Wednesday, January 3, 2018

REVIEW: 'The X-Files' - Scully is Haunted by New Visions While Mulder Finds New Mysteries in 'My Struggle III'

FOX's The X-Files - Episode 11.01 "My Struggle III"

Picking up after the last season's cliffhanger, Mulder and Scully learn that they aren't the only ones desperately searching for their long-lost son, William. The very fate of the world may depend on it.

I reviewed all six episodes of the tenth season of The X-Files. It was the first time FOX brought back this series and the characters from the 1990s. It was an incredibly frustrating season. It produced one standout episode that possibly justified the whole thing. But the rest of it was completely trash and risked tarnishing the legacy of the show. The mythology-based stories were especially gibberish that didn't seem to make any sense at all or connect to how modern day audiences now view storytelling. They were episodes that ended on this big pandemic. The Cigarette Smoking Man released his virus into the world and watched humanity falling around him. It was a season that ended on a cliffhanger of Mulder dying and Scully racing to tell him that their son was the key to curing this disease. All of that was before a spaceship showed up and shown a lot on the chaos down below. It was all crazy and was the show simply just escalating tension and throwing buzzwords around in order to seem modern and grandiose. But it mostly made it clear that Chris Carter should no longer be responsible for this franchise. That was my immediate reaction to those episodes. He wrote and directed three episodes and they were easily the worst ones of the bunch. It wasn't surprising that FOX brought the show back for 10 more episodes. It's not even surprising that Carter is back because of the commercial success of the previous season. It's just very disappointing and leads to yet another mythology-based premiere that doesn't make a whole lot of sense and derives much of its story from false tension.

The first time the show came back it was with a premiere that basically said everything the audience thought they knew about the conspiracy at the heart of The X-Files was completely wrong. It was an attempt at a clean slate. A way to tell a new story in a new era. It turned out to still be heavily influenced by the mythology of the past - especially as it pertained to Mulder and Scully's son, William. He was an oft-mentioned character who nonetheless never appeared in the show. And now, "My Struggle III" once again flips the script on everything the audience thought we knew about the overarching conspiracy. The finale ended on the world falling into chaos and destruction. This premiere opens with the revelation that it was all just a vision Scully was experiencing. On one hand, that was probably for the best. It would be hard for the show to come back from the brink of destruction and have the world be incredibly commonplace once more with Mulder and Scully continuing to work the x-files. On the other hand though, it feels very deceptive of the narrative and the audience. The show made the audience think one thing. And now, it's completely wiping everything clean in order to tell a new conspiracy with even more players attached.

Of course, it wasn't all completely pointless. The Cigarette Smoking Man still has an alien virus that could kill the majority of humanity. He is immune to it and so are Scully and William. He just hasn't released it. The events of the finale just being an ominous vision to Scully aren't just a one time thing either. She spends the entire premiere on the verge of being delirious. That's not a good look for the character at all. In fact, it's silly just how needlessly complicated and tense all of this is. Yes, the show is dealing with the fate of the entire world. It makes sure that those stakes are completely underlined with the characters shouting the importance for all to hear. It's not a subtle hour whatsoever. But it also seems to be sacrificing commonsense in order to creative a narrative that is highly exciting and intense. Scully spends the premiere mostly in a hospital bed. Her brain is showing some abnormal readings. At one point, Skinner suggests her scan is speaking though morse code and sending a message to "Find Him." That could be telling Mulder to find either William or the Cigarette Smoking Man. This is a premiere with purpose. The stakes are high. The quest for answers is important because the health of one of the leads is in jeopardy. It's just excruciatingly bad and unintentionally hilarious because it's full of cheap manipulations in order to get the audience's blood pressure up.

