In a sense, the problem with 'My Struggle' was its transparent need to verbalize its fan service and make the implicit "the truth is out there" and "I want to believe"-ness of each and every episode in the series into an explicit conversation, as though there needed to be a refresher course on what this series was. As such, the first hour was the equivalent of The X-Files being described to someone who had no idea what the show was or what it was about. That kind of thinking is understandable in the sense that, to a certain extent, the show needed to be aware it hadn't been on the air for nearly a decade and a half, but it was also demonstrative of the show's own lack of awareness of its lasting impact. Like the flag embedded in the surface of the moon by the astronauts of Apollo 11, the flag The X-Files planted on the landscape of popular culture was still standing – thanks in large part to the series being available in its entirety on Netflix.
Even for diehard X-Files fans the premiere was a rough hour of television, one akin to watching an athlete emerge from retirement and miss a jump shot he would otherwise have sunk with his eyes closed years prior. But thanks in large part to the show's deep bench of returning writer-directors like James Wong and, especially, Darin Morgan, the series was quickly able to brush off the cumbersomeness of 'My Struggle' and correct course.
'Founder's Mutation' may not have elicited the same exultant shouts of joy that 'Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster' brought about, but there was an audible sigh of collective relief heard after it aired. Written and directed by James Wong, the episode was self-aware in how it addressed the issue of time passing without forcing that same awareness to become the text of the story. The episode was serviceable to the series and to the fans in the way the deliberate servicing of both the series and the fans in 'My Struggle' was not. It was simple and casual; an hour of television that carried itself as just another typical episode of The X-Files – an act of restraint that says a lot. The result, then, became a solid-but-not-phenomenal installment that nonetheless demonstrated the role muscle memory would play in this six-episode revival and the importance of the series falling back on what it already knew it did well.
Any loyal viewer knows that one thing the series does well is enlist Darin Morgan to deconstruct its own model and have fun with its conventions, while still delivering a memorable X-Files experience. That happened again with 'Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster,' a light, funny hour that made the most of guest stars Rhys Darby and Kumail Nanjiani, was loaded with Easter eggs, and featured the revival's first engaging performance from what had, up to that point, been an unusually reserved David Duchovny. The hour breathed new life into the series' return, but it also confirmed once again just how comfortable what is ostensibly a horror/procedural cop-show mash-up is wandering up and down an incredibly broad tonal spectrum.
Regardless of how the final three episodes turn out – two will be monster-of-the-week installments, while the finale will be a continuation of the (new) mythology building premiere, titled 'My Struggle II' – The X-Files has demonstrated through this revival how its mastery of the episodic format and the fluidity of the series' tone, its ability to do horror, comedy, thriller, straight police procedural, or any combination therein, is really the show's most impressive asset – and its saving grace. If an episode doesn't work out one week, the writers aren't stuck trying to undo the damage; they simply move on and try a different approach. Part of that is the forgiving nature of the series' episodic format. But a larger part is The X-Files ability to use that format to its distinct advantage and to deliver a wide variety of stories all anchored in the same paranoid lusting for an elusive Truth believed to be out there somewhere.
The X-Files season 10 continues with 'Home Again' on Monday, February 8 @8pm on FOX. Check out a preview below:
Photos: Ed Araquel/FOX