** Spoilers for X-Files Season 10 Episode 1 **
It's been nearly a decade and half since legendary sci-fi drama The X-Files finished it's nine season run on Fox, spawning a thousand pop culture references and a whole new generation of monsters both under the bed and in the skies above.
X-Files series creator Chris Carter directs the premiere episode of the mini-series reboot - My Struggle - which opens with an unenthusiastic voice over from David Duchovny, better known here as Agent Fox Mulder. And honestly it perhaps would've been more accurate if the episode had been entitled The Audience's Struggle.
From the heavy handed modern day politics of the latest X-Files conspiracy to the overtly cliché flashbacks to the Roswell UFO crash of 1947 it feels like it misses the mark. My Struggle isn't an awful or unenjoyable piece of television, but the rest of the series has a lot of living up to do.
Don't get me wrong, I love the original X-Files. I was brought up on the weekly dose of weird, and even when it was bad it was still pretty good.
Season 10 is a heavy handed re-starter which feels more like a set-up for the rest of the mini-series than an episode worth watching in it's own right, but at least it gets us right into the action without too much delay or exposition.
When My Struggle opens it's fourteen years since the closure of the X-Files, and Mulder and former Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) have tried to move on with their lives. Well, Scully has at least. But when FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi, who has barely aged and is rocking that beard) calls she's suspiciously quick to respond to his summons for someone who's supposedly moved onto the noble calling of fixing children's ears.
Mulder & Scully Back Together
Sadly the big Mulder/Scully reunion felt more stifled than anything, certainly not the dramatic gravitas that we felt from the mini-series' trailer. The little jabs from Mulder about Scully leaving him will obviously provide some background conflict as the two team up again, but the whole thing felt glossed over pretty quickly in favour of moving the larger narrative along.
Through Scully's interaction with abductee Sveta (Annet Mahendru) we discover that Mulder's depression contributed to the breaking apart of their relationship. Mentions are also made of their missing child (William) and Scully's own abduction, and Sveta gets a overtly violent syringe in the arm as payment. (On the subject of Sveta, I hope you don't have trypophobia cause those scoop mark scars are downright shiver-inducing.)
The trigger for the reunion of our two heroes arrives in the form of Donald Trump / Mulder Jr. - right-wing, gun toting, political conspiracy nut Tad O'Malley (Joel McHale).
O'Malley is the catalyst which pulls Mulder and Scully back into the "evil conspiracy" game, and he feels like a bit of a sleazy political caricature in his own right, but never really as someone to be taken seriously (see Donald Trump).
Despite his wealth and affluence O'Malley never comes across like a particularly big player, just another man shouting at a cloud. After all internet conspiracy nuts don't exactly have much political sway, something that the modern audience is well aware of. (Go back to 4chan O'Malley.)
On that note the politics of the matter feel incredibly shoe-horned in, a grand example of which being: "What Bill O'Reilly knows about the truth could fill an eyedropper". I mean you're not wrong there but you're also not winning points for being meta, this isn't Community Joe McHale.
The New Conspiracy
There is, of course, a conspiracy. A big one. This is The X-Files after all. But this time - plot twist - it's human not alien.
Of course it all boils down to the post-9/11 social landscape that permeates America; the paranoia, the NSA and the Patriot Act. This is underscored by Mulder kicking and tearing the iconic "I Want To Believe Poster" as he expressed his frustration over being tricked during his whole X-Files career, and this action feels like a bit of a slap in the face to the nine seasons which came before it.
There's nothing necessarily wrong with dissecting this dynamic, but here it almost undercuts the point of the show. The conspiracies may not always have been extra terrestrial but there's always been an element of the alien, which we're supposedly making a return to with the monster of the week format which will form the core of the mini-series (phew).
As a longtime fan of the original series, not a strong start. Perhaps in a vacuum the man-made conspiracy narrative may have held up a little more, but of course The X-Files cannot exist without prior context.
It's not hopeless, far from it. There's still a lot of potential for the series to bring it back and the premiere episode does start to pick up towards the end, but as a first episode My Struggle left me wanting, very wanting. And not in a good cliffhangery way, although the last minute reintroduction of the previously thought dead Smoking Man / Cancer Man (William B. Davis) was nice (if predictable) as he declared the X-Files re-opened, ushering in the rest of the season.
Erik Kain over at Forbes gave some pretty good advice on the matter and reassures us that it does settle in from Episode 2, so don't write it off just yet. Hopefully this first episode was just a bump in the road, a set up for the reopening of the X-Files proper which will start to unfold tonight with Episode 2, Founder's Mutation.
For now, we'll just keep wanting to believe in the X-Files (oh yes, I went there.)