Ever since Fox confirmed in 2015 that new episodes of “The X-Files” were coming in 2016, we diehard fans — X-Philes, as we are called — have been bracing for Jan. 24 with a combination of nostalgia, fear, regret, and hope. It’s not unlike the experience of “Star Wars” fans awaiting “The Force Awakens”: we were excited to get a new chapter with our beloved heroes, but worried as to what could happen. We have been burned in the past, and we didn’t want to get burned again.
Not watching the new series wouldn’t be an option. We are a fierce fanbase. We name our pets, cars and appliances after X-Files characters. And not obvious pedestrian names like “Mulder” or “Scully.” I met a woman who wrote a musical and named the main character “Darin,” after Darin Morgan, who wrote some of the series’ best episodes. How many fans of “Friends” or “Glee” can rattle off the names of the people who wrote their favorite episodes? We X-Philes can.
No, not watching was out of the question. We knew we’d subject ourselves to whatever Chris Carter gave us, even it was going to be Robert Patrick sitting in a chair for six episodes saying, “Dollars to donuts, I don’t believe in no aliens.” Luckily, the first episode seems to be better than that.
“My Struggle” needed to appeal to two distinct audiences: longtime fans who remember more about the show than its creators do, and new watchers who know nothing about Mulder or Scully. The opening montage scratches that itch, summing up the original series with a voice-over reminiscent of season two premiere “Little Green Men” and season five premiere “Redux Part 1.” The series of photos appearing in that montage sets the mood for watchers new to “The X-Files” and elicits squeals from X-Philes. “That’s Flukeman! Oh, that’s Tooms! Welcome home, boys! Welcome home!”
That nostalgia for familiar things continues throughout the episode. Carter used the same opening credits from the early years of the series, before the ID badges of Scully and Mulder were updated, and before the theme song was altered. This might seem like a minor detail, but it’s a signal to longtime fans: “We know what you loved about the original series, and we want to give you that.”
The plot seems familiar, because it relies on devices the writers have used before. The X-Files have been closed, but someone who’s watched Mulder’s work from afar reaches out to him to tell him he doesn’t have the whole truth on the government conspiracy to manipulate the public. Joel McHale’s Tad O’Malley is a Fox News-esque pundit who promises to lead Mulder and Scully to “the truth.”
What unfolds over the next hour is a greatest hits of the early mythology episodes: Mulder and Scully arguing via cellphone, Mulder making grand speeches about “everything we have been led to believe,” Mulder and an elderly informant meeting in front of a D.C. monument for a vague conversation, Mulder and Scully talking in a parking garage, Mulder barking “who do you take orders from” at Skinner, Mulder vacillating once again on whether the alien conspiracy is real or just a means of manipulation, Mulder referring to an alien abductee with mind-reading powers as “the key to everything,” Cancer Man coming back from the grave for the 37th time to talk to an unknown person, the X-Files being reopened.
We’ve seen all of this before, of course, but we forgive it for this episode because we’re just happy to see them onscreen again. The writers mined the quintessential elements of the conspiracy theory plot while leaving out the stuff that bogged it down, such as bees, aliens with no eyes setting people on fire, super soldiers. It’s ridiculous, but let’s be honest: the mythology was ridiculous for most of the series. Those were fun episodes during sweeps weeks, but in hindsight, the most satisfying part of the series were the monster-of-the-week episodes. Chris Carter seems to get that, as four of these six episodes are going to be standalone episodes.
At its best, the show was not really about aliens, or the government. It was about Mulder and Scully, not as potential (and eventual) romantic partners, but as two people sparring each other over faith, belief, and reason. Scully was a trained scientist who rejected aliens, but needed no proof for her Catholicism. Mulder rejected the spiritual, and instead put his faith in a different kind of supernatural realm. The banter between them was more than just sexual tension, because otherwise they would be another Sam and Diane, a la “Cheers.” Mulder and Scully were two people who could challenge each other while still respecting each other. As stubborn as they both were, they were able to help each other find pieces of “the truth,” however abstract and hokey that truth might have been.
This new miniseries has the challenge of reestablishing that rapport, particularly after Scully became much more open to the paranormal in the later seasons. In Mulder’s absence, Scully became the believer and Agent Doggett was brought in to be the skeptic. The Mulder-Scully dynamic is hard to pull off if they both are open to the paranormal, but the writers can’t dismiss that the series finale was two hours of Scully and Skinner conceding that Mulder had been right the whole time.
“My Struggle” had the familiar back-and-forths, though Mulder and Scully’s bickering was a little too obvious and on-the-nose at some points. Hopefully, this will be the only episode that has such overt “why did you leave me” references. This overall miniseries has the Herculean task of undoing a lot of what happened in the last two seasons of the original series while also not alienating new watchers with too many references to the old series.
That’s a tough challenge, and “My Struggle” gets a C+/B- in that category. O’Malley and Sveta were meant to be stand-ins for new viewers, serving as a means of exposition of Mulder’s and Scully’s backstories. The problem is that neither O’Malley or Sveta were very likable. They weren’t unlikable so much as they were just boring, though Sveta did lose points for telling Scully that she didn’t know what it was like to be abducted. That alone was enough to get me to root against her for the rest of the episode, even if there was nothing in her storyline to root for or against. The scene at the end, where she was abducted and/or blown up, didn’t leave me with much regret, because her character never showed us anything new. There were countless Svetas on the original series, so what makes this abductee so special?
But this episode was meant to be a reintroduction, not one about plot or character development or asking analytical questions. If it were, we’d be asking a lot, like, shouldn’t that Roswell doctor be pushing 100 now? How can the old X-Files office look exactly the same as it was 14 years ago and yet still look cleaner? How can Cancer Man keep coming back to life after being killed so many times? Who likes him enough to be willing to hold a cigarette up to his throat hole?