The X-Files episode 1101 My Struggle III - Scully

The X-Files: My struggles with My Struggle

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Mar 28, 2018

You would think that I would be used to The X-Files ending after all these years. By the time it ended in 2002, I had already checked out of the show. When the second movie came around in 2008, it wasn't great, so it was easy to let go. Season 10, which premiered at the start of 2016, was an exciting six weeks that ended with a cliffhanger so egregious, and with no promise of redemption, that it destroyed me... until Season 11 happened. While I wasn't happy with the "resolution" of the cliffhanger, Season 11 proved to have some of the best episodes of The X-Files in nearly two decades.

And yet, the revival seasons had one, major flaw -- well, four major flaws. "My Struggle." The four episodes that opened and closed the revival seasons were dense, confusing, and flawed, but I couldn't help but wonder if maybe there was something more there, when watched together, rather than literally years apart. When I was asked to explain what was going on in the "My Struggle" episodes ahead of the Season 11 finale, I floundered with a description. "I think it has something to do with a massive conspiracy to wipe out the human race and colonize the moon," I said. While I wasn't wrong, I was determined that there had to be more.

The X-Files episode 1001 My Struggle I - Mulder, Scully, and Tad O'Malley

"My Struggle I" Ed Araquel/FOX

Each "My Struggle" episode represented the story of one of the major mytharc characters: Mulder, Scully, Cigarette Smoking Man, and William. In addition to voiceover detailing the characters' histories, each character got their own credits title card. Mulder's was "The Truth is Out There," the traditional card because that has long been his motto; Scully's was "This is the End," because of her apocalyptic visions; CSM's was "I Want to Believe," but honestly, I'm not sure why (Is CSM's struggle the truth? Is he not telling the truth about William's parentage?); and William's was "Salvator Mundi," which translates to "Savior of the World," because he is presented as being the key to humanity's salvation.

I hoped that watching all four "My Struggle" episodes back-to-back would reveal some deeper truth, some bigger picture that was lost to me when spread out across two years and a dozen non-related episodes. I was hoping some of the creative decisions would have reasons for existing -- or not existing. But I'm kind of at a loss.

For example, "My Struggle I" opens with Mulder and Scully estranged. It is suggested that Scully left the relationship because Mulder was struggling with mental illness he refused treatment for. Depression is mentioned in that first episode, though by the end, it seems pretty clear that Mulder suffers from mania as well. Other than an oblique reference to him "being on his meds" in another episode in Season 10, the mental illness aspect doesn't return, and by "My Struggle III," Scully comes across as the more manic of the two.

The X-Files episode 1006 My Struggle II - Mulder and CSM

"My Struggle II" Ed Araquel/FOX

In "My Struggle III," we learn that the dire cliffhanger (with Mulder on the brink of death and an alien spacecraft hovering above him and Scully) that was presented in the 2016 finale was nothing more than Scully's fever dream, a vision of the potential future she shared with her son, William. Watching the "My Struggles" together, I was able to backtrack and figure out exactly where the "fever dream" began, and it was within the first minute of the episode. That means that all of "My Struggle II" did not really happen, which is kind of a big middle-finger to the audience. Though you can argue it was necessary to see why Scully was increasingly hysterical throughout the remaining "My Struggle" episodes, it also feels like an amateurish way of filling out an episode's worth of content.

The episode I had the hardest time with was "My Struggle IV," the final chapter. Most of the episode is spent with Mulder racing across the Eastern Seaboard, trying to locate their son, who Scully insists is the key to defeating the Spartanvirus -- and saving Mulder's life. While Mulder is out playing Jason Bourne, Scully remains home most of the time, making phone calls.

The only way I can reckon with Scully being on the sidelines for this episode is the idea that, as the episode starts, she is on her way to tell Mulder she is pregnant when Monica Reyes calls with an "update" on William's whereabouts. Scully decides now is not the right time to tell Mulder about their "miracle baby," but because she is a "high-risk" pregnancy, she decides to let Mulder go do all the fun stuff. I don't know if this was the intention, but this is what I have to tell myself for the episode to make sense.

The X-Files episode 1101 My Struggle III - Mulder and Scully

"My Struggle III" Robert Falconer/FOX

Another scene I had a hard time reconciling with was the final scene in "My Struggle IV," with Mulder and Scully on the dock. William is, ostensibly, dead, and Scully tells Mulder that he wasn't meant to exist. Many fans have argued that even if William was just an experiment, Scully has cared for him as a son for the last 17 years; she wouldn't stop now. While I agree with that, watching "My Struggle" as a series, I decided that she wasn't necessarily dismissing William as her son; she was just trying to get to the happy news she had been trying to tell Mulder all episode. William the experiment, William as CSM's biological son (barf) are subjects that they will have to deal with at a later date; for now, they just needed to find comfort in happy news.

There are still many, many scenes that are presented throughout the "My Struggle" episodes that don't make sense. For example, in "My Struggle I," Mulder meets with another mysterious whistleblower. He is new to the show, someone who was part of the Roswell recovery team, but it is suggested that Mulder reached out to him 10 years ago, and they have a rapport the audience is not privy to. This mystery man does not return in any subsequent episodes. You may as well have had Deep Throat return. Sure, he was killed in Season 1, but that didn't seem to stop series creator Chris Carter from bringing back the Lone Gunmen or CSM. Similarly, you have Mr. Y and Erika Price (played by the wonderful Barbara Hershey) brought in for "My Struggle III," as a kind of competing conspiracy to CSM's, but both are killed unceremoniously by "My Struggle IV." Why would you waste the talents of Barbara Hershey like that? What exactly was their purpose? To add another layer of urgency for Mulder?

The X-Files episode 1110 - William and Mulder

Shane Harvey/FOX

One aspect that cannot be overlooked is the notion that real-life politics played a part in these four episodes. When "My Struggle I" and "My Struggle II" were being written and filmed, Obama was still the president and Trump was just a joke candidate. But by the time "My Struggle III" and "My Struggle IV" were written, Trump was the president. Mulder's paranoia in "My Struggle I" seemed ridiculously overwrought back then, but by "My Struggle III," Mulder seemed terrifyingly normal. (He even joked about it in the brilliant non-"Struggle" episode, "The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat": "The world has become too complicated for even my conspiratorial powers!") The only way to show how upside-down the world had become was to turn Mulder/Scully upside-down, and make Scully look like the paranoid one.

I sat down to watch "My Struggle" with the hope of finding it worked better as a film. It may have: The pacing sure felt more natural when watched back-to-back-to-back-to-back. But there were no "greater truths" that were revealed to me, no details that I misconstrued between episodes. I don't know if some of the decisions I came to in this article were intentional decisions made by Chris Carter, or merely my own attempts to apply logic to illogical story choices. But I do have a sense of closure, and at the end of the day, that is really all an X-Phile can hope for.