Spoiler Warning: If you haven’t seen the premiere episode of The X-Files revival, we highly recommend you watch it, before reading this review, here: The X-Files: My Struggle
The first episode of The X-Files revival premiered here in the U.S last night (January 24th) on Fox, and the reviews are beginning to trickle in. Several advanced screenings also took place months prior when many entertainment outlets were able to review the premiere. I was one of the fortunate ones to have seen one of these screenings. Not by any special access (I wish!), but by sheer determination to relive this universe Chris Carter created all over again. In October of 2015, I watched the premiere episode, My Struggle, at the 2015 New York Comic Con. My personal Scully, Jane, and I waited in three lines for a total of eight hours, crammed in with X-Philes (Hardcore fans) of every shape, size, and smell. We witnessed history as the episode was excitedly introduced by stand-up comedian, actor, and obsessive fan, Kumail Nanjiani. A special panel discussion took place afterwards, hosted by Nanjiani, featuring Chris Carter, Mitch Pileggi, and David Duchovny.
The lights went down and the projector screens began to role. The excitement in the room was palpable. Mark Snow’s chilling opening theme song set in, and the entire conference hall erupted into hoots and hollers. And then the episode began. And ended. And the excitement, though audible, had most definitely dissipated as we left the room. (More on that in the coming paragraphs.) I kept quiet about any plot points or spoilers in the past few months. But one thing I tried to assure people of who’d asked, this wasn’t the X-Files of the late 90’s, early 2000’s. Let’s just say this new era of the X-Files was a crash-course in what time can do to the elements we once loved about this clearly beloved show.
The episode has a cold opening that catches us up with what happened in the first nine seasons of the show and then we are thrust into a UFO crash back in 1947 that looks quite familiar to those who know even a shred about UFO lore. A brilliant flying saucer imbeds itself into the hard desert grounds in New Mexico. A young doctor is brought in to assist in the retrieval of an alien entity struggling to stay alive. Soon, it is shot dead by military personnel. The doctor is then ordered to conduct an autopsy on the entity, for purposes that I’m sure will play out as the mythology continues in a later episode.
We are then re-introduced to Scully (Gillian Anderson), who now works as a doctor at a highly regarded research facility. She receives a call (on her smart phone, one of the biggest indicators that 13 years have passed since the original series) from Mulder (David Duchovny). It is quite clear the two haven’t spoken in a while, indicating that their relationship clearly went south in the interim. Mulder coaxes Scully to meet he and a television host/conspiracy theorist, Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale) , to discuss an extremely complex conspiracy which he believes he’s uncovered, only to try to enlist these former FBI agents to help uncover the details before he leaks it to the world.
This leads Mulder and Scully to the home of Sveta (Annett Mahendru) , a woman who has been speaking to O’Malley about her repeated abduction experiences where she was impregnated and the fetus’ subsequently taken from her. Sveta and McHale believe her abductions weren’t done by aliens, but by a group of men whose motives are still unclear. They also believe these abductions are masked as alien abductions, letting this elite group carry out their plans while people claim they’ve been taken by little green men. We learn that Mulder has a past with Sveta, having interviewed her and her parents when she was a child. Mulder is skeptical, but O’Malley then leads him to a secret facility where he shows him a craft that a black budget research organization have been working on that runs solely on free energy. It also has cloaking abilities, all due to Element 115, (Bob Lazar reference!) O’Malley believes the technology was reverse engineered from possible alien technology from the Roswell crash, and will soon be used for military and monitoring purposes.
Slowly, the conspiracy starts to unravel, Mulder (for some inexplicable reason) believing it at every turn. This isn’t a conspiracy of aliens and the syndicate (shadowy government from the original series), but merely a conspiracy of men hoping to take over the country, masquerading as an alien invasion.
Mulder and Scully find themselves struggling with their past, their present, and the possible future. This is where everyone’s favorite badass, Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), comes in. Skinner, aware that Mulder and Scully are on the radar again, begs them to come back to the FBI (in his badass way, even if there’s no explanation as to why). As Mulder chases down a lead from his new informant (Rance Howard), who we learn is the young medical doctor tasked with the autopsy of the dead alien from the crash, Mulder finds himself getting closer to some answers. He believes Sveta to be the key to unlocking the mystery behind this sinister plot to take over the country in New World Order fashion; insidious and deceptive. But before Mulder can get to her, she is murdered by a UFO. Yes. She is literally blown up by a UFO. The experimental craft Mulder saw earlier in the episode is blown up as well, leaving no trace of the project. Basically, everything in this episode goes boom. It seems that someone has tipped off this new elite group that Mulder is now aware of. Tad O’Malley’s show is immediately shut down, and he is nowhere to be found. The lid is being twisted back on to the conspiracy as Scully finally agrees, though hesitant, to pursue this “case” with Mulder.
