In an era of de facto reboots, the best of the lot are those which take to task one’s love for the original property. They ask: Why not leave well enough alone? “Reboot,” after all, can be a loosely translated term. With similar intents, it represents both this century’s Battlestar Galactica and next month’s Fuller House: Mine what was so endearing about the original installment, and attempt to carry that spirit forth in perpetuity, no matter what kind of all new cultural context it has to navigate. If Fuller House is anything like Girl Meets World, it’ll struggle to prove its pure-cheese core was so much more than a gold standard of early-’90s sitcom traditionalism—but the “reboot” of The X-Files has a clear benefit: Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) have never been far from our minds.
From the show’s end in 2000, through a second film and the rise of stream-binging TV, to today’s six-episode miniseries, fans have been able to follow a slick trail of black ooze through nearly two decades of prestige TV. While ratings were never deplorable in the end, and while the second film gave ’shippers the fan service they demanded—at least to the extent that I Want to Believe was able to net more box office receipts than its substantial budget, thereby justifying its existence—rarely are Seasons 8 and 9 of The X-Files ever celebrated. Mostly, they’re tolerated. So in the shadow of one flimsy goodbye after another, the premiere episode of this functionally tenth season must prove it’s more than yet another attempt to make up for past crimes. This it does, and then some, both literally rebooting the mythology of The X-Files while convincing us that there are still so many stories to tell for our beloved agents. It really is something special to behold on network TV.
“My Struggle” begins, like so many episodes past, in voiceover. And, like in so many episodes past, that voiceover is a stilted, dreamy fustian of a line-read, as if the character is speaking post-hypnotic suggestion, or reciting passages from the Bible. Enter the deadpan sound of former Agent Mulder, his ties to the FBI very loosely defined, who offers a cursory explanation of the United States’ history concerning extraterrestrial contact, beginning ostensibly with Roswell but ballooning his purview into even the ancient world, where Lovecraft-ian evidence suggests aliens were here long before us, and probably even had something to do with our evolution. Mulder’s explanation serves as prelude to a flashback in which a baby-faced doctor (Giacomo Baessoto) is bussed, blindfolded, to the site of the Roswell crash in 1947, just in time to witness American soldiers unload their guns into a little green(-ish) man attempting to crawl away from the crash. Already, this feels like The X-Files.
This act of violence on our military’s part is far from surprising—look only to prominent Republican candidates to understand how United States history is clearly limned in the blood of Others—but for X-Files mythology, it’s a total coup. The waning seasons of the previous X-Files run, especially after Duchovny had taken a hiatus from the show and Anderson was playing more of an outside consultant than a devotee of the Files themselves, lost all sight of its initial conceit. If the show was initially spurred forward by Mulder’s drive to figure out what happened to his sister Samantha—who disappeared when they were little, hypnotherapy convincing Mulder that she was the victim of an alien abduction—once he actually did figure out what happened in Season 7, the vacuum left by such an emotional arc was filled with increasingly incoherent mythologizing and serialization. While the vast conspiracy is way too convoluted to relay here (involving alien colonization through alien-human hybrids forged from a tenuous treaty between the shadowy Syndicate, who secretly, simultaneously were attempting to discover their own cure for the “black oil” which the aliens would use for their invasion, which would happen in 2012…or something) rest assured that you aren’t alone in your confusion even if you did watch the series and still had no fucking idea what was going on. My point is that in The X-Files of seasons 1-9, the aliens always had the upper hand, but here, upon potentially the first time our modernized race met theirs, human beings quickly and brutally took control. In this “reboot,” the power dynamic has shifted.
Since last we saw the for-once insanely happy couple in 2008’s film, Mulder has succumbed to his paranoid tendencies, driving Scully from his life and moving into a crazy-person’s unibomber-y cabin away from the hustle and bureaucratic bustle of Quantico. Scully, who regardless of whatever was happening in her life was always able to keep her shit together, bounced back from their break-up by throwing herself into her medical work. When we meet again in 2015, this work involves research and procedures into a rare genetic disorder which leaves children born without ears—ironically resembling, as one character points out, the archetypal aliens so often portrayed in science fiction. Though ’shippers may be heartbroken, it’s a brilliant move on creator (and writer and director) Chris Carter’s part to bring back his leads as leading separate lives. Mulder has always been a man defined by his demons, and Scully a woman defined by her science—two empirical character traits threatened by their content coupling. The best way to ensure that Season 10 endures with the tension and dynamic that first endeared audiences to the characters is to split them up and encourage them to find that spark once again.
