The X-Files have been reopened. Join special agents Susan Stover and Peter Counter for the next five weeks as they pick apart the adventures of Mulder and Scully, episode by episode, desperately trying to believe while trusting no one.
Mythology is as old as storytelling itself. We steep ourselves in the mythos of great gods, heroes, and lovers gleaning lessons about honour, hubris, and fate. For the most beloved science fiction television series, it’s the mythology and storylines that keep us, the viewers, entranced. Amid the monsters of the week, spoof genre specials, and self-contained stories, these mythology episodes are interspersed in a kind of recipe that promises the longevity of the world’s greatest mysteries.
The X-Files is no exception. Last night’s miniseries premiere – 13 years after the original series finale — starts with a voice over from one Fox Mulder. Helping those of us who haven’t tuned in for a while, and even those who haven’t seen the show at all, the recap Mulder provides about UFO activity and subsequent cover ups isn’t just an introduction to the mythology of the show — it’s a history lesson.
Susan: Even the cast and creators of the show will admit the this reboot of the series is due, at least in part, to the dedication and consternation of its loyal fans. Fan service is something I’m always weary of, considering that if the only reason a show or movie is coming back is to please its hungry audience.
Admittedly, I couldn’t help but celebrate gleefully when I saw the all-too-familiar opening credits. My nostalgic pleasure left me tingling when I heard the overwrought and melodramatic synthesizer background music that only composer Mark Snow could deliver underscored each scene.
Peter: The good, the bad, it’s all there too. Even the reliance on state-of-the-art-for-TV visual effects — which, when all’s said and done already look a bit dated — harken back to the original X-Files’ tendencies toward movie magic. The Roswell crash that opens the episode and the subsequent flashback moment of xenocide — when the man in black murders a CGI grey alien — these moments would have been best served by more practical effects. But Chris Carter and his team opted for computer animation, and as much as it wasn’t great, it still felt like The X-Files.
Susan: Okay, but that CGI alien was terrifically terrible looking. I just want a person in a suit, like it used to be.
Despite my whining, I feel like the first episode isn’t just about returning to the world of The X-Files for old time sake. We see that Mulder is still obsessed with what happened to his sister, and is perhaps suffering from a broken spirit after “wanting to believe” for so long.
When one Tad O’Malley summons the two agents, Scully and Mulder are reunited. After ten years of sexual tension and bonding, we saw them “together” like “TOGETHER” in the final movie, but it doesn’t look like that stuck. Rather, they are very happy to see each other, an amicable break up. Scully tells Mulder she thinks it’s good for him to “get out of that little house” of his. He retorts, somewhat wounded, “You were happy to leave.”
Tad’s kind of a jerk who has a web show where he natters on about how 9/11 was all part of one big conspiracy. He tells Scully and Mulder that he needs their help and drives them out to a secluded home that “Even aliens couldn’t find” (Yeah, OKAY). We meet the doe eyed Sveta, a woman who claims to know Mulder, in fact he interviewed her when she was a girl and was abducted for the first time.
Peter: Tad O’Malley’s blabbering was one of the episode’s bigger hits for me. “My Struggle” succeeds in arguing for the existence of The X-Files in 2016. Critics have long argued that the political climate in the 00s didn’t suit the Trust No One mantra of Mulder and Scully, because Americans wanted to trust their government when at war with real human ideology. Now, however, in a world of metadata, surveillance drones, location services on your smartphone and Edward Snowden on your Twitter feed, the government can finally be the bad guys again.
Normally, the gigantic swaths of exposition would probably turn me off as a viewer, but the most thrilling scenes in “My Struggle” weren’t the ARV detonation, Sveta’s close encounter of the possibly lethal kind, or even AD Skinner’s sexy beard. The best parts were the conspiracy dumps: long, rambling, paranoid monologues that cut away to historical news footage meant solely to convince me as a viewer that maybe I’m wrong when I imagine I know what’s happening.
That said, I also liked both Sveta and Tad as new characters. Joel McHale is well cast as a charismatic right wing nut, and despite his faux pas political views and overall air of exploitation, I felt a pang of sympathy when his website 404’d. Annet Mahendru, who plays Sveta, also manages to play opposites perfectly, garnering sympathy in one moment and stinking like a fraud the next.
Susan: Do we believe Sveta? She like, knows that she has alien DNA “for sure” without medical proof. Then when Scully tests her she claims she’s a psychic, although like, she can’t use her powers all the time. Although, she’s pretty good at telling Scully that he and Mulder were together and that Mulder is depressed. She tries to go on about the nature of the two’s relationship, but Scully stabs her with a needle to get her to shut up.
Sveta gets mad and claims that Scully doesn’t know what it’s like to be abducted and tested. WRONG SVETA YOU FALSE PROPHET. Obviously Scully’s micro eyebrow twitch let’s Sveta know that Scully DOES know what it’s like, as we know Scully was abducted and tested many times.
Peter: I believe Sveta. Or rather: I WANT TO BELIEVE her. Her arc, particularly in that scene you described with Scully where they sort of lock abductee horns, feels very much in line with the contemporary media narrative we’ve seen over the past few years of discrediting women who have been victimized. It’s highlighted by the fact that the conspiracy of men/aliens (maliens?) doing this to her are repeatedly impregnating her, which lends a whole new light to the sexual nature of this series’ myriad invasive abductions.
