I wanted to believe—but now I can hardly give a shit.
While “My Struggle II” is less of an abject failure than last week’s “Babylon” (on which I admittedly went easy—the rating of this episode more reflective of how I actually feel about the past two episodes—afraid that any disparaging remarks would somehow stymie the continuation of The X-Files into further seasons, or just piss off too many readers), at least now we can say what we want because the show will definitely continue. Here’s a suggestion, X-Files team: Keep Chris Carter away from Season 11. Far, far away. Treat his universe much like that of the Christian God—thank him for such a rock-solid foundation, and then revel in the free will you have away from his clumsy guiding hand. Or get him working on that Millennium reboot.
The tenth season finale begins as the season began, with voiceover. Now we reorient from Mulder (David Duchovny) to hear the voice of Scully (Gillian Anderson), who we learned in “Home Again” is obviously the real focus of this season. Here is where Chris Carter demonstrates that he understands the concept of “circular storytelling” by having Scully, as Mulder did in “My Struggle,” give the audience a primer on pretty much the whole series up to that point. This is also where Scully actually combines words into a discernibly coherent sentence that amounts to her chocking up her initial role in both the FBI and the X-Files to wanting to be “a seeker of justice in a science-based world,” because apparently that’s supposed to resemble a sentence spoken by a normal human being. Like in much of Chris Carter’s voice-over monologues, we find a seemingly smart character saying something stupid in a really erudite way. I get that what Scully means is that, as a person of faith who is also a scientist (and a skeptic)—which is, considering the series as a whole, a brilliant characterization—she saw the FBI as a way to find meaning and morality in the indifferent universe Science would have us accept. But that’s not what she says, because Carter is so bent on wringing weird poetics out of ideas that in and of themselves are more interesting than the words he uses to try to convey them. Anyway, then Scully morphs into an alien because the cold open needed some punching up after such a dreary dump of exposition.
The opening credits sequence, this season returned to their former glory after the ninth season “update,” features, like every important mythology episode of the past, a different message than the typical “THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE.” This time: “THIS IS THE END.” Which is fine, because the stakes have never been higher for our beloved agents—but also it’s one more cheap gesture on Carter’s part to manipulate us into believing that this six-episode miniseries is an isolated, exceptionally unique, once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. It isn’t, and this isn’t the “end,” reasons for which I’ll get to in a bit. But first: Man, Mitch Pileggi must be pissed. For an actor who’s added to the credits, who was such an instrumental and welcome part of the series, especially during David Duchovny’s hiatus, he’s barely in this season. New characters Baby Mulder (Robbie Amell) and Baby Scully (Lauren Ambrose) have three to four times more screen time than him, and even the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis), who’s really only in this episode, walks away with quadruple the lines of AD Walter “Go Get ‘Em, Mulder” Skinner.
Anyway: This episode. After defeating terrorism last week, Scully shows up to the office to find Mulder (David Duchovny) totally gone, his laptop open to the latest episode of Tad O’Malley’s (Joel McHale) online show about government conspiracies and the like. Coincidentally, O’Malley calls Scully at that exact moment to tell her to get to Mulder’s unibomber-y cabin right away, so she does, discovering that some sort of struggle occurred, the aftermath of which O’Malley found after going there to meet up with Mulder to have some more bro-to-bro talk about evil cabals. With Mulder potentially in trouble and not answering his phone, Scully gets a hold of Skinner (oh hai!), who brings along Agent Einstein (Ambrose) for no detectable reason, especially when all Einstein does is get really worked up about how crazy everyone is acting, which at the very least allows Mitch Pileggi to grimace, “Just hold on, Agent Einstein! You’re talking to a scientist.” This is all Skinner is good for in this episode: scolding Baby Scully.
Luckily, Scully is contacted by a voice from the past, Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), who reveals that she left the FBI after a mutilated CSM—surviving the rocket explosion in the series “finale”—offered her a deal: He’d save her from the oncoming extinction of mankind if she basically…helped him smoke cigarettes or something? It’s not clear, and even Scully is all “Wha?” Reyes explains that the whole goal of the shadow-y cabal’s main conspiracy (spearheaded by CSM) is to wipe out humanity via the “Spartan Virus,” which removes the genes behind the human immune system, thereby exposing all of humanity to every single sickness, contagion, plague, whatever to which our species has long developed evolutionary defenses. This Spartan Virus, which was created using the alien technology salvaged from the Roswell crash, was first introduced to the planet through polio vaccines (callback to Season 3), and then passed on to future generations. And it just so happens that CSM’s plan was first put into action back in 2012, which was the original series’ date for the beginning of the so-called alien invasion, which we now know was a lie to cover up an even deeper, shadier villainy perpetrated by members of our own world. Scully’s like, “Oh, OK,” and then returns to her hospital to begin to work on a vaccine using, as Reyes advised her, the alien DNA inside of her, humanity’s only cure for the Spartan Virus.
(Scully also mentions, upon reuniting with her old colleague, that when she returned to the FBI she tried to look Reyes up but was told the agent had moved on. What about Doggett [Robert Patrick], Scully? And why didn’t CSM offer Doggett the same deal as Reyes? By the end of the series, Doggett was just as much a believer as anyone. Are we supposed to believe that CSM knew Reyes was a lot more manipulable than her steadfast idealist of a partner? Or are we just not supposed to think about it? Probably the latter.)
