Season 10, episode 1: “The Struggle”
[Photos courtesy Ed Araquel/FOX]
When The X-Files first premiered in 1993, I wasn’t interested. The television landscape had been recently filled with ‘true life’ documentaries that were supposedly stories of aliens and government conspiracies that were so obviously fake as to be laughable, and I had thought this was just another show jumping on the bandwagon.
I don’t remember what changed my mind or made me realize it was intentionally fictional, but when I did watch originally, it was on a scattered basis. This was, of course, back when if you didn’t catch it on the network (or record it on your trusty VCR), you were out of luck until reruns or until you could shell out the cash to buy the (individual) episodes on VHS when they were released. I enjoyed the show, but it wasn’t until later in the series that I became a fan: even to the point of following The Lone Gunmen onto their (unfortunately not so wonderful) spin-off show and continuing to watch despite Duchovny’s somewhat leaving of the show during season 8 and the attempt to rebrand it with Agents Doggett and Reyes for season 9. A couple of years ago, I noticed the show was on Netflix, and binged through the series, falling back in love with the show and the stories it told.
The show was known for both its standalone episodes as well as what’s come to be known as the “mythology arc”: the story of Fox Mulder’s sister, supposedly abducted by aliens, and how the conspiracy around that led to potential alien invasion, clones, a shady government conspiracy that included abducting Dana Scully and the threat of kidnapping of her (and Mulder’s) child, William. The promotion for this revival miniseries has made no secret that it will continue the mythology story arc, picking up the story from where we left off so long ago.
The story starts with a short batch of exposition from Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) giving us the ‘story so far’, so to speak. His narration segues into how alien and conspiracy theories have only grown since that time, interspersing his tale with some bits about current sightings – ending on how it all stems back to that fateful crash in Roswell, New Mexico – which we then get to see in all of its CGI glory. Suddenly, it’s 1947 – and there’s a doctor being driven to the crash.
We’re then taken to the current time, where Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) is at a hospital prepping for surgery, when she is told that there’s an important phone call. It’s FBI Director Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi, albeit not on screen yet). Scully calls Mulder, who apparently has broken contact with both of them, and passes on the message that Skinner is looking for him. Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale), a conservative talk show host, wants a meeting. O’Malley is apparently also a conspiracy nut, claiming that 9/11 was an inside job and that it’s just the latest in a long line that goes back to Roswell.
Mulder agrees to a meeting, and assumes that Scully will want to come along for the ride. We then forward to the two of them meeting on a street somewhere in Washington, D.C. There’s some obvious tension between the two, and some unspoken (and spoken) issues with where they are in their relationship. O’Malley sidles up in a limo, already talking paranoid concepts as being overheard, and has the three of them ride and talk.
O’Malley explains he wants to talk about the alien conspiracies, and the duo’s work on the X-Files. While Mulder intentionally mentions he only wanted to believe, but never found proof, Scully adamantly says that the X-Files are closed and that the two had moved on with their lives. (Whether Mulder agrees with that statement, though ….)
Mulder has some doubts as to O’Malley’s ‘alien street cred’, and tests him, a test that O’Malley passes with flying colors. O’Malley then explains he’s all about blowing up the most evil conspiracy of them all, but that he has something to show them, or rather someone.
Cut to Virginia, where the limo drives up to a house in the middle of nowhere. We are introduced to Sveta (Annet Mahendru), who informs the trio that she had been interviewed by Mulder when she was a little girl after her first alien abduction. Over the 20 years since then, she states, she’s been abducted numerous times, being impregnated with babies that are then taken away. She says she has alien DNA, which Mulder suggests Scully test for proof.
Back to 1947 Roswell, our doctor is surrounded by a bunch of soldiers walking up to the crashed spaceship – and come across a Grey, alive and crawling away. That doesn’t last long, as the soldiers – after a muttering from someone who looks like the leader about how dangerous they could be – shoot it dead.
We then return to the hospital, where Scully is taking Sveta’s blood for testing. The two have a chat: Sveta stating that she can read minds and has minor telekinetic powers that she can’t control, and giving Scully (and therefore the audience) some background on Scully’s relationship with Mulder (including the inclusion of William), and that the relationship had failed because Mulder is depressed.
Back to Mulder, O’Malley arrives in a helicopter. He’s there to take Mulder somewhere where the people are very paranoid (alas, not the three I had hoped it would be). It’s a warehouse, inside which is a Faraday cage, inside which is an ARV – alien replica vehicle. The ship, looking like George W. Bush deciding to play sci fi with a bomber, runs on free energy that we’ve had since the 1940s, and a gravity warp drive.
We take a quick scene back to Roswell, where the doctor carries the alien away. When questioned, he gives the standard, “I’m a man of medicine” response followed by a quick, “Why else am I here?” There’s obviously something more going on here.
Flash forward to Scully at the hospital, taking her own blood. O’Malley visits to check in with her. We learn that Scully is now working with young children with microsia, a disease where children are born without ears. She’s quick to assure O’Malley that it’s not aliens, which prompts O’Malley to ask if she misses it. Scully responds with a statement that could easily be Anderson’s answer to working on the show – that it was intense and challenging work. After a moment that seems charged with something more, O’Malley asks for her feelings on the whole ‘alien conspiracy’ thing, and whether she’s upset with Mulder. “I’m used to it,” she responds flatly.