The last images we see of the episode are of everyone’s favorite asshole, The Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis), who is somehow still alive after being disintegrated by a missile in the season 9 finale. (Hopefully we’ll get some answers on that one) He speaks to an unknown person on the phone, stating that once again, the X-Files have been re-opened.
Let’s start blunt and with brutal honesty. This is NOT X-Files at its best. And with good reason. Chris Carter, the show’s creator, wrote this episode. And tracing back to the beginnings of this ground-breaking show, Carter has never been the best writer on his creation. He can wax philosophical monologues like it’s his job (because it basically is), but his normal dialogue, and structure of the mythology episodes (anything dealing with the over-arching alien conspiracies) are extremely convoluted, messy, and downright ridiculous at times. But we’ve grown to forgive these mis-steps because of the damn-near-perfect performances by our leads, Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, and their evolution as character throughout the series. But sometimes, even these skilled actors can’t mask the faults of a mediocre writer.
The reviews of this episode have been very mixed. And I would have to agree with many points brought up. The episode involves way too much, panders to its original fanbase, but also dumbs things down in the form of ambiguous exposition. So we are left with an episode of a show that’s been off the air for thirteen years, and is trying desperately (and not so much in a bad way) to do all it can in the six episodes it is producing. This is a hindrance, indeed, on the character development, and spacing out a plot that deserves an entire 13 episode arc (or feature film). That being said, the episode touches on many issues we face today in a post 9/11 world where our privacy continues to be breached with every passing click, download, text, and phone call. These issues, although lumped together in highly irrational ways, are handled modestly by Carter’s script, implementing them through the character of Tad O’Malley, and eventually, through Mulder and his informant. Carter does a great job of weaving these modern-day issues into a whole new conspiracy, while also keeping a possible alien intervention as a possibility in some way, shape, or form.
The main struggle that I personally feel viewers have with this premiere (as did I) is that it treads on every plot point we’ve already encountered throughout the series. They’re merely masked in a new decade of technology, melding with sharper images and gritty nostalgia. (ala Force Awakens and A New Hope) The literal X-Files project has been closed and re-opened countless times. Mulder has flipped sides as a believer and non-believer several times as well. And there is always a sinister group in the background who seem to be pulling the strings. But while this may be a struggle to swallow in the first episode, it is also something I always loved about the show. We accept everything that happens on blind faith that we ourselves will come one step closer to finding answers to Mulder’s quest(ions). As he mentions in this episode, “This is my life’s work.” We care so much for this deeply flawed, yet resilient individual who strives for truth, no matter what that truth may or may not be. And whether romantically involved or not, a partner in Scully whose faith, which was shaken many times throughout the series, continues to drive her into a relationship with this man that surpasses definition. A connection beyond words, and perhaps even beyond the X-Files.
We have five more episodes to go. And with each one being written by some of the best original writers, I have no doubt that these “case of the week” or “monster of the week” episodes will bring us back to what we loved most about this series. Scary monsters. Supernatural and paranormal activity. And some downright scary shit. We will see the return of some of the most iconic characters (Lone Gunmen) and some of the “villains” (deformed inbred family) we grew to love and hate. The series will be bookended by a return to the mythology, giving us a better glimpse into this new conspiracy Carter has dreamt up. The scary thing, however, is that the conspiracy may not be too far off from a reality many of us refuse to accept or even acknowledge.
I for one found issues with this episode, as I’m sure everyone did. But as I watched from my seat at Videology Bar and Cinema in Brooklyn, NY, I saw the faces of about fifty die-hard fans, their mouths open wide and their ears perked, hanging on every word. Almost two decades ago, we all found a community in viewers of this show. And we were given that chance again to return home. We are grateful that although limited, we have more cases to investigate with Mulder and Scully in the coming month. Only time will tell where it will all go from here. Carter has in fact written a third screenplay, and says that he’d love to continue exploring the television series plot. Whether it be on the big or small screen, and obviously whether the schedules of Duchovny and Anderson will permit, I WANT TO BELIEVE again that these characters will continue to search for the truth, no matter where it takes them, and that The X-Files will once again usher in a whole new generation to follow, flashlights in hand, to peer into the darkness of the unknown.
* View the premiere episode by CLICKING HERE.