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The X-Files – My Struggle I (Review)

This June, we’re going to be taking a look at the current run of The X-Files, beginning with the IDW comic book revival and perhaps taking some detours along the way. Check back daily for the latest review.

This is journey that began for me – I’m sorry if I get emotional – twenty-three years ago. Things just don’t last in culture, these days. They… culture gobbles them up and they go away. It’s… it’s rare when something sticks around. Thanks for being part of the journey. The idea is that this is not the end. This is maybe a new beginning. And maybe we’ll do more of these if we do a really good job.

– Chris Carter’s opening remarks at the first production meeting on My Struggle I

The truth is still out there...

The truth is still out there…

In some respects, it was only a matter of time. Nostalgia moves in cycles, circling old ideas back into cultural relevance. Journalists and commentators might argue about the specific rules that govern nostalgia, about how long it takes for nostalgia to develop, but it always comes back around. The twenty-first century was always going to see a nostalgia for the nineties, it was just a question of when that nostalgia would break out into the mainstream. Twenty years seems about right.

This nineties nostalgia was signalled in a number of different ways. Most notably, a whole host of belated sequels to popular nineties movies entered production. Roland Emmerich began work on Independence Day: Resurgence and announced plans for a whole trilogy of films based around Stargate. Although not helmed by Steven Spielberg or featuring any of the original cast, Jurassic World would go on to become the third biggest movie of all time. It could be argued that Zoolander was the last film of the nineties, so dutifully Zoolander II arrived.

"I'm a hand model, mama. A finger jockey. We think differently than the face and body boys... we're a different breed."

“I’m a hand model, mama. A finger jockey. We think differently than the face and body boys… we’re a different breed.”

Even television series were not immune to this nostalgic enthusiasm. Part of this was down to timing. Across the 2015 and 2016 season, the great era of millennial television was coming to a close. Once reliable monuments of the American television landscape, the Law & Order and CSI franchises slowly faded into memory. Reality television slackened its grip on the mainstream networks, with Fox retiring American Idol. Even perennial performers like Castle and Bones were quietly discontinued as their budgets became too unwieldy.

Netflix consciously courted nineties nostalgia through a revival of (largely forgotten but massively successful) sit-com Full House under the title Fuller House. They are already planning another (admittedly late) nineties revival with a resurrection of teen soap Gilmore Girls. Even Friends had something of a loose twentieth anniversary reunion when five of the six primary cast members reunited to celebrate veteran television director James Burrows. All of this serves to provide the ambient context for the return of The X-Files.

Nothing will ever be put entirely to rest.

Nothing will ever be put entirely to rest.

The wheels started turning in October 2013, around the twentieth anniversary of The X-Files. The twentieth anniversary year was marked with considerable fanfare. There were panels celebrating the show at San Diego Comic Con and New York Comic Con. There were nostalgic and retrospective interviews with figures like Chris Carter, Vince Gilligan and Howard Gordon. There were thinkpieces that explored the critical and cultural legacy of the show, both as an artifact of the nineties and as something relevant in the modern era.

In interviews dating back to early in the original run of the show, Carter had originally seen The X-Files as a television series that would transition into a film franchise. His original plan had been to do five seasons before launching a feature film. Fox had convinced him to attempt to run the television series and film franchise simultaneously, following the fifth season with both a feature film (The X-Files: Fight the Future) and a sixth season. This did not work out as Carter had planned.

Things are looking up.

Things are looking up.

Carter had originally hoped to release a second feature film following the seventh season of the show in summer 2000, likely ending the series at that. However, a variety of factors (including a spectacularly terrible television season for Fox) conspired against Carter. The X-Files would run for four full seasons following the release of the theatrical feature film, and a decade would elapse between the franchise’s two trips to the multiplex. The X-Files: I Want to Believe arrived more than half a decade after the show ended, to a rather muted response.

Carter had initially hoped to continue The X-Files with a third feature film following on the heels of I Want to Believe. In fact there were occasional murmurrings and rumours of the movie inching closer to (or shrinking further from) development over the intervening years. Carter even wrote a rough draft of that hypothetical third feature film for his own gratification, to get a sense of where he might want to take the franchise or what exactly he might want to do with it. However, it quickly became clear that The X-Files would not be revived as a film franchise.

Joe McHale was really excited to have the show back.

Joe McHale was really excited to have the show back.

The idea of a return to television was first mooted around October 2013. However, there was considerable hesitation from the key parties involved. Consider Gillian Anderson’s immediate visceral reaction to the idea:

“The first time I heard the idea of continuing The X-Files mentioned was at New York Comic-Con in 2013, when we appeared to mark the show’s twentieth anniversary,” Anderson recalls. “Somebody from the audience asked about the possibility of us doing more movies or shows, and I think I threw up. Or at least I had such a strong negative reaction to the idea that that’s the way I remember the moment.”

This is not surprising. After all, producing twenty-odd episodes of television in a given season is exhausting for all involved. No wonder Duchovny had stepped away after seven straight years.

Scully did not think that a twenty-episode season was a Capitol idea.

Scully did not think that a twenty-episode season was a Capitol idea.

However, the realities of television production had changed in the intervening years. Network television had become increasingly accepting of the idea of shorter seasons. Cable networks like HBO had embraced the shorter season model with shows like Oz and The Sopranos while The X-Files was originally on the air. However, channels like NBC and Fox had also come to understand that this was a feasible model for producing high-quality drama with top tier talent.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson had already proven quite familiar with this new format of network television drama. Duchovny headlined the Showtime series Californication. The series produced eight-four episodes in seven years, as compared to the one-hundred-and-sixty-one (and a movie!) that Duchovny headlined during his seven seasons on The X-Files. After the end of Californication, Duchovny moved over to Aquarius. This was another abridged series that allowed him time to pursue other interests including writing and recording.

A Moody ole so-and-so...

A Moody ole so-and-so…

Gillian Anderson took advantage of these shorter season orders to work prolifically. She headlined the cancelled NBC series Crisis. She was a recurring guest star on the first two seasons of Hannibal, elevated to a lead for the delightfully gonzo third season. She created a second iconic female law enforcement character as Stella Gibson in The Fall. She was part of the ensemble in the high-profile 2016 BBC adaptation War and Peace. This is to say nothing of her stage work, including a tour as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire.

Duchovny and Anderson were both incredibly busy performers. Bryan Fuller recalls the logistical difficulty in arranging Gillian Anderson’s cameo in the second season finale of Hannibal in Toronto over the weekend gap between wrapping up filming on Crisis in Los Angeles and beginning work on the new season of The Fall in Northern Ireland. Indeed, both actors were starring on high-profile American shows at the point when the revival was announced to the public, with Thursday nights on NBC serving as something of a spiritual X-Files reunion.

A Stella performer.

A Stella performer.

As such, Duchovny and Anderson would have been unable to commit to an old-school twenty-odd episode season of The X-Files, even if they had wanted to. However, Fox was willing to compromise. Part of this compromise was undoubtedly rooted in the success of 24: Live Another Day, the limited event series broadcast in the middle of 2014. Despite the fact that the whole premise of 24 is built around a season that unfolds in real-time over a single day, Live Another Day comprised of only twelve episodes. It was a massive success.

Live Another Day demonstrated that television audiences were very interested in truncated revivals of their favourite shows featuring their favourite actors. There is a clear sense that the success of Live Another Day at Fox paved the way for the return of The X-Files. There is a certain poetry to all of this, given that 24 had been something of a spiritual successor to The X-Files. Both shows embodied the paranoid fears of their cultural moment, whether the nineties existential angst of The X-Files or the brutal panicked urgency of 24.

"Cool, can we do split-screen conversations now?"

