The X-Files miniseries came to a close last night, and while this was not the most disappointing and maddening episode of the entire series, it came close. Scully, as always, was amazing, and Mulder, as always, was unhinged. The writing was often incomprehensible. But, at least it ended on a note that set up another series? Is that something we still want?
I’ll try to unpack the highlights and low points below.
I should start by mentioning that this week, instead of “The Truth is Out There,” this week’s credit-tag is “This is the End.” Which, well, we know this is the finale, Chris Carter, but thanks? Oh, wait… shit. Guys? I think he might mean the end of civilization as we know it. So, that bodes well for the episode.
This episode is the direct sequel to the miniseries premiere, and is imaginatively titled “My Struggle II.” The good thing here is that, as the pilot opened with Fox Mulder’s recapping of his journey, this episode opens with Dana Scully, quite possibly The Best Character Ever, telling us about her journey with The X-Files. She touches on her skepticism, her faith, her abduction, and the illness and cure that followed. This leads directly into this episode’s action.
Mulder’s disappeared (again) and isn’t answering his phone. Dammit, Mulder! Tad O’Malley reports that every American citizen has been injected with alien DNA, and after Scully sees a single anthrax case at her hospital, she immediately decides that he’s correct, and that the DNA anomalies are being triggered to destroy our immune systems. This starts the episode off on an uncomfortably anti-vax note.
We then get multiple scenes of sciencebabble (mostly between Scully and Agent Einstein) that are as obfuscatory as they are infuriating. We are told repeatedly that people are getting sick and flooding hospitals, but we don’t see any evidence of this until halfway through the episode. We finally check in with Mulder, who has obviously been beaten up. He’s driving…but where?
Scully gets a call from someone who promises information. It’s Agent Monica Reyes! Over the course of a long, vague monologue we learn that she made a deal with the CSM! In fact, she’s the one shown lighting his cigarette in the pilot!
(So, my Undead But Still Hot Krycek theory is shot all to hell, and I am sad.) The CSM apparently told Reyes that he want to remake the world in his own image, instead of God’s. Scully is disgusted by Reyes’ cowardice, and is not appeased when Reyes, eyes glinting with mania, tells her that she, Scully, is “protected” and “one of the chosen elite.” Funny how that wouldn’t change Scully’s mind. But it does give her an idea…
Oh, and CSM sent a guy to make Mulder an offer. We get a fight scene that shows how well that went. Mulder makes it to the CSM’s house, having presumably beaten the address out of the CSM’s messenger. And then we get another long, frustrating scene of Mulder confronting the CSM. This happened a few times over the course of the series. While at first Mulder came off as noble for refusing to cap the bastard, after a few more abductions and threatened extinction level events, it began to seem like Mulder was actively harming humanity with his refusal to put an end to the CSM.
That’s how it feels here, too.
Mulder, who by now has begun showing signs of plague, trains a gun on the CSM. The CSM claims that neither he nor Mulder can save humanity from extinction. He begins rattling off statistics: This year is hottest year on record, there’s been 40% reduction in bird life… holy shit. The Cigarette Smoking Man is Jonathan Franzen.
Meanwhile, in Scully’s plot, she’s figured out that if she “amplifies” her DNA, she can create a cure for all the various plagues people are coming in with. She texts this information to Tad O’Malley, who is himself getting sicker and sicker. Agent Einstein and Nurse Sandeep, also sick, try to help. But this is mostly Scully’s show, and only the might of Gillian Anderson could hold this nonsense together.
Mulder is still arguing with the CSM, who removes his mask to reveal that he has literally transformed into Voldemort. (This is the one real awesome moment of the episode for me.) Suddenly Agent Miller shows up. The show needed him to be sick, but not too sick, so he just has a comically red and stuffy nose, and it looks like he’s wandered in from the set of a NyQuil ad, and it’s hilarious. The CSM continues to emptily threaten, but Miller loads Mulder into the car and drives him back toward Scully.
OK, so what was the point of going to CSM? And why is everyone able to drive during this apocalyptic illness? And where the president? And are any other countries affected? And why is Scully able to move freely through people who are near-riot?
