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Archive for January, 2018

11X03: Plus One

The X-Files Event Series 2 / Season 11: Introduction | 11X01: My Struggle III | 11X02: This

Chris Carter writes, but probably due to workload lets directing duties to veteran but XF newcomer Kevin Hooks. This is the conventional stand-alone investigation case that has been missing throughout this revival, “our bread and butter” as Mulder says, as if season 11 is rebooting season 10 itself. The directing is perfectly competent, the writing of the dialogue for the guest star(s) and the Mulder-Scully banter is excellent. We get scenes we’ve been waiting to see for a while, like our agents interrogating victims and suspects and testing their theories against each other. Some quips aside, this would be a good episode. But some specific bits dedicated to the Mulder-Scully relationship manage to poison the whole.

The X-File

Doubles are a favorite theme of Carter’s: 3X13: Syzygy, 7X20: Fight Club, 10X5: Babylon, with the latter two found in many “worst of” lists. Doppelgangers specifically were the subject of Fight Club and one could fear repetition, but in Plus One the subject is treated in a non-humorous way and with a truly amazing quadruple performance of female and male parts by Karin Konoval (Madame Zelma in 3X04: Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose and the Peacock mother in 4X03: Home). Konoval is Judy and Chucky (and their evil schizophrenic counterparts), twins that play a kind of telepathic hangman/Death Note game, something that they have been doing since they were children and murdered their parents, and which by now has grown into a massive local phenomenon. Carter explains:

“Recently I was interested in the idea of doubles, doppelgängers, and so I watched some movies about doppelgängers, and then I thought how would I want to approach doppelgängers as it relates to The X-Files, and I started thinking about things about The X-Files that I’ve never explored. One of the things I never explored is a kind of symmetry this show has. The name Mulder has six letters, and the name Scully has six letters, and I started thinking about what the similarities were between those characters, their names, what if they saw their own doubles? The idea kind of took shape as a result of all my thinking about those things.”

Mulder and Scully are on the case. Interestingly, for the sake of the skeptic/believer exchanges, Scully once more says she doesn’t believe in ghosts (how about anything from 1X12: Beyond the Sea to “we believe the same thing” in 9X19/20: The Truth?) nor evil (how about Donnie Pfaster?), while at the same time being open to Mulder’s ideas and ultimately swallowing these (disgusting!) bread pills that work their magic.

One could say there is little they do here apart from receiving news of murder and repeatedly pressuring the twins until they give in (there’s even some foreshadowing with Mulder saying “And that’s the Chucky who’s eventually gonna hang himself“) — but that has been true of several past investigations. Some additional criticism to the case could be that they come across Judy purely by chance, just one random hospital room of many, and that we are given no real motivation as to why the twins do these murders or how they got their powers. Twins doubled by schizophrenia doubled by doppelgangers are more vulnerable to evil?

All these aspects could be corrected with a slightly longer running time than the one available. Carter and his team are accustomed to the episode format of 1990s television, with 45 minutes and four acts, while today’s constraints are 42 minutes and five acts; it doesn’t look like much but it is about 6% less, and forces a more rapid pace more cliffhangers for commercial breaks! The situation is of course much, much better than for My Struggle III, and one could even say Carter is glad to get some time off the exhausting mythology to write a scary story that he likes; if one discounts the experimental 9X14: Improbable and 10X5: Babylon, this is Carter’s first serious stand-alone since 8X04: Patience, which set the tone for what season 8 should look like. This should bode well for the rest of the season. However, the episode had also had to make space for the Mulder-Scully relationship aspect.

These odd Mulder & Scully scenes

The episode appears to show the rekindling of Mulder and Scully’s physical relationship, after their distance during season 10 and their apparent reconciliation in 10X5: Babylon. As 10X1: My Struggle seemed to imply, the breakup was not mutual but rather Scully’s decision in the face of Mulder’s depression. As the very last scene summarizes, Scully took her time to reconsider things and progressively made her mind up, while Mulder was waiting for the relationship to start again all along. All of which is in apparent contradiction with the harmonious way they seemed to be together in 11X02: This, which was obviously the work of a different writer.

The handling of the Mulder-Scully relationship has been one of the most controversial aspects of the series as a whole, and there are as many opinions on it as there are fans, especially after all these years of expectations. While episodes have used investigations to force us and the characters to reflect on their relationship (6X18: Milagro) and while the relationship came to be a central part of the show (7X17: all things), each episode’s central story never suffered from it or was never displaced by it — except in less-than-stellar times (9X08: Trust No 1). Plus One progressively builds towards these Mulder-Scully scenes and ultimately completely does away with the investigation to focus on them, with the connection with the casework only being a comment by evil Judy on Scully’s age.

Some bed conversations follow, reminiscent of 7X22: Requiem and I Want To Believe, but here they are extremely awkwardly written. What is striking is the disconnect between the acknowledgement of the passage of time, with Scully’s worries, and everything else about these scenes, which act as if Scully and Mulder are still in their thirties and discovering each other for the first time. Why would Scully express her desire for a second child 17 years after having her first? Why wouldn’t they have had a discussion about that during the approximately 10-14 years they were together? Why on Earth would Scully fear Mulder would find somebody younger than her and right after complain she doesn’t have anyone to have a child with, right in Mulder’s arms? Why would Mulder suggest another child when he knows her history of fertility issues? Why would Scully feel at all insecure because of Judy’s comments, when she already is a mother and knows she is otherwise barren for the last 22 years? Why do they behave like “friends with benefits” as if they didn’t have a long history together before? Why would they care about this when their son might be the key to the global viral apocalypse? Why would Scully feel so insecure for that but then be so self-assured when fighting off her doppelganger, while Mulder panics? “End of that journey“: and can’t Carter conceive of a woman outside of her ability to have children? When character motivations are so obscure, it is difficult to empathize with what the show is attempting to do. By comparison, 7X22: Requiem was much more subtle: Mulder watching Scully playing with a child was enough for us to understand.

The whole discussion is mind-boggingly misplaced and does not do this long-standing relationship justice. Season 11 pretends we are once more in 1998 and we can watch up close these characters getting back together again, complete with gratuitous nudity — only that the characters are now in their fifties and should act like it, something that 11X02: This pulled off without drawing attention to it. The centerpiece of the episode, in the way both writing and directing point to it, is the double intimation of sex, which is also uncharacteristically explicit for this chaste of a show — while the fact that they had sex should absolutely be no revelation to anyone that watched seasons 7-9 and I Want To Believe! It is almost as if Carter took all the cues from fanfic and is over-compensating for the conscientious lack of Mulder-Scully physicality all these years, season 10 in particular. This is more fan-servicey and more soap-operatic than whatever the show has previously done — all of which, to the eyes of this viewer, does nothing but cheapen The X-Files.

Mythology elements

No mythology at all in this episode. Unless…

The callback to the motel scene in 7X22: Requiem, right before Scully got pregnant, might not be fortuitous. Carter is known to use historical and religious/mythological references relevant to the story in places names (e.g. Dominic Savio hospital in 7X11: Closure). In Plus One, the motel is named “Saint Rachel”. In the Old Testament, Jacob fell in love with Rachel and had to work for her father for seven years in order to win her hand in marriage; Rachel was unable to conceive, while Jacob had children with Rachel’s older sister Leah; eventually Rachel miraculously gave birth to Joseph, destined to be the leader of Israel’s twelve tribes; later Rachel died in childbirth of her second son, Benjamin.

The obvious similarities with Scully’s history and William are striking. Is Scully headed to being a mother for a second time? (Emily excluded!) The pillow talk in this episode would have more significance if it is foreshadowing of a second pregnancy later in the season. Not to mention that the sex scenes would then be in keeping with Carter’s apparent conception of sex as only for reproductive reasons. The decision to have a fiftysomething year old character pregnant out of perhaps love just because her first child is revealed to have been a deception is of course as crazy as just described, but Carter might just go there.

