[Warning: there are spoilers below for the entire The X-Files episode, "My Struggle"]
Whether it’s mythology-driven episodes or monster of the week installments, the return of The X-Files has been highly anticipated by both casual fans and diehard X-Philes have been looking forward to the return of the series ever since the six-episode miniseries was announced in March 2015.
And now, following a more-than 13-year absence on television (and seven years since the last film), the gang of Mulder, Scully, Skinner, and even Cigarette Smoking Man) have returned. And we want to believe this is the revival we’ve been wishing for.
But is it? The kickoff episode opens with a narration by Fox “Spooky” Mulder (David Duchovny) bringing the audience up to speed on alien invasion theories and government conspiracies. We also see a UFO crash -- but in high desert, Northwestern New Mexico, not Roswell – which propels us into the latest story about the alien tech being harnessed by the powers-that-be in the pursuit of global domination. And the forces that pull Mulder and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) back into the fold are FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) and conservative online TV host, Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale).
Over the course of the 45-min episode, Mulder reluctantly joins forces with O’Malley and becomes a believer in the case of abductee Sveta (Annett Mahendru), while Scully struggles with her own beliefs as she weighs science against her own history of alien involvement.
So what did we think of the first night of the two-night premiere of the new X-Files by executive producer Chris Carter? Editor At Large Aaron Sagers and Contributing Editor Tara Bennett sound off below with thoughts on whether the quality, as well as the truth, is out there with the revived X-Files, beginning with the episode “My Struggle.”
Aaron: I had the fortune of catching this episode at New York Comic Con last October, and my reaction then is the same as my reaction now: The X-Files is back, and it feels as relevant as ever. I think the premiere really nails it twice. First, Duchovny’s voiceover at the top refreshes the audience memory that, yes, this show was a big friggin’ deal, and then it ties the past of UFO investigations with the present. Then, he delivers his monologue breaking down the “true” threat of a government conspiracy involving alien technology. This gives us a sense of where the latest chapter of the mythology might go; it also felt nutty and paranoid, while making a lot of sense. It feels like The X-Files, and our world -- full of mistrust for the all-seeing government and a post-Clinton, post-9/11 – feels like the place Mulder predicted, and a place where his files still exist. I quite enjoyed that this was the Mulder and Scully we remembered, albeit a little further down the road. And more than anything, I just loved seeing the original opening credits with Mark Snow’s iconic theme.
Tara: A lot of people are going to complain that this episode is very exposition heavy, as evidenced in that Mulder VO Aaron mentions, and a first act filled with a lot of long speeches from Mulder, O'Malley, and others providing history and context, while clearing the path for where the story and characters can go. If you are a super fan, it might be tedious, but I found it a great refresher for my own gauzy memory that forgot some of the finer points covered in the nine year series. Not everyone binge watched all 200 hours of the series to prep for this episode, so the fact is that this episode needs to appease old fans and serve as a new pilot for fans who might give the series a first try based on this return. The question is, does it do both things well? I think it does, even if it's a little too utilitarian at times. Yes, there's a lot of pipe being laid (a TV writing term for setting up story in the dialogue and narrative) but there's also a lot of interesting, new material, especially regarding Sveta and her engrossing and believable story of recurring abductions and experimentation. Annett Mahendru does a fantastic job embodying a sympathetic but enigmatic soul that we have to suss out alongside Mulder and Scully. Sveta, more than anyone, is our gateway back into the unexplained.
Aaron: And I want to give credit to McHale’s O’Malley character. It just makes sense for an ultra-conservative conspiracy crackpot and talk-show host to have some common ground with Mulder. Not only does McHale deliver, and make me want to tune into his wacky show, it is additionally great seeing Mulder get so uncomfortable realizing that the ones who listened to him the most are those so diametrically opposed to him.
Tara: McHale, an avowed fan of the show, indeed does an excellent job lightening the mood, not with Jeff Winger a la Community style jokes, but with his whole intense vibe. He out-Mulders Mulder on the conspiracy theory tip, and it's contextually really funny to see him have the bankroll, resources and fringe following to basically do what Mulder did for years without the impunity that Fox suffered. O'Malley even puts the moves on Scully!
Aaron: Sometimes, it is disconcerting how at-home the show feels in our current environment. But beyond that, I do think the pacing is a bit rushed at times, and we’re thrown into a Mulder/Scully reunion fairly rapidly. Also, Sveta’s storyline is likewise rushed to the point where she seemed pretty disposable (and her exit seemed awkward since an exploding car would likely draw attention, especially right after she went to the press). This may be due to the nature of the show’s limited six episodes, and perhaps eight or 10 episodes would have allowed writers more time to re-connect our agents or make us care about the young abductee.
Tara: There's definitely some dust in the gears for Duchovny and Anderson returning to their iconic roles after so many years playing other characters. They're both a little stiff and don't look as comfortable in their character skins, but can you blame them? Reunion TV doesn't exactly allow for the luxury of months-long rehearsals. Also, the actors are given a relatively bleak position in which to start their characters: Mulder is clearly mired in a continuing depression, Scully is back to serious doctoring for genetically compromised children, and their romance is about as hot as a glacier due to an as-yet-unexplained estrangement. So, I can absolutely forgive the "off" rapport. The actors have to have somewhere to take these characters again, but that doesn't take away that it's a little disconcerting to watch, and in turn, hard to connect with them in this hour. However, having watched ahead, I can say that issue works itself out.
Best Fan Service
Aaron: I could not be happier Mitch Pileggi is back as Walter Skinner, and loved his scene in the X-Files basement office with Mulder. Skinner is not a pushover or anyone’s fool, so it was excellent to see him both support and chastise Mulder:
“It’s about controlling the past to control the future. It’s about fiction masquerading as fact. Now, you owe me some answers…”
“Will you just calm the hell down, Mulder, before we both get pissed off?”
This is spot-on dialogue between these two, and the scene ends with Mulder calling Skinner to give him his cell phone number (and let’s let that sink in: Mulder has a smartphone!).
Plus, it was great to see those pencils in the ceiling and the “I Want To Believe” poster on the floor. The poster, in particular, was a message to fans that this new show would be familiar, but not just a copy of what had come before.
Tara: The episode ending with the reveal of CSM alive, and malevolently kicking, was a great cliffhanger to leave the fandom with after all of the new conspiracy talk. Going back to one of the show's original mythology figures and revealing that he's still a player is perfect fan service. How the hell that's possible is now the question, and that's exciting to anticipate. Plus, it was a reassuring move considering that the bulk of this episode had to service old and new masters, that that ending confirmed that old school loyal fans weren't forgotten and will get our treats, too.
Aaron: The premiere set the right tone for the show's return, and drops us back into Mulder and Scully's world. Their past informs the present, but the new episode looks forward instead of spending too much time covering ground on where the duo have been, or what happened to their relationship. Now that they are back, I am excited to see our agents back in action as a team (in their suits), and to some monster-of-the-week stories.
What did you think of the new The X-Files? Are you happy the agents are back on the job or should they have left the cases closed?