“Cool, can we do split-screen conversations now?”

There was an argument that 24 spoke to post-9/11 America in a way that The X-Files could not. The two shows narrowly overlapped in the immediate wake of those terror attacks, with the ninth season of The X-Files and the first season of 24 both launching in early November 2001. Robert Patrick would argue that Fox consciously favoured the first season of 24 over the last season of The X-Files. In an end of series interview, Chris Carter would cite 24 as a show in which the network had invested a great deal of faith.

With that in mind, it feels appropriate that 24 should (indirectly) help to herald The X-Files back to television. After all, 24 spoke to a post-9/11 consciousness that was no longer interested in the brand of paranoia that was particularly relevant to The X-Files. Carter would argue that the ninth season of The X-Files suffered the public’s disinterest in paranoid cynicism following 9/11. While Carter might be glossing over the other issues with the ninth season, it is certainly a fair point.

A monumental concern.

A monumental concern.

The argument was that enough time had passed since 9/11 for audiences to really embrace the paranoia of The X-Files again. In fact, Carter acknowledged that he was more mistrustful of the government now than he ever had been before:

In my life–and I’m 59 years old–except for Watergate, I haven’t experienced a time when we have less trust in our government and our representatives. That’s an interesting time to be telling X-Files stories. When we went off the air in 2002, we had almost absolute trust in our government and our representatives to protect us. So many of those powers that we gave them have been abused. The shocking thing to me is how little outcry there is when we find out that they’re spying on us.

In an era of NSA surveillance that made Trust No 1 seem positively naive, the time seemed right for The X-Files to return to television. Carter signed on, with Duchovny and Anderson. He also set about recruiting veteran writers.

"Hey, look. The alternative for five twenty-minute webisodes."

“Hey, look. The alternative was five twenty-minute webisodes.”

The revival miniseries was something of a compromise. Running only six episodes, it was short even by the standards of twenty-first century television. Shows like Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, True Detective and The Americans all managed longer runs. However, six episodes were feasible, given the cast and crew’s prior commitments. According to the documentary Season X, there had been plans for a seventh episode to be written by veteran Ten Thirteen producer Gabe Rotter that fell through due to scheduling issues.

One of the more interesting aspects of the revival is a clear gap between what fans and critics seemed to expect from the show as compared to what it actually offered. In many ways, The X-Files was a transitional show. It sat between the episodic television of the nineties and the more serialised storytelling style of the new millennium. The mythology captured the attention of the nation, demonstrating that contemporary genre audiences could keep up with long-form storytelling on prime-time television.

Let's not blow the show's reputation out of proportion.

Let’s not blow the show’s reputation out of proportion.

More than that, The X-Files helped to champion an auteur sensibility long before HBO helped to solidify the importance of an executive producer as a creative visionary rather than the foreman on a production line. Television critics like Todd Van Der Werff point to The X-Files as a show that taught them to pay attention to the “written by” credits at the start of the episode. There is a clear evolutionary line between the work that writers like Vince Gilligan and Howard Gordon did on the show as compared to the work they did later.

To be fair, it is easy to overstate the influence of The X-Files. Chris Carter was only one of these creative visionaries to emerge across the nineties. It could just as easily be argued that prolific writers and executive producers like David E. Kelley and Aaron Sorkin helped to change the way that audiences treated television during the last decade of the twentieth century. The X-Files may not have broken the mould, but it was part of a movement of early adapters transitioning American television towards a newer storytelling and production model.

An autopsy of The X-Files.

An autopsy of The X-Files.

Indeed, it could be argued that the show evolved slightly in its final years to embrace an even stronger sort of thematic and plot-driven serialisation. The show’s eighth season was criticised at the time, following the departure of David Duchovny, but holds up really well in retrospect as a year-long story about the search for Mulder and the mystery of Scully’s pregnancy. Starting in late 2000, that heavily serialised season seemed to suggest that The X-Files could keep up with younger more hip shows like Buffy: The Vampire Slayer.

As such, there was perhaps an expectation that the revival would reflect contemporary television trends and attitudes. In the early years of the twenty-first century, Lost and Battlestar Galactica had elevated the idea of a central “mythology” much further than The X-Files. Contemporary shows tended to eschew the gap between “mythology” and “standalone” episodes, frequently blurring them together and even embracing long-form plotting wholeheartedly. Would The X-Files follow suit?

A ray of light.

A ray of light.

More than that, there was also a sense among some viewers and critics that the miniseries was to be treated as a conclusion to The X-Files. After all, the ninth season had been a bit of a mess. Bringing back Mulder and Scully to wrap things up would offer closure to an audience that drifted away from the show in its later years. Gillian Anderson even went as far as to suggest that this was a large part of why the miniseries had been greenlit:

If intense negotiations can be finalised soon, then filming of six episodes of the very last look at the X-Files, the sci-fi show that launched her and David Duchnovny 22 years ago, could be under way as early as June. 

Writers who worked on the original series have been asked to contribute. ‘The idea is to get the old gang back, have some fun and get a bit of closure for us and the audience,’ she told me.

This idea of “closure” permeates a lot of early coverage and set the tone for the way that the audience approached the series. This makes a certain amount of sense. Live Another Day had very much attempted to close off Jack Bauer’s story so that Fox could look at relaunching 24 without Kiefer Sutherland. And closure had always been an issue for X-Files fans, even dating back to the the show’s peak in the nineties.

Ole Smokey's back...

Ole Smokey’s back…

This all makes a certain amount of sense, but it also demonstrates a fundamental misconception about the miniseries. Chris Carter was never going to use the episodes to tidy away The X-Files. He was hoping to use the episodes as a springboard to even more new X-Files episodes. Carter explicitly stated as much in his introduction to the cast and crew before they began production on My Struggle I. This was not an ending to an old story, this was to be considered the start of something new.

To be fair, it isn’t as if the production team tricked the audience or pulled “a fast one” or were disingenuous. While Gillian Anderson suggested that she was primarily interested in closure, David Duchovny signaled as early as May 2015 that he would be interested in continuing to play Fox Mulder beyond these six episodes. Chris Carter publicly expressed his desire to continue with the show beyond the six episode order as early as October 2015. Carter was quite explicit in his intentions, My Struggle I was to be a beginning rather than an ending.

"Boy, the fans really want a third movie."

“Boy, the fans really want a third movie.”

This accounts for a lot of the more controversial creative decisions that Carter made in plotting My Struggle I. Perhaps the most glaring of these is the decision to effectively jettison (or appear to jettison) nine seasons of mythology in a few lines of exposition. Carter reflected:

My feeling was that this had to follow perfectly from where the original series left off, but it didn’t necessarily have to take everything as gospel that had come before. I thought that was an interesting way to tell these stories. It was in keeping with what I’d been thinking about, certainly in keeping with the times that we’re living in.

This decision is interesting on a number of levels, not least because it throws the whole idea of “closure” out the window completely. It is hard to get any sort of closure on a mythology when you dump a lot of it and effectively start from scratch.

"Is this covered by act of gods?"

“Is this covered by act of gods?”

This is not an approach that lends itself to wrapping up a sprawling mythology in a satisfactory manner. Indeed, it is a creative decision that seems downright provocative in an era where continuity and canon are treated as precious commodities. At it’s most extreme, this storytelling decision could be interpreted as Carter telling his loyal viewers and fans that the previous nine seasons “did not matter.” of course, this assumes that continuity was the only (or even the primary) reason to watch The X-Files.

However, it is an approach that serves to draw a line under what came before so that Carter can begin building anew. My Struggle I is not so much about wrapping up the old mythology as it is about establishing a new one. It offers a brand new spin on the core ideas of The X-Files, in a way that makes it accessible to both casual fans and new viewers. After all, the audience figures for My Struggle I were phenomenal. It seems too much to expect all of those viewers to keep up with everything that came before. A clean slate is welcoming.

