10.6: My Struggle II
So Chris Carter bookends what he began, and in so doing entirely ignores the prevalent trend of interconnected episodic TV during the intervening years. My Struggle II is pretty much an of-a-piece sequel to My Struggle, which is to say it’s a muddled mess of rewritten series mythology, exposition and would-be topicality (both in terms of mainstream media and the conspirasphere).
The series’ mythology episodes tended to pull the stops out in terms of action and spectacle, by virtue of their being openers, finales, or “sweeps”, so I can only assume Fox gave Carter & Co peanuts to play with for this speciality run. Throughout, I was continually struck by how cheap the production was, not just in terms of visuals (one bridge scene at the end does not a high budget make) but as a piece of writing. That might not be unusual for Carter, who’s a natural at B, or C, -movie dialogue, but My Struggle II could barely even muster Doctor Who’s approach to mass-panic (generally a mock-BBC news broadcast); instead we’re told early on that “There’s talk on the Internet” and from thence Carter obligingly cuts to Joel McHale’s shoestring online show (“It’s gone from bad to worse out there”; it’s so bad, even his Internet connection is breaking up!)
It might have worked better if there’d been a line about how the MSM simply wasn’t reporting these terrible events, but, as it is, insult is added to the injury of a broken-backed narrative whereby Scully attempts to mass-produce a vaccine, which involves her going out onto the street and yelling at people that help is on the way (that’s really sensible, encouraging a deluge of demanding citizens to occupy the hospital) before getting her priorities mixed up and charging off to save Mulder. The scale is all skewed, and one needs to look to an apocalypse Carter had nothing to do with, and reneged on, to see how this thing sort of thing should be done (the Millennium Season Two finale).
Talking of skewed, this is most definitely a Scully-centric instalment, with Mulder spending most of his time lying on a couch looking peaky while Cigarette Smoking Man (William B Davis, reliable as ever, but Carter completely fails to justify his resurrection) mocks his scruples. There’s a flashback fight scene, but that’s more distracting than engaging, thanks to Carter showing he has no idea how to make dropped frames and slow motion cohere effectively.
CSM is the author of all Mulder’s pain, just like Christoph Waltz (“I’ve controlled you since before you knew I existed”), but, as an embodiment of the elite/cabal, “the most powerful man in the world”, he’s rather a disappointment; you have to go back to John Neville for the show exuding the sense of a substantial, co-ordinated operation. CSM appears disconnected from any kind of coherent power structure. This protracted scene has little bite, because there’s nothing visceral about them meeting for the umpteenth time. Added to which, the Luke-Vader “Join me” business inevitably musters not so much as a glimmer of interest on Fox’s part. Lines don’t so much trip as cascade off CSM’s tongue (which we don’t see, but we do clock his hollowed-out visage, a combination of Tiger comic’s Death Wish and Red Skull) some of them holding a vaguely meta-irony (“You think you’ll get far? You’ve no idea how well we’ve planned”; have you, Chris? Have you really?)
Predictably, removed from last week’s quirk-fest, agents Einstein and Miller are altogether less welcome presences. Miller’s pretty much irrelevant, aside from offering Mulder a helping arm, while Einstein, at loggerheads with a scientist who wants to believe, is, because Carter doesn’t have any other character cards up his sleeve, effectively doing a Doggett-with-a-degree-in-medicine to Scully’s Mulder (“My prejudices are only against pseudo-science”). I get that there needs to be explanation of the “science” (and this one gives story credit to a couple of actual doctors, Anne Simon and Margaret Fenton, the former having been an advisor on the original series), but Carter’s entirely unable, or can’t be arsed, to offer any variety in how it’s done.
Except maybe in his out-of-the-blue turning of the returning Reyes (Annabeth Gish) into a turncoat. I’m reluctant to take this at face value, unless Carter simply thought no one would care about the character (I understand she was unpopular, but I always found Gish a decent addition to the cast; by that point it felt like Scully was more of the square peg), and Scully does tell Einstein that “a friend” gave her this vital information to locate a cure, so perhaps Reyes was biding her time, waiting for the right moment to save everyone. Regardless, her behaviour just doesn’t fit with the empathic, intuitive character of the last couple of seasons of the show, and one ends up pondering Scully’s “Why did you call me, Monica? To tell me what a coward you are?” perhaps more than was intended. By implication, Reyes is weak and manipulative, in contrast to Mulder, who is strong and stalwart, whether or not she turns out to have been on the side of the angels. As such, it’s an uncomfortable betrayal of her character.
