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

March 26th, 2018

Click here for my comments on the first three episodes of The X-Files: Season 11.  And now, onward!

“The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” — Darin Morgan only wrote four episodes from The X-Files’ original run, but they were among the series’ very best installments.  (Mr. Morgan’s “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space” is probably my single favorite X-Files episode.)  He wrote and directed one episode in the 2016 re-launch, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Man,” and it was by far the best episode of the bunch.  And so it was with great excitement that I began to watch his contribution to this new season.  I am pleased to say that it is once again spectacular.  After two great monster of the week episodes and now this one, I am delighted that this new season is on quite a roll!

As with the best of Mr. Morgan’s other work, this episode manages to be extremely silly and weird, while also being a little bit melancholy.  There’s pathos in this story, despite how ridiculous it gets, and that is the magic of why it works so well.  The episode is jammed-full with craziness.  There are so many wonderful little jokes and references that I know I’ll need to rewatch the episode several more times before I catch them all.  The episode opens in a way I never would have expected: with a gloriously perfect version of a Twilight Zone episode that never was.  It’s something that will make the hearts of all true sci-fi fans sing.  But the highlight of the show for me was the insane and hilarious montage of old X-Files episodes with “Reggie Something” inserted into the old adventures alongside Mulder and Scully.  (We even got a version of the show’s opening credits, with Reggie replacing Skinner!)  I was on the floor with laughter.  So brilliant.

I also appreciated the episode for it’s meta commentary on the way that our memory plays tricks on us, and how we all misremember things that we believe to remember with perfect clarity.  Just as the show itself is attempting to recreate something that existed twenty years ago with this new season of episodes — and fans have to wrestle with comparing these new episodes to our blurred-with-time memories of the show’s original run — this episode seems to acknowledge, sadly, that you can’t go home again.  “I want to remember how it was,” Scully says at the end of the episode. “I want to remember how it all was.”  It’s a touching, and somewhat sad, moment.

This episode is also notable for its fairly brutal critique of modern American society and the way that, somehow, “truth” no longer seems to matter.  While Mulder argues that objective truth does still exist, “Dr. They” cheerfully argues the contrary, and his argument is sadly hard to refute.  (The joke in Dr. They’s youtube video about the “millions” who attended President Trump’s inauguration is sharp, but it’s more painful than funny.)  Dr. They tells Mulder that “we’re living in a post-cover-up, post-conspiracy age,” and that world leaders don’t need to keep secrets anymore because no one believes or cares when the truth about their actions is revealed.  Like Mulder, I want to believe that the truth is still out there, but I’m not so sure anymore.

Best line in an episode filled with great lines?  That’d have to be Mulder’s comment to Scully: “Confuse The Twilight Zone with The Outer Limits? Do you even know me?”

“Ghouli” — Well, it’s hard to follow a brilliant Darren Morgan episode, but for most of “Ghouli,” I was pretty happy by another great stand-alone monster episode.  The episode opens with a grim but intriguing scene: two high school girls hack one another to pieces because they each see a vicious monster when they look at the other.  Meanwhile, Scully has a dream/vision that compels her to investigate the case and hints that she has a deeper connection to the unfolding events.  I loved the mystery of this story, and the way that, as events unfolded, Scully in particular seemed to get drawn even more personally into the investigation.  I was not expecting this story to connect to the mystery of Mulder & Scully’s son William, so I loved that development.  The episode was gorgeously shot.  (There’s a dramatic pullback after Mulder and Skinner share a conversation on an abandoned ship that was quite eye-catching.)  But I felt an almost-great episode fell apart a bit towards the end, for two reasons.

One, I don’t think the episode at all explained what the heck was happening at the beginning.  Why did William plant those images in the heads of the two girls?  There’s one quick line of dialogue that suggests that it was a joke and/or that he couldn’t control his mental powers, but making his two girlfriends see monsters seems so weird and random I don’t get it.  And if the girls were seeing monsters, why did they attack one another as opposed to running away from one another?  And what was the connection to the website with stories about the Ghouli monster?  Oftentimes these X-Files monster-of-the-week episodes left a lot of questions hanging, but when you’re making an episode that turns out to be about Mulder and Scully’s long-lost child, I feel we needed a lot more information here.  (When one of Scully’s visions flashed back to the UFO scene at the end of “My Struggle II,” I briefly got excited that maybe we were about to learn more about that, and that maybe there would be more to those events than the “it-was-just-a-dream” dismissal we got in “My Struggle III” — but sadly for me the episode never went there.)

Which brings me to the second weakness, which is that when we finally got to see William as himself in the hospital at the end… after all the fuss that was made about the importance of baby William in the final two series of the show’s original run, after almost two decades of fans wondering about William and the characters of Mulder and Scully wondering about him… boy was I underwhelmed.  I wasn’t taken with the acting abilities of the boy playing William, and the way he looked and talked felt like an old writer’s idea of what a teenager might have been like in the nineties as opposed to what an actual 2018 teenager might be like.

I’m intrigued and pleased that, rather than sweeping the idea of Mulder and Scully’s child under the rug (as it seemed the show tried to do towards the end of its original run when we saw Scully agree to put William up for adoption), Chris Carter & co. have spent several episodes in the 2016 season and now this season focusing on the mystery of William.  I wasn’t expecting that, but it makes sense for these characters that William would loom large in their minds, and I love the idea that the show is leaning into this story.  I hope this episode (and Scully’s near-miss with William at the very end) is not the last we see of William.  I’d like a more definitive conclusion to this long-running story thread.

