[This is a review of The X-Files season 10, episode 6. There will be SPOILERS.]
Early on in The X-Files revival’s run, creator Chris Carter teased a massive cliffhanger for the truncated season’s end and, of all the things that can be said about the finale, that it didn’t deliver on said promise is certainly not one of them. And yet, for all that transpired (and didn’t) throughout the hour, the attempt to pass off what really only amounts to the first half of a typical hour-long drama as a season finale that ends on a shocking cliffhanger is perhaps one of the lesser TV crimes to appear onscreen.
Like the other episodes attributed to Carter during these past six hours, ‘My Struggle II’ was noticeably torn between the desire to service the show’s enormous fan base and to put a fresh spin on an older, convoluted mythology that wasn’t necessarily so much in need of an update, but rather a convincing reason to exist in 2016. For the most part, Carter found what he was looking for by inverting the threat of terror from beyond the stars into a far more terrestrial terror hiding in plain sight. In lieu of little grey men hell bent on colonizing the planet, Carter placed a “conspiracy of men,” a group of immensely powerful and largely unseen white guys, whose onscreen representative had become a walking laundry list of grotesqueries and a fan-service-y device that, despite his grisly presence, was as dramatically inert as the rest of the hour.
The lethargic presence of the Cigarette Smoking Man aside, ‘My Struggle II’ was the storytelling equivalent of CSM pulling off of his surgically reconstructed face: a dramatic build-up to the revelation there is only a hollow cavity underneath. In fact, the scarred visage of Davis’ character is like the two chapters bookending this miniseries/revival/tenth season: all the parts are there, but they look slightly different; and for some reason or another they don’t quite fit together as well as they should. Or, in other words, ‘My Struggle’ was a potentially engaging story that simply wasn’t assembled properly. In an hour that unfolded through an unnecessarily complicated mishmash of flashbacks, reconstituted plot lines, and talking-head exposition, perhaps most egregious was the episode’s concerted effort to keep Mulder and Scully from ever interacting with one another. This is essentially the last thing any episode of The X-Files should do, much less a season finale so eager to rush the proverbial cliff you pray someone at FOX took the time to install guardrails, so the whole thing doesn’t simply plummet over the edge.
Everyone knows Mulder and Scully are integral pieces of The X-Files puzzle. As the latter Duchovny-less seasons prove, the show doesn’t work without both of them. But it’s not enough for those two pieces to be present in the same hour; they have to connect in order for the larger picture to come into view. Physical distance can sometimes result in entertaining installments like ‘War of the Coprophages,’ but even then, the integrity of the Mulder-Scully connection is maintained through dialogue. ‘My Struggle II,’ while understandably trying to generate suspense through the audience not knowing Mulder’s whereabouts (in terms of his actual physical location or the chronology of his plot thread) miscalculated the efficacy of that apprehension when weighed against the fundamental element of the series’ conceit. The issue is then exacerbated by the introduction of an end-of-the-world scenario (or at least a massive depopulating scenario) that assaults the audiences’ attention from too many angles – i.e., Joel McHale’s Bill O’Reilly-meets-Art-Bell online conspiracy theorist, Agent Einstein acting as Scully to Scully’s Mulder-like deep dive into weird but revelatory territory, and Annabeth Gish’s reappearance as Monica Reyes, complete with extra-long shot of her walking down a hospital corridor showing everyone her badge. And so, the result is an hour of television that already knows it is going to be incomplete and still sees fit to offer up a scattered assortment of ideas and characters that never quite manage to become a cohesive whole.
The season’s throughline of Mulder and Scully’s son was an effective memento of all that had come before. It was also a reminder that even in this age of information overload and the death of privacy there can be tantalizing mysteries and elements of the unknown that are made more meaningful by the questions they pose than the answers they conceivably possess. The revelation that William’s stem cells are the key to his father’s survival actually undercuts the narrative weight of his existence by transforming him into a mere plot device. William may be an intriguing mystery, another piece of the puzzle, but here the necessity of his inclusion is more in service to the finale’s lumbering plot than to the characters that created him.
All this talk of pieces is appropriate given the season ends by emphatically stating there’s more to come. And even though the revival was largely an uneven affair, it’s hard not to want The X-Files to come back with another shortened season that will hopefully see Carter having successfully shaken the cobwebs and figured out what it is this continuation of the series wants to say. Or perhaps, better yet, he’ll realize the series doesn’t have to say anything; it can simply go back to doing what it does best and tell six more episodes of Mulder and Scully pouring their belief and skepticism into weird tales of Were-Monsters and anything else the writers can dream up.
Perhaps the reason ‘My Struggle’ parts I and II struggled so much was the importance the episodes placed on altering the mythology as a way of fitting in with the television landscape of 2016. Making that the focal point is like keeping Mulder and Scully from interacting in a finale – it suggests a fundamental misinterpretation of what made the series so great in the first place. The X-Files is not and never was about fitting in. If the series does return, with luck it will bring with it a restored understanding of that essential detail.
Screen Rant will keep you updated on the future of The X-Files as details are made available.
Photos: Ed Araquel/FOX