After this introduction, let us now get into the meat of this: the episode itself.
“My Struggle” is written and directed by Chris Carter. It has the difficult task to do no less than the following: introduce the concept of the show, its central characters, its main intrigue, to new viewers; refresh the memory of fans on where the story stood when we last saw our heroes; reintroduce the main characters and what makes them tick; cover the time gap between 2008 and today; address and advance the mythology; present an episode’s worth of intrigue, with beginning, middle and end; last 44 minutes; and satisfy fans as much as possible.
Spoilers after the jump
The episode not only reintroduces Mulder and Scully to fans and very broadly addresses what they have been up to since IWTB, it introduces who Mulder and Scully are as archetypal characters — the believer with the obsession and abducted sister, the skeptic with a medical background and a knack for religion — in essence, so much time has passed that this has to be the pilot for a new series.
The episode reintroduces the concept of the show through an opening monologue and montage of Mulder summarizing their quest. The teaser with an often philosophizing monologue is something The X-Files have done before several times — e.g. 2X01: Little Green Men, 5X07: Emily, 6X12: One Son (also a photo ending up in flames); however here the tone is much more direct, momentous, explanatory. Most of the photos Mulder uses are from promotional stills from the series (Who took those pictures, in-universe, I wonder? Also, this is maybe the fifth little girl used for photos of Samantha, why not reuse an older photo of Samantha Morley like in I Want To Believe?). Then Mulder continues with a carsh-course in UFOlogy, reminiscent of Kritschgau in 5X02: Redux.
Then come the opening credits — in a strive for maximum continuity, the revival goes as far as to use the exact same opening credits as the first seven seasons (note here one of the many instances where the revival seems to ignore seasons 8-9), complete with now very old pictures of Duchovny and Anderson. The credits are trimmed for shorter length and use different type fonts (a change already present in the BluRays of the show, mysterious, as they were unable to locate the original fonts…). A welcome addition is that of Skinner as the third star in the opening credits! He had managed to be there for the season 9 credits, it is only logical that Mitch Pileggi appears here as well.
Previously on The X-Files: the Mulder-Scully relationship
We find Mulder and Scully in a place that has evolved organically from where they were at the end of I Want To Believe. The film ended with the two still being a couple, after that particular case that immersed them again in the “darkness” that they had tried to escape from, and with them deciding to give it a try and find happiness together. Yet as was obvious from the happenings in the film and what it implied, not everything was perfect between them. By the time we see them again here, these problems only grew — until they got separated. We find them living apart, Mulder still in the same rural house in West Virginia, unemployed other than brewing over his obsessions, and Scully an assistant to surgeons in the Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic hospital in Washington DC.
This separation is certainly the largest and boldest change the revival applies to the show. However, this does not mean that the show will no longer deal with that relationship aspect, as if a complete reboot was applied and we return to the middle years of the old show of underlying sexual tension that had to remain unresolved. Quite the contrary, the revival promises to have the relationship front and center, for it to be the arc that ties all the episodes together, much more than the alien/conspiracy mythology will.
More than the difficulties of their relationship, what these two persons have seen and lived through, the loss of family members and the distancing with their son, the looming threat of conspiracy and colonization, they are now older and more world-weary, tired, difficult to find much happiness in their lives. Anderson and Duchovny excel in their performances, and enter into the third decade depicting these characters!
Mulder and Scully’s attitude towards each other flows naturally from I Want To Believe, poking each other where they know it will hurt — an attitude Anderson and Duchovny shine at. They clearly show they had a history together and that this is now behind them. Scully: “For better or worse we’ve moved on with our lives“; Mulder: “Yes we have. For better, for worse“. Mulder is definitely the bitter one, the choice of separation being Scully’s since she is also the one who moved out.
Mulder admits he has been “obsessed“, and probably spent most of his time thinking and over-thinking his previous experiences, stuck in the past. Later Sveta mind reads Scully (and Scully does not correct her) that she diagnosed him with “endogenous depression“, “and that’s what killed your relationship“. Interestingly, this decision to distance them retrospectively elevates I Want To Believe into something more than a passing marital quarrel, into a chapter in an evolving relationship that brought us to this point.
Surely, given all they have been through over the course of the series these two souls are bound with ties that cannot be severed by, well, anything. Ending their relationship as lovers and ending their sharing their daily lives in a single home did not mean that their story has ended altogether. Scully knew how to contact Mulder, and they still seem to have been in contact regularly. What “My Struggle” implies is that the X-Files brought these two together, and that the X-Files need to be present in their lives for them to be energized and close. As Scully tells Tad on her years in the X-Files, “I’ve never felt so alive“. Linking their relationship to their work in the X-Files is a smart move. The heroes need to be out there on the search for the truth to be whole and one.
One has to wonder whether this direction was not entirely Carter’s doing or whether he had a helping hand by Morgan and Wong. Back in 1996, by the time they returned in The X-Files‘ fourth season after a one-year break to develop their own show, their sensibilities were somewhat different from the direction the show was taking — notably, it seems they would have tried to generate drama by distancing Scully and Mulder; Mulder would go too far with his ‘spooky’ theories to the point where Scully would be led to intern him in a psychiatric hospital for insanity (the storyline may have found its way into Mulder and Scully’s separate beliefs in the first half of season 5, and in the Gilligan episode 5X19: Folie à Deux, where Mulder is indeed interned). Them arguing for distancing Mulder and Scully in the revival is not far off. However, last summer in the Neuchâtel International Film Festival, Carter confessed that “I’ve been asked if I would change anything in the X-Files, and I said yeah, I would change one thing. So maybe this is a chance for me to change one thing.” That one thing, which was a mystery, must be this aspect. This is still the first episode of 6, so let’s see how this evolves.
