One of the greatest pitfalls of our current recycle-bin culture is that some of the nostalgic curios being dusted off almost certainly belong dead, and The X-Files has sadly proved emblematic of this hazard. The idea of Mulder and Scully returning once more into the paranormal fray sounds fantastic at first blush until you stop to recall that The X-Files has already died a series of ignoble deaths. There was the slow decline of the original series’ run into a morass of wheezy misguidedness. There was the second feature film, quite possibly the most stillborn attempt at franchise resuscitation ever endeavored. And now, as this current six-episode revival comes to a close, it’s hard to argue against the notion that The X-Files is the bolt of lightning that is never going back into that jar. It’s far too damaged, too hopelessly ungainly and exhausted to endure as it currently stands. The truth is out of gas.
The problem, eternally, is executive producer Chris Carter, an abysmal writer and pitiful idea man who demonstrably has no plan for what it is he is trying to convey anymore, has no clue how terrible his every idea is, and has no awareness of the damage he’s doing to his only child every time he puts pen to paper. Watching “My Struggle II,” the event-series finale, is to watch a man grasping wildly at whatever stray concept pops into his head without an inkling for to how to tie any of it together in any reasonable way. Carter is a dud at dialogue, mirthless exposition and pseudo-profundities being the only languages he speaks, and it’s telling how his scripts immediately render David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson into droning, somnambulant androids. The episode goes big—huge, even—but is an absolute dogpile of nonsense, so lacking in coherence that it’s almost a little impressive how something this ineffectual was even allowed onto our screens.
The episode picks up six weeks after the premiere and functions as a direct sequel to that equally infuriating mess. Joel McHale’s crackpot conspiracy theorist Tad O’Mally is still burning up the Internet with wild notions of impending apocalyptic doom, centering on alien viruses and sinister vaccinations. Mulder has gone missing, and as Scully tries to track him down, with Agent Einstein (Lauren Ambrose, inexplicably reprising her pointless character from last week) in tow. Scully also begins to realize that an epidemic of illness seems to be afflicting the entire populace, though not herself, presumably due to the alien DNA she realized that she carried in the first “My Struggle,” a byproduct of her abduction way back in the show’s second season. Scully has to convince the skeptical Einstein of her theory, and gain her assistance in developing an antidote generated from Scully’s own body’s immunity. She also crosses paths with Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), the former agent that the show once tried to pair with Robert Patrick’s John Doggett (unmentioned here) in a failed bid to keep the franchise going after its principals moved on. Reyes reveals that she has spent the past decade as an unwilling lackey to the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis), who is the architect of this viral crisis.
It turns out that Mulder is also onto the Smoking Man, whose location he gleans after besting one of the villain’s henchmen in a brutal fight (and enough can’t be said about how jarring it is to watch Mulder fight like Jason Bourne considering that it was almost a running gag in the original incarnation of the show how he never physically gained the upper hand over anyone), and he confronts his undying adversary over how to stop the systematic elimination of the human race. The Smoking Man has no intention of averting his plans, but he does implore that Mulder accept the vaccine that will spare him from the rest of humanity’s fate, as well as a seat at the table for what will come next. Mulder refuses and begins ailing rapidly. Driven back to civilization by Einstein’s blandly Mulderesque partner Agent Miller (Robbie Amell) as it begins collapsing around him, a race against time commences for Scully to get her homegrown remedy into her partner’s veins before it’s too late.
Since the bulk of this review will be spent excoriating Carter for the litany of things he’s done horrifically wrong, I will first offer the one thing he does that’s worth a smidgeon of praise: It’s good to finally see dastardly extraterrestrial schemes on The X-Files finally comes to devastating fruition. For more than a decade, Mulder and Scully chased government spooks in the shadows, uncovering sinister plans regarding alien collusion that were always many years away from directly affecting the public. We would hear about plans for colonization, genocide and the enslavement of the human race, but these plans were always a ways away. Watching society actually come under attack is something that feels long overdue, as does the world actually witnessing evidence of alien life in plain sight, as it does in a closing shot of a UFO hovering ominously over a crowded freeway. The X-Files always kicked the can down the road with whatever the Smoking Man and his associates were cooking up with their alien collaborators, and it’s good finally see the show play that card.
Now the bad stuff: Everything else. Carter seems as baffled by his own quagmire of a mythology as the rest of us, and picks and chooses which pieces of his garbage fire of a puzzle to try and shove into this script. He likes the planned Armageddon element, as well as smallpox vaccination being a smokescreen for DNA experimentation, so those things are kept, even though the goal posts have moved and the circumstances those things originally fit into are no longer part of the equation. The virus as a humanity-ending weapon was once borne of the alien black oil, but now it’s just advanced forms of flu and cold viruses. The Smoking Man revealed in the original series finale that he stayed alive as long as he did to see Mulder’s face when he realized that he would be powerless to stop the end of the world, yet here he professes to love Mulder and craves his allegiance. If Carter can’t even keep his own nonsense straight, then what hope do any of us have of keeping tabs on it?
Carter also tosses in scientific notions that appear to interest him, yet of which he has no discernable idea for how to meld organically into his hackneyed pseudoscience. Worse, the McHale character is a nut who goes off on paranoid rantings about chemtrails and the like and is shown to be absolutely correct in his theorizing. The X-Files now operates as a mouthpiece for goofball conspiracy weirdoes who believe idiocy like this in real life. Carter is also married to previous terrible ideas that he could and should have allowed to quietly fade from memory, such as the inexplicable reprisal of Einstein and Miller, the return of the universally disliked Reyes, and the constant teasing of Mulder and Scully’s son William, around whom the big cliffhanger ending revolves. Carter simply cannot recognize that his ideas are bad, even the ones that were soundly rejected by his fan base over a decade ago. His “use every part of the animal” approach to his own baloney is simply confounding.
For The X-Files to survive, Carter must go. There’s no two ways about it. Each times he returns to his baby, he manages to drop it on its head a bit harder. What’s maddening is that The X-Files has every right to enjoy a healthy second life. Duchovny and Anderson still have that one-in-a-million chemistry, and when they are engaged with the material, they are as terrific as ever. But as long as Carter is steering the ship, The X-Files will always founder. And while his contributions were inarguably the worst components of the revival, the episodes concocted by former X-Files heavyweights Glen Morgan and James Wong were also not up to snuff. Only Darin Morgan’s instant classic “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” truly succeeded in justifying the revival’s existence. The X-Files needs new blood if it is to go forward, but removing Carter from the mix does not seem possible. He is the illness that eats away at his own enterprise. The X-Files’ primary villain is dubbed Cancer Man, but I believe that moniker has been applied to the wrong person.
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