The X-Files S10E01 “My Struggle” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Channel Five, Mondays, 9pm
Writer: Chris Carter
Director: Chris Carter
Essential Plot Points:
- Agent Fox Mulder narrates the events so far, just in case there are any newbies watching. Some humour might’ve been nice, mind, rather than a lengthy, deathly serious info-dump.
- We start in 1947, with an unnamed chap being escorted to a flying saucer crash site by some Men In Black. Yup, it’s Roswell! As the episode continues we see more flashbacks of this guy being aghast when the military shoot dead the ship’s (kinda cute-looking) alien occupant, then working on its corpse, and then, today, talking to Mulder about it – except he merely hints at what he’s seen, rather than telling him everything. How helpful.
- Mulder and Scully are reunited when celebrity conspiracy theorist Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale) asks them to come and meet a woman he knows, Sveta (Anita Mahendru), who has been regularly abducted by aliens.
- Mulder soon realises that aliens weren’t abducting her – she was actually being experimented upon by humans. With a shock, he realises that must mean there’s a Massive Conspiracy: powerful humans have been using alien stories as a cover-up while they seed war, famine, economical disasters and even bad weather (!) across the globe. Gasp!
- With this in mind, Mulder goes off on one (ie, he starts gibbering like a loon) while Scully stands around and looks utterly bored, even when she runs a DNA test on Sveta – and herself – and discovers they both have alien DNA.
- Tad takes Mulder (not Scully, of course, that would be too easy) to see a special ship built using alien technology. It’s pretty cool.
- Tad decides to go public with the allegations. Naturally, his show is taken off air, everything’s covered up and the ship is destroyed.
- Poor Sveta is murdered.
- Mulder finally gets Scully to realise something’s up. The truth is still out there, guys.
The episode title, “My Struggle”, is a reference to a bestselling series of biographical books by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgard. It also rather perfectly sums up how many viewers might have felt while watching this debut episode of the new X-Files… because boy, is this a struggle to get through.
Sure, it’s lovely to see all the actors again, even William B Davis as the Cigarette-Smoking Man at the end (although Lord only knows how he survived being blown sky-high at the end of the original series – is he immortal?). And all the original elements we know and love are there: Mulder – albeit battling depression; Scully – albeit wearing a wig, despite Gillian Anderson’s determination not to (her hairdresser advised her not to dye it red or she would seriously damage it); assistant director Skinner, who has somehow avoided promotion despite decades of work at the FBI; the “I Want To Believe” poster in the old FBI office; the opening credits; Mark Snow’s gloomy synthesisers on the soundtrack (which we also heard in the interim in countless episodes of Smallville, and dear god, they’ve dated so horrendously); the endless exposition about alien visitors and government conspiracies; even Scully’s old crucifix necklace.
All this should leave us feeling warm and glowy, as though we’re spending time with old friends… but while that may be true for some (and with 21.4 million viewers, not all of them could have hated it), there’s just too much bad here to counteract the good.
Let’s take a look at the plot. Somehow we’re supposed to believe that a conspiracy of humans have been seeding the world with fake alien stories to distract us while controlling wars, governments, the global economy and probably how many photos Kim Kardashian posts on Instagram. We even discover they’re going to take over the planet starting on a Friday (!). Mulder believes this hook, line and sinker five minutes after meeting a woman who’s probably the 900th abduction victim his met in all his years on the X-Files. Jeez, if he looked up “gullible” in the dictionary there’d be a picture of him.
Sorry to sound like Scully here, but where’s the rest of the evidence? How could he think all this based on two conversations? Does having back-up in the form of a web-show host suddenly make him bolder? And most importantly, why doesn’t the show just come out and say, “The Illuminati control the world!” Were they too scared to give them a name? Or do they really believe they’re out there?!
