In the first episode of season ten of The X-Files, I can’t. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The X-Files, and this is the best sentence he’s ever written.
Trigger Warning: For consent, non-consensual medical procedures, abduction.
Additionally, if you’ve not seen the nine prior seasons of this show, there will be spoilers below.
I honestly cannot fathom a world like this, but it’s here. As a long time fan of The X-Files – twenty-two years now!!! – I’ve spent most of my time on this planet thinking about Mulder, Scully, and the end of the world. I am sure you cannot count the references to this show made over the body of my work. (There are a number in my novel, too.) You cannot comprehend the influence The X-Files has had on me, and you don’t get how much Dana Scully means to me. Okay, maybe you do. MAYBE A LOT OF YOU DO. But I resigned myself to the fate that my favorite show was over, and that – at best – I would only get a movie every few years, if that. And after the box office results of I Want to Believe, I honestly thought that was it for this universe.
Which is okay! If The X-Files can’t be relevant and if the show can’t tell good stories, I don’t want it to exist. I say that as I go into this review for “My Struggle” because I’m so thrilled that The X-Files has found a way to exist in a post-9/11 world that does feel relevant. Is it a perfect episode? Not at all, and I think that the extended monologues felt sluggish and verbose. But I can look past them when I consider the context of this story. “My Struggle” exists in a world where people like Tad O’Malley are real. It exists in a universe with Snowden and Julian Assange and drone strikes and the NSA and the Patriot Act. And as heavy-handed as some of these references are – seriously, my reaction to Mulder’s huge monologue near the end is pretty much Scully’s face during said scene – I think that it’s a perfect setting for the show. The X-Files captured a specific kind of paranoia and distrust during its run, and much of it was based on actual crimes and conspiracies.
To me, that’s what makes this show relevant in 2016 and what prevents it from sinking into the muck of some of Chris Carter’s more indulgent tendencies. I have no fears of criticizing The X-Files as a whole, and I don’t think this premiere was as strong as it could have been. Skinner’s attachment is tenuous at best, and I’m still uncertain how Mulder was able to piece together this massive conspiracy just from his brief conversations with Sveta. (Though I do appreciate that the show has Scully literally get up and walk away from Mulder because his theory is so ridiculous and without proof. I’M OUT.) Those are glaring flaws in this script, and they make “My Struggle” awkwardly unsubtle at times.
Yet there’s a charm to this episode that made it easier for me to ignore these moments. I loved that this episode is framed by the Roswell crash because it’s such a huge part of the abduction narrative in our own world. The scenes are brilliant shot and rooted in an emotional story as well: the doctor who was brought to Roswell morally objects to what happened there and what is happening now because of it. There’s a parallel to Scully in that, but it’s a story all on its own. And hasn’t The X-Files always been about the emotional response to horror? Even if the show shares far more with the science fiction genre than horror, the unsettling and the unnerving will always be at the heart of these stories. Indeed, Sveta’s experience with her abductions, forced pregnancies, and altered memories is horrifying, and that’s part of the mythology that the show gave us over nine seasons.
So why does it matter now? Why bring these characters back? As I said before, I think our current political and social climate is perfect for this kind of critical engagement, but we can’t forget that this is still a fictional story. I’m pleased that “My Struggle” ultimately pushes aside the conspiracy arc to focus on the brilliant, frustrating, and heartbreaking relationship between Mulder and Scully. Truthfully, that’s what many of us are here for, and we all wondered whether these two would still be together after the events in I Want to Believe. As distressing as it was, I appreciated that Carter went with a much more believable route with these two, demonstrating to us that both of them had moved on with their lives. (Well… what has Mulder been doing? Scully has a fantastic job, but he just… reads stuff online? WHO KNOWS.) The struggle that I think is referenced in the title refers to both of these characters as they cope with the world that’s been thrust back into their lives by Skinner.
If Mulder is right – and the first contact with an alien species led to 70+ years of experimentation on the human race in order to subjugate them in the future – then his struggle is with the truth. Hasn’t it always been? I was reminded of the arc in seasons four and five, particularly of the brutal cliffhanger in “Gesthemane” and the first half of season five. I thought it was, at the time, one of the most fascinating things the writers ever chose to do with the show, and so I admit to being biased. I love the idea of re-contextualizing the series’ mythology in a new light. It doesn’t have to be a retcon because not everything needs to fit within in. But Mulder’s struggle throughout the history of The X-Files was always rooted in discovering the truth of the world and figuring out how to disseminate that to others. I think that’s why he attaches himself to O’Malley so quickly: O’Malley has the means to tell the truth very publicly. Even if O’Malley’s politics are skewed for being nonsense, there’s still something Mulder finds interesting about his perception of American history.
Where does Dana Scully fall into that? As she tells O’Malley, she never felt more alive (or frustrated) than when she spent her life with Mulder and the X-Files. Time has passed, however, and her life doesn’t compel her to come back to this world. Even worse, the show deliberately invokes the past traumas and conflicts that she’s been through with Mulder. I’ve already mentioned the arc that started at the end of season four, but what of “Anasazi”? Or “Two Fathers” / “One Son”? Or the birth of William? More times than not, Mulder’s obsessive search for the truth has pulled Scully into a nightmare, and she simply cannot be treated to this again. And I appreciate that throughout “My Struggle” because Carter at least gives Scully the agency to choose – multiple times! – to not be a part of this narrative. It’s only when she feels personally attached to it that she comes around, and I don’t see that as a terribly selfish opinion, either. The science points to Sveta being entirely human, and science has provided Scully with a dependency that other parts of her life have not.
But Scully and her body are a part of this narrative now. They always have been, back since she was abducted in “Duane Barry,” and my hope is that Scully as a character gets to do more than just exist within the framework of a conspiracy. I feel good about The X-Files, though. “My Struggle” was strong enough and vital enough that I’m ready to see what else Chris Carter and company will do with it. I have no idea if this is a six-episode-long arc or if we’ll get monster-of-the-week episodes, but I’m hoping that Glen Morgan credit I saw at the end means that he wrote an episode. I REALLY HOPE SO.
The video for “My Struggle” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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