Getting the Band Back Together
Written by Chris Carter
Directed by Chris Carter
“I’m always happy to see you.” – Scully
Well, here we are again. Who would have imagined it, especially after Mulder and Scully waved goodbye to us all from their rowboat at the end of “I Want To Believe”? But here we are in 2016, cueing up recording devices from Maine to Hawaii, settling in for a reunion with our favorite X-Files agents. I thought it was amazing enough that Mulder survived death three times, and survived being buried alive for several months. But nothing, apparently, keeps a good show down, so Chris Carter has re-assembled his cast and crew for another run in Spooky Land.
“My life’s become a punchline.” – Mulder
We open with the same world-weary monotone that Duchovny made Mulder’s trademark, as former FBI agent Mulder introduces himself, his quest, and Scully. I loved hearing David Duchovny voicing Mulder again. No matter how passionate Mulder gets on the subject of X-Files, there’s always that question at the back of his voice: how come nobody gets this but me? X-Files creator Chris Carter takes us into the present day by way of the past: Roswell. Yes, we are back at Roswell again, the birthplace of the UFO conspiracy universe. But this time, it seems Mulder has an ally who has sought him out, via the FBI. TV personality Tod O’Malley (Joel McHale) is a True Believer who thinks Mulder can help him. The trouble is, he’s on the other side of the political spectrum from Mulder. This makes him an unreliable ally—but then, aren’t all of Mulder’s allies unreliable? Whether they are espousing right-wing politics or claiming to have eaten lunch with the second shooter on the Grassy Knoll, whoever seeks out Fox Mulder generally has an agenda. This is why their quests fail, and why Mulder continues to pursue his after a lifetime of disappointment: for them, the quest for proof of UFOs is a means to an end, but for Mulder, it IS the end. It’s the whole reason for his life.
Except maybe he’s been deceived. The ‘twist’ Carter introduces into his updated series is that Mulder’s faith in what he’s been told has been challenged. Not for the first time, of course; in Season Five Mulder and Scully switched allegiances for awhile, with Mulder now convinced that he was being duped by government agents. So when he goes back to this belief after only one interview with Sveta (Annet Mahendru), a young woman who claims to be a multiple abductee, it’s not all that much of a shock. If anything, it’s a disappointment. Duchovny has aged well, but Mulder has not: Mulder used to be charming and crazy, but now he comes across as just plain crazy.
It’s inevitable, half a generation after The X-Files closed, that we need to be brought up to speed not only on what Mulder and Scully have been up to in the interim, but what happened in X-Files 1.0. So there’s bound to be a lot of exposition and backfill. Boy, is there a lot of backfill. I’m not sure the extended exposition works; the old hands already know all of this by heart, and it’s too much for newcomers to assimilate in one take. It’s been a long time since we had to sit through one of Chris Carter’s patented rants. These were even more heavy-handed than usual: Michael Moore himself could have written them. While I agree with most of the liberal catechism floated during this episode, I prefer my politics served straight up, not disguised as entertainment. On the other hand, this is a year when Presidential candidates are floating conspiracy theories that would have made The Lone Gunmen laugh, so maybe Mulder’s more in tune with the times than I am.
“I’m saying, someone has to stop these sons of bitches.” – Scully
Gillian Anderson sailed back into the role of Dana Scully absolutely seamlessly. Of course it helps that her timeless beauty has only refined her portrait of the conflicted Dr. Scully. What makes the role her own is always her superb performance, a combination of cool rationality and warm compassion that defines Scully. Scully would come across as a frozen block of ice were it not for those moments, the moments when Scully explains the tragedies behind the children she serves, when she expresses the pain and joy Mulder brings her, or when she challenges Sveta’s ignorance with a single, piercing, perfectly delivered stare. I would say that this is Anderson at the top of her form, except that she reached that height in 1995 and has never left it.
“We’ve moved on with our lives.” – Scully
What we cannot do is put the genie back in the bottle. I refer of course to the long-simmering attraction between Mulder and Scully. The sexual tension formed a base note that hummed all through the first nine seasons, but it is much transmuted now. I was forcibly reminded of the reunion of another pair of old lovers: Han and Leia in “Star Wars”. Having seen “The Force Awakens” recently, I felt a bit of deja vu seeing Dana Scully and Fox Mulder sparring at one another like the old married/separated couple that they now are. In both cases, we could see the sparks now burned down to embers, warm enough to keep the heat in the relationship but not hot enough to rekindle that unresolved sexual tension. What we have now is a bittersweet romance, a failed relationship that remembers love but does not experience it. Carter subtly emphasized this by hinting that O’Malley has a date with Scully, and that Mulder may be doing more than just supporting Sveta. There’s a moment when Scully and Mulder meet at his front door, and engage in one of those couples arguments they have always had, and are interrupted by Sveta. For a moment, one tiny moment, there’s a hint of suspicion in Scully’s eyes. Then it’s gone, as she realizes it doesn’t matter. We have indeed moved on to a new relationship.
“You want to believe, you so badly want to believe.” – Scully
By the end of the episode, Mulder is renewing his commitment to The X-Files, but now with a different purpose. He now wants to expose them as careful hoaxes perpetrated by a sinister government determined to enslave us all. On the other hand, Dana Scully has proved (at least to herself) that she is carrying alien DNA, and so is Sveta. I think that, at bottom, the biggest change this episode brings to The X-Files overall is the new motivation Carter has given to Dana Scully. Whereas she came to The X-Files as a a skeptic, critical of Mulder’s more personal quest, now The X-Files are personal to her. This is a neat reversal of the initial stances of these two characters, and I applaud it.
When Carter decided to get the gang back together for another run, he really meant it. Besides recalling Anderson, Duchovny and Mitch Pileggi to their roles, he has recalled a few former guest stars. This is Hiro Kanagawa’s third appearance in an X-Files episode; previously he was in Firewalker and Synchrony. Gardiner Millar previously appeared in the episode Schizogeny (an episode I watched being filmed in 1997). Other gang members include editor Heather MacDougall and director of photography Joel Ransom, as well as composer Mark Snow and sound editor Thierry Couturier. Our newcomers include Rance Howard, as the older incarnation of the original doctor who autopsied the Roswell alien. He is apparently our new Deep Throat/X/Maria Covarrubias, because where would The X-Files be if Fox Mulder had to root out all this stuff by himself? Actually, at his age, isn’t Mulder getting a little tired of guys coming out of the woodwork to waste his time with cryptic messages he has to decode? Mulder always wanted to believe, but now his belief is shaken, so why is he still listening to the same voices?
My expectations for a revival episode were mixed, and my initial feeling is, “Well, that could have been a lot worse.” There was a minimal amount of fanservice in an episode which could have been nothing but a trip down Nostalgia Lane, comprehensible only to old-timers. This could also have been as brilliant as “The Post-Modern Prometheus” or “Little Green Men”, but it wasn’t. That’s okay, it’s hard to imagine how Carter could have pulled that off in a reboot episodes. We’ll see what the next five episodes bring. As it is, I am thrilled to have my old friends back onscreen, even if they act a little creakier than they used to. We’ve all been through a lot together, and I’m looking forward to more.
“My Struggle” gets four out of five sunflower seeds. Welcome back, guys.