The second “event series” of “The X-Files” comes to a close and while this finale is still a messy garbage fire, it’s the least messy of the garbage fires!
“Yeah, like one of those X-Men…”
The most frustrating thing about this latest season of The X-Files is that a lot of it has actually been very good. The back-half of this ten-episode event series has shown a very optimistic improvement in quality and essentially every non-Chris Carter episode has been impressive or offered some redeeming quality and interesting point of discussion. While it’s understandable that Chris Carter is allowed to finish off the season of his own show, it’d be a lot more encouraging if he had the awareness to pass the reins over to James Wong and Glen Morgan, with Carter simply providing the “Story By” credit for the finale. Unfortunately, Carter barrels ahead with his troubling vision that’s been plaguing The X-Files ever since the show returned for its tenth season. Carter’s “My Struggle” saga has been extremely problematic and the show playing into its worst tendencies. In fact, I daresay that this season’s premiere, “My Struggle III” is arguably the worst episode that the show has ever produced. I’m also quite sure that most of the audience would be happy if they never heard the phrase “alien DNA” again. However, Carter goes full force with his instincts here and manages to demolish most of the goodwill that this new season has earned as he crashes this UFO into the ground and struggles to stick the landing.
After the previous pieces of “My Struggle” took on the various challenges that Mulder, Scully, and even the Smoking Man face, this final chapter adopts William’s (aka Jackson Van DeCamp’s) perspective. This is a logical move for the finale to take since previous installments reinforced the fact that “William is the key.” Plus, there aren’t really any other points of view to tell this story from unless Kersh or an alien become subjects.
William’s backstory is pretty ham-fisted and it tries to cram a whole lot of exposition into five minutes, but it’s actually pretty effective. William’s childhood and teen years hit a lot of familiar beats from these kinds of stories, but it’s refreshing to hear him outright refer to himself as a villain during a rebellious phase of his life. The episode isn’t afraid to present a brutal, honest past for William. The trauma and confusion that he’s experienced has turned him into a murderer and in a lot of ways it feels like the Smoking Man would be more proud of his actions than Mulder would. But hey, it’s nice to see that William can give as purple a narration as Mulder can. Like father like son.
The X-Files is obviously no stranger to mixing it’s standalone episodes with its larger myth-arc ones, but the way in which William re-enters the picture here feels highly awkward and out of the blue. A lot of this episode just happen because it’s the finale and it needs to happen. While I praised this season for fitting in a covert William episode earlier this year, it honestly might have been smarter to schedule “Ghouli” as the season’s penultimate episode. That way William is still fresh on the audience’s minds and his appearance in this finale doesn’t feel quite so manipulative. Mulder and Scully could have at least brought up the hunt for William over the last few episodes, even if it didn’t become the installment’s focus.
It’s worth pointing out that the episode once again swaps out its “THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE” title card, this time with, “SALVATOR MUNDI.” Salvator mundi translates to “Savior of the World,” but it’s also one of the more prestigious paintings by Leonardo da Vinci. The painting depicts Christ as this “savior” and while there are obvious Biblical implications here, this phrase is more pertinent to the fact that William is supposed to be this savior and Christ figure combined. This is a surprisingly optimistic phrase to feature at the top of the finale, especially when the previous “My Struggle” chapters have all been gloomy downers. In case this wasn’t clear to the audience, Monica Reyes also gets to underline the message with clunky lines like, “The person who controls your son is the person who controls the future.”
Skinner gets in hot water over Mulder and Scully’s reckless behavior, which calls back to a little of what was going on in “Kitten.” It’s satisfying to see this finale connect a few dots from the course of the season. That being said, it’s hard not to laugh at Kersh’s bold proclamation that he’s shutting down the X-Files. This is what, the sixth time they’ve been closed now? It’s almost par for the course in the season finale and although this moment should be heavy, it falls flat. It feels like an element to cross off on a checklist, not a threat.
Furthermore, Skinner also seems to completely forget his proclamation to Mulder and Scully in “Kitten” and instead opts to continue secretly cooperating with the Cigarette Smoking Man. Both Skinner and Reyes feed false information to Mulder and Scully about their son and it’s disheartening to see the two get manipulated because it all revolves around their child. Doggett wouldn’t stoop to these lows, I’ll tell you that much. He knew about the pains and responsibilities of fatherhood first hand!
