The X Files: 10.01 My Struggle
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The X Files was one of the biggest cult TV shows of all time. And while it was influenced by shows like Twin Peaks to Kolchack: The Night Stalker, its own impact on TV history is huge. A mega hit during its early to mid seasons, it arguably lost its edge in later years and the last film was a trifle disappointing. But there has always been the demand for more Mulder and Scully and thirteen and a half years after it left our television screens fans have got their wish with six brand new episodes. But of course, the biggest question is; was the revival worth it?
Well judging by My Struggle - the first episode of season 10 - I am about 80% certain. I love The X Files and have been happily watching a large chunk of the first four and a bit seasons of the original show over the last few months (and posting twice-weekly reviews for The Digital Fix). So for me I had a lot of anticipation for new stories featuring Mulder and Scully. My wife loved the show first time round but hadn't rewatched episodes with me so like much of the audience this new episode was a blast of nostalgia. While the last TV series didn't end in a satisfactory manner, season 10 had to feel like it had more story to tell and that is perhaps where the first episode stumbled. So much of what was being said, what was being discovered, felt like a retread...
But undeniably it was great seeing David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson back together again and the chemistry was there even when they played Mulder and Scully as two former lovers (and possible spouses) who had drifted apart but remained friends. Scully was pursuing life as a doctor - Anderson looking as amazing as she did in Hannibal and Mulder - he looked old and disheveled but perhaps that was the point. She has been able to move on post-X Files, to find a life with meaning helping children born with defects. But Mulder, he was sitting in a dark room, pondering over conspiracy theories.
The other big thing was how glossy it all looked - The X Files on a modern TV budget - it was the first time I had seen the title sequence in HD - and scenes like the Roswell crash and the alien replica vehicle looked very impressive even though the old tropes were still there. It was a great move to keep the original title sequence (and not the horrible season nine version) and the visual shots and Mark Snow's atmospheric score was nostalgic throughout. It felt like The X Files even in the modern post-911 world we found Mulder and Scully now in. Can't say I like the slightly techno end-credit music though.
So the plot itself? Well it covers a remarkable amount of story in 42 minutes to get Mulder and Scully from distant former FBI agents back into the X Files. Scully receives a call from her old boss Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi gets his face in the title sequence) though he is still only an Assistant Director after 22 years! Helping the two agents obviously put a huge dent in his career prospects too. Media nut Tad O'Malley (Joel McHale) who despite his flash helicopters and limousines is a full on believer on extraterrestrial life. He needs Scully to bring in Mulder to help reveal the truth about alien abductee Sveta (Annet Mahendru). Her abductions resemble some chilling resemblances to Scully's own - and soon the good doctor is helping Mulder on the case checking Sveta's DNA to see if it really is a mix if human and alien. Turns out it is - and so is Scully's - a realisation that eventually brings her back to the fold (though more on that in a bit).
Mahendru and McHale are both engaging guest spots; she plays the innocent victim bearing nasty scars and horrific memories of having her foetuses stolen, while despite being a full on gun-freak, he brings a lot of charm to make him likeable and even a little trustworthy. Skinner gets a brief scene in the old X Files office as Mulder returns looking for the files from a an old case linked to her childhood (where she first encountered him). Pileggi is equally as grizzled though a bit smarter than Mulder. I am looking forward to seeing him again though I did despair that he was immediately back to his antagonistic role with Mulder. After all these years and how much they went through, Chris Carter putting Skinner back in the role was a backwards step.
As was the uncovering conspiracy. Alien abductions are part of a larger hoax designed to cover up a secret government conspiracy to deceive the public? It was played as huge and revolutionary - complete with some big Mulder rants - but it didn't feel new. It felt like a carbon copy of some previous big conspiracy themes form earlier episodes. Perhaps if it has been O'Malley making the huge speech and Mulder and Scully nodding and telling him they'd known about it for years they just couldn't do anything about it, it would have felt more real than just a retread of old ideas. I did like the gesture of using the big 2012 invasion idea from the season nine finale The Truth as the starting point of a revolution using alien technology to take over the US. The terrors of today's society folded in nicely to the conspiracy story. The financial crash of 2008 and the war on terror could have been written for this.
I guess the one thing that felt bolder about this episode, despite the retread of old themes, was how much was shown. Aliens and the use of the their technology had always been teased before but Mulder's new informant being the doctor who studied the alien after the Roswell crash and actually coming close enough to see alien replica vehicle felt like an attempt at bringing him closer to the truth. O'Malley and his site getting shut down and the government getting to Sveta before she could go public and seemingly eliminating her with one of their alien technology secret craft made for a sweeping final move to convince Mulder and Scully to go back to where it all began; the X Files. And William B. Davis appearing at the end, seemingly disfigured after getting 'blown up' in The Truth and smoking through his tracheotomy was a nice touch. Yes he should have died several times over but you can't keep a good villain down.
I think what I'll take from My Struggle is the set up it achieves, the promise to the return of Mulder and Scully investigating the strange and unexplained in their quest for the truth. It was a good episode but it felt like a retread and while I look forward to the next four 'monster of the week'-style cases, I am less enthused for Chris Carter's finale My Struggle II unless it can pull something new out of the back. And I've heard good things about the next three, so perhaps we just need to enjoy having Mulder and Scully back and settle down for a great bit of 90's nostalgia updated for 2016...