Where the episode possibly gains some currency is the notional purpose of the returned show as a vehicle for partial disclosure (as I mentioned when discussing Home Again); those of such a view will no doubt be heartened by the UFOs/ARVs on display to the mass public (a first for the series, I think), who doubtless all have working camera phones. Carter doesn’t just continue ticking off conspiratorial subject matter he began listing in My Struggle, mostly via McHale’s Tad O’Malley, he douses us with it. The remainder of this mini-season has had little apparent interest in such areas (unless Darin Morgan’s lizard from the dawn of time was intended as a nod to David Icke’s reptilians; it might just have been a reference to Doctor Who and The Silurians).
This time Gillian Anderson is subjected to the X-lore recap, complete with “Weren’t they all young and chubby-cheeked back then?” archive footage, that restates the idea of covert, advance tech (“a conspiracy of men, hiding science for almost sixty years, secrets kept from the American people by a self-interested cabal intent on the consolidation of power both at home and on a predominately global scale”). Carter’s patchwork retconning of the show posits that Season 10’s developments are a directly-intended result of science acquired in the ’50s, given to men by an alien race, who didn’t want to invade in 2012 at all, they just wanted to set in motion the end game. Which is?
One of the most popular and monumental mischiefs levelled at the Illuminati, that of culling the population to a more modest level. It seems CSM was responsible for the Georgia Guidestones, or paid the man who was, and in his attempts to convey this Carter is reluctant to throw anything back from his prize catch of conspiracy topics.
Cigarette Smoking Man: I didn’t set out to destroy the world, Mulder. People did.
As such, suspect vaccines are a key tool (not just a cause of autism, or even Gulf War Syndrome, but a full-blown ticking time bomb of auto-immune failure, so embracing the conspiracy theory that AIDS is a man-made virus, intentionally unleashed). Beyond engineered diseases, McHale brings up chem trails, which “trigger a genetic response”, and indicates microwave radiation is also used. Carter gives the cabal’s motivation as saving the planet, rather than simply controlling it (CSM cites the hottest year on record, 40% less bird life, the decimation of mega-fauna, and comments that “Aliens predicted all of this. They saw it happening to themselves”). Einstein’s observation that “If this works, I’ll have alien DNA” might even be seen as a nod to the idea of man’s essential engineering via the combined DNA of 22 alien races.
So My Struggle II is pretty much a grab bag for any conspiracy theory going. Its undiscerning nature means it nestles comfortably near the bottom Carter’s roster of arc plots. While I didn’t actively dislike the episode, like a good half of this season, I was simply underwhelmed by it. At his best, Carter could deliver a kind of demented faux-poetry in his episodes, but this one’s most memorable line is the risible “You speak to me of hell, when you look to be the one who’s hellbound”. As for the cliffhanger, Mulder on death’s door and Scully announcing the desperate need to locate William for some stem cells (that’s right, go find him when you finally want something from him!), it’s further illustration of what an inward facing show this resumption has been. Unless wee William is piloting that ARV, Flight of the Navigator style. That, at least, would be unexpected.
Addendum 12/07/22: I posted the following in at Stolen History.net. My Struggle II may be bad, but it’s consummate predictive programming. Maybe Ben Fulford was right about The X-Files being ordered back on the air, but not for the reasons he suggested.
The series’ return in 2016 was something of an instant lame duck straight out of the gate, aside from the masterstroke of including Darin Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’ Morgan on the writers’ roster (even if his Mandela Effect episode musing seemed just a couple of years too late). Ratings quickly went through the floor (Season 10 opener My Struggle garnered 16m viewers, Season 11 closer My Struggle IV 3.4m), evidence enough that Carter ought to have been put out to pasture about midway through the initial run, let alone trusted with bringing the show back in a manner that might attract a new generation, or at very least maintain the interest of the old one.
