It's that time again. With the premiere of The X-Files "My Struggle 3", we venture out to recap and review the newest installment of the mythology of the show.
Written and directed by Chris Carter, the episode picks up on advancing the events of last season's finale, but under a different light.
Whether you've watched the episode already, or this is your first time learning these facts, beware of extensive spoilers ahead. To read our thorough recap and review, click after the jump.
Last time we saw Mulder and Scully, things were headed to what looked like the end of the world as we knew it. Everyone, including Mulder, was possibly dying from the Spartan virus Cigarette Smoking Man claimed he had unleashed. Scully had managed to figure out a vaccine that would stop it, thanks to the tip that former Special Agent Monica Reyes had provided: a secret cure that depended on Alien DNA, mixed with Human DNA. “Science given to them by an Alien race” – Monica claimed in a conversation with Scully, the first they’d had since they’d last seen each other at the end of season 9.
In “My Struggle 2,” Monica seemed to have betrayed our favorite duo, in some way, and for a reason not quite explained. This offering—of a cure for a global contagion—was her way of making amends for the choices that she had been forced to make, like being by CSM’s side. Without the vaccine, the chosen ones would be the only ones saved, she claimed.
CSM revealed his plans to Mulder; he was sure that no one could save mankind from self-extermination. He’d only changed the time table of said annihilation, so that the world goes down in his image, and not that of any god’s. For CSM, everyone is a puppet.
When we land on “My Struggle 3”—with the previous two mythology installments of the revival focusing Mulder and Scully, respectively—it’s the turn for the Cigarette Smoking Man’s struggle.
The first revelation: his full name is Carl Gerhard Bush Spender. We’ve known him as many aliases, as he points out, and he’s been involved in key moments in history: from the moon landing to the cold war, lurking in the background of both Bush Sr. and Bush Jr.’s presidencies, and the inference that his influence spans even to present time, with the You-Know-Who administration.
With an illustrated and quite fatalistic monologue, we learn how he climbed up to headline this catastrophe, the way that he really believes he has manipulated history, to an extent that he holds the future of humanity in his hands. He speaks of loyalties—or lack of thereof—of the violent nature of American history, the sacrifices he’s made, the betrayal of values, of the misleading sense of freedom… it almost makes you understand his stance, and maybe even say: “hmm, yeah, maybe you’re right.”
You almost fall for it. Almost. Especially because he also stakes his claim on improving good men that have indeed changed our lives for the better. But then he reminds you what he’s done in the name of that ego of his. And well, then—then you remember why we hate this man.
From describing how he’s played with his sons’ lives—like puppets—to their painful sacrifices and losses because of the truths that he’s manipulated and hidden. He claims that humans aren’t capable of processing the presence of life outside of this planet and their influence in our own lives, and celebrates how big his mark in history will be once he’s gone. The only thing he wants is for those sons to see that he was right. That all of what he did… had to be done.
As the shot zooms out, we see that he was supposedly behind the staging of the moon landing. Did we need to give arguments to the Flat-Earthers? Definitely not. And seriously, wouldn’t the world be better without his meddling? Because, if you claim that you’ve been trying to save it, you’ve done a terrible job… but, I digress.
The tagline: I want to believe – I want to lie.**
So, let’s go back to where we left off before CSM waxing poetic.
The bright light at the bridge and everyone dying, the zoom into Scully’s eye-- we hear a crazy heartbeat and we are back at that moment in “My Struggle 2” where Scully gets a call from Tad O’Malley at the basement office. Cue rest of us screaming “ARE YOU KIDDING ME!?”
What we learn is Season 10’s finale was Scully’s hallucination as she suffered a seizure. Mulder found her lying on the floor and she’s been taken to the hospital. Skinner and he rush over there, with a Mulder that doesn’t want to hear from anyone but Scully.
Enter Dr. N. Joyet, the neurologist treating Scully. She only has a weird diagnosis to offer them: extremely abnormal brain activity. When she takes them to look at the images of Scully’s brain, she explains that her prefrontal cortex, “the part that makes us human,” exhibits a behavior she’s never seen. Skinner spots some flashing in the image in real time, coming from Scully’s hypothalamus, and he claims that the series of dots and dashes is Morse code that translates into “find him.” This… sounds familiar. Season 6 and 7 anyone? Is this something that the hypothalamus can do? “This is insanity,” Mulder says, and I’m totally with him on this.
Cut to Scully’s hospital room, and aside from some shots that the filmmaker in me wants to correct, I finally feel like I’m in The X-Files. I’ve seen these scenes before, I’ve loved these scenes before. Does it matter that it’s been done? Nope. Because it may look the same, and the situation may be similar to Mulder’s in “The Sixth Extinction,” but okay, now I just need to see where Chris Carter is going to take me with a version of this from Scully’s point of view.
Her brain is on fire, she needs the rest, and Mulder wants to stay by her side. I start to wonder: back then, when Mulder saw the future in the way that Scully has, would these futures intertwine in some way? Do their alterations make them visit other realities? Other planes? This is too lengthy to get into quantum physics.
