Tag Archives: The X-Files

The X-Files: “My Struggle II” is an epic disaster

I said right at the start of Season Ten that The X-Files is the same as it ever has been, and this continues to be basically true. “My Struggle II” is an hour-long roundup of all the show’s worst tendencies in one place, only without many of the show’s strengths to otherwise recommend it. The fact that it ends on a cliffhanger, with no assurance that it will ever be continued, is just the icing on the cake of overall mediocrity-to-badness that has been every episode of Season Ten except for “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster.”

Like “My Struggle,” “My Struggle II” is a mythology episode, wholly devoted to continuing the story that the earlier episode began. The thing is, these two episodes don’t tell a fully contained story at all. They don’t work as bookends for the season because there’s no actual ending here, but there’s also no real narrative symmetry, despite the use of a similar introduction to the episode, this time with a Scully voiceover. A better use of Scully’s voiceover would have been at the end of the episode to bring closure to the miniseries and the show in general, but of course this can’t have happened after a cliffhanger ending like what we got.

The worst part of “My Struggle II,” though, is that it just doesn’t make a lick of sense. The hour manages to feel at once overstuffed and devoid of story, a whole lot of sound and fury signifying nothing. Things happen, but they’re so absurd that it’s very difficult to suspend enough disbelief to even accept the basic premise. I could believe in the existence of a conspiracy, but the idea that a shadowy cabal of one percenters would somehow decide to just kill large swaths of humanity in the way that it’s show in The X-Files is just silly. Ultimately, it’s just fantastical, an episode of evil for evil’s sake, to be taken about as seriously as any cartoonish fantasy villain who wants to cover the whole world in darkness or some such nonsense.

Even the smaller events of the episode make little sense. Why are Miller and Einstein still hanging around? Why did the Cigarette Smoking Man save Reyes? Why use programmed diseases (that are usually vaccinated against) to kill people instead of programming in, say, cancer or some other illness that actually has a genetic component? What is the clear liquid Scully is administering to people? Why does Mulder need stem cells? And why does he need stem cells specifically from his and Scully’s son? Why is Tad O’Malley back after disappearing so completely back at the end of “My Struggle,” and why? There are so many questions, but almost no answers.

I was afraid that Season Ten would turn out this way—as a springboard for either more nostalgia-based programming or as a setup for a spin-off series, which seems highly possible at this point, with the return of Miller and Einstein in the finale. It was nice, in a way, to see something huge actually—finally—come of all the conspiracy theorizing the show has done over the last twenty-odd years, but now that the show has gone big, I wish it would go home.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • The reveal of the Cigarette Smoking Man’s face was pretty rad.

The X-Files: “Babylon” is a confused mess only salvaged by some great Scully/Mulder stuff

“Babylon” almost works, but gets bogged down in its own self-importance. It’s got a message of some kind, about terrorism and faith and the cyclical nature of the universe or something, but it’s senselessly garbled by mixed messaging.

The episode opens with a too-long sequence of a young Muslim man praying, being harassed by rednecks, meeting a friend, and then walking into an art gallery right before the place explodes. We later learn that the two men were suicide bombers who decided to attack the gallery because it was displaying art that they considered sacrilegious. Here’s the thing, though. That revelation feels almost like a betrayal by the time it comes. The first young man, Shiraz, is definitely humanized in the episode’s prologue, and that introduction that heavily suggests to the viewer that we’re about to get a very different story than what is delivered. Furthermore, there’s such a slyness to the way these scenes are filmed that there’s no way this misdirection is unintentional.

Unfortunately, this humanization of Shiraz doesn’t actually work the way I think it’s intended to, even taking into account his mother, Noora’s, insistence that Shiraz never detonated his bomb. Instead, it serves to make the act of terrorism feel even more cold and calculated than if Shiraz had been shown more stereotypically, and it’s not entirely redeemed by the fact that Shiraz is able to mystically—by way of Mulder’s symbolism-laden trip—give the FBI intelligence that helps them root out the rest of the terror cell. In the greater context of the episode, the introductory scenes meant to show us Shiraz as a person turn out to not actually give us very much information about him at all, and in light of his participation in a suicide attack, the veneer of normalcy we’re shown turns out to be very thin.

