A review of tonight's The X-Files finale – and thoughts on the revival as a whole – coming up just as soon as I've sequenced my own genome…
Chris Carter created The X-Files. He created Mulder and Scully. He cast Duchovny and Anderson. He dreamed up the mythology, and the Monster of the Week structure that alternated with it. He hired Glen Morgan, James Wong, Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan, Darin Morgan, Howard Gordon, and everyone else who walked through that writers room.
Chris Carter is responsible for so much that made The X-Files an all-time classic.
Chris Carter should also never write or direct another episode of the show, assuming the actors agree to return for another abbreviated season.
Of the revival's six episodes, one was great (“Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster”), one was very good (“Home Again”), one was mediocre at best (“Founder's Mutation”), and three were awful. What do the three awful ones – including this ridiculous, inept, obnoxious finale – have in common? They were the ones Chris Carter wrote and directed.
It happens. Spider-Man and the Avengers eventually outgrew Stan Lee. Star Wars needed to be taken away from George Lucas. And based on these episodes, Carter has lost all grasp on how to write these characters and this show.
Of course, Carter's going nowhere if the show returns. It's been an enormous hit for FOX, Duchovny and Anderson trust him, and he ended this thing on a massive cliffhanger where the fates of Mulder, Scully, and the entire human race are still up for grabs. If the stars agree to return, there's no way it's for a collection of standalone episodes that wave off this global pandemic storyline with a couple of wry Mulder one-liners.
Even if that would be best for anyone who still loves the franchise and wants to enjoy, rather than endure, its continuation.
The series' original mythology had become a mess long before the end, but trying to come up with a new one to be set up, explained, and executed in the space of two episodes didn't work at all. The season premiere was a laborious exposition dump, and one so convoluted that Carter felt the need to devote the entire teaser of “My Struggle II” to having Scully remind us of all this stuff we were told only a month ago.
And even with all of that agonizing set-up, “My Struggle II” never managed to tell an actual story. It had to keep doubling back over things that either the characters already thought they knew (Scully's faulty assumption that the alien DNA was what was killing people, rather than their potential salvation) or that we thought we knew (the mystery person giving Smoking Man his cigarette in the premiere was Monica Reyes, whose appearance accomplished precious little save as a reminder that she was a terrible character in the first place). Huge leaps in story and logic happened without warning, and even Einstein the rigid scientist didn't seem to question much, like how one vaccine cooked up in a D.C. hospital's lab from one sample of DNA Scully's DNA could be mass-produced and distributed in time to halt a contagion that had already ravaged the world's entire population. There was no actual story, no flow, no nothing. Mulder was battered and sick before the episode began, and the late revelation that he earned his wounds in an epic kung fu battle didn't justify the awkward structure, nor Mulder being sidelined for so much of the hour.
Like last week's attempt to have Mulder and Scully grapple with suicide bombers and religious extremist terrorism, introducing anti-vaxxer paranoia into the mix was a reminder that conspiracy theories were a lot more benign in the '90s – or, at least, so far out there that they could comfortably mix with stories of aliens and/or flukemen – than they are today, and that attempts to make our heroes seem more current are counter-productive.
I'm not even that mad about ending what could be the last X-Files episode ever on a cliffhanger – at least not relative to the episode's many other failings. Carter ended the original series with Mulder and Scully on the run, after all. And it was clear by the time of the final commercial break that there was way too much story to be wrapped up in the time remaining, so I had braced myself for a complete lack of closure.
If “My Struggle II” had been a good episode, or at least an interestingly flawed one, I might be excited at the thought of Carter being confident enough in the revival continuing to pull this stunt. And I do expect there to be another go-around at some point, even if it takes a couple of years to coordinate everyone's schedules. But Carter's half of the revival has been so dire that I don't care about getting resolution on any of this material, and would only feel enthusiastic if a renewal came with the news that he was going back into retirement and leaving Wong and Morgan, or Spotnitz, or (not that this would likely ever happen) Gilligan in charge of things. They'd still have to clean up the mess Carter left, assuming they didn't choose to just ignore it the same way that Mulder and Scully ignored the developments of the first “My Struggle” for the ensuing four episodes.
That shift back and forth between mythology and Monster of the Week was easier to pull off in a 22-episode season than in 6, but that was a different time, too. Audiences expect more serialization from their dramas than they did 20 years ago – or, at least, don't expect the serialized elements to be dropped for weeks on end. Given what a disaster the new mythology was, I doubt weaving an occasional mention of Tad O'Malley into the middle chapters would have improved things, but it might have lessened the expository burden on the premiere and finale. Really, though, the show would have been better off leaving the mythology behind altogether and just giving us the six Monster outings everyone could make.
Though Carter's Monster episode was pretty dire, at that. Still, we get “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” out of this deal, and I'll accept the Carter outings as the cost.
What did everybody else think? Did the cliffhanger make you excited to see more, or infuriated at the whole affair? Were you happy to see Reyes back, or annoyed to remember her existence? Did Miller and Einstein play better or worse for you in a more dramatic context? And, all things considered, were you glad the revival happened, or did it in any way taint your memories of the original series?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org