The X-Files #285: My Struggle

"In 2002, in a change of direction and policy, the FBI closed the X-Files, and our investigation ceased. But my personal obsession did not."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: Mulder and Scully are brought back together by a conspiracist cable pundit who believes the whole alien conspiracy was run by men and men alone.

REVIEW: And it's back. Mostly respecting what has gone before, even if it feels the need to undo a lot of it (the live-in relationship from the second film, the Colonization conspiracy, Cancerman's death). Hey, the pieces need to be reset on the table somewhat, and we need to tell viewers who might have never seen, or forgotten, the original series that it was all moot anyway, and bam, they're caught up as quickly as possible. References are made to the past, but it's clear people should be able to follow what arc there is from the simple recaps. But then, I've just watched the entire canon of X-Files; how did it play for viewers who didn't have it all fresh in their heads?

***INTERLUDE TO TALK ABOUT THE OPENING CREDITS*** OH GOD NO THEY DIDN'T CHANGE IT!!!!! WHY!!!????? WHY?????!!!! I've hated that bad video TLC-content opener since I first saw it, and it looks even cheaper coming out of and flowing into the crisp HD look of Season 10! Dare I hope they change it from episode 2? I mean, really, the actors should be age-appropriate in their own credit sequence. ***END TRANSMISSION***

Otherwise, the show looks beautiful. The Roswell crash was an eye-popping surprise. The atmosphere is quite filmic. The colors vibrant (here's hoping some of the episodes are more noir), the camera work modern. The HDness of it all makes some of the make-up a little thick, particularly on Scully and Joel McHale's Fox News-type "hard" news host, Tad O'Malley, and especially sitting next to Mulder who seems to have just rolled out of bed and not made a pit stop at the make-up trailer. A small complaint. And yes, I did say Joel McHale. Last guest star I expected to see. His character wants to blow the whistle on the whole conspiracy - as HE sees it - and by the end, has been put out of commission by government forces. The extreme clean-up shown at the end, more than any argument we hear from him or from Fox "knee-jerk" Mulder, tells me there's some truth to it. But while I like how the fear-mongering in America since 9/11 is wrapped into the story - and how O'Malley is used to mock Fox's own "news" division - the only real, proven truth we get out of this episode is that abductees have been given alien DNA, which includes Scully. But this may mean nothing concrete at this late stage; she's been living with that for decades now and we already knew her baby was part-alien. So we're probably just re-stating the stakes and so forth. Needs to be done after all this time. Shame we're kind of wasting one of only six episodes on it, but there you go. Needs must.

The best bit for me was Mulder's connection to the episode's title. If this is HIS struggle, and I believe it is, it's akin to addiction. Mulder simply can't resist the call of the conspiracy, and certainly not from someone who evidently out-paranois him like O'Malley. Once he's shown proof, and is pushed to making conclusions, he falls off the wagon. And Scully plays the long-suffering friend (we'll call them friends at this point) who wants to be there for him, but can't bear to see him do so. That's HER burden. And by the end, the two of them have indeed come back together to be Skinner's burden; the X-Files are back. Not a task force to investigate this conspiracy mind you, the X-Files. We just have to accept the conceit that after all this, they're still going to waste their time chasing ghosts and monsters and whatnot. Hey, that's the show, and it's back for a limited time, and ultimately, it's just fun to meet up with old friends exchanging cracking dialog and meaningful looks.

Is the simple explanation to the fact the alien conspiracy never made sense that it was ALL a hoax? I don't believe it. Mulder's being misled again, as we've seen too much, and he hasn't seen as much as we have. But if the Bounty Hunter, the killer alien from the movie, the faceless rebels, the black oil, etc. etc. have all been bio-engineered creatures only making LIKE they're extra-terrestrial... No, I still don't buy it. Is there a part of the conspiracy whose only function is to troll FBI agents and make them think the aliens are coming? Because it's hard to see what other motivation there could be. While we're used to the Truth shifting, the return of the Cigarette-Smoking Man is a bit harder to explain. The last time we saw him, he was pulverized before our very eyes by a fireball. Are those burns on his skin enough to justify his survival? Or was he resurrected by some unknown means?