Previously on The X-Files: dangling threads of mythology
This is the first mythology episode since 2002: more time has elapsed since the series–sorry, season 9–ending than throughout the original show’s entire run!
Since that time, the expected day for invasion, December 22 2012 (see 9X19-20: The Truth), has come and passed, with nothing having happened (at least in appearance — Mulder mentions that at that date the “countdown” for the New World Order takeover started). “My Struggle” makes no more mention of the infiltration of society by alien replicant Supersoldiers than I Want To Believe did. At some point a mention at least will have to be made, unless major continuity problems emerge. Of course, given the realistic approach The X-Files takes on presenting its science fiction stories, the alien storyline could not have ended with a full-scale invasion seen by everyone lest The X-Files deviates from our reality into a fully fictional one. If the alien invasion storyline is touched again — in Carter’s ideas for a third film, surely — whatever might happen will happen underground, covertly, a secret war.
Over the past 14 years, Mulder has not been up to much. Collecting news stories about the paranormal, trying to follow other people’s work in searching the truth about UFOs, he himself has not been contributing and investigating as he used to when he was active in the X-Files division. Worse, spending that much time isolated and alone he has started doubting his findings, doubting the beliefs he has formed over the past. Considering where Mulder finds himself today, the fact that nothing happened in 2012 could have further thrown him towards depression, increased his doubts and readied him for embracing an alternate theory where what he believed before was a lie.
This extended period of inactivity and self-doubt reflects a previous one, when in 1994 the X-Files had been shot down. In 2X01: Little Green Men (a Morgan & Wong episode) there is the following exchange:
Scully: And you’re worried that all your life, you’ve been seeing elves?
Mulder: In my case… little green men.
Scully: But, Mulder… during your time with the X-Files, you’ve seen so much.
Mulder: That’s just the point. Seeing is not enough, I should have something to hold onto. Some solid evidence. I learned that from you.
Scully: Your sister’s abduction, you’ve held onto that.
Mulder: I’m beginning to wonder if… if that ever even happened.
Mulder is in a similar kind of place, weary, fragile, vulnerable to outside information — that will come with Tad O’Malley.
The Fox & Tad Infodump Show
Skinner summarizes the general feeling the episode conveys: “Since 9/11 this country has taken a big turn on a very strange direction“. “We’re never been in more danger.” The episode firmly anchors itself in the present times, it includes several clips of G.W.Bush and one of Obama joking about classified UFO documents (Democratic potential presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has also made the promise to reveal everything; she is not the first).
The episode presents to us Tad O’Malley, a conspiracy theorist of the likes that have emerged and become very popular over the past fifteen years. As trust in the government along with an economic crisis have made people doubtful of the information they receive from mainstream media, the internet has helped give people easier access to alternative media. Tad has his own (online only?) TV show, “Truth Squad” (and a Twitter account!) and appears to be a younger, sleeker version of people like Bill O’Reilly (Fox News, mentioned in the episode; conservative, anti-liberal, close to the Republican party), Glenn Beck (Fox News; conservative, anti-liberal, conspiratorial, actively Mormon) or especially Alex Jones (independent, conservative-to-libertarian, very conspiratorial). And O’Malley is not just a conspiracy theorist, he is most definitely a conservative, with many of the conservative obsessions: firearm control from the government, the government trampling the Constitution, 9/11 false flags, fear of anything liberal.
Promoting this episode, Carter said:
“There are people that I’ve been watching on the internet and television for a time like Glenn Beck and Alex Jones who are really interesting characters. Someone mentioned something today that is absolutely true which is that conspiracies are no longer under ground. They’ve come to the surface and into the light of day because of the internet. Glenn Beck is someone I have a relationship with, same with Alex Jones and his site on the internet. I find it to be fascinating.”
When The X-Files was presenting wild conspiracy theories via Mulder or the Lone Gunmen in the 1990s, although they were part of a pre-existing underground subculture, they always seemed as some parallel history that was self-consciously fictional, for most people it was all too “far out” to be taken as anything else than interesting fabulation mixed with allegory (for example, the Syndicate’s deal with the Colonists as a kind of Vichy government). “My Struggle” presents conspiracy theories that are also pre-existing, however they are blended in such a way that they feel ferociously close to what reality, or reality for a majority of people, is. Present viewers need no reminder of a Watergate scandal two decades past to know that something frightening is going on: the manipulations that lead to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the loss of civil liberties due to an obsession with security, and the scandals of WikiLeaks and NSA surveillance are common knowledge despite being the definition of a conspiracy. The X-Files has never been so close to real, current events as with this episode.
While this is good news, the turn Mulder takes embracing O’Malley’s theories and Carter’s comments above could be cause for concern. Your mileage may vary, naturally, however I would not want to see The X-Files become an apology of libertarian, conservative, anti-liberal propaganda even if these theories are framed in a fictional narrative. Carter certainly raises the debate here, and we will have to see “My Struggle II” to see where that leads us.
