“The X-Files”: What’s Old Almost Seems New Again
By Olivia Jablonski
WARNING: Some spoilers ahead.
“The X-Files” people once knew seems quite alien to 2016 television. The show’s series back in the 1990s was prominent and popular and is known for its heavy background with science, mythology, and paranormal phenomena investigations.
After 14 years of admiring a show that was once great, Fox announced the show’s reboot with a miniseries in March of last year. The show’s revival would return with creator Chris Carter, and original characters of Fox Mulder, played by David Duchovny, Dana Scully, played by Gillian Anderson, and Walter Skinner, played by Mitch Pileggi.
The show was scheduled to premiere on Sunday, Jan. 24, at 10 p.m. after the NFC Championship football game on Fox, but the airing didn’t start until a half hour later due to the delay of the game, which angered most die-hard “X-Files” fans as they tweeted and shared their frustrations on social media.
Despite the game’s delay, the return of the miniseries was a huge success for the network, and the show scored 13.5 million viewers in its first debut, according to Forbes.
In Sunday night’s episode, “My Struggle,” has a lot to explain – outside of the story – as to why it feels a bit stagnant. Perhaps it’s just time whiplash. Maybe this show has always sort of operated on somewhat subdued, low-energy performances and it’s just more apparent now that it’s been away for so long. But the end result here, in this very first hour, is somewhat underwhelming.
It starts off with a very long voiceover from Duchovny trying to catch up the audience on the history of the show and the fictional X-Files, where paranormal cases were handled at the FBI. It’s a labored but necessary bit to get everyone current, but it can’t shake the stagey feel of the writing, a red flag that indeed hints at future narrative abuses.
In the episode, Mulder propagates a theory, not about aliens, but about the cruelest of creatures: man. He reckons that the “alien abductions” he’s spent his life investigating were actually undertaken by men posing as aliens and testing alien DNA on humans. This evil plan will culminate in the “takeover of America.”
Most of “My Struggle” involves Mulder being sucked back into the world of secret government plots and ploys while Scully reluctantly tags along. The usual X-Files dynamic, sure, though somehow you want more from these two now. And you want it to happen faster. But it is what it is. A lot of exciting stuff happens right toward the very end, creating many opportunities for the second episode and beyond.
The guest stars in the episode include Joel McHale, who plays a talk show host, Tad O’Malley, “a true believer” in U.F.O.s and a young woman named Sveta, played by Annet Mahendru, who claims to have fragmented memories of having her fetuses stolen from her during alien abductions and to possess alien DNA.
“My Struggle” definitely does have effective moments. In the end, after the dust settles, it is nice to see these characters back, and to have “this world” back in our lives, even if its heyday has come and gone.
When everyone gets in one room and starts ruminating about black helicopters and dastardly plots dating back 70 years, the needle definitely moves. As if the show, as well as the characters, feed off the rumors and theories like fuel. Until that happens though, things are a bit languid.
The following night, on Monday, Jan. 25, the show aired its second episode at 8 p.m. which is now its regular time slot for the rest of its six-episode run.
The second episode is titled “Founder’s Mutation,” and it was certainly a marked improvement over Sunday’s premiere. Almost bogged down a bit by its on-the-nose tie in to Mulder and Scully’s son, William, and the guilt they both felt over giving him up (especially now that Scully knows that she’s got alien DNA in her), this episode was oddly conspiracy-adjacent.
It was heavily billed as the second half of a two-night premiere, though it had little to do with the events of Night One, save for Mulder wanting to investigate a case he suspected may have ties to the Syndicate. And, in the end, that was a good thing.
What it did contain though was a return to investigative form, and a much more “at home” pairing for the two leads. Mulder and Scully were back on the beat, working a suspicious paranormal case involving a genetically tampered-with janitor trying to find his long lost experimented-on sister, both children of Doug Savant’s reclusive, government-sponsored Dr. Goldman (shown both normally and with old age make up). The janitor, Kyle, could telepathically communicate (aka “command via auditory torture”) and together with his sister, as we discovered at the end, could turn up the dial and assault people with vicious telekinesis.
Mulder theorized that all of Dr. Goldman’s work was related to the Syndicate’s old plan to recolonize the planet with a superior hybrid species of human, but we ultimately never actually found out what was going on. Goldman got his brains turned to mush and the siblings escaped.
So aside from the emotional reverberations felt by Mulder and Scully (the transition to Scully’s dream-life with William felt slightly jarring, though it helped sell Mulder’s somewhat sadder imaginings right at the end) there were no big answers here. Some good thrills and a nice return to freak-of-the week form, but nothing huge.
Both for good and ill, “The X-Files” is back, and in essentially the original packaging. Even the original opening credits sequence is back, delighting those who prefer their TV intros comically outdated. The show picks up again feeling like it never left, at least in terms of mood and construction. Yes, the intervening years have aged the heroes and the world in which they live, but as far as the scripts, direction, and feel of the series, these may as well be mothballed episodes dragged out of deep storage, because everything you remember about the series is right there onscreen.
“The X-Files” will continue airing its six-episode run on Mondays at 8 p.m. on Fox.