I wasn’t even mad when watching the finale of The X-Files’ season ten. Mostly I was embarrassed, maybe a little sad. This was how it was ending? With an apocalypse story featuring six speaking parts? And with a cliffhanger so abruptly ridiculous it couldn’t help but remind us of the problem with the show in its heyday: they were making it all up as they went along.
The short season ten has been a hit for Fox, bringing in big ratings for the network. Expect them to scramble to make a deal to get season eleven underway as soon as possible, and if they do I hope Chris Carter understands what needs to happen: he needs to stop writing and directing the show.
This isn’t about disrespecting the man who created The X-Files. I would always hope to see Carter’s name on the opening credits, and I think he should always be involved as a producer, but the time has come for The X-Files to transition to a new creator. There are plenty of young, exciting people in TV who came up on The X-Files who would be amazing showrunners for a future season, people who can do what Chris Carter could not do this season - make good episodes.
Carter wrote and directed three episodes of this six episode order, and they were by far the worst. And they all share the same problems; they’re all half-baked, they’re all overstuffed with ideas that never go anywhere and they’re all filled with stilted, shitty exposition instead of drama. Out of the three last week’s episode, Babylon, was the most interesting but only because it was the most insane - Mulder going on a honky tonk-themed mushroom trip was watchably bizarre but absolutely out of place in the episode. Hell, the whole thing was barely an X-File in the first place.
Carter has ideas, but he seems unable to bring them to fruition, and what’s worse he has no filter that helps him separate good ideas from bad ones. Bringing in Scully & Mulder: The Next Generation as a joke on reboots? Great idea! Bringing them back as recurring characters? What the hell was he thinking. That’s the Chris Carter microcosm right there - a good idea and a bad idea, inextricably linked into one larger crummy idea.
My Struggle Part II didn’t make any sense on any level, and Mulder and Scully Jr were the least of the episode’s problems. The finale was a follow-up to the season premiere, a galactically misguided episode that threw the entirety of the series’ mythology under not just the bus but every single vehicle on the Jersey Turnpike; by the end of the hour we were assured there was no alien conspiracy despite the fact that we had been seeing it in action with our own eyes for years. My Struggle Part II opens in media res with Mulder missing and Joel McHale’s rotten character, Steven Exposition, delivering a series of YouTube monologues that tell us all sorts of nonsense about a massive plague coming our way.
And sure enough it does - we learn that, for reasons I don’t quite understand, the Cigarette Smoking Man has remotely turned off the genes that control the immune systems of the American people, which I think then makes them fall prey to the trace amounts of disease present in their vaccines (I think - again, for an episode almost entirely made up of people standing around telling each other things I’m not entirely clear on how it all works). Why did he do it now? Um, because global warming? I think? Also it turns out that Scully’s alien abduction way back when was to monkey with her DNA so that she would be immune to this thing, but CSM didn’t abduct Mulder because he wanted him to beg for the cure when the time came. That’s sort of interesting, if half-baked. Chris Carter style.
My Struggle Part II makes the enormous mistake of attempting to stage a national health crisis on a three dollar budget; this means most of the results of the plague are being told to us by Steven Exposition (who eventually gets a cold) and by Scully and Scully Jr, who are locked inside a closet in Our Lady of Dim Lightbulbs Hospital. Because this is a one-parter the plague goes from zero to sixty in no time flat, destroying any sense of dramatic pacing along the way. Back in the old days this would have been the kind of story that got a two or even a three-parter, now the show just briskly runs through the events without creating any impact. It’s terrible writing.
The idea of going big with this episode is interesting, but it also breaks the entire universe of The X-Files, as does the big cliffhanger ending. By the end of the episode everyone in the United States without alien DNA is dying; while Scully has, between commercial breaks, come up with a cure based on her own alien DNA there’s just no way it can be administered quickly enough to save everyone. And if that wasn’t a big enough deal - if the idea that everyone in the US must now get alien DNA therapy in order to not die - the episode ends with a triangular UFO appearing over a crowded highway in Washington DC. Everybody sees it.
As if all of this were not bad enough, the UFO comes on command. Mulder is dying of the ‘Spartan virus’ and Scully says he needs alien DNA stem cells… which can only come from their son, William. And on cue the UFO pops up; I’m shocked William didn’t poke his head out the window and say ‘Hi, mom and dad!’ This whole season has been circling Scully’s feelings about William - even last week’s weird terrorism episode stuffed in some mother/son stuff - so the idea of kicking the kid down the road yet again feels like a betrayal. What story was Carter telling with this mini-season? None, as far as I can tell - everything has been wheel-spinning leading up to a finale that feels like a dare, like a particularly cruel ending of an Exquisite Corpse chapter.
Carter trots out conspiracy stuff throughout My Struggle Part II - chemtrails! microwave radiation! vaccines! - but he doesn’t have the wherewithal to turn any of these concepts into an actual story. It’s as if he wanted to fit every note he jotted down about potential X-Files into this episode as opposed to telling X-Files stories about them. Contrails should certainly get their own episode, one that slowly exposes CSM’s dastardly plan. It’s a complete failure here.
I liked half the episodes of this revival series, but half the episodes were terrible, and two of them were absolute all-time terrible. My Struggle I and II are legendarily bad, episodes that not only desecrate the series being revived but are also terrible episodes of television on their own. The standalone episodes worked better, but it’s weird to note that the very best episode of the season, Mulder and Scully Meet the Weremonster, was a script that Darin Morgan had sitting in his drawer and wasn’t written for this show.
This season proved that David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson can still come back and be Mulder and Scully. It proved that people want to see these characters back. But it also proved that Chris Carter’s time has come, that he should gracefully step away. In many ways he seems to be the new version of Gene Roddenberry - a guy who created something amazing and then brought it back… but who didn’t quite understand what he was bringing back. Star Trek: The Next Generation needed to shed Roddenberry to move forward. The X-Files needs to shed Chris Carter.