Miscellaneous

  • The tagline is changed once more, it is doubled, reminiscent of the mirrored tagline in 9X05: 4-D. This is the fourth episode in a row, too much of a habit!
  • Mark Snow’s music continues to be odd, with a lot of music from 10X1: My Struggle recycled here (even an entire cue repeated when Mulder and Scully first meet Judy), and with far too frequent uses of The X-Files theme.
  • At one point Judy is watching on her television The Patty Duke Show (1963-1966), which also deal with doubles: two cousins identical in appearance but completely different in character!
  • Doppelgangers are also a staple of The X-Files‘ twin show, Twin Peaks (1990-1991; 2017). What’s more surprising is that the revivals of both shows share a character or entity named Judy that generates these evil doppelgangers!
  • Episode names spotted in Judy and Chucky’s hangman games: Firewalker, Closure!
  • Fit tanks and unbuttoned shirts: some wardrobe choices felt out of place for this show, which prided itself on the fact that its stars and guest stars are purposefully not the paragon of Hollywood beauty and rather used everyday faces to reinforce a sense of realism.
  • You’re a woman of science“, again: it sounds “science” has become an all-purpose magic word that can easily solve anything from infertility to alien apocalypses.
  • Interesting connection: Karin Konoval’s Peacock mother to Scully in 4X03: Home: “I can tell you don’t have no children. Maybe one day you’ll learn the pride, the love, when you know your boy will do anything for his mother.
  • Another “This Man” sighting, this time on the drum in the beginning of the episode. Along with the changed opening credits and the visions theme and the changed dialogue from En Ami in My Struggle III, and the virtual reality theme of This, this was enough to continue feeding theories that this is all an alternate reality. Perhaps, but it would really be odd to “waste” that many episodes on something that would prove unreal, and it would be unfairly lenient to assign anything we find odd in this revival to this being an alternate reality. Let’s see how this unfolds next week.

11X02: This

Season 11: Introduction | 11X01: My Struggle III

This” is more like it! Glen Morgan writes and directs an episode that is light on plot but strong on Mulder-Scully interactions, making full use of that infamous chemistry that gained such a longevity to this show!

The episode is an action-packed techno-thriller like never before in the history of the series; yet even if Morgan is not an expert at this kind of content, it suffers of none of the drawbacks of the premiere. The photography is much closer to the characteristic X-Files feel (even too dark at times, like in Morgan’s 10X4: Home Again), despite the same director of photography working on both episodes. Morgan was going for Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, although modern audiences will say it is more like 24 meets Black Mirror!

The draw of the episode is Mulder and Scully, who are together on screen for nearly the entire episode, a conscious decision on behalf of Morgan after having them apart in Home Again (and Carter in his episodes). Despite the seriousness of the themes of the central X-File, the plot here is really secondary and the multiple touches of humor give the overall episode a feel of a reunion show where we are watching more for the joy of seeing these actors after all these years rather than be troubled by the plot: an encore.

Levity abounds, from the shootout accompanied by rock music in the opening, to the ease with which they infiltrate a top security facility in the end (by flirting?). Morgan even left in several jokes that were improvised by Anderson and Duchovny — some of which could have been cut (“alien’s butt“? Mulder clearing his throat to break the silence after one of his jokes?) — increasing that impression that we are watching as much the actors as their characters.

The A-story: The Mulder & Scully show

Despite these many drawbacks, Morgan spends his episode to show us that Mulder and Scully are two fifty-year-olds who have been the most important person in each other’s life for about half their lives. This is obvious in every single aspect of their interaction of This: their coordination with almost no words spoken when the strike team attacks them; their quick understanding of each other when they have to be separated; their casual banter when eating together or traveling together or sleeping together; most importantly, how comfortable they are with each other’s presence, as they should after so many years. The episode opens and ends with us seeing them casually sleeping or resting on their couch (recalling the beginning of the romantic phase of their relationship in 7X17: all things and 7X21: Je Souhaite). Morgan gives the audience what they could expect from a revival, in an episode competently directed, and given this revival’s track record this is already enough.

They could be romantically involved or some odd version of ex-couple-turned-just-best-friends who happened to sleep while doing work at home, but they are certainly living together once more, there is no confusion or two ways around this. Although it’s “Agent Mulder’s residence“, there are references to “our home” and “our office“. The presentation of Mulder & Scully throughout this episode is very different from that of Carter — it almost feels like a jab at the decision to separate them romantically and have them so much distant for the greater part of season 10, in the same way that the line about treating William like trash was like a jab at Carter and co’s treatment of that whole storyline. While the sexual tension that was building up during years in seasons 1-7 was part of the attraction of the show for a certain share of the audience, in this revival the back and forth and mystery about the status of their relationship has damaged the dynamic and liveliness of the show instead of giving birth to something interesting.

The B-story: The X-File

This episode does not take its central plot too seriously, which makes it less of a classic than it could be if it had checked all the boxes.

Transhumanism, the position that we can use technology to transcend our mortal human coils, has seen somewhat a resurgence lately, with big Silicon Valley figures like Jeff “Amazon” Bezos and Peter “PayPal” Thiel declaring their interest. In media it is Black Mirror that comes to mind, and its episode “San Junipero“, one of those landmark episodes of television that immediately become popular culture references — Glen Morgan confessed that the reference to Black Mirror is by design. The use of your phone to gather information to build the virtual you was something explored in Caprica (2009, the modern Battlestar Galactica‘s prequel series), which was already commenting on our addiction to social media, their use being so extensive that the information gathered from there would be solid basis for predicting behavior. Suffice to say that our use of technology has not decreased since then; when Erika Price offers a way out by not using your phone, anyone’s reaction goes a long way to prove that “The System” is so over-reaching and deeply entrenched that it is nearly impossible to imagine a life without it (although the CSM managed in 9X19/20: The Truth…).

Price’s group is using the simulated personas of intelligent thinkers to advance their research on space colonization: “We’re digital slaves. They take our uploaded minds to develop science that only the elite will use to leave your world.” The second step will be the transition of human society to that simulated reality: “When we leave this planet, this life will have evolved into that.” Logistically, it would actually make sense to find a way for immortality in the form of consciousness uploaded in the digital world, which would be much easier to command machines and colonize space with: no need for oxygen, food, waste disposal, safety, so many of the costly features of antiquated biological systems — us — that presently prohibit space colonization at a large scale. Mulder sees (or pretends to see) the significance of this collective evolution towards the next phase of life: “I would just like to…to see it. It’s the closest I’ll get to seeing God. In this life, or that.

The episode could have benefitted from a rewrite and some technical advice in the way it handles all these issues; however several problems are just necessary for making a point or advancing the plot. The idea that mere phone calls are a large part of this process to recreate something as complex as human intelligence and individual personality is preposterous. There’s no reason why the simulated person would start existing only after the real person dies. The ending twist, dark and spooky as it may be, of the existence of back-up servers with copies of everything, is something that would be quite obvious for anyone working with digital files.

Glen Morgan uses this science fictional concept for the return of at least one of the Lone Gunmen, characters that he created with James Wong back in season 1 (1X16: E.B.E.) — Langly thus becomes the only character of the show to have appeared in all seasons with the two leads and Skinner and the CSM! This is some reward for Dean Haglund, who has been an active proponent for the return of the Lone Gunmen for years, even frequently offering his own take on why they had faked their deaths (the size of the coffins in 9X15: Jump the Shark). Langly was chosen by the new Syndicate to help them in their research (his kung fu was the best!), along with other great minds (Apple founder Steve Jobs, Jurassic Park writer-turned-climate-denialist Michael Crichton, AI researcher Marvin Minsky). We meet Karah Hamby, professor of mathematics at Bethesda, who was either Langly’s intellectual soulmate or his actual girlfriend, and who frankly says “We wanted a life eternal together“; after she was assassinated they might just get that. Morgan had to find a way to bring Langly back — although it is weird to imagine him, one of the most paranoid and anti-power people one could imagine, willingly collaborating with them; there was a similar issue in Joe Harris’ comics, where the Lone Gunmen had cut a deal to collaborate with the FBI out of their secret lair under those graves.

The political situation: The X-Files in the late 2010s

The tagline is once again changed (third episode in a row! it becomes a habit!): “Accuse your enemies of that which you are guilty” (not My Struggle III‘s tagline as I previously thought) This Goebbels-like propaganda haiku is an obvious attack to the current political climate, dominated by President Trump’s tweets that use such a strategy; it does not however jive with the rest of the episode that well and feels gratuitous.

The scenes with Skinner not only act as an easy political commentary of the current situation in the USA but also as a jarring reminder of how many years have passed since The X-Files was last on the air, and how much geopolitics have changed since then. “The world is different, Mulder. […] Now there’s 17 US intelligence agencies.” (Skinner’s juxtaposition of ISIS and Al-Qaeda in there is very odd though.) US intelligence agencies and their secret financing has indeed ballooned since 9/11 and the War of Terror, started by G.W.Bush and all but continued by presidents since then, as has the privatization of areas previously serviced by public entities, the most worrying of which being private security and private military firms. Erika Price is named after Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, one of the biggest private security firms around, notorious for killing civilians in Iraq and rebranded since then as Academi.

Mulder and Scully are the target of a commando of “Purlieu Services, an American [private] security contractor with its headquarters in Moscow“, that has “ascendancy over the FBI” “under a classified security directive from the Executive Branch“. Trump and his Russian soap opera is referenced in everything but name here! “The Bureau’s not in good standing with the White House these days“. In a twist mixing the privatization trend, technology advances towards a paperless society, the Freedom of Information Act (also referenced in the Joe Harris comics) and society’s tendency towards complexity, it seems Purlieu also benefitted from all the hard work of Mulder and Scully all these years by being the ones that digitized the X-Files as contractors for the FBI, under lobbying of the NSA, in order for everyone to re-discover the secret programs of the government conducted in the past (“telekinesis, MK-Ultra, remote viewing“)!

