10.1: My Struggle
I must count as one of the few who actually liked 2008’s I Want to Believe. It wasn’t anything special, admittedly, but Chris Carter’s decision to base the plot around a paedophile priest, while drawing inspiration from Dirty Pretty Things and Body Parts, was almost perversely commendable as an act self-sabotaging any prospects the series might have of garnering a cinematic second wind. It was also a relief to have no connection at all to the over-arching alien conspiracy he’d progressively made such a hash of during his near decade steering the show. My Struggle, alas, finds Carter cobbling together more alien shenanigans, with little in the way of conviction. As such, it’s really the pleasure of seeing the old team back together that sees the first of this mini-event season through.
Carter’s pretty much the George Lucas of The X-Files universe, only without the billionaire part. If only he would divest himself of the show, it might have a chance to explore untold new climes (someone could base a whole new seven-season arc just on the provocative paradigms of Corey Goode, let alone the snowballing of conspiracy theories in almost any given aspect of the news and media since the series finished in 2002). Instead, we’re dragged back to familiar territory of humans with alien DNA, Carter’s peculiar reasoning being this might work as some kind of hook. Most bizarrely, he sees fit to revisit probably the weakest season of the show, the fifth (it’s either that or the seventh), in which Mulder becomes convinced the alien conspiracy is all a hoax and grows disillusioned, only to get his mojo back in time for Fight the Future.
Except that here Mulder admits to aliens; it’s only the abductions that are being undertaken by humans (not exactly a new idea, even within the show’s confines). The episode rather garbles Mulder’s argument, almost as if Carter is tired just dredging up the same-old, same-old (“What if there is no alien conspiracy?” asks Fox – what he means is one by them, as opposed to involving them) Where did the DNA come from? Roswell, of course. Presumably Carter returned to this warty old standby because he’s got one eye on luring potential new audiences with something broadly familiar. It’s rather feeble, though. As is the notion that the Cigarette Smoking Man somehow still carries some juice (he stopped being interesting as soon as Carter realised he was popular enough to furnish with devoted episodes). Too much of My Struggle is stuck in the ’90s, rather than embracing the chance its makers have to show they acutely understand that TV has moved on in the last decade or so.
What makes this particularly frustrating is that Carter’s clearly aware of this low-hanging fruitful material, even furnishing the episode with an Alex Jones-esque conservative conspiracy monger (Joel McHale’s Tad O’Malley), making an industry out of paranoia. And nodding to how mainstream all this is now (in the wake of influence of The X-Files itself); “My life’s become a punchline” observes Mulder, seeing Obama exchanging quips about UFOs on Jimmy Kimmel Live. But O’Malley is wheeled on as a rather unconvincing facilitator for reinstituting the X-Files and bringing Mulder and Scully back together (they’re estranged, which is something at least), only for him to shut everything down when his star witness turns on him. Who then gets blown up by a UFO?! As wrap-up devices go, it’s about as rushed and unconvincing as the series was at its worst.
More interesting is Mulder happening across an ARV (Alien Replica Vehicle), which for some reason O’Malley hasn’t gone straight on TV with, and Mulder imparting that free energy has been intentionally supressed while the oil companies make billions (very Tesla). Carter’s always been good at giving Mulder lists-come-monologues, and Duchovny seems right at home nursing that faintly bored, dry, deadpan drawl again.
In the opening Mulder cites various mass sightings, and the admissions of Ed Mitchell and Gerald Ford, then sadly admits “But now people only laugh, and only Roswell is remembered”. They’re mostly laughing because of Carter’s nonsensically labyrinthine plotting, though, and the line could be seen as a meta-commentary on the demise of the show itself. There’s a mention of 9/11 as a false flag (I doubt they’ll actually go there in an episode, whatever the future holds for the show), GM food, and “They police us, and spy on us, tell us that makes us safer? We’ve never been in more danger”; the most astute thing Carter does here (and there aren’t many, sadly) is to draw parallel lines between the more liberal, New-Agey thinking of Mulder and the arms-maketh-the-man rhetoric of the right wing shock jock; when distrust of the presiding establishment is so endemic, there’s bound to be common ground, such that it’s Scully, with her staple quizzical head back on (there’s no Doggett around to make her the de facto believer) accusing him of being stupid and borderline treasonous.
It’s an episode of soundbite lines, with a barely adequate supporting structure, all the better for Carter to set out his over-familiar stall. Mulder can ignore all the evidence of aliens he saw with his own eyes for the sake of “I only want to believe” (“Actual proof has been strangely hard to come by”; well, I guess the memory takes a knock after a decade and a half), and the 2012 invasion was now never going to come to pass (Carter couldn’t not mention it), retconned as the initiation of a countdown. We’re supposed to be satisfied with the new key mystery being the rather fragile question of what these abductions are for. All this time Chris, and that’s the best you could come up with?
This amid mentions of corporate greed and the takeover of America, weather control and a state of perpetual war to enslave the population, the Patriot Act, militarised police forces, prison camps, drones, mass monitoring, WikiLeaks and the ruse of false flag Russian or terrorist or alien invasion to initiate martial law. All named and potentially juicy narrative engines, but Carter bums us out with a tired one.
Duchovny is a little squinty and jowlier, slowly turning into Droopy as he ages, while Gillian looks ever more finely sculpted. Mitch Pileggi is only shinier of dome, otherwise exactly the same as he ever was. Despite the return to Vancouver, this lacks the portentous atmosphere its pregnant skies used to instil. The exploding psychic girl is used to impart Scully-Mulder backstory (“You were a couple before”) but fortunately little substance is given to a relationship stone that was best left unturned. The downside is, this also seems symptomatic of Carter’s abiding affection for the reset, rather than using this opportunity to fully invest his characters and make new hay with new stories.