Susan: Yeah, but I guess “they” blew her up, so there’s no way of knowing if she was telling the truth or not.
Fear The Future
Susan: We are given the long, drawn out facts provided by Mulder and Tad that there are aliens. They were drawn here by the H-Bombs with the intention to save us from ourselves. BUT, humans are assholes, so we stole their technology and a multi-national group of elite power hungry downright odious evil folks decided to take the idea of alien abductions to hide the fact that they were testing humans to create human-alien hybrids. The Industrial Military Entertainment Complex convinces the public that we are constantly under threat and we must trust the government, but these uber violent fascist elites are lying in wait just so they can take over the world by staging a coup that involves a fake alien invasion.
Peter: And weather machines. Don’t forget weather machines. The biggest job “My Struggle” had was to bring the famous X-Files mythology into the present day. From a pure fear factor, that means changing the threat of invasion to the threat of climate. In the old series, December 21, 2012 was thought of as the set date of alien colonization. Now, in the re-pilot, the show has retconned that date to be the time the switch went on the the Conspiracy of Men started preparing to rule the world through Forever Wars and climate change.
Susan: Not everyone is so sure. As per usual, Scully’s convinced that Mulder’s gone off the deep end. She wants nothing to do with it, and is particularly upset when she sees Sveta in the doorway of Mulder’s small house — the one they shared for an unspecified amount of time. Her fear and anger is borne of disbelief, perhaps not just at the lunatic rantings of Mulder, but also their lengthy personal history. “You know what you’re doing” she says to him, and I for one, cannot help but hear this sentence fraught with double meaning.
Peter: I would be very surprised if Mulder wasn’t at least feeling a sense of deja vu considering he’s already flip flopped between the idea of alien invasion and a purely governmental conspiracy. Maybe that’s the titular struggle. Mulder, in his desperate want to believe, is torn between two possibilities and he keeps seeing himself make the same mistakes over and over again. It’s men, no wait, it’s aliens; it’s different men, no, wait, it’s different aliens; it’s super soldiers (alien men), it’s… men with drones now? And yet, as much as those details change constantly, his questions never do. Are we alone? What happened to my sister? Are we being lied to?
Are We Ready?
Susan: Seriously, how many times has Mulder uttered the phrase, “I’ve figured it out.”
But Scully might be with him this time after she finds she has alien DNA, and despite her original hesitance to go looking for the truth, this convinces her. Not just for herself of course, but for the child she and Mulder had together. A child, that most likely shared her alien chromosomes. Their saving of the world just got a whole lot more personal.
Peter: As a reintroduction, I think “My Struggle” succeeds in convincing me that I want more X-Files. The sense of paranoia is tangible again. The government is corrupt, the Smoking Man is smoking, and all evidence is pointing to us living in a darker reality than we realize, where humans can do terrible things to each other in the name of nothing other than power. Sure, the episode was pretty heavy on the exposition, and while that added some classic 90s flavour it also weighted down the pace. But by the end of the hour, after Mulder once again gave up on his celestial faith and Scully picked a bit of it back up, I realized something: I want to believe again.
-Under The Tin Foil Hat-
Tad: Rad or Bad?
Susan: I think Tad is bad. I would be glad if he was rad, but there’s much more exposition to be had. He also def wants to bone Scully (perhaps we could say this is a tad overboard) but she looked like she was pretty close with the half drunk glass of champagne in her hand in the back of his limo.
Peter: I for one, would like to see him practice the transparency he preaches. Rad or bad, Tad has a lot of money and I’m not sure I completely believe it’s all from YouTube ad revenue. Also: I can’t wait to see him inevitably come face to face with the Lone Gunmen and see how the old pros uncover conspiracies.
Lend Me Your Ears
Susan: WHY CAN’T SCULLY DO A SURGERY WITHOUT GETTING BLOOD ALL OVER HER NECK? Seriously, it’s really frightening to think that she chops up kids and there’s so much blood spatter that it creates a Jackson Pollock on her throat. TWICE. And why doesn’t she wash it off before she starts talking to people and using search engines and referring to one of the nurses just as “Nurse” like she doesn’t have a name?
Peter: Scully has two jobs, Susan, she doesn’t have time for the luxuries you and I have like taking a shower or learning the name of someone she works with. Also, not to make this about Tad, but talk about insensitive. “Those kids kind of look like aliens!” Just the kind of tact I’d expect from a 9/11 truther.
Susan: Why does Mulder believe like everything that one person tells him. Like he just sees Sveta and is like “Yup, this is real.” Without any proof! Ugh, but I guess that’s why he so desperately needs Scully.
Peter: Mulder’s hobby is believing. I think he’s just really good at it, and he’s eager to show off his skill anytime someone is like: “Your life’s work is a sham. Here’s the insane thing that you should live your life knowing.” There are two exceptions two this, however: 9/11 conspiracies and Christianity.
Are You Ready (For Some Football)
Peter: I don’t think I’ve ever hated football as much as I did last night since I was in elementary school and The X-Files was still in its original run. About five minutes into the after-game show I started fantasizing about ways the whole sports thing could have been turned into an epic cold open. Like, what if some old dude was talking about kicking or tackling and suddenly the feed was interrupted by The Lone Gunmen hacking the signal? That would have solicited nerdgasms across the continent.