NOTE: This post was originally uploaded on my personal blog on Wedensday 8th February, one year since the UK broadcast on My Struggle. Future X-Files reviews will be posted on this blog every Wednesday up to March 14th.
Three months before its TV premiere, My Struggle was first shown at New York Comic-Con to an enthusiastic response from fans and critics. Early reviews praised the series for successfully returning and updating its themes to fit a post 9/11 world.
Despite this, reviews closer to the premiere date were much more scathing – and it is not hard to see why.
Going through the motions was always inevitable while Carter refueled the vessel, but there’s only so much an audience can tolerate. Debating how he should have approached this season, i.e. a serialised story or stand-alone cases, we’ll get to later. It’s regardless, this first episode should have been a two parter or feature length. In fact, the mythology episodes of this season should have been cinematic, the third X-Files movie played out on TV. There are certainly some great set pieces, even the obvious CGI UFO crash is impressive.
At only 43 minutes long, there’s no breathing space and everything happens too quickly, but not in a decent fast-paced TV drama kind of way, more a blink and you’ll miss it. The first scene with Mulder and Scully has almost no anticipation to it and as soon as they meet, they’re whisked away in a car. We flashback to Roswell, then to the present, we meet Sveta, Mulder’s taken by O’Malley to see an invisible UFO, Scully goes on a date with him and your mind’s gone to mush before you start to wonder where the hell it’s going to.
And to make matters worse, Carter includes all the worst tropes of a mythology episode starting with Mulder narrating his past and elements of the conspiracy. Monologues and heavy exposition was one of the mythology episodes biggest flaws, and not only is it included in all its pretentious glory here, but feels even worse than before with the narration feeling so jaded and verbose, as if Duchovny’s reading the script without injecting a single emotion into it. Can you imagine being at the cinema watching this?
Apart from the rush, there’s even slight awkwardness with our favourite duo. While the chemistries still there, Duchovny and Anderson are inevitably trying to find their characters again, which is understandable considering they haven’t played Mulder and Scully in nearly a decade.
But perhaps the biggest cat amongst the pigeons that Carter brings to the new season, and what inevitably drove millions of fans from investing any more time in it, was answering old questions by (you guessed it) posing more. Turns out, the original alien conspiracy from the original series was just a ‘smokescreen’ and it was actually men all along. That’s right, it wasn’t aliens. Well, it was their technology and used by men to enslave the population. Basically, it was a conspiracy of men, not aliens. Right? Okay.
No. Wait. Pardon? You mean, after 9 seasons of alien babies, bounty hunters, clones, black oil, bees and super-soliders, we’re expected to accept this without question? Well, that’s certainly how Mulder reacts to it. And the episode ambles along without a care for all the world-wide X-Philes who feel cheated.
Before you have time to process your wasted investment in a decade long story, there’s even more exposition that’s dumped on you like the vomit you yourself want to project. Mulder and O’Malley spout out dialogue that feels like a checklist of modern conspiracies designed to justify and explain this new mythology as if we are expected to ignore what’s come before.
In many respects, this new twist to the mythology does feel more credible and could have helped make the original series more consistent. The early reviews were right, the episode does captures post 9/11 paranoia, but it’s still a kick in the teeth. Just because a writer realises they lost the thread to their own story arc, doesn’t give them the right to change it as if it never happened. In fact ignoring it all together seems preferable.
And then there’s the O’Malley problem. Basing a character on internet conspiracy loons like Alex Jones and making him the new Deep Throat and X was actually a great idea. But he’s simply given no time to develop and the brilliant Joel McHale is criminally miscast in this role. Unlike his usual comic persona, he seems very ill at ease and his attempts at playing a serious stiff upper lip is laughable for all the wrong reasons.
And as for the other new characters, they’re merely plot devices. While Annet Mahendu does her best, Sveta is too one dimensional to care about her. When she’s blown up in the last few minutes, it’s hard to even muster a shrug. And the old man from the Roswell crash who helps Mulder is equally given no depth. Who is he? Why now? Why not tell Mulder the full truth?
After an information dumped beginning and middle, the third act suddenly erupts into a heart pacing action thriller with explosions and danger that comes out from nowhere. And finally the big twist at the end of the episode is the appearance of the Cigarette Smoking Man. But wait? Didn’t he die? Like actually die? As in burnt up. I mean we literally saw his skin crumble away right down to the skull, so there was no way he’d ever come back. Maybe he’s a clone? But wait, there aren’t any aliens are there?
Just when you think it will all be revealed, you suddenly realise that, it will, sorry this is X-Files, it could be revealed, in about five weeks’ time.
And this is where the problem lies. In this day and age, a TV show balancing an on-going story arc and stand-alone stories, simply doesn’t work. In hindsight, The X-Files was probably the best and worst show to achieve this. When the revival was announced, internet nerds wrote endless listicles of what they did and didn’t want. Some objected to the mythology even being acknowledged, and preferred all stand-alone cases. Some wanted both. Speaking for myself, I wanted a six-hour movie to end the mythology and the whole thing.
To be fair, Carter should be given the benefit of the doubt here. He ultimately had his hands tied and couldn’t please everyone and he did try. However, by doing so and providing a bit of everything, there’s no time to really explore these ideas in great depth and consequently provides nothing. It’s frustrating to think that there’s only one other 43 minutes mythology episode for Carter to try and make sense of this new twist. As I said, going through the motions was inevitable, but this opening to the new season could have been so much better.