I was intrigued by the discussion of “Project Crossroads” and the idea that the Syndicate had secretly been working to create alien-human hybrids.  That idea was referenced a lot by the show, back in the day.  Omg the one hand, I’m pleased the writers aren’t ignoring those old ideas, while on the other hand, the mythology has grown so complex at this point (and Chris Carter’s three “My Struggle” episodes in 2016 and 2018 have further muddied the water to near nonsensical levels) that I don’t really understand anything about who was doing what and why, and so I’m mostly happy to just ignore all that backstory.  It was quite a shock to see CSM back in Skinner’s office, sitting enigmatically in a chair and smoking a cigarette, just like he did all the way back in season one.  Here too I am of two minds — it feels like an unnaturally fake re-set for the show to have Skinner back under CSM’s thumb, just as he was when the show began twenty five years ago; and yet, it was also a neat full-circle moment.  My opinions on a lot of this stuff will be affected by the degree to which we get to a satisfying resolution by the end of these two episodes, or a lack thereof.

I did love Mulder’s comments at the beginning about the sad state of modern-day monster stories; how he missed the classic stories of monsters who were scary and also had pathos.  This was another lovely meta commentary on this old TV show coming back to tell new stories.  I also was quite amused by Mulder’s use of the name “Bob” in coffee shops (because “Fox” is too difficult to repeatedly explain)!  While last week’s opening credits gave us our first appearance of the classic “The truth is out there” line, I enjoyed getting another playful twist at the end of this week’s opening credits.  Finally, let me note that I was super-happy to see Francois Chau from Lost!  Between his appearance here and on Amazon’s The Tick, this has been a banner year for Dr. Pierre Chang!!

“Kitten” — For quite a long time now, X-Files fans have suspected that perhaps Walter Skinner had a secret from his time serving in Vietnam as a young man, perhaps a brush with the supernatural that left him open to the “extreme possibilities” espoused by Mulder and (eventually) Scully.  (The X-Files comic book series told their version of this story a few years ago.)  Finally, after so many years of speculation, the X-Files finally told this story and gave Skinner his time in the spotlight.

It’s well-deserved.  Skinner has been a terrific supporting character ever since season one in 1993, and Mitch Pileggi is great in this episode.  I loved getting to see young Skinner and a glimpse of his experiences in Vietnam.  I was a little disappointed, after that tantalizing teaser (in which young Skinner saw a monster in the gas), that the episode later eliminated any possibility of the paranormal, clarifying that the monster than Skinner and Kitten saw was so clearly caused by the gas.  I’d have hoped the door would have been left open to a paranormal angle.  Still, Skinner’s speech at the end of the episode about how seeing how his friend Kitten’s life was ruined led him to doubt the motives of elements of our government, and how Mulder and Scully inspired him to shine a light into the darkest corners, was fantastic, and gave us the connection between Skinner’s ‘Nam experiences and the X-Files that I’d been hoping for.  (Why Skinner doesn’t then come out and tell Scully and Mulder what he’d learned about William in the finale is unclear — I guess because they are saving that revelation for the season finale…)

Haley Joel Osment was terrific as “Kitten” and his son Davey.  (I’d expected to learn that Davey was actually Kitten, perhaps with his lifespan lengthened by exposure to the gas, but the episode went a different way, using Mr. Osment’s performance in the dual roles to trick us.)  Mr. Osment was, of course, a brilliant child actor (in films such as The Sixth Sense and A.I.: Artificial Intelligence), and I’ve been enjoying his recent work as well (Tusk, The Spoils of Babylon, Silicon Valley).  It was great seeing him guest-star here on The X-Files!

This was another compelling, well-made episode.  I like the approach taken by both “Ghouli” and this episode in tying a “monster of the week” premise with a connection to one of the main characters.  This makes these episodes feel important to the over-all story-line, and not like disposable one-offs.  It’s a good way to modernize The X-Files’ classic approach of alternating the stand-alone episodes with the mythology episodes.

Only after the episode had concluded did I think back and realize that, as was the case with “Ghouli,” the episode’s conclusion had failed to explain quite a lot about what went on.  I assume Davey sent Skinner an ear to draw Skinner out, so he could take revenge because of how he believed Skinner betrayed his father.  But why did Davey kill all those other people?  If the government had been continuing to experiment on “Kitten” and the other ‘Nam Vets in the institution in Mud Lick, how did Davey find out about all that, and why had the institution released “Kitten” after all those years?   And what was up with all the characters — even ones who seemed not to have been exposed to the gas — losing their teeth?  (It seems anyone connected to “Kitten” lost teeth — but why??)  Also, just as I disliked the suggestion in the premiere that the U.S. government faked the moon landing, so too did I dislike the last-second suggestion here that the Government is using chem-trails to poison and/or control its citizens.  Both examples seem to me like the show buying into the worst sort of lowest-common-demoninator conspiracy theorizing, and I don’t like this show throwing in with the people who believe that sort of nonsense.

It was a fun surprise to see FBI Director Kersh (who was a major player in the later seasons of the show) pop up to, as always, act like a prick.  I’ve enjoyed the way these new episodes haven’t ignored the supporting characters of the original show’s two final mostly Mulder-less seasons.  (But where is Doggett??)

So, I have a few quibbles with this latest batch of episodes, but over-all, after the disastrous season premiere, we’ve gotten five good-to-great new X-Files episodes!  The over-all quality is a good deal above the 2016 season, and I am quite enjoying things so far!  I know the finale just recently aired, but I am staying away from spoilers as I still have four more episodes to go.  I am looking forward to getting all caught up.  I will be back soon with my thoughts on the rest of the season!

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