The X-Files have been reopened. Join special agents Susan Stover and Peter Counter as they pick apart the adventures of Mulder and Scully, episode by episode, desperately trying to believe while trusting no one.
Dana Katherine Scully’s original mission was to debunk the X-Files. In the opening to “My Struggle II” we hear her disembodied voice reminisce about how her time working on these Files produced an existential shift in her thinking; she’s been abducted, had tests performed on her bloated abdomen, and well — she’s seen some shit. This tightly constructed exposition is supplemented by a collage of 8×10 photographs that apparently some stalker took of her and Mulder at their most vulnerable and tender moments.
Scully reiterates the mission of the six-part mini-series: to undercover the truth about the men against humanity who wish to exterminate all mankind with uncovered alien technology. In “My Struggle II” these men — one nose-less nicotine addict in particular — start a chain of events to wipe out the population via everyday viruses (and you know, anthrax). However, Scully’s quick on her feet, she knows she has alien DNA (for sure) and that it is not a weakness, but a cure. It, or rather she, is the key to saving the world.
Scully feels like she’s a bad mother. Lost in self-doubt and fears about her shortcomings to baby William rippled throughout each and every one of the miniseries’ episodes. However, her genetic material holds the key to saving every man, woman, and child on the globe—making her a post-apocalyptic threat Eve. The one and only mother to the super-virus immune masses.
Does her antidote undo all the work of this madman? Will we see Tad live another day to reveal the truth about conspiracies? Will Mulder get over his very dramatic case of the sniffles/Daddy hating? Is Skinner okay?
“My Struggle II” answers none of these questions, and do you know why? Because you’re going to have to wait for the fucking movie, that’s why (cue Chris Carter’s maniacal laughter).
Peter: While it was mostly ruined by terrible pacing and its frustrating non-ending, “My Struggle II” did have a few redeeming qualities, and one of them was Laura Ambrose’s return as Agent Einstein, aka Dana Scully 2.0. In the original X-Files series, after Duchovny left the show as a series regular leaving Mulder to be replaced by the tough tactile learner Agent John Doggett, Scully ditched her skeptic brand and went woo woo. Because of this, Mulder and Scully currently lack the ideological friction that made them shine so much in the 90s. The introduction of Einstein both highlights this problem and remedies it, vaccinating The X-Files with the rational thinking it’s been missing for well over a decade (I’m going to go ahead and guess this period of the missing piece spans season eight through to last week’s dismal “Babylon”).
Einstein’s conflict with Scully in this final hour of the revival series helped elevate her from single episode oddity to blessing in disguise. She out-Scullied Scully as the two tried to deal with the Syndicate’s super-AIDS, constantly grounding Dana’s ravings about alien DNA and anti-vaxxing. It’s extremely refreshing to finally have a character hear about the ridiculous secret history of Chris Carter’s United States and say, “No. No, because science.” The X-Files isn’t The X-Files, after all, until a red haired woman scientist is proven wrong about everything.
Susan: As Tad asserts, science fiction becomes science fact! A not-so-clever but catchy play on words that are the epitome of how Scully solves the riddle of genocide by microbes. I like Einstein, as you do Peter, and I also appreciate having a clear-eyed skeptic in the room.
However, I feel like this redhead may be a red herring. If they wish to reboot the series (once again) with the new agents, then can we not say that the mythology can just continue on for another nine years where we don’t get any sort of answers but instead more questions? What more can we eke out of two diametrically opposed cutie agents? The new agents may be helping Mulder and Scully with their mission, but don’t be fooled into thinking they are cogs in the closure machine.
Peter: My favourite aspect of The X-Files mythology is the smallpox vaccination conspiracy, so my inner nerd was squealing all the way through “My Struggle II.” It is one of those sweet spots for the show that lands right at the intersection of real truther movement and pragmatically understandable control mechanism. While supersoldier programs and alien civil wars rely on fantastical exposition dumps and anthropomorphized extra terrestrial intentions, the idea that a vain shadow government would attempt to control mass populations through vaccinations makes sense. As I was telling you during the commercial break, if I was a Syndicate member, that’s how I would do it.
Susan: Jenny McCarthy is freaking the fuck out right now, as I stand firm on my assertion that The X-Files was the original anti-vaxxer handbook. For is it not unbelievable that terrible people in power would piggyback onto the good intentions of those wishing to eradicate a deadly virus? The Spartan virus is a Trojan Horse, releasing the enemy from the inside out.
Peter: That’s a good point. It’s one of those highly literary super weapons that served to remind me that Old Smokie is a man of letters (or at least short story rejection letters). For a government plague episode though, “My Struggle II” is missing one crucial X-Files icon: the smallpox bees. As featured in the Skinner centric “Zero-Sum” and the first feature film Fight The Future, the smallpox bees are the epitome of X-Files creepy, combining the utter coolness of bees and adding an alluring occult element to them.
Peter: I don’t think The X-Files works on the grand apocalyptic scale we see in “My Struggle II.” The fun of the show’s mythology is one of a secret history that could be happening right now. The potential of a global catastrophe like the one we saw in this finale has always been a threat, but it was the insidious nature of that threat which made it click with me. An invisible alien invasion, or a government control scheme that happened without us even knowing.