Anyway, Skinner takes Mulder aside and tells him that they have to pay attention to what he thinks Scully is demanding, to “find him,” whomever “him” is; he thinks she’s referring to William. Why is she asking for him now? Mulder refuses to believe this is what she’s requesting because Scully might be dying and her brain is not quite right. Skinner calls him on it; even if she’s not, he’s believed far more implausible things in the past. Skinner cares about her too, so Mulder tasks him with looking for answers while he stays by her bedside. As any significant other would. Because I’m not allowed to say that they’re together, right? They’re just friends, platonic friends. Mulder and Scully are the most millennial couple I’ve known in my life. Someone pass the avocado toast.
Commence Mulder monologue. And boy, okay, fine I’m verklempt by Mulder fearing that “the person that (he cares for) the most in the world could be hurt by (him).” He blames himself for Scully’s current situation. And how can he make it stop?
The scene reminds me of the Cancer arc, and of “Deadalive” but with the roles reversed. Just then Scully starts coming to, with a splash of the last bits of her vision. She pleads with Mulder to go “find him” – to go find CSM. She’s seen the future and how it begins. The Spartan virus shuts down our immune system, and it starts a pandemic, but there’s a cure to the plague.
Mulder tries to calm her down, dismissing her rant at first, but she continues. In her visions, he’s dying and needs stem cells from William to be saved. She’s sure she can save him, but CSM is behind all of this. Mulder tells her that CSM is dead – See? Even Mulder believes in this logical thought. But she fights him; she’s seen him in Spartanburg, South Carolina, “from where he unleashes hell on Earth.” Mulder’s still doubting her and she counters that she’s not an irrational person. Mulder has to stop CSM, before CSM kills him. Still, Mulder wants to play the doctor card before going on a smokey-hunt.
Cut to the basement parking structure of “The 209.” Out of the elevator lobby comes none other than Jeffrey Spender, minding his own business and throwing away his recycling in the nearby dumpster. I set aside the dumpster fire joke when a car’s headlights come on, startling him. He starts running back to the building as the car speeds toward him, runs him over, and then crashes into the parked cars nearby. A mystery man climbs out of the wrecked car and sprints toward Spender who’s managed to get back into the elevator lobby. They struggle, but he manages to lock him out. The man wants to know where “the boy” is-- he only wants the boy. So, the plot thickens. Why would Spender know where William is?
We go back to the hospital, where Dr. Joyet isn’t judgmental of Scully’s visions but still doubts how real they are. She wonders whether the seizure caused the visions as Mulder suggests, or as she suggests, that the visions caused the seizure. She seems to be an open-minded kind of neurologist that thinks the visions have a source because she’s been exposed to government forces doing experimentations on some of her patients before.
Mulder seems to be more open to this scenario, and even when Scully denies that she’s part of any experiment, he reminds her that she could have been exposed during the events in her past. She’s fed up about this and wants to take on solving this herself but Mulder stops her and takes off. He’ll deal with it. Scully is… frustrated.
Mulder walks to his car (even though we think this was Agent Miller’s car from last season), and as he goes he sees that he has a missed call and a voice message from Spender. (Because Mulder would have his number saved in his contacts, right? Sure.) Scully is back and trying to rest in her hospital room when she’s attacked with more visions. But they’re different visions this time and not the ones she already saw. CSM says: “the boy is not to be found.” Monica is there… and then a teenage boy.
Mulder listens to the voicemail. Spender warns him that they’re after William, and we learn the call is being screened by none other than CSM.
“They will be coming for me,” Smokey says, lighting up his cigarette with a lighter held by Monica Reyes. He knows that Mulder will be coming for him, and if Mulder finds him, he’ll kill him.
Meanwhile, Mulder has left the hospital but he’s being followed by another mysterious man. CSM warns Monica that they’re not to be found.
We go back to Mulder pondering, as he realizes that he’s being followed, about the reasoning and the people behind Scully’s illness and the possibility that she’s a conduit to someone’s experiments. He still doesn’t believe it; CSM is dead, he can’t be unleashing a plague onto the world or threatening his life. And why would he be desperate to find William? Mulder, we’re totally there with you. But since he knows that he’s being followed, it makes him leery that there may be more to this.
Begin the car chase. And it’s a long car chase, quite a few of many minutes in the car in this episode. The sequence is broken by inserts of a conversation that CSM is having with Reyes: he knows that this will go down badly, and he has taken precautions to have alternatives should his plans go awry.
As Mulder tries to evade his follower through the streets, CSM tells Monica that Mulder can’t stop what’s already begun, no matter how determined he is. Mulder floors it, does some sneaky moves, and there’s many fancy car shots as he tries to escape the goon that ends up getting in an accident as Mulder gets away for now.
Back to Scully. She’s now revisiting her memories of giving birth to William; Monica Reyes helping her deliver in that abandoned town in Georgia, the hug at the end of “Existence,” Maggie holding the baby, Spender and then… the blurry teen, again.
That’s when Spender wakes her up, telling her that he took the risk to come to the hospital because he had to warn her that they’re looking for William. They wanted to know from him where he is. Scully… I don’t even know, is she surprised? Is she scared? Is she maybe thinking this is another mirage? She doesn’t quite react the way I would imagine when in front of the man that she has in front of her. And she tells him that she needs to know where William is… because she made him promise to protect him and to never tell her where he was. So, he needs to break that promise because Mulder’s life may depend on it.
