While not off to the smoothest of starts, the nostalgia for the 90s phenomenon returns in this opening episode of The X-Files revival.
If you have had some sense of self control and haven’t been live-streaming the episodes as they air in the US, the day that every UK X-Phile has been waiting for has arrived. Tonight saw the return of our beloved Mulder and Scully in the new X-Files revival on Channel 5.
As is with any television show that’s been off the air for fourteen years, there’s a lot to catch up on. More than a lot in X-Files terms, especially when it comes to the show’s famed mythology. The X-Files opening episode tries to catch up fans that may not have watched it since 2002, and newcomers that haven’t seen the show before, or indeed maybe never even heard of it.
This is done through a cleverly depicted montage at the beginning of the episode. I’ve seen many American reviewers complaining about the way that the montage has Mulder displaying photographs of cases, himself and Scully and events that have happened within the series canon, but I can’t see why. Firstly, it’s a different way to do a ‘previously on…’, and to get new fans up to speed with the bare minimal. It’s also a beautiful and clever way to do so without boring the audience. And the photograph of Mulder and Scully burning – signifying both what the antagonist of the series and what the X-Files have ultimately done to their relationship is so beautiful it’s beyond mesmerizing.
Written and directed by show creator Chris Carter, the premier episode is titled ‘My Struggle’. It soon becomes clear whose struggle Carter is pointing towards, as it seems Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) has fallen down the extra-terrestrial rabbit hole again, being diagnosed as depressed by his estranged partner/lover Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). ‘Estranged’ because of his reappearing obsession and subsequent depression. Scully can’t stand to see her Mulder get consumed by this darkness again (this happening once already in the second X-Files film released in 2008, I Want to Believe).
We meet Mulder and Scully at a time of tension between the two. Mulder has become somewhat of a recluse, never seeming to leave the house that he and Scully once shared. Scully, on the other hand, is still working as a medical doctor at the hospital she was working in during I Want To Believe. It isn’t until Scully is contacted by their former FBI boss – now deputy director of the bureau – Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), that a controversial right-wing webcaster Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale) wants to meet with both Mulder and Scully.
From there, the shows famously convoluted mythology is touched upon and subsequently turned completely on it’s head. What once was believed to be a governmental conspiracy to hide the existence of extraterrestrials, and their plan to eventually colonize the earth with half alien, half human hybrids seems no longer to be the truth. This leads Mulder to believe that he and Scully have been mislead all along during their original run on The X Files.
Here, I would explain what the new mythology entails. But even as someone whose watched this series countless times since I was a kid, I can’t even get my head around what they’re trying to do here. And that’s one of the major problems with this episode, the conflicting ideas being thrown around within the newly established mythology arc. There’s only 40 or so minutes of an episode to cover, yet Carter bombards new and old viewers alike with a ton of new information that makes little-to-no sense. It barely made sense before, but at least there was some sort of agreed fact that within the shows canon; the aliens were planning to colonize earth with the help of a secret organisation within the American government.
It seems as though the secret organisation within the government are secretly the ones experimenting on humans, using alien technology that they acquired back in the 1940s. They’re using alien abductions, alien craft – ARV’s, as pointed out in the episode – and UFO phenomena as a smoke screen to hide their apparent planned takeover of America. Bearing in mind that these elaborate and confusing narratives have always been like this, especially within the mythology heavy episodes, you just have to give up and just run with it.
Another problem is the acting. Not from Duchovny and Anderson, but from the two newcomers – McHale and Annet Mahendru (Sveta, the alien abductee). I remember reading a recent interview between Duchovny and Anderson talking about their acting on the show, and how there is a certain way of acting within it. Some actors can do it, some actors can’t. Both McHale and Mahendru are two of the people that can’t. They either try too hard and come off as though they’re overacting, or they try too little and portray the characters as passive and bland. The first with McHale, the second with Sveta. It gives an off-balance to the opening episode of the long-awaited return, which is sad in some ways, but whenever Duchovny and Anderson appear on screen it makes up for it – big time.
It may seem as though this episode hasn’t lived up to expectations. In truth, it hasn’t. But it doesn’t make it terrible. It’s somewhat expected with a show such as plot and mythology heavy as The X-Files to not have a strong start. But for someone that has seen the next two episodes – ‘Founder’s Mutation’ and ‘Mulder and Scully Meet The Were-Monster’ – there is so much to look forward to. The second episode alone makes up for this episode. Duchovny and Gillian find their footing as Mulder and Scully here, but it’s not until the next two episodes where you sink into your chair, breath a sigh of relief and think to yourself, ‘Ah, now this is The X-Files’.
The X-Files airs on Mondays at 9pm on Channel 5.