SPOILER WARNING! The X-Files Season 11 premiere, "My Struggle III," discussed at length below.
The X-Files returns right where the "My Struggle II" Season 10 finale cliffhanger left us in February 2016. In "My Struggle III," creator/writer/director Chris Carter leaves us with a whole lot of mythology to unpack in 44 minutes, so let's get this recap started ...
Where We Left Off ...
To say Season 10 of The X-Files was "divisive" within the loyal series fan base is putting it mildly. Yet despite the healthy (and sometimes dramatic) geek debate, the fact is, fans turned out in droves as we were all reminded how much we missed the rapport between Agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson). Watching the duo dryly nudging one another while in the throes of some preposterous X-Files case is everyone's sweet spot.
And that's why the Season 11 return episode -- which features no narrative break between where the cliffhanger ends (on Scully's eyes toward the sky) and the story picking up with CSM (William B. Davis) reminding the audience Forrest Gump-style how he's had his finger in just about every nefarious conspiratorial event in U.S. history -- is a bit disappointing. Don't get me wrong, the episode is certainly breakneck-paced and full of machinations, coded dialogue, and some crazy revelations, but a lot of it is done with Mulder and Scully apart, as Dana plays punching bag to a nonstop onslaught of seizures, killer thugs, and car accidents. If we (and Carter) learned anything from Season 10, it's that The X-Files is at its best when the two are working together, so to continue the tone and separation issues of "My Struggle II" is frankly surprising, and ultimately what makes the episode feel like a frenetic example of wheel-spinning.
Most fans will agree that "My Struggle II" is a weird episode. The pacing and acceptance of sudden pandemic events felt overly constructed and convenient. So it is with much appreciation that we find out that episode was just Dana's terrible vision of what will happen to Mulder, and the world, if the Spartanvirus is released into the world by CSM. The episode opens as Mulder and Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) find her passed out in the office, and take her to the hospital, where she lies in a coma. Her attending physician shows Mulder and Skinner that the brain activity in her hypothalamus is basically doing the conga to a very specific beat, one that Skinner deciphers as "Find him."
Weird? You bet!
When Scully wakes soon after, she tells Mulder that CSM is not dead, as they thought, but alive in Spartansburg, S.C., and ready to unleash the virus of her dreams into the world. Yet she is certain that stem cells from their long-lost son, William, can thwart humanity's impending doom. It's a bit disconcerting to see the ever-skeptical Scully become a true believer in this outlandish circumstance, but that alone is enough to send Mulder down south to follow up.
What these moments earn us are some great depth of care scenes between Mulder and Scully. He's absolutely beside himself in fear and guilt in the opening act, as she lies inert, and that essentially wipes away the chasm of discord that prevailed in Season 10. It's clear these two are with each other in this episode, which is much appreciated, and buys Carter a lot of goodwill to get through the rather maddening racing around that seems to fill most of the episode. For real, set pieces include Mulder in a car chase in the city, which continues in the South. Scully then gets behind the wheel of a car when she's delirious from her brain attacks, and of course gets into a wreck. Even Mulder's brother, Spender, gets into the act when he's attacked by some goon. It's a lot of tiring chaos that exists to set the stage for two important revelations.
One, William is out there, and he's having some major seizures along with his mom. Is he causing them? Is something CSM is doing causing them both to suffer? It's unknown by episode's end, but the breadcrumb trail leading to the son Dana gave away to protect 17 years ago is stronger than ever, and a major motivator for her and Fox as we move into the season. Big thumbs up to that arc getting explored.
Two, and this is the bombshell fans will be arguing over all season, is CSM admitting to Reyes that he's the father of Dana's son. WHAT?! It turns out, if you had a really weird feeling about what happened in the Season 7 episode "En Ami," your Mulder-o-meter was working just right. As a refresher, that was the one where Dana gets lured into a side mission with CSM for an investigation. At one point, she wakes up in his house in nightclothes and is rightly creeped out by it. But he explains it away that his housekeeper dressed her, and she buys it, so the mission continues. But at the end of the season, Scully finds out she's pregnant, and in all these years, the majority of fandom has assumed there was off-screen Mulder/Scullying, and voila! -- they made a baby. But NO! CMS has ruined that romantic fantasy by saying William is the result of alien tech and the mixing of Scully's and his DNA. Is he lying? Likely, since CSM is always working some crooked scheme, and he wants the immunity Dana and William will provide him from the alien contagion he developed from Roswell decades ago. It's certainly a compelling twist that re-energizes a show built on twists and turns. However, it just might break a whole lot of Mulder/Scully shippers out there.
The whole episode feels overly constructed on a mountain of not much. There's a lot of conspiratorial, circuitous talk crammed into every scene, be it CSM and Reyes, or Mr. Y (Alexandre Campion) and Erika Price's (Barbara Hershey) moon colonization scheme. They talk a lot but manage not to say much, which is frustrating but not exactly new for the show. All in all, the episode just desperately feels like it needs to slow down so audiences can connect to anything, or anyone, for a few minutes. It's only in the abrupt ending -- when Scully gets entirely rational again and tells Mulder that they will wait for William to reveal himself, and in the meantime continue their work -- that the mood and tone felt right once more.
The CSM and Reyes scenes feel like an exposition dump that again does the Reyes character no favors. How did Scully's former friend end up the conversation partner of CSM? There's obviously no love lost between the pair, but she does his bidding all the way through the episode, even pulling a gun on Skinner. She's got no real agency aside from being a mouthpiece avatar for the audience, asking what we would in her situation. I hope she returns and we get some context for her behavior, and a scene with her and Scully to fill in some story gaps.
Do we buy why Skinner would go along with CSM, even with the lure of an antidote and life on the line? Skinner is certainly pragmatic, but his turn-coating didn't jibe.
Best Fan Service
There were some fun callbacks in the episode. First of all, there was a new message at the top of the credits, which is a rare occurrence in the history of the show.
The whole CSM revisionist history opening montage was pure X-Files goodness. Inserting the cad into stock footage from every presidential administration and key moments in time worked nicely, and climaxed with the reveal that he was behind the fake moon landing footage conspiracy that theorists have run wild with for decades.
Seeing Spender (Chris Owens), past and present, return was unexpected and certainly made sense in terms of the William of it all.
CSM asking Skinner, "Mind if I smoke?" was pitch-perfect evil.
William ending the episode writhing from head pain like his mom was a great incentive to continue with that storyline.
Epic ambition has always been a big part of The X-Files storytelling, and with so much time off between seasons, perhaps Chris Carter feels the pressure to come back big with these entry episodes. Trying to cram a movie's worth of mythology, action, and revelations into 44 minutes is just about impossible, and leaves "My Struggle III" feeling like an overexcited reveler who ate too much at the party. As we all know, it's okay to pace yourself, even though it's thrilling to just be at the party. A little less would have gone a long way to make the return episode easier to process and enjoy. But Carter certainly has shaken up where Mulder and Scully go next, and their reasons to keep looking for the truth. It's exceptionally personal again, and with the carrot of William, and the discovery of his true parentage yet to be revealed to them, I'm invested and ready to go on the journey once more.
What did you think of "My Struggle III"? Did you catch any The X-Files insider easter eggs?