I must admit, I had to pause this episode here so many times to try to reconcile with this. And then re-watch “William”, and a few times I went: “Oh, I see what they did there…”, to then just go “Nope, not logical, why would they even…? How can they…? Why would she…?” I gotta tell you, other than, “Okay, fine, let’s just keep watching and trust Chris Carter on this one,” I really ran out of fingers on my hands to list the reasons why this is just an insane choice now, and would have been back then. Maybe I just don’t trust Jeffrey Spender and his whole magical iron injection.
Regardless, he tells her that he only has a last name for the adoptive family, The Van de Kamps. She wants him to help her find William, but Jeffrey doesn’t want to risk breaking more promises. She’s resolute that his father will go after them. Spender fights her on this, his father is dead. I mean, by now everyone agrees that missile to the face is deadly, even the characters in this show, and still… here we are.
Anyway, Dr. Joyet comes into the room when she notices Scully’s agitation, and Spender rushes out. The fact that he was there was not questioned whatsoever. Scully gets off the bed, and argues with the medical staff; she’s resolute to leave and checks herself out.
Meanwhile, CSM claims that he’s concerned for Scully. If she were to feel that the boy is in danger, she’d stop at nothing, very much like Mulder would. Monica reminds him that he’s said that William is in danger, but apparently, he doesn’t understand who’s threatening him… aside the enemies that she reminds him that he has. Maybe they’re going after him now because they know William is his weakness. (Oh hey, there’s a Moby song to that name, and I’m totally avoiding the subject at hand, but we’ll get to this... in the meantime, grab some Pepto-Bismol)
CSM gets flustered; they couldn’t possibly know… but as she points out, suddenly everyone now knows everything of his plans. He claims his plans are airtight, and that even if they were to get out, they would be dismissed as “fake news.” (Takes a deep breath) The world we live in right now is setting us up for the one thing that we’re not prepared for, and will “wipe the slate clean.” I agree, but still, my stomach is not feeling well at the use of the term.
He goes on to pontificate about the poor state of public opinion these days, with people forgetting about science, and siding with scandals, “civilization is a joke, and his plan needed a punchline.”
Somewhere on a state road, Mulder has been driving all night, following the man that had initially been following him. Just like Scully had predicted, the driver led him to South Carolina. Fun fact, the Virginia plate number is JVR 1131.
Scully calls him. She’s fine, but tells him that Spender came to her and gave her the name to start tracking William. Mulder is aggravated that she’s not staying put. She gets worried when he admits that he’s in South Carolina following the goon, because this is how she saw it in her vision, the confrontation between him and the Smoking Man. This is why they need to find William. But Mulder is having none of it, and wants to call Skinner and for her to stay there. But she needs to find their son, and she needs him… and then of course, on cue, she gets another painful vision. Various voices, including Mulder’s that recognize that William is a very special child, and the threat is that “she’ll never see her son again.” And Scully collapses on the floor.
“You think Scully will forgive you?” Monica asks as we go back to CSM’s lair. “She’ll come to see the beauty of it,” CSM responds, and it just goes to show how little he knows about Scully’s wrath. “The beauty of a planet returned to its savaged state. Living as we were intended.” Sometimes I ponder what kind of reality CSM lives in and the size of his madness, and this is just a glimpse into it. He’s fine with committing mass murder, and is fine with owning up to the hate that will come with it.
Mulder continues following the man, wondering about the price that they’ll pay for Scully’s visions, for not turning back and helping her, for just acting based on her warnings. Acting on fear… that the man they’ve killed so many years ago would be alive. Now he would be drunk with power and it’s up to him to find out the truth.
Monica claims that the bond between Scully and William goes beyond CSM and science, but he claims she’s unaware of that. Unaware of what? Apparently, a secret that only Monica and him know. CSM fears for Scully and William, for the harm that his enemies may bring to them.
“I think you’re in love with her,” Monica says. And to be honest, I wonder if this was Chris Carter or Annabeth Gish’s ruminations. I would have blurted that out if I had been in that position. He worries about her; he always had Mulder to protect her, but now Mulder’s forcing his hand. He’d still feel bad for Mulder, he’s after all his son. But what if Scully finds William first? He’s resolute that Monica and he won’t let that happen.
Mulder arrives at a house nestled in the woods, that some may recognize as the house we see CSM and Mulder in in “My Struggle 2.” The man he’s been following parks up front and enters the compound as Mulder sneaks his way around to peek through the windows. He spots a cloud of cigarette smoke. Yes, we know what you’re thinking. He moves around the house, dodging getting spotted, and comes in – gun in hand – to the foyer of this lush mansion.
As he goes through the rooms – and we learn that apparently whoever lives there likes to give piano recitals – he lands at the entrance of a library where he finds a smoking man, just not our usual Smokey. We come to learn that his name is Mr. Y, and he has a slight resemblance to Steve Bannon. Also, there’s Erica Price (Barbara Hershey) and the man he’s been following joins them. Mulder is blazing his gun around, but apparently there wasn’t a need for it. All he had to do was knock.
Cut to Skinner coming into the basement office; he’s looking for Scully but she’s no longer there. He tries her cell and she’s left it behind. He takes off and into the FBI’s parking garage while Scully is out in the streets, visibly sick, walking to her parked car. In an intercut, we see her get in, while Skinner walks to his own sedan. Scully takes off. Skinner heads to start his car, but is stopped by someone pointing a gun to his head… that someone is Monica Reyes.
