This The X-Files review contains heavy spoilers. Readers be warned!
The X-Files Season 11 Episode 1
It was all a dream! Well, it’s more complicated than that. Actually, it’s all rather confusing and I had to watch The X-Files Season 11 premiere, “My Struggle III,” 2.5 times to feel confident that I had the plot straight and how it relates back to the long, winding history of the show’s myth arc. I’m still undecided if the premiere clears up the outstanding issues created by season 10, or even makes some of them worse, but a few overarching elements of series creator Chris Carter’s narrative (the complete four-part arc titled My Struggle) did set up some semblance of a compelling intro to the season.
On my initial viewing, much of that goodwill was squandered by long exposition dumps, with David Duchovny doing voiceover in a car for seemingly half the episode, and a sense of urgency that bordered on parody. What the episode does do well is introduce a path forward with potential. More importantly, it continues a somewhat unexpected dialogue on the current state of public affairs. To Chris Carter’s credit, much of the groundwork to make the show feel “relevant,” as we’ve seen a number of critics including myself say in the spoiler-free reviews, came from the panned aspects of “My Struggle I” (Does that make most of “My Struggle II” unnecessary? Maybe!).
Picking up from the cliffhanger, we open on Dana Scully in Mulder’s office (I can only presume at this point that somewhere in season 11 they’ll finally get this poor woman a desk). She sees flashes of the UFOs, Mulder dying of the Spartan virus, etc., and passes out, only to wake up in a hospital and recount the visions she saw to Mulder, who has no idea what the hell she’s talking about.
This is far from the first time we’ve seen a white flash of light erase or reset some big scene in this show. Fans might get a little testy, and possibly even be triggered by the lack of explanation and execution. I was at first! But there’s plenty of precedent in the history of The X-Files for us to move on and accept Scully’s vision as the premonitions they prove to be in the rest of the episode (update: as others noted, it’s William giving her these visions). Our X-Files correspondent Matt Allair also pointed out how it mirrors Mulder’s comatose visions of the hellish end times in season six’s “The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati.”
I don’t like crediting Tad O’Malley with anything, but he was an avatar for the disinformation campaigns we’ve seen in the two years since the episode aired. Sure, it looks like Tad was right about the Spartan virus, but he served to focus Mulder on fighting even harder to make the truth surface today amongst all the loud, brash bullshit online or within our government. One guy who knows that better than anyone is Carl Gerhart Bush, or C.G.B. Spender, or the Cigarette Smoking Man. Back in all his glory and holding the world in his hands, some of the best scenes of the episode are William B. Davis engaged in the machinations of the end times, and the flashbacks that establish him as essentially the most powerful man in the world.
Putting aside the direct missle hit we’ll have to assume he survived thanks to alien technology or medicine, CSM can sit on his perch and watch the world destroy itself. Fake news, natural disasters, and a lack of trust in science distract us, while our impending doom creeps closer. It’s the ultimate cover for a man who spent the decades operating in the shadows. “I’m not a bad man, I’m a practical man,” CSM says, which we’ve heard before. Can we believe it at this point? By offering immunity to the virus, is he offering one final peace treaty to the group of people he’s tormented and toyed with for years? Or is it something more sinister, like when he told Mulder in the original series finale, “The Truth,” that he protected him for years only to wait for the day he finally got to break the agent’s spirit.
Further complicating the storyline is the men sent to harass former agent Jeffrey Spender, who through the powers of modern medicine is no longer horribly deformed, and tail Agent Mulder in the world’s most boring and inconsequential car chase. Spender is being pressured to give up the location of Mulder and Scully’s son William, who is apparently the key to stopping CSM’s plan. There’s another, new group looking for Mulder. The group needs to stop CSM, but their motives are mysterious and unclear.
In the best scene of the episode, the group says the aliens aren’t coming. Extraterrestrials have “no interest in a warming planet with vanishing resources.” If true, maybe that answers for the Mayans fucking up their calendar and the lack of an alien colonization in 2012. Somehow, CSM is in possession of an alien pathogen that will be “the end of history.” The group says they want to save humanity, and that CSM was a rogue operator and left their group long ago, presumably to help form The Syndicate. It’s no surprise that in a matter of moments, CSM is framing himself as a hero, a man who tried to bargain with the alien colonists and protect our society. So does this mean there were two factions attempting to save humanity at all costs? Or one trying to stop the other? Can the story of either party be verified? Are both groups lying to Mulder?
In the biggest reveal of the episode, one that will absolutely destroy shippers, is CSM claiming that William is not Mulder’s son, and he impregnated Scully during their getaway in season 7’s “En Ami,” which is cool because the first draft of the script was originally written by William B. Davis. But again, IS THAT A LIE, X-FILES? Who knows?!
Somewhere in this episode the truth has been laid out. It’s up to Mulder and Scully to wade through the lies at a time when it’s easier than ever to dismiss and obstruct the truth. I do like that setup, if even it’s handled a little cleaner in the subsequent episodes.
My issue here is the pacing. Some of the great X-Files directors like Rob Bowman and the late Kim Manners knew when to press on the gas and when to slow down and let the dialogue breathe. In the “My Struggle” episodes, the show seems to have adopted the breathless walk and talk dialogue of The West Wing. And for a show that used all kinds of music as well as any drama to amplify its intense, emotional, and scary scenes, the undercurrent of upbeat and generic action drama melody in the episode is another unneeded distraction. These are nitpicky, maybe minor points, but it adds up for longtime fans, and might take some people out of what could be a really fun arc.
As I wrote in my spoiler-free review of the first five episodes of season 11, this season is structured a little different than the 10 that come before it. Elements of “My Struggle III” bleed into the next handful of episodes, a slight departure from the show’s church and state separation of the myth arc and monster-of-the-week episodes. “My Struggle III” leaves a lot of questions, many that will not be answered truthfully. We know by now that truth and proof are as hard to come by as little green men.
“My Struggle I” and “My Struggle III” were not great episodes by any stretch, but they at least reaffirm why we need to commit to finding the the truth. Remember Mulder’s final courtroom statement in the original series finale?
“Liars do not fear the truth if there are enough liars,” Mulder says.