Had The X-Files come to an end last week with ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’ it’s a good bet audiences would have been excited at the prospect of more, despite what would almost certainly be a Gillian Anderson-less season 12. However, the series still had a fourth installment in the ‘My Struggle’ storyline, which may put a damper on any anticipation for what might come next should FOX decide it wants to continue with the series.
‘My Struggle IV’ is, if nothing else, consistent in that it delivers another convoluted mythology episode that’s largely devoid of what makes The X-Files work in the first place: the easy chemistry between Mulder and Scully. Sure, if what you’re looking for is David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson together on screen, season 11 delivered with more monster-of-the-week episodes that were of a higher quality than what was offered in in season 10. But as far as a season — and perhaps even series — finale goes, giving the two a single scene together, wherein they mourn the loss of the son they never knew all while pointing to another child on the way, doesn’t do either character any justice.
After a solid run of episodes in the past few weeks, the only thing more jarring than the transition back to the Cigarette Smoking Man’s plot to unleash an alien virus and his search for William is watching the kid explode Barbara Hershey’s head in a roach motel outside Norfolk, Virginia. The violence of the scene is shocking, but it doesn’t serve much purpose beyond that. It’s easy to think encountering the child might be a threat to Mulder, too, if it weren’t for the opening scene setting up a fatal encounter between him and CSM, as part of visions both William and Scully are having throughout the hour. The episode essentially undermines itself again and again. Meanwhile, the mystery of who and what William is isn’t helped by the episode’s structure. Any character who could help the audience connect emotionally with the character is frantically searching for him, meaning they never share any screen time with one another. In the end, the child Mulder and Scully have been searching for becomes just another monster-of-the-week, which is fitting in a way that’s both ironic and a little depressing given what Scully learns about the child she thought was her’s and Mulder’s.
That revelation, that William is just an experiment who Scully “bore” but was never a mother to, actually flips the script on ‘My Struggle IV’ in a way that feels unintentional. It’s not as interested in furthering the mythology of The X-Files so much as it is doing some narrative housecleaning. In that sense, the finale works to release the show from the burden of a storyline about a pregnancy and child, both of which were given short shrift, while also doing away with a number of characters whose relevance, like William, had never been convincingly established. So, the finale definitively wipes Mr. Y, Erika Price, Agent Reyes, and the Cigarette Smoking Man off the board, while leaving Skinner’s fate a little more ambiguous.
This makes it easier to believe that Mulder and Scully could find some semblance of a normal future together, and possibly raise this new child without the cloud of the Cigarette Smoking Man or even the X-Files looming overhead, but given all that they’ve been through — especially the fact that Scully’s entire pregnancy was tantamount to an assault by the CSM — just how normal of a life are either of them, or that kid, looking at?
If we take a minute to step away from analyzing the hypothetical future of a kid whose parents are going to be eating off the senior citizen menu when he or she is thinking about college, the revelations in ‘My Struggle IV’ almost seem like a course correction — one that’s the equivalent of driving a car into a tree as opposed to off a cliff, but still. The X-Files is in an awkward position where the question of will and should the series continue beyond this point is more interesting than any alien conspiracy or monster cover-up the show was able to cook up in season 11. Chris Carter, who wrote and directed the episode, certainly made some interesting creative choices, like sending Mulder on an interstate killing spree that was also a commercial for just how dope a ride his Ford Mustang is. But buried within the clunkiness of the hour, the groundwork was laid for future Scully-less stories about the X-Files and perhaps Fox Mulder’s search for the Truth.
In the end, ‘My Struggle IV’ feels more like a great undoing to open the series up to the possibility of more than it does a definitive end. That being said, it can still work as a series finale, albeit one born more from fatigue than the pursuit of satisfaction. After more than 200 episodes, it’s weird to think The X-Files might all come down to this, but in this current television landscape of nostalgia-driven revivals, it’s always best to never say never.
The X-Files is available to stream in its entirety on Hulu.