“What the hell is this, Monica?”
Yes, Skinner, same.
Scully drives, but she’s going through the motions, clearly not suitable to be driving. Monica gets startled by some car alarms and Skinner takes the gun away from her, just in time for CSM to join them in the car.
“Mind if I smoke?” he asks.
Scully gets into yet another episode, loses control of the car, and crashes into crossing traffic. Airbags deploy and car horns go off, and we go to commercials.
Scully gets taken out of the car and she’s pretty banged up. Meanwhile, Mulder is still pointing his gun at the trio in South Carolina. He’s looking for CSM and so are they. Apparently, this is his house, but he has left already. We know; he’s sitting with Skinner now. But this is it. Mr. Y claims that CSM was there not too long ago, smoking and drinking and being a great host. Mulder is having none of it. The man reveals they’re part of the syndicate, orchestrating the plans around an alien colonization, not conspirators but quite the opposite, he claims. They won’t really identify themselves, as they have many aliases. Mulder is on the verge, threatening to snap, but Mr. Y won’t fall for it. Price has had it and cuts to the chase: the man they’re looking for is bent on exterminating humanity.
Cut to CSM with Monica and Skinner. He wants to offer Skinner a deal that he rejects without even letting him elaborate, and Monica thinks this conversation is a waste of time. But CSM continues to appeal to Skinner’s will to live. As he describes how past threats to humanity have been conquered thanks to science, he thinks that this faith in technology has blindsided us enough to overlook that a simple pathogen would kill millions. Our immune systems would go first but the vial that he holds in his hand would be what finally kills us. Skinner can’t believe that Monica is a part of this and she silently dodges any confirmation. There’s a twitch on her face, just a slight one. I’m going to cling to that one micro-wink for as long as I can.
Back to Mr. Y and Price. They claim that the aliens aren’t coming as they aren’t interested in a planet with vanishing resources. What will happen is the release of a pathogen that would mean the end of history, that’s why they claim that Mulder has to kill CSM and the threat is that he would never see William again.
CSM offers Skinner immunity from the virus if he finds William for him. And Mr. Y continues this argument on his end telling Mulder that CSM needs William. Mulder is sure that CSM will never find him, but the man before him doesn’t question CSM’s determination. “What does he want with my son?” And that’s the question. As they put it, he’s a special child. They want to save humanity, just like Mulder does.
Then Price recounts the story from when the aliens first came: they were here to study us, and were prepared to work with us. CSM was the man to lead the push, but he became destructive, not listening to anyone but himself.
Meanwhile, CSM tells Skinner that he was protecting mankind as much as he could. Skinner sort of laughs at his delusions of grandeur, and CSM excuses his failure on that no one would listen to him. The aliens not only brought technology but also the seeds of our destruction. This is what the government wouldn’t grasp while they instead got into many other conflicts around the world with tyrants and guerrillas. While this was happening, CSM was busy in the Nevada desert, dissecting what this threat meant, playing with the knowledge that this unknown race would provide. He was planning ahead, with all his resources, for a day he knew would come. Skinner swallows hard, and so does Monica.
Mr. Y tells Mulder that he has no idea of the scope of CSM’s plot. Manipulation as he saw fit. To him, civilization is crumbling, with alliances betraying each other and everything just going to hades. Truth isn’t truth anymore; the only truth out there is to survive truth itself. He’s playing God. Only a select few will survive, including Scully and William, “but what about Agent Mulder?” Skinner asks.
“Kill him, before he kills us all.” Mr. Y states as we switch over to the gathering in South Carolina. He wouldn’t be expecting Mulder, because he’s his son. And we already know that this is a miscalculation at best. Mulder is having none of it and thinks that they’re only telling half the story. Sure enough, their solution to the problem at hand – the aliens that is – would be the colonization of space. And they’re closer than anyone thinks, with structures and habitats already built. Maybe SpaceX is behind this? I joke.
Mulder is not buying this secret space program. He thinks this is a power play, to manipulate him into killing CSM, so they can implement their own plan and annihilate humanity. Colonization of space seems like a more implausible reality but they wouldn’t be able to save humanity as a whole, only a few, and he’s spot on. Mr. Y offers Mulder a ticket to this ride, and one for William. What about Scully? Does she get a Willy Wonka ticket too? He doesn’t believe them and tells them that he knows a woman that can save them all. Okay. So now he believes Scully, I guess? Price is not pleased as he walks away.
CSM deems his conversation with Skinner over, but even when Monica leaves the car, Skinner holds him back; he’s not over with his own side of the conversation. Meanwhile, Mulder heads back to Washington, not having slept in how many hours now? He dials Skinner but he doesn’t pick up. “Why do you want the boy?” Skinner asks CSM. He claims he’s important to him. Skinner remarks that he’s asking him to betray people that he cares about. But he’s not thinking big enough: CSM is asking him to turn his back on the whole human race.
We go back to Scully. She’s back in the hospital; it turns out that Miller and Einstein were the ones to take her out of the wreckage. She had her hospital bracelet still on so, luckily, they tracked Dr. Joyet. She calls Mulder to let him know that Scully was in an accident, but that she’s now under her care.
