Warning: This contains spoilers.
“Everyone dies in the end,” says Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) in the finale of The X-Files Season 10. “I just changed the timetable.”
It’s an apt sentiment to share in what could be the very last episode of The X-Files of all time – after all, Cigarette Smoking Man was apparently killed at the end of last last episode of The X-Files in Season 9. The 2016 reboot of Fox’s sci-fi is as much a shift of the programme’s timetable as it is a resurrection of its big bad, with both Chris Carter and Cigarette Smoking Man boasting their own ambitious plans for the new take on the series. If neither is always successful, at least they’re both unashamed to do their own thing.
My Struggle II picks up the threads from My Struggle, continuing the narrative arc set up by the opener. For those who have forgotten in between all the non-werewolves and mushroom trips, that involves a huge government conspiracy to somehow change the human race’s DNA, all the while retaining a small elite’s power through alien technology obtained from a UFO crashing on earth decades ago – and concealing that fact by distracting Mulder and Scully with supposedly extra-terrestrial activity for the best part of a decade. In short, a massive retcon that renders the majority of The X-Files’ first nine seasons completely redundant.
It’s a ridiculous, contrived, barely believable scenario, which earned Season 10’s debut episode a lot of criticism – but is also exactly the kind of daft, imaginative storytelling that made the show so amiable in the first place. (An introductory recap of that episode makes it more enjoyably dumb than before, by condensing the worst lines of dialogue into a short montage: “I have alien DNA. For sure.” Uh-huh.) And so, like the first part, My Struggle II lives up to its title, seemingly designed to test that long-standing audience affection to the limit.
We begin with Mulder missing and Tad O’Malley back on the web spouting crazed exposition like his plot function depends upon it – it swiftly becomes apparent the human race is getting seriously sick, as everyone’s immune systems seem to be failing. The reason? Yes, it’s that pesky conspiracy once again, a gargantuan cover-up that covers everything from Chemtrails to smallpox vaccines, almost as if Chris Carter is making up for all those years when The X-Files didn’t have the Internet to run wild with conspiracy theories.
But just as My Struggle was a deceptively smart parallel of the very first episode of The X-Files all those years ago, this finale is a neat echo of Season 10’s debut. That gave us Mulder reevaluating his whole past, changing his beliefs and becoming a sceptic – and this does the opposite, with Scully becoming our lens through which we view events. Agent Einstein and Agent Miller (we stand by our theory that the way is being paved for a spin-off) pop up once more to give us the dynamic between believer and non-believer, but Scully here shifts onto the same page as Mulder, as the evidence piles up that something clearly ain’t right.
Gillian Anderson once again demonstrates her skill at delivering absolute tosh with absolute conviction – a talent that David Duchovny, when he does appear, also possesses. It’s telling that when we do see him, it’s in a brutal fight sequence that feels less The X-Files and more The Bourne Identity, but that Duchovny still sells the physical set piece anyway; both actors are so convincing and at home in their roles that we’re willing to buy almost anything the characters go through.
Well, almost anything.
Mulder, it turns out, is on his way to meet Cigarette Smoking Man and the two have a heart-to-heart that should delight fans, no matter their overriding feelings of this new season. Inevitably, he’s behind this whole thing, clinging to life as much as he clings to power. William B Davis laps up the chance to once again be despicable, but continues to carry out his nefarious plans with the utmost conviction – something that gives our favourite walking advert for cancer far more substance than a mere two-dimensional, cackling villain.
“I didn’t set out to destroy the world, Mulder,” he declares. “People did.” If Utopia hadn’t done this idea much better several years ago, you suspect this reboot of The X-Files would be a lot more impressive.
CSM also brings back another old favourite: Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), who made a deal with him to keep him alive in exchange for protection from the epidemic – we’ve leave you to work out how that impacts Season 8 and 9, but again, it’s bizarrely thrilling to see Carter so seemingly willing to throw his old ideas under the bus in service of his new ones. It’s like The X-Files is competing with itself in an Olympic shark jumping competition.
Now, what about that alien DNA? We discover that this is far from the bad thing that we’d been led to believe in the years since Scully’s abduction in the show’s early seasons – in fact, it’s the one thing keeping her immune to the “Spartan Virus” sweeping the globe. The race is on, then, to manufacture an antidote – one that can save Agent Mulder and Agent Miller, both of whom are running from Cigarette Smoking Man’s hideout to spread the word. (Amell and Duchovny are great at playing almost-dead, but Davis is even better at being both remorseful and vengeful, asking Miller to say farewell to Mulder on his behalf, after Fox rejects an offer to join him at the conspiracy table and save his own skin.)
There are, of course, implausibilities out there, from the speed at which all the pieces come together to the ability of Miller to track Mulder’s location using a Find My iPhone app (as if Fox would ever allow his privacy settings to be compromised on his phone). But the one of the biggest inconsistencies is the sudden lurch back into Evil Virus / Massive Conspiracy territory – after the opening episode, Season 10’s uneven nature has been less because of the standalone, monster-of-the-week instalments that have followed, but the fact that they’ve nudged us away from the alien DNA storyline and more towards a subplot involving Mulder and Scully’s son, William. In the finale, where everything is meant to be wrapped up, though, he’s nowhere to be found – one of several signs that the execution has been the problem this season, rather than the concept.
When William does get mentioned, we’re at the climax of our tale, and Scully has realised that stem cells from their alien DNA-ridden child might be the only thing to save her partner. And then the story ends. Just like that. A UFO looms overhead and the screen is lit up, only for us to dive into Scully’s eye, her pupil expanding and expanding. (Maybe William’s the one flying the spacecraft, with Driving Home For Christmas playing on the cockpit stereo.)
There are things to like about this bonkers conclusion, not least the way that, for once, this feels like a genuinely global phenomenon – the Spartan Virus carries far more threat than it perhaps would have in the 1990s, when it didn’t always feel that Carter’s show went far beyond a small section of America. The bigger budget, improved effects and bolder ideas have given this sci-fi a scale that was sometimes previously absent.
But just as much as that scope excites, it also frustrates – why bring back The X-Files at all, in such a big fashion, if only to end on such an unresolved cliff-hanger? Was the plan to commission more episodes all along? It certainly seems likely that Fox will order another mini-series at least (before the potential Einstein/Miller follow-up), but why not just order enough episodes to begin with to tell a complete story? If this really is the last episode of The X-Files ever, why delay the series’ death, just for a quick exercise in timetabling? Even the opening credits tease us, by updating the titles to read “THIS IS THE END”, rather than “THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE”. Over 20 years after The X-Files began, it’s amusing to know that Carter’s idiosyncratic attitude towards storytelling hasn’t changed – but even Cigarette Smoking Man has to allow something to die in dignity at some point.
Season 10 of The X-Files (2016) is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
Where can I watch The X-Files Season 10 online on pay-per-view VOD?
Main photo: © 2016 Fox and its related entities. All rights reserved