A pandemic of Spartan Virus goes a bit too far in the direction of the revealing the Syndicate’s existence to the world for the show to reset itself again. And if it doesn’t, then the public close encounter with an actual real life UFO certainly does. In the past, The X-Files dealt with these things in cold, clean and terrifying ways: abductees were discredited, stigmatized and abused for the remainder of their lives; evidence was destroyed; in some extreme cases large groups of people were killed at once, their loved ones lied to by their government.
Susan: But what about body count? I mean in terms of the illness that was striking all over the place, in any of Tad’s reports he doesn’t assert that anyone has died. Perhaps it would be easier to explain that this was a super bug, or a terrorist attack, or global water poisoning? I’m sure they’ll think of something, and don’t forget The X-Files deals in metonymic machinations.
Peter: “My Struggle II” reaches a tipping point by its end though, and it’s one that can’t be covered up by mass murder or systemic abuse. If it were truly the end, as the alternate title card teases at the top of the episode, that would be fine, but it’s not. The episode ends on a cheap cliffhanger and we have to wait for movie number three.
Susan: Peter, a definitive end? Really? If there’s anything we know about this series is that they do not give us answers. The truth is out there, but it’s way out there and if Chris Carter has anything to do with it, it’s gonna stay out there until it is pried from his cold, dead fingers. Once again, I am not the optimistic party in getting anything from The X-Files except boogey men and half baked theories.
Peter: You’re right, Susan, an actual proper end would be off-brand. And to be fair, the series has never shied away from ending an episode — even a season finale — in the middle of scene. But the unanswered threads of The X-Files are more powerful when they aren’t actively suspended in time. If the six revival episodes finished with everyone being cured miraculously without the intervention of Scully and her one-hour EZ Bake vaccine, then we would have a compelling question to leave the show on. Or if even we saw Scully, Mulder and Miller abducted followed by Tad reporting on the aftermath. But this? This is simply unfinished.
Clearly Chris Carter doesn’t see “My Struggle II” as the end of The X-Files, since he didn’t fucking finish writing it. But what will a potential future look like for the show? The obvious choice is to follow this with a third movie, but I think I’d prefer a full series revival that wraps this Spartan Virus arc up in the first episode then passes the torch to Miller and Einstein for a real deal attempt at The New X-Files. I honestly think that, with a new showrunner at the helm and Lauren Ambrose and Robbie Amell in the leads, The X-Files can work as a full fledged modern series.
As it is though, the six episode revival series has made me less excited than ever at the prospect of a third X-Files movie. Somewhere along the way, I’m thinking around season six, Chris Carter started ruining a good thing, and my struggle as a fan has been fooling myself into thinking it’s not that bad.
Susan: But it is. That bad.
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Susan: Dana Scully is my hero. I can’t help but separate Gillian Anderson from this character and my infinite adoration for her work. However, I assert Scully is the new, more improved Mulder. Like Peter mentioned, she’s gone full woo-woo, but not without a logistical and pragmatic foundations.
In the hospital when Scully is sure “This is just the beginning” of a global outbreak, she doesn’t get emotional, or disappear for like half an hour with no answers like Mulder would. She very calmly, systematically outlines her hypothesis (even though Einstein is pretty close to screaming her head off), and then walks her Mini-Me through the scientific process. She is the perfect agent for The X-Files, even better than Mulder and Miller who are all id and hunk. Too bad they’re gonna suck her up into that spaceship and have her “disappearance” dangled like bait in front of us for a frustrating amount of time.
Peter: When Mulder calls CGB Spender’s (aka, Smoking Man; aka probably Mulder’s dad) ravings the “musings of a madman” it’s a tongue-in-cheek reference to the season four episode “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man” – one of the show’s coolest episodes that unpacks the legend of one of TV’s greatest villains.
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Peter: Now that it’s all over are you left wanting? Personally I am feeling really jilted by the promises of The Lone Gunmen only adding up to small cameos in Mulder’s placebo trip last week. But the new mythology paradigm that places doubt on the existence of contemporary aliens also kind of blocked us from getting a 2016 black oil episode. When it comes to missed opportunities I think I’d rate them in the following order: 1. bees, 2. black oil, 3. Lone Gunmen.
Susan: We are left wanting, and perhaps that’s not a surprise. But my follow up question to the end of the episode where Scully stares up the spaceship with a slight look of euphoria on her face is: Will you watch the movie?
It’s a pretty popular opinion that the first two were not great, and with another full-length installment I can’t help but brace myself for a tryptic of terrible trickery.
Peter: Woah, woah WOAH. The first movie is one of the best pieces of X-Files media ever made if for no other reason than the amazing bee scene! In fact, it has black oil, bees and the Lone Gunmen. I wish this miniseries was just the first movie.
Susan: So are you saying that you think the first movie is like, “the bees knees?” Or that it was “slick”? ‘Cause you might be the Lone Critic on that front.
Peter: So… Are you coming with me to self-loathingly hope-watch the movie on opening night?
Susan: You are buying the snacks.