As Miller and Einstein leave the hospital, we see a familiar figure cross them and walk the way toward Scully’s room. He’s the man that Mulder had been following earlier. He goes to her room; she’s asleep. He pulls the curtains closed and there’s a moment of preparation as he grabs onto a pillow and starts suffocating her. She comes to and starts fighting back, tipping off the bed and onto the floor. He’s strangling her, but she’s fighting back, even when no one is noticing that this is going down. Just then a hand grabs a scalpel conveniently placed on a nearby tray and slices the man’s throat, splattering Scully with blood. Mulder has arrived in the nick of time. Pun intended. It’s gorier than I was prepared for. He kneels to comfort her. There’s going to be GREAT fanvids and fanfics to this.
As the police arrive and they take the dead goon away, Mulder reflects about what’s happened while Dr. Joyet checks on Scully. What is the situation at hand? Has he uncovered a large piece of the truth to clarify what’s going on or has he made it more complicated? He ponders the significance of this threat looming over Scully and William.
Scully joins him, and it’s an intimate moment; they hold hands and its cute, even if the camera angle is slightly off for a Mulder POV, and maybe I would have preferred a two shot to catch their reactions to it, but you know… at this point this is nitpicking at the smaller problems.
He tells her that he knows the man that attacked her, and Scully clarifies that she doesn’t think that CSM sent him. Because he won’t harm her. He’s held her life in his hands and this threat is different. Mulder reveals to her that he now thinks her visions are the real deal. But she clarifies that her visions aren’t just “hers” but instead a guided communication from William for both of them.
Mulder is worried that the syndicate is looking for him and Scully senses that CSM can’t act without having control of their son. And William knows this as well. CSM won’t find him, but William will find his parents. So, what now? Just sit tight until William comes along? Scully claims that they just have to do their work as the truth still lies on the X-Files. There’s a slight sense of hope on Mulder’s face and the scene is definitely touching and filled with demure chemistry.
Then, in comes Skinner. Mulder has been trying to locate him. He was tasked with protecting Scully and he was nowhere to be found. Mulder challenges him and Skinner tells him to calm down. Mulder realizes that the older man smells like smoke as he pushes him violently, inviting a confrontation. Scully tries to interfere, but Skinner pushes back and the two men go at it, grabbing at each other’s necks.
“Who’s side are you on?” Mulder asks. “I said leave it alone, Mulder.” Skinner repeats, and he walks away. Mulder is sure he’s hiding something.
We flashback to the end of his conversation with CSM in the car. Why would Skinner take his deal? CSM claims he wouldn’t be betraying Scully, as she’s immune and she’d be with them when they survive this catastrophe. Skinner thinks he gets off on this power he has over humanity. CSM claims he has to kill Mulder because Mulder would kill him. Skinner doesn’t think that Scully would take CSM’s offer without guaranteeing Mulder’s safety. But CSM thinks he can present her with an impossible choice, Mulder over her only son, a choice that Skinner thinks is just vengeful. But it’s more than that, CSM claims, as he reveals that Scully and he have a history.
Everyone hold on to your stomachs and grab for the bucket.
We go back to the events of Season 7’s “En Ami,” where Scully goes on this sort of road trip with CSM with the intention of discovering what his intentions are. At some point during this episode, she passes out and finds herself changed into her pajamas, much to her enraged confusion. In the original episode, he claims that he put her to bed and changed her so that she could sleep since she was delirious. In this version, the scene has been rewritten to claim that there was a maid involved in such an operation. To allude that there were witnesses? To not make this such as sick of a scenario? But the thing is that he claims that he has impregnated her “with science. Alien science.” Skinner doesn’t want to leave room for assumptions: So, who is William’s father?
“I am. William is my son.” CSM responds. Smugly. Skinner turns into a combination of red and green - he probably barfed later by the side of his car - as Carl Gerhard Bush lights up yet another stick.
Reviewing The X-Files for me has always and will always be a personal thing. It’s one that takes me time and a special space of mind because I try to see these episodes from every angle possible. As a fan, I’ll always have my preferences, and as it is, I think I’m pretty middle of the road on some. As a filmmaker - reviewing the show that shaped television - I try to be objective beyond personal desires, but I stick to what makes something good narratively, cinematically… it’s an experience that changes me, and I wonder what makes something worth watching six times to understand every possible thing, don’t miss those hidden messages, and try to be fair about an ongoing set of stories.
When the revival came around, my views about where Chris Carter took the mythology were really clear. I was curious about the new twists, but cautious about the increasing tally of open doors that we were getting into. Did I like everything? No. But with just six episodes - the first time back in television format after IWTB - production challenges and so on, I kept giving passes to aspects that weren’t working. From character development that wasn’t fleshed out enough to be believable or logical to an extent, themes that didn’t quite settle, and half explained plots, it was a catch 22 to look at a next season and wonder if it would be stronger. Would the show be what we knew at it’s core? With a talent that blew standards away, with a capacity to look beyond the current and sometimes even anticipate history?
Definitely, the one thing we all agreed, there was no way that we could live with an ending to this show with the cliffhanger from “My Struggle 2” - not because it wasn’t a hell of a cliffhanger, but in hindsight, it left the show at a more unstable place than ever. Too much to be explained still. Too much to cover still.