Even the nods to the hatred and discrimination faced by American Muslims don’t really land properly. The truck full of rednecks mocking Shiraz in the episode opening isn’t specific or unpleasant enough to act as a motive for Shiraz to decide to participate in a suicide bombing. Although many American Muslims deal with that kind of casual hatred and racism daily, it’s shown here as a singular occurrence and not as a very serious event. The idea of anti-Muslim bigotry is supported later in the episode by the ravings of the racist nurse who literally tries to murder Shiraz by turning off his life support, but even this is portrayed more as the aberrant, irrational behavior of an individual rather than a systematic problem that has serious negative impact on the day to day lives of millions of people. Every other character in the episode is shown as at least somewhat sympathetic towards Shiraz—at least recognizing what happened to him as a tragedy—and just genuinely concerned about stopping terrorism, which of course is a laudable goal, but it sets up a self-serving dichotomy where any white viewer who manages to go through life without actively trying to murder or harass Muslims can identify with the “good guys” and feel a little self-righteous about not being one of those bigots who are shown as a minority.

And, frankly, none of this even matters that much, since Shiraz and his terrorist friends aren’t motivated by some high-minded anti-racist ideals. It’s explicitly stated in the episode that this terrorist attack was directly in response to the art gallery displaying sacrilegious art. By removing any guesswork or speculation regarding the terrorists’ motive, the show actually cuts itself off from the avenue it seems to be trying to take by highlighting the unreasonably bigotry of some white Americans as a counterpoint to the unreasonable actions of Shiraz’s terror cell. I get where they were going with these ideas, but the execution is just off, especially when these themes have to share space and time with Mulder and Scully and their respective journeys.

This week, Mulder and Scully are joined by a pair of doppelgangers, Agents Miller and Einstein, who were moderately amusing in scene released in a preview clip last week but who otherwise drag the episode down. Miller is young, handsome, and enthusiastic, but he seems slightly stupid and doesn’t actually have much to do in the episode. Einstein makes more of an impression, but this is mostly because she’s so entirely humorless that it’s actually kind of impressive. While this pair is supposed to be younger versions of Mulder and Scully, I don’t remember Mulder ever being so credulous or Scully ever being so dour. I guess there’s some kind of joke here, but it stopped being funny, or even very entertaining, very early on.

The saving grace of the episode is Mulder and Scully themselves. Looking back on my decades-long love for this show, I have to admit that it’s mostly because of these characters, who are far more memorable than any of the various cases or plots they’ve been involved in. Like the previous nine seasons of The X-Files, Season Ten functions best as a character study, and as with the first four episodes, the best moments of “Babylon” are when Mulder and Scully are together, from Scully’s cheerful “Only the FBI’s most unwanted!” to their final scene of the episode as the hold hands and talk outside the house they once shared. All the years of will-they-or-won’t-they waffling in their relationship has finally matured into a deep, if somewhat ambiguous, intimacy, and their comfort with and love for each other is really beautiful to see. The show might struggle in every other area, but not in this most important one.

The X-Files: “Home Again” kind of wastes a great premise

I wish I could say that I loved “Home Again.” It’s got a great, creepy monster. It deals with an important and timely issue, addressing gentrification and the displacement of homeless people in cities. Thematically, it’s both rich and consistent, and the episode moves along at a brisk pace while still spending an appropriate amount of time on its more emotional scenes. Unfortunately, it only partly works, and the episode just leaves too many questions unanswered for it to feel very satisfying. This could be intentional, but it would have been better if something had been resolved by the end of the hour.

The episode opens with Alessandro Juliani (from Battlestar Galactica!) appearing as an evil public official overseeing the forced removal of what amounts to a small village of homeless people who are in the way of a new housing development that would gentrify the Philadelphia neighborhood they live in. The casually brutal inhumanity with which the homeless people are treated may be slightly exaggerated, but only slightly, and it’s a great way to set up the catharsis we’re supposed feel as a mysterious man starts ripping those responsible for the abuse of the homeless apart limb from limb. It promises to be a compelling story, but “Home Again” unfortunately doesn’t quite deliver on its interesting premise.

This is primarily because the episode gets bogged down in melodrama when Scully’s mother has a heart attack right in the middle of Mulder and Scully examining the first crime scene. While there are several more murders over the course of the episode, there’s very little actual investigation of the crimes, and the mystery remains unsolved at the end of the episode although there is a somewhat gratifying conclusion to the murder spree, as all of the bad guys who are being mean to homeless people end up dead. Instead of exploring a potentially fascinating X-File, Scully goes to be with her mom in the hospital and spends most of her screen time this week dealing with the news that her mother has changed her advanced directive without Dana’s knowledge. Like the monster of the week, this storyline has a lot of potential, but it too feels just half-baked.

