We see it happen in music all the time. The band breaks up after a series of great albums because members need to sow their own oats with side projects, realizes after some period of time that they miss what they used to have in terms of notoriety, and gets back together for an album or tour.
The hype is immense. There’s talk about bringing in new listeners as well as appealing to the old, hardcore fanbase following since the beginning. And then, finally, there’s disappointment.
If Sunday night’s maiden voyage of the six-episode The X-Files revival event is a sign of things to come, it’s tough seeing how new fans will be created and older, lifelong fans won’t be alienated (pun intended).
The opening scene was released for public consumption a few days prior to the episode, ostensibly an attempt to sum up the nine seasons of The X-Files and allow new viewers to get an immediate summary and not fall too far behind. But the remainder of the show was a maelstrom of disjoint that neither tied particularly well to the previous series nor gripped the new viewer with likeable versions of Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) or Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson).
During the series’ 14-year hiatus, the characters of Mulder and Scully apparently had a frayed relationship. That only gets explained during a scene where Scully references Mulder’s depression, a fairly disingenuous (not to mention wholly uncompassionate) way to sum up the cracking of a relationship that lasted nine seasons through alien abductions, job loss, deaths of family members and friends, and eventually, the giving up of a child for adoption.
The hallmarks of Scully’s personal character in the original series — compassion, consistency, loyalty, and constant professionalism — apparently were not carried over, not only shown through the end of Mulder’s relationship with her, but also in odd, clunky scenes such as her and this Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale, and we’ll get into him in a bit) character sipping booze in a limo shortly after they met.
Mulder, for his part, is still the cranky alien-chaser who over the course of 14 years apparently hasn’t been taking alien abduction stories seriously until a girl named Sveta (Annet Mahendru) has one to sell him.
Then you’ve got O’Malley — a conspiracy theory, right-wing Internet show host — who spends all of one scene recanting his obsession with alien conspiracy in the back of his limo with Mulder and Scully to win over their faith that he’s on their side. (Apparently, the two aren’t that hard to find, considering they left us as the two most hunted people in the Western Hemisphere in season nine’s “The Truth.”)
Give McHale credit for stepping out and getting the role, I suppose. But it’s a badly miscast one, a guy known for being a liberal jokester suddenly turning into alien conspiracy guy. What makes O’Malley even more awkward is his apparent affection for Scully’s character, hence the odd aforementioned champagne sipping scene that is just all kinds of awkward and not true to who Scully was in the original series.
But the total change-up of characters and odd roles wasn’t the most concerning part for X-Philes from Sunday night’s premiere. What was surprising was how remarkably brutal of a job the show’s creators tied the original X-Files to this revival.
The series ended abruptly but at least tied the story up. The Cigarette Smoking Man (C.G.B. Spender) had been blown to pieces by a missile; they showed his flesh burning off. Mulder and Scully finally expressed their on-screen love for people interested in that sort of thing.
From a logistical standpoint, using the end of the Mayan Calendar as a point for projecting the end of the world made sense. At the time, it wasn’t talked about much in that realm and as the show ended, it was still a decade away. That gave fans something to be creeped out about if they wanted to make that leap. There were alien-human hybrids running the government, and Mulder and Scully were left lying next to one another projecting about the power of “hope” and the dead speaking to us. Mulder had a new goal after the whole finding his sister and alien cover-up thing didn’t go exactly as planned.
The X-Files also left us with a powerful scene betwixt Mulder and The Cigarette Smoking Man where Mulder essentially realizes he’s been acting the same way as his nemesis; knowing when the human race will end, but keeping it secret because revealing it would cause more harm than good. It was the personality trait he’d spent nine seasons on the show trying to take down.
Fast-forward 14 years, and there’s no explanation as to why none of that came to fruition. Did the aliens running the government retire unexpectedly or find out that playing golf, drinking beer, and letting things go is a lot more fun than colonization?
Predictably, the revival miniseries begins with Mulder having a new “informant,” a medical doctor who was present for the Roswell crash in 1947. That part felt comfortably similar, as Mulder went through several during the course of nine seasons. Clandestine meetings were set and the informant would go to great lengths to meet with Mulder, only to give him bits and pieces and leave him chasing shadows again until the next meeting. It was all maddening in the sense that you immediately wanted more, part of the show’s allure.
Where the show does well is to prey on the insecurities people have of their fellow man — specifically, their government — no matter how outlandish those fears might seem.
The alien conspiracy is recast not as aliens hybridizing with humans for colonization, making them slaves, or extinguishing them. Rather, it’s that aliens aren’t the issue; shadowy government figures with alien technology wanting to take over the country are. They’ve always been framing aliens while being the actual cause of human abductions.
O’Malley’s rant to Mulder, Scully, and Sveta midway through the show gives a quick “Modern Conspiracy Theory 101” in this vein, trying to tie decades of paranoia with conspiracy theories running rampant today. Scully’s confession that she has alien DNA is a fair tie-in for fans accustomed to her bearing the brunt of awful health issues caused by the government. We’ll see how gripping that story is from here.
The last scene, though, was cringe-worthy. The Cigarette Smoking Man somehow has lived through a missile going through his house and burning off his flesh. On top of that, he’s apparently no longer in hiding. For him, 14 years must also have been enough time for everyone who wanted him dead to shrug and look the other way. He declares to someone over the telephone that the X-Files have been reopened, a phrase used multiple times during the nine original seasons.
Part of the problem with this first new episode is that the series ended so cleanly and realistically (as much as a show about aliens taking over the planet with the help of humans can be realistic), and every antagonist the viewer had a bond with had been killed off. Transitioning to a logical reboot while taking the previous storylines into account was going to be nearly impossible.
Producer Chris Carter is also missing an opportunity to gently introduce potential replacements for Mulder and Scully if this revival has the type of success that could lead to a new ongoing series. We’ll need to see where it goes from here, but the strained relationship between Mulder and Scully is awkward, not cleanly introduced, and will take away from some of the show’s charm if it continues with snide dialogue between the two.
Additionally, the new Scully is tough to like, a far cry from the original character. Scrapping scenes of her boozing it up with people she didn’t know 48 hours beforehand would be helpful if they exist in any future episodes.
Personally, as someone who has been an X-Files lifer, “My Struggle” was both the episode’s name and a description of trying to understand how Carter was trying to maintain authenticity to the past. The upshot, though, is that the show’s writers have always managed to explain confusing decisions while constantly building onto the overall narrative, making it seem reasonable and realistic.
Monday’s follow-up episode figures to be an opportunity to reel people back into what made The X-Files such a great show, one that always did a good job avoiding some of the soap opera-ish story lines that seemed oddly present in “My Struggle.”
The X-Files didn’t need to end. The series could have reasonably gone on, just not as successfully as in the past. Replacements for Mulder and Scully, particularly John Doggett (Robert Patrick), were decent enough to root for and build an attachment to.
Hopefully, some of what made the original series so great begins to manifest itself with Monday’s episode, “Founder’s Mutation.” The Truth is Out There, still, but the remaining five chapters would be wise to go back to chasing monsters again and letting people get hooked back into the show’s original charm from there.