Written by Chris Carter, Dr. Anne Simon, and Dr. Margaret Fearon
Directed by Chris Carter
Chris Carter: It wasn’t just an exercise in nostalgia. We came back to do something new, original and fresh, and I think we did.
Spoiler warning: This review reveals the ending.
In a conversation with Chris Carter many years ago, he told me that he never wanted to take the X-files “public”, that he wanted the stories told in this world to remain a secret between the agents and the audience. If Mulder or Scully found evidence to prove a case, it had to somehow disappear so that the world around them remained the same as ours. Of course this is typical of any show that introduces potentially world-altering ideas; if the world in which the show takes place changes so drastically, will the audience feel disconnected from it? The X-Files in particular has to take place in our world, not some alternate universe, because otherwise these stories become even more implausible. So Carter never wanted The X-Files to come out of the shadows.
Well, they’re out of the shadows now.
Monday’s episode, which may or may not be the last X-File ever, ends with a UFO hovering over a panicked crowd on a jammed bridge over the Potomac, with the US Capitol in the background. No amount of induced amnesia will plausibly wipe out the memories of so many witnesses, most of whom have doubtless uploaded cell phone videos to innumerable websites. Even if every witness on that bridge died, the story would still go viral. So either Dana Scully wakes up in the next (hypothetical) episode and realizes It Was All A Dream, or we are in a brave new world. If The X-Files goes forward from here, it will be fundamentally disconnected, at least in tone and spirit, from the 200+ episodes that preceded it.
And maybe that’s a good thing.
Having trashed the earlier, creaky-with-age conspiracy Mythology of the Nineties in “My Struggle”, Carter gives us an alternate conspiracy theory to chase. But he didn’t have 23 episodes to play with, he only had six. He crammed a host of new ideas, new characters and new themes into basically two episodes, which bookended otherwise standard X-files. This neo-conspiracy might have seemed less jarring if it had been woven into the other four episodes, but as it is the “My Struggle” episodes seem completely disconnected from the rest of the stories. Threading in references to William, who was practically an afterthought in Season Nine, doesn’t help, especially since we never saw him.
Scully: It’s the vaccines that are killing them.
Carter also reverses the underlying threat of The X-Files. Whereas Mulder and Scully (and, if you believe him, the Smoking Man) have been trying to protect the world from alien DNA for more than 20 years, Carter now spins us 180 degrees, and leaves us with a Scully trying to save the world with alien DNA. This is not handled well, I believe: introducing the idea that vaccines will kill most of the world is ill-considered in an age when child-killing diseases are making a comeback thanks to fear-mongering anti-vaxxers. There’s a lot of hand-waving in the last half of the episode, particularly when Mulder confronts the Smoking Man. How, exactly, did CSM trigger this pandemic—microwave radiation? Seriously? That’s right out of the Lone Gunmen playbook, not Mulder’s. Scully has to run her DNA twice, eating up precious story time and undercutting her image as the genetics expert.
Smoking Man: …your beloved Scully…
Carter has a real problem in Dana Scully. She is no longer the naive young skeptic, no matter how she spouts science at us and Agent Einstein. We watched her make that journey from cynic to believer over nine seasons. But we must have that balance of skeptic and believer on this show, or it isn’t The X-Files. Enter Agent Einstein, the Scully clone who stridently copies the dialogue, but not the warmth, of the old Scully. Gillian Anderson did a marvelous job of channeling David Duchovny in this episode, as she played Mulder to the new Scully. Unfortunately, that left the real Mulder with very little to do, and that is exactly what he did: very little. Fox Mulder was an afterthought in this episode, literally sleeping through the last quarter of it. I found it jarring to see Anderson take on the role of explainer, believer, conspiracy theorist. I was even more surprised to see Action!Mulder in a knock-down, drag-out fight worthy of any dockside bar–only a week after we got to see him line-dancing at a Texas strip club. Nor are these the only characters who have transformed: the dour and cynical Smoking Man has turned into a laughing Phantom of the Opera. Who the hell are these people?
Scully: This is just the beginning.
“My Struggle 2” is ambitious, perhaps too much so. It tries to cram a new paradigm into the old, in one episode that should have been ten. Carter has too many new ideas to tell us in too little time, so we get more exposition than usual from the master of the info-dump. Some critics think “My Struggle II” indicates that it’s time to end the series once and for all. Much of the disappointment I’m seeing centers on Chris Carter’s scripts. Kelly Connolly says “…the season 10 finale missed the mark emotionally.” Alan Sepinwall went so far as to say “Chris Carter should … never write or direct another episode of the show…”. They’re right…and they’re wrong.
Tag: This Is The End
This is, in fact, the end: it’s the end of the old X-Files. It has to be. “My Struggle II” sets us up not just for another season, but for another version of The X-Files. We cannot wallow in nostalgia forever, as David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson age (gracefully, to be sure) out of youth into middle age. We cannot hold onto The X-Files of 1993, or even 2002, any more than we can hang onto the people that we (or our parents) were in the first iteration. Far from abandoning his vision, Chris Carter has expanded on it. Where, after all, can he go with the convoluted mess that the original conspiracy theory came to be? He has two choices: go forward, or go backward. Go big, or go home. So yes, Chris should never write or direct another episode like the ones we saw before. He has changed the world he invented for us, just as time and entropy change our own real world.
Carter has chosen not just to revive The X-Files, but to re-invent them. He has kept and expanded on the two things that made Mulder and Scully iconic: their bond, and their passion for the truth. Everything else is expendable. As long as we have Mulder affectionately cracking wise, Scully just as affectionately scoffing, and the two of them united in their zeal to uncover buried secrets that defy and twist consensual reality, we have a first-class premise for a show. We still need the emotional role-reversal of the intuitive, passionate male and the cool, rational female, but they don’t have to carry the same beliefs. As long as they still carry these character traits, they’re the agents we love. And it’s okay if from now on they no longer need to hide the aliens, Roswell, or the Smoking Man’s conspiracies from the others in that world of X—as long as we still recognize them. Change is okay, up to a point.
Play with anything else, Chris, but leave us Mulder and Scully. We want to believe.
This episode gets four out of five sunflower seeds. I hope it’s not the last.