Then there’s the episode’s dialogue, tone and almost laughable seriousness. While we love Chris Carter for giving us The X-Files in the first place, in much the same way as the backlash against George Lucas eventually happened, so it’s happening here. By the end of the show’s nine-season run, viewers were so weary of conspiracy theorising, po-faced monologuing and frustrating plot arcs that they simply gave up. So why open your new series with exactly the same thing? Come on, Chris, shake things up a little! It isn’t 1993 any more – you have to update more than just your characters’ cellphones!
Case in point: one of the worst phrases to come out of The X-Files was Scully’s tongue-mangling “deceive, inveigle and obfuscate”, way back in season four’s “Teliko”. Here, we get Tad coming out with “cull, kill and subjugate”. Please. Just stop it.
After all this ranting, the good news is that, by all accounts, the series gets better as it goes on. So consider this a temporary blip. The Mulder and Scully we know and love are out there – we just have to wait a little bit longer to see them again…
- Seeing the original opening credits. Aww, nostalgia alert! However, see also “Bad”, below…
- The flying saucer crash is rather cool.
- Scully: “Aliens couldn’t find this place.” Mulder was always regarded as the funny one, but she could deliver the odd pleasing one-liner as well, you know. Nice to see she still can.
- It’s only a brief glimpse, but Sveta’s icky tummy is… well, icky.
- The ship in the hangar is pleasingly similar to the triangular ship that menaced Mulder in the second-ever episode of The X-Files, “Deep Throat’” all the way back in 1993. In fact, that shape is possibly more clichéd these days than actual flying saucers, given that there are so many variations in real life and in rumours surrounding US military secret projects (see: Aurora).
- The original opening credits are a lovely touch… but using footage of Mulder and Scully from the early ’90s isn’t really fair on the actors today, is it? Not to mention looking decidedly odd if you’re a brand-new viewer. Why not replace them with their older counterparts?
- When Mulder is told to look at Tad O’Malley’s YouTube… er… MindQuad channel, a video of him loads and plays so quickly, and without Mulder even clicking on it, that it breaks the laws of the internet. X-Files fans aren’t stupid, guys, we notice little slips of reality like that.
- Mind you, saying that, we’re not the only ones being picky about internet-related cock-ups. There’s a comment in the “Goofs” on this episode’s IMDb page that points out this nugget: “When Scully attempts to use the search engine, she receives ‘Error 404 – Site temporarily unavailable.’ Hypertext transfer protocol status 404 is a “Not found” error. An site unavailable error should generate a 503 status.” See? Point proved.
- When Scully rather cruelly sticks the needle in Sveta’s arm, it makes a ridiculous noise.
- Sveta says portentously, “I have alien DNA!” She’s never been tested, though. She doesn’t say, “I think I have alien DNA, can you test me?” She just announces it, and Mulder instantly believes her. Later we discover it’s true, but basically she could’ve said “I have potatoes for blood cells!” and it would’ve made about as much sense.
- The most pointless scene of the episode, maybe: Mulder calls Scully and says over and over, “Sveta is the key!” before hanging up. When you watch it back, it contributes nothing except to make Mulder look like a yelling, unhinged lunatic. Great if him losing his mind is a plot point (see also: “Anasazi”, season two), but he’s actually not losing his mind here, and he also says “Sveta is the key!” later, so it’s hardly as if we needed the reminder.
- “It’s all about controlling the past to control the future!” Oh dear. This dialogue is so up itself. Some self-awareness about how ridiculous all this sounds might have been nice.
- “You’re nearly there. You’re close,” says Mulder’s contact. Dude, this kind of breadcrumb-dropping might have worked in the ’90s, but these days we’re too impatient. Just tell him, you old fart.
- When Mulder delivers his monologue about conspiracies, Scully gets out her best “bullshit” face.
- Here’s an observation that can apply to most TV shows these days, but we’re going to make it anyway, seeing as things like this have been in the news of late: where are all the black characters?
And The Random:
- The pencils stuck in the old X-Files office’s ceiling were thrown up there by a very bored Mulder during the course of the original series.
- Best Quote: Mulder: “I only want to believe. Actual proof has been strangely hard to come by.”
Reviewed by Jayne Nelson