The X Files Revisited: 10.06 My Struggle II
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. Finally we reach the end of our The X Files Revisited almost 18 months later with the season 10 finale My Struggle II...
The biggest casualty of the six episode revival is My Struggle II. It's arguably a mess of an episode that sky rockets through its story line at a thousand miles per hour and ends on a frustrating cliff hanger. But unlike the questionable decisions Chris Carter made in My Struggle and Babylon, there is a great story in this episode. But it moves so fast there isn't the time to appreciate it. As I noted in my original review, My Struggle II feels like the first two parts of a three-part story squashed into 42 minutes. Audiences are left hanging (with season 11 possible but still far from confirmed), denied that final part in the tale of the apocalypse.
And the apocalypse this really is, the Spartan virus destroying humanity as the Cigarette Smoking Man enacts his new world order. The X Files had teased this possibility before and to see it take place here is quite shocking. The retrospective retooling of 2012 as the start of the apocalypse might feel one of Chris Carter's many, many cop outs, but it feels more cohesive to the original show's mythology than season opener My Struggle.
It's a surprisingly bold finale, even for this show, which has always treated aliens, conspiracies and the threat of Armageddon as something largely outside the public consciousness. Chris Carter has previously noted that he had a script (or at least a clear idea) of a potential third movie but changed the story drastically when the 'event series' was commissioned. But I can't help but wonder if the Spartan Virus is a hangover from a third movie, which surely would have delved straight back into the mythology after the conscious decision to ignore it in The X Files: I Want To Believe. The biggest flaw of My Struggle, despite the frantic pace, is that the audience is constantly told what is happening without being shown (apparently the riots erupting as Scully searches for Mulder outside the hospital were a last minute addition). And that smacks of a cinematic budget reduced to a TV show. It also doesn't help that Chris Carter was apparently writing the final episode while the series was in production, highlighting a failure to think even six episodes ahead.
The other big issue with the finale is that Mulder and Scully are completely separated, only meeting up in the final frantic moments when he is at death's door. The chemistry between the two leads is the biggest success of the revival so it is frankly bizarre that this is completely stripped away. Lauren Ambrose's Agent Einstein gets more screen time than David Duchovny's Mulder - thankfully she is not quite as irritating this time round. Mulder's story really suffers; he's missing when the episode begins, revealed to have encountered and fought off one of the Cigarette Smoking Man's henchmen in his apartment and then - despite refusing to go - rushes to confront the villain himself before he too falls foul of the Spartan Virus. Only Robbie Amell's Agent Miller, being the only person in the FBI with the foresight to track Mulder's phone, is able to save him, refusing the Cigarette Smoking Man's offer at life as the apocalypse unravels.
It's an offer a returning Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) seems to have succumbed to in one of the most bizarre character assassinations in the show's history. The woman who agreed to leave the FBI and help the Cigarette Smoking Man for all these years is not the woman we saw in the final season of The X Files. Reyes wasn't the best character but there were no signs of her turning traitor. It's a bizarre case of Chris Carter both ignoring the later seasons of the show and using a key character from the final year. Doggett doesn't even get a mention, William is noticeably absent from Scully's open historical montage moment and the idea that Mulder is not immune, given his encounter with the alien writing in Biogenesis, his alien abduction and subsequent super soldier DNA would suggest he should be just as safe as Scully. She is immune to the catastrophe because she has alien DNA, but Mulder who went through far more doesn't. The key difference is that her abduction happened early in the show's run, while Mulder's came at a point when the show's popularity was in decline.
This really is Scully's episode and Gillian Anderson does a fine job of rising above the questionable dialogue, revealing chunks of dialogue to the new agents Einstein and Miller about the oncoming tide of death and disease. It doesn't feel natural; I suppose Carter was trying to suggest that her years of work on the X Files had prepared her for what was coming, but she comes across as a bit of a lunatic right up to the point all hell breaks loose. But Scully's mission does give the episode purpose, leading the investigation into the cure, working with fellow doctor Einstein to ascertain whether her alien DNA is the cause or the cure. The years of humans being catalogued and vaccinated - a theme that goes right back to the earliest seasons - have left humanity exposed. I quite like the twist that Tad o'Malley is wrong, humans don't have alien DNA and it is Scully's that will cure everyone.
Talking of O'Malley, he was a little irritating in My Struggle, despite Joel McHale's eager effort, but here his role derails the episode. Not only does he tell the audience what is happening (the budget unable to offer a glimpse of the collapse of humanity happening outside the hospital walls) but every scene seems more hammy than the last. "Now, if you see graffiti like this in your neighborhood, you can suspect your DNA is being targeted by a release of aluminum into the atmosphere through chemtrails-- a systematic spreading of a substance that triggers a genetic response." Moments like this are so bad it's difficult to take anything that is happening seriously.
The cliffhanger though is unforgivable. There's one thing to have an open ending, but this is a deliberate attempt by Carter to deny fans any sense of closure. Many viewed this six-episode event series as an attempt to offer closure after he failed to do so in The Truth and subsequent second movie. Instead he leaves the fate of the entire world at stake. For a while it seemed as if the end game presented by the Spartan Virus was offering the end game teased so many times during the show. But it is clear by the ending of My Struggle II that we might never get that closure. Season eleven might happen but nothing is definite until an announcement is made and the final shot of the UFO hovering over Scully while Mulder lies dying in the car and humanity succumbs to the virus could be the end to twenty three years of The X Files and that doesn't sit right.
It's a shame because the final scene is possibly the best moment of the episode, the first proper glimpse at the apocalypse as Scully runs through the mass of people and Miller draws her to the dying Mulder while the bridges into Washington are clogged with panicked drivers. It truly feels like end of the world stuff. The UFO appearing in the skies, the same one that killed Sveta in My Struggle, is as close to humanity discovering aliens exist as The X Files has ever got. Had a season eleven been announced, this would be a great cliffhanger. The trouble is, we still don't know if this is a cliffhanger that will be resolved.
My Struggle II is several drafts off being a great episode; it's Carter's best effort in the revival but the running time seriously hinders it. Even without the lack of conclusion it needed two episodes to breathe. Imagine part one starting with Mulder and Scully working together, his attack and subsequent discovery that the Cigarette Smoking Man is still alive? Imagine, Scully slowly learning (rather than telling Einstein and Miller) that the soldier suffering with anthrax is the start of something apocalyptic? Imagine the cliffhanger to part one being everyone starting to fall ill? Part two could have focused on the search for the cure and given depth to Mulder's confrontation with the show's primary villain. Already that feels more worthy of the great mythology episodes of old.
Instead it ends the revival on a frustrating note, making even the most die hard fans wondering if the event series was worth it. I still believe it was, in no small part down to the great stuff in Founder's Mutation, Mulder And Scully Meet The Were-Monster and Home Again and the amazing chemistry between Mulder and Scully after all these years. But until season eleven is announced (if it is), it ends The X Files on something of a low note.
This brings an end to my revisit of 133 episodes and two movies of The X Files. I'll be finishing of my long-running 'The X Files Revisited' with one final retrospective later this week...