FOX and The X-Files continue to ride the TV revival wave, with the latter finding it hard to recreate that old mid-‘90s television magic at the onset of season 11 — or its second revival season, if you will. When the series first announced its return for a six-episode event back in 2015 the news was met with equal parts anticipation and trepidation. And while it only scored one truly successful episode out of those six (Darin Morgan’s ‘Mulder and Scully Meet The Were-Monster’), FOX and Chris Carter seemed interested in continuing the search for the Truth that was presumably still out there.
The continuation of a not entirely successful outing already bearing the divisive moniker “revival” — a term too often treated with undeserved blanketed derision — puts The X-Files in a tricky place, one where the show’s fan base, presumably comprised of staunch true believers whose devotion to the subject matter is rivaled only by Fox Mulder himself, were essentially converted into skeptics. That’s normally the job of Gillian Anderson’s Dana Scully, as the actress’ insistence season 11 is the end of the road for both her and her FBI counterpart casts a shadow over these next 10 episodes.
The skepticism ultimately works in the favor of The X-Files; it sets an appropriately lower bar following season 10, one that, as Carter recently stated, was still shaking off the cobwebs of being decommissioned for over a decade. Unfortunately, with ‘My Struggle III’, the season 11 premiere suggests Carter and Co. are still taking a broom to the dusty corners of their series. The new season’s first outing is a clumsy affair that, in terms of quality, feels like a true continuation of the season 10 finale, ‘My Struggle II.’ There is almost no improvement over how ungainly the two “mythology” episodes from last season were, as part three struggles to strike a balance between making sense of the labyrinthine machinations of the plot, the importance of Mulder and Scully’s son William, and what role the Cigarette Smoking Man plays in the whole thing.
The episode assumes the shape and form of an X-Files season premiere, but struggles to deliver a totally convincing product. All the necessary parts are there — the aforementioned Anderson, David Duchovny, Mitch Pileggi, William B. Davis, and even Annabeth Gish pops up as Agent Monica Reyes. But the manner in which the plot unfolds is so janky, the overwhelming sensation is that the production has merely aproximate the tried and true X-Files formula, but still comes up short.
Much of the fault lies in the execution of the hour. The ideas are all sound — or at least sound enough the seem like the stuff The X-Files is made of — but they’re presented in such a hurried and inelegant fashion you have to wonder if Carter inadvertently cleared the cobwebs of a different show entirely. There are so many twists, turns, and surprise reveals in the first hour that every time the series seems to be saying, “But wait, there’s more,” it comes across more like, “Just kidding; we have no idea what’s going on, either.” It’s not outside The X-Files’ wheelhouse to deliberately obfuscate the truth or attempt to confound its audience with mind-blowing revelations, but the manner in which those efforts are carried out in ‘My Struggle III’ undermine whatever thrill the purported revelations might have elicited.
Duchovny and Anderson both seem a little bored but are otherwise present. That might have something to do with Scully being in and out of consciousness and plagued with strange visions of her son, while Mulder becomes a character in a Dashiell Hammett novel, complete with hard-boiled voiceover as he evades the burly men tailing him as he tracks down the Cigarette Smoking Man. His efforts find him chasing the wrong people after a run-in with the mysterious Erika Price played by Barbara Hershey, who sets up one of several lengthy monologues during the hour that’s intended to explain what the hell is going on, but really only muddies the water further.
Thankfully, whatever slack ‘My Struggle III’ struggles with early on is largely picked up by Pileggi and Davies, who both go full bore with the kind of commitment the series could not have done without. A great deal of the heavy lifting falls on Davis as he’s tasked with explaining the somewhat modified mythology of the series moving forward and also addressing the seemingly Quixotic quest for the Truth in the time of fake news.
The bombshell delivered by the Cigarette Smoking Man at the end of the gives The X-Files the kind of “ick” factor it hasn’t had in years, and also, on a personal level, complicates things for Mulder and Scully’s relationship and roles as parents. But the threat of a contagion wiping out most of humankind and the thought of the undying CSM being William’s father does little to assuage concerns about the show’s quality. Thankfully, though, FOX sent out additional episodes to critics, and the season does improve considerably as it goes along. Whether or not ‘My Struggle IV’ can count itself among those improved episodes remains to be seen, but even though The X-Files stumbles out of the gate in season 11, it seems there’s still some life left in Mulder and Scully’s search for the Truth after all.
The X-Files continues next Wednesday with ‘This’ @8pm on FOX.