So many current series have explored all these themes already. While The X-Files does not pretend to be so much in advance of its time like it used to be in the 1990s, Glen Morgan makes every effort to imagine these characters in their fifties and how they would behave in the world of today — and does a much better job at that than either My Struggle I or III, or the whole of season 10 for that matter.

Mythology elements

This episode unexpectedly proves to be a mix of a stand-alone and mythology, with the presence of Erika Price and more detail offered on that new Syndicate’s plans; it seems her character was first conceived for this episode, and Carter retro-actively included her in his own episode.

Interestingly, the urgency of Price’s plans to colonize space is defined by a threat: “Life on this Earth, all human life, most animal life, is about to be crushed. Burned to the ground.” Would that refer to the CSM’s plan to exterminate all humans with the Spartan virus, or the threat of nuclear war? Does she consider the CSM’s plan such an inevitability? Again, how are these two conspiracies’ plans incompatible?

We see some character development in Price when we learn she initially thought poorly of Mulder and is now reconsidering her position. Mulder, playing with her, offers to accept to kill his father the CSM (it is still difficult to deal with the CSM being so openly and explicitly referred to as his father!), and once more it seems like there is strong significance in it being Mulder that would kill the CSM — as if he were the only one able to achieve that (a missile couldn’t!), as if there was a mythological prophecy surrounding it. It does seem like the season is headed towards a confrontation between Mulder and the CSM, and towards Scully being offered a choice between William and Mulder.

Miscellaneous

  • Why “This“?
  • The X-Files has had previous episodes that have examined artificial intelligence, all of which have aged badly in their depiction of technology — 1X06: Ghost in the Machine, 5X11: Kill Switch, 7X13: First Person Shooter — and it is Kill Switch that is closest to This episode, with its central story of two lovers uploading themselves on the internet. “Kill switch” is even mentioned in This episode, when Mulder’s phone shuts down in the hands of the Russian squad leader.
  • The weight of time passing is also obvious in that beautiful Arlington cemetery sequence. References to past Morgan & Wong episodes and past continuity in general abound: “I watched his funeral from 1,000 yards away, over there, through binoculars” is a direct lift of the same dialogue from 2X01: Little Green Men; Deep Throat’s first name was given as Ronald in 4X07: Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man; we learn here Deep Throat’s full name, Ronald Pakula, this being a reference to director Alan J. Pakula, who directed among other things All the President’s Men (1976), about the real Deep Throat and the Watergate scandal, which was such a huge influence on The X-Files’ look and feel.
  • Over Ronald’s tomb, Mark Snow subtly quotes his own Deep Throat theme from 1X01: Deep Throat in a slower rendition, mixed with a piano rendition of The X-Files theme!

  • The infiltration in the NSA building is reminiscent of the infiltration in the power plant at the end of 1X16: E.B.E. too.
  • The Russian team mention “Price“; but how does Mulder known her full name by the end of the episode?
  • Mulder & Scully haven’t talked to Skinner “in a couple weeks” and there’s a lot of mistrust between them since the events of My Struggle III. The series is going through this phase of mistrusting Skinner for yet another iteration. And after Scully’s call to him, that was some coincidence with him happening on them in the woods close to Mulder’s house.
  • Lots of Ramones, of course, with their “California Sun” opening the episode and a Rivieras cover in the diner. Mulder and Scully were watching the Ramones’ concert at the San Francisco Civic Center in 1979 on their TV. Frohike’s folder is named after the Ramones song “53rd & 3rd“.
  • Lots of meta references in the tombstones, like in Were-Monster, with Gillian Anderson’s children in the bus, with a Hannibal Lecter joke.
  • We get the address of the Unremarkable House: “Farrs Corner, 227700 Wallis Road“. Farrs Corner is not a joke on how rural the place looks, it is a real location in Virginia, about an hour’s drive from Washington DC!
  • In the digitized X-Files (apart from the file for 4X03: Home, Pennsylvania) we get a fleeting glimpse at who we know to be the guest star in Darin Morgan’s upcoming episode. I wonder what more foreshadowing of upcoming episodes there is.
  • Speaking of which, the inclusion of “This Man” in the photo of the Lone Gunmen at the stat of the episode got fans going on wild theories, which are entertaining but probably amount to nothing! “This Man” appears to be a made-up urban legend that this face is often seen by people in their dreams. What can this subliminal insertion of This man in our memories of This episode mean? Could the whole episode take place in a dream? And does Mulder have access to The Lone Gunmen promotional photos?
  • The QR code on Deep Throat’s “memory medallion” leads to…the website of the Magic Bullet Newsletter, the semi-in-universe promotional website of The Lone Gunmen series (2001), which is still online!
  • Mulder knows phreaking and algorithms? That is a surprise! Phreaking was also referenced in the Joe Harris comics!
  • The long-haired last gunman that hunts Mulder & Scully for most of the episode (shouldn’t he have died in the cemetery?) is none other than Dean Friss, camera assistant and occasional actor in most if not all of Morgan’s post-X-Files work and in season 10! Glen Morgan must have found he has an interesting face. A casting story worthy of set decorator Frank Silva’s casting as the main villain in Twin Peaks!
  • Although the John Gillnitz virus that killed the Lone Gunmen in 9X15: Jump the Shark (Mulder, meaning Morgan & Wong, “was gone back then“!) was not named, Scully mentions here “They were exposed to a weaponized strain of the Marburg virus“. This is a clear reference to the virus outbreak that closed Morgan & Wong’s Millennium season 2.
  • A reference to Snowden couldn’t miss from all this: “Edward Snowden documents indicated the building, code named ‘Titanpointe’, was used as an NSA mass surveillance station in a program code named ‘Blarney’. It was started in the ’70s and expanded after 9/11.” For more on this very real building, see this article. and this one.
  • The simulation servers can be shut down with a flat-blade screwdriver and then lights turn red: all references to 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Oddly enough, one of the most iconic shots of the promotional videos, where Scully breathes into a numeric pad perhaps in order to find the access code, is missing in the final cut.)

11X01: My Struggle III

The X-Files Event Series 2” kicks off with the 3rd episode in the “My Struggle” saga, still written and directed by Chris Carter.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: My Struggle III is a bad hour of television. As with both My Struggles before:

  • the frenetic pace damages how the viewer relates to the material and at some point it all makes one feel numb
  • Mulder’s monologues could be removed and the story would lose nothing while the filmic narration would flow better (a Blade Runner-like situation)
  • the episode is crack-filled with dialogue and doesn’t stop for a moment to breathe, as a consequence Mark Snow’s music rarely has the chance to settle a mood and just reverts to a ticking clock rhythm (and largely recycles music from the previous two Struggles)
  • overused cross-cut editing diminishes the impact of both scenes and doesn’t allow the viewer to enjoy the actors’ performance
  • the cinematography is competent as in most of season 10 but nothing like the original series (the DoP is Craig Wrobleski, a newcomer to Ten Thirteen, replacing Joel Ransom from seasons 4-5, 10)

Things are better than in My Struggle II, but marginally so. All of these elements are really unjustifiable, chief of which the pacing, especially since there are more episodes this season and the excuse of limited air time does not apply.

And all of this only concerns elements of the language of cinema! We haven’t touched on the story elements yet, of which some are good, some excellent even, and some less so.

The Apocalypse was cancelled (for now)

None of what we saw in My Struggle II happened, it was all in Scully’s head. On top of her visions of My Struggle II, Scully has glimpses of the close future with events in My Struggle III before they occur.

Carter had cleverly planted his clues, with zoom ins in Scully’s eye to signify the beginning and end of the vision! The world didn’t end, and the series still takes place in “our world”, without a world-changing event that would alienate the viewer: this rule of The X-Files has been kept. This kind of “Bobby Ewing”/Dallas retcon development is generally badly regarded, however in the context of My Struggle III it does not feel like a cheat, and might also be further exploited in My Struggle IV. And so Carter gets to show the apocalypse he always seems to revert to in all his shows, and gets to continue his story. However what is most puzzling is that Carter would choose to spend one precious mythology episode out of a grand total of four on something that didn’t really happen; considering the absurdly fast pace of the other mythology episodes, one has to wonder if the story could not have been better distributed across episodes.