The two reconnect when contacted by hunky “YouTube” (or the off-brand equivalent) conspiracy theorist Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale). O’Malley, part Bill O’Reilly and part Godspeed! You Black Emperor, brings Mulder and Scully to see Sveta (Annet Mahendru), an alleged multi-abductee with the scars—both physical and psychological—to prove it. That’s not all, because O’Malley knows Mulder’s met enough abductees to choke a horse—the mother of his child, after all, was one—but Sveta, he claims, is special: She’s got alien DNA in her, the only successful melding of the two races the world has witnessed thus far. Scully, being a doctor and therefore capable of pretty much any medical test Mulder needs, is tasked with determining if there is, in fact, alien DNA in Sveta—because SCIENCE!
While Scully commiserates with Sveta over their shared abduction PTSD, O’Malley brings a slavering Mulder to a secret facility in which rogue scientists, away from the watchful eyes of the government, have been experimenting with alien technology originally recovered from the Roswell crash. About as chockful of glee as Mulder can get—which basically amounts to a generous smirk and slightly wider eyes—he pretty much becomes best friends with O’Malley on the spot, even though it’s obvious that O’Malley is going to totally try to get into Scully’s pants, which O’Malley definitely tries to do later that night, visiting Scully at her kids-with-no-ears hospital to lay down some smarmy Internet conservative pundit game.
After witnessing a bunch of cool-ass alien stuff, Mulder visits with his latest Deep Throat (the aforementioned doctor from the Roswell site, played as an old man by Rance Howard) and eventually starts to piece together a serious kink in the conspiracy he’s been tracking for the past 20-something years: What if it was all a hoax?
The episode climaxes in a bravura reveal of sorts, wherein Mulder begs Scully to come out to his unibomber cabin (where he just so happens to be hiding Sveta, to Scully’s obvious chagrin—especially since Scully ditched on her date with O’Malley to meet up with Mulder) to explain to her what he knows to be true. Coincidentally, O’Malley also shows up, and together the new best buds explain just how wrong Mulder has been all these years. Turns out, they proclaim, all of this alien phenomena, all of these abductions and sightings and paranormal events, has been perpetrated by a sinister cabal of powerful leaders (like the aforementioned Syndicate, only even more shadowy) using alien technology to distract the planet from their ultimate goal, which is basically to rule the world. From 9/11 to the whole alien-human hybrid colonization thing—it was all a ruse, an elaborate sleight of hand, purposely complicated and knotted to lead folks like Mulder further and further from the truth: That mankind’s greatest enemies are here, right under our noses.
As a former X-Phile who became frankly bored by the ever-increasing impossibility of following the series’ mythological arc, I found “My Struggle”’s ballsy retconning to strike the perfect balance between introducing new fans to the show and issuing a quiet mea culpa for the opaque path the series wandered down in its twilight years. Instead of chastising fans for not paying close enough attention to the tortured flatulence of a writers’ room obviously unsure of where to take a great premise, instead of throwing shade at an audience for caring about the wrong things (cough—Damon Lindelof—cough), Carter reassesses what a “reboot” even means, wiping the slate clean without burning everything to the ground.
Of course, the episode ends with the reopening of the X-Files and AD Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) reinstating Mulder and Scully in their former roles, thereby setting up the rest of the tiny season. Plenty of questions remain, both because of where the series was left 15 years ago, and because of where this episode stalls, but: The opening credits, Mark Snow’s score, the overwrought monologues, the arch-serious mean-mugging, the absolutely lived-in nature of Anderson and Duchovny’s renewed time together—all of it feels right.
Though the real test of this new season’s mettle will be in its Monster of the Week episodes, for those of us who have spent a decade wanting to believe, “My Struggle” is the best evidence we’re going to get that such a desire, such an undying love, was never misplaced.
Dom Sinacola is Assistant Movies Editor at Paste and a Portland-based writer. He’s been to at least one X-Files convention. You can follow him on Twitter.