“My Struggle III” written and directed by Chris Carter

Cigarette-Smoking Man: Truth is fluid and alterable.

Last season, I thought Chris Carter had finally buried his hopelessly entangled “mythology” for good, and maybe had given us a new one. I had hoped we could get back to the sense of wonder and excitement that infused the early years of The X-Files. I was hoping for a real re-visioning of The X-Files, back to the glory days of “Squeeze” and “Post-Modern Prometheus” and “The X-Files: I Want to Believe“. But this is not a reboot, it is a regurgitation. This episode of The X-Files, opening another, and possibly final season, is one of the most turgid, slow-moving and tedious stories I’ve seen since the debut in 1993. Instead of the snappy dialogue of “Darkness Falls” or the poetic imagery of “Milagro“, we get endless interior monologues, voice-overs, flashbacks–every bad idea in the history of storytelling. Use of one of these techniques is tough enough, but Chris Carter throws everything at us–except a plot.

Mulder: I just want someone to tell me what the hell is going on here.

I usually try to give a brief description of the plot of an episode, but this time I can boil it down to one sentence: nothing happens. The events of “My Struggle II” appear to have been retconned out of existence, with only Scully’s faulty memory offering a clue. She tries to leave the hospital, gets in an accident, and winds up in the hospital again. Mulder doesn’t believe a word she says, goes looking for a dead man, gets into an accident, learns nothing and returns to the hospital in time to save Scully (and since when does Special Agent Dana Scully need rescuing??). We learn the Cigarette-Smoking Man is alive–which we knew two years ago. We learn that Bad Men are Conspiring Against the World–again. Yawn.

Scully: I’m not an irrational person.

I don’t even recognize these people. Mulder, the ever-optimistic chaser of dreams, has become cold and skeptical. Scully, the champion of logic and science, has become the vision-haunted prophet of the apocalypse. You know something’s gone really off the rails, when Mulder won’t even believe Scully. Skinner appears to make a deal with the Cigarette-Smoking Man–yeah, right. Did he get a lobotomy? Dana Scully tells her doctor “I’m not a part of any experiment”. Oh, really? Does she have amnesia now? Or was that implant from the base of her neck just a dream? Did she imagine her abduction by Duane Barry? And Action!Mulder is just a totally different guy: he got into a fist fight in the last episode, now he’s driving a Mustang* in a high-speed chase and cutting people’s throats with a scalpel (and what doctor leaves a scalpel in a patient room?). Not once did Mulder drop his gun or lose his cell phone connection.

Mulder: That’s BS and you know it.

Scully tells Mulder she’s “seen how it begins”, that Mulder will confront the Smoking Man. But in fact, he doesn’t. He meets up with Mr. Y (A. C. Peterson, American Gods), who looks suspiciously like Donald Trump, and his associate, who looks a lot like Monica Reyes. Fake news, indeed. They try to convince Mulder to kill the Smoking Man, but he’s too savvy to fall into their trap. I guess it stands to reason that, eventually, even Fox Mulder would learn to stop taking these people at face value, but it’s really tedious to see yet another incarnation of The Well-Manicured Man, Deep Throat, yadda yadda. If I was Mulder, I think I’d shoot the next shadowy figure who spoke in Zen koans and refused to answer direct questions.

Mulder: Nobody has a name.

In the opening scene, the Cigarette-Smoking Man told us his real name.

Sure he did.

I didn’t even bother to remember it. He’s gone by so many over the last twenty years, it’s hard to believe he even knows it himself. Mr. Y, who tells Mulder he’s trying to build a space colony, the mystery woman who is his associate, even the man who tries to kill Scully are all anonymous. That was intriguing once, now it’s annoying. The story reaches its lowest, most unbelievable point, when the Smoking Man pulls a Darth Vader moment out of his ass during his conversation with Skinner. His “I am the father” revelation falls completely flat. I didn’t believe it for a moment, although apparently the Smoking Man does. I am beginning to think the Cigarette-Smoking Man is not smoking tobacco.

Reyes: This is a waste of time.

The biggest problem with this episode is that nothing moves forward. Nobody tells anybody anything. Forget the endless monologues, in which no information is exchanged between the characters. The characters literally interact with one another only at gunpoint. I lost track of the number of times a character gave a non-responsive answer to a question. This is not how real people speak to one another. And the constant soliloquies distanced us from the story: instead of watching a story unfold through one or two points of view, we were head-hopping from scene to scene, like someone channel surfing through the storyline.

Cigarette-Smoking Man: … a raging impulse to self-destruct

I am truly puzzled by this episode. It negated everything that happened at the end of the last season, it distanced us from the characters, it introduced new characters who are indistinguishable from the old, and re-introduced the damned conspiracy mythology. The X-Files is spinning its wheels. I expected better.

“My Struggle III” gets one sunflower seed out of five.


* Gotta say I love the Magically Healing Car. When Mulder chases the Nameless Bad Guy (Mike Dopud) to Mr. Y’s mansion, the NBG gets out of his car and we see that the door which had been totally smashed in an earlier collision is now fully restored. Somewhere the director of Bullitt is smiling.