Monday, February 22, 2016

REVIEW: 'The X-Files' - Mulder and Scully Fight to Save the Entire World From Destruction in 'My Struggle II'

FOX's The X-Files - Episode 1.06 "My Struggle II"

The investigation that Mulder and Scully began with Tad O'Malley seems to have awakened powerful enemies. A widespread panic begins as people all over the country suddenly start falling gravely ill, and Scully must look within to try and find a cure. Mulder confronts the man who he believes to be behind it all, but another figure from Mulder and Scully's past may prove to be the key to their salvation.

FOX was able to bring back The X-Files so enthusiastically for this six episode event series because Chris Carter, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson were all willing to return. Signing all three of them is what got these six episodes greenlit. Carter has done so many great things for this franchise as well. His vision created this phenomenal show and the iconic characters of Mulder and Scully. He assembled a talented writer's room that included Glen Morgan, James Wong, Vince Gilligan, Frank Spotnitz, Darin Morgan and many more. He established a narrative that was willing to balance both mythology-based episodes and monsters-of-the-week. And yet, the most problematic element of this revival has been Carter's inclusion. He is simply a man who no longer understands how to tell stories in this universe in a way that can connect with modern-day audiences. It's something he struggled with in the later seasons of the original series run as well. But here, it has been much more pronounced and problematic.

And yet, this revival was totally worth it because of Darin Morgan's "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster." That was a classic episode that showed just how captivating this show is still capable of being. In addition to that hour, this event series produced an emotionally dynamic but flawed episode in "Home Again," a mediocre but forgettable episode in "Founder's Mutation," and three absolutely awful episodes in "My Struggle," "Babylon" and "My Struggle II." Those three terrible episodes were all penned by Carter. That shows that he is no longer the voice that makes The X-Files so special. But if that's the cost of doing business in order to get an hour like "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster" than so be it.

Before these episodes even started airing, the questions started being asked on whether or not the show would do even more episodes if these were successful in the ratings. There is still no decision on the show's future. And yet, these episodes have been a hit for FOX. The numbers have steadily declined over the run. But it has still done solid business for the network on Monday nights and helped launch new show Lucifer (which frankly needed as much help as it can get). The commercial success of the show means Carter is likely to stay though. He produced these episodes and they were still a hit for a mass audience. The quality has just been horrendous in the three episodes he wrote. So, it seems unlikely that he would step away from the series - even though that would be the best thing for the show at this point.

This is a franchise that needs a fresh perspective. Part of what made the premiere and finale of this revival so dreadful was the show trying to attach a new conspiracy-based mentality on Mulder and Scully. These episodes have showcased just how crazy conspiracies can get in the modern world. It's so very different from the world of the 90s. It proves that the original show happened at the right time. But the way the creative team (largely Carter) chose to adapt to these modern times was truly egregious. The show took itself so seriously when it came to these global conspiracies. That amounted to tons and tons of expositional dialogue where the characters would repeat the same thing over and over again in order to give some grandiosity to the stakes. It was really annoying and got tiresome fast. This season simply had too many ideas that the creative team tried to cram into just six episodes. That doomed a number of the hours in this revival. They wrote as if they would never get a chance to revisit these characters ever again. So that meant the tension was ramped up in ways that weren't all that organic to the narrative stakes of the story or the characters.

But the series also seems to be aware that the possibility exists for more episodes to be produced. Otherwise, why would they end this revival on a cliffhanger? It is literally forcing the network's hand. And yet, the execution of the story in this episode is horrible. It's global pandemonium simply to have a chaotic story to close out the run. It doesn't take the time to tell a genuine or engaging story with the characters either. It instead exists in these grand proclamations about alien DNA and the plagues that have been carefully planned to wipe out the majority of the human race. All of it is too nonsensical to work at all. However, all of it is suppose to be worth it because it's all building towards Scully running to be with Mulder on that bridge and give him the vaccine that she has just created in a minute. But even that can't be a satisfying conclusion to this story. No, there has to be a number of other twists added to the end to really play as suspense and to leave viewers wanting more. So, the true ending is Scully not being able to do enough to save Mulder and an alien spaceship just randomly showing up to shine a light on the three FBI agents below.

I will gladly watch more episodes of The X-Files if FOX decides to order more. That seems very likely. It's just a matter of figuring out the scheduling. But can the show even bounce back from all the devastation that happens in this finale? This is an episode that pretty much destroys the entire world. The Cigarette Smoking Man's plan has finally gone into action and he's just sitting back watching the world end around him. It won't be easy for the show to go back to its normal operating procedure following this mass-level extinction event. The conspiracy has finally started to play out in the real world for everyone to see. The world will change because everyone has been a part of this experience now. That could just be too much change for this show to handle. It certainly creates a couple of narrative hoops to jump through for whoever winds up writing the next chapter of this story. Carter wrote the show into a hole with this finale. He wanted to go as big as he could possibly go. Too bad it may have destroyed the entire franchise in the process. Still, it should be interesting to see what happens next. The original series run ended on the grim prospect of Mulder and Scully running from the law. This could certainly be an ending to the series. It just hardly gives any closure or justifies re-opening the x-files in the first place. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "My Struggle II" was directed by Chris Carter with story by Anne Simon, Margaret Fearon & Chris Carter and teleplay by Chris Carter.
  • Would the revival have been better off if it had just stuck to doing standalone episodes? So much of the premiere and finale are problematic because of a lack of buildup. They were just a bunch of characters talking with each other about these big conspiracies that eventually played out on a global scale. But it was such a violent and radical shift from the episodes in the middle of the season - which were much more interesting than the beginning and ending.
  • This is yet another episode that features the pointless return of a character from the original series. In this case, it's Annabeth Gish as Agent Monica Reyes. She mostly pops up to tell Scully just how grave this situation really is - as if she didn't fully know that herself. Also, was anyone really wondering what happened to Reyes? That just seemed like such a waste of time.
  • That fight scene between Mulder and CSM's goon was thrilling to watch but it hardly justified the structural aspect of the episode opening with Scully having no idea what happened to her partner.
  • It still bothers me that Mulder and Scully don't text with each other. At one point, Scully is pleading for Mulder to answer his phone. He sees that she's calling and declines. Texting would have been a workaround that brought them back together - while also clearing undoing all the plot Carter wanted to do with this hour.
  • I still like Robbie Amell and Lauren Ambrose as Agents Miller and Einstein. But this really wasn't a great showcase for them either. It was a more dramatic episode for them to be a part of than last week's. But they were very inconsequential to the plot. They existed for Mulder and Scully to have someone else be a part of their stories.
  • Did Mulder seriously not get any useful information out of CSM before his illness crippled him? He went from holding his nemesis at gunpoint in one scene to lying on the floor unable to move in the next. That's just sloppy.
  • Also, are we really to believe that Scully was able to mass produce a vaccination to this plague in just a few hours based on one sample of her DNA? That's asking a lot for a story that just doesn't work at all.
  • "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster" > "Home Again" > "Founder's Mutation" > "Babylon" > "My Struggle" > "My Struggle II." Agree or disagree?