Over to Sveta, who gets visited by Mulder. He asks her why when she was explaining about her abductions she gave O’Malley the side-eye. She explains that she doesn’t believe that aliens took her babies, or for that matter her. It was men – regular, average guys – and she’s never said anything because she’s afraid that she’d be killed if she did. She then asks Mulder if he hasn’t always wondered if the government lied to him (No! Say it isn’t so!). Mulder then calls Scully, who’s in the car with O’Malley for some reason, and Mulder apparently has drunk Sveta’s Kool-Aid. “What if there is no alien conspiracy?” And apparently, Sveta is the key.
We are then brought to the glory shot, the infamous office – cleared of everything but the pencils still somehow stuck on the ceiling, and the equally infamous “I Want To Believe” poster on the floor. Skinner has let Mulder in, but the X-Files are gone. Skinner reminds Mulder that it’s been 13 years, but Mulder won’t have it – “you need to control the past to control the future”, and kicks the poster in a metaphor for the state of his life long pursuit.
After a quick bit from O’Malley’s show pointing out Scully’s work, Scully gets the DNA tests back. She asks to retest the samples.
Meanwhile, Mulder is meeting an older man in the National Mall. After your stereotypical ‘deep throat’ interchange, Mulder admits he has been cleverly manipulated. The old man is the doctor from 1947 Roswell, and that he had come to Mulder ten years ago to show how alien tech has been used against us by men. Roswell, he states, was just a smokescreen.
We then go to Mulder’s, where Scully arrives worried about him. They have their standard argument, him convinced he’s right, she worried that he’s so set on trying to save the world that he’s forgetting to save himself and those around him. In the middle of said argument, Sveta is shown to be there – and after a look of epic proportions, Scully decides to leave. However, O’Malley arrives, and asks for her to join them in a round of ‘what conspiracy are we believing in today?’
Mulder launches into a monologue of Faulkneresque proportions, explaining how the conspiracy came from the Cold War and how it’s geared to take over America, and then the world: using violence and weather and distraction, how we’re all apparently sheeple willing to give up privacy in the name of national security, and how it will all start with the banks closing and end with an attack or a staged alien invasion. O’Malley promises to say it on his talk show, while Scully does her thing. But rather than her standard denial of the conspiracy, it’s thankfully changed to a ‘even if this is true, by talking about it, you’re going to cause a panic’. And oh, by the way, there is no evidence that Sveta has alien DNA.
The plot then really ramps up. Scully is back at the hospital, watching O’Malley’s show, where Sveta apparently has backtracked. The re-done tests have come back. Mulder, also watching O’Malley’s show, goes in search of Sveta. Meanwhile, the warehouse with the ARV is invaded and the ship blown up. We’re then back to Scully: O’Malley’s site is now taken down. She walks out to her car when she’s approached by Mulder. She tells him that they have to find and protect Sveta. When questioned, she admits that she was dubious about the DNA tests and had them redone, and had Sveta’s entire genome sequence … as well as her own. They both, apparently, have alien DNA. Skinner buzzes them both, and they are both back to search for the truth.
We then have one last scene of Sveta, driving on the road when the car dies. There’s a light from above – it’s the ARV (or one just like it) – and her car blows up, possibly taking her with it. Flash to a fireplace, where a somehow alive Smoking Man, aka CSM (William B. Davis), is on the phone. “They’ve re-opened the X-Files.”
As I wrote in my article about the 20 minute featurette released late December, The X-Files had a tremendous effect on the television landscape. Shows like Lost, Fringe, and even How to Get Away With Murder all follow tropes that – if not originating in The X-Files, at least became very well known as a result of the show. When they first announced this miniseries, my reaction was mixed. While the person inside me that always wants to see more of characters I like was excited, the media-savvy critic in me worried whether this show would work in a post-Lost world. (I have very similar concerns about the return of Twin Peaks for the same reasons.)
This episode feels very much like the same show we left in 2002. The exact. same. show. In fact, they don’t even change the opening title sequence. Both Scully and Mulder seem to be the same characters we left, which left me cold – shouldn’t they have grown more than they apparently did? And I’m not sure how much of it is that I have grown in the past 13 years, but I found Mulder particularly exasperating. For a man who’s seen all that he has, he jumps into Sveta’s theory way too quickly, and he seems overly antagonistic towards Scully. I get the impression that Carter is trying to make Mulder sympathetic, but all I wanted to do was thwap him in the head.
In fact, out of all our main players, McHale is the one that impressed me the most. While I have been a fan of his work since technically Talk Soup, although mostly from Community, he is eerily good in his portrayal. Meanwhile, Mahendru seems to have been directed to focus all her energy on looking like a sad little puppy to the point that Sarah McLachlan should be doing a vid to raise awareness.
The methods, too, don’t seem to have grown with the times: they’re all set to go forward with this just with the proof DNA testing, and Scully apparently is still stuck using ’90s search techniques (using a search engine – twice – to get to O’Malley’s show that’s hosted on a YouTube knockoff). In addition, in the original series, it was shown that there was heavy government influence (hell, most of Skinner’s storyline at the beginning was hinged on which side he was on) – with the phrase ‘trust no one’ becoming a mantra – so why is he so shocked that they may be behind this?
While I will continue to watch in the hope that it will once again spark something interesting, this episode leaves me with the theory that we’re getting the television equivalent of the Star Wars prequel films: we waited this long and got this? I want to believe it will get better.
You can see more of Angie’s work (and her social media connections) over at her website.
[Also published on SciFi4Me]