Watch out!

Watch out!

Indeed, it is worth noting that the structure of My Struggle I is very consciously modeled on the template of Redux I and Redux II, as Mulder’s faith in the truth is thrown into doubt by new evidence that he has been clearly and consciously misled by those in positions of power. In fact, Carter’s direction of the episode seems to hark back to Redux I, particularly the use of stock footage montages as characters provide heavy exposition about the real state of play. In Redux I, it was Kritschgau. In My Struggle I, it is Fox Mulder and Tad O’Malley.

Redux I and Redux II provide an obvious touchstone for the revival of The X-Files. The fifth season is generally considered to be the end of the show’s “golden age.” It was the season that was broadcast in the run up to the release of Fight the Future, and the last season to be shot in Vancouver before the production moved down to Los Angeles. It also represented the last time that the show managed to grow its audience, with viewing figures entering a slow and steady decline during the final four seasons of the show.

Flashback.

Flashback.

Given Carter was consciously attempting to relaunch The X-Files, returning to a stripped down fifth season aesthetic makes a great deal of sense. Tellingly, the Old Man makes a point to explicitly rubbish the mythology episodes that followed Redux I and Redux II. Referencing the developments of Patient X and The Red and the Black, the Old Man dismissively mentions “warring aliens lighting each other on fire and other such nonsense.” This is a conscious effort to get back to some vague hazily-defined “golden era” of the show.

(It should be noted that this is not the first time that a senior member of the X-Files production team has pointed to the fifth season as the show’s peak. When Frank Spotnitz agreed to write a couple X-Files comic book stories for the publisher Wildstorm, he set it in an alternate timeline where “comic book time” allowed for a perpetual and never-ending fifth season. Not coincidentally, Spotnitz’s mythology-driven comic book story built off plot threads that were left dangling at the end of Redux I and Redux II.)

Inject a little nostalgia into the mix...

Inject a little nostalgia into the mix…

There is, of course, considerable tension here between the old and the new. It is a tension that haunts the six-episode run. In interviews around the miniseries, Carter insisted that the six episodes were not to be treated as a “victory lap” and that the miniseries should be more than just an exercise in nostalgia. It is a valid point, and Carter makes a number of clear decisions intended to modernise the series. However, there is also a recurring sense that My Struggle I and (perhaps) the miniseries around it are still rooted in 1998.

This is perhaps most apparent in the awkward relationship that My Struggle I has with the final two seasons of The X-Files. It was clear from interviews and statements before the miniseries entered production that Robert Patrick would not be reprising the role of John Doggett. However, there is next to no acknowledgement of the character’s existence or the role that he played in the mythos. Instead, My Struggle I seems to act as if The X-Files was never anything more than Mulder and Scully hanging out in Vancouver-pretending-to-be-the-United-States.

Duck and Vancouver.

Duck and Vancouver.

Even the opening credits sequence was the same as the version employed during the first seven seasons of the show, albeit with Mitch Pileggi inserted for My Struggle I, Founder’s Mutation and Babylon. On the commentary for My Struggle II, Chris Carter explained his reasons for sticking with the classic credits:

We decided to use the original main titles. Some people complained that the photos on the badges dated the show. But the idea was not to mess with something that we felt was so associated with the show and so perfect.

There is something regressive and nostalgic in that choice, a refusal to modernise the show’s iconography. Of course, neither the eighth nor ninth season credits would have been appropriate to use instead; the eighth season credits were specific to Mulder’s disappearance and Scully’s pregnancy while the ninth season credits were terrible.

Bus-ted.

Bus-ted.

Indeed, all of this makes a certain amount of sense. The X-Files was at the peak of its popularity during the “Mulder and Scully hanging out in Vancouver-pretending-to-be-the-United-States” era of the first five seasons, and it feels appropriate to try to recapture that. At the same time, the show’s eighth season is massively underrated. It represented a conscious push towards modernity for the franchise, and was also the only one of the final four seasons to actually grow its audience relative to the previous season.

My Struggle I suggests that the eighth season is to be largely forgotten. William is just about the only thread carried over from the final two seasons of the show, and then only in abstract. My Struggle I suggests John Doggett is missing in action while My Struggle II turns Monica Reyes into a traitor. Mulder’s opening monologue effectively re-writes history. “In 2002, in a change of direction and policy, the FBI closed the X-files and our investigations ceased,” he states. “But my personal obsession did not.” Mulder wasn’t even there for most of the last two years.

A saucer of much concern...

A saucer of much concern…

It isn’t just Mulder re-writing history. Other characters are equally invested in wallpapering over the show’s final two seasons. “You ran the X-files,” O’Malley tells Mulder. “You were the X-files.” This seems like a fairly blatant re-writing of history, given that Scully was actually around for much longer. Even Skinner seems to have forgotten that Doggett and Reyes ever existed. “There hasn’t been a day since you left that I haven’t reached for my phone to call you, Mulder, wishing that you were still down here.” Scully or Doggett wouldn’t cut it, it seems.

The issue is not necessarily the dismissal of the sterling work that was done by the production team during the eighth season, when various external factors conspired to put them in an awkward position. The eighth season also represented an evolution in storytelling style and sensibility. The eighth season is really the only season of the show that can be watched from beginning to end as a single story. It is also one of the show’s most cohesive seasons thematically, along with the third or fifth seasons.

Her story has some holes in it.

Her story has some holes in it.

The eighth season of The X-Files felt like the show was getting in step with emerging twenty-first century narrative aesthetics. There were season-long plot and character arcs, and a clear sense that all the major characters had progressed over the course of those twenty-one episodes. While the serialisation was occasionally clumsy and staggered, it was still very strong. Like the ninth season before it, much of the revival miniseries seems to brush aside any of those lessons. For better or worse, My Struggle I feels very much like a late nineties show in storytelling style.

There are small recurring character beats, like the fixation on William that bubbles through Founder’s Mutation and Home Again before surfacing at the climax of My Struggle II. There is a sense that episodes do not need to be a traditional two-parter to build on one another, with My Struggle I and My Struggle II positioned as a two-parter divided by the season. However, none of this seems particularly ambitious in the context of television in 2016. In fact, it feels relatively quaint. Returning to Redux I and Redux II cements that sense of old-fashioned storytelling.

Mulder gets a handle on the twenty-first century...

Mulder gets a handle on the twenty-first century…

However, there are other reasons to wipe the mythology slate relatively clean. Quite pointedly, the world was a very different place in January 2016 than it had been in October 1993. A lot of that was down to the way that conspiracy theory had entered mainstream political discourse:

But in the twenty years since the show’s premiere, extremism — the rejection of mainstream news, science, and politics — has become its own institution. With the aid of the Internet, birthers, truthers, and vaccine skeptics have joined the UFO believers in establishing their own insular networks of news outlets, social gatherings, political activism. As if the alien bounty hunters with the Icepick of Death had returned to Earth, the Mulders have proliferated in number and influence; they now peddle blogs and endorsement deals and segments on The Dr. Oz Show. Glenn Beck is just another Mulder with a chalkboard, crocodile tears, and a get-rich scheme.

So when Fox Mulder was reincarnated on Fox News, it was like discovering that my first love, who had seemed so sophisticated and had taught me so much about myself and the world, was actually a skeevy, none-too-bright loser. Worse, he wasn’t just spouting stories about ghosts and extraterrestrial visitors — unlikely but credible possibilities and harmless to entertain — or even about fantastical but actual mysteries like the Bo Xilai case. No, he was foaming at the mouth about how 9/11 was an inside job. Wake up, sheeple!