What follows in the episode once Mulder and O’Malley align their views is a perfect storm of conspiratorial paranoia that is a condensed summary on steroids of 1990s alien conspiracy theories (Mulder’s exposé) mixed with 2000s New World Order conspiracy theories (Tad’s part). Even more intense than Kritschgau’s exposition of the conspiracy to Mulder in 5X02: Redux, or the scene between Jim Garrison and “X” in Oliver Stone’s “JFK” on which it was based! (see annexes below for detailed explanations)
Scully’s verdict? “It’s fear mongering, claptrap, isolationist techno-paranoia“. Who could blame her? The accumulation of conspiracy theories here is insane! While these expository scenes certainly fill their role in making the series feel very topical and taking place in the world of today, they are also an illustration of why Scully had trouble taking Mulder seriously, jumping at wild accusations from little proof.
Are we to believe that this is what the X-Files mythology is now? Where The X-Files mythology based itself on ‘real-world conspiracies’ to build its own conspiracy and mythology, here pre-existing theories, many of them exclusively from the conservative sphere, most elements coming from nowhere but the internet, are all taken en masse and dumped on us; certainly no event has been otherwise established from within the show. “Conspiracy sells“, Mulder told O’Malley, and the same could be said for the show The X-Files as well. “You like conspiracy?” Carter seems to be asking us? Well, here is a kitchen sink of an episode with nothing but. Now let’s see you try to untangle truth from folly.
This is only the kick-off of a larger mythology arc and more elements will be introduced that will put some things in perspective. Some of the best parts of The X-Files have been where Mulder’s theories were not enough to reach the truth, where Mulder and Scully’s initial approaches were wrong, and it was the common investigation and Scully’s science that managed to shed some light to the situation. Perhaps “My Struggle II” will be similar, invalidating some of what we heard and adding some biological science to the mix.
Tad’s toy: the ARV
The triangular craft definitely looks like other man-made or alien crafts that we have seen before, apart from looking like a B2 bomber: the military UFO in 1X01: Deep Throat, the salvaged World War II ‘Foo Fighter’ in 3X16: Apocrypha, the ‘origins of life’ craft in 6X22: Biogenesis / 7X03: The Sixth Extinction. Its cloaking effect is reminiscent of similar technology displayed in 7X22: Requiem or 8X02: Without.
You might recognize Garner (Hiro Kanagawa), the Asian scientist Mulder talks to, as other scientists in 2X09: Firewalker and 4X19: Synchrony!
“The key to the X-Files”: Sveta’s story
Sveta was one of those multiple alien abductees that Mulder interviewed during his years on the X-Files. Two decades later, Sveta has grown; she puts Tad O’Malley on the lookout for Mulder, who is reached via Skinner and Scully, and the story gets going.
Sveta presents a “classic” case of alien abduction, with experiments and implanted and harvested fetuses. The experiment table we see in her flashes looks like the one from 2X05: Duane Barry (the first episode Chris Carter ever directed): black with bright white lights. Of course, Scully has lived through this before. She claims she has “alien DNA” and is intermittently a “mind reader“, but doesn’t believe she is in fact abducted by aliens: it’s “men“, “aboard their ships“. Same with Sveta, Duane Barry and Scully had been abducted by what looked like aliens at first but were apparently men implanting false memories of alien abductions (or, in Scully’s case, doing a memory swipe).
At this point Mulder becomes his old self and excitedly starts spewing theories. In a line oh-so-characteristic of The X-Files, he says that “Sveta is the key to everything“. Mind-reader Gibson Praise was already “the key to everything in the X-Files” (5X20: The End and 6X01: The Beginning); Cassandra Spender is “the one” (6X11: Two Fathers); the uncovered craft at the Ivory Coast was “the key to everything, to life itself” (7X03: The Sixth Extinction); and of course William, Scully and Mulder’s son, was the centre of an alien prophecy, a “miracle child” (9X11: Providence). While the significance of these previous cases was firmly established, what makes Sveta so special — apart from the fact that she sees behind her implanted memories — is more fuzzy.
Scully tests Sveta for alien DNA (how?!); in a lame end-of-the-act twist, the first test comes back negative but the second, a more in-depth sequencing of her entire genome, is positive. What she finds here is that Sveta and she share some DNA, a remnant of the experiments done on them. This should not come as a surprise to Scully: she analyzed her own DNA and compared it to an unidentified chimera that was derived from an alien organism in 5X02: Redux; she studied DNA from the alien virus she was infected with in Fight the Future and identified it inside Gibson Praise’s DNA and also everyone’s DNA in the form of “junk DNA” (6X01: The Beginning). She must have known better, yet this is what gives her resolution to join the X-Files again.
Later, Sveta changes her story and before “the media” accuses O’Malley of bribery and of misleading people — somewhat awkwardly, how she was convinced to change her mind occurs offscreen. As soon as that happens, a crackdown operation is launched: a team of military destroys the ARV killing those studying it; O’Malley’s site goes offline; Sveta is tracked down by a UFO and is killed (pinpointed by a laser coming from the sky, reminiscent of the unmanned drones used by the US military). Whether Tad and Sveta got too close to the truth or whether they completed their usefulness as unknowing agents of misinformation and were then silenced (see 4X24: Gethsemane) we do not know yet.
