Warning: Yeah, yeah spoilers ahead. Whatever.
When we last saw former FBI agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, they were sharing a calm boat ride in a sunny locale during the credits of the deeply troubled 2008 film X Files: I Want to Believe. That film had little to do with the show’s overarching plot, other than the FBI finally calling off their search for Mulder – a fugitive since the series finale – to aid them with a convoluted plot that badly misused the talents of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. If that film was the end of The X-Files, it would have been a sorry one.
In that sense, it’s good to see Anderson and Duchovny back on the small screen in a six-part mini series that is a better use of their talents, even if its first episode isn’t quite the perfect reintroduction to the show that creator Chris Carter planned it to be. The miniseries consists of episodes connecting to the show’s myth-arc as well as stand-alone “monster of the week” episodes: a mix that served the show well in its superlative early seasons. However, I’m not quite sure this was a good call for the truncated space of an “event series.”
Its first episode “My Struggle” is watchable but deeply flawed, owing to a scattershot script that features frequent distractions from the main plot and feels as if it is two episodes crammed into one.
The episode starts off with a three minute narration from Mulder that explains the series’ plot, characters, themes and myth arc in a way that – while helpful to newcomers – will likely grate on hardcore fans that do not need such a long-winded introduction. Mulder and Scully don’t even enter the story until nearly six minutes in, as the first scenes are devoted to the first several unnecessary flashbacks to the 1947 Roswell incident, focusing on a young Army doctor called to the scene of the crash. These flashbacks serve as a great example of tell-don’t-show. We don’t necessarily need these scenes with a character whom we have never met right at the front of the show before anything else is explained. Both this initial scene and the later ones detract from the pacing of the episode, and they’re really only called back again in a short scene at the end where present-day Mulder briefly encounters the now-aged Doctor at the National Mall.
In the main plot of the episode, Mulder and Scully are goaded to reunite by Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) to help the unlikable, smarmy internet conspiracy theorist Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale). O’Malley introduces them to multiple alien abductee Sveta (Annett Mahendru), who had specifically requested Mulder’s assistance because she remembered him interviewing her as a child following her first abduction. Sveta claims that aliens had impregnated her multiple times -always talking the babies before they are born – and further claims to have alien DNA.
Although it would be interesting to the agents interact with a modern, more aggressive conspiracy theorist, O’Malley’s more politically driving false flag theories mostly serve to establish his character and motivations (early on, at least). Instead, he wants the agents to investigate an alien technology conspiracy to which Sveta is the key. Scully tests both Sveta’s and her own blood (she was abducted herself early in the show’s run) for this alien DNA.
Mulder visits Sveta without O’Malley present, and she reveals that she believes men have taken her babies in staged abduction events as opposed to aliens. Mulder has a crisis of faith – what if their entire work with the X-Files has been a lie, he asks Scully over the phone as she rides with O’Malley from the hospital.
The first half of the episode moves very slowly – not helped by the three flashback sequences to 1947. A lot of time is spent in talky scenes at Scully’s hospital or Sveta’s home (surprisingly nice and comfy for a shack in the middle of nowhere). Midway through the episode, though, the pace abruptly shifts and everything moves faster than it needs to be. It feels like as if Carter decided in the middle of this script that the entire miniseries would not hinge on this single plot.
As with I Want to Believe, the episode only drops vague hints as to the nature of Mulder and Scully’s current relationship. Here, they’re on friendly terms and in contact with one another, but are no longer in a romantic relationship following Scully’s diagnosis of Mulder with depression.
The 1947 flashbacks are there, I suppose, to corroborate a bit of the lecture that O’Malley and Mulder give to Scully and Sveta (Man-conspiracy-splaining?): That the government has had access to alien technology since aliens were attracted to the planet following World War II and crashed places like Roswell. Subsequently, shadow figures have been staging abductions – Scully and Sveta’s included – and other alien events for decades in an effort against humanity and to experiment with alien tissue grafting and hybridization via gene and embryo implantation. Sveta’s children were – apparently human-alien hybrids that were created by the government and implanted in her. (Question: why did they keep abducting the same woman, wouldn’t that be suspicious and lead to them attracting someone like Mulder who could destroy their entire plot?)
Mulder doesn’t know why they are doing this, but O’Malley decides to interject his own paranoid bullshit into the conversation that these staged abductions and experiments are apart of a shadow ploy from a “multinational group of elites” to take over the country and the world.
The major problem with this entire thing is that it’s highly unlikely that Mulder didn’t know any of this already. It doesn’t necessarily add up that he’d still be in the dark about the use of alien technology and neither does it add that he’s never stumbled onto this whole conspiracy involving the government staged abductions.
Additionally, O’Malley’s tinfoil exposition to the other characters is accompanied by a Koyaanisqatsi-esque montage that is so tacky that it drastically undermines both Mulder’s speech beforehand and what I think Chris Carter intended to be the earth-shattering reveal of the episode.
Scully doesn’t believe in their entire spiel, calling it “bogus” and “techno-paranoia” (YAY SCULLY) and reveals that both of the initial tests came back negative for alien DNA. The following day, Sveta goes public against O’Malley and he subsequently disappears off the internet following his broadcast where he “reveals all.” Then Scully gets the second test results back and, as she tells Mulder in a parking garage, they’re both positive for alien DNA. Sveta’s car is destroyed by a UFO; her ultimate fate is unclear. These final moments are very solid and definitely a lot better than the montage that precedes it, building up the reunion of Mulder and Scully as partners and their return to the X-Files division.
As for the flashbacks I had an issue with earlier: Mulder’s meeting with the Roswell doctor (played a very game Rance Howard) includes all the flashbacks we need. The scenes earlier in the episode feel irrelevant unless they’re building up to something else in future episodes, especially an answer as to why this shadow cabal is using alien technology against humanity. Based on just this one episode, the whole thing is very muddled.
Additionally we only see Walter Skinner briefly, as he meets with Mulder in the empty X-Files office as they argue over the future of the Files. This scene is quite good. It’s nice to see Pileggi back, and hopefully he plays a larger role in the rest of the miniseries. Given the reopening of the X-Files division at the end of the episode, it’s likely he will. The announcement of the re-opening of the Files by a… certain someone is the real treat of “My Struggle,” even though I’m probably giving it more attention as an aside than the episode does.
“My Struggle” is a messy hour of television that feels half-finished, rushed off and muddled. However, don’t take this as a reason not to watch this episode. The parts that work – Mulder and Scully’s interactions with one another, the dark hues that dominate the episode’s color palette, the spooky atmosphere – work very well and are worth experiencing. Gillian Anderson in particular is fantastic throughout the entire episode, returning Scully to the skeptic role even after all she has seen throughout the series run. McHale? He’s fine. The scenes of Tad O’Malley doing his web show (on “MindQuad” the goofiest name yet for a Youtube-with-the-serial-numbers-filed-off website on television) seem over the top, but only because the real people who the character is based on often act like caricatures of themselves. Following his abrupt disappearance from the grid at the end of this episode, it will be interesting to see if he returns.
It’s not like a lot of the issues I have with this episode are unusual for this series. Late period X-Files seasons were infamously scattershot; some episodes were significantly better than others, some were pointless filler and others were only redeemed by subsequent episodes that explained some of the themes more concisely. I really can’t tell the entire quality of this miniseries just from one episode. I feel like airing the second episode the night after the first is a good idea, and one that will serve to ease fans’ concerns as they pick apart the flawed-but-intriguing “My Struggle” for the things that will become important later.
Rating: 5/10, but I’m willing to bump this to a 6 if it makes more sense as the arc is fleshed out.