Skinner eventually gets his act together, but it’s largely so he can be a ride for Scully because apparently, she can’t drive herself? There’s such a disregard for some of these characters and at times it feels like they only do certain things because there’s a limited cast and somebody needs to do it. It’d be bonkers to watch all of those scenes in seasons eight and nine between Skinner and Reyes and think, “Wow, one of those characters kills the other one.”
On that note, Scully’s Convenient For Plot Purposes (CFPP) psychic powers kick in again and give her a hell of a premonition of the information that Reyes has fed them over William. As a result of this, she doesn’t fall for the bait. Mulder wants to cover their bases though and opts to still check out the tip. Of course, it’s a disaster, but Mulder is able to murder a few goons and push his way into speaking to the Syndicate’s head honcho. He then gets a little overzealous though and does some more murdering before he’s able to get the answers he needs about his son. It’s frankly a little jarring to see how many people Mulder kills in this episode. Sure, they’re all bad individuals and his son’s safety is at stake, but the episode really goes out of its way to have Mulder execute people. He has a real rage in this episode, which isn’t exactly a bad angle for the character (and Duchovny sells it well). It’s nice to see Mulder go for broke here, even if it’s not always the best plan of attack.
It’s sweet to finally get to see Mulder meet his son, but what should be an emotional, pivotal moment ultimately feels tone deaf. It makes sense that William would be hesitant to let Mulder into his life all of a sudden, but Mulder’s strategy here is just to spout exposition and scold him. That being said, the episode does contain what might be the most badass sequence of the entire season where William psychically explodes a bunch of Syndicate goons. It’s also pretty great that the hatred that William feels for the Smoking Man is the same rage that Mulder feels towards him. Even if Mulder and William aren’t biologically related, there are already deep parallels and similarities between the two of them that work well here.
Scully also gets to meet William one last time, even if it’s in the guise of Mulder. It still manages to be the more touching scene of the two, but it’s not a lot. It’s a little disappointing that this will likely be the last episode of The X-Files with Dana Scully and the character mostly just sits this one out. Mulder does all the action here and Scully just hangs out at a desk and makes phone calls until the final act. Even when Ted O’Malley gives her the opportunity to go on his show and get a big Network moment, she chooses to stay in the shadows and recede away. It’s easy to see why Anderson would want to leave this show when her character gets so consistently marginalized, especially this season, but this makes for a pretty blasé send-off to the character. Carter also has Scully constantly shout, “I have seen the end!” which isn’t very flattering.
Ultimately this isn’t a terrible finale, but it just operates under a compromised structure where it’s hard to really do much with this story. There aren’t a whole lot of places this arc can go in one episode, but this restrained structure actually does the episode some favors. In spite of these downfalls this still manages to be the best of all four “My Struggle” installments, so there’s at least that going for it, too. This all really just turns into a race between Mulder and the Cigarette Smoking Man to find William before the other one can. This is an angle that the show has done before, and even on a much grander scale, but it’s a simple enough structure that works here. At this point simpler is better for this show’s mythology episodes.
It’s pretty damn depressing that everyone goes through so much here, particularly Mulder and Scully, just for it all to end with William’s death. I mean, it’s not as depressing as the end of all humanity, but was this really the way that everything had to play out? It feels like Carter is just cleaning the slate here and getting rid of any ongoing plots so he can start over. Then again, the final scene of the episode still speaks to Carter’s inability to make up his mind. The show has gone back and forth over other “permanent” decisions, but it’s not always a good idea to keep your options open. Sometimes you need to make a decision.
In an attempt to make this more palatable, Scully dehumanizes William to Mulder and falls back on the fact that he was an experiment and not their child. It’s a big pill to swallow, but it’s the necessary retcon that the episode needs to resort to so this doesn’t seem as devastating. For what it’s worth Duchovny does a great job in this final scene where he laments the loss of his boy, but it all feels rather rushed. Scully’s last-second miracle pregnancy is also a fairly forced attempt to make this appear to be a happy ending. You can’t just try to erase all of this drama with a fresh coat of paint and that’s what this ending feels like.
Chris Carter has gone on the record that he’s optimistic that there will be a 12th season of the show, even if it doesn’t include Dana Scully, but I truly don’t see why with this sort of conclusion. This was a flawed episode and while this ending isn’t exactly earned, it’s a decent enough note to go out on. Anything else is only going to risk making things worse. So while this very well may not be the end of The X-Files, this feels like it might be the point that many of its fans finally jump ship, if they haven’t already.
But hey FOX, how about letting Darin Morgan run a Reggie Something spin-off series?