Mulder notes several times that “conspiracy sells“: O’Malley looks very well off, with his limousine, champagne, helicopter. Where he gets his financing is not disclosed; if he only gets it from the buzz his show generates, it is also possible that he only “does it for the ratings” and is deceiving Mulder. And we still didn’t find out where these people got ahold of an entire ARV, this thing must cost a fortune. When Scully and Mulder meet at the underground parking lot at the end of the episode, Mulder throws another conspiracy theory and adds ironically “if you believe in that kind of thing“: perhaps Mulder is not yet a hundred percent convinced by O’Malley’s side of things.
New Mexico, 1947: The Medicine Man informant
Sprinkled throughout the episode, either as full flashbacks or as illustrations of Mulder’s theories, is the story of a man who witnesses a UFO crash first hand, possibly the Roswell crash or the Aztec one — there were many UFO crashes in New Mexico that year! He describes himself as a “man of medicine” who didn’t know how his work would be used, and he is accompanied by the cliché of the Man In Black: suited, rough, silent, ready to kill aliens.
We see everything that the Roswell crash is supposed to have been and is remembered for: we see the military collecting evidence, we see an alien being shot, we see an alien autopsy — all in that sepia vintage look of the 1940s-1950s that films use to recreate the look of that period’s film stock. The X-Files also rarely resorted to flashbacks, and it’s not clear why the 1947 events would not have been better suited all together as a teaser or presented when the informant character is introduced. With the back and forth between past and present, we are reminded of The X-Files’ heir series, “Lost”, which used this narrative technique a lot.
What is also jarring is the old school look of it all: the crashed UFO really looks like how people thought of UFOs in the 1940s and 1950s. The flying saucer is unlike the ARV, which is triangular and more like an aircraft. Could it be that we are only seeing another set of implanted memories, in that informant’s mind for many decades, another layer of lies? We also see the alien losing blood (dark red, not completely black), and later be autopsied, and yet no trace of the Black Oil that “theoretically” would jump at the humans to infect them — of course, our knowledge of the aliens’ biology is not very good, but this is disconcerting nevertheless, given what we have seen flowing out of a dead alien body in Fight the Future.
Forward seventy (!) years and Mulder meets that ‘Old Man’ (Rance Howard), who is the latest in a long series of Mulder’s informants. A meeting in the dark and brooding phrases like “the why might be more complicated than the how, Mr. Mulder” or “you’re nearly there“, an impatient informant waiting for Mulder to connect the dots before he can give more information: more staples of the good-old X-Files, in particular of Deep Throat! He is quick to dismiss Mulder’s previous theories, with a mention — surprisingly! — of the Faceless Rebels: “warring aliens lighting each other on fire, and other such nonsense“. Mulder uses a well-known phrase from President Eisenhower (1961), “sixty years ago we were warned of the military-industrial complex gathering too much power“.
Not much comes out of that meeting. We do learn that he was the one who approached Mulder first, ten years ago, and waits for Mulder to connect the dots before he gives him more information. At the last moment, the informant says “Roswell, that was a smokescreen“; Mulder replies “so I’ve been told“. What a throwback to 1X23: The Erlenmeyer Flask! Back then, Deep Throat told Mulder: “Roswell was a smokescreen, we’ve had a half-a-dozen better salvage operations.” What is truth and what is cover-up and manipulation?
The X-Files reopened, Skinner and the CSM
Mulder meets Skinner at the FBI Headquarters, at the old X-Files office in the basement! What this scene does is completely ignore seasons 8 and 9 and purely identify “The X-Files” with “Mulder and Scully”. They left, and the office closed, not opened since! This is all the background we will get, it seems. Hopefully a character’s appearance in “My Struggle II” will offer some more detail. For some reason, this scene occurs mid-episode, when it could have taken place at the end, signaling the reopening of the X-Files.
And so at the end of the episode, Mulder approaches Scully in an underground parking lot as if he were another Deep Throat informant, they receive the news. Skinner has decided to reopen the X-Files! His SMS: “SITUATION CRITICAL. NEED TO SEE YOU BOTH ASAP.” — reminiscent of the following telegram at the end of Fight the Future: “X-FILES RE-OPENED. STOP. PLEASE ADVISE. STOP.” From Sveta to Tad to Skinner: Carter could have imagined a different way for Mulder and Scully to return to the X-Files, something more exciting than a mix of previously seen abductees and talk show host theories Mulder had access to all along.
What we do get at the end, the shocking twist, is the revelation that the show’s arch-nemesis the Cigarette-Smoking Man is still alive and smoking! All cozy in an aristocratic-looking living room, with a “Carpe Diem” metal engraving above the fireplace (almost reminiscent of the Old Man’s hut in Millennium – 2×16: Roosters). His presence was teased in all the promotional material, so this is not the surprise it could have been (William B Davis’ name appears only at the end of the episode so as not to spoil it). But it still is the episode’s most odd choice. After having him killed and return from the dead like a vulgar comic book character so many times, why make him return yet again? Already his final appearance in the season 9 finale was extremely repetitive. This time it feels like a big lack of imagination, instead of focusing on developing a new villain or further developing who was emerging to be his replacement, the Supersoldiers Toothpick Man (Alan Dale). What’s more it is humanly impossible that he survived the missile fire he received — we even saw his face melt into a skull! He couldn’t have been a Supersoldier since other Supersoldiers died there because of the magnetite; he could be a hybrid. What we see of him now is more reminiscent of how he was in 7X22: Requiem, with his tracheotomy. He is still assisted by someone (who?) for smoking, like nurse Greta or the old Indian woman previously. And what we see of him, his arm and face, look deeply scarred, as if he had somehow been reconstructed.
