Warning: Spoilers will follow. (The truth is out there.)
Scully: I’m always happy to see you.
Mulder: And I’m always happy to find a reason.
After a fourteen-year break, Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are back. The X-Files ended in 2002 with nine seasons, 202 episodes, and two movies under its belt. Viewers tuned in every week to discover whether the truth was out there, and they’re still tuning in. According to Nielsen, the first episode of the reboot’s six-part miniseries brought in over sixteen million viewers.
The tenth season’s first episode, “My Struggle,” starts with Mulder giving us a recap of the show’s UFO conspiracy history. However forced it seems, the big-picture rundown helps devoted fans catch up and draws new ones in. Summarizing a nine-year escapade into the paranormal in a few minutes is a difficult feat. We also get a sense that although the FBI closed the X-Files in 2002 (when the show ended), Mulder kept investigating independently, which perhaps will play out over the course of the season.
“In 2002, in a change of direction and policy, the FBI closed the X-Files. And our investigation ceased. But my personal obsession did not.”
For me, “My Struggle” totally recaptured the essence of the X-Files. Although it has some shoddy dialogue, stilted scenes, and uneven pacing, the episode is packed full of feel-good nostalgia. It even launches with the original opening credits. Writer and director Chris Carter, who was at the helm during the show’s original run, smartly chose to focus the first episode on alien conspiracy. As we know, this arc runs throughout the original series and is why Mulder joined the FBI; believing his sister was abducted. This expertly tethers the tenth season to the previous seasons from the start. Sure, Carter could have started with a monster-of-the-week episode (which we get in episodes 2 and 3) that fans have grown to love, but this would do a disservice to new fans—and to old fans who need a bit of a refresher. We need a trip down memory lane to get a feel for the mythology again.
It’s an exciting moment when Mulder and Scully finally reunite. As always, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson shine on screen. They fit back into their personas almost flawlessly, albeit a rocky start. Duchovny is subdued at first, appearing a bit sleepy. At first it seems that Mulder’s interest in weird and disturbing mysteries has fizzled out. However, time has passed, and the pair has likely experienced quite a few unhappy moments. The chemistry between the two is not what it used to be, but that’s to be expected. It’s clear Scully, who’s usually the level-headed skeptic trying to bring crazy conspirator Mulder back to reality, is holding back. This lack of spark may turn some viewers off initially, but it seems intentional based on their history. The confrontational partnership the two developed over the years was the best part of the show, and we get more of a sense of this as the episode develops (and in episode 2).
Tad O’Malley, a right-wing conspiracy theorist talk-show host, brings Mulder and Scully back together to investigate—what else?—a government conspiracy, making the show a bit more contemporary. At first Mulder doesn’t believe O’Malley’s theory of the government utilizing alien technology discovered from the Roswell crash to take over the United States. Once Mulder sees a ship, which can levitate and camouflage, built from that same alien technology, he gets on board with O’Malley’s conspiracy, leading to a bit of a breakdown: “What if everything we’ve been led to believe is a lie? What if there is no alien conspiracy?” Instead of Mulder working tirelessly to find out whether aliens and other supernatural events exist, now he’s fighting to stick it to the man. (Although Mulder has had similar revelations in previous seasons, it seems this might be a major arc. His reaction, however, is surprising since he should’ve already predicted it, being the biggest conspiracy theorist there is.) Scully, of course, is Scully. When O’Malley expresses he’s going to reveal his conspiracy on air: “It’s fear mongering, isolationist, clap trap, techno-paranoia so bogus and dangerous and stupid that it borders on treason. Saying these things would be incredibly irresponsible.” (Although near the end of the episode she becomes very anti-Scully, as she buys into the conspiracy and states, “I’m saying someone has to stop these sons of bitches. I don’t know there’s a choice.” Perhaps they wanted to show that through her nine years working the X-Files, she has evolved and that now with evidence that men are behind the paranormal they’ve investigated, her skepticism isn’t as justified. However, her level-headedness is a necessary balance to the show, so I hope it continues somewhat.)
Joel McHale’s (Community and The Soup) portrayal of O’Malley, as someone even more paranoid than Mulder, is great. He’s able to step away from his usual comedic roles quite well. McHale plays the arrogant O’Malley with ease. The character of O’Malley is a conundrum, however. You would think someone suffering from paranoia would want to be more inconspicuous, rather than getting lifts from personal helicopters and stretch limos.
O’Malley brings the duo to meet Sveta (played by Annet Mahendru from The Americans), a long-time abduction victim. Sveta’s presence, when describing her abductions, really adds to the creepy factor of the episode, which viewers have grown to love and expect. Mahendru is definitely a positive for the kickoff episode, with Mulder believing she’s the “key to everything.”
Fans will also be happy to see some familiar faces. Walter Skinner remains the assistant director of the FBI. And in a surprise, the Cigarette Smoking Man, William B. Anderson, is back (and still smoking), and he’s not pleased that the X-Files have been reopened. Viewers may remember that he was presumed dead in the ninth season.
In this premiere episode, Carter has recaptured the spirit of the show. Although at times it plays out as reliving the show’s best hits, the momentum for the great show it once was is slowly building. Mulder and Scully’s chemistry has waned over the years, but there’s potential for it to be revived. Fans wanted to feel nostalgia and relive the legacy of the biggest and eeriest show on TV, and that’s what they get here. But there’s still room for improvement.