Coming back to an eleventh season with a ten episode order is already a much better scenario, but one that gets complicated with the continuous statement from Gillian Anderson that she won’t come back for a twelfth appointment. And there’s no judgment in that. It’s been 25 years of belonging in this universe. Can The X-Files go on forever? Possibly. Do they need to go on forever? Depends on who you ask. It’s definitely a profitable and passionate entity for the studio, the producers, and the fandom.
So this is the state of mind I land at this season opener. In the USA of today, where You-Know-Who won, where we’ve collectively gotten sick of the roll of news, fake news, alternative facts, nuclear threats, nature threats, science denial, diplomatic instability and the tremendous moral earthquake that was unleashed since the #metoo movement has gained strength. It makes me ponder if we’re not back at that watershed moment in 2001, when 9/11 made the show - and its topics - something that the audience couldn’t cope with with as much ease. The threats were too close for comfort in the real world to also be have them in the fictional one.
Basing the storyline on current events has given it a depth that instills real fear. Some of what we’re seeing in the show, as much as it is science fiction, it is something that we we’re facing on our day to day more than ever. The veil has been lifted for so many of us, seeing the inner workings of government, the nature of our politicians. There’s a feeling that we’re being pulled from every side at the will of forces that are so separate from our micro realities, that it feels like we are indeed a mass of puppets that only serve for the purpose of justifying numbers, sizes and the importance of one side over the other. But there are no actual individual considerations.
In that respect, the intention behind the narrative of “My Struggle 3” is a commendable one, and I’d like to start off by pointing out the things I liked, those that I don’t have an issue with.
The production value, as always, promises to be the usual level that the franchise has us accustomed to, even when at the moment of this review we’re watching a version that hasn’t been finessed. There’s a different style to it’s look though, that I feel more on the way the episode has been shot and the way that it’s been edited. But I’ll elaborate on this later.
In the episode, we’re served with a lengthier explanation of what the colonization plans are. On the one hand we have the biological threat created - or advocated - by CSM. If we’re to believe him, and the effectiveness of his plans, he’s set up a pandemic to get rid of the unnecessary beings in this planet. He has - as the God he believes himself to be - decided who’s worthy of survival, and uses that threat at his convenience. Is it real? Who knows. He could very well have some liquid soap in that vial and be fooling everyone. But, you know… let’s go with it. There’s a reason why I don’t buy it fully, and that reason is that this is all based on his sales pitch and not actual evidence presented to whoever he wants to convince. Whatever we saw in “My Struggle 2” was only in Scully’s head, remember? But at least we get a somewhat structured explanation once you dissect it, without getting bogged down with too many details that require post-mortem science conversations. We already had the previous installment to take care of that.
Then there’s the Syndicate solution: to leave the planet and move to a set of colonies that they’ve been building, supposedly. And regardless of what you think of this being a con to convince Mulder of killing CSM, in reality, I actually give this one an actual good chance of being plausible. After all, we all remember Fight The Future, right? Private space exploration is out there, we have Elon Musk and SpaceX testing things in the sky that freak out everyone in Los Angeles every six months, mistaking those with actual promotion for this show. Talk about living in a meta world.
At the end, the Syndicate is just as selfish in their intentions, only that their fixation isn’t on Scully but on Mulder. How do we know? They try to get rid of Scully, they don’t even offer Mulder a ticket for her to this future land, and in a way it is not even clear if they baited Mulder or if it was just convenient that he followed the goon all the way to South Carolina and gets distracted in this discussion, giving him time to dispose of her. Makes you almost thank the fact that they seem to be short staffed, and that they couldn’t call a local contractor to get the job done. It doesn’t bother me either that we have to make peace with having different faces for this force, since, well, most of the original actors have passed on, in the show or in real life.
The state of the relationship between Mulder and Scully, whether is portrayed via Mulder’s monologue or their interactions is good. I liked the urgency, the fact that they own up to their bond as partners, or as friends, or even as parents… even if you as a viewer know eventually an uglier, possible truth.
As actors, perhaps because it wasn’t that long ago that Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny visited these characters, they feel a lot more natural in their skin. The levels of physicality that Anderson goes through, even when sadly it is for the motives that I’ll elaborate later, is actually a welcome change. It gave her more to emote and flesh out her abilities to a degree that we probably haven’t seen that much in this show. It’s not enjoyable for the fact that there’s pain, but for the opportunity of seeing her as an actress play out these situations.
But then we get into the actual episode as a whole. It’s so convoluted in terms of structure that it highlights classic story problems and the weaknesses in the stories they’re trying to sell. It’s adding more and more, taking leaps that create more questions, for which we’ll only get some answers here and there. Beside the facts presented here, those piecemeal answers will be dispersed through the consequent episodes, and a promise of a season finale that continues to address the mythology. The fact that this is even happening - including mythology elements in non-mythology episodes - is actually a welcome change compared to last season and one that feels more like method employed in the original run.