The monster of the week plot ends up being a straightforward revenge story, but it seems to assume that the audience already has a high level of familiarity with issues surrounding gentrification and its effect on homeless populations. Further, it seems to take it as given that just knowing that homeless people exist and are being harmed will be enough to provoke a sense of outrage in the viewer. At no point, for example, do Scully and Mulder actually talk to any of the homeless people who are being displaced. They are always spoken about and for, but the episode would have been much improved by giving these people a voice of their own instead of simply having a story happen around them. Even at the end of the episode, the plight of the homeless is not revisited after the last grisly murder, so the audience is left wondering what happened to them and what good is done by having a secret monstrous avenger on your side if it doesn’t actual change anything. In short, it’s a worthy theme that just isn’t done justice in the episode.

Similarly, Scully’s mother’s death feels less impactful than it ought. There’s a certain sort of naturalism to this story that I normally like, but I’m not sure The X-Files is the place for naturalistic storytelling. Certainly, the death of a parent is never convenient, and it contributes to the sort of slice-of-life feeling this whole season of the show has had so far, but I have to admit that I mostly just found it terribly disappointing that Scully was once again sort of sidelined from the story—and in a weird way. The episode in many ways could be considered a very Scully-centric one, but the truth is that very little actually happened in “Home Again.” I would have much preferred to just have the whole episode dedicated to Mulder and Scully actually working on the case of the bandaid-nosed man, and have the sweet character moments between the pair left to fanfic writers if the show’s writers aren’t going to do it properly.

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what didn’t work this week, but I’m pretty sure the problem is just that both plotlines needed several more minutes of material to round them out and ensure that they hit their emotional marks. “Home Again” isn’t a bad episode, but I just want more of all of it. It feels as though the show’s writers are working really hard to squeeze, well, everything into these six episodes. I can understand treating these episodes as a final farewell, but that’s no excuse to waste a great monster of the week idea like this.

The X-Files: “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” is a near-perfect deconstruction of the show

“Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” is by far the best episode of season ten so far, but it also ranks among the show’s best episodes ever. Certainly it’s one of the funniest episodes of The X-Files, but it’s also surprisingly affecting as an exploration of how Mulder and Scully have changed with age and wonderfully effective as an examination of some of the show’s bigger ideas. I love a good genre deconstruction, and this episode is a near-perfectly executed one.

It’s interesting to see the show tackling head-on some of the issues presented by the just the existence of these new episodes. Namely, what are we even doing here? Why bother after all these years? It’s definitely true that even just these last few years have made many of the original series’ mysteries much less mystifying, and government conspiracies have become somewhat less entertaining in the post-9/11 world. And the truth is, the more we know about the world the more it’s confirmed that there is no magic and that the seemingly inexplicable seldom actually is. This was always the case with The X-Files, as well, although it often tried to have it both ways, leaving many of its “mysteries” ultimately unresolved—which has always made the show something short of truly fulfilling. This week, we take a good, hard look at what that means for Mulder and Scully.

Much as in the last couple of episodes, the show continues to be primarily concerned with Mulder and his journey. We find him having a sort of midlife existential crisis as he’s digging back into the X-Files. He’s questioning not just whether his time in the department was worth anything, but whether or not this is what he wants to be doing at his age. After all, Mulder reasons, they never did find any real evidence of anything supernatural, and many of his theories have actually been made ridiculous in light of new science. It’s a fascinatingly meta argument and a bold way of addressing the show’s critics and engaging longtime fans by referencing particular past episodes.

Scully, on the other hand, seems revitalized by their return to the X-Files (it’s her “I want to believe” poster that Mulder is destroying), and she’s excited about a new case—one with a monster. Mulder’s newfound maturity has made him insecure and questioning, while Scully has grown into her skepticism and her faith so that she’s returning to work with a new confidence and fresh enthusiasm. I kind of love this sort of role reversal, and Gillian Anderson sparkles with wit throughout the hour. While the episode is largely dominated by Mulder’s problems, his crisis, and his emotional growth, Scully gets some of the best lines and she definitely gets to make the best wryly amused and affectionately indulgent faces of the night.