To be entirely fair, that sort of paranoia had been a part of American political discourse for a long time. The fourth season of the show touched on the legacy of the Oklahoma City Bombing in episodes like The Field Where I Died, Tunguska and Terma. But the issue was no longer just extremism.

"Don't worry. It'll be okay. Just don't try to force the mythology to make sense."

“Don’t worry. It’ll be okay. Just don’t try to force the mythology to make sense.”

That conspiracy theory paranoia had been increasingly normalised in the twenty years since The Pilot aired. This was apparent even while the show was on the air during the Clinton administration, with the “Bill Clinton body count” coming from the right and accusations of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” coming from the left. Paranoia had invited itself into popular debate. It was no longer the reserve of weird eccentrics like the Lone Gunmen or Max Fenig. It was now broadcast on mainstream media and repeated by prominent figures.

It is worth taking a moment to reflect on the world as it exists right now. Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination by running a campaign built upon conspiracy theory and urban legend. First, President Barrack Obama was not born in the United States; then, he was actively conspiring with ISIS against the American people. Parents listening to anti-vaccination fear-mongering create genuine health risks. One side of the recent “Brexit” referendum believed they were victims of a sinister MI5 plot that could only be thwarted by using pens.

The birth of a new era...

The birth of a new era…

These sorts of beliefs had always existed at the fringes of political debate. However, the new millennium had seen those ideas drift out of the margins and into the text. Over one fifth of Americans believe that President Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks ahead of time. One quarter of Americans believe that President Obama is secretly a Muslim. It seems like every gun-related death – from the Sandy Hook mass shooting to the murder of Jo Cox in the lead up to the “Brexit” campaign – spawns a “truther” backlash.

These are all crazy ideas, but they exist within the context of modern political discourse. More than that, this paranoia is far removed from the healthy skepticism that Chris Carter championed during his work on The X-Files. This paranoia is frequently tied up in resurgent nationalist sentiment and xenophobic violence. Carter is keenly aware of the need to distinguish The X-Files from this strain of paranoia. During the nineties, he found himself fielding questions about the Oklahoma City Bombing.

Ride along.

Ride along.

And so Carter makes a number of changes to the overall structure and flow of the mythology in My Struggle I. Two of these are particularly significant as gestures towards the current political climate. The first is that Carter takes the mythology and pushes it fully into the realm of the postmodern. The X-Files was always a show that embraced a postmodern aesthetic, intrigued with the relationship between “truth” and “reality” as it mapped out an alternate history of twentieth century America. Now the mythology goes full-tilt.

“It’s about fiction masquerading as fact,” the episode warns the audience at one point. However, the line between those two concepts seems to be a lot thinner these days. Reading the news, it frequently seems like the real world has collided with a particularly surreal and deprived fiction. It is often hard to tell the real news from satire, when the Republican presidential nominee is the billionaire best known to the public for headlining the reality television show The Apprentice.

The X-Files; brought to you be Ford.

This is only the revival’s first conspicuous Ford product placement.

That is the tip of iceberg. British Prime Minister David Cameron was rocked by a sex scandal involving a pig only a few years after satirical British science-fiction show The Black Mirror imagined such a possibility in The National Anthem. Following Brexit, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was willing to investigate his predecessor Tony Blair of war crimes, years after the broadcast of The Trial of Tony Blair. Fiction and fact might be indistinguishable, but that does not mean that fantasy is getting more realistic; reality is getting more fantastical.

My Struggle I essentially blows up any concept of a singular unifying conspiracy theory narrative. The mythology of The X-Files might always have been a little ambiguous or muddled, but it was always treated as one single story. Everything was part of a singular vast conspiracy that was building towards the invasion of Earth and the subjugation of mankind. The cloning in Colony and End Game? The experiments in Nisei and 731? The bees in Zero Sum? The crashed alien ship in Biogenesis? All part of a singular cohesive narrative tying it all together.

If you look at it from the right angle...

If you look at it from the right angle…

This has always been the appeal of conspiracy theory. It ties everything together and provides a narrative that can be used to explain the workings of the world. “In a way, it is human nature to want to construct a narrative to resolve anxieties, to be drawn to mystery or the perception of it,” argued Kate Zernikeapril. The appeal of a conspiracy theory is that it accounts for what otherwise would seem chaotic. It imposes an order and structure (and meaning) on what seems nonsensical; mass shootings, horrific attacks, an alien political process.

However, perhaps cognisant of the dangers posed by the integration of conspiracy theory into mainstream political narratives, My Struggle I offers a unique take on the mythology of The X-Files. Indeed, Carter justified his decision as reaction to the contemporary cultural climate, by arguing that the “contemporary context turned the mythology not on its head, but it takes a right hand turn.” It certainly does. The most glaring aspect of the new mythology in My Struggle I is how messy and contradictory it seems.

"You are so lucky that you are not working for me yet, because you would be so fired."

“You are so lucky that you are not working for me yet, because you would be so fired.”

This is most obvious in the introduction of right-wing pundit Tad O’Malley. He is very much cast as Alex Jones by way of Glenn Beck, an overtly right-wing blowhard, who speaks the truth through his online news show. My Struggle I is quite unambiguous that Tad O’Malley is an unreliable narrator, who is at best reckless and at worst dangerous. Over the course of the run time of My Stuggle I, the audience is invited to empathise with O’Malley while still finding him disconcerting.

“It comes down to this; it’s a mainstream liberal media lying to you about life, liberty and your God-given right to bear firearms,” O’Malley states in his first line of dialogue. He continues, “9/11 was a false flag operation.” O’Malley is a reminder that conspiracy theorists are not all the Lone Gunmen. During his first meeting with the theorist, Mulder sarcastically remarks upon O’Malley’s bullet-proof limousine, “Because you never know when a gun-totting liberal might go Hinkley?”

New mask, old conspiracy.

New mask, old conspiracy.

In interviews around the broadcast of My Struggle I, Chris Carter emphasised the idea of O’Malley as an unreliable narrator and clarified that the show’s use of O’Malley was not an endorsement of his belief:

“So here’s the thing,” Carter says when we asked about the “false flag” line. “Chris Carter doesn’t believe that. Chris Carter is very open minded about these things. But the character O’Malley believes it. And he convinces Mulder to – not necessarily believe that – but to believe many other things he’s exposing. I don’t think Mulder and Scully adopt any political position so much as a new approach in their search for the truth. While I think their politics are balanced, I think the turn they take is toward a more heretical political position.”

This is part of what is unsettling about the new mythology of My Struggle I. It is not so much that the old mythology is false or that everything Tad O’Malley says is true. It is that the world is so chaotic that it is impossible to know what is true and what is not.

He's crazy. Just a tad.

He’s crazy. Just a tad.

Over the course of My Struggle I and My Struggle II, O’Malley runs through laundry lists of conspiracy theories. Chemtrails. The New World Order. 9/11 was an inside job. Some of what O’Malley says is true, in that he successfully points Mulder towards a resurgent conspiracy. However, some of what O’Malley says is demonstrably false, even within the “anything goes” world of The X-Files. In fact, My Struggle I goes as far as to open catching O’Malley and the Old Man in a lie so as to demonstrate that the theorists are not reliable narrators.

Despite the fact that My Struggle I opens with the crash in Roswell in 1947, the Old Man advises Mulder that Roswell was “a smokescreen.” When Mulder and O’Malley propose that the global elites will use a smoke-screen to mask their takeover of the United States, Scully is skeptical. “An alien invasion of the U.S.?” she inquires. Mulder responds, “The Russians tried it in forty-seven.” However, the audience knows that – within the confines of the narrative – the crash at Roswell did happen and those were aliens. That should throw everything into doubt.