Anything before that zoom in would have happened as we saw. (Right before Scully’s vision starts, Scully is late because the parking garage was locked down; we presume that was due to the first incidents happening related to the viral outbreak, however that obviously didn’t happen?) One thing odd with this is the very last scene of My Struggle I, where we discover the Cigarette-Smoking Man is alive: he dons his Phantom of the Opera-like face mask and smokes through a tracheotomy, same as in My Struggle II. In this episode though, he appears to be fully healed: was that single My Struggle I scene part of Scully’s vision? did the CSM heal or have surgery in the 6 weeks separating I and II (and waited a whole decade to do that)? or was William B. Davis tired of putting on all this makeup? At this point, it is unlikely the show will address again the reason for his resurrection and healing, but at least a generic mention of characters acknowledging he had access to alien technology would be welcome (see 7X15: En Ami for instance).

This then bears the question: how much of the information we learned in My Struggle II can we rely on as true? Presumably all of it, as nothing yet has contradicted it; Reyes for example does still work for the CSM, with no sign of any redemption arc for her character yet (it’s still a mystery why Marita Covarrubias was not used instead, Laurie Holden said she was available).

One thing that will be different is that the viral apocalypse as of My Struggle II has not yet begun. Anne Simon previously mentioned that My Struggle I would have included hints that the virus outbreak was beginning and ramping up during six weeks to a full outbreak in My Struggle II; obviously there will be no outbreak during the 8 stand-alone cases of season 11. However, the CSM mentions that Mulder “can’t stop what’s already begun“, so his plan is still afoot, we just don’t know when it will start.

One possibility is that the season/series finale My Struggle IV (presumed title) will be a real-world repetition of My Struggle II, with the added information that Scully now has regarding the Spartan virus and its cure, and with the added wild card of William, whose role is still unclear and the reveal of which would be appropriate for the season finale. (Erika Price: “That’s the question, isn’t it?“) Reyes calls William the CSM’s “weakness“, which could mean that William could somehow trump the CSM’s plans. This would wrap up the My Struggles arc quite nicely. That finale might then include the final 10 pages related to the resolution of the viral outbreak originally intended for My Struggle II, that Anne Simon talked about.

William is sending Scully visions of a future

Scully feels that her visions are sent to her by William, who also seems to be suffering. We get our first glimpse of him in flashes (after all these years it’s incredible to actually have an actor for him! it’s Miles Robbins). William would thus have “superhuman” powers of premonition and of telepathic connection (and of spotting from a great distance his biological mother he hasn’t seen since he was 1). What would be William’s purpose in sending these flashes other than to help Scully fight against this plague? Why William is sending these visions now is unknown, but they do inject the show a sense of urgency and dread of imminent catastrophe.


William’s visions induced abnormally increased brain activity in Scully (and presumably William too), resulting in her collapses. This is similar to Mulder’s increased brain activity when he temporarily became an active alien/human in 6X22: Biogenesis / 7X03: The Sixth Extinction, where he was plagued by acute auditory signals and ended up having psychic abilities and read people’s minds; in those episodes, the increased activity was in the temporal lobe, here it is in the prefrontal cortex (part of the frontal lobe) and in the hypothalamus (although Skinner again points to the frontal lobe). The telepathically induced intense noise is also similar to what we saw in 10X2: Founder’s Mutation, further linking the genetic experiments with alien material in that episode with William’s potentially alien biology. Scully ends up in the hospital, in and out of consciousness, with Mulder at her bedside; this is certainly a familiar X-Files trope (2X08: One Breath, 5X03: Redux II, 5X14: The Red and the Black).

In an amazing coincidence, the neurologist that happens to treat her, Dr. Joyet, worked in the past with patients that could have been the subject of past X-Files episodes: “certain government agencies – the CIA, DIA, NSA, DARPA – doing experiments on the mind even before the Cold War. I’ve had certain patients, products of these experiments, casualties. I’ve also seen things that could only be described as superhuman.” This is reminiscent of episodes such as 2X03: Blood, 3X23: Wetwired, 4X23: Demons, 7X03: The Sixth Extinction, and Millennium 3×01/3×02: Exegesis.

Skinner identifies Morse code beeping inside Scully’s brain: “find him” (…./../– = HIM). Not only this beeping brain activity is absurd, somehow Skinner directly makes the connection with William, and this is not brought out again.

To find William, just ask Jeffrey Spender

Jeffrey Spender surprisingly returns! He was last seen, suicidal, in 9X19/20: The Truth, horribly deformed from experiments made on him conducted by his father the CSM. Apparently he found reason enough to live, and managed to have extensive plastic surgery, not quite to the level of the CSM’s because he still has some light facial scarring left; by doing this, the character is also simplified as he no longer carries any obvious visible sign of his psychological and physical torture at the hands of his father.

In 9X17: William, after Jeffrey injected William with something that supposedly erased his alien powers (which now has proven ineffective?), it looked like Scully decided to give William up for adoption and Reyes was the one that carried out the deed, purposefully losing him in the adoption system and making even Scully herself unable to find him again in order to protect him. Here we are presented with a different version: Jeffrey: “You made me promise to hide your son.” Jeffrey was the one that took care of the adoption — despite the fact he had just lied to Scully about his identity and injected baby William with a big needle. And, simply enough, one had only to ask him in order to find William all these years!

Scully and Mulder as well (judging by his lack of surprise at Jeffrey’s message) were both aware of that. This revelation doesn’t jive well with all the pain and anguish we have seen ever since the adoption was made. When the Supersoldier threat was real, the adoption could have been justified; but once that threat disappeared (and it looked like it had already disappeared by I Want To Believe) the adoption could have been reversed. Season 10’s most important emotional character scenes involved the exact pain inflicted on Scully but also Mulder as a result of that decision (10X2: Founder’s Mutation, 10X4: Home Again): what did all this mean if Scully could find William’s adoptive family with a couple of phonecalls? Did Scully not want to reclaim William again because of potential legal issues and, after several years, understandable issues of sentimental bond with his adoptive parents? Will they search for the Van de Kamps beginning from next episode?

Somehow, Jeffrey learns that Scully is in the hospital and visits her, and communicates key information: “I only have a name, of the adoptive parents, Van de Kamp“. Surely Jeffrey then will try to hide himself in order to hide from other surprise attacks (“they’ll be coming at me again“).

The one looking for William is the CSM, as the goon that tries to get the information from Jeffrey (by first trying to run him over and then being stopped by a glass door…) is none other than the goon that the CSM sent to fetch Mulder in My Struggle II (who first has a fight with Mulder…he’s the violent type). Later, the CSM also recruits Skinner: “Find me the boy, Mr. Skinner.” Why Skinner would accept is not clear despite the CSM’s revelations (and that may be addressed later in the season). Playing games with Skinner’s loyalties is far, far from being new, and this particular scene is reminiscent of a previous pact between them, also over Scully, in 4X21: Zero Sum; at times it seems the series knows nothing more than to repeat storylines. (It’s also a mystery why the CSM wouldn’t use the nanotechnology presumably still inside Skinner’to coerce him into collaboration, see 6X10: S.R. 819, but that is a storyline that will probably never return.)

The colonization was cancelled (for good?)

Arguably, the biggest point of contention of season 10 was whether the new mythology of the “conspiracy of men and benevolent aliens” was compatible with the older mythology of “Syndicate and alien colonization”, or whether the season 10 twist would then be “retconned” back to the old mythology à la 5X02: Redux. With flashbacks to 7X15: En Ami, with the return of Jeffrey Spender and with the mention of colonization, Carter evidently wants to connect seasons 10+11 with the older mythology; there is no Redux twist awaiting us, we have to make things stick with what we have.

We meet Mr. Y and Erika Price (unnamed except in the credits; excellent casting choices with A.C. Peterson and Barbara Hershey), who were members of the Syndicate with the CSM (they all look great for people that should be around 90-100 years old! magic alien technology again?), and who also survived the Rebels’ coup in 1999 (6X12: One Son). They were all present at the first contact with aliens in 1947 (date not mentioned, but present in production material) around the time of the crashes at Roswell and the one we saw in the flashbacks in My Struggle I (which might have been the Dulce crash).

We see them repeatedly experimenting on a terrified alien, back in 1947 and in later years (with William B. Davis as the CSM), which would reinforce the “benevolent aliens that were wronged by men” angle. We also see a big syringe extracting something from the alien’s neck. This something could be the same dark red/black blood that the 1947 alien in My Struggle I had; or it could be Black Oil — again, it is hard to tell. If it is Black Oil then why is it not acting like a sentient lethal pathogen that can cross even hazmat suits? If it is not, then why doesn’t the alien have Black Oil?

Erika Price’s sentence “The aliens came to study us, were prepared to work with us” could either be interpreted as benevolent aliens interested in working collaboratively with the whole of mankind, perhaps even offering technology and salvation if humanity stepped down from its self-destructive spiral à la The Day The Earth Stood Still — or it could be interpreted in a more sinister way, as colonist aliens abducting and experimenting on humans and on the lookout for a conspiracy with whom to work with in order to rule this planet. It could even be interpreted in the sense that the aliens were not particularly looking for partners in their plans, and that it was the Syndicate that chose to initiate an agreement with them instead of being forced to in light of the Colonists’ overwhelming power, as 6X12: One Son would have us believe.

