x-files revival review

“My Struggle”

Surely Chris Carter is aware that the name of the first episode of the new season translates to Mein Kampf. Is this his clever way of shooting down the lunatic right-wing conspiracy theorist who pulls Mulder back into the game? Or am I giving him too much credit?

In fact, let’s start with Tad O’Malley, that television personality whose theories about a government conspiracy to utilize alien technology to take over the nation and rule its people with an iron first drag Mulder out of complacency. He’s not a bad character by any means (he’s the exact kind of colorful nutjob who would have previously reared his head on this show), but he’s the one and only driving force in the first episode. He brings Mulder and Scully together, he cracks their previous work wide open, he uncovers secrets that our heroes spent a decade searching for… and he does it all offscreen. Most of “My Struggle” is this guy taking our heroes from place to place, showing them crazy things and showcasing how everything we thought we knew was wrong.

And oh boy, this is frustrating. The X-Files is no stranger to grand twists that turned the show’s mythology inside out, but those previous left turns seemed to arrive organically through the show’s machinations. Mulder and Scully dig too deep, discover too much, learn that what the previously knew was wrong, struggle with what they know and don’t know, and so on. This new episode, the first in over a decade, essentially opens with this schmuck reinventing the mythology of the entire series. He is a plot device, only here to replace the actual investigation and adventure that these two used to actually do on screen. With him here, most of “My Struggle” is Mulder and Scully standing around, waiting for blood tests to get finished and listening as other people fill them in on important information. Mythology complaints aside, this is a bad episode of television because our leads barely contribute the action. Even the final scene, when the X-Files are re-opened, doesn’t involve them at all. They simply answer a phone call.

Plus, the grand revelation of the episode, that there is no real alien invasion and that everything that has occurred has been the result of the government using alien tech recovered after the Roswell UFO crash to prepare for something sinister, isn’t anything new. Previous seasons have played with similar ideas, which makes Mulder’s shock and dismay over this revelation feel peculiar and unearned. He should have seen this coming. This is not fresh territory for TV’s greatest conspiracy theorist.

“Founder’s Mutation”

This is more like it. “Founder’s Mutation” isn’t a great episode of The X-Files, but it is a pretty good episode, which puts it head and shoulders above the premiere. In the show’s best seasons, this would feel like a stop-gap between better episodes, but it feels like an oasis after “My Struggle.”

This episode leaps right into action, which ends up being a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, it’s great to see Mulder and Scully back to wearing suits and waving badges and knocking on doors and directly investigating the supernatural. This is what the show needs to be – this worked before and it still works now. But it’s weird to see Mulder and Scully back in this familiar rhythm after the huge (albeit mishandled) revelations of the first episode. The shortened season means there’s no time for an episode where these two get back into the swing of things and recover from their lives being completely and totally upended. Still, this episode, a “monster of the week” with some connections to the main mythology, feels totally disconnected from what came before it.

But maybe that’s a good thing because what’s here is rock-solid (if unremarkable) genre television. Much of the credit probably needs to go to writer/director James Wong, a veteran of the series and and the man behind some of the best original episodes (“Squeeze,” “Home,” “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man” and so on). From its grisly cold open to its chilling finale, “Founder’s Mutation” is a nice mixture of what makes The X-Files so special: it’s a procedural where our heroes actually put their noses to the ground and do the hard work to solve a mystery, only the mystery just so happens to involve mutant children, murder, and psychic powers. Wong also provides superior direction, finding fresh and unique ways to shoot expository scenes and dredging up some genuine horror when necessary.

The X-Files was always at its best when it told one-off stories, when it just gave Mulder and Scully a case and let them try to solve it. “Founder’s Mutation” is unremarkable, but it’s entertaining. It’s good. It’s proof that this show can actually continue to function in 2016.

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