Watching The X-Files is a daunting task. There are 202 episodes over nine seasons, two movies, and a dense, paranoid backstory that even Rust Cohle would reject as too insane for his Crazy Wall. The beginning of “My Struggle,” the first of six X-Files “special events,” does a good job of wrapping up the entire series in a handful of minutes. That’s about the only nice thing I can say about it.
In its original run, The X-Files‘ mythology episodes were always the show’s worst. They were typically the hardest to make sense of, particularly in the later seasons, when the impenetrable conspiracies betrayed the simple elegance of the show’s central premise: someone who believes works with someone who doesn’t. It’s why, whenever you see a list of 10 X-Files You Must See, the selections are always “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” “Home,” and “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” monster-of-the-week episodes that blend horror with comedy. (Except “Home.” There is nothing funny about “Home.”)
It’s safe to say “My Struggle” won’t land on anyone’s future must-watch list. The problems pop up immediately. Mulder and Scully’s reunion should feel huge; it’s the first time we, the viewers, have seen them together since 2002, apart from the second movie, 2008’s X-Files: I Want to Believe. Instead, they speak on the phone to discuss Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale), a blowhard, Alex Jones-like TV personality who knows government secrets that go all the way to the top. Like, how 9/11 was an inside job and aliens are real, or something.
Nine minutes in, and the returned show is already hard to parse. It only gets more confusing once Sveta (Annett Mahendru, who’s great on The Americans but lackluster here), a woman who claims she’s been abducted by aliens on multiple occasions, gets introduced. Mulder — who’s presented as an unshaven hermit, until he’s not — takes an immediate interest in her, or so the script claims. David Duchovny’s performance here is comically sleepy; he doesn’t seem to understand what’s happening and doesn’t care enough to bother trying to understand it. (Gillian Anderson, the spark who lights the show’s fire, is as fantastic as ever.)
The episode’s big reveal, the development that’s supposed to change everything, is that alien technology is being used on humans, but there’s no “holy sh*t” wallop because it’s lost in all the needless exposition, choppy editing, and general lack of cohesion. It’s like the bees all over again.
Other familiar faces pop up along the way: Mitch Pileggi is still in need of a stiff drink as FBI Asst. Dir. Walter Skinner, the Cigarette Smoking Man continues to puff down cancer-sticks through a hole in his throat, and there are aliens, a whole lot of aliens, that don’t add anything to the mystery of the show that we didn’t already know. And that’s the thing: This episode doesn’t know who it’s for. It’s too complicated to appeal to X-Files newcomers, but too “been there, done that” for hardcore fans. Creator Chris Carter has dumped every paranoid thought he’s had in the past decade into a one-episode pot, and the result is an unappealing, tasteless stew.
If it sounds like I’m down on the episode, I am, but that’s because I know the show is capable of so much more. Tomorrow night’s episode, “Founder’s Mutation,” is a slight improvement, but stick around for episode three, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” which will air on February 1st. It’s as fantastically funny as it sounds, which shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s familiar with the clever brilliance of writer Darin Morgan. The truth is out there, and so are better episodes of The X-Files.