There’s a moment in The X-Files season 11 where Fox Mulder gazes at the tombstone of an old ally and verbalises the paradox we’re all currently in. “He’s dead because the world was so dangerous and complex back then,” Mulder says. “Who’d have thought we’d look back with nostalgia and say that was a simpler time?”
It’s right there that Mulder cracks the case of why these revivals still appeal to viewers and why The X-Files is back again with new episodes in 2018, when all logic points to the contrary. Two years after the show was revived to sometimes harsh, sometimes mixed, and in the case of one episode, glowing reviews, the story continues in the 10-episode X-Files season 11. We’ll get this out of the way: It’s a marked improvement over season 10. What’s more encouraging for fans is that The X-Files, against all odds, has taken on a new sense of purpose, one that got lost during the short tenth season.
Speaking with Chris Carter back in September, the series creator told Den of Geek US that capturing the zeitgeist in today’s news climate was about as hard as hitting a UFO with a paintball gun: “You actually wonder if what you’re writing today will have any bearing on reality when it airs six months later. The zeitgeist seems to be morphing on a daily basis.”
Thankfully for Carter, paranoia and skepticism of the government, hallmarks of the seminal sci-fi series, have grown significantly since Mulder and Scully left our televisions in 2002. Not only that, but less than a month before The X-Files’ premiere, The New York Times published an expose on a top-secret Pentagon program that studied unidentified flying objects, with one high-ranking official going on record to say he believed aliens exist and UFOs have visited earth.
“Now that this story has come out, it is some validation,” Carter told EW after the bombshell New York Times report dropped. “But I still say it’s being treated like it’s tabloid news.”
The story will have little effect on season 11 since it broke while Carter was finishing production of the season finale. However, this season of The X-Files still has plenty to say about the current relationship between the people and its government, the amplification of conspiracy theories and fake information, and maybe best of all, the ongoing beef (to be polite) between the White House and the FBI.
The X-Files picks up season 11 with My Struggle III, in some ways a continuation of the maligned mythology episodes of season 10, and in others a much talked about ‘reset.’ The episode, written and directed by Carter, improves upon the first two My Struggle instalments by streamlining the mythology into a more coherent good vs. evil battle, setting up the William storyline, and keeping the focus on the major players (Mulder, Scully, Cigarette Smoking Man, and Walter Skinner…. And even Monica Reyes.) Many of the same My Struggle problems are still there. For one thing, the pacing feels breakneck and out of sync compared to some of the great Carter-directed mythology episodes of the original run.
Some of that is made up for with deeper characterisation in the second episode, written and directed by Glen Morgan, which acts more like a continuation than a monster-of-the-week episode and finds Mulder and Scully on the run and communicating with an old friend (you can guess who by watching the trailer) in a way I can only describe as Black Mirror-esque.
The Carter-penned third episode, Plus One, feels like a throwback monster-of-the-week episode with eerie, offbeat performances, but more importantly it continues to develop Mulder and Scully’s relationship, a theme we’ll see throughout the first half of season 11. That idea is totally flipped on its head in the fourth episode, written and directed by fan-favourite Darin Morgan. I dare to say The Lost Art Of Forehead Sweat stars Brian Huskey with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson relegated to supporting roles. The humorous episode might make you question everything you thought you knew about The X-Files, in the best and most light-hearted way possible. Believe it, somehow Morgan topped Mulder and Scully Meet the Were Monster.
The early part of the season all leads to Ghouli, written and directed by James Wong. All I can say there without spoiling it is that it expertly handles a key part of X-Files lore.
The X-Files comeback had as difficult of a job as any show during this revival era. Forget the question posed to all show revivals, whether we even needed The X-Files to resurface in the first place after nine seasons, two films, and countless comic books, novels, and video games. Chris Carter needed to update the show for the 2010s in a way that didn’t feel tacky, get the agents back into the FBI, wash over the great alien invasion of 2012 that never came to fruition, and drum up new mythology that didn’t retcon the stuff of old. It didn’t pan out quite like he envisioned it. This time around, with what Carter calls a “running start,” The X-Files season 11 sets out to tell a complete story and is halfway to accomplishing that. There may be no perfect end to this story, but it’s a huge win for fans that they’re allowing the smaller character moments to shine (even Mitch Pileggi’s Walter Skinner will get a backstory!), when relationships often were overlooked because the monsters or aliens were so blinding.
The X-Files is shockingly relevant again and tackling current affairs better than it did in its original run and has a lot of fun doing it. That’s a real feat… or is it? That reminds me of a Mulder quote from season six when he was pressed for answers by Assistant Director Kersh. “I’ve had answers for years,” Mulder posits. “Nobody ever listened.”
The X-Files season 11 will air here in the UK on Channel 5, date tbc.