In retrospect, I’m almost inclined to persuade myself that Carter presented the main arc in an intentionally lousy, banal fashion – to the extent of wheeling on William B Davis’ Cigarette Smoking Man again – on the basis of the occult idea that the predictive programming simply needs to be put out there, and not necessarily be popular and/or artistically competent with it. I could even – and again, I’m not really convinced of this, but then again, what else has Carter done besides those shows? – buy into the idea that the incredibly lazy and tone-deaf reprise of the Season 10 cliffhanger, in which it is revealed that the events of the previous episode were all a dream, Bobby Ewing style, was actually a meaningful choice.
In My Struggle II, a virus, the Spartan Virus, explodes into a global pandemic, shutting down its victims’ immune systems (so, feasibly, any condition may constitute a symptom…) and culminating in an alien ship arriving above a Washington bridge. This, we learn, in a very lazy retcon, did not happen. Nor did the major portion of the episode. One might reasonably conclude Carter just threw it in that ending on the basis that this was a one-off limited series, and he wouldn’t need to work out how to resolve it. Or, one might read that narrative, in which an announced pandemic turns out not to be a pandemic at all (yet), as predictive of global events four years later.
The problem I come back to, though, is that however one reads the content of these episodes, the presentation is woeful. You’re left fishing for the occasional pearl in the swine feed. Nevertheless, if you treat the alien element of The X-Files less as a conspiracy to be revealed than a McGuffin to be run with, and you wade through what is, even by later X-Files arc episodes standards some atrocious writing, you turn up some interesting material. In the Season 10 opener, significant time is devoted to Joel McHale’s right-wing conspiracy theorist webcaster Tad O’Malley (I’ve omitted the “alien DNA used in vaccines” references where possible, but you can find the whole transcript here):
O’Malley: But it’s not hard to imagine… a government hiding, hoarding… alien technology for seventy years, at the expense of human life and the future of the planet, now stands, ready to continue. Driven not only by corporate greed, but… a darker objective.
Mulder: The takeover of America.
O’Malley: And then the world itself – by any means necessary, however violent… or cruel… or efficient. By severe drought brought on by weather wars conducted secretly using aerial contaminants and high-altitude electromagnetic waves. In a state of perpetual war to create problem-reaction-solution scenarios to distract, enrage and enslave American citizens at home with tools like the Patriot Act and the National Defence Authorization Act, which abridged the Constitution in the name of national security. The militarization of police forces in cities across the U.S. The building of prison camps by the Federal Emergency Management Agency with no stated purpose. The corporate takeover of food and agriculture, pharmaceuticals and health care, even the military, in clandestine agendas, to fatten, dull, sicken and control a populace already consumed by consumerism. A government that taps your phone, collects your data and monitors your whereabouts – with impunity. A government preparing to use that data against you when it strikes, and the final takeover begins.
Scully: The takeover of America?
O’Malley: By a well-oiled and well-armed multinational group of elites that will cull, kill and subjugate.
What’s interesting here is that Mulder is nodding along to the “crazy” right-winger’s theories (to be fair, though, McHale is no apoplectic Alex Jones when it comes to ranting). The Season 10 closer, My Struggle II, then reveals that the Spartan virus has been injected into the population via small pox vaccines, which in turn requires Scully to develop a vaccine to combat it (yeah, I know). There’s a whole ream of standard allopathic medicinal lore rolled in here, as you’d expect, and many of the lines of plotting don’t offer a neat substitute and switch for current events, but still (Curiously, or suspiciously, I couldn’t find this transcript up at The X-Files wiki…):
Scully: And while we share a faith in science, I have come to the understanding that the science that we were taught takes us but a distance towards the truth.
Agent Einstein: Yeah, but… tampering with our DNA?
Scully: I was given a smallpox vaccine as a child, as I’m sure you were as well. It was standard practice in America at the time.
Agent Einstein: If you are suggesting that there is more in that shot than-than a vaccine…
Scully: It’s actually not that far-fetched and within the realm of accepted science.
So you have a narrative where the real nasty is contained in the vaccine, rather than a free-ranging, ever mutating germ.
O’Malley: Now, I know this is hard for people at home to comprehend. So what are we looking at, Doctor Rubell – the scale and scope?
Rubell: A scale we’ve never dreamed. A scope that quickly becomes global.
O’Malley: A massive contagion, then?
Rubell: Not one contagion, but a variety of contagions. If the flu doesn’t kill you, then something else will.