And so, there is an extended car chase sequence where Mulder is trying to escape from whomever is tailing him after he leaves the hospital. That's a sequence that overindulges itself and cinema's fascination with showing off cars and the crazy stunts that can be done with them. It's too much. And similarly, it's foolish to see just how much free reign Scully has. There's no reason why any sensible medical professional would allow her to leave her room. And yet, she's on a mission to find her son. She makes it back to the FBI. She makes it to a car. She shouldn't be driving. And yet, Scully no longer seems to be operating with any smarts at all. It's strange and a disservice to the character. That's especially true because no resolution really comes to this plot whatsoever. Mulder believes he's going to confront the Cigarette Smoking Man. Instead, he finds new shady individuals with a stake in this conflict. They want to stop the Cigarette Smoking Man and find William for their own nefarious reasons. It may include the colonization of space. Or it could be something completely different. They present themselves as not a threat to Mulder as long as he kills the Cigarette Smoking Man for him - which they apparently can't do somehow. But then, their agent goes in to kill Scully before Mulder arrives in the nick of time. It's all an attempt to surprise the audience by putting the characters in harm's way. But it's all building to the moment where Scully suddenly realizes that these visions are probably coming from William and he'll find them instead of the other way around. That allows the show to get back into its monster-of-the-week groove starting with the next episode. It's just a lot of silly craziness that doesn't add up getting to that point.

All of this also concludes with such a sinister revelation that could rewrite everything these characters have belived for over two decades. The Cigarette Smoking Man reveals to Skinner that he is William's father and not Mulder. That's such a villainous twist that occurs. He makes the claim that it was alien science that was responsible for that conception. But it's such an icky twist that has some truly troubling connotations. This show has had a frequent problem of not treating Scully respectfully as a woman. There have been many occasions when things have happened to her and her body without her consent and the men of this world just casually keeping the truth from her. It was annoying on the old show and it's annoying here too. Right now, Skinner is the only person who has this information. He is being positioned as a potential enemy to Mulder and Scully as well. They are distrustful of him largely because he doesn't seem to be doing anything beneficial to them right now and he smells of smoke. That's a powerful accusation that is reduced to nothing more than Mulder trying to pick a fight with Skinner. That's weird especially after Mulder just killed a man by slicing his neck. But more importantly, this is a twist with lasting implications. Those are consequences that I just don't trust this creative team to handle in a compelling way. It may ultimately be the latest deception the Cigarette Smoking Man has made with the creative team backing him up with video evidence from the old show. It wouldn't be surprising if a later episode revealed William to still be Mulder's son like he has always been acknowledged as. This premiere keeps trying to nudge people out of the grand world the conspirators are envisioning. The Cigarette Smoking Man wants to keep Scully and William safe while the mysterious newcomers offer safety to Mulder. It's chaos simply for the sake of being chaotic with the attempted perception that it is meaningful in an age where the truth is completely fluid and up to whomever is listening in at the moment. It's just annoying and doesn't do a great job at focusing in on what this season wants to do.

Some more thoughts:
  • "My Struggle III" was written by Chris Carter and directed by Chris Carter.
  • The premiere once again opens on a monologue from the Cigarette Smoking Man talking about how he has always been the one in the position of power willing to do whatever it takes to carry out this bold plan for the future. It's a sequence that also rewrites public history to show the truly sinister twists orchestrated by this man under the guise of the government. It's just lame while attempting to be topical.
  • The Cigarette Smoking Man also reveals his name to be Carl. That's weird and a bit unexpected. He is iconic as a villain because he has no name. He's simply a government agent who thrives in the shadows always being able to control humanity from behind the curtain. Humanizing him at this point is an odd decision that probably signals that his time on the show and his true importance is coming to an end.
  • The inclusion of Monica Reyes in this conspiracy story still doesn't make a whole lot of sense. In the original series, she was an ally to Scully. In these new episodes, she's betraying the FBI for unclear reasons. She's working with the Cigarette Smoking Man probably because he has something on her or he has promised her something in the new world. But her motivations don't make any sense. It's mostly a case of the show needing the Cigarette Smoking Man to talk to someone and Reyes happening to be a familiar face to add more of a punch to those moments.
  • Agents Miller and Einstein also pop up here briefly. They are the agents who notice that Scully left the FBI building driving erratically and got her back to the hospital so she could be treated. And yet, they are basically non-essential to the overall episode. It's just further teasing that they were important during the finale and their fates must be touched on before moving forward with the rest of the season.
  • There's also immediate power in seeing that glimpse of William in the end. The tenth season lacked impact because he was just this character somewhere in the world with importance but no identity. But now, it's clear the show has cast an actor and will be including him as Mulder and Scully embark on this journey to uncover the truth in the heart of the x-files.