The actual story this week is profoundly silly, but in a good way. It injects the new season with a much-needed dose of fun and lightens up some otherwise overly serious and self-indulgent character work. Mulder has never been my favorite half of The X-Files, and it would have been far too easy for an episode focused almost entirely on examining some of his most irritating character traits to be a masturbatory disaster. Instead, this one turns out to be a charming delight that proves that the writers and actors have a good sense of humor about what they’re doing here.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • What a waste of Kumail Nanjiani. He’s so funny, but he’s tragically underused here.
  • Mulder and Scully aren’t that old. Jokes about how confused they are by smartphones are lazy.
  • The creepy motel and its weirdo owner would have been enough to carry their own episode.
  • The lizardman feels urges to get a job, worry about retirement, and lie about his sex life. I love it.
  • Awww. Queequeg.
  • Scully straight up stole a dog. That is probably the best thing that could possibly happen in this show.

The X-Files: “Founder’s Mutation” focuses on what has always been good about the show

My favorite thing about this reboot so far is how unceremoniously the show has dumped Mulder and Scully right back into the same kinds of stuff they’ve always done. It was announced at the end of “My Struggle” that the X-Files were being reopened, and this episode finds our agents back in the field investigating the suicide of a scientist who killed himself under strange circumstances. “Founder’s Mutation” is a genuinely twisty episode, though, and things quickly turn out to be much bigger than the bizarre suicide that it begins with.

Scully and Mulder barely even seem like the same characters they were in the new season’s first episode. Mulder in particular is transformed into an official silver Fox, benefiting from a good shave and a suit, but Scully too seems invigorated by her return to the Bureau. Gillian Anderson is always a perfect angel, but she turns in a much livelier performance in this episode, full of arch looks and wry comments. She’s complemented by a David Duchovny who seems much more comfortable in his Mulder skin than in the previous episode, and the show’s decision to essentially just hand wave the whole process of how and why the X-Files were reopened works to everyone’s advantage. The X-Files’ premise has been dodgy from the very beginning; there’s no sense in trying to adequately explain anything now.

“Founder’s Mutation” is in many ways a classic monster of the week episode, which is an area where the show has always shined. It stands alone well, and the mixed resolution—part satisfying punishment for the bad guy and part ambiguous conclusion for everyone else—is classic X-Files. Even the themes and motifs of the episode are well within the continuity of the original series. Children with weird medical conditions and seemingly supernatural abilities, unusual pregnancies, the exploitation of the young and innocent (especially young mothers), sinister doctors performing mad science, and the relationships between estranged family are all things that should be familiar to longtime fans of the show. In that sense, there’s very little new here, and the mystery unfolds in an interesting but largely predictable fashion.

Where this episode departs from the more traditional monster of the week format is in tying it, pretty explicitly, to the overarching plot of season ten’s six-episode arc. This is particularly notable regarding Mulder and Scully’s emotional journey, and “Founder’s Mutation” even included a couple of rather extended daydream sequences as Scully and Mulder each imagined what their lives might have been like if they had kept their son, William. It’s only moderately interesting, and not terribly entertaining, to get to see each of their hopes and fears for their son played out this way, but I suppose it beats some kind of long, awkward conversation about it. Presenting it like this also shows that Mulder and Scully’s thoughts on the matter only partially overlap and highlights how they’ve chosen to mostly process their grief and guilt separately from each other. In this way, it provides deeper context and a broader understanding of the current state of their relationship. Basically, without the X-Files to tie them together, they each retreated into more solitary pursuits as a way of managing their disappointments. I’m not totally in love with these dream sequences, but I have to admit that they are effective.

Overall, this is a strong entry to the show’s canon. If “My Struggle” proved that The X-Files has retained its unique identity, “Founder’s Mutation” goes on to prove that The X-Files is still good. I wouldn’t say this is the show at its best, but it’s certainly an improvement over the uneven first episode of season ten. I’m glad to see the show trying some new things, and so far it’s being largely successful at doing so, smartly and without trying to reinvent the wheel.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Hello, Aaron Douglas from Battlestar Galactica!
  • Mulder’s encounter with Gupta was just…weird.
  • The open head on the autopsy table was a nice bit of blink and you’d miss it gore.
  • Good to see that Mulder and Scully still can’t find the light switch in anywhere, ever. Some things should never change.
  • The birds looked cool, but felt unnecessary.
  • “I blacked out after Goldman’s eyes popped out of their sockets. Believe me, you can’t unsee that.” Hands down the best line of the episode.