Perhaps he has been reconstructed thanks to alien technology or to manipulation of his DNA so that he can be immortal. This could be the entire point of the experiments: create a DNA manipulating technology as a recipe for immortality, accessible only to the conspiracy’s elite. Unless “My Struggle II” has a good explanation for this, the CSM’s gratuitous return will be one the revival’s definitive bad turns.
“What if everything we’ve been led to believe in is a lie?“: Redux part III, or not?
And now let’s get to the elephant in the room, the complete reversal of the mythology. In appearance, “My Struggle” seems to be negating nine seasons of mythology, proof positive of most critics’ opinion of the X-Files mythology, that it’s all nonsense. Mulder: “not by aliens, not with aliens, but by a venal conspiracy of men against humanity“. He even talks of “advanced alien species, concerned for mankind in the threat of our self-destruction, forestalling our annihilation through their own self-sacrifice“, a theory completely out of the blue: aliens have become saviours, whose work has been corrupted by the machinations of men.
In his opening monologue, Mulder sets the tone: “But we must ask ourselves: are they really a hoax? are we truly alone?” Sveta weighs in: “You always wondered if they weren’t lying to you too.” Mulder always has his doubts. When O’Malley first comes to him, he is the first to point out that theories are theories and that “actual proof has been strangely hard to come by“. Mulder might have uncovered things but, but whatever he has seen has always been through the prism of things he has been told — by Deep Throat, by Alvin Kurtzweil, by the CSM. Yet at the end of the day he had no hard proof to account for all that; if Mulder has grown as a character since the pilot, it’s in needing that proof to believe, and this trait he has acquired thanks to Scully.
Certainly he has seen a few things: shapeshifters who bleed green; a huge ship under the Antarctic ice; clones; Black Oil; experiments that left him for dead for three months before resurrecting. But in the case where the UFOs he has seen might have been run by men able to manipulate his memories, what else has he seen indeed? As Strughold said at the end of Fight the Future, “What has he seen? Of the whole he has seen but pieces.” The proposition “My Struggle” makes is not one where aliens do not exist at all, something that would have made a great many things difficult to explain. The previously mentioned shapeshifters or Black Oil could be explained by experiments with alien material and alien/human hybridization. The ship in Antarctica (Fight the Future) could be a real alien ship, stationed there for a long time, with the tiny bit of a base camp above it an attempt by men to hack it for their own purposes. Whatever else Mulder has thought he has understood, it has been through other people, through hearsay or through people who themselves could have been manipulated. Deep Throat is a good example: he was feeding Mulder with truths and lies, and ultimately he seems to have been manipulated himself, leading to his demise. Mulder’s credulity might be the biggest issue of this episode, however we have discussed of some psychological factors that have fragilized him.
If the existence of aliens is a given, then the only item that contradicts this new reading of the mythology is the whole Syndicate and colonization deal. What Mulder hasn’t seen or heard, and for this the viewer is several steps ahead of him, is all the internal workings of the Syndicate: he hasn’t directly heard them talking about the Colonists’ plans or about the Faceless Rebels militia, he didn’t see the CSM discuss with the Alien Bounty Hunter or the CSM with Strughold. Thus the entire alien-Syndicate collaboration cannot be a hoax unless the Syndicate itself has been manipulated — or Carter really has purely conducted a reboot, but I am unwilling to consider this until “My Struggle II” arrives. This would necessitate a great amount of explanations (like any option). However one could imagine that one party that made the initial contact with the aliens, say the CSM, from then on completely monopolized contact with them and was able to feed false information from the very beginning, 1947, manipulating events to his own advantage. This would be a stretch.
The other option is that the Syndicate and colonization does exist, and the “conspiracy of men” that is discussed here is not mutually exclusive.
Indeed, the series has appeared several times to contradict itself on the issue of collaboration with aliens, when in fact it established that there are two separate but parallel conspiracies. The “governmental conspiracy” deals with retro-engineering alien crafts (1X01: Deep Throat, 6X04/05: Dreamland), when it identifies aliens it shoots to kill (1X16: E.B.E.), makes use of the military for its operations, as this falls within the jurisdiction of governments (1X09: Fallen Angel, the “Blue Beret UFO Retrieval Team” in 2X01: Little Green Men, 4X17: Tempus Fugit, 4X18: Max), and stages campaigns of misinformation to spread confusion and camouflage its deeds (4X24: Gethsemane, 5X02/03: Redux).
The Syndicate, on the other hand, is specifically pointed out as a separate, non-State entity: the CSM in 6X12: One Son: “We no longer cleaved to any government agency. We would now operate privately, on our own project.” It is a collection of individuals, otherwise also working “day jobs” in the high spheres of government, that gives accounts to no one but themselves. The Syndicate prepared the way for colonization with the aliens, keeping its secrets close. The Syndicate might have (in appearance) dissolved in 1999, but there is no reason why the governmental conspiracy might have not thrived. “My Struggle“, then, gives us a closer look at that “other side” that The X-Files stopped developing since 5X03: Redux II.