Indeed, Mr. Y confirms the validity of alien colonization: “We were all part of a Syndicate involved in alien colonization.” The Syndicate really formed only in 1973, so Mr. Y/Carter is abusing that term when he talks of the period 1947-1973. There is a clear sense that Carter is trying to make things coherent again, but the coexistence of colonization, of a collaborative Syndicate, and of humans experimenting on aliens, all in the same episode, is troubling. The most likely explanation would be that the Colonists-Syndicate collaboration could have been a troubled one, with either side hitting on the other at the first chance, always on the brink of open war, with either side always trying to understand the other’s biology. The other explanation would be that Mr. Y & Price are lying and there is no colonization (meaning that key figures like the CSM & Y & Price would have used alien-looking alien/human hybrids to manipulate everyone else in the Syndicate to scare them with the threat of colonization, however that is very far-fetched) or that colonization means something else (just a small-scale alien colony, presented bigger and more threatening by the Syndicate for its own manipulative ends); which puts us back in the incoherence mess of season 10.

The CSM summarizes their work: “The aliens brought not only technology. They brought the seeds of our destruction. It’s what our government would never grasp. And while they were adventuring in Cuba [1962] and Vietnam [1964-1975] and in Central America [continuous], I was busy in the Nevada desert, dissecting, reverse engineering, playing God with life-forms, the stuff of science fiction. I had the time, the money and the freedom to plan for a day I knew would come.” The “seeds of our destruction” would correspond to the Black Oil virus; according to Fight the Future, the Syndicate planned to spread this virus as part of the colonization process. Presumably, the destruction of mankind and alien colonization were not incompatible plans. We will come back to the CSM’s plans further below.

And then, in a single sentence, nine years of mythology and double that in expectations of a resolution are swept away. Mr. Y: “The aliens are not coming, Mr. Mulder, just so you understand.” Erika Price: “No interest in a warming planet with vanishing resources.” This must have happened at some unspecified time between 2002 and 2008, at which point the colonization threat disappeared, the Supersoldiers retired, and the CSM emerged from hiding (Reyes left the FBI for the CSM “a decade” ago according to My Struggle II). She might be lying and/or the aliens might return, but there’s no indication for that: we are on new, uncharted territory for good, and the Spartan virus has taken over the role of the Black Oil virus. The old and new mythology are one, but at the cost of discarding the old one (for now?); which is sort of fine, so long as the new one is made interesting.

The two conspiracies: one problematic, one new

The CSM and Mr. Y/Erika Price had a fallout and presently two groups exist. When did that occur? The flashbacks would make us believe this might have happened as early as 1947, but we met the Syndicate as a more or less unified group in the 1990s, not to mention that Y & Price would have had decades to find and kill the CSM if that were the case. The fallout must be relatively recent, post-2002, probably after the colonization threat disappeared.

On one side, the CSM has gone rogue with his own plan to exterminate humanity. Here, the lack of involvement of science advisor and virologist Anne Simon in this script shows. As explained in detail in My Struggle II, the CSM would use the Spartan virus, inserted inside all humans since at least the 1970s and hereditary since, which would switch off the gene responsible for one’s immune system; and then the CSM presents us with another virus of alien origin: “Your immune system will go first, but this is what will finally kill you.” Mr. Y also mentions “This is an alien pathogen“. Presumably this would be, simply, the Black Oil virus. The CSM presents Skinner with a vial that is filled with a white liquid, not black: this could be the weaponized form of the Black Oil virus when it’s not “bathing” in its oily fluid; or it could be the vaccine to the Spartan virus (the CSM looks at it when he says “immunity to it“). It would appear that the Spartan virus is a complex of two virii: one very simple CRISPR-Cas9 virus to switch off the immune system; and one alien-derived virus that does the actual killing (from My Struggle II: “It’s a virus within a virus that was put there through the smallpox vaccine. It’s what these men are calling the Spartan Virus.“). The question still remains as to how this would be activated, if it’s already inside all of us. But more importantly, what use would this second virus be if the first one already erases the immune system? As seen in My Struggle II, this would result in everyone being vulnerable to anything, the simplest flu or wound exposed to open air would be lethal! To kick everyone when they’re down? If the virus within a virus is derived from the Black Oil, which we saw is very lethal, wouldn’t that second virus be sufficient? If the virus within a virus is derived from the Black Oil and is already within everyone since the 1970s waiting to be activated, then what was the point of all the genetically modified corn and the bees and the search for other methods after the 1970s? All of this is unclear, and it does not look like more explanations would be forthcoming. Moreover, as quoted above, the CSM was preparing all this in the Nevada desert maybe as early as the 1950s; what is it that changed now so that Mr. Y and Erika would be opposed to him?

On the other side, Mr Y & Erika’s “budding enterprise” is the Secret Space Program, building “Dyson spheres” (a very real concept) and “magnificent habitable structures“, presumably only for select few (more on this in 11X02: This). This echoes back to the end of My Struggle I, where Mulder rather mockingly said: “Those with means will prepare to move off the planet into space, which has already been weaponized against the poor, huddled masses of humanity that haven’t been exterminated by the uber-violent fascist elites.” This science fiction twist is a real conspiracy theory that would have the US (and other countries’) military secretly working with aliens since the Cold War, with the first efforts possibly having started by the Nazis (think Iron Sky!). It also links with the fake moon landing scene: what the public has seen of space is nothing like the real thing, which is teeming with alien and human infrastructure (something that is very difficult to hide in real-world terms).

Despite some issues, the reintroduction of human conspirators beyond just the unbelievably resurrected CSM is a welcome development after the vague “elites” and conspiracy theories kitchen sink in season 10.

The wild unified conspiracy theory

The tagline cunningly morphs “I Want To Believe” into “I Want To Lie“, reminiscent of 4X24: Gethsemane‘s “Believe The Lie” (it looks like it was changed compared to version released to reviewers, the original one was much more wordy and heavy and Goebbels-like: “Accuse Your Enemies Of That Which You are Guilty“?). This would indicate that nothing we learn here is to be taken at face value and that lies might be hidden between truths. For instance, Mulder calls out Mr. Y & Erika Price “You’re all liars“, they might just be misdirecting him. My Struggle IV might erase or reverse certain revelations of My Struggle III, in the same way III erased II and II did not need I in order to happen.

There are many questions that arise when looking at this episode, which might be on purpose but might also be bad writing, it’s impossible to know with these busy My Struggle episodes.

  • Why does the goon that the CSM sent does not try harder to get more information about William out of Jeffrey? The CSM previously did horrible experiments on him, why does one glass door stop him?
  • Why does Mr. Y send his goon to kill Scully? What does he have to gain from that, apart from hurting the CSM? The CSM fears exactly that: “I fear only for Scully and the boy, and the harm my enemies might bring on them.” Is Scully now under constant threat?
  • Why does this same goon pursue Mulder? And then during 7 hours of driving does not realize he’s being tailed by Mulder? Is he purposefully leading him to the mansion?
  • Why does Mr. Y and Price have a goon to attack Mulder and Scully but don’t manage to find the CSM when he’s almost under their noses, in that mansion and in the parking of Scully’s hospital?
  • When Mulder arrives at what we believe to be the CSM’s mansion, how and when did Mr. Y and Price get there? Are they hunting for the CSM and just barely missed him? Were they meeting with him?
  • Mr. Y and Erika Price ask of Mulder to kill the CSM, which is exactly what the CSM was afraid of anyway so Mulder didn’t need extra motivation; yet Mulder didn’t even know for sure the CSM was even alive, and would have no clue where to start from.
  • Mr. Y and Erika Price do not explicitly mention that they want to find William. On the contrary, Mr. Y’s line “The threat is that you’ll never see your son again” could mean that they use William as a hostage and order Mulder to kill the CSM in exchange for him. Could they be in possession of William? “He’s clearly a very special child.” Could they be lying?
  • And as mentioned, how are the two conspiracies’ plans incompatible?

The chronology of events is the following: the CSM’s goon scares Jeffrey; Jeffrey calls Mulder, and the CSM intercepts that call; in the Spartanburg mansion, the CSM insists to Monica repeatedly that Mulder must not find him; Jeffrey gives up the name of William’s adoptive parents to Scully; Mr. Y’s goon tails Mulder and then Mulder tails the goon, leading him to the Spartanburg mansion; there, Mulder meets Mr. Y and Erika Price, who were there as if they were expecting him, they ask Mulder to kill the CSM while the goon drives back; Mulder drives back while the CSM and Reyes meet with Skinner (Skinner doesn’t answer Mulder’s call); the goon tries to kill Scully and Mulder arrives just in time to save her; and Skinner arrives at Scully’s hospital room late.