Forget all your questions, this is The X-Files, and Scully and Mulder’s love is unstoppable. Scully meets Miller and Mulder on a bridge, and she’s about to give him her DNA (heh) when she says that he also needs stem cells, which means they need to find William, but why? And then an alien-looking ship hovers above them and shoots a beam of light into Scully’s eye.
End of episode.
No, I’m not kidding, why do you ask?
We end on a giant cliffhanger, the main gag of which seems to be that Scully finally sees a goddam spaceship (except it’s probably just humans piloting it), but we don’t know if Mulder lives or dies, or Miller, or Einstein, or Tad O’Malley. Skinner doesn’t even show up this episode, so we have no idea what’s going on with him. (It’s Skinner, though, so he probably just punched anthrax in the face until it left him alone.) We don’t know if Scully’s last-ditch cure is helping, or if the U.S. has fallen into irretrievable chaos. How much of the population is gone? How damaged is the nation’s infrastructure? If The X-Files comes back again, are we going to be in a Walking Dead-style dystopia? I realize that expecting answers from this show is folly, but this is a little much even for Chris Carter.
Here, have an attempt at some thoughts:
This grumpy alien is adorable. That’s the first thought.
Are we all part Scully now? I’m OK with that.
In looking back at this episode, and the miniseries as a whole, I think the one completely solid element was their decision to further the idea that Scully is immortal. I didn’t expect it to come back up in the way that it did, and I loved the horrifying twist the show gives us. Yes, Clyde Bruckman was telling the truth, and your favorite character is immortal. But guess what? The CSM is the one responsible. Of course, Scully’s not going to be a pawn in anyone’s endgame, and her decision to share her DNA with everyone who needs it builds on last week’s loopy conversation about endless hate versus “mother love.” Is Scully our new Eve? Because I’m also OK with that.
In the end as in the beginning, the CSM stuff was just more wheel spinning. Mulder, the strapping, idealistic young man has become largely useless, and has been completely outstripped by the women around him. Actually, hang on. The more I think about this, if you contrast Mulder’s decision to die rather than take the CSM’s offer with Reyes’ cowardice, the scene does work to give us a bit of the old, noble Mulder. I do like that it takes him being beaten to a pulp and near death from plague to come into his own. I also love that his rage button is still Scully. When CSM brings her into the conversation, it’s the closest Mulder comes to finally killing him, but of course he can’t go through with it, because he also has to live up to his partner’s moral code.
Mulder and Scully’s son William is clearly important, and the show’s cliffhanger ending demands another season to make good on everything they’re implying about him. The question is: Do we want it? Do we still care? Has this new series earned our belief?
Of this six-episode arc, I thought Trashman was quite good, and Curse of Were-Monster was a new classic. The myth arc episodes have been every bit as annoying as they were twenty years ago, and I mostly hated last week’s Islamophobic jamboree.
So… we’ve got anti-vax rants swirled together with stabs at sensitivity to transgender issues that never work, plus hamfisted allusions to 9/11, just a dash of climate change, and is The X-Files still saying anything relevant? I think in many ways it’s exactly the show we need right now, but I also think that if we’re getting another miniseries they need to tighten the writing up, rather than relying on references to their past.
In the end, the main strength of this new series lies in its examination of heroism and the changing nature of relationships. The fervent heroism of Mulder has curdled into wry conspiracy theory, while Scully’s always-heady mix of faith and skepticism has become the show’s new center. She’s the one who will save the world, and the show, and the viewers. I think I’d like to come back to follow her journey, at least, but I also think The X-Files needs to take a note from the other great ’90s comeback. When Mystery Science Theater 3000 returns, it will have a new staff of writers to bring it into the 21st century. And whether that revival succeeds or fails, I think the decision to let some fresh air into the room will serve it well. I’m glad that The X-Files got the band back together, but I think they need a few new people in the writers’ room to update the references, to vet the transphobic humor, to maybe put a finer point on terrorism than “some Muslims did it.” And for Scully’s sake, stop letting Chris Carter write about DNA splicing.