So, it turns out after all these years that The X-Files is still what it always has been.
I was a little worried, frankly, about what this revisitation of the show was going to be, and I wasn’t reassured by the two full minutes of exposition before the opening credits. I suppose it worked to refresh our memories and introduce the show to those who aren’t familiar with it, but it ran a little long and was slightly over-serious. I don’t like the way that the opening exposition and the [unfortunately vaguely Hitler-esque—seriously, how did no one catch this?] episode title frame it all as primarily Mulder’s story, but then, the show always did set Scully up as an observer or accessory to Mulder. It feels almost accidental that Scully became the icon that she is, and I’m not surprised to see her still being treated the way she was twenty-odd years ago. In any case, it barely matters because then the theme song was on, and my response—to immediately turn off some critical thinking parts of my brain—was practically Pavlovian.
This turns out to be a good thing, as there’s quite a lot about this episode that doesn’t really hold up under much scrutiny. The X-Files’ mythology has always been convoluted and at times bizarre, but this newest iteration of it is something else. I’ve always rather felt as if the whole concept of the show was somewhat undermined by the fact that speculating about government conspiracies stopped being fun in light of the scary dystopian realities of the post-9/11 world, and this new show tries to address that with mixed success. Mostly, it tries to address it by combing through conspiracy theory subreddits and chain emails from your gun-nut Trump-voting uncle for material and then combining it all into a sort of grand unified theory of government malfeasance. It’s a weird tactic, but it works about as well as any of the show’s mythology from the pre-9/11 days. Take that as you will.
Joel McHale is entertaining in his turn as Tad O’Malley, and he captures some of what real-life conservative blowhard Bill O’Reilly has in spades—surprisingly good-natured charm. This is a guy that I’d be happy to go out for drinks with, though I was still slightly appalled that Scully would. As a sort of instigator for getting Mulder and Scully back together and, ultimately, having the X-Files reopened, O’Malley is as good as any other idea the show could have come up with. When you have such a deeply implausible premise for a show, nearly anything goes, and this is both one of The X-File’s perennial problems and its saving grace. It’s a little weird to be somewhat rooting for a conservative nutjob, but I kind of like that the show would go that direction. There are few enough ways for a 23-year-old show to do something unexpected; O’Malley is a fun character; and McHale has enough charisma to make him likeable.
The central mystery of the episode, to the degree that it has one, centers around a young woman, Sveta, who claims to have been abducted many times by aliens (or men masquerading as aliens), who performed experiments on her, including forcibly impregnating her and stealing her fetuses. It’s pretty standard X-Files stuff, as is the way Sveta is somewhat aimlessly shuffled around in the episode’s narrative, appearing only when needed and then disposed of unceremoniously. It’s a paper-thin plot, and it’s a little sad to see Annet Mahendru’s talents wasted in such a throwaway role, but I think it’s important to recognize that “My Struggle” isn’t about telling a self-contained story of its own. It’s really only secondarily about reestablishing the show’s mythology. Rather, it’s about getting the old team back together, and everything in this episode is striving towards the moment at the end when Skinner officially reopens the X-Files.
The other thing this episode is about is reintroducing us to Mulder and Scully. To that end, we get a pretty good picture of both how the years have changed these characters and how much is still the same. Mulder has visibly aged, growing grey and a little soft, and David Duchovny still plays him with a certain level of ironic detachment, but he’s still our Fox. He’s as credulous as ever, but he does seem more self-aware, especially when it comes to his relationship with Scully. Gillian Anderson as Dana Scully, of course, is a perfect paragon of beauty and grace and long-suffering. Scully has gotten a little harder with age, but she’s still game for uncovering, well, whatever they’re going to be uncovering. Most importantly, Mulder and Scully still have the chemistry that made them so compelling to watch in the old series, now tempered with the weight of nearly twenty-five years of friendship and love and shared experiences. This is the thing that made the show great and led us to forgive it so many sins over the course so many years, and it’s pretty thrilling, honestly, to see it recaptured in a fashion that seems so effortless and natural.
Here’s the thing about The X-Files: I love this show. With a deep and abiding passion born of having fallen in love with Scully and Mulder at a formative age. This reboot would have to be really, really terrible for me to hate it. The good news is that it’s not really terrible. “My Struggle” isn’t a great episode, but it’s recognizably The X-Files, from its writing to its production values to its lead characters, who feel like they have been right where we left them nearly fifteen years ago, just waiting for us to come back and see them. While “My Struggle” is a bit of a mess, it’s a very familiar and beloved mess that I, for one, am happy to revisit after all this time.