Meanwhile, the apocalypse begins. Hospitals all over the world are flooded with sick people. This we learn not via any reputable news source, but through Tad O’Malley claiming that major news outlets won’t report the story because of the aforementioned shadow-y cabal’s control, even though seemingly everybody is getting sick, so it’s not like there’s much to hide. It’s the first in many signs that Carter’s bitten off more than he can chew with this idea: In trying to dramatize a world-wide contagion, he only focuses on one Internet pseudo-journalist and a few aerial shots of a crowded DC apparently succumbing to chaos, even though the streets barely register as experiencing much more than typical rush hour delays. I understand that, even in this so-called Golden Age of television, budgets can only extend so far, but the whole flubbed scale of this episode simply points to one of The X-Files’ former strengths: The show used to make world conspiracies seem like believably intimate, personal matters. Now we’re given a scene in which Scully runs panicked down the streets of DC, convincing a burgeoning rioter to put down the street sign he pretty easily just ripped from the concrete and to stay calm. It’s an unintentionally hilarious moment, mostly because the masked sign-wielder stops courteously, holding the sign, to listen to what this stranger carrying IV bags has to say. “Well, lady, when you put it that way, I will quell my weird hulk-like rage-strength and stay calm.”
While Scully’s drumming up a cure and the world is falling apart, Mulder speeds towards the secret hideout of the Cigarette Smoking Man. Mulder, Reyes tells Scully, was offered a deal by CSM, because CSM not-so-secretly loves Mulder like the son he maybe-probably is. Because, as you probably don’t remember, Agent Jeffrey Spender testified in the ninth season that CSM was having an affair with Mulder’s mom, and DNA tests pointed very clearly to the fact that Spender and Mulder are half-brothers, making CSM Mulder’s dad.
So that’s why Mulder’s unibomber-y cabin was such a mess: One of CSM’s goons went to offer Mulder a deal—to be a part of the shadow-y cabal who’d “remake” the world after 99% of it is wiped out—but Mulder refused by engaging in some surprisingly spry kung fu action. The scene’s a welcome jolt of adrenaline, though it’s odd that we’ve never before seen such acrobatic hand-to-hand combat out of Mulder, whose fighting style primarily consists of “flipping dudes over my back.” Mulder gets the best of CSM’s goon, learning where he can find the one man whose face he hates enough to feel more than OK putting a bullet into it.
Mulder of course, just like everyone else who doesn’t have alien DNA in them, is getting fatally ill, on the verge of death even as he refuses CSM’s “deal,” accepting the inevitable over resolving his daddy issues. Why Mulder doesn’t shoot the man: who knows—probably because he’s “good” or because Mulder knows he’s his father or something—but it doesn’t matter because Agent Miller (Baby Mulder) shows up to “save” Mulder, having tracked him down using a phone-finder program on Mulder’s computer. CSM lets Miller lead Mulder away, parting ways with Mulder as an abusive father would with a kid who’s no longer afraid of him, making CSM seem all the more pathetic even though it’s clear that the whole “kill everybody” plan is pretty much going as smoothly as could be expected, long past the point of no return. At the very least, this exchange affords us a chance to see the real cosmetic damage CSM suffered, as between cigarette puffs he unclasps his Vanilla Sky mask to reveal a pulpy, caved-in Skeletor face. It’s pretty cool.
With Mulder riding shotgun, Miller, his health also rapidly declining, races back toward DC. They’re planning to meet up with Scully, now in possession of an antidote to the Spartan Virus, which she’s stowed in the aforementioned IV bags. Everything comes to a head as Scully, upon reaching Miller and Mulder on a highway bridge, realizes that Mulder’s “sickness” is too far progressed for one measly IV bag—no, he’ll need stem cells, and the only person who has the right stem cells with alien DNA, passed on to him by his mother, is William, Mulder and Scully’s son. Just as Scully realizes the incomprehensible task before them, a triangular spaceship appears, beaming the same blue light on Scully that made Sveta explode in “My Struggle”—alluding too, I think, to the climactic dam scene in Season 5 finale, “The Red and the Black.” Regardless, the episode and the season both end there. Fade to credits. Oh, Glen Morgan was an executive producer here? That’s nice.
It hasn’t yet been announced if The X-Files will return, but no one should hold any doubt for a new batch of adventures. The tenth season seems to have been an unqualified success, and to end the series on such a tease of an unresolved cliffhanger would be to basically spit into the faces of fans who accepted the unsatisfying way the show supposedly ended more than a decade ago. At least, if a new season brings at least one more episode as contentedly rewarding as “Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” then it’d be worth it.
Whereas “My Struggle” demonstrated that Carter and Co. understood the cloying lengths to which they stretched the original seasons—that they were aware of how they took two characters’ different versions of faith and emptied it of all emotional weight, leaning hard, instead, into a conspiracy plot which grew more and more unnecessarily unmanageable—“My Struggle II” just feels like more of the same. It’s a late-series mythology episode that disappears into itself, just plain forgetting that it wasn’t the serializing which drew people to the show in the first place, but the rich characters, clever writing and visceral plumbing of our deepest fears.
And perhaps it’s that last point “My Struggle” most fumbles. Despite some confident setpieces on Carter’s part, be it the brimstone reds of the Cigarette Smoking Man’s lair or the soothing cool of Scully and Einstein’s more procedural-based hospital headquarters, the terror of global annihilation just simply does not exist in this episode—Carter implies chaos without helping us feel it. Tad O’Malley, the ersatz center of gravitas here, claims that this is it, this is how mankind goes out, not with a bang but with a “whimper.” If only that could describe the show in general, were a new season not so clearly telegraphed. That whimper would be the sound the audience makes after getting hit over the head repeatedly by Chris Carter’s heavy-handed melodrama and turgid exposition. That whimper would be the only reasonable reaction to realizing that what began as a refreshing reboot ended as yet another disappointing sequel. That whimper would be our collective desire to believe, piffing away like a harmless fart.
Dom Sinacola is Assistant Movies Editor at Paste and a Portland-based writer. He’s been to at least one X-Files convention, no more than five. You can follow him on Twitter.