The X-Files limited series begins exactly as I would have wanted.
I’m not talking about the vaguely wind-baggy introduction/series primer for the uninitiated that writer/director Chris Carter fashioned for poor star David Duchovny. No, “My Struggle,” the first of six episodes in the limited series run, truly begins when Fox Mulder (Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) meet in D.C. after an extended separation. There are casual references to the dissolution of their romance. There is hesitancy, tentativeness. But when they look at each other – really look into each other’s eyes – well… the exchange says everything it needs to. Suddenly, we’ve been catapulted from the end of The X-Files in 2002 into the present day. And we absorb an incredible amount of that missing time with a 5-second look. It’s a throw-away moment. It’s a powerful moment. It’s exactly what we needed at the start.
That’s not to say that Mulder and Scully are particularly happy to be reunited. Their interactions through “My Struggle” are terse and often brittle. After growing Dana Scully into a believer, this limited series (frustratingly) puts her back in the role of the doubter. Mulder’s tendencies toward anti-government diatribes haven’t ebbed. In fact, thanks to the introduction of Internet conspiracy king Ted O’Malley (a fantastic Joel McHale), Mulder is more paranoid than even. Hints of his bouts with depression and Scully’s obvious exhaustion of his constant truth seeking point to their breakup. But “My Struggle” isn’t really about Mulder and Scully. No, much to its detriment, it becomes another confusing and counterproductive mythology episode.
I have never truly loved the famed mythology episodes that plagued the original series. Some of them were passable. Some even good. Most were just padding until the next “monster of the week.” So, it’s a little disheartening that Chris Carter chose to kick off his The X-Files limited series with one such episode. The overall plot involves O’Malley involving Mulder with potential abductee Sveta (Annet Mahendru) and another take on whether or not aliens actually abduct and experiment on humans. There are some moments of fantastic special effects which, by now, have become so commonplace and inexpensive that it would be a cheat to omit them. But, as ultimately entertaining as it is, is this really what people wanted?
The X-Files can never be as good as it was (even when it wasn’t really that good to begin with) by trying to mirror the conspiracy mentality that made it somewhat unique back in the 1990s. Now, those paranoid musings are all old hat. CBS has fashioned an entire industry on such shows that drown in conspiratorial paranoia. It even references events like 9/11 and Edward Snowden, real life events whose internet conspiracy underpinnings far overshadow what The X-Files has to offer. What made the show unique were the “monsters of the week” episodes, those brief glimpses into the supernatural that thrilled and disgusted with equal measure. The X-Files managed to take abnormalities and explore them in ways as to explore the definition of humanity itself.
Those episodes were the heart and soul of The X-Files. And, even though its great to see David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson take up their famed roles again, the limited series opener can only travel so far on that pent-up good will. Perhaps it’s easier for me to slip back into the series since I haven’t really left it. I know how uneven it could be. I also know how great it can be. Here’s hoping Carter shifts focus quickly and regains that sense of incredible wonder and humanity.
Spoiler alert: I know he does.