Television

The X-Files 11.01 Review: My Struggle III

 

WARNING: This article contains spoilers!

Many a criticism can (and has) been aimed at The X-Files in recent years, but even its fiercest critics can’t accuse it of being predictable. Almost two years since the series revival left audiences dumbfounded with a literal world-ending cliffhanger, the eleventh season opens with an unorthodox (and highly controversial) season premiere that, in true X-Files fashion, poses plenty of questions and provides next to no answers.

Series creator Chris Carter wastes little time in resolving last season’s big cliffhanger, which saw the world’s population (including Mulder) on the brink of death, victims of an apocalyptic man-made alien plague. Carter’s big solution? It never happened.

No, instead, the events of last season’s finale were visions experienced by Scully (Gillian Anderson), supposedly beamed into her head by her and Mulder’s (David Duchovny) powerful long-lost son William as a warning for what is to come, should she and Mulder fail to unravel the alien conspiracy. It’s a lazy get-out that really shouldn’t work, though to some extent it  just about holds together, even if the plotting and exposition is somewhat clunky.

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From there on, the episode barely pauses for breath, as Mulder sets out to find the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) in a bid to stop events from unfolding, resulting in both a car chase and a curious meeting with two mysterious members of the Syndicate (played by Barbara Hershey and AC Peterson), all of which leads to major revelations that, in true X-Files Mythology fashion, make little sense in the grand scheme of things.

We’re also not buying the heavily-teased defection of beloved FBI boss Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) to the dark side either, vague as the notion is left here. The seeds of mistrust have been sown between our two agents and their trusted ally, which has potential for some great drama if handled right. But it’s hard not to roll your eyes at the lazy plotting that sees Mulder’s distrust stem from just smelling cigarette smoke on Skinner. Does Mulder think all people with a slight stench of nicotine and a smoker’s cough are in the employ of his worst enemy?!

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Mythology episodes of The X-Files have always been the show’s dead weight, at best never quite meeting expectations, and at worst being frustratingly confusing. My Struggle III offers occasional beats that thrill and excite like the show managed in its heyday, but it isn’t helped by hackneyed storytelling tropes (Mulder’s constant inner monologue voice-overs are info-dumping at it’s absolute worst). It doesn’t help that the episode plays out more like a mid-season episode then a premiere, robbing us of a chance to emotionally reengage with the characters properly.

And then we have the big reveal that Mulder isn’t William’s father, and that Scully was unknowingly artificially impregnated by the Cigarette Smoking Man way back in Season 7’s En Ami. 

Yeah. That happened.

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As reveals go, it’s one of The X-Files biggest plot twists, a huge earth-shattering shock that delivers an almighty gut punch to long-term viewers. We’d be lying if we said we weren’t completely taken aback by the effectively powerful and hard hitting reveal.

Unfortunately, once the initial revelation has passed, upon reflection the plot twist only serves to stir up uncomfortable, sickening  feelings, one that has rightly proven controversial in fan circles. To have Scully not only violated in such a monstrous way by the show’s resident big bad, but to also have her completely unaware of her rape (and yes, Chris Carter, it is rape, regardless of whatever bulls**t “impregnated with science” crap you use justify it) is frankly too horrible and nasty to bear thinking about, no matter how effective the reveal is.

Of course, it may all be a lie, employed by the Cigarette Smoking Man to convince Skinner to join him. The opening title tagline (I Want to Lie) seems to point towards this being so. Either way, we live in hope that this nasty, misogynistic retcon is itself retconned before the season reaches it’s conclusion.

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So what can we ultimately make of My Struggle III? As a Mythology episode of The X-Files, it’s an improvement over other Myth-Arc episodes (which is hardly a complement), yet it somehow manages to utilize every big TV narrative no-no in the space of 45 minutes. It was all a dream? Check! Boring exposition and jarring action scenes? Check! Hefty over-reliance on series continuity? Check! The horribly unnecessary rape of a main character?! Check, check, check!!!

All in all, it’s not a great start to Season 11, which may well be the show’s last. Some decent direction and great performances from the series regulars keep things engaging, whilst the twists and turns are at the very least effective (if not always for the right reasons). Problematic and clunky, yes. But predictable? Not a chance!

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The X-Files returns next week at 9pm on Channel 5, as does our series blog. Be sure to check out our review next week.

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