There is a distinct possibility that the CSM and Mr. Y and Erika Price are still collaborators and are misleading Mulder and Scully, all so that they trick them into finding William for them, initially scaring Jeffrey so that he gives them information on William. In the mansion, the CSM was fearing Mulder coming for him, not other enemies; Mr. Y and Price could have stepped in and the CSM and Monica stepped out when Mulder was approaching.

To take things even further, there is also a possibility that the CSM and Monica can shapeshift thanks to human/alien hybridization and are posing as Mr. Y and Price (or the other way around!). The episode lingers on the CSM’s line “we are not to be found” and “I’ve been at this too long not to have my alternatives“; there is an uncanny resemblance between the smokers CSM/Y and the standing women Reyes/Price; and the directing plays with similar shots of the CSM and Mr. Y holding a cigarette, standing in front of the chess board or sitting in that leather couch.

There are several counterpoints to this, either to them being collaborators or to the shapeshifter theory:

  • In the 1947 flashbacks we do see a young Mr. Y and Price, establishing them as separate characters (but that doesn’t mean the CSM can’t impersonate his ex-collaborators).
  • The CSM does mention enemies, and if not Mr. Y and Price, then who? (Aliens returning?)
  • The couples CSM/Reyes and Y/Price do wear different clothes
  • Mulder phones Skinner while driving back from meeting Mr. Y & Price, and at the same time the CSM & Reyes are with Skinner
  • There is an attempt on Scully’s life, on the orders of Mr. Y & Price, while the CSM says he does care about her. If anything, the CSM should have reason to kill her, given that thanks to her visions she has information that could thwart her plans. The goon could have been a sacrificial lamb, there for Mulder to kill and to increase Scully and Mulder’s urgency to search for William.
  • The timestamps don’t help either! The car chase between Mulder & Mr. Y’s goon starts at 9:18 PM, when Mulder mentions 7 hours following him yet it is 6:08 PM (!) and when they arrive at the mansion it is not 4 AM, it is day!

Possibilities abound, and none seem fully satisfactory yet.

The CSM is William’s father (or so says he)

We come to the end of the episode and the elephant in the room. Using flashbacks to 7X15: En Ami, the CSM explains to a shocked Skinner (with great acting by both!) that he, not Mulder, is the father of Scully’s son William. So he’s not grampa Charlie but father Karl after all. A shocking, dramatic and harsh twist, but one that is to some extent coherent with the past.

With all the ambiguity both within episodes and in interviews about who the father is, it’s not hard to imagine that Carter had been sitting on this revelation for the past 17 years, which is impressive! En Ami aired shortly before 7X22: Requiem, where Scully learns she is pregnant; the En Ami script was originally William B. Davis’s but heavily rewritten by Chris Carter, and the addition of that scene where the CSM puts on gloves looking at a sleeping Scully is certainly Carter’s. Seasons 8 and 9 explored various possibilities for William’s conception, like divine miracle, restored fertility by contact with the alien Ship in Africa, IVF with Mulder as a sperm donor, implanted alien/human hybrid or organic Supersoldier, triggered pregnancy via tap water additives or Scully’s chip; and through all those developments the En Ami scene was not referenced again and the theory of the CSM being responsible was just another theory not followed through. In classic X-Files fashion, the triumvirate of spiritual/divine, alien/paranormal and scientific was given as options to choose from.

The CSM calls William the “first superhuman baby“, which is similar formulation to the “perfect human child but with no human frailties” in 8X20: Essence and the “organic version” of a “Supersoldier” in 8X21: Existence and 9X02: Nothing Important Happened Today II (both of which were not programs led by the CSM, but William appears to be important for many factions). If William is the first, that would mean that more will or have followed; perhaps the experiments in 10X2: Founder’s Mutation were exactly that, the beginning of a superhuman species, the CSM’s legacy.

Actually, the CSM might be talking figuratively instead of literally. He might have just shortly allowed her to become fertile again, for example by manipulating her implanted chip, making him the father-by-proxy and Mulder the biological father (a child with three parents?). Given the CSM’s propensity for self-aggrandizement, this is quite possible.

Still, figurative or biological, “impregnated with alien science” does mean he performed medical rape on Scully — after Scully was medically raped during her abduction in season 2 and more suspicions of medical rape ran throughout season 8. The situation is even worse as Scully and Mulder are not privy to this information, and with stand-alones coming up they might not be privy to it at all until the finale, allowing less than an episode’s worth of the sentimental and psychological exploration of the impact such information would have on them. We will be watching to see if the show will do anything interesting by making the viewer aware of key information that its leads aren’t.

Medical rape of men and women, especially women, was part of The X-Files‘ DNA from the very start, and has been a recurring way with which Syndicate has been identified with evil; this revelation might have made more sense in an earlier time, and the decision to have the character go through this trauma yet again is questionable. This repeated ruthless beating of Scully is an incredibly harsh destiny for a character that has been an icon for gender equality and young women everywhere for over two decades. Especially in today’s transformative climate of emancipation with the #MeToo movement, the timing for such a revelation is perilous, and the reception of this episode, a work of fiction, has only been made worse by Carter mansplaining the situation in interviews, something legitimately and truly condemnable. However, whatever positive developments might be happening in the real world, this is a fictional character and this is part III of IV; let’s reserve final judgment until lies are separated from the truth.

Scully’s decade-long journey during the original run was one where she lost her fertility, lamented the impossibility of becoming a parent, finding out she had a child (5X07: Emily) only to lose her quickly, being presented the opportunity to have her fertility back (4X15: Memento Mori) and trying to make use of that with the man that by then is the love of her life (8X08: Per Manum), and finally miraculously becoming pregnant and giving birth in very difficult conditions (8X21: Existence). In addition, it’s impossible Scully didn’t run all kinds of tests on her baby during and after her pregnancy, and if anyone would know who the father was it would be her (e.g. in 8X20: Essence: “My baby is fine, Mulder. I’ve had it checked over and over again with my new doctor that I trust implicitly.“). A large part of the season 8 and 9 mythology, with Krycek and the alien replicants and Josepho so much interested in William because of his miraculous nature, would no longer make sense with the CSM and science being the father. Incidentally, in the visions Scully gets, Mulder in need of stem cells would probably only make sense if Mulder and William are directly related, and William that is sending these visions would know that. Thus, narratively, it would only make sense that Scully’s baby would be the reward at the end of the journey, the result of a union that was wanted by Scully, and not the result of any rape, i.e. if Mulder is the father, something likely to be revealed in My Struggle IV, in a reversal of III.

The CSM might be adding a few lies to his description of events to begin with: the flashback dialogue is different from the one in En Ami, with the addition of a housekeeper that was also present helping the CSM to change Scully’s clothes (dialogue over slow-motion footage of Scully: “We carried you, my housekeeper and I. You can ask her.“, instead of just “I carried you.” (this might just be Carter trying to preempt accusations of rape by retroactively adding a third party that would be innocent-sounding, or it might be the CSM distorting the truth…).

Whatever happens, it is not clear why who Scully’s father is is so important for the mythology plot itself: couldn’t William fulfill his role if he were from a random sperm donor?

The parentage is a secret that the CSM has shared only with Reyes and now with Skinner as well (why them? And how does this result in manipulation to do his bidding?). Reyes teases the CSM about him being in love with Scully and the CSM says he essentially considers Mulder to be her bodyguard (“I worry for her. I always had Mulder to protect her.“); if this is true, this is only a recent development, if not some retroactive rewriting of the past! The CSM only cared for Scully in En Ami, otherwise he hardly minded about her, had her abducted in 2X05: Duane Barry and Fight the Future, and was completely absent for the upbringing of her (and his?) son. Reyes and the CSM discuss the possibility that other people might be aware, possibly Mr. Y and Erika Price: Reyes: “The boy is in danger, you said so.” CSM: “But they don’t understand from whom.” Reyes: “You’ve always had your enemies.” But then Mr. Y and Price say nothing of this to Mulder when they meet, and refer to William as Mulder’s son (“The threat is that you’ll never see your son again“).

C.G.B. and the teaser

First words spoken in the episode is a big revelation: the CSM’s name. We already had C.G.B. Spender from 6X11: Two Fathers; the full name is “Carl Gerhardt Bush” (spelling to be confirmed). A relation to the Bush family of presidents (and the conspiracy theory that they are behind the murder of the Kennedys)? A relation to Manhattan Project and other military and space R&D scientist Vannevar Bush? No: very simply, it is the name of Chris Carter’s grandfather!