Why then all these layers? Is this leading to a second complete twist in “My Struggle II“, similar to how Mulder had found his beliefs again in 5X14: The Red and the Black after his doubting Thomas period following the events of Redux? Will this twist occur in “My Struggle II” or await a hypothetical next season? Either way, Carter’s choice to go down this path is a problematic one. He seems to have sacrificed continuity for the sake of updating The X-Files to present-day realism.
The Area 51 connection
That being said, one has to acknowledge the boldness and ambition of this move. Everyone was expecting Carter to move towards an advancement, if not a sort of resolution, of the colonization storyline, something fans have been waiting for for a long time — but in which there is, after all, little mystery and more action. Instead, he chooses to use this opportunity of a “second pilot” to put everything in the air again, to make us as uncertain of everything as when the series first started, to take away what we thought was the truth and make us consider that the truth is still out there. This wondering at the truth, its ever-escaping nature, this lovecraftian feeling that something always larger looms however many discoveries we might make, is what makes The X-Files.
As the revival was closing, Carter made some most interesting revelations in interviews. First, that he had written a script, or at least a treatment, for a potential thirst X-Files film. Second, that the ideas in the revival were not an adaptation of that script. And third, that the ideas in the revival were adapted from another script he had written.
IGN: You’ve mentioned how you’d written a script for a third movie before FOX approached you about bringing the show back. When you knew it was now going to be a TV show, did any of those story elements pour over or was it a pretty big restart?
Carter: It was from scratch… But that’s not exactly true because I had written another script that had nothing to do with the X-Files that had certain elements in it that my wife had remembered and she said “What about this this and this?” and that became some of the raw material that I used to do the pilot episode of this limited series.
The script he refers to is most definitely “Area 51“, an adaptation of a non-fiction book on the military base, not a story about aliens but a story about military research and Cold War era paranoia. Carter had mentioned that it would include some discussion on “the spectrum of political discourse as seen on the cable news channels” and would be “treading on some of this interesting ground that Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, and Julian Assange have uncovered for us“. The origins of the character of Tad O’Malley are obvious. Carter was supposed to develop this show for AMC and was actively working on it in the summer of 2013; it was announced as in development in March 2014; and then no more was heard of it (a recent interview confirms that the project is dead). EatTheCorn had covered its development (here and here).
Thus “My Struggle I/II” become, in part, the retooling of a previously existing script, which was already tackling themes very close to The X-Files. This could mean that this revival could focus on developing these themes for a number of episodes, should there be more seasons, and the colonization storyline could re-emerge for the occasion of a — still very hypothetical — third feature film.
For the first time in the history of the series we see a UFO crash so up close, we get a so clear look at the aliens. The special effects are terrific, however the “science fiction”-ness of it all is jarring. The X-Files had not used us to reveal so much, to show these things as clearly, and the show used to rely much more on the implied, the half-seen. With seeing so much one can’t help but lament a certain loss of the sense of mystery and of awe.
Found footage of UFOs and other phenomena; very quick cuts to show Sveta’s recollections; Lost-like flashbacks. There are a lot of techniques or trends of recent film-making and narration that Carter uses for “My Struggle“, and he certainly feels more confident as a director than for the awkward pilot for The After. Joel Ransom does a wonderful job, the cinematography is impeccable. The episode has little time to let Mark Snow’s music be heard through the dialogue, but this element is certainly present, a fast tempo sound that ups the tension. Given its difficult task at seeing the stage for both old and new viewers, and because of its many dialogue-heavy scenes, this whole episode could have been a disaster. Instead, it flows very well, keeping an unceasing tension from start to finish; editor Heather McDougall has to take some of the credit for that.
In terms of production values, this episode does not disappoint, it feels very modern and X-Files-y. In terms of flow, many scenes consist in characters moving from place to place discussing the same things, as the episode rushes towards the end of its running time. The bad first impression that everything is rushed gets less worse with a second viewing, however it would certainly have benefitted from a longer running time, were Fox willing to accommodate a longer-than-usual first episode.
At times the episode feels too much like it is trying to check all boxes of what The X-Files were: the alien abductee, the informant. But that the same time the episode introduces some significant changes, in the Mulder-Scully relationship and some shocking turns in the mythology. The latter absolutely need to be addressed in future episodes so as to have a clearer picture on how well this fits in with the “original series” or whether there is a real issue of discontinuity. The series is confident, takes risks, feels topical. What a joy to see Mulder and Scully at it again, disagreeing but respecting each other, debating serious issues! A certain success of this episode, in all cases, is that it manages to stimulate the imagination of the viewer once more, speculating, searching for theories, wondering.
Can such an episode be possibly appealing to anybody else but long-time fans? Can it be considered better than older episodes that were slower but managed to be more believable thanks to more suggestion and less exposition? At least with this episode, given the difficulty of the task at hand, The X-Files are definitely back.