O’Malley: You’re describing it as a fast-moving AIDS without the HIV.
Rubell: Our immune systems decimated by the same tampering to all our genomes.
Plus, it doesn’t necessarily need even to be delivered via a vaccine (at least, the exposition here is a little garbled, but appears to be saying that it permanently alters DNA and can thus be hereditary):
Scully: I was wrong about what’s causing it. Dead wrong, in fact.
Agent Einstein: But it’s clearly a widespread failure of our immune systems.
Scully: Through gene tampering…
Agent Einstein: But why is everyone sick?
Scully: What they have, what you have, what I have to presume the entire population has is something entirely different. It’s in the germ line already. It’s in sperm, it’s in eggs. It’s a virus within a virus that was put there through the smallpox vaccine. It’s what these men are calling the Spartan Virus.
CRISPR even makes an appearance:
Agent Einstein: Okay. So how does it work? How does the virus remove the ADA gene?
Scully: A process called CRISPR-CAS…
Agent Einstein: CRISPR-CAS-9. RNA and a protein cutting genes at exact locations.
Scully: Exactly. But in this instance used as a weapon.
Carter also touches on the anthrax vaccine scandal (albeit without actually mentioning the scandal itself).
Scully: Soldiers deploying to Iraq are given anthrax vaccines to protect them in the event of biological warfare. But with compromised immune systems, it’s the vaccines that are attacking their systems.
Miller: Meaning we’re infecting them?
Scully: Thinking that we’re protecting them.
The gist then, is of vaccinating the population/altering their DNA with something that will intentionally cause them harm. But why?
Scully: How did he threaten you, Monica?
Reyes: With the ultimate weapon – the ability to depopulate the planet, to kill everyone but the chosen.
Scully: By tampering with their DNA?
As the virus spreads, we’re offered a piece of reportage from O’Malley that sounds like both corona hype and portents of whatever may be in the vax (although, there doesn’t seem to be a sterilising agent in the Spartan Virus) and how it may be weaponised.
O’Malley: We have breaking news of hospitals being overrun and temporary shelters filling up, but the reality is all too clear. It is a collapse. The mainstream media failing to cover the story, failing to see the writing on the wall, as anthrax outbreaks give way to an epidemic of flu and bacterial diseases. Now, if you see graffiti like this in your neighbourhood, you can suspect your DNA is being targeted by a release of aluminium into the atmosphere through chemtrails– a systematic spreading of a substance that triggers a genetic response. Cases in New York, California, across the country, while right here in Washington, immunity to common germs is breaking down and flooding our city hospitals.
There’s a grab-bag element to these episodes for sure (global warming also gets a look in), but it’s notable that it singles out the elderly, EMFs get some blame, and one should self-impose a lockdown.
O’Malley: We are getting our first reports of deaths. Soldiers from anthrax and the elderly, all succumbing to infections because of immune systems that have been depleted or disappeared. Launched by someone bent on a biological attack on America. New reports that microwave radiation is also being used as a trigger. And reports this may also be global in scope. Reports in from Europe. Our advice is to stay indoors.
In the end, Scully suggests “Using alien DNA to defeat the Spartan Virus by creating a vaccine against it” (although, that bit was a dream. I think. So it doesn’t count).
Much of The X-Files’ central arc operates through suspicious people telling other, decent people (usually Mulder) what to think, which makes it easy to flip its “truth” or come up with a new one periodically. Or forget about those conclusive alien spaceships in Antarctica. I’m not sure the earlier small pox vaccine/alien-human hybrids plot can be successfully tied in to this one, but I don’t doubt Carter would like to claim it could.
Notably, the Spartan virus is so called because it is unleashed from Spartanburg, South Carolina. It seems a “warning scenario” for a 2025 to 2028 pandemic involves the not dissimilar sounding SPARS (St Paul Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus – first identified in St Paul, Minnesota). So this X-Files may yet offer further traction to come. Which still doesn’t make it a good episode.
Season 10 Ranked:
In the cold light of revisiting them over the next couple of months, the lower half of the season will probably end up as no more than **1/2s. It’s been good to have the show back, but it’s abundantly clear its ever-ready producer needs to become an erstwhile one.
1 Mulder and Scully meet the Were-Monster
6 My Struggle II