Nevertheless, the tools and rationalization to land those story points are not used in a way that we can follow without questioning it at every step, because we’ve known these characters for a quarter of a century. The narrative gets caught up in the structure of the editing of the episode, in the continuous back and forth between conversations and monologues, in car chases that don’t need to be that long or shot in that particular style and that reek of product placement. There’s a thing that you get beaten into your brain over and over again when learning how to tell a story: “Show, don’t tell.” The content of the monologues, while important, it could have been presented differently. Show me the effects of the vaccine in real time, not a hallucination. Convince Skinner with those undeniable facts. Lace these situations with glimpses of why Monica Reyes thought it would be important to stick to CSM, present the nature of her hesitation by showing the access that she has to these methods. Is Mulder feeling guilty? Why not have him imply that to Scully instead of taking off? And while a car chase is in fact very visual, it’s taking away screen time that could be used to employ more effective moments. Are these car chases exciting? Yes. Especially when they happen to the beat of some very good music from Mark Snow. But we’re here to tell a story in 42 minutes.
Then, distancing ourselves from fan created narratives, desires and justifications, the show has stated time and time again what makes these characters tick, what have been their falls and their rewards. These are “lives” that we’ve seen developed in front of us, their fiber exposed many times, making us aware of the ground we step on when visiting each of them. So, I question the consistency of the choices. Like Mulder not believing Scully when she so urgently is communicating her visions. He was there once. Why not believe her? Has she not proven with her own skepticism that this narrative would be a hard thing to believe in herself? Yet, she’s sure of it. She’s firm on what she’s seen. Why does it take a whole episode and numerous people to convince him of these visions; he’s Fox Mulder after all. Did the “trust no one” policy extend to Scully as well?
Then come some controversial choices that force us to break the fourth wall a bit and think on how the show co-exists with current events, the climate of public opinion, and how to tell a story to the current audience.
Why must Scully - one of the most iconic and influential characters that have inspired millions of women everywhere - be reduced to a vessel or a conduit without real power of her own? One that has no choice or control over the world around her… is she an allegory to mankind? To what some men think of women? Is this just the side of the story they’ve chosen to tell, throwing to the wind previous character development?
It’s implied that the visions that Scully had actually come from William, not her own cosmic trip. And I guess we can delight in the fact that that bond exists, and celebrate that this is the way that Scully’s maternity is portrayed, as a bond that is stronger than your usual mother would have. She’s a super mom in that sense then if we choose to look at the glass half full. And the criticism of the way that Scully’s motherhood is presented is not about the fact that she’s a mother, or that that’s a role they’ve given her. This is not about questioning what women can do in that regard of that quality of our femininity. Hell, we can create humans! How freaky is that!? The problem is the tendency to use that bond and ability as a way to manipulate her without her turning around and fighting back from that power. If she’s evolved to be a believer in a way that we haven’t seen before, and she’s the independent woman, with non-standard, non-traditional views of what roles and life can be - why can’t her actions within the storyline also evolve to be one that satisfies that aspirational desire to find justice where there’s none, and have some rewards at it? It seems like there’s a lot of resignation when it comes as to how others see her and no real moment when she’s not a damsel in distress.
Dana Scully will fight liver eating mutants. Dana Scully will survive an Alien abduction. Dana Scully’s mind will be strong enough to fight off Pusher. Dana Scully will be independent enough to take off on her own and test the waters even when jealous tattoos would want to break her stride, and she won’t feel guilty about it. Dana Scully will ask for her desk. Dana Scully will be stoic enough to fight feeling like a victim even when she knew cancer was out to get her, or to dwell in the fact that she was supposedly barren. Dana Scully will become immortal. Dana Scully will kill Donnie Pfaster. Dana Scully will grab a big-ass gun and save Mulder from Matreya. Dana Scully will fight a zombie. Dana Scully will be a mother, by herself. Dana Scully will throw water at John Doggett on his face. Dana Scully will scream at CSM in those desert ruins.
Dana Scully will have to deal with Fox Mulder for twenty five years.
So, it’s dissonant that CSM thinks that he can manipulate her with a threat on her son without having a blowback, that she’ll be fine learning that she’s been raped in more ways than she’s already been aware of, if this is even true. I’m not even touching upon what this revelation means in terms of the DNA of her character, or the reward she’d finally been given. If this is the choice we have to live with, if this is the story we weren’t privy to all these years, fine. I’m not okay with it, but the problem is that the trace back to the pieces of this particular puzzle are questionable at best.
It’s frustrating that Mulder just wants her to stay put, even if out of worry, or out of guilt that he’s put her in danger. It’s unnecessary to revisit old regrets for having left her with a newborn forcing decisions that she had to take on her own, or just recently at a hospital in a condition he can’t understand. And so, to prove the point of weakness, when she tries to take off on her own, she gets in trouble. One thing is protection, another circumstances, and another is sub estimating the abilities, the resolve and strength of another human being. There may be a desire to make her a victim, but that desire doesn’t have to come to fruition to prove a point, and relief doesn’t always have to come by the hands of another person. Hurt, pain, and devastation can be exposed in so many other ways that can actually speak of the strength and fiber of the character that so many have used as an example to follow.
Dana Scully can work in the X-Files. Does it come with sacrifices? Yes. Does she have to accept that reality? Yes, and she has. But it doesn’t have to happen as a circumstance that cannot be fought against, and also the solution isn’t if you’re a woman, or don’t want to get hurt, then don’t join a valiant pursuit. She cries it out by her lonesome without much circumstance, takes a deep breath and dusts off. There’s a reason why Scully resorted to “I’m fine” so many times during the original series.