The teaser, reprising the monologue structure of the previous two Struggles, shows us the CSM’s point of view. There is some excellent dialogue interpreted by the always impeccable William B. Davis here

“Too much is made of the will to power, as if our will is free, our choices our own.” “I’m not a bad man, more a practical man.” “I’m an old man now. I will leave my own mark upon history, more than presidents or tyrants. I don’t ask for loyalty and trust, the fleeting bonds of men. I ask only for the years to show my sons and their sons I was right. What their father did had to be done.”

And later in the episode:

“We’ve thrown science out the window in favor of scandal and opinion and cant and all manner of ridiculous untruths. Civilization a joke, and my plan merely the punch line.”

The accompanying images have the CSM present in historical news reels, in the swearing of various US presidents. There is even very recent footage, with Black Lives Matter protests, Trump, Comey, Bannon and others (who will remember them in a few years? by trying to be too topical, Carter risks to turn a timeless show into something that gets old very quickly!). The CSM is shown to have been behind every single major event in recent history, from the rise and fall of presidents and leaders to wars to assassinations to society-formatting trends; he is the absolute conspirator, the secret maximum leader, the top level of the food chain. Or so he would like us to believe. We even have him be behind the faked moon landing, one of the craziest conspiracy theories out there, and the footage presents this as indubitable in-universe fact, along with a 1969 young Cassandra and Jeffrey scene (too bad we can’t tell if Stanley Kubrick is supposed to be the director!).

It is essentially Morgan & Wong’s 4X07: Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man, but done for real, in-universe. Musings was not exactly a parody, but it was a pastiche of the conspiracy theory genre, pointing out how comically un-believable conspiracy theories can be by pushing them to the point of the absurd; it was also a kind of meta commentary on The X-Files‘ mythology itself, which by that time and under Carter and Spotnitz was ballooning in world-spanning tentacular proportions that Morgan & Wong never dreamed of back in season 1. Here, Carter is doing the same thing but pretending it’s all to be taken for real in all seriousness, in-universe, down to the Forrest Gump-like insertion of the CSM in news footage (Musings also referenced Forrest Gump), and having the FOX marketing team naming the promo website after Musings! The X-Files made a name out of being subtle with heavy-handed themes; today, this explicit embrace of campiness is telling as to what show The X-Files has become: an entertaining riff on itself.

Musings on a new mythology

After three episodes, what is the new mythology about? In all Struggle episodes, characters talk and talk, revelations hit us like a waterfall, the impact of the dialogue is diminished by its quantity and fast editing. In My Struggle III, we drive a lot and have many un-XF-like car chases and come in and out of hospitals and despite this frantic editing not that much action happened: Scully went from FBI headquarters to the hospital and Mulder made a trip to and from South Carolina and Skinner had a meeting, no investigation to speak of. (Certainly this will not have been the season’s most expensive episode.) Over two seasons, what is the connecting line, the larger narrative that any creator would want to have underlying the plot? Like with Mulder & Tad’s big conspiracy theories infodump in My Struggle I, there is hardly anything more than concepts and references dumped together, not themes and even less an exploration, but certain some recurring topics emerge:

In this updated mythology for the late 2010s, aliens are not the bad guys: it is us humans and our “raging impulse to self-destruct“, destroy social cohesion and destroy the environment. We are meant to empathize with that poor alien breathing heavily, strapped in place by evil doctors. Environmental issues, in particular climate change, have become from a fringe issue to a major scientific, political and popular concern worldwide and are even described as the nexus issue that connects with everything else, i.e. the economy, the relation of the individual with society, well-being. The CSM chooses not to believe in mankind’s capacity for change and use alien technology to bring about what he sees as an inevitable outcome (although surely alien technology could be used to help solve these same issues of overpopulation, resource waste, global warming…).

The other major through-line is of course the interlinked issues of the Trump administration, fake news, belief in conspiracy theories and questioning science, several of which were the series’ bread and butter in the 1990s! The new X-Files tries very hard to be current by repeatedly, artificially perhaps, inserting the correct key words in the dialogue. There are some good results: “We’ve thrown science out the window in favor of scandal and opinion and cant and all manner of ridiculous untruths.” Oddly enough, the main mouthpiece against these issues is the CSM, he posits himself as pro-science and rationality while criticizing all the ill behaviors of mankind in the same way a progressive person would; he seems to be the exemplar of the enlightened leader. But this is also the villain of the show, unreliable, manipulating events and elections (possibly getting the anti-science Trump himself elected). After references to contrails and antivaxxers that were just mentioned but with no counterpoint provided during season 10, My Struggle III provides a stepping stone to one of the most un-scientific conspiracy theories out there, the faked moon landing (too bad Mulder’s space exploration passion will be crushed by this, see 10X2: Founder’s Mutation). This is an odd equilibrium to play with. His line “We’ve all but conquered them with hard science, this faith in technology our new religion” echoes his seminal philosophical discussion with Jeremiah Smith in 3X24: Talitha Cumi: “The people believe in authority. They’ve grown tired of waiting for miracle and mystery. Science is their religion. No greater explanation exists for them.” It’s almost as if the show is ready to accuse our times of doubting scientific reasoning, but at the same time ready to accuse scientific reasoning of not giving the complete picture. Indeed, the Struggle episodes have been very devoid of any spiritual/religious aspects, an integral part of Carter’s latter-day mythology; these might be reintroduced with the return of William in part IV.

Scully’s visions stop by the episode’s end, in order to leave her fit for duty for some investigations. With everyone looking for William and with Scully aware of William’s adoptive parents’ name, Scully’s last line is incredibly anti-climactic: “He will find us.” “So we just wait, do nothing?” “We do our work. The truth still lies in the X-Files, Mulder.” This is obviously to accommodate stand-alone episodes before the story picks up again, but it certainly removes any sense of urgency that the episode tried to build and feels incomplete in the same way that no real motivation was given for why they decided to join the FBI again at the end of My Struggle I. Joe Harris’ Season 10 comics did the obvious thing and had Mulder & Scully return to the FBI in order to use its resources in the search for William.

All in all, a definitive improvement on the confused My Struggle I and II: we are moving towards a definitive direction and characters have agency. The episode manages to raise many plot points and possibilities in a short amount of time, needless to say this review would have been shorter had possible interpretations/plot holes not been so many, which is good in some way. A strong premiere in certain plot points it raises, a sincere attempt at making the mythology coherent again that stumbles in several points (which some would dismiss as details), a horrible premiere in terms of filmic narration, and an open question as to what extent just scattered scenes in the stand-alones and one single episode in the finale can be sufficient time to make these plot points justice.

Miscellany

  • X is not granddad, he’s the dad; Y insinuates X loves Z… all of this is very soap opera.
  • Not that it matters, but the timeline is a mess. In My Struggle II we know 6 weeks passed since My Struggle I, and season 10 was set in 2016 (Mulder watches Obama on Jimmy Kimmel, a notice in Home Again has a February 2016 date). Yet this episode happens post-Trump inauguration, even past that into June 2017 (photo of Comey testifying).
  • The reversal of skeptic/believer in the beginning of the episode is interesting, with Mulder first not believing Scully’s visions. Mulder’s concern for Scully and vice versa shows extensively in this episode, although they keep their physical distance.
  • In Scully’s flash visions, Carter uses images of past episodes to identify Jeffrey Spender for the audience before Scully meets him; he intelligently mixes Jeffrey’s line “the kid is part alien” referring to Gibson Praise from 5X20: The End and “your child is part alien” from 9X17: William. Talking about recurring keys of everything!
  • I’m at your desk, Mulder“: in an episode already with iffy decisions on gender equality, Carter continues to ridiculously deny Scully the most basic piece of furniture of even the humblest employee… #ScullysDesk
  • Mulder & Scully junior, Agents Miller & Einstein, appear very briefly, just to bring Scully to the hospital. I guess the cold reception they got didn’t fare well for them being considered as next-generation replacements. Farewell.
  • Gone are the days of Uber for Mulder, now he sports a Mustang! Duchovny’s delivery of his monologues is very monotonous for a Ford commercial, McConaughey did it better.
  • It’s funny to imagine 7 hours drive in one direction, followed by 7 hours drive in the other, in which the goon drives about 2 minutes faster than Mulder and gets to Scully first! It’s also possible that on the way towards Spartanburg Mulder crossed the CSM and Monica going on the opposite direction to meet Skinner!
  • Mulder in his wrath very brutally slits the goon’s throat when he was trying to suffocate Scully instead of, for example, hitting him on the head; a very needless bit of gore and violence, and gratuitous use of lethal force from a representative of law enforcement. And why didn’t Mr. Y’s goon not use the scalpel on Scully?
  • Mulder still has no reason to believe that the CSM is alive, other than what Scully said of her visions and what Mr. Y & Erika Price told him, which Mulder himself rejected as lies (and some smell of smoke from Skinner)…
  • The last bit where William hears distorted voices includes a hidden message from Carter, a thank you to cast, crew and fans “if this is the end”!

