UK TV review: The X-Files Season 10 (2016), Episode 1 (My Struggle)
Mulder and Scully!8
James R | On 08, Feb 2016
“The X-Files have been reopened,” says a familiar voice, as Fox’s revival of the sci-fi series begins. Yes, the show that ran for almost a decade has returned to our TV screens. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are back as Mulder and Scully. Skinner’s still hanging around. Even the opening credits are the same. All that and people talking about Channel 5? It really is like the 1990s all over again.
Where the original show spanned nine seasons of ever-changing conspiracy theories and back-tracking codswallop, though, this new version of The X-Files only has six episodes to give us our Mulder and Scully fix. And so Episode 1, My Struggle, feels like an attempt to cram all nine seasons’ worth of nonsense into one hour. It barely fits.
But rewind the clock all the way back to 1993’s pilot and you’ll find much the same, as Chris Carter penned an introduction to the world of UFOs and David Duchnovy’s hair that intrigued, without always amazing, its audience. This new pilot – one designed for new as well as old viewers – is a neat echo of that episode, not just because of its unevenness. Here, once again, we see the unwilling dragging together of alien-obsessed Mulder (now sporting even more striking hair) and cool-headed doctor Dana, this time not so she can keep an eye on him for the government, but because of a possibly batty TV presenter, Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale), who thinks he’s got the answer to everything.
The pilot saw the agents investigate some rumoured abductions, entertain the possibility of a more down-to-earth solution, and, just as they stumbled onto the truth, have all their evidence burned to the ground. My Struggle gives us, inevitably, another story of abduction and alien tests, this time in the form of Sveta (Annet Mahendru), whom Tad has found. But Carter, who directs as well as writes, gives us a neat twist on the familiar formula, instead using Sveta’s extraterrestrial allegations to fuel a more human solution to the mystery. Now, Mulder is believing in rational explanations more than the paranormal, while Scully is sceptical because she thinks their years of work actually counted for something.
If there’s a clever subversion under the surface, though, the show does a great job of hiding it with the dumbest surface possible. This may be the 203rd episode, but it jumps right up into the top rankings for the show’s worst dialogue.
“Tell them about the DNA, Sveta,” says Tad in one scene. “I have alien DNA,” replies Sveta. “For sure.” Scully asks: “Have you had a doctor confirm that?” Sveta pauses. “No.”
Fortunately, the people talking are well experienced in delivering such daft speeches. Indeed, it’s impossible to deny the fun of seeing both Anderson and Duchovny back in their character’s shoes, both immediately believable once more as a couple irritated by each other and yet emotionally attached to one another. Anderson has lost none of her ability to hold pieces of paper and stare at them dramatically for the camera, while Duchovny’s blank stares have a jaded quality that give his aged veteran a convincingly weary air. (If you had to put money on one of them being the recovering abductee, it wouldn’t be Scully.)
Their interactions reach Peak X-Files in the second half of the episode, as Mulder goes off on a rant that includes every buzzword you’ve ever associated with Fox’s show. “I do believe!” he cries. “We’ve been deceived!” he adds. “Roswell was a smokescreen!” he yells. “The truth is out there! And Tad O’Malley’s going to broadcast it!” It’s like the Microsoft Office paperclip turned up and said “You appear to be writing an X-Files script. Would you like some help with that?”
It’s laughable, but in a way that feels completely apt for a throwback to 23 years ago. There’s an inherent fun to seeing Duchovny so game to play X-Files Bingo, accompanied by a raft of stock footage and exposition. And, at the same time, there’s that thrilling disturbance in the force we all haven’t felt for a long time, as Carter once more tries to convince us that everything we’ve learned about the show’s mythology in the past is completely irrelevant. Only The X-Files would be so earnest about its cover-ups and so blase with its back catalogue – just as the show now recreates Mulder’s old FBI office with a loving attention to detail, but also carelessly flips through it all in a one-minute prologue that feels as cheesy as it is cheap. Carter undoes some of that retro charm by bringing a modern sensibility to the story-telling: where once there might have been some restraint, there’s no hesitating here to give us aliens, UFOs and explosions inside the season’s first 60 minutes. But as a conspiracy once more begins to unfold, and evidence yet again goes up in smoke, it’s hard not to fall back into the old 1990s mindset. You turn off Channel 5. You put on a denim jacket. You listen to Boyzone. And, sure enough, you start wanting to see what happens next.
Rants about consumerism? Theories of weather manipulation? Invisible spaceships? “It’s bogus, stupid, fear-mongering clap-trap,” argues Scully towards the end of this stuffed episode. She’s right, it is. And we wouldn’t have it any other way. The X-Files have been reopened. And how.
Season 10 of The X-Files (2016) is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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