- Or almost. Suffers from being a mytharc recap/repudiation/restatement, but the strength of the first episode is in rediscovering these characters at this later stage in their lives and putting them back on track in a quality production.


snell said...

I thought the episode terrible beyond words.

Not only because they already played the "make Mulder into a non-believer" trick before, but because this time it felt completely unearned. What once took a 3-episode mini-arc now takes one meeting with a nutcase--with zero actual evidence--and Mulder is suddenly and completely convinced?

Even if you buy the premise, the story felt rushed and truncated and not at all nuanced or explained. They can't even spare one extra line of dialogue to explain WHY the X-Files have been reinstated, as the story gives absolutely no reason for that to happen. (And while I am sympathetic to the "we only had 6 episodes" reasoning, a better storyteller would realize that if you can't tell the story in one episode, tell another story.)

On another tack, this article takes the relaunch to task for failing to actually update for the 21st century, aside from a few cliched catchphrases. That Mulder can stand in open space for hours and declare that means he knows he hasn't been followed shows the author hasn't bothered to keep up to date on drones or smart-phone tracking or...

I was glad to see Scully and Mulder back too. But the nostalgia, for me at least, couldn't hide the fact that this was a rushed, poorly written rehash.

Madeley said...

I loved it. Flaws and all. I can't really separate my feelings from the nostalgia factor, so I haven't even tried- it WAS like meeting old friends again, and it just felt so X-FILESY. It might seem odd to say it just felt like another episode of the same show, but that's a good trick to pull off after such a long time. And I particularly liked how Scully looked great and Mulder looked saggy and awful- the actors have turned out EXACTLY how we'd have expected the characters to be like after twenty years.

Messy, contradictory, weird, funny, cod-philosophical- old X-Files had a way of turning its faults into its signature style, and that was all there in this episode. And I loved that they used the old credit sequence! Grungy-grainy-bad-vhs-video-transfer screams unexplained paranormal activity more than anything!

Green Luthor said...

I think The X-Files is rather like Star Wars and Star Trek: great settings for a franchise, but one should never, ever let the people who created the franchise deal with the day-to-day operations...

Really, if anyone ever truly still believed Chris Carter knew what he was doing with his mytharc stories all along, this episode should have beaten that out of them for good. "Hey, remember all that conspiracy stuff, where the bad guys were working for the aliens so they could work against the aliens or whatever was going on? Yeah, turns out there really weren't aliens involved after all. Yep, that's totally what we had planned 20+ years ago, even though we didn't bother to mention this before the story went away for over a decade." It's okay, Chris, just admit you were making it up as you went. At this point, if it ends up more coherent than "Lost", I think the audience will find some measure of forgiveness.

And, sorry, but the opening credits will stick around the entire season. On the plus side, though, there's at least one episode that I would rank amongst my favorite episodes for the entire series. (On the other hand, there's also some... not quite as good episodes.)

Siskoid said...

Three episodes in, I can probably guess which one you mean. But I've liked them all to date.

Green Luthor said...

If you're three episodes in, then... yes, yes you can. :)

Andrew said...

Maybe I'm just a romantic at heart, but I really didn't like that Mulder and Scully didn't get a happily-ever-after.

The strongest evidence in favor of the alien conspiracy being at least partially fraudulent is the fact that we're more than three years past the irrevocable start Earth's colonization by extraterrestrials on December 22nd, 2012, and the world of the X-Files is still recognizable.

LiamKav said...

I haven't got around to watching it. I think my biggest worry is how "Conspiracy theorists" have moved on since the 90s. Back then, it was all "the government knows about aliens and it trying to cover it up!" Nowadays, he'd be trying to convince us that 9/11 was an inside job, and that doesn't sit quite as well.

"Jet fuel can't melt steel beams, Scully."

Madeley said...

LiamK- on a completely different note, are you the LiamK from the UK Transformers sightings board?

LiamKav said...

On TFW2005? I am! I'm not original enough to use a different name in different places...

Madeley said...

I thought you might be! I don't post, but I lurk a lot when there's stuff I'm after.


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