REVIEW: Mulder and Scully reopen The X Files, for better or for worse
[The following piece contains plot details of the series premiere of the new X Files]
After a fourteen-year absence from our screens, cult sci fi drama The X Files finally returns for a limited new series of extra-terrestrial phenomena and mind-bending paranoia. Questionably named after a book by Adolf Hitler, first episode “My Struggle” is hugely ambitious in scope, setting up a mystery/conspiracy befitting Oliver Stone’s three and a half hour epic JFK that serves to flip the entire mythology of the original nine-season series on its head, while reuniting the second most popular will-they-won’t-they TV couple of the 1990s. We’re sure you’ve caught wind of the mixed opinions of stateside critics by now, but we also know that what you’ve really been waiting for is our review. So here we go.
For better or worse (a sentiment thrown around a lot by Mulder and Scully in the episode), this first new X Files instalment out of six is one of the most preposterously grandiose series premieres we’ve seen in some time which somehow successfully manages to balance the self-serious with the silly. It starts off with a three-minute monologue from FBI special agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny), who catches us up on the story so far and sets up the themes to be explored with such nostalgia-indulgent lines as “Are we truly alone, or are we being lied to?“, before we’re treated to what’s more or less the show’s original opening sequence. We then get thrown back to 1947 northwestern New Mexico – the time and place of the infamous Roswell incident – where a bespectacled ‘man of medicine’ is brought by military authorities to assess a crashed spacecraft.
So it seems the scene has been set. But where’s Agent Scully? Why, she’s over at Our Lady of Sorrows Hospital, about to get roped back into the same old drama she’s been trying so hard to avoid for the past decade and a half! After a short off-screen chat with Walter Skinner, who somehow remains the Assistant Director of the FBI, Scully is convinced to postpone her study of children born with no ears, and reconvene with her former partner in work and romance, who has been living off the grid for the past number of years.
Here we’re reminded that this is a world in which Mulder and Scully now have MacBooks and smartphones, yet clearly the former’s surveillance-dodging techniques like duct-taping over his computer’s webcam have been working effectively, as it seems nobody has been able to contact him since 2002.
Even the most resistant of X Files fans will then have had their hearts melted by the duo’s in-person reunion, at which Scully asks if Mulder’s transport was an Uber. Of course, he tells her he hitchhiked. Joking aside, there’s a real tenderness evoked by Duchovny and Anderson here, as they admit through misty eyes that they’re ‘always happy to find a reason’ to see one another. So why get back in touch now? We all knew that series creator Chris Carter had better have a damn good reason for justifying the reunion of Mulder and Scully after all this time, but we certainly weren’t expecting anything like this…
In a nutshell, the former X Files agents have been enlisted via Skinner by Tad O’Malley; a popular TV conspiracist who needs their expertise to “blow open the most evil conspiracy the world has ever known”. Whoa. Don’t put it too lightly, friend. We’re well aware the whole time that this guy is basically just Joel McHale without the jokes.
After a ride in O’Malley’s bullet-proof limo, they arrive in Low Moor, Virginia, where they are introduced to Sveta; a possible alien abductee who believes aliens to have forcibly impregnated her a number of times before extracting the foetuses through her navel. Hence these hole-ly convincing scars:
The boys and girls then split up. Sveta is led to Our Lady of Sorrows by Scully, who conducts DNA tests to verify Sveta’s claims of alien genetics while rebuffing her attempts to read her mind. [As a side note, in this conversation we’re reminded of William, the son born of Mulder and Scully at the end of season eight and given up for adoption at the end of season nine, whom we hope to see in the new episodes to follow]. Meanwhile, Mulder and Tad go via helicopter to check out some tech – namely an Alien Replica Vehicle (ARV) that can shoot lasers and become invisible.
This is all the evidence that Mulder – and, Carter hopes, the viewing public – needs to cement the new mythology on which this series will be based. Where any rational person would dismiss O’Malley as a manipulative nut job, our hero Mulder discards everything he’d once believed in, becoming entirely convinced in the space of 40 minutes of a world-shaking conspiracy about the military industrial complex, which supposedly orchestrated the “false flag” operation that was 9/11, along with all the so-called alien abductions reported since the mid-20th Century, in order to gain control of an ever dumber, ever fatter American populace.
Just as things appear to be wrapping up, those flashbacks get some explanation as an old man assuming the exact same role as Donald Sutherland’s appropriately named character “X” from the aforementioned JFK appears to assure Mulder that his suspicions are more or less correct, and that he was that scientist back at Roswell in the 1940s, forced by evil authorities to conduct experiments on aliens and humans.
And when Mulder and eventually Scully are more sold than ever on Sveta being ‘the key’ to the whole shebang, Sveta gets sucked up by a UFO, making for a fittingly over the top, yet satisfyingly impressive conclusion to the episode. Or so we think…
The Smoking Man is back, y’all!!!
So, that’s what we’ve got to go on before the other five episodes left to follow. As the series progresses, maybe the new X Files will justify its return by breaking open wholly new ground. Or maybe, and more probably, the people behind the show should’ve settled for the afterlife it’s been living via box sets and Amazon deals. We’ll have to wait and see.
The new season of The X Files comes to Channel 5 this February.