Disappearing act.

Disappearing act.

Even within My Struggle I, it seems like O’Malley and Mulder cannot settle for one singular conspiracy theory. Mulder is not pulling at a single thread so much as tearing away at the blanket. Even in the episode’s final moments, as he meets Scully in a car park, Mulder proposes an alternate theory that may or may not fit with his crazy conspiracy pitch at the house. He wonders if Scully is familiar with “the Venus Syndrome”, a particularly esoteric conspiracy theory.

“It’s a runaway global warming scenario that leads us to the brink of the sixth extinction,” he outlines. “Those with means will prepare to move off the planet into space, which has already been weaponized against the poor, huddled masses of humanity that haven’t been exterminated by the über-violent fascist elites.” While this fits thematically with the new conspiracy as revealed in My Struggle II, the particulars appear to be way off. Well, unless the following season opens with an extended ode to Moonraker.

Carry on.

Carry on.

Similarly, much was made of the idea that My Struggle I effectively threw away nine seasons of continuity. This is not entirely accurate. The episode throws nine seasons worth of conspiracy theories into a stew of crazy ideas and possibilities. Most obviously, My Struggle I seems to suggest that certain elements of the mythology are still accurate. In her conversation with Scully at the hospital, Sveta seems to demonstrate the same psychic abilities employed by Gibson Praise in The End.

Of course, it is also entirely possible that Sveta was faking; that she only knew all of those intimate details about Mulder and Scully because she was briefed before meeting them. My Struggle I is incredibly ambiguous as to Sveta’s true nature, just as it is ambiguous about the material reality of the conspiracy. Was Sveta killed by the conspirators because she went “off book”? Or was Sveta killed by the conspirators simply because she fulfilled her purpose? Was she a patsy or a collaborator? It seems unlikely the audience will ever know.

Just like the good old days...

Just like the good old days…

Even allowing for all of this, there are other indications that the other mythology is still applicable in some contexts. Most notably, Carter’s fixation upon hybridisation and the union of alien with human bubbles through both My Struggle I and My Struggle II. In My Struggle I, Scully seems to confirm that both she and Sveta alien DNA, which is a cornerstone of Chris Carter’s later mythology work from episodes like The End and Biogenesis. In My Struggle II, it is suggested that everyone has alien DNA. The show’s original mythology has not been completely wiped away.

In explaining her own abduction experiences, Sveta talks about her difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction and reality from unreality. She talks about “screen memories”, which are “memories implanted over actual memories to make abductees forget.” However, it seems they do not entirely work. Sveta still remembers details like the birth of her child. However, the screen memories do make it difficult to know for sure what is real and what is not, what happened and what didn’t.

What's up, doc?

What’s up, doc?

In a way, these “screen memories” seem like an apt metaphor for what Carter is attempting to do with the classic mythology. Some of it is real, some of it isn’t. Little traces shine through and cannot be hidden, but the net result is the same. Everything is in doubt, nothing is certain. Continuity is shattered. Much as Sveta must struggle with her sense of self, X-Files fans find themselves similarly disorientated as they try to make the pieces fit together. My Struggle I adopts the ultimate postmodern answer: maybe the parts can’t fit together.

How can we possibly ever hope to know what is real and what is not? At one point, Mulder is allowed to inspect a craft built from reverse-engineered alien technology. He is allowed to see it, to touch it, to experience it. But does that make it real? In a very literal sense, it does not. Advances in computer-generated imagery mean that the craft may not even actually exist and the audience cannot entirely trust that the ship was there with David Duchovny while filming, let alone with Mulder in the episode.

A touching moment...

A touching moment…

In the past, it was enough for The X-Files to tease its leads with a glimpse of proof. These days, Mulder can physically hold the proof in his hands and still not vouch for its validity. “What I’m gonna show you next is the most unbelievable part,” Garner boasts. Then the craft just disappears. “That’s what they all seem to do,” the Old Man bitterly reflects, and he is right. These days a person cannot even be sure that they can trust their sense of touch. Reality is fungible, even before Elon Musk wonders if we’re in a giant computer simulation.

The original mythology is just one conspiracy theory competing for space in this internet age, where there is no singular unifying theory of the truth and process of making sense of the world seems to consist of little more than putting together fragments of (occasionally contradictory) information into something resembling a narrative. After all, studies seem to suggest that conspiracy theorists don’t tend to believe just one conspiracy theory; they believe believe lots of them, even mutually exclusive and contradictory ones.

Coloured perceptions.

Coloured perceptions.

In some ways, this narrative chaos reflects the way that the world appears to many in the twenty-first century. Conspiracy theories were once a way of making sense of the world, but these days even they fall sort. As Adam Curtis argues:

It sums up the strange mood of our time, where nothing really makes any coherent sense. We live with a constant vaudeville of contradictory stories that makes it impossible for any real opposition to emerge, because they can’t counter it with any coherent narrative of their own.

And it means that we as individuals become ever more powerless, unable to challenge anything, because we live a state of confusion and uncertainty. To which the response is: Oh dear. But that is what they want you to say.

Part of this might be down to the way that the internet has become the dominant mode of politic discourse and engagement. In its own way, the internet is the most postmodern of media, reflecting the values of “nonlinearity, equality of value and randomness.”

"We'll always have Vancouver."

“We’ll always have Vancouver.”

The new mythology reflects this postmodern aesthetic, having its characters act as if every possible conspiracy theory is true and forcing its audience to process the insanity on their own terms. There is perhaps no single unifying theory of everything. If there is, it is unlikely to be laid out in a linear fashion by theorists like Fox Mulder or Tad O’Malley. Maybe the world is so crazy that all of these stories are true, even the ones that run explicitly contrary to each other or reality.

It some ways, the new mythology proposed by My Struggle I reflects the mythology proposed by the second season of Millennium, Chris Carter’s other big nineties television series. That sophomore season was overseen by veteran X-Files writers Glen Morgan and James Wong while Carter was working on the fifth season of The X-Files along with the post-production and release of Fight the Future. Morgan and Wong eschewed the idea of a singular linear conspiracy theory, throwing together a rich stew of millennial anxiety across the year.

Man, I'm Bushed.

Man, I’m Bushed.

Although Chris Carter is the author of the miniseries’ two explicit mythology episodes – My Struggle I and My Struggle II – the influence of Morgan and Wong can be keenly felt in a number of big creative decisions taken by Carter. Indeed, it is worth noting that My Struggle I marks the first time that Carter shared an “executive producer” credit on an episode of The X-Files. That said, Glen Morgan was not sure his credit was entirely fair:

I was shocked, and I begged him to take my name off, I said that’s not right, 200 episodes with just him were already set. I thought Frank Spotnitz had done much more to keep the show alive and more than I ever did. I don’t think Frank was there at the end, even.

Affording Morgan an “executive producer” credit is a great gesture, but also perhaps an acknowledgement that some of the contours of the new mythology owe a debt to the work of Morgan and Wong. In fact, the basic plot of My Struggle II owes a clear debt to The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now, the second season finale of Millennium.

"Now, this is going to sound crazy, but..."

“Now, this is going to sound crazy, but…”

While the postmodern twist on the mythology might be seen as a tip of the hat to the second season of Millennium, the other major revision to the core of the mythology owes a great deal to Morgan and Wong’s work on the early seasons of The X-Files. With My Struggle I, the show adopts a much more sympathetic portrayal of the aliens than the mythology has typically afforded the colonists. This is evident from early in the episode, with the Old Man witnessing the brutal murder of a wounded alien pilot at site of the Roswell crash.

