This X-Files review contains spoilers.
The X-Files Season 11 Episode 10
After “My Struggle II,” the season 10 finale aired, I questioned in my review whether I even wanted The X-Files to continue. I put my sacrilege in print, wishing my favorite show would end its run on that dour note, a cliffhanger no less. I hoped it was all a dream sequence.
Cooler heads than mine thankfully prevailed at Fox. The network gave Chris Carter a larger canvas, a 10-episode order for a second revival season, and with him came some fresh writing and directing talent. Over the majority of those 10 episodes, The X-Files season 11 was a stunning return to form. The season 10 training wheels came off, and the series responded by pulling off some daring tricks. When the series is finally dead and buried (although no one is ever really dead in The X-Files), a handful of episodes from this season deserve consideration to be included in the show’s 50 best episodes ever. Hell, maybe someday I’ll get around to writing that list myself.
Sadly, the final part in Carter’s mythology saga, “My Struggle IV,” does not live up to what came before it. After 25 years, the four most recent episodes that chronicle the show’s alien mythology fail to live up to the series’ original run. It’s a shame because they really did get it right on the monster-of-the-week side by paying homage to the show’s history in jest while approaching standalone episodes with real-world implications.
On paper, I could see how the outline for the four “My Struggle” episodes would have played out like a great script for an X-Files movie. Whistle-blowers catch wind of the spartan virus, giving Mulder and Scully a reason to reunite. Scully gets visions of the virus outbreak, leading her to jump into the investigation head on with Mulder. A case leads them to William (now known as Jackson), who they realize is the key to stopping the virus because of his alien DNA. Throw in a challenge from a government contractor who want the boy for their own nefarious purposes and a rejuvenated Smoking Man who is hellbent on “saving” the planet by destroying its citizens, and let a manhunt for William begin.
In execution, it was a mess. Breaking up “My Struggle I” and “My Struggle II” as bookends in season 10 was fine, but gimmicks like the entire second part being a vision shared by William and Scully tend to not work well in the moment. The third chapter righted some wrongs by re-introducing the Smoking Man and some promising shadowy figures in Mr. Y and Erika Price. But it also took an unnecessary leap that didn’t sit right by fans: CSM claimed he was William’s real father. So a character that already had plenty of shitty things happen to her over the course of the series essentially lost a major connection she had with Mulder. That’s on top of the troubling revelation that she was raped, “scientifically,” by CSM.
There’s little room for nuance in these installments because the pacing was totally out of whack. The X-Files is known for taking huge risks in tone, but the “My Struggle” episodes are wannabe action flicks that don’t come anywhere close to warranting the intensity they thought it did. The X-Files mythology episodes were always a slow burn. Carter and Co. did well to stretch things out this time around by putting a major piece to the mythology puzzle in episode 5, “Ghouli,” one of the best episodes of either revival season. It wasn’t enough. “My Struggle IV” couldn’t help but feel rushed across the finish line, leaving more to be desired of the action, special effects, and development of Mr. Y and Erika Price’s faction of the Syndicate, which now feels like a wasted opportunity as I watched their blood senselessly splattered all over the place. Carter’s instincts with this arc were on point (and you can read his explanations about the episode in our interview with him), but my major takeaway from the revival mythology will always be a sadness that the great X-Files directors Rob Bowman or the late Kim Manners weren’t behind the camera.
I did enjoy the final moments of the episode, from Jackson’s embrace with Scully to Mulder finally smoking the Smoking Man. The jury is still out on whether the catharsis of Mulder lighting up CSM was earned and milked for dramatic effect as well as it could have been.
What saves “My Struggle IV” in the end is a genuine moment on the pier between Mulder and Scully. The revelation that a second miracle child on the way was enough to make me emotional. Still, I can’t help but think it would have held the same weight had they abandoned the troublesome CSM impregnation angle. That aside, this is a way out of The X-Files for both Mulder and Scully, a second chance to be together and raise a family. I don’t love how we got to that point within these mythology episodes, but what they built in terms of Mulder and Scully’s relationship over the course of season 11 was deeply satisfying as a longtime fan of the series.
Maybe Chris Carter gets the last laugh here as I eat my words from two years ago. Despite the bookends, I’m thrilled with what I saw from The X-Files in season 11. And not just for a revival show. The series went toe-to-toe with its modern-day contemporaries, ones that learned a trick or two from the groundbreaking sci-fi series. The X-Files is still out there, and in refusing to die, this season it redefined what it means to be timeless television.