I had heard that the season ten premiere of The X-Files, the show's return to the air after a decade away, was bad. I sort of couldn't believe it was that bad - after all, Fox had shown it at New York Comic-Con months ago, and usually these guys hide stuff if they think it stinks. Also, I was lucky enough to see the third episode of this season at Kumail Nanjiani's all-day X-Files marathon last week, and that episode was good! How bad could the premiere be, I thought.
SO BAD. If I had not seen episode three I might very well throw in the towel right now; the return of The X-Files was shoddily written, pedestrianly shot, and it manages to make an even bigger hash of the show's mythology than I thought possible - and that's saying something for a show that spent the better part of five years making a hash of its own mythology. The premiere isn't just a bad episode of The X-Files, it's a bad episode of TV - it has almost no story, it has absolutely zero stakes and it doesn't make much logical sense. On top of that the acting is poor, with David Duchovny especially standing out as bad, seemingly unable to recapture the spark of Mulder.
Here's the plot, such as it is: Mulder and Scully get called out of retirement by Assistant Director Skinner. Is it because of a big case or something huge has happened in the world? No, it's because an Alex Jones-like web personality played by Joel McHale wants to meet them. I knew the show was on shaky ground already when Chris Carter, returning as writer and director of this episode, couldn't even come up with a compelling inciting incident. There isn't a terrorist attack, there isn't a ticking bomb. A guy with a web show wants to meet Mulder and Scully.
Why does he want to meet them? Because he has an alien abductee who is willing to go on the record about being abducted. And he has - somehow, I honestly do not know how - constructed an ARV, an Alien Replica Vessel, which runs on zero point energy - ie, the free background energy of the universe. That's the secondary piece, for whatever reason. The big thing for Joel McHale is that he has an abductee.
Here's where it gets even worse: why does this matter? The show (and reality, for that matter) has brought us a lot of abductees. Agent Scully is one. I couldn't figure out what made this girl's story all that different from anyone else's. The big reveal for her, which she keeps hidden from Joel McHale (again, I don't know why) is that she wasn't abducted by aliens, but by humans. Which, again, is a subject the show has touched on a bunch in the past. A whole bunch. It's the basis for the episode Jose Chung's From Outer Space, considered one of the best episodes of the series. But for some reason this revelation shakes Mulder to his core, and he stops believing in aliens (although he still believes all this weird tech comes from an alien encounter at Roswell) and he decides that the entire mythology of the series to this point - all the stuff about colonization and 2012 and all the pretty explicit alien shit he has seen (including shapeshifting bounty hunters, enormous UFOS, etc) was in fact an elaborate cover-up intended to lead him down blind alleys.
Look, I don't mind a reveal that puts a new spin on what we have seen in the past, but that reveal needs to do two things. It needs to come in the form of a good story, and it needs to make at least a modicum of sense.... and that isn't how it happens here. The reveal comes between scenes - somewhere during a commercial break Mulder realizes that all the alien abductions and hybrid human-alien babies have been about genetically engineering the elite so they can escape the Earth when global warming makes it uninhabitable. On top of that the reveal makes no sense in the context of what we have seen in the show in the past. If The X-Files had always been through Mulder and Scully's POV that would be one thing, but we have had many scenes - and entire episodes! - that show us what the Syndicate has been up to, and who they're working with.
Now, there is a possibility that over the course of this six episode season Mulder will learn that he's wrong and that the colonization stuff is still in play, but I'm not sure I'm willing to put that kind of faith in Chris Carter. Carter was always one of the show's weak spots, and he's never been weaker than he is here. There are entire conversations that are nonsense in this episode, characters talking past each other, only asking questions and no one answering. Large chunks of My Struggle play out like an X-Files parody, with characters going out of their way to speak cryptically. Carter's attempts to raise the stakes are simply laughable - the alien abductee who tells Mulder the terrible truth has her car blown up... BY A UFO. It's such an extravagant way to kill somebody, and it plays out like a Mel Brooks gag.
Clearly Chris Carter is trying to update the paranoia and conspiracies for the modern era, but he's gone about it all wrong. The reality is scarier than the fantasy: Our election cycle is dominated by either dynasties or billionaires and our phones and data are tapped and we are tracked globally all the time. The takeover isn't coming, it's already happened. This should have been the story of the new X-Files - Mulder and Scully as rebels within the system that has already won, not the scrappy truth seekers trying to stop Cigarette Smoking Man (who is somehow alive) from doing his final takeover. It's pretty clear to everybody with a brain that we already lost. That is so much scarier than the Syndicate on the verge of instituting marshall law. Why would they even bother to do that? They already control and surveil us at all times.
The main story of the episode is dismal (honestly, a lot of the narrative plays out like the scenes in an old CD-ROM X-Files game between the point and click sections where you search for clues), so what about the Mulder/Scully? As I've gotten older I've learned that the best episodes of The X-Files are not the mytharc ones - the show's longevity meant that its mytharc was totally destroyed by the end of the series - but the Monster-of-the-Week stories. Part of that is because the writers can have more fun, but it's also because mytharcs tend to split Mulder and Scully, and we love seeing them together. There's bad news here as well: the Mulder/Scully dynamic doesn't work in this episode.
Having seen episode three I can tell you that it gets better, but here, at the beginning, it's off. I'm no shipper, but the show assumes I am, and it has Scully sort of go on a date with Joel McHale, and then get really jealous that Mulder has a smoking hot Russian abductee hanging out at his house. Mulder, meanwhile, is super bitter that Scully left him some time after The X-Files: I Want To Believe. The premiere has so many nonsensical, poorly written conspiracy scenes to get through that the Mulder/Scully stuff feels very undercooked. Again, we have five more hours, and episode three is good - I'm hoping that My Struggle is the outlier here. That it's the episode where the show, asleep for a long time, is waking up a little confused and with aching joints, and that by the time we get to episode six The X-Files will be showered, have breakfast and a coffee, gone for a run and is ready to finally face the new day of the 21st century.
But I'll be honest: I'm afraid that The X-Files season 10 will leave the show going out on yet another whimper, as it has twice before.