“The X-Files” returns to pick up the pieces from last year’s finale, but it only creates a sloppier mess that undermines its audience. But hang in there.
“Scully and her child have a bond beyond you; beyond science.”
The X-Files’ 11th season comes in at an uphill battle. Last year’s 10th season return might have been a decent enough revival of the series, but it in many ways felt like a trial run or practice for this season. It’s safe to say that many X-Files fans were ecstatic over the announcement of the show’s return last year, but the end product burned a lot of this goodwill. I’m a tremendous X-Files fans and one of the largest apologists over seasons eight and nine, but last season was largely a misfire, with a lot of this blame falling squarely on the series’ creator, Chris Carter. Carter gets credit for bringing back much of the show’s core team for its return, but Carter’s episodes are far and away the worst of the truncated season ten. In fact, “My Struggle II” is certainly one of the worst X-Files episodes of all time and a severe failure on all fronts. It’s an enraging piece of television that carelessly eliminates most of the Earth’s population in a very manipulative fashion. It’s very easy to watch that finale and then never have any interest in more X-Files ever again. It’s a dangerous, damaging conclusion to the series. “My Struggle III” is even worse.
The X-Files made a lot of waves for their transparency regarding their season 11 plans. Not only would the season have a larger episode order, but it would also shift the mythology back to Mulder and Scully’s child, William. That all sounds promising in theory, but the premiere faces the lofty task of not only kicking this season off on the right foot, but to also correct the many mistakes of “My Struggle II.” I was so, so ready to give Chris Carter the benefit of the doubt here. I was genuinely hopeful that he might be able to turn things around, but “My Struggle III” is a pretty colossal slap in the face to both the fans that are new to the show’s “return” and those that have been around since its start in the ’90s. But hey, at least the phrase “alien DNA” comes up a whole lot less.
The first thing to address here is how the show can possibly answer to the outrageous decisions that it makes in “My Struggle II,” which include Mulder waiting at death’s door. Carter’s solution here is to simply say that it never even happened in the first place. All of that nonsense in season ten’s finale is actually just a vision that Scully experiences while she has a seizure! I truly don’t know what to make of that rationale, but it’s the most absurd sort of backpedaling that’s even worse than the whole “it was all a dream” angle. There was literally no way the show could return from the colossal events of “My Struggle II.” Carter had another series called Millennium that orchestrates a viral apocalypse that Carter cops out on by simply reducing the too-high number of casualties. That’s insulting, but it’s still better than this. What’s worse is that the whole thing puts Scully in another situation of helplessness, whereas she was at least the force of action in her hopeless seizure-narrative.
Furthermore, Scully’s brain activity plays Morse Code with Mulder and Skinner and tells them to find William? Excuse me? Is that kind of thing even possible and if it were, how would Scully know how to activate portions of her brain in this way? It’s pretty ridiculous, whether it’s accurate or not, but it points the show back in the same direction that the false narrative of “My Struggle II” ends on, which is to find Mulder and Scully’s lost child. What’s also strange here is that Skinner has to be the voice of reason while Mulder is deeply skeptical and hesitant to try to locate their offspring. It feels like a manufactured obstacle because as difficult as giving away William was, Mulder would be all for this idea, especially since Scully’s health is its main concern! Once more, Carter seems to prove that his judgment towards these characters is lapsing and no one seems to be able to stop him since this is his show after all. All of his worst habits are on display here, including Mulder’s stilted purple prose over many minutes of him simply driving his car. I’m sorry because this might be nitpicking, but just examine a piece of Mulder’s non-stop monologues:
“I was running only on adrenaline and Scully’s premonitions, but was it hope I should be feeling, or fear that Scully’s right and that a man that I had come to despise, my own father, was alive? And if he were, he had become mad with power.”
And it’s all like this. At one point in this premiere the Cigarette Smoking Man tells Reyes, “I’m just cleaning up the mess that they made,” and it feels eerily appropriate here, yet this episode doesn’t really clean up much at all.
Things take another turn for the worse when Scully comes out of her coma and explains that her vision is actual a glimpse of the future. This means that all the missteps in “My Struggle II” are actually the roadmap for this season’s mythology episodes. However, now Scully knows what to do and can hopefully prevent the apocalypse, but this all comes to pass because Scully is suddenly clairvoyant for absolutely no reason at all. It’s maddening. Some sloppy excuse tries to be used in an attempt to justify this, but it still doesn’t make a lot of sense. Scully’s condition gets even worse when her debilitating seizures also appear to psychically link her to William. It’s a whole lot more flash with little substance as Scully gets to scream and be the victim. These two conflate into the same thing and it’s revealed that William is sending her these visions of the future to warn them. This ends up being a somewhat decent answer, but it has to jump through so many horrible hoops to reach this point.
It cannot be stressed enough how terrible the treatment of Scully is in this episode. She is continually ignored and treated like garbage, only to arise from one coma and end up in another life-threatening situation when she has another seizure while she’s driving. Then someone tries to suffocate her with a pillow until Mulder is able to step in and save her life. It’s brutal to the point of being sadistic and I genuinely don’t understand it. Is Carter bitter about the ways in which Gillian Anderson has (rightfully) criticized the show about its lack of diversity and is just taking it out on her here?
