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Josh Reviews The X-Files: Season 11 — Part One!

March 20th, 2018

Back in 2016, The X-Files returned from the dead for a short sixth episode tenth season (what Fox called at the time an “event series”).  Since 2002, I had been lamenting that it was a tragedy that The X-Files had been left without a proper ending.  (The show ended in 2002 with a lot still up in the air, and the series of X-Files movies that everyone involved with the show used to talk about never materialized.)  I had long dreamed for a third X-Files movie to wrap up the series, but I thought a six-episode return to TV was even better.  Six hours would, I thought, give Chris Carter & co. plenty of time to wrap everything up.

But that six-episode run wound up being something entirely different than what I’d expected.  Whereas I’d thought we’d get a concluding six-hour mini-series, Mr. Carter and his team treated those six episodes like a relaunch of the show.  They put Mulder and Scully back in the places they used to be during the series, as FBI agents investigating the paranormal; they returned to the series’ usual format of “mythology” episodes interspersed with stand-alone “monster of the week” episodes; heck, they even went back to the series’ original opening credits!  On the one hand, I was disappointed these six episodes didn’t provide the closure I’d been hoping for.  (The mythology was left even more muddled than it had been before, and the sixth episode ended with an enormous cliffhanger.)  On the other hand, since Mr. Carter’s two mythology episodes (that opened and closed the season) were such a mess, it was a relief that the four stand-alone episodes weren’t burdened with all that baggage and allowed the show to give us four solid classic-style X-Files episodes.  Also, the idea of the show returning as a series of shorter-run seasons was appealing to me!  If we got six new X-Files episodes a year for the next few years, I’d be happy!

But then we had to wait two long years before getting another season… and as this new ten-episode season 11 was finally arriving, Gillian Anderson announced that it was not her intention to play Scully ever again after these episodes.  So whatever dreams Chris Carter and Fox (and audience members like me) might have had of a new multi-year run of The X-Files seemed to die aborning.

So, where did that leave this show, and its fans?  Though I braced myself to expect that season 11 would be structured exactly like season 10, I dared to hope that 1) the quality of this new run of episodes would be higher than that of the very mediocre six-episodes from 2016, and 2) that we’d get a proper resolution to things by the end of it.

Despite my being a huge X-Files fan, because I found the six-episode revival from 2016 to be so mediocre, and because I felt the wind taken out of my sails by Gillian Anderson’s announcement that she was done with the show, I didn’t watch the new episodes right away as they aired.  But I have at last begun watching this new season.  Here are my thoughts on the first three episodes.

“My Struggle III” — After waiting almost two years for the resolution of the cliffhanger at the end of 2016’s six-episode X-Files revival, we find out that every single thing we saw in that season’s finale episode was just… a dream of Scully’s.  AARGH.  It’s the worst reset button bullshit I can recall seeing in my life.  That entire 2016 final episode was just a “vision” of Scully’s, somehow implanted in her brain by her lost son William?  That is so disappointing.  Yes, that episode was a mess.  It was almost incomprehensible, with jumps between scenes that made little sense, as if a two-hour show had been cut down to 40-something minutes, leaving just a skeletal framework behind.  It also looked awful; it tried to tell an epic end-of-the-world story but it looked flat and cheap.  It was, in my mind, a low-point for The X-Files series.  But just wiping it all away as a dream is a total betrayal of any investment the audience might have had.  Was this the intention all along?  Or did Chris Carter come back to the show two years later and realize he’d written himself into a corner, and just decide to wipe it all away?  I am mystified.  (Also, for all of that 2016 finale’s flaws, its one saving grace was that at least it showed us that, after years and years of teasing, the Syndicate’s plans for world domination were finally put into action.  At last, we sort of got a payoff to all of those story-lines, and to the tease in the show’s original 2002 series finale that “the date had been set” for the end of the world.  Now that too has been taken away from us by this revelation that none of those events actually happened.  AARGH!!!)

It’s a shame, because there are moments in the second half of this episode that feel like they contain sparks of that classic X-Files magic.  There’s a terrific sequence in which Skinner is confronting the Cigarette Smoking Man and Monica Reyes with a gun in his car, intercut with Mulder’s encounter with a mysterious man and woman who claim to be former members of CSM’s conspiratorial syndicate who now want to stop him.  That sequence was intense, and it had that great X-Files feeling of tension and excitement at answers being tantalizingly close.  In fact, the whole episode looked a lot better than that 2016 finale, and had an energy that flat finale was sorely missing.  But it’s hard to forgive the “it was all a dream” betrayal.