From Season 10 to Season 11

The unofficially designated X-Files season 11 — or rather, as it is officially known for contractual and budgetary reasons, “Event Series 2” — was announced on April 20 2017 as the “next chapter” in the adventures of Mulder and Scully! But as the season kicks off, the question on everybody’s mind is: is it the “last chapter”?

Photo(shop) art!

The chronology of two years of negotiations

The revival did exceptionally well in terms of ratings for Fox, it ended up being Fox’s second-highest hit for the 2015-2016 season. There was a downwards slide in the second half of the short run that can be attributed to a usual drop after the premiere, but also to nostalgia wearing off, to the episodes being perceived as less good than expected, or to lukewarm professional reviews (and there was not the usual audience increase for the finale). The episodes “My Struggle” and “Babylon“, both by Carter, were even sent by Fox for Emmy Awards consideration.

Overall, the revival received a very mitigated reception by professional reviewers and amongst the fandom, if it is possible to express an objective view of such a diverse bunch, ranging from being absolutely enamored to absolute rejection. The revival found its way in many critics’ year-end “worst of 2016” lists, with the singular exception of Darin Morgan’s episode. Many voices were raised to remove Carter as a showrunner — an incredibly harsh criticism, but one that shows the level of strong feelings surrounding the revival. As often happens, Duchovny was the first from the people behind the series to reflect upon it with something else than formatted public relations praise (interview: Duchovny says he had mixed feelings).

Yet for a series with such a ratings success, the renewal process was unexpectedly long: two years! For the previous revival series it only lasted five months (presumably November 2014 to March 2015).

Among the first promotional behind the scenes photos posted by @GillianA

The January premiere and February finale did not directly result in a renewal; already in May it was not expected to return for the 2016-2017 season (May); over the summer, Fox said that everyone had been approached (June) and floated around the figure of 10 episodes (August); Anderson said that actually she hadn’t been approached yet (to be fair, in an interview that was conducted earlier than when it was published, in June); the start of production is continuously pushed back from early spring 2017 (Carter, October) to October 2017 (Carter, October); in November 2016, right after the US elections, the negotiations seemed to stop completely, with Anderson saying “Probably not. I think it is finished.” See also science advisor/Carter friend Anne Simon tweets (“Glitch caused negotiations to stop. Last heard it was “definite maybe”.” “s11 looked very positive for long time.Then day after election, heard about problems.” “Probably no one wants to offend, in hopes that resumption is possible. My guess.“). More episodes were not announced for the 2017-2018 season at the January 2017 TCA (negotiations for season 10 were announced in the 2015 TCA). What seemed like a sure thing is now only “a bet” (Duchovny, February 2017) and new episodes were more likely to happen for the 2018-2019 season, 3 years after season 10.

The April 20 2017 announcement with a mid-season 2017-2018 air date came as a surprise after a news blackout that lasted several months, two full years after the announcement of season 10 on March 25 2015! The January 3 premiere was announced on November 15, which is a short advance notice and a premiere date oddly close to New Year’s Day — perhaps to prevent an awkward press tour involving Anderson or too many questions around the premiere episode My Struggle III.

Event Series 2 / Season 11 Behind The Camera

Behind the camera, a similar crew as season 10 — Chris Carter, Glen Morgan, James Wong, Darin Morgan — with some additions, most of which were already Ten Thirteen alumni. The first half of the season will be similar to season 10 (Carter mythology, Glen M stand-alone, Carter stand-alone, Darin M comedy, Wong stand-alone/mythology mix); the second half sees the addition of episodes written by Gabe Rotter (Carter’s assistant since XF season 9), Kristen Cloke (XF/MM actor and Glen’s wife!) & Shannon Hamblin, Karen Nielsen (script coordination since season 10), Benjamin Van Allen (Carter’s assistant since The After), information is incomplete as of this date on these (Morgan & Wong might be involved in several); and Carter’s season finale. In directing, season 11 sees the addition of Kevin Hooks, Carol Banker and Holly Dale.

“Event Series 2”

For season 10, the crew planned, wrote, pre-produced, shot and post-produced 6 episodes by around October (when “My Struggle” was shown in Cannes); shooting was June-September, a little over two weeks per episode: s10 actually happened on a very quick schedule! Season 11 might have benefited from some preparatory pre-production work, however the schedule is similarly tight and typical of network television: April to January to produce 10 episodes, with shooting over July-December (again a little over two weeks per episode), and a premiere on January 3 2018, with post-production of the last episodes overlapping with the airing of the first episodes.

Contrary to season 10, the shooting managed to keep many things secret, to the point where even the most ardent spoiler-seekers have no clue as to the content of most episodes!

Towards an ending?

The official word was that everyone was willing to do more and that it’s just a matter of getting the scheduling right. The main blocking point seemed to be the number of episodes. 6 was too few and that the 1990s season format of 24 episodes is too much. But:

Fox will be willing to continue doing these forever if the audience is there, and XF had a higher audience than the wave of Fox revivals over 2016-2017 like 24: Legacy, Heroes Reborn or Prison Break. It is interesting that Fox was willing to wait for everyone to agree and has not pushed (yet?) for alternatives that don’t involve one or more of the three key players. Alternatives (shooting in London to accommodate Anderson, ensemble show diluting the two leads’ presence, back-door pilot for next-gen series…) might be under consideration, but for now the drawing power of The X-Files is considered by everyone to be Anderson and Duchovny with Carter as orchestra conductor. It is unknown what effect the recent purchase of (most of) Fox by Disney will have on XF; some top-level restructuring/reshuffling is likely to happen, and it is important to note that Dana Walden and Gary Newman (CEOs of Fox TV production and broadcasting since July 2014, previously CEOs of Fox TV production), are in good terms with Carter and were key in launching negotiations for the revival in 2014-2015.

Chris Carter, Dana Walden, Gary Newman, Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, Season 10 LA premiere

Carter would be fine with anything, probably; his other projects have not had success and he seems willing to channel all his creativity in the brand he will be remembered for. Returning X-Files to television was probably not in his mind as recently as 2013 (see SDCC coverage); he still hasn’t abandoned the idea of doing a third X-Files feature film, although he must know the decision-making people and process of Fox TV and Fox Film are two quite separate things.

Duchovny might have been the initial driving force behind the 2016 revival; he seems to be fine with a format of limited runs every few years (a concept he apparently introduced to Anderson during Kumail Nanjiani’s podcast!).

Anderson vehemently repeated she is not willing to do more episodes and repeatedly described s11 as her last. For both revival seasons, she expected they would give fans closure and close the book for good. This could be just means of pressuring Fox (for the 2016 revival Fox started by offering her again half the pay that Duchovny would get while she is no longer a beginner actor like in 1993), however there seem to be broader issues. In interviews Anderson is much more praising of her other roles and does not particularly seem to be looking forward to return to Scully.

And so for half the duo, this is the last season ever of The X-Files while at the same time the creator wants us to believe we live in an odd time where The X-Files is once more on-going series on television right now, with no end in sight, and which, as any other series, runs the risk of getting cancelled due to low ratings. As the premiere approached, positions became clearer.

Carter: I’m always thinking that this could be it. I don’t know what the future holds. While I try to do my best, and we did well the last time out, this time out could be different. For me, The X-Files can go on, indefinitely. It’s really how long Mulder and Scully, and David and Gillian want to do the show. […] For me, The X-Files is Mulder and Scully. I think if it were without Scully, I wouldn’t do it. That’s not my X-Files.

Anderson: Resolution is good.

Duchovny: Unless Chris came to Gillian and me with an idea for an actual end to the show — which would preclude doing any more movies or any more television (versions) — and the three of us decided, ‘That’s fantastic, that’s really the way to end it,’ everything we do (with the franchise) naturally is going to be somewhat open-ended. I had hoped for the last six episodes to be successful, and whether that meant we were going to do more, I didn’t know. I don’t know how truthfully we could ever end this without ‘killing’ me or Gillian.

Early word was that the season 11 finale would be a cliffhanger; it might be an open-ended ending after all. We will know in the future whether discussions during the making of season 11 influenced how Carter wrote, and also edited the season 11 finale. We might also know more about the show’s future (or lack thereof), by the time the finale airs. A situation not unlike seasons 7 and 8; each series finale is different and The X-Files has had many already!

What is certain is that seasons 10+11 consist in a single entity, and that there has not been anything planned beyond that, which would posit the season 11 finale as a potentially better place to end than My Struggle II.

Carter: The four struggle episodes were all pieces of a whole and [Season 11 Episode 10 completes the whole.

Season 11 kicks off today with 11X01: My Struggle III. Stay tuned for EatTheCorn coverage of the season!