The Old Man is shocked and appalled by the brutality of his companions. “What are you doing?” he demands. “For God’s sake, what have you done?” The murder is portrayed as something akin to the conspiracy’s original sin, the casual execution of a wounded and helpless stranger so that their technology might be annexed and harvested by the powers that be. It is a strange reaction, given that the original mythology suggested these aliens were planning to use the human race as incubators.

Loving the alien...

Loving the alien…

This portrayal of mankind’s relationship with the alien is also a reference to one of the formative moments in the mythology as outlined by Morgan and Wong. In E.B.E., Deep Throat confessed that his own original sin was the murder of an innocent and helpless alien. The moment was so important to the duo’s conception of the mythology that Morgan returned to it in his script for Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man. Other Morgan and Wong episodes, like Little Green Men, treated alien contact as a source of hope rather than fear.

In contrast, Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz tended to treat the aliens as monstrous. Late in the second season and over the course of the third, after Morgan and Wong departed to work on Space: Above and Beyond, the aliens become the “colonists.” They began taking control of human bodies and plotting extinction, seeking to reclaim the planet. Even those aliens opposed to colonisation, like the “faceless rebels”, were still indifferent to the loss of human life or the suffering inflicted upon their victims.

"We didn't swear the Hippocratic Oath. We're not those kind of doctors."

“We didn’t swear the Hippocratic Oath. We’re not those kind of doctors.”

In the final seasons of the show, the human elements of the conspiracy were dropped almost entirely. The conspirators were largely killed off in Two Fathers and One Son, giving way to a new conspiracy built around alien “super soldiers.” In the show’s final two seasons, the colonists cut out the middle men and began a practice of transforming and replacing certain key figures within the United States government. This was very much an invasion by a colonising force, an evil that was literally inhuman.

In some respects, this contrast of Morgan and Wong’s innocent aliens as against Carter and Spotnitz’s sinister colonists speaks to a deeper philosophic gulf. Morgan and Wong tend to treat evil as something inherently internal, something that comes from inside mankind and which is almost passive or ambient; consider The Curse of Frank Black or The Pest House or even The Time is Now. In contrast, Carter and Spotnitz tend to treat evil as something invasive and external, something from outside mankind; consider Grotesque or Piper Maru or Empedocles.

Because what's the point in having a conspiracy web series if you can't use it to pick up chicks?

Because what’s the point in having a conspiracy web series if you can’t use it to pick up chicks?

My Struggle I and My Struggle II make it exceptionally clear that the real villains of The X-Files are not the aliens who crashed on Earth in Roswell, they are the human beings conspiring to harvest alien technology to suit their own ends. They are no longer the collaborators who appeared in episodes like Patient X, The Red and the Black, Two Fathers and One Son. The conspirators are no longer simply Vichy France; they are firmly established as Nazi Germany. More that, My Struggle II explicitly positions hybridisation as a tool of resistance against them.

Alien technology is presented as miraculous and optimistic. Mulder is finally allowed to see an alien ship up close after years of chasing them. “It’s running on terroidal energy,” Garner states. “The so-called ‘zero-point energy’. Simply, the energy of the universe.” Apparently the aliens are not just clean, they are zen. “You’re talking about free energy?” Mulder asks. In fact, it has been the establishment that has refused to allow mankind to reap the benefits of this discovery.

"Free the energy, man."

“Free the energy, man.”

O’Malley explains that mankind has had this energy source “since the forties.” Garner explains, “No fuel, no flame, no combustion. Simple electro-magnetic field. Technology kept secret for seventy years while the world ran on petroleum.” Mulder reflects, “Oil companies making trillions.” Indeed, even problems like global warming are blamed explicitly on mankind. The aliens offered a solution, but that solution was ignored by an establishment hungry for profit. Even passively, mankind races towards its own extinction.

Contrasted with mankind, the aliens are presented almost as would-be saviours. “No sooner had we defeated Germany than a new threat started appearing in skies over America, drawn to Earth by the latest threat to extinction: the H-bomb,” we’re informed. “Explosions acting as transducers, drawing alien life forms through wormholes in spaceships using electrogravitic propulsion. Advanced extraterrestrial species visiting us, concerned for mankind and the threat of our self-destruction, forestalling our annihilation through their own self-sacrifice.”

"Tell us of this thing you call love. And parking."

“Tell us of this thing you call love. And parking.”

There is something poetic in the imagery of aliens drawn to Earth by nuclear explosions like moths to the proverbial flame. It suggests that the detonation of the atomic bomb was effective a start whistle in mankind’s gallop towards its own extinction, while still retaining strong mythological ties between the mythology and the Second World War. The X-Files has always treated the Second World War as a formative moment for American identity, and it is intriguing to see that bleed over into the new reconfigured mythology.

The miniseries suggests a bond between the human and the alien. Scully’s work with children suffering from microtia in one example. “What’s most striking is how alien it looks,” reflects O’Malley. Scully explains that the disease is “most common in Najavo Indians”, a nod to the mythology’s suggestion of deep-rooted ties between the colonists and indigenous populations. It is very much in keeping with a lot of the later mythology stuff, right down to the treatment of William in the ninth season, as reaffirmed in Scully’s nightmares in Founder’s Mutation.

"I had Navajo idea it was this serious."

“I had Navajo idea it was this serious.”

There are a number of reasons why the mythology would make such a dramatic reversal. Again, it ties back to shifts in global politics and the way in which paranoid conspiracy theories had entered public discourse. Conspiracy theories were frequently being used by nationalist politicians to stir up xenophobia and mistrust. Immigration became a huge issue for countries like America and Britain. Americans openly discussed refusing to admit Muslim refugees from Syria. Britain’s referendum on EU membership was racially charged.

The ascent of Donald Trump is perhaps the most obvious example of this mainstreaming of racial anxiety through conspiracy theory. Trump would claim that President Barrack Obama was not really an American, but a foreign infiltrator. Trump would argue that Mexico was effective mass exporting rapists into the southern states of America. Trump called for a ban on all Muslim immigration into the United States, wary of alleged terrorist infiltrators. This is the presumptive nominee for one of the country’s two major political parties.

Body of proof.

Body of proof.

Carter nodded towards this shift in political rhetoric when talking about how The X-Files had to change to reflect the twenty-first century:

“When you get presidential candidates saying ‘just bomb the sh!t out of them’ or ‘don’t allow this group of people into the United States,’” Carter says, alluding to Donald Trump’s proposed anti-Muslim mandate, “it just suggests a kind of wholesale intolerance that could trickle down or filter down into all kinds of policy. So I think that whether we want to admit it or not, there is a sort of—not the Internet version, not the conspiracy site version—but there is a sort of possibility of a New World Order.”

Even beyond his comments to the press, Carter’s script for Babylon demonstrates an anxiety around that sort of inflammatory rhetoric.

"Last thing New Mexico needs right now is more illegal aliens."

“Trump said that the last thing New Mexico needs right now is more illegal aliens.”

Given how easily an alien invasion narrative can be read as xenophobic, it makes sense to revise the central themes of the mythology. One of the easiest ways to fuel xenophobia and racism is to effectively scapegoat the alien, to blame the “other” for everything wrong in the world. In some ways, that lies at the heart of the Trump and “Brexit” campaigns. Most of those voters feel let down by the political establishment, and are focusing their resentment and anger on what amount to soft targets that absolve those actually responsible.

My Struggle I makes it clear that there is no mysterious alien menace responsible for everything wrong with the world. The real villains are those in power who exploited the situation and manipulated the public. My Struggle II goes even further, allowing the Cigarette-Smoking Man to implicate all of mankind in their pending extinction. The Cigarette-Smoking Man might be a villain, but he is not entirely wrong. It would be nice if aliens were to blame, because that would exculpate mankind for their role in the destruction of the world.

