The hunt for William wraps things up in the last (ever?) episode of The X Files. Did ‘My Struggle IV’ deliver or was it a struggle? Baz Greenland reviews…
So this is it; 25 years after the pilot episode first introduced us to Mulder and Scully, My Struggle IV sees us parting ways for the third(?) time, at least if Gillian Anderson really is ready to hang up the red wig and trench coat. Season 10 finale My Struggle II left audiences hanging with a viral apocalypse, Mulder dying and Scully staring up into the lights of a UFO hanging over the freeway. This was then retroactively changed into a vision Scully witnessed through William in the season 11 opener My Struggle III. And now, ten weeks later after eight episodes ranging from good to superb, anticipation was high for how Chris Carter might wrap things up – if he was capable of that.
The trick with a possible finale is how you feel when the credits start to roll. Happy, frustrated, sad, indifferent? My Struggle II definitely left me (and many fans) wanting a proper conclusion, but by the time the credits rolled on the finale of season 11, I actually felt satisfied. Sure, there are still plenty of questions to answer and a lot of the episode felt rushed (though the least of the My Struggle quadrilogy), but I also felt that, okay, if this is how we leave Mulder and Scully, I’m alright with that.
Part of the reason I think it was the strongest of the four mythology stories was because it was more personal in nature. The Cigarette Smoking Man’s plan for a viral apocalypse was waiting in the wings, but we already knew the stakes from the season 10 finale. If he got his hands on William and unleashed his master plan, then yes, the world was heading for armageddon. But as Scully told Skinner back in the FBI offices, this was not about the FBI (and other grander events), this was about her and Mulder’s son.
The presence of Ghouli mid-season and the introduction of Miles Robbins’ Jackson Van De Kamp / William laid the emotional groundwork for the finale, just as My Struggle II and III laid the foundations for the apocalyptic endgame. This time it was William’s turn to narrate the opening sequence, giving us answers as to what happened to him in the years between his adoption in season nine’s William and the present day. It turns out he was another in a long line of creepy kids with mysterious powers, starting with smashing windows to making bullies bleed from their ears and nose and then turning to criminal activities as a teenager. Nothing hugely revelatory perhaps but it gave context to his ‘struggle’.
This was obviously a Chris Carter episode from the moment it threw the audience in the dramatic mid-episode events and then flashbacked 15 hours earlier to a call from the traitorous Monica Reyes leading Mulder into a violent confrontation with the Cigarette Smoking Man’s conspiracist rival Mr Y. It was exciting stuff, but gave little room to breathe. Still I couldn’t help but be swept up in the showdown with the villain and his goons that led to bloody murder or the sweeping shots as Mulder raced down the highway in pursuit of William.
There was also a great sense of setting up the apocalypse glimpsed in season 10 as Scully found herself revealing visions of the apocalypse to a returning Tad O’Malley, who soon went on air to voice the oncoming horrors to the public. I found Joel McHale’s performance in My Struggle II ridiculously over the top but it worked a little better here, raising the stakes for those who remembered what had come before.
But there was also a lot that didn’t quite work, or at least felt brushed under the carpet in order to bring some end to the show. I laughed when Kersh ordered Skinner to shut down the X Files for the 574th time (I’m not sure if Carter threw it in ironically or fell into the same repeating pattern of season’s past). Skinner too didn’t get a lot to do besides shofer Scully to Mulder and William. I still feel like Mitch Pileggi has never really been given anything decent to do in the two finale seasons. Sure, Kitten attempted to explore his past but it was still centred around Mulder and Scully. The whole antagonistic relationship relationship with Mulder and forced allegiance to the Cigarette Smoking Man felt like a rehash of the early years and undid a lot of the great work around his character in the final couple of seasons.
Which of course brings me on to his final scene and the his fate along with Monica Reyes. Reyes first; I’ve hated everything about her character in the three episodes she has been. It removed all the good from her character in the original run and I kept hoping for a redemption arc (where was Doggett to come and kick her ass and make her see sense?). Instead she died, shot in the head by Skinner through the car windshield as her boss drove the car towards him. It was ultimately a worse fate than original ally turned ‘baddie’ Diana Fowley. But hey, at least Monica died on screen.
As for Skinner, leaving his fate up in the air will remain one of The X Files long lingering questions for years to come. He dived under the car as the Cigarette Smoking Man drove at him. He could be alive, could be dead. The fact that we didn’t see him move suggests the later saldy.
There was also a sense of cleaning house on ideas that had never started to really come to fruition. A.C. Peterson’s Mr Y, he who was leading a rival conspiracy to colonise space was eliminated by Mulder with the suggestion it was all another lie (I’m not sure really and probably don’t care either). Barbara Hershey’s Erika Price was a more interesting character, given her second appearance in This. But she was also wiped out after only one scene. That being said, being blown apart in a shower of blood and guts by William (along with her henchmen) was a spectacular way to go. It wasn’t as nasty as Nothing Lasts Forever gorefest, but it was a spectacular and brutal demonstration of William’s powers.
I also felt that Carter cheated us with Skinner’s reveal to Scully that the Cigarette Smoking Man was actually William’s father. The episode cut back to them after he had told her and denied us what would have been a stunning performance by Gillian Anderson no doubt.
The final act wasn’t about UFOs and panic in the streets but a showdown in the docks with the four main narrators of the My Struggle narrative. For many this was no doubt a bit of an anticlimax but I liked the intimacy if it all. The fact that Scully never really got to see her son, disguising himself as Mulder, was frustrating, but also lent itself to her final relaision that he was never her son, but an incubator for an evil experiment. Harsh stuff perhaps but maybe a necessary one to ensure the ending wasn’t totally downbeat.
I would have preferred this moment to have come after the Cigarette Smoking Man and Mulder’s confrontation at the docks though. Carter played his hand too early, denying what could have been a truly shocking moment as Mulder was shot in the head and fell into the water. Knowing that William had taken his form, I already suspected that William had knowingly sacrificed himself to escape the pain and was possibly alive thanks to his abilities. I was proved right about both of course.
But the real Mulder turning up and shooting the Cigarette Smoking Man dead was a satisfying moment and with him gone, so do his plans for the viral apocalypse (we presume). The final scene with Mulder and Scully was a gorgeous, bittersweet moment to end on though and her pregnancy reveal a lovely moment for them to end on. Sure it was another idea rehash but it felt earned. They didn’t need the FBI, William was dead as was the Cigarette Smoking Man. For the first time since season eight’s Existence, you could imagine them living happily ever after.
Did Carter wrap things up a little too quickly? Almost certainly. Like most of the My Struggle episodes, it could have easily been a two parter. But it was also satisfying. It capped off what has been a strong return to form for The X Files. Season 10 was more of a mixed bag but there really wasn’t a dud this time round. In fact, episodes like The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat and Familiar were pretty spectacular. And given that this is likely the end of the show (at least for a while), I’m pretty satisfied with how we leaving it.
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