I am also left with a mystifying amount of questions.  Here’s one of my biggest: yes, it was ridiculous to learn in the 2016 shows that CSM survived being blown up by a missing in the show’s original series finale from 2002, but at least the 2016 finale made a nod towards believability by showing us that CSM had been mangled and disfigured by that incident.  Yet somehow in this episode he is perfectly back to normal?  That makes no sense.  Also: why does CSM want William?  If CSM is really William’s father, why or how does William have superpowers?  Why is Monica Reyes — presented in seasons eight and nine of the show as a heroic character — in cahoots now with CSM?  (Is it just to save her own skin as the 2016 finale suggested?)  Why does Skinner seem to agree to also ally himself with CSM after the revelation that CSM is William’s father?  Why would that make a difference to Skinner?  (I liked that Skinner had some meaty scenes in this episode, but it’s frustrating to me that, as has been the case since the beginning of the show, Skinner seems unable to actually take two seconds to explain any of his actions to Mulder and Scully.  How many tense Skinner scenes had we gotten over the course of the series in which he stubbornly insists he is doing the right thing but doesn’t actually stop and take two seconds to explain what or why??  This Lost style failure to communicate is very annoying.)

As for that twist that CSM is William’s father… wow.  On the one hand, I have to hand it to Chris Carter and co., in that I found that twist to be 1) genuinely surprising and 2) deeply disturbing.  It’s so horrifying that it colors the show — and so much of what we have seen on the show since the original season seven finale revelation that Scully was pregnant — in a gross manner that I am not sure Mr. Carter intended.  On the other hand, it does finally explain why William’s conception happened “off-camera” back in the day.  For a show whose early years were so built upon Mulder and Scully’s will-they-or-won’t-they romantic tension, and a show that made such a HUGE DEAL out of the tease of their first kiss (remember that almost kiss interrupted by a bee sting in the first movie??), it was weird that the moment in which Mulder and Scully had sex was just sort of glossed over in those later seasons.  Was this the plan all along?  Has Chris Carter been sitting on this for almost two decades?  I am dying to know.  I did love the careful way the show recreated Scully’s look during that season six time-period of the show.  That was well done.  But, blech, the whole idea is so gross and upsetting.

It was great to see Jeffrey Spender again.  I’m not sure how or why he is not totally disfigured like he was the last time we saw him.  I guess he and his father (CSM) both possess Wolverine’s healing factor?

I enjoyed the surprise of having CSM himself narrate the opening of this episode.  I also enjoyed the flashback glimpses of his past.  (Though I hated the suggestion that CSM was involved in faking the moon landing.  The show’s embracing of conspiracy theories has always been part of its charm, but the idea that the moon landing was faked seems to me to be the dumbest sort of closed-minded conspiracy thinking, and I don’t at all like the idea that, in the world of The X-Files where spaceships and aliens are real, humanity didn’t actually land on the moon.)

Also — did Mulder murder that assassin in cold blood by slicing his throat with a scalpel?  That surprised me.  I know Scully was in danger, but that seemed over the top for Mulder, and also an action that feels like it would have significant repercussions for Mulder professionally and legally.

“This” — In today’s television age in which serialized storytelling is commonplace, The X-Files’ style of following up “mythology” episodes with stand-alone adventures is hard to adjust to.  I was pleased that this mostly stand-alone episode did contain a few connections to the previous episode, from Mulder and Scully’s newly tense, distrustful relationship to Skinner to the return of the mysterious Syndicate lady operating against CSM.  While I had some whiplash coming out of the premiere into this mostly stand-alone episode, when considering this episode on its own, I must say I was quite pleased!  The show presents a nice classic sort of X-Files mystery, with a healthy helping of X-Files conspiracy theorizing.  (Skinner’s monologue on how much more complicated the world has become now than it was back in the show’s heyday was great, as was Mulder’s speech at Deep Throat’s grave expressing similar thoughts.  The whole idea that the X-Files were digitized and then shared/sold to corporations and/or foreign entities is clever, and a good way to update the original “paper files in a dusty filing cabinet” set-up of The X-Files to the modern era.)

