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“I Always Wondered How This Was Gonna End” — Josh Reviews the (Series?) Finale of The X-Files

June 14th, 2018
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After a weak opening episode, I have been very impressed by how great the subsequent eight, mostly stand-alone episodes of The X-Files season eleven have been!  Click here for my review of episodes 1-3, here for my review of episodes 4-6, and here for my review of episodes 7-9.  And now, on to the finale:

My Struggle IV — After the beautiful ending of “Nothing Lasts Forever,” I was bracing myself for a return to the terrible with the finale.  The previous three “My Struggle” episodes by Chris Carter (that opened and closed the 2016 season, and that opened this new season) have all been a mess.  It’s remarkable to me how, for the longest time during the show’s prime, the mythology episodes were so spectacular and it was the monster-of-the-week episodes that, even when they were great, often stretched my patience.  But in these two revival seasons, the mythology episodes have been disastrous and the stand-alone monster-of-the-week episodes have been far more successful and entertaining (particularly in this season).

“My Struggle IV” isn’t quite as catastrophically bad as the previous three “My Struggle” episodes have been, but it’s still a disappointingly wobbly ending to the season and, perhaps, the show.

The episode opens with a narration from Mulder and Scully’s son William.  (Since the first three “My Struggle” episodes were narrated by, respectively, Mulder, Scully, and the CSM, I was really hoping that Skinner would get to open this one!!)  I was pleased to see William back in focus.  While I don’t think it’s been well-executed AT ALL, I can at least say that I was happy that these two revival seasons chose to pick up the story of Mulder and Scully’s baby, since that was a pretty huge thread left dangling from the original run.  Particularly in those final two original seasons (seasons eight and nine), we heard again and again and again that their baby was “important,” but we never understood why.

Sadly, we STILL don’t understand!!  Yes, William has psychic powers.  We knew that ever since we saw him as a baby moving the mobile above his crib.  But why does he have these powers, and why is this so important to CSM and all the other conspiracy people??  There have been plenty of super-powered people on the show before.  Why do they all “need” William for some reason?  What does any of this have to do with the alien plague that CSM threatens to unleash upon the world (and that we saw happen in “My Struggle II” which turned out to be, ugh, just a dream/prediction of the future by William and/or Scully)?  Why doesn’t the CSM unleash the plague if that had been his plan all along?

Throughout the original show we heard that the Syndicate had been coordinating with aliens for their eventual invasion/colonization of the planet.  “The date is set,” we were told.  So why didn’t that ever happen?  It’s a huge anticlimax to everything that X-Files fans had been thinking about and expecting ever since the early days of the original show.

This finale gives us glimpses of popular X-Files supporting characters, from CSM and Skinner to Reyes and Kersh, but none of them are given the time or attention to much matter.  Skinner really gets short shrift.  During this whole season he has, for reasons I never understood, sort of been in league with CSM.  I was waiting for Skinner’s moment of redemption, but it never quite comes.  Yes, he does tell Scully the truth in the car about William’s parentage, but since that mostly happens off-screen we don’t know if he really tells her everything, and we don’t get to see him try to explain or justify his actions.  Yes, he shoots at CSM when CSM is trying to run him down, but that’s more about survival than a true heroic moment.  And after all that, the show leaves Skinner’s fate unclear.  Did he get run over and killed?  We see what I guess are supposed to be his legs smushed under the car, but since it’s all off-camera we don’t know what really happened and if Skinner is injured or dead.  It’s a whimper of an ending for this important character.

(That Skinner’s revelation to Scully that CSM is William’s real father happens off-camera also robs us of Scully’s reaction to learning this horrific news.  Why would the show reveal this ugly twist in the season premiere if not to follow up on it by using it to 1) drive drama for Scully’s character or 2) allow us to better understand the truth about William’s nature and why CSM wants to find him so badly?  Sadly, the show does neither, which absolutely mystifies me.)

Reyes’ betrayal by going to work for CSM, as revealed in “My Struggle II,” was a huge shock, though it made no sense for her character as it had been established.  I was hoping this season would flesh out her choice, but that wasn’t to be.  When she calls Scully in this episode, it’s unclear whether she is doing so under CSM’s orders (she does lead Mulder to the fat conspiracy guy who wanted CSM dead in this season’s premiere, so that seems to benefit CSM when Mulder kills him) or if this is supposed to be her redemption.  That she is shot and killed by Skinner without our ever knowing what side she was truly on — or the show giving Skinner even a moment of remorse at killing a woman who had once worked with him — feels like a big wasted opportunity for me.