Let’s decode the various references that the episode throws at us (Warning: this is long!):
Mulder’s opening monologue:
- Kenneth Arnold, 1947: the original UFO sighting, by an Air Force pilot, the origin of the phase ‘flying saucer’
- UFOs over the Capitol in Washington DC, 1957: An occurrence of 1952, actually
- UFOs over Malmstrom Air Force Base, 1967: UFOs allegedly shut down strategic nuclear missiles while flying over the base
- Astronaut Edgar Mitchell, one of twelve people who have ever walked on the moon, and his belief in aliens: yes, it’s true; also, the founder of the Institute of Noetic Sciences
- Cyrus Vance and Gerald Ford investigations into UFOs: Before becoming President, Ford did launch an investigation in 1966, in Michigan
- onscreen: “I.I.O.U.F.O.”: This is the Interplanetary Intelligence of Unidentified Flying Objects, an organization studying UFOs established in Oklahoma in 1957
Early in the episode, when Mulder, Scully and O’Malley first meet:
- “dirtboxes to record conversations“: very real devices developed by the US military and now used by almost everyone from federal to local law enforcement that allows to detect, record or jam cell phone conversations (the name is derived from the company that developed it for Boeing, Digital Receiver Technology, DRT)
- “9/11 false flag“: Tad is a ‘9/11 truther’, someone who believes the Al Qaeda attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11 2001 were an inside job from the US military and intelligence community, manipulating events so as to bring about the militarized state and the war on terror.
- “the Kelly Cahill incident“: as expanded on by Tad, an alien encounter in Australia, 1993
- aliens drawn to Earth because of the discovery and use of the H-bomb since 1945, “explosions acting as transducers drawing alien life forms in spaceships using wormholes and electro-gravitic propulsion“: an interesting theory on why aliens seemed to have appeared in (American) skies all of a sudden right around the end of World War II.
- “in crashes like Roswell, or more importantly in places like Aztec”: The Roswell crash in July 1947 needs no introduction. The Aztec, New Mexico UFO crash in March 1948 is another founding myth of UFOlogy: there were allegedly multiple alien bodies found on site, which were child-like in size; the UFO was allegedly taken to the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and stored in Hangar 18, which since then is said to store several UFOs (there was a possible reference to Hangar 18 in the cell number where Jeremiah Smith was taken to in 3X24: Talitha Cumi).
- “Classified studies were done in military installations in S4, Groom Lake, Wright-Patterson, Dulce“: a series of Air Force Bases, real or alleged, where UFO activity has taken place or where research into retro-engineering alien technology has said to have been developed. Specifically, Bob Lazar talked of S4 as a site near Area 51 where research into UFO propulsion systems took place, a famous UFO story of the 1980s. Groom Lake is the official name of Area 51, itself a part of the larger Nellis Air Force Base. Wright-Patterson AFB is where the military conducted research on the UFO phenomenon, with Projects Sign, Grudge and Blue Book (1949-1952), all mentioned in 5X02: Redux. The Dulce base is an alleged secret base where there has been alien activity.
- “Tuskegee experiments“: These very real experiments that ran for 40 years (1932-1972!) were run by the US Public Health Service, supposedly giving free health care to about 600 poor African-American men and women in rural Alabama, when in fact they were given syphilis so as to study how the disease would spread.
- “Henrietta Lacks“: This African-American woman was treated for cancer in 1951 when part of her cervix (in the uterus) was removed without her permission, to make a comparative study of healthy and cancer cells. The cell culture of these cells eventually became the immortal cell line “HeLa”, still used today (!).
Tad (let’s call him Tad):
- weather wars with “aerial contaminants“: these are ‘chemtrails’ that commercial planes supposedly spread over our skies
- “high altitude electromagnetic waves“: this is HAARP, the (real) High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program that supposedly controls the weather and the minds (see also 6X02: Drive and its Extremely Low Frequency brain manipulation)
- “perpetual war“: the military-industrial complex’s propensity to generate wars so as to generate fear and better control the reactions of the population
- “Patriot Act, National Defense Authorization Act“: legislation passed or reinforced by the G.W.Bush administration as part of the ‘War on Terror’
- “militarization of police forces“: a trend reinforced by the ‘War on Terror’ and by civil unrest due to the financial-economic crisis
- “building of prison camps by the Federal Emergency Management Agency“: a belief that FEMA camps are being built for the purpose of imprisonment of future dissenters to the coming authoritarian regime. FEMA is popular with conspiracy theorists for well over two decades; see Fight the Future for a previous inclusion of FEMA in the XF mythology, as part of the shadow government.
- “corporate takeover of food and agriculture, pharmaceuticals and health care“: the integration of petrochemicals, pharmaceutical, GMOs and agriculture companies is a real concern — although not necessarily to dumb down the population
- “a government that taps your phone, collects your data and monitors your whereabouts with impunity“, and images of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden: the NSA surveillance programs PRISM, the NSA big data analysis program Boundless Informant, the deals between US-UK governments and large private companies to have access to all telecommunications, the spying of various governments by the US government, the leak of intelligence cables to the press, surveillance by drones and drones warfare, Wikileaks, Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Bradford/Chelsea Manning, anonymizer Tor, the Dark Web, peer-to-peer networks used to spread information and render censorship impossible. All these have been exposed by mainstream media included, and are part of the world we live in today.
- “electromagnetic pulse bombs“: no telecommunications, no supplies from supermarkets to gas stations to hospitals; a real concern as a terrorist threat
- staged “alien invasion of the US“, “the Russians tried it in ’47“: a theory to explain the wave of UFO sightings in 1947 and the Roswell crash in July of that year is that these were spy ships of the Soviet Union
- and ultimately the “multinational group of elites“: the New World Order, that will insidiously take over power worldwide. The concept is quite old (think Freemasons, Illuminati, the (fake) Protocols of the Elders of Zion), but has seen a resurgence in the 1990s. A conspiracy linking the NWO with aliens was popularized by Milton William Cooper (Behold a Pale Horse, 1991), among others; Cooper has been used as a reference by Carter to build his mythology (see Fight the Future). Cooper’s phrase “it will happen on a holiday, when patriots are away from their homes” has been used by Kurtzweil in Fight the Future (“It will happen on a holiday, when people are away from their homes“) and here by Tad: “It will probably start on a Friday“.
