After 14 years off air, The X-Files has returned to television with a 6-episode glimpse at where Mulder and Scully are. And don’t worry – the Truth is still out there. The new season (can we call it a season?) features two mythology episodes as bookends – last night’s “My Struggle” and episode 6, “My Struggle II” – both written by showrunner Chris Carter. The four in between are standalone episodes and, according to critics who have previewed the second and third episodes, are among the best in X-Files history.
Reactions to “My Struggle” have been mixed, but rest assured if you’re an X-Phile (yes, we have a name!), you loved the return. The new episode had everything we’ve been missing – Mulder the true believer, Scully the skeptic, Skinner talking tough, the improbable and grotesque return of the Cigarette Smoking Man, aliens, abductions and of course heaps of government conspiracy.
Though resetting all the pieces was a bit rough, “My Struggle” exceled at reinventing the classic X-Files formula for a new generation.
When we left 14 years ago, Mulder and Scully were together, having given their baby, William, up for adoption to protect him from the Conspiracy. We learn that the alien invasion is scheduled for December 2012, and Mulder feels powerless to stop it.
Last night, we learned that apparently no invasion happened. What’s more, Mulder is now convinced that there is no alien threat to the planet. He learns from a doctor who claims to have been at Roswell that the government murdered the Roswell alien and has been working since then to reverse engineer alien technology. His newest working theory is that the threat of alien invasion is a hoax, that a secret international cabal has been using alien technology to create a culture of fear and take over the world. (Think Ozymandias’ plan in The Watchmen).
To be clear: Mulder isn’t saying there are no aliens, only that the current conspiracy (that has been active since the end of World War II) doesn’t actually involve aliens. Rather, certain powerful groups are using the very real existence of aliens (and their presence on Earth in the distant past – both facts established by The X-Files) to take control of the Earth by faking an alien invasion.
Of course, the fact that Scully has alien DNA in her genes might throw a wrench into that. Only time will tell.
The real strength of The X-Files is what they’ve done with the characters of Mulder and Scully.
Maybe it’s because I’m watching The X-Files as an adult, but I don’t remember the original show treating Mulder’s obsession with the Truth as an addiction. This new iteration does, and it’s powerful. More than ever before, Mulder comes across as mentally unwell, a man bearing the cost of his quest. He’s looking less than ever like Don Quixote and more like a man who’s a danger to himself and others.
Scully, meanwhile, is painfully co-dependent. She has left Mulder because she can’t bear to watch him crumble under his addiction. And yet she finds herself dragged back into his impossible quest, at once unable to resist Mulder and unwilling to enable him to continue to pursue what is destroying him.
Scully is no longer the skeptic, but she also doesn’t think the Truth is attainable. Scully has found refuge in her faith – not in an escapist way, but as a doctor. When Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale) asks why she has dedicated herself to reconstructive surgery for kids, Scully remarks that she’s “doing God’s work. I give these kids what their biology forgot.” Scully finds God in the gap between the world she’s presented with and the world she wishes were real.
It is precisely this faith that keeps Scully bound to Mulder – she knows the man can be, and her faith in that man compels her to return again and again to the man he is.
It remains to be seen how this relationship will play out because make no mistake, it’s abusive. Mulder’s antics are creepy, stalkerish and abusive. The line between a faith that compels us to love dangerously and a faith that justifies abuse is fine, and Scully is walking it.
As the Cigarette Smoking Man observes at the end of “My Struggle”, “We have a problem: the X-Files are reopened.” Here’s hoping it’s a problem for the secret cabal we know is out there, and not for those of us who have loved Mulder and Scully for more than 2 decades now. The Truth is out there, and we’ll know more in the next month. I want to believe we’re all going to be just fine. After all, Skinner is back!