The X-Files episode 1 review: My Struggle

Now that The X-Files has started on Channel 5 in the UK, here's out look at episode 1 of the revived series, My Struggle...

This review contains spoilers. Read our spoiler-free review here.

I mentioned in my spoiler-free preview of this episode that, as a long-term fan, it’s almost impossible to judge the overall quality of this episode, because it’s just such a thrill that the show is back. This episode works hard to make sure it’s accessible to new fans, from the recap at the beginning, to the structuring of the plot, which focuses on one specific young woman’s story, and various bits of mostly well-integrated exposition. But it’s probably long-term fans who will truly love it, as it does such a good job of blending classic X-Files with its updated story.

The X-Files’ myth arc had become notoriously convoluted by the time the show ended, and had implied that there was to be an alien invasion in 2012, a deadline the series has clearly missed. This episode carefully picks out the most memorable aspects of that arc to focus on, as well as addressing the 2012 issue, while leaving other aspects to one side (no black oil, no super soldiers and although we see Cigarette Smoking Man at the end, no Jeffrey Spender, Krycek or other bit players from the conspiracy stories of old).

Making use of modern CGI in a way the series never did before, this episode makes no bones about the fact that aliens exist, and have crash-landed on Earth in the past – in flashbacks, we see it happen. This is one of the most significant changes from the older series, as in previous years we have mostly seen what Mulder has seen – shadowy (rubber) aliens, blurry videos of possible alien autopsies, strange lights in the sky – but we have never seen as much as this. Nor has Mulder, and the expression of delight on his face when his looks at the alien spaceship halfway through the episode is beautiful.

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There’s a twist here, though – while aliens may have landed, Mulder now believes that their technology is being manipulated by human beings (referred to consistently as “men” – given the emphasis on the way they violate, impregnate and then take the foetuses of abducted women, this is probably not a coincidence). How long-term fans will feel about this development will depend on personal taste. For me, it pulled the complicated alien story line back into something workable and reasonably accessible. However, given its similarity with the divisive conclusion of Samantha Mulder’s storyline, it may not be popular with everyone.

The episode does choose the strongest elements of the mytharc to focus on, though, and those most closely connected with Mulder and Scully as characters. We get references, direct or indirect, to Scully’s abduction, their son William (unnamed but referred to as Mulder and Scully’s several times despite the mystery surrounding his conception), the importance of 2012 (apparently “the countdown” began in that year) and, of course, alien abductions and Roswell. Mulder’s sister Samantha is mentioned in the recap, and although she does not otherwise play a role in the plot, the young Sveta is reminiscent of her. Sveta also calls to mind young mind-reader Gibson Praise, and her mind-reading abilities are used to bring to light not only Scully’s abduction but her relationship with Mulder and the existence of William as well.

Scully’s scepticism is an interesting issue, dealt with in nicely subtle way. Scully’s original role in the series was to be the sceptic, to doubt everything and believe in nothing, unless it was a religious storyline, in which she and atheist Mulder swapped roles. As the years went by, her continued scepticism started to seem less like a healthy scientific enquiry and more like refusing to believe what was clearly in front of her eyes, and it was eventually abandoned when David Duchovney stepped largely away from the show and Doggett became the series’ resident sceptic. Here, Scully walks a neatly drawn line as someone who no longer dismisses everything relating to aliens – having been abducted herself, she has to acknowledge that something weird is going on – but who wants to ensure that proper tests are carried out and all aspects of an issue explored. Unlike Mulder, she doesn’t leap on every explanation that’s offered, no matter how apparently convincing. Unfortunately, this seems to go a bit wonky at the episode’s end, when she starts to become very unclear over both Sveta’s test results and her own in one of the episode’s few real miss-steps (a highly significant plot development resting on a mistaken test result is not all that dramatically satisfying). However, the overall maintenance of Mulder and Scully’s dynamic without making Scully seem like the most wilfully blind heroine since Lois Lane works well.

Shippers will have been disappointed when pre-publicity revealed that Mulder and Scully are no longer a couple, but should be cheered by the fact that all their dialogue in this episode is loaded with subtext, some of it less than subtle (“for better, for worse…”). One possible complication appears in the form of Joel McHale’s Ted O’Malley, whose come on to Scully is rather creepy, but seems to go down surprisingly well. McHale brings all of Jeff Winger’s charm and ability to sway others to the role of a right wing conspiracy theorist in a way that offers a new spin on such characters for the new century, a charming internet star rather than an oddball recluse. What role, if any, he will play in future episodes remains to be seen, but he certainly makes an impression here.

It’s the returning characters that long-term fans will remember, though. William B. Davis’ appearance as the Cigarette Smoking Man (now smoking out of a hole in his throat) is treated as a surprise with his name shown only in the end credits, though it was widely leaked online. Even better, though, is Skinner’s appearance, not only in the episode (looking a little bit shifty and generally concerned, as ever) but in the main credits as well.

Those opening credits are the moment we really know we’re in safe hands with this revival. Mulder’s opening narration is accompanied by archive footage in a manner vaguely reminiscent of Homeland, bringing the show firmly up to date. But then the opening credits come on and… they’re exactly the same. The X-Files’ credit sequence has always been a brilliant piece of work, and aside from cast changes, remained the same throughout the show’s run. And so it does here – aside from the inclusion of Skinner, as in season nine, it is exactly the same credit sequence it has always been, picture of 25-year-old Gillian Anderson and all. Hearing that first “doo doo doo doo dee doo” and seeing those weird, blurry images fill the screen is like coming home. This combination sums up everything this revival, so far, is doing really well – combining new elements with the classic series in a way that truly makes this The X-Files, season ten. I can’t wait for episode 2.