Monica Reyes suffers from similar issue. As a woman that sacrificed her integrity for some important reason, we’re still not given answers, of any kind. Will we have a portion of the next “My Struggle” chapter to focus on her? Maybe, but it didn’t need to be this way; we just needed key plot points presented to support the narrative. Why has she gotten to the point that she’s willing to betray her former allies in this manner? If “My Struggle 2” is now a hallucination, or a look into the future, when will we get the moment where she tries to make amends and justify her actions so that there’s logic behind them? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
And then onto CSM’s plans and intentions. If we accept that his actions are basically based on the most repulsive thirst to control the world, to be the God that no one asked him to be, with a reward that only services his ego and the joy that comes to him from being hated… will there ever be a satisfaction for him? The pillars that sustain his end goal depend on gratification that may never come, based on the statements of a plan he claims is foolproof, but that’s already showing that it can be ripped apart at its seams. It depends on a malleable Scully, of control over William to no real objective explained, of killing Mulder… but, wait. Didn’t he say he wanted to live to see the moment where his sons realize he’s right? So, if he kills Mulder, how is that going to prove his point? What’s the lesson he wants to teach him?
And then we get into the problem of rewriting history that’s been established in standard storytelling. Yes, sure, we could possibly venture to say this was bold choice, that I see as a partial effort to soften the blow of scientific rape, but “En Ami” did not include the portions of dialogue that are now present in “My Struggle 3” - So this show is becoming in itself “alternate facts”. Are we supposed to doubt everything we’ve ever witnessed? Is this where we’re being led to?
On CSM’s other son, Jeffrey Spender… why can’t we live with the horrors that were done to him, and why can’t we have a deformed CSM for that matter? If we’re here to show horror and the consequences of those horrors, then commit to those. I get that prosthetics are a pain. But solving production inconveniences with the justification of alien technology as a blanket to skirt problems, including this menial one, is a problem on itself. When writing a show that now leans on reality so heavily, and your use of science fiction is so conveniently selective, are we justifying arguments that we haven’t put in the time to figure out? There’s just so many winks that I can take. I can only blame the aliens so much. E.T. must be hating on us by now.
Why does Spender have access to the same technology that has healed CSM? Have they been in contact? Why? And while were here: Why has Mulder been in contact with him to have his number on his phone? Why was Spender trusted to hide William?
Going back to season 9, when we last saw him, even if it left an open door to allow for any kind of imaginary justifications, we’re once again cheated of the moment where we put logic behind this narrative.
Then we land on Skinner. I must celebrate the fact that he’s given a more active role in this story, and that there’s conflict that exists that has real stakes. But why does he believe CSM? He knows that he manipulates people, so claiming that the conversation in the car is enough to persuade him to put himself in this position is not enough. Basically because we go back to the problem that is all a story coming from CSM. He hasn’t seen the effects of the vaccine. Using William’s paternity, with all the shock value that this revelation has, even if we accept it as the truth and not more manipulation, this is again just his word against everything else we’ve come to accept. Even if he’s doubted the paternity of William all these years, because just like the rest of us he’s never been given a straight answer about it, his relationship with Mulder and Scully is stronger than these doubts.
Coming back to the possibility that this is the end of the series as we know it, with Anderson’s desire to leave the show, how do we wrap up so many storylines that keep expanding without getting to a point where all these threats begin to unleash. The appeal of “My Struggle 2” was that we were actually beginning to see what this apocalypse would look like. We were moving forward.
When sitting down to see the blueprint of a season, as much as I love monster of the week episodes, I always question the logic of going back to some semblance of situational normalcy. Of going off to investigate other cases that don’t relate to the bigger problem at hand. There has to be a mission control for this show and that mission is to drive it home. Even if home is the planet exploding and everyone dying and never having a happy ending. A happy ending at this point would be unrealistic and probably wouldn’t serve the road that these characters have been on. That this planet is on. Does this mean Scully or Mulder have to die? Okay, kill them, end the show, but my hope is that this is not a rushed collateral damage. Kill them as the heroes you built them up to be. With the honor of going down fighting.
At the end of the day, when wondering why this show even exists or why we keep coming back, the answer was always Hope. And there has been plenty of hope in it through the years. If the end game of this story is that hope doesn’t particularly look rosy, that’s a storyteller choice. The problem is its’ appeal at the moment; is that is mixing our fearful reality with our fearful fiction. It leaves little room for a reward.
It’s a conundrum that today if we want horrific reality time and time again, we can just turn on Fox News, and compare that with what Rachel Maddow had to say that night, take a look at He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’s twitter and realize we’re all... fudged.
The X-Files is no longer an escape from reality in so many ways. And perhaps this is what Chris Carter wants to tell us; that there’s no point escaping reality anymore and we can’t afford that luxury. Because perhaps this is how we’ve landed in this steadfast drive that’s putting our real lives in actual danger everyday. The question would be: are we smart enough to ponder on these themes and realize the lessons he’s trying to point out to, and is this really his objective?
I hope that this episode doesn’t deter you from continue watching the rest of the season. The “My Struggle” chapters are always hard to watch and give plenty to discuss because they address the most fearful, gut wrenching parts of the show that we ironically love so much.
The next episode - "This" - written and directed by Glen Morgan, airs on January 10th, at 8pm on FOX and other international broadcasters.