If “My Struggle” is about Mulder’s struggle and “My Struggle II” is about Scully’s struggle, then “My Struggle III” is about the Cigarette Smoking Man’s struggle. This once more should be a strong idea in theory, but the struggle of Carl Gerhard Bush (yes, that’s the Cigarette Smoking Man’s true name and what the CGB in CGB Spender stands for) is rather disappointing. There are still plenty of heightened moments like the reveal that Cigarette Smoking Man is responsible for events like the faking of the moon landing, which might feel a little gratuitous, but the show has gone to much crazier places. These cute little winks at conspiracies throughout history being a result of CSM’s agenda almost play like the episode’s highlights due to the bonkers decisions that are made elsewhere.
Monica Reyes continues to be BFFs with the Cigarette Smoking Man for no real reason other than to frustrate the audience. Yes, last season she explained that she plans to take down the Syndicate from within, but until that happens (and if it happens), she’s going to great lengths to be the worst here. Where’s Doggett when you need him?
It’s fine if the Cigarette Smoking Man needs some kind of younger lackey, but why is it Reyes of all people? There are all sorts of other characters that would nicely fit in this role. Reyes also insinuates that Cigarette Smoking Man is in love with Scully and acts almost like she’s jealous that he doesn’t think of her the same way. What?
This behavior actually connects back to an episode from 17 years ago, season seven’s “En Ami,” where Scully goes on a road trip with Smoking Man since he tells her he has the cure for the cancer. During their “adventure” together, at one point Scully becomes suspicious over a situation where she thinks the Cigarette Smoking Man has drugged her, changed her clothes, and placed her in a bed. Carter retcons CSM’s explanation in the most horrible way possible and turns “En Ami” into a hell of a creepier episode. Apparently CSM “impregnated Scully with science” after he drugged her so he’s able to create this “super child” in the first place. So in case it’s unclear, Mulder is not William’s father and it’s actually some weird lovechild that CSM generated between himself and Scully.
William is Smoking Man’s kid and what the fucking fuck!?
It’s one final way to knock Scully down and it becomes even more offensive in response to everything that’s been coming to light post-Weinstein’s downfall. I can’t imagine any fans liking this development, so why even go there? To make audiences hate the Cigarette Smoking Man even more and believe that he’s truly evil? The audience already feels that way without Scully needing to get raped in the process. “En Ami” was also written by William B. Davis and I’m extremely curious of his take on this pivot to what Carter retroactively does to his episode (or if this somehow was his original intent, too).
It’s interesting to note that the credit’s typical “Truth Is Out There” title card says, “I Want to Believe,” but then pointedly follows it with, “I Want To Lie.” Mulder and company are so disillusioned from what they used to believe that the thought of some false alternative is deeply appealing. It’s no coincidence that the show’s cold open features a number of images of Trump and lumps him in with the Cigarette Smoking Man’s diatribe. The idea of believing in a fantasy because real life is just too upsetting and insane is a feeling that many people have been feeling over the past year and The X-Files continues to try to pull from the current times—for both better and worse—with its narrative. The last season did this to a large degree too, but it didn’t have Trump to wrap into its conspiracies.
On that note, Mulder comes up against some new Syndicate goons (Mr. Y and Barbara Hershey’s Erika Price) that actually want him to take down CSM because they don’t agree with his human genocide plan. They explain that they still want to protect the planet, which were the original intentions of the Syndicate. There’s a flashback here that helps fill in a few details and shows the Syndicate making their original deal with the aliens. Price and Mr. Y want to stop Smoking Man from bringing forth “The Fourth Turning” as he culls the herd of the planet and builds a new group with immunity. Their plan instead looks at the colonization of space—something that’s apparently not far off—with them still executing the same plan of culling a select few to start over off of Earth.
Curiously, CSM and Reyes try to recruit Skinner to join their cause and help them find William. The concept behind Mulder and Skinner both needing to make unlikely alliances to achieve the greater good isn’t bad in theory, but “My Struggle III” doesn’t do the proper legwork when it comes to Skinner’s business. Not to mention, this whole approach where dangerous people are on the hunt for William is essentially the same story engine from the show’s eighth season. Skinner and Mulder are both skeptical to their directives. They both point out the absurdity of these plotlines, but it doesn’t change the fact that these are still the directions that this season chooses to bank on.
Furthermore, why would Skinner agree to Smoking Man’s plan!? So Skinner’s someone that’s not to be trusted this season, too? There’s no explanation for anyone’s actions in this episode! And “You smell like smoke!”? Come on! What sort of emotional explosion is that?
There are other moments in this premiere that hint at something exciting, but only manage to muddle the situation. For instance, I’m all for bringing Jeffrey Spender back into the fold. I’ve always been a fan of the character and Chris Owens’ performance, but it doesn’t exactly make a lot of sense. Additionally, Agents Miller and Einstein of “X-Files: The Next Generation” get an obligatory cameo that’s more contrived than necessary. They conveniently are present to help save Scully’s life and then exit immediately afterwards.
This seriously might be the worst, most insulting mythology episode that the series has ever done. This is not an encouraging return to this universe and it would be all too easy for someone to check out this premiere, write off the entire season as trash, and not tune in again. I’ve been extremely hard on this episode, but don’t do that.
As someone that’s seen the first five episodes of this season, understand that this episode is not at all representative of the season’s quality. There are some incredible, inspired monster of the week episodes that lie ahead, with one even by Chris Carter, no less. It’s just crazy that during this show’s prime, some viewers would only tune in for the mythology installments and write off the others. Now it’s the complete reverse. The mythos entries are the ones that need to be avoided (at least so far) and it’s the random episodes that effectively illustrate where the show’s magic and strength still lies.
Don’t worry though guys, as Mulder’s voiceover tells us, “a drum beats in his heart” so everything’s obviously going to be just fine.
“The X-Files’” 11th season will continue Wednesdays at 9pm (ET) on FOX.