In the sixth and final episode of the tenth season of The X-Files, WHAT THE HELL. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The X-Files.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of nonconsensual medical procedures.
I’ll just be very honest up front: I loved this episode, and I know it is a terrible, terrible mess. The science is… is it science??? Does anyone writing this show know what a vaccine is??? Or how they work??? Are we just expected to accept that vaccines do exactly what Chris Carter says they do? DIDN’T TWO DOCTORS WRITE THIS EPISODE?
I am perfectly fine with anyone checking out of this episode because of this, but I’m here to say that I loved this episode for a completely different reason. If “My Struggle” was Carter’s chance to show us how he’d write Mulder in 2016, then this is how he views Dana Scully. It was clearly intentional that this episode would mirror the premiere, but it does so in a way that demonstrated to me that Scully is the real centerpiece of The X-Files. Yes, the bad science is distracting, and it feels much like the weighty, verbose monologues we got in “My Struggle.” But for me, “My Struggle II” felt much more personal, vibrant, and scary.
This is where I talk about my one main reason why this episode works for me: It upends a trope that nearly every genre show abides by.
I’m gong to start by bringing up the idea of confinement. The X-Files was serially guilty of this problem, though I’m not necessarily criticizing the show for it. Over nine years, every X-Files case was self-contained, in the sense that while certain things affected people – sometimes large groups of them – the framework of the show was always happening in private. You can see this exact use on shows that utilize the supernatural. Like… well, Supernatural for example! Or Fringe, for a few seasons before EVERYTHING IS MADE PERFECT AND BEAUTIFUL. Charmed was the same way, and outside of the residents of Sunnydale, so was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’m sure we can all name more examples. Why does this happen? Well, if your show is episodic and avoiding serial narratives, it makes it easier to hit the reset button. It allows you to avoid escalation. And as much as I came to adore the serialization, you can see how The X-Files struggles with its mytharc after “Two Fathers” / “One Son.” How do you escalate beyond the apocalypse? How do you go beyond killing off nearly all your antagonists? (Hey, Supernatural. Take note.)
On another level, containment allows a writer to focus a story, especially if they’re going for realism. Granted, The X-Files is a fantastical show, so I know it might seem strange to talk about realism. But Carter deliberately thrusts this season into the modern world, and I respect that he commits to that. “My Struggle” makes much more sense when we see how Tad O’Malley’s show is both a satire and a means for Carter to include mass hysteria and the spread of information within his story. Tad’s show is a horrible mess, but it’s supposed to be. It’s funny when he starts rambling about chem trails and microwave-induced sicknesses, but it’s also an integral part of the story. Why?
Because this is the very first X-File that the whole world experiences.
Every episode and both movies in this series resolves their respective stories to keep the conspiracy contained and hidden. Yet in “My Struggle II,” Chris Carter flings the entire fucking world off a cliff, and it is one of the most exciting things the show has ever done. You can’t come back from this. People are dying of easily-curable diseases all over the Earth, all because their immune systems have been destroyed. (AHHHHH SCIENCE, I CAN’T TALK ABOUT IT BECAUSE IT’S TOO MUCH.) This is escalation on a grand scale, and it’s something that will forever be a part of this universe. There’s no erasing it.
If this show comes back (PLEASE LET IT COME BACK), I don’t know how they’re going to resolve this. I really don’t.
But why is this episode and the premiere named as they are? The first episode of season ten gave us Mulder’s struggle. Is he relevant anymore? Is there room for him in the world? And when he’s consumed by the whiff of a conspiracy that threatens the planet, is he simply being too willing to believe? Scully ends up being the focus in “My Struggle II,” and I found her story so much more compelling. Who is she after years spent in the FBI? Is she the same skeptic she was all those years ago? I think this episode demonstrates to us the monumental character development that she’s gone through. She is still a rigorous scientist, and she still challenges herself and others. But she’s seen so much over the years, and she accepts possibility. That’s what she tells Einstein multiple times throughout this episode: the possibility exists, so she must investigate it. When Scully joined Mulder, she shut down possibilities. She’d turn down theories. She would avoid evidence if it didn’t fit her understanding of science.
Look at her now. She’s willing to admit that the known theories of science only bring humankind part of the way towards the truth. It’s a thrilling thing to watch on the screen, as was THE REUNION BETWEEN MONICA REYES AND DANA SCULLY. YES. YES. YES. YES. While I warmed up to Dogget and never quite loved him, I adored Agent Reyes. SO MUCH. While this episode is pretty full as it is, I’m glad that we got a chance to see what she’s been up to and why she’s still relevant to the X-Files universe. I AM ALSO HEARTBROKEN. Look, the Cigarette-Smoking Man is such an iconic villain in this series, and this is what he does. He justifies himself smugly. He emotionally manipulates people – like he did with Reyes – in order to gain power. To feel powerful. And the events of this episode are his grand finale: he’s guaranteed himself and a select few as the survivors of the apocalypse.
And of COURSE he wanted Mulder to survive. But Mulder would never compromise himself like that. Never! What’s fascinating about that is how the episode shows us Mulder rejecting the “cure” (VACCINES AREN’T CURES, STOP IT), all while Scully is using her cure to cure others. If that’s not a beautiful representation of their characters, I don’t know what else is.
I’m hoping this cliffhanger is resolved. I’m hoping there’s more of this show. The revival has not been perfect by any means, and I’ve criticized the show fairly heavily along the way. But I have enjoyed the hell out of this experience! This show has meant so much to me, and I always wished I could have had a chance to do it for this site. Thank you for helping that dream come true.
The video for “My Struggle II” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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