The X Files Revisited: 10.01 My Struggle
The X Files ran for nine seasons between 1993 and 2002, spanned two movies and then came back from the dead in 2016 for a revival series of 6 episodes. In many ways, the show is as much a cultural phenomenon as it ever was and The Digital Fix has been looking back at key episodes across the show’s run starting with the pilot episode, reviewing numerous classic stories and the first movie The X Files: Fight The Future. Now we're in the final stretch of our revisited as we cover the last season of the original run, the second movie and look back at 'season 10' a year on. And here we are, almost a year on, as we revisit the first episode of the revival, My Struggle...
The first time I watched My Struggle I was half way through my 'The X Files Revisited' for The Digital Fix. And so while it wasn't a show I hadn't watched it years (like many viewers), seasons five through nine and the second movie were somewhat of a hazy memory. My Struggle felt fresh and new, The X Files for the modern television era, and so much of my original review (which you can read here) was based on my rose tinted review of the earlier classic seasons. Like many fans returning to the show after several years, the faceless alien rebels, the death of the syndicate, Mulder's abduction, William, Doggett, Reyes, the super soldiers and a possibly crappy second movie were all a distant memory. Ten months later, I am revisiting the episode having worked my way through chunks of the entire original run and have come to appreciate the positives of The X Files: I Want To Believe. As such, it is a slightly different experience this time.
The clear thing I observed, is that Chris Carter had no intention of wrapping up the loose hanging threads with the revival. He had an opportunity to deliver a much stronger ending than the second movie and The Truth had offered fans. Instead he treats it as a pilot for a new era, and as My Struggle II proved, he has no intention of letting his baby go again even if the stars Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny think otherwise.
My Struggle is a pilot episode; I'll never have the viewpoint of someone who heard about The X Files and jumped on the train as the revival, but it clear that this is a fresh start designed to attract new viewers as well as old. Mulder and Scully are well known characters that being drafted in to solve the new mystery is solid enough introduction. Ted O'Malley narrates all the big plot points, bringing The X Files (and the audience) into 2016. And the conspiracy is completely rebooted, meaning you need no knowledge of alien rebels, black oil, bees or super soldiers to get started. If The X Files were ever fully rebooted, this is the mythology the show should use.
Except it isn't a reboot, but a continuation and the biggest issue is that the revival decided to ignore so much of what came before, even rewriting history as it goes. Mulder's opening monologue talks about the X Files closing in 2002, but at that point Doggett and Reyes were running the show. Scully had been supporting for a year and Mulder hadn't been an active FBI agent since mid 2000. O'Malley even goes as far as to say to Mulder he 'was the X Files' offering insult to everything that came after season seven.
Worse still, the new mythology tries to wave away everything that happened in the original series as a cover up; humans using alien technology to create one giant hoax designed to keep eyes away from the real threat, a secret government taking over the US with extraterrestrial technology and then the world. There are two problems with this. First, it is a virtual replay of season five's Redux trilogy, which played the aliens are a secret government smoke screen card to better effect. Secondly, so much of what audiences - and Mulder and Scully - witnessed was so huge it would be ridiculous to believe it was all fake and Mulder's new informant calling “warring aliens lighting each other on fire and other such nonsense,” feels like a slap in the face at all that time we invested in. Are we really meant to believe, a secret government society started burning groups of 'abductees' alive all across the globe, wiped out a secret government conspiracy that was less secret than their own, developed sentient black oil that could gestate into a 'fake alien' within a human and then infiltrated the FBI with soldiers demonstrating superhuman abilities - are all fake?
It gets more ridiculous the more you start thinking about it. Perhaps the point Carter is making is that Mulder and Scully are not able to tell what is real and what is fake. The hoax of the hoax might be...a hoax? The UFO appearing at the end of My Struggle II might disprove everything O'Malley and Mulder believe in this episode but until we get a definitive follow up in the as of yet unannounced season 11, it leaves season 10 as a confused mess.
It's interesting that at the same time, the opener to the revival still lavishly plays on the show's glory days. The opening sequence, whilst semi-rewriting history, also past homage to classic monsters with photos of Eugene Victor Tooms, the Flukeman and the Peacock family. With the throwaway comment that the the investigations ended in 2002, audience can pick up having not watched the show since season four or five and still be able pick up the plot without much trouble.
As a 'pilot' episode it is fairly well structured. The chemistry between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson continues to be stronger than ever, even after all these years. Carter's script does a nice job of getting fans up to date without reams and reams of exposition; we learn that they are no longer a couple, that Scully believed he was suffering from depression and that she has found a new lease of life completing surgeries on deformed children. It's a theme that carries over directly from the second movie - in fact The X Files: I Want To Believe serves as a good precursor to the new series in many ways. Mulder is still in the same house, very much stuck in the past while his partner has moved on.
Conspiracy nut and host of a sensationalist internet show Ted O'Malley brings them back into the fold - there is the suggestion that Scully and O'Malley have been having a relationship, even if it is not explicit - and the first reunion between the two former FBI agents is totally endearing. Even in the collapse of their relationship it is clear that Mulder and Scully care for each other dearly and it is that connection that is the biggest success of My struggle, and indeed the revival as a whole. In comparison, O'Malley feels a little too forced as a character; Joel McHale is totally engaging and saves the role from becoming a stock cliche but his intense theories and lines like the kid with no ears Scully is treating could be 'almost alien' feel too on the nose to add anything likable about him.
The flashbacks are great; modern CGI recapturing the crash at Roswell and the death of the alien through the innocent eyes Giacomo Baessato's young doctor (who we assume is the old informant to Mulder played by Rance Howard in the present). Unfortunately the character is not developed beyond the first episode to bring him anywhere near closer to a Deep Throat or Mr X character. The ship ties into the modern 'revelations' as O'Malley brings Mulder to the hangar bay with the secret craft developed from alien tech. I certainly didn't buy Mulder's wonder after all these years searching for proof - he saw enough in the original run to give him the evidence he needed (UFO in Antarctica anyone?). But it adds a momentum to the episode and gives Mulder a reason to be dragged back in after all these years.
Annet Mahendru's Sveta provides the hook for Scully as a woman abducted 'by aliens' with human / alien DNA that it soon transpires Scully shares. The subject of numerous physical, torturous experimentations, Sveta's story is one of the most horrific abduction cases the show has done, particularly the idea that she has given birth and had her babies stolen many times. Of course, in this world of subterfuge and lies that My Struggle presents, it is not clear whether any of her story is true, despite the scars she bares. True or not, her fate is suitably tragic as she is trapped in her car and blasted into oblivion by a strange alien aircraft. A pawn in a game of lies or an actual alien abductee, Sveta's death is a tragic twist that caps of the episode in grim style.
The path to getting Mulder and Scully back to the X Files and the FBI feels a little rushed at the end; Mitch Pileggi is still Walter Skinner after all these years and shares a nice scene with Mulder as he leads him back into the old office, complete with pencils still stuck in the ceiling. His comment about wanting to call Mulder numerous times over the years feels like another harsh dismissal of Doggett and Reyes though. But the death of Sveta, the destruction of the alien-technology craft by the military, O'Malley's disappearance and Scully's discovery about her own DNA all lead a tangled web back to the X Files. It's not perfect, but it does get the pieces in order for the show to restart again.
Even the inexplicable reappearance of the Cigarette Smoking Man, despite the fact that he could not have possibly survived the explosion in The Truth feels kind of right. This is a return to The X Files of the classic era and that is very apparent in the next few episodes. My Struggle pilots the new era; it's not as well constructed as the original 1993 pilot, but it serves its purpose even if it has too many flaws to be a true success.