to sport those sunglasses he bought at a truck stop.)
You can tell that Duchovny enjoys being back in the game, even if he’s not too thrilled about being saddled with the responsibility of puking up all those clinical monologues again. He carries himself as he always has, with a low-key attitude and a sardonic wisecrack at the ready. The thing is, the two don’t have the same on screen chemistry as they did in the ‘90s. So it’s appropriate to portray the two as exes coming back together, because they’ve both moved on in real life. They act like a divorced couple reuniting for the interest of their child only.
The real problem spots here are the casting of Joel McHale as Todd O’Malley and Annet Mahendru as Sveta Something-Something. My god, I don’t think I’ve ever disliked two X-Files characters more since Agent Drummy and Dakota Whitney.
O’Malley is...okay, I guess. I wasn’t able to take him seriously, as he McHale has this way of delivering every line as if he were secretly kidding about each one. Plus his crush on Scully was eye rolling.
Sveta, on the other hand, is abominable. Hands down the worst acted minor character The X-Files has ever had. Mahendru mumbles through all of her lines, eyes lifeless, her hair consistently on point. She is the least convincing alien abductee I think I’ve ever met, a millennial at the core. Is she from the Disney Channel or something?
I think what interferes with the story “My Struggle” is attempting to tell lies in its editing. Upon rewatch, I notice that there’s a strong implication that Mulder is just chasing windmills as he has before; that he’s addicted to this endless hunt for a truth that still remains undefined after twenty odd years. That there is no truth, just a constant vacancy in his life that no amount of solid proof will ever fill.
The annoying but insightful observation that Sveta made about him was right - he really is depressed. But this episode doesn’t want to play in the great sandbox of nuanced storytelling. It would rather vindicate his obsessions as usual, because this is The Mulder Show. (It was The Scully Variety Hour for a while, but people stopped watching.) Perhaps this theme is more pronounced in a different cut of the episode. Or maybe that cut doesn’t exist and this is just wishful thinking.
Perhaps it was both the editing and the acting working together in an unholy synergy that gave birth of The Worst X-Files Scene Ever Filmed. This is not an exaggeration. The sequence on the porch of Sveta’s house in which Scully confronts Mulder in an overacted melodrama has earned this title fair and square, beating out anything we’ve seen in Season 9 or I Want To Believe.
This was the scene that I had heard about from earlier screenings that some critics reportedly mistook for a parody and laughed out loud during. Who could blame them? The line deliveries and the dialogue and the tone suggest that it’s all a sendup of almost every single heated conversation these two have ever had. See for yourself:
Scully: U want 2 believe. U SO BADLY WANT 2 BELIEVE
Mulder: i do believe. i believe that tad omalleys right, this is not an alien conspiracy, its a conspiracy of men..
Scully: Tad O’Malley is a CHARMING man full of CHARMING BEE ESS MULDER
Mulder: he woke me up
Scully: HOW do u know he’s not PLAYING u He’s a PLAYER
Mulder: hes a godsend..
Scully: WHAT R U TALKING ABOUT !!
Mulder: the truth is out there scully and tad omalleys gonna broadcast it
Old Spooky then goes on to state that Sveta is the key to everything now, the whole manmade alien conspiracy. Again I ask: what about Gibson Praise!? What is he, psychic chopped liver now? He hid out in the desert with you for like a year and then served as a witness at your fake army trial. You shouldn’t have dumped him off with Doggett and Reyes. They’re horrible babysitters.
When we reach the climax to this rather uneventful season premiere a few minutes after The Worst X-Files Scene Ever, we’re not treated to a high stakes stunt sequence or a UFO battle over Canad-- I mean, Virginia like we should be. Instead, everyone goes inside, sits down and talks a mile a minute to dish out a succinct summary of all major conspiracy theories in the past ten years with one unifying theory to tie them all together. This is an impressive feat for the actors, even though they go dead eyed during the middle of it.
I got the impression that Chris Carter was sitting in a dark room somewhere snickering to himself while typing out these grand, labyrinthian monologues that function more as a stress test for Duchovny and Anderson than anything else.
So, if Mulder doesn't want to beieve in the overwhelming evidence of alien life that he's accumlated through twenty years of personal experience, then what does he want to beleive?
If he's like most conspiracy junkies, he wants to believe that something is wrong. He wants to believe that he's not safe. He wants to stay in a perpetual state of anxiety. That's why Scully overreacts to almost everything he says in "My Struggle": because she can't live in that world. She wants her life to be secure and stable. But as a scientist, the prospect of seeing weird unexplainable shit like magic midgets that hide up people's butts and evil tattoos that sound like Jodie Foster is too enticing to pass up. So she signs on again.
If you want to know the truth about "My Struggle", it's this: the new X-Files isn’t a revival, and it’s not a reboot. It’s a retcon.