“This is my life, this is everything. This is everything I believe in.” — Fox Mulder
“You want to believe, you so badly want to believe.” — Dana Scully
“I do believe. I believe that Tad O’Malley is right. This is not an alien conspiracy. It’s a conspiracy of men.” — Fox Mulder
After years away from the FBI and the X-Files, as well as each other, Mulder and Scully are drawn back to their spooky callings when a conservative Internet news anchor reaches out.
Radhika: So here we are — finally discussing the first new episode of The X-Files to hit our televisions (and computers and tablets) since 2002. This is an interesting post for us, as I can still consider this episode part of my “X-Files rewatch” after watching it at New York Comic Con last fall, while it is a completely new experience for Max. We’re happy to be back for this limited engagement, so let’s get the recap and discussion started! (And yes, this means spoilers.)
The episode begins like many before it, with a monotonous Mulder monologue about aliens and lies and the usual. Following the credits (exactly the same as they were in seasons 1-7, but including Mitch Pileggi as Skinner), we’re plunged into an hour that weaves between flashbacks to New Mexico in 1947 and Mulder and Scully in the present day. Scully’s working at a hospital, just as she was in the second film, helping surgeons who work with kids born without ears. Mulder’s… well, squirreled away somewhere, possibly nuttier than usual. But when Skinner reaches out to Scully thanks to conservative Internet news anchor Tad O’Malley, who has some conspiracy theories he’d like to unveil, the two reunite.
What we get, amid meeting this O’Malley character and a woman and alleged alien abductee named Sveta, is an introduction to yet a grander conspiracy than before — one that involves the government participating in abductions and other events to manipulate the U.S. population (and perhaps eventually the world). The episode lags in parts, but by the end we have Tad O’Malley pulling the plug on plans to expose the conspiracy, Sveta getting caught in an explosion that was seemingly set off by some type of alien craft… and the Cigarette Smoking Man (not dead?!) declaring that the X-Files have been reopened.
The first time I watched this episode, I was filled with nervousness and excitement — thrilled to see Mulder and Scully back, but worried after a lackluster final season and second movie. Rewatching the episode, I felt the same as I did the first time around — cautiously optimistic about what’s to come next, and more in the mood for the Monster of the Week episodes (which I have ultimately always been a little biased toward) than anything else. Yes, the “new revelations” about the conspiracies Mulder and Scully investigated turn things on their head a bit, except it’s also a bit of a circuitous argument — one we’ve seen in some form before, only to see it change again and again and again. I got a thrill from seeing an alien craft with cloaking technology, and from seeing (unrealistically included?) items like the “I Want to Believe” poster and the pencils in the ceiling in the otherwise empty X-Files basement office. But I found elements of the episode shaky — the dialogue a bit rough and the general reliance on exposition a bit cumbersome. However, this episode is something of a pilot, trying to build something new while also building on an extensive history, and so I am willing to excuse it a bit.
I still enjoy Mulder and Scully more in this than I did in I Want to Believe, even though they still come across as somewhat understandably tired. Their dynamic feels more authentic (and Scully’s worries about Mulder’s state of mind feel less over the top to me than they did in IWTB). They’re still a little quippy, albeit cautious around each other, and while Scully no longer seems befuddled by a belief in the fantastic, her skepticism regarding Mulder and O’Malley’s theories is true to character in the best way. Mulder’s a little off the rails, but he also hasn’t been integrating with society all that much, so he’s not as bad as he could be.
At this point, I’m looking forward to seeing their dynamic and the cases once they’re back at the FBI for real. I’m not sure I expect much of the miniseries finale, since I’m guessing Chris Carter will be looping us back to this premiere in that episode, but I’m ok with this setup for getting Mulder and Scully back in that basement office once again.
Max: You know that part in Fight the Future when a frustrated Mulder vents to his partner that with all that they have seen and learned they are seemingly back to where they were with nothing? Well that is part of my frustration with this episode. Do not get me wrong, I was thoroughly entertained from cold open to end credits, but the way events seem to be unfolding for our heroes is eerily reminiscent of the events of about 20 years prior, when one Michael Kritschgau told tales of government abductions and experiments under the guise of extraterrestrial activity. We’ve been here before and done that, especially with evidence since then that proves the erstwhile DoD employee wrong. Now, neither Radhika or I know how the rest of the season will bear things out in this regard, but in terms of the big picture, this is my main gripe with the episode.
What “My Struggle” (and the series as a whole) does so consistently well is the little character moments. Back in the hospital when Scully runs tests on Sveta, their entire exchange tells so much of the backstory of where Mulder and Scully have been mentally over the past eight years. Whereas Mulder and O’Malley’s big pow-wow is all clunky exposition, here Carter gives the characters and the audience room to process and fill in the gaps on their own. I absolutely loved how Scully let Sveta know that she too is an abductee, in a way the Scully of 1993 would’ve rolled her eyes at. Sveta herself is a wonderful character, and if this is indeed the last we see of her I am sad to see her go. Annet Mahendru is an incredible actress, able to communicate the deep wells of pain and loss that are her experiences.
The episode itself takes a bit of time to ramp up, and at times it seems like there are missing transitional scenes, but the last 10 minutes or so were genuinely thrilling pieces of television. We are faced with threats we know virtually nothing about, hellbent on killing or destroying in the name of keeping whatever project under wraps. But amongst it all is the familiar face of the Cigarette Smoking Man, pulling the strings yet again within this conspiracy. When news came down that William B. Davis was back on board, I’m sure all of us were abuzz over how the hell would they explain his fiery death-by-guided-missile in “The Truth.” Is he a hybrid? A clone? A super soldier? *shudder* Again, this is only the beginning of the story, but still, I wonder how Carter and company are going to deal with all of this new material.
Basically what this boils down to is that The X-Files are back, and the possibilities for what we can expect going forward are exciting. Our heroes are apparently getting their old jobs back, reinvested in putting the pieces of the conspiracy puzzle back together again. The truth is tantalizingly close at hand, even though we have been through this dog-and-pony show before. I do though believe that what has resonated with us X-Philes throughout the years is still very much present in this episode, and I hope you are just as game as we are to take the journey over the next five episodes.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
We’re bringing back a feature from our rewatch posts, where we would highlight recognizable or now-famous guest stars on the program back in the day. The reboot has some higher profile actors involved, but we’d still like to give those recognizable faces a nod.
Joel McHale — Appearing here as conservative pundit Tad O’Malley, McHale is probably a familiar face to most viewers thanks to his tenure as the host of the recently ended The Soup. McHale is also known for his role as Jeff Winger in the comedy Community and has appeared in films including Spider-Man 2 and Ted.
Annet Mahendru — Seen here as Sveta, Mahendru is probably best known for her role on FX’s Cold War-era spy drama The Americans.
Hiro Kanagawa — Recognize that scientist at that secret base in this episode? Kanagawa has been on the show multiple times, playing different roles, in season two’s “Firewalker” and later in season four’s “Synchrony.” Other recent series for Kanagawa include Heroes Reborn, The Man in the High Castle and iZombie.