More name-dumping when Tad takes Mulder to see the craft:
- “Faraday cage“: a very real device that shields something from electromagnetic fields using wire meshes like the ones we see
- “ARV“: an Alien Reproduction Vehicle, a term popularized by Mark McCandlish in 1988 who claimed he entered a top secret exhibition where three saucers were on display, military craft retro-engineered from alien technology
- “toroidal energy“, “zero point energy“, “the energy of the universe“, “free energy“: Many names for different things, depending to who you listen to. McCandlish claimed zero point energy is what the ARVs run on. Various conspiracy sites claim that simple devices can be made that tap into sub-atomic quantum-level fields, into smaller dimensions hidden in the quantum foam of the vacuum, or even into parallel universe. Devices that can run forever without the need of fuel, cheaply (hence the conspiracy theory that oil companies hide it). While most are definitely hoaxes, the ones arguing for vacuum energy do have a solid theoretical basis and could prove to become a reality.
- “gravity warp drive“: yes, the same one from Star Trek (and Interstellar), and yes it does have a theoretical basis. In UFOlogy associated with:
- “ununpentium, element 115” (Uup): popularized by Bob Lazar of Area 51 fame in the 1980s, this element is said to fuel UFOs, or rather to generate a gravity field thanks to which it can move without fuel combustion. The real Uup is being synthesized in labs around the world (all elements above atomic numbers 99 are produced artificially as they are very unstable and do not occur naturally).
Finally, Mulder to Scully in the underground parking lot (is this what he now thinks the objective of the “conspiracy of men” is?):
- “Venus syndrome, a runaway global warming scenario“: This is nothing conspiratorial, a great amount of global warming would lead to conditions similar to those on the planet Venus, where the dense atmosphere is made by 95% out of carbon dioxide (of course, there are also conspiracy theories around the veracity of global warming itself, too)
- Weaponized space: this is a theory that there is a large secret space program, under development since the 1960s, and that space stations or off-Earth colonies are ready to receive a breakaway civilization that will leave the poor behind to starve on Earth; this is something seen many times in science fiction (e.g. Neil Blomkamp’s “Elysium“)
- Mulder also mentions the “sixth extinction“, which is a callback to the episodes of that name (7X03/7X04)
- Title note: “My Struggle“. Surely Carter is aware that most people will connect this with Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”, his autobiography and manifesto written in jail. The X-Files has often used Nazi terminology or allegories in its mythology: the “purity” of the aliens, the blonde cloned children in 4X01: Herrenvolk, and the title “Herrenvolk” (the Master race) itself. Yet this time it appears it is different. As per producer Gabe Rotter, it seems that the title is taken from a series of six autobiographical books by Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgård (2009-2011), which has only been partly translated in English. The books give an extremely detailed and candid account of the author’s life, providing so many details of his life that somebody else would shy away from revealing; the subject of the books is nothing more than his life as a man in his forties, dealing with the separation with his wife, growing his children, dealing with his parents, his father’s death… The titular “struggle” does not appear to be something different than what most people experience in life: be a good person, deal with the problems one is faced with, go on living. In the episode’s context, this struggle definitely seems to refer to Mulder’s state of mind, trying to come to terms with his existence.
- Extending the similarities between Millennium and IWTB, now world-weary and with a depression behind him Mulder has evolved to become even more like Frank Black; Chris Carter character archetypes converge!
- Continuity flag: this can hardly be the same Our Lady of Sorrows as in IWTB, as Scully was living with Mulder then in West Virginia, unless she commuted every day for well over four hours one-way — hospital franchising?
- Scully is focused on children with microtia, and indeed its incidence appears to be more frequent among Navajo Indians; given the show’s history with the Navajo as heirs of the Anasazi, and through them a connection with the aliens — see 2X25: Anasazi, 6X22: Biogenesis — could there be more to this detail?
- The episode even manages to find the time to hint at jealousy for both Mulder and Scully — with Sveta and Tad, respectively.
- Alien DNA tests: Unlike that famous case of the unnaturally fast Southern blot test in 5X02: Redux, this one seems to have been achieved in more than three hours; the script was reviewed by Carter’s science advisor Anne Simon!
- X-Files office winks to fans: the pencils on the ceiling (5X10: Chinga), the “I Want To Believe” poster. That poster is problematic: Doggett rolled it and kept it safe at the end of 9X19-20: The Truth, and Mulder had a poster that seemed to have been through a lot in his homely office in I Want To Believe: perhaps there are many posters.
- Mulder had tagged “DON’T GIVE UP” on Scully’s windshield, a motivational phrase from Father Joe to Scully in I Want To Believe, and also Scully’s advice to Mulder in 2X01: Little Green Men!
- CSM’s revival: It is impossible at this point not to think of Joe Harris’ X-Files “Season 10” comics, which present a CSM reconstructed as a cloned hybrid, unstable and prone to collapse and decay (see S10#10: “More Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man” in particular).