This can’t be the end of The X-Files. It just can’t.
“My Struggle II” culminated the 10th season revival, a six-episode blast to the past that at times felt clunky, comedic, rushed, smooth, and authentic. The finale provided an ending that was inconclusive and completely ridiculous.
Maybe this is the ultimate X-File, a miniseries purported to be a brief voyage into the past meshed with the present, all along knowing that there would be more at some undetermined date. Television is driven by ratings, and The X-Files revival has done well. That alone should make this voyage worth continuing.
This final episode did a remarkably better job than the brutal inaugural to season 10, “My Struggle.” Joel McHale’s Tad O’Malley, right-wing conspiracy theorist extraordinaire, was a little more authentic and a little less forced faux funny. Even though the relative power of extreme right or extreme left Internet musings have some limited influence, the character at least felt a little more like youthful Glenn Beck.
At its best, The X-Files has brought genuinely uncomfortable distrust and conspiracy theories to its characters and viewers, making them seem plausible enough to linger long after a particular episode or series mythology has ended. In “My Struggle II,” The Syndicate, which was killed off other than Cigarette Smoking Man (C.G.B. Spender) in 1998, makes a return and its ultimate plan is revisited. Rather than the colonization theme from the original series, the sinister scheme is now using the smallpox vaccine to weaken the immune system in all human beings, thus bringing about The Sixth Extinction, the end of humanity.
Agents Einstein and Miller are re-introduced for no good reason. But they end up being more significant to the story than in the previous week’s episode, “Babylon.” Einstein is the foil for Scully, who takes the Mulder role with a rushed theory about the Syndicate scheme that felt like it could have played out over a few seasons given the opportunity. Mulder himself goes off to meet Spender after being summoned to his house, only to hold his nemesis over the barrel of a gun for the third time in the series.
The purpose of Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) is also explained. Named as Scully’s “replacement” in the original series, she turns out to be Spender’s servant in exchange for the secrets of how The Syndicate was going to end the human race. But by being Spender’s lackey, Reyes would be one of the few immune to all of the death. Her confession to Scully was one of the better scenes of the series, providing enough information to be believable. Reyes eventually gives Scully the skeleton key for stopping the virus.
Meanwhile, Mulder goes through a near-deja vu from season nine’s “The Truth,” when Spender gloats over watching him break down. Spender is the ultimate evil, but willing to give the keys to the castle if Mulder joins his fold. The over-arching theme of the series is that Spender wants Mulder to continue whatever legacy he has. Yet Mulder chooses to die rather than join Spender and be part of the self-absorbed Syndicate, a cabal of very powerful men who saw their own salvation as more important than anything, including the lives of everyone else.
Miller ends up finding Mulder and “saving” him by use of a PhoneFinder application on Mulder’s computer, which felt a little odd considering how paranoid he is. Einstein (which continues to be a terrible name) works well as Scully’s skeptic, eventually helping her understand that the alien DNA isn’t the curse, but the cure. That allows Scully to find what we assume is a cure but is never actually confirmed.
The final part of the episode shows Scully trying to get what she thinks is a vaccine past mobs of rioters (whom she somehow stops and convinces to get to the hospital) and weaving through traffic fantastically to bring the cure to Miller and Mulder. But Mulder is too far gone, apparently, and needs stem cells. Just then, an alien spacecraft comes over Scully and Miller and just like that, it’s all over.
With “My Struggle II,” series creator Chris Carter tried to push what used to be a few seasons of mythology into an hour and it comes off sloppy at times. But The X-Files did well against the clock in this episode. The main mythology arc was reintroduced enough to tie in new viewers, while keeping old viewers engaged. Spender had to be explained, and whatever new “evil” was out there needed to be pretty diabolical. However, the ending was intentionally aggravating, leaving people wanting more. You only do that if there’s more to offer.
The smart play was to put something out there that had a lifespan after the series was over, in case fans still wanted more. Ratings for the revival suggest that they do. The risk was that it wouldn’t work, no one would watch or become engaged and The X-Files would die on the vine. That was not the case. Through 10 seasons, the series has always managed to take a blunt cliffhanger ending and torture the viewer to think about what could be next during its hiatus. (For example, Mulder’s possible suicide at the end of season four.) But this time, we don’t know if or when the show will return.
Maybe that’s the brilliance of Carter, making a revival never meant to be just six episodes but making us think that it was.