Smoke and mirrors...

Smoke and mirrors…

However, as interesting as the mythology elements of My Struggle I might be, the episode still struggles. Some of this is down to the fact that My Struggle I is really more of a pilot than the first part of a miniseries. The episode rushes along in order to set up both the status quo for the next four episodes and to move all the pieces into the right places for My Struggle II. It has to do all this in about forty-three minutes of airtime, including credits. No wonder the episode feels rushed.

To be fair to Carter, My Struggle I covers the amount of storytelling ground that the show normally mapped out in a two- or three-part episode. After all, My Struggle I is very consciously riffing on Redux I and Redux II, which were both individually longer than this single episode. More than that, Carter not only has to reinvent the mythology, but he has to find a way to get Mulder and Scully back into the FBI so that the show can pick up with them back in the basement in Founder’s Mutation. Or Home Again, depending on what order one chooses to watch the episodes.

A hairy situation.

A hairy situation.

The result is that My Struggle I brushes through scenes and details that really need a lot more work. Consider the subplot about Mulder and Scully coming back to work. Skinner puts the duo in contact with Tad O’Malley. Suddenly, Skinner is giving Mulder a tour of the old office at the basement of the J. Edgar Hoover Building. Then, at the very end of the episode, Skinner sends a message to Mulder. “Situation critical. Need to see you both. ASAP.” The next time we see Mulder and Scully, it is back to business as usual.

What exactly is the situation that is critical? The viral outbreak doesn’t begin until My Struggle II. Tad O’Malley has been publicly discredited. Whatever Skinner feels to be so critical is not important enough to take priority over a scientist jamming a knife into his ear or a lizard monster or a golem made of garbage. He is, after all, recruiting two former fugitives to work as full-time federal agents. The final scene with the text message from Skinner really feels like it is leading to a big cliffhanger, or closing out the first episode of a six-part story.

Still Foxy after all these years.

Still Foxy after all these years.

The reintroduction of Skinner and the reopening of the X-files in My Struggle I feels very much like the cliff notes of an X-Files revival. However, the same is true of the introduction of Tad O’Malley and the restructuring of the mythology. Carter is a writer who is fond of big chunks of exposition; his characters tend to speak in very meticulous prose, his dialogue feeling more literary than naturalistic. There are points at which this is an endearing stylistic affectation, and there are points at which it burdens the episode. My Struggle I has ample examples of both.

There is something endearingly retrograde in how Carter chooses to structure the information that he gives to the audience. In the first five minutes of the episode, Carter both lays out a brief history of the show as it was and then unends that history. The opening five minutes of the episode cover a lot of ground, but it is telling how Carter chooses to cover that ground. The episode moves around a great deal in time and space, from Roswell 1947 to Washington now, but the bulk of the information is conveyed in scenes of characters talking at length.

"I was told there would be a laser show."

“Sorry Mulder, I was told there would be a laser show.”

The average length of a shot in a given feature film has steadily decreased over time. Modern movies typically feature more edits, more scenes, more movement. The same is likely true of television. After all, The X-Files was one of the first shows to really push for a cinematic aesthetic on weekly television. These days, film is frequently shot and edited like feature films; the breezy pop thriller aesthetic of CSI is one example, but it is also worth considering the speed and scale with which the average Game of Thrones has its characters and plot move.

As such, the pacing and structuring of My Struggle I feels very old school. Most of the exposition in the episode is provided in sequences of characters lecturing one another over what amount to power point presentations. Mulder’s narration over the teaser bringing the audience up to date; Mulder and Tad O’Malley trading conspiracy theories in the limo; Sveta addressing Mulder, Scully and O’Malley; O’Malley and Mulder pitching what amounts to the new conspiracy while Scully looks on confused.

"But wait, there's more!"

“But wait, there’s more!”

There is a certain charm to this. Most obviously, guest star Joe McHale is clearly loving his dialogue. McHale is an avowed fan of the show, and he takes to these big Chris Carter monologues with an incredible passion. It helps that McHale has a great sense of timing and a wonderful deadpan, allowing him to get a great flow on his dialogue. There is something delightfully jarring about a character who rattles off all the crazy X-Files conspiracy theories that audiences are used to taking seriously only to segue effortlessly into an unsettling appeal to the right to bear arms.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson have a bit of a harder time with this. Anderson has confessed that it took her a little time to find Scully again after eight years, but she is out of focus for most of My Struggle I. Anderson is given a lot more to work with, and a better chance to find her feet again, in episodes like Founder’s Mutation and Home Again. In contrast, My Struggle I leans heavily on Mulder. Duchovny doesn’t seem as comfortable as he once did, but there is a sense that Mulder’s character arc is more a collection of bullet points than a clear line.

"It's okay, Sveta. I could feel him building up to a monologue."

“It’s okay, Sveta. I could feel him building up to a monologue.”

There are lots of interesting hints and suggestions about what Mulder has been up to, but very little actual insight. Mulder is still living in his little cottage, away from the world. In a throwaway line of dialogue, it is revealed that Mulder has suffered with depression, which is a fantastic detail that both feels organic and adds a lot poignancy to the character. However, there is also a sense that Mulder is still invested in his pursuit of the truth. Somehow Mulder has found a new informant. It is suggested that Mulder’s obsessiveness eventually drove Scully away.

This is a lot of information for the audience to process about a character that the audience hasn’t seen in eight years. There is something very powerful in Scully’s concern for Mulder, her worries that he is “on dangerous ground.” There is an engaging uncertainty there. Is Mulder at risk of a breakdown? Has Mulder had a breakdown? Can Mulder handle going back out into the world? Is this the same Mulder that we know and love? What has been brewing in the time since we last saw him at the end of I Want to Believe.

"Keep monologuing, Mulder. I'm listening... Tad, does this phone have a mute button?"

“Keep monologuing, Mulder. I’m listening… Tad, does this phone have a mute button?”

Even within the context of the episode’s narrative, it seems like Mulder’s character work is truncated and abbreviated. With the exception of that crisis of self-doubt during the fifth season, Mulder has believe in a vast conspiracy of aliens and men for over two decades. He seems to abandon that belief pretty quickly. Perhaps his depression played a part, or perhaps Mulder has become disillusioned, but it seems like Mulder commits to the idea of a gigantic fake-out pretty easily. What does this say about the character? Where is he, mentally?

Unfortunately, My Struggle I has neither the time nor the inclination to really pursue that thread. Chris Carter is a writer who has always been incredibly sympathetic to Mulder as a character, and that bleeds through into My Struggle I. There is never a sense that Mulder is wading out of his depth, or that he might encounter something for which he is unprepared. As written by Carter, Mulder lacks the sort of existential angst that Darin Morgan mines so effectively in Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster.

"I know what I'm doing, Scully. And you can trust me, because this is not a Darin Morgan episode."

“I know what I’m doing, Scully. And you can trust me, because this is not a Darin Morgan episode.”

In many ways, My Struggle I is the weakest episode of the six-episode season. The publicity around the revival was not front-loaded on the episode. Although My Struggle I premiered at Comic Con, Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster was chosen to preview at the Cinefamily X-thon event. When Fox broadcast My Struggle I, they made sure that Founder’s Mutation aired twenty-four hours later rather than leaving a week-long gap between episodes. Previews sent out to critics included Founder’s Mutation and Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster.

My Struggle I is a clunky episode of television that feels very firmly rooted in the context of the late nineties. It seems to imagine a world where The X-Files was trapped in amber with the release of Fight the Future, where the slow and steady decline of the following four seasons never happened. It is burdened with exposition, effectively serving as the pilot of a new era of The X-Files rather than the belated finale to the previous nine seasons. It rushes along, brushing over its more interesting character beats.