Most of all, I was very happy with the easy camaraderie this episode displayed between Mulder and Scully.  To borrow a phrase from the 2016 season, this is how I like my Mulder and Scully.  I don’t need big heavy romantic moments, but I also don’t like seeing them at odds as they were at several points in the last season.  I like that they seem to be cohabitating again, and I loved the way they’d banter together even in the midst of life and death situations.  (Mulder’s “I thought I was going to throw up” moment at the end was great; perfectly played by David Duchovny.)

I was pleased that The Lone Gunmen popped up super-briefly in the 2016 season, and happy that Langley had a major role in this episode.  Still, I must confess some disappointment that we’re just getting these teases rather than an actual undoing of the Lone Gunmen’s deaths in “Jump the Shark” (one of the final episodes of the series’ original run).  If CSM can survive being blown up with a missile, surely the Lone Gunmen can have survived their off-screen deaths, right??  I’d hoped all of those clues in the graveyard would lead to the actual Gunmen themselves.  Oh well.  I did enjoy all of that stuff with the clues in the graveyard.  Very clever.  And seeing Deep Throat’s grave was a lovely moment and a nice nod back to the show’s history.  Boy, at the start of the last episode we learned CSM’s real name, and now we learn Deep Throat’s?  Nice!

After slicing the throat of an assassin last week, this week Mulder and Scully kill quite a number of the Russian hitmen who were pursuing them.  I am a little taken aback by this high body count and the way these murders don’t seem to phase our heroes.  It’s a little weird.

Do I really understand what was going on with all of the digitized consciousnesses?  No.  That’s a little unsatisfying, but not out of character with the degree of ambiguity that even X-Files episodes in their prime had, so I can live with it.  (The episode’s story is a big of a poor copycat of ideas behind Black Mirror’s San Junipero, but the execution is different enough that I can live with that as well.)  The ending was very creepy and unsettling — I liked that a lot.

“Plus One” — A second-in-a-row very solid stand-alone episode, “Plus One” feels like it would have fit nicely into one of the earlier seasons, and that is a major compliment.  Mulder and Scully investigate a series of deaths that seem to involve people seeing their doubles, and a murderous game of psychic hangman might be involved.  I love the high-level of weirdness in this story, and the return to what Mulder playfully calls his and Scully’s “bread and butter.”

I’d assumed that the previous episode had shown us that Mulder and Scully were back together as a couple, though this episode quickly confirms they were not.  I was at first disappointed, but then was pleasantly surprised by the time this episode spends on the issue of Mulder and Scully’s relationship and their future as they both get older.  There is a lot to parse in the scene of the two of them in bed together.  They seem so devoted to one another, and yet Scully makes the heartbreaking statement that even if she wanted another child, not only is she too old, but that she doesn’t have someone to have a child with.  I wasn’t sure what to make of that statement, considering she was in bed (albeit clothed) with Mulder… but then the show takes a turn I didn’t expect and, for the first time that I can recall, actually confirms that the two of them had sex!  (We we see Scully’s bare shoulders under the covers in the next scene, and then Mulder makes an “afterglow” comment… so I didn’t have any doubt.)  I have long ago tired of the show’s will-they-or-won’t-they dance between Mulder and Scully.  At first I thought this episode was just more of the same, but I was pleased with how things turned out, with the show and the characters acknowledging their long and complicated history and not shying away from their connection.  (I smiled at the end when, after at first sending Mulder back into the other room, Scully decides to follow him.)  (Shades of Indy and Willie’s back-and-forth between rooms in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom!)  I thought that, in the end, this episode hit the nail just right on the head for me in terms of what I want to see in the Mulder-Scully relationship at this point in the history of the show.  I don’t want soap-opera drama, but I do think the characters should be together and should be happy, and that seems to be where we wound up by the closing credits.

While the 2016 season kept the usual “I Want to Believe” at the end of every episode’s opening credits, I have enjoyed that all three of these new episodes so far have playfully messed with the phrase at the end of the credits (as the show used to occasionally do).  I really liked this episode’s version.  Will this continue through all of the remaining episodes…?

So, after a weak opening episode, these next two episodes have been pretty great!  I am surprisingly happy at this point.  I am excited to watch the next episode, which is this season’s script by Darren Morgan, who has written some of the show’s very best (and funniest) episodes.  I’ll be back with my thoughts on the next batch of episodes as soon as I can!

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