At the start of the season it looked like the two new characters in the conspiracy (Mr. Y, played by A.C. Peterson, and Erika Price, played by Barbara Hershey) would be important new characters, but they’re both quickly done away with in the finale.  Neither made much impact at all.  (I will say that I was shocked when Mulder shot Mr. Y in the head.  That was remarkably cold-blooded for Mulder, an FBI agent who is the hero of the show.  I question this action, just as I questioned Mulder’s murder of an assassin in the season premiere.)  Joel McHale’s character Tad O’Malley (who was built up as such a big deal in the 2016 season) returned, but I found him to be just as pointless as ever.  Why did Scully call him?  What was served by having this internet fear-mongerer spread unsubstantiated rumors about what Scully and Mulder were investigating?

Gillian Anderson made a lot of news a few months ago when she announced that she would not be playing Scully any more after this season.  That seemed to be a death knell for this show.  And so watching “My Struggle IV,” I was wondering throughout whether this would be the final X-Files episode ever.  I was worried that Chris Carter would choose to end on a big cliffhanger, as he did at the end of the 2016 season.  Thankfully, we do get a little resolution at the end here.  The idea that Scully is pregnant again, and that she and Mulder have a chance now to be parents to their true child the way they never were for William is a nice idea, and if that is where we leave these agents forever, it’s nice to see them get this opportunity for happiness.

But it’s not a very satisfying ending to the show overall, and all that we fans have invested in it.  I commented above how disappointing it was that the show never followed through on the long-running hints of an alien invasion/colonization that would be happening sometime in the future, but at this point I never expected any of that to pay off.  I was at least hoping that we’d get some definitive closure for the story of William, but we don’t even get any of that.  We didn’t get any true answers about him (as I noted above), and the episode’s ending tries to have it both ways by showing us William’s murder and then a last-minute reveal that actually he’s still alive.  But what happens next for William?  He’s as alone and hunted as before, so it’s not really a happy ending.  Mulder and Scully never got the reunion with him they’d both been chasing for so long.  So it’s unsatisfying to me as a fan who was rooting for these characters.  Scully seems uncharacteristically chill at the end about the fact that William just got executed seconds before.  That she’s pregnant with a new child is meant to give the characters, and the fans, a ray of happiness at the end, but to me I’d think Scully would still be distraught that William has been apparently just been brutally murdered, and to me as a fan and a viewer it’s unsatisfying.  Yes, we get to see Mulder shoot CSM, who richly deserves death, but we’ve seen CSM die many times before and he always came back, so this lacks the punch it would have had if we hadn’t had all of those previous fake-outs.  We’re left not knowing the fate of Skinner, and also not knowing the fate of the X-Files themselves (since Kersh declared he was closing the X-Files earlier in the episode).  In the end, this is not much better than the weak series finale we got back in 2002.

As I have previously written, I think Chris Carter made a serious miscalculation when he decided to treat these two revival seasons not as a way to finally bring closure to the show and its characters and stories, but instead as an attempt to relaunch a new run of the show.  That eight of this season’s ten episodes were as great as they were indicates that a relaunched X-Files wasn’t inherently a doomed idea.  This mostly very strong season shows me that I’d happily watch ten new X-Files episodes a year for the next many years!!  But it doesn’t feel like a new multi-year run for this show was ever actually in the cards.  Each of these two new seasons seems to have been treated as a one-off.  We had to wait two years after the first six episodes in 2016 to get this latest season, and if Gillian Anderson’s comments are true, then we won’t be getting any additional X-Files episodes after this run.  So we’re not actually going to get a nice robust new run of seasons for the next several years; these sixteen episodes are it.  And so, what it’s looking like right now is that the show has, once again, bungled a chance at closure.  (We all hoped the first movie would give us answers, and while I love that movie and am a staunch defender of it, it did not provide the answers we’d all expected.  The original series finale in 2002 was weak, and the second X-Files movie, made in 2008, didn’t address the show’s over-all mythology at all, instead choosing to tell a stand-alone monster adventure.)

As a result, The X-Files has always felt to me like a great unfinished work, and as I have written on this site before, I consider it one of the great tragedies of modern pop culture that this once-great show was never given the conclusion it deserved.  When the new run of episodes was announced in 2016, I couldn’t believe it.  I was overjoyed that maybe the show would actually get a real ending.  And yet here we are again.  Once again the show has crafted a “finale” without anyone (either the people behind the scenes or the fans) having any idea whether this will truly be the end or not (this was the case as far back as the season seven finale), and so we are once again left with an ending that’s not really an ending.

Sigh.

I am very glad these two new seasons exist.  We’ve gotten quite a few great new episodes that I am sure I will get a lot of pleasure out of rewatching in future years.

But this once great show, whose serialized “mythology” episodes were at the core of what made it great and groundbreaking back in the day, deserves a true ending.  Sadly, it doesn’t look to me like it will ever get one.  But I will continue to hope.

I want to believe.

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