I'm a little disappointed that Mulder didn't enter Skinner into his phone as "Skin-Man."

I’m a little disappointed that Mulder didn’t enter Skinner into his phone as “Skin-Man.”

And yet. In spite of all that, there is a lot of interesting stuff happening. Carter may not have updated the style or format of the show for the new millennium, but he put a lot of thought into how the mythology should work in the twenty-first century. My Struggle I is bold and ambitious in how it chooses to reimagine and reconceptualise the mythology instead of simply playing the hits. The show’s aesthetic is an exercise in nostalgia, looking and feeling very much like the nineties. However, the show’s heart is still beating in rhythm with the world around it.

It is enough to make the audience want to believe that the truth might still be out there, even if it is covered by a thin layer of dust.

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12 Responses

  1. Been waiting for this! Brilliant review. Great thoughts on Carter’s decisions in regards to updating the mythology and show for current times. And I think the episode itself is pretty underrated. Even if it’s not the best of the six (and it shouldn’t be), the feel and atmosphere out of it instantly took me back into the world of “The X-Files.”

    • Thanks Adam!

      You’re off Twitter, I noticed?

      • Yeah, with grad school and everything else, I had to sacrifice something, but I still go look at your tweets. Your reviews the season 10 and 11 comics mostly mirror my own. When are you posting the review for End Games, or did I just miss that? What about the ongoing series?

      • It’s going roughly chronologically, so plan is Babylon tonight, End Games Monday, My Struggle II Tuesday, Deviations Wednesday. And then wrap-ups Thursday and Friday.

  2. As always, incredibly well-written analysis of the episode. You are much more sympathetic towards it than I will ever be (I hate it, personally), but I’m looking forward to re-watching it soon with your thoughts in mind. I don’t take issue or even disagree with any of the points you make; I suppose I was simply disappointed by how poorly it was written, directed and performed, and the rushed, slapdash feel of the whole affair. Even by the production team’s own admission, it sounds like they found out, after months and months of talks, that they had a brief window with both DD & GA available and decided to go ahead and seize it. It did not feel like ANY of the scripts were ready to go, except possibly Darin Morgan’s; there’s a “first draft” feel to most of the scripts that I found hard to get past (and it sounds like they did not have to take any notes from the network, either). I don’t blame DD or GA finding it hard to get back into character when faced with these scripts. I am a Carter apologist and find the strangely popular opinion that he was one of the weakest writers on his own show deeply unfair, but I found it almost impossible to defend his scripts for IWTB and S10. Or if this/these script(s) had to be greenlit into production, I wish someone like Rob Bowman, David Nutter or Daniel Sackheim could have returned to direct it/them, rather than Carter himself (ditto the other writers). For, unlike Adam Silva, I found the episode *sorely* lacking in that classic X-Files feel and atmosphere. At the end of the day, that style and tone was perhaps what I loved about the show the most, and what I felt was strangely missing here.

    I do appreciate that Carter had an impossible talk with this first episode and had to accomplish A LOT, in terms of re-acquainting the viewing public with the principles of the series, bringing Mulder and Scully back into action, and re-igniting the mythology/raison d’etre of TXF for the new millennium; but in the words of Peter Davison, “there should have been another way.” Perhaps a more serialized, un-hurried approach that saw Mulder and Scully gradually reuniting and being recalled into action over the course of the 6 episodes may have helped; I’m not sure, but this approach felt ill-conceived.

    I do think it’s important to remember that, aside from “closure,” GA also talked in interviews quite pointedly about feeling like, between S9 and IWTB, that the original series did not end on a high, and she was looking forward to hopefully sticking the landing better this time. She almost candidly acknowledged the decline of the show’s quality and its public perception, and felt this was a chance to “right history” in that respect and to get a second chance at going out on a high note. That certainly struck a chord with me and I think spoke for a lot of fans, and I think that’s why this felt like a missed opportunity for so many.

    Having said all this, I’m sure I sound like a horrible Debbie Downer and I certainly don’t mean to be. I personally found S10 to be like a horrible, but deeply fascinating car wreck that made me cringe but I also found difficult to look away from. I am v much looking forward to more of your thoughtful analyses and discussion in the hopes that it’ll help me see it in a new light, as your wonderfully written, incredibly thoughtful critiques so often do!

    • Yep. I think that it’s easy to understand why the narrative that built up around the miniseries was very much “let’s end this right”, even as Carter and Duchovny were preemptively signalling that their mission was “let’s start this again.”

      And no worries about being a Debbie Downer. We can’t all like the same things, and there are some episodes I like less than others. (Indeed, I’d argue My Struggle I is the weakest of the six.) I mean, I am a lot less fond of season two than most fans for example, because I feel like it gets increasingly messy once Scully comes back. Such is life.

      That is also a very valid point about the cohesion of Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster possibly being down to the fact that it was written a decade earlier, albeit for another show. Particularly given Carter has confessed that Babylon and My Struggle II really brushed up against deadlines in the writing process.

  3. Great review that helped me appreciate the new focus in the conspiracy even more. After season 9 nearly ruined the show they needed dump the Super Soldiers and maybe even the colonists and do something different. You made me realize though just how much this episode really is a reflection of the times we are living in which is more chaotic and scary then it was during the ’90s. My thoughts as I said earlier is that season 10 is about as good as 7, with 1 dud, 1 masterpiece, 2 middle of the road episodes and a messy but interesting mythology book ending it.

    • I’d argue that the season starts about as strong as season four or season six, which makes sense given that it’s undergoing a similar learning curve for everybody involved. (In season four, Carter was running Millennium at the same time and there were other behind-the-scenes issues, while in season six there was the move to Los Angeles. This time, it’s largely relearning to make the show.)

  4. I still believe Carter takes pride in thinking he can make sense of what is now 10 seasons of mythology and believe he’ll try to back pedal and reconcile MS1 and MS2 with The Truth, etc. when/if he gets a season 11 greenlit (I’ll spare you my own theories). But I also believe Redux I and Redux II were the last chance he had at telllng a more “grounded” story. He and Spotnitz took things off the rails in (the very well done) Patient X and Red and the Black. I think this is Carter’s chance to tell something close to the story he envisioned in Anasazi/PaperClip and Herrenvolk. Though he is definitely trying to achieve a contemporary spin and, in a rush to start filming the premiere, may have relied a little too heavily on his Area 51 draft. But doing so opens the show up so that he and Exec. Producer Glen Morgan can steer it toward the events of MS2.
    This and Babylon were the worst of the 6 episodes but this one gets more leniency because season premieres of this show categorically were disappointing (Little Green Men standing out as the strongest but also the only one not having to pick up on a “to be continued…”)

    • I also noticed you mentioned the crash at the beginning was Roswell. I think the line indicated it was in “Northwestern New Mexico.” Roswell is in Southeastern New Mexico. In Mulder’s monologue he mentions Aztec, which IS in Northwestern New Mexico. Your point is still well taken. O’Malley is not to be believed, nor is the Old Man. I think The X-Files always ran the risk of too whole-heartedly endorsing the views of its characters. CSM and Krycek for example provide many “explanations” that are replete with lies.

    • Also worth noting: Little Green Men is the only premiere with a writing credit that doesn’t include Carter.

      And I do imagine we’ll see the show bringing back more of the old mythology if it continues. I suspect the Doctor Who revival might just be the template here. You start by clearing the slate mostly, which Carter counter-intuitively does by making the slate so cluttered that it’s impossible to make out distinct shapes. Then, over time, you layer the stuff back into it.

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