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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”!

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25 Responses to “11X01: My Struggle III”

  1. Maddie says:

    Monica and CSM shapeshifting. That’s a good twist. I could really do without the Maury “who’s your daddy” plot (didn’t care for it the first time around) although I’m guessing it’s only figuratively. As far as CSM being in love with Scully, besides saving her life twice, there have been subtle clues like it was mentioned by Penny Northern that Scully was the only one that was allowed to be comforted when they were abducted in “Memento Mori”. Mulder needing to kill CSM is a little too Star Wars for me. It is interesting that CSM implied in one dialogue that the x-files is now unnecessary for his plan, so Mulder is now expendable. Didn’t understand the necessity for Mulder’s narration unless it’s revealed he’s speaking it to William in MSIV? I’d really like to see Scully put the final knife in CSM’s chest. Although he has more lives than The Joker in Batman. I feel a little like I’m in Twin Peaks – “What year is this?” Anyway, I’m in it for the ride, hopefully we don’t end up in the Dyson sphere. Thank you for everything, many of us appreciate and cherish this site.

    • orodromeus says:

      Thanks! Re: Memento Mori: but it was just Penny comforting Scully while they were abducted, no? Scully didn’t get special treatment during the abduction.
      “What year is this?”: Ha! Maybe that’s why I can’t really appreciate an episode like this with its frantic pace and editing, it’s too 21st century, it’s another kind of genre altogether, summer blockbuster derivative…

  2. Frank Black says:

    Excellent review! Do you think the idea of the apocalypse being a vision of the future a protagonist has comes from M&W season 2 finale of the Millenniun? I think Morgan spoke of a way they had to get away from the ending if they wanted and there were hnts in the episode but they weren’t asked.

    • orodromeus says:

      The My Struggle II situation was certainly similar to The Time Is Now. But I don’t if M&W would have erased it or have it been a vision (Lara’s vision?). Didn’t they mention that they were toying with the idea of Frank Black in a post-apocalyptic world? I’m interested in interviewers asking Morgan some questions about the XF mythology in the revival, he’s the executive producer now and he should have a minimal hand in it! For instance, I wonder if the evil humans/good aliens twist, and the Mulder-Scully separation is something Carter & Morgan came up with together instead of just Carter.

  3. Andrew says:

    Monica working for CSM makes no sense for her character, I hope there is a twist. A lot of characters don’t make sense and why Mulder was so angry with Skinner? And did Mulder and Scully kept in touch with Spender all these years? I like it but it came out of nowhere. The episode was ntresting (although a bad TV epsode) and it sets up some intresting plots but I wish the structure of the mytharc episodes were better (mytharc works better as two parts) and I wish we hadn’t wasted time in MS and MSII and they had set up the pandemia/vision in some other way last season. Great review, I hope we have a good season.

    • orodromeus says:

      I completely agree! It looks like Carter had planned the two seasons in his mind, he didn’t create s11 from scratch after s10 was done. But he could have decided to distribute the various twists and developments better. And certainly sacrifice a couple of stand-alones to dilute these Struggle episodes.

  4. Kovsky says:

    I thought the same thing about the idea whether or not Reyes and The Smoking Man were shapeshifters, while I watched it air live. The camera angles, the way Mulder walks in, it all seemed to lean forward. Some people might call it crackpot but the show has always fell back on crackpot stuff for plot twists and drama. Annabeth Gish made an interesting tweet, though, about not jumping to conclusions about calling Reyes a “villain” which I found rather interesting. Excited to see episode 10 even if it’s messy because I want closure on her and why she is working for CSM.

    • orodromeus says:

      Yes I saw that tweet from Gish – interesting, maybe we get her side of the story. With so many plots to resolve and characters returning (and I don’t want to spoil anyone here), it looks like MS IV will have to have an even crazier pacing, alas!

      • Kovsky says:

        Random reply, little moment I just had – the shot of Erika/Y matching the shot of Reyes/CSM just before in the exact same house and the idea of them being shapeshifters reminded me of something….the Acolytes! From the S10/11 comics. Wonder if they’ll try and use elements of the non-canon material and place it in the show. Perhaps this will be CC’s big cliffhanger at the end of My Struggle IV, that The Smoking Man is truly dead, and it’s just an Acolyte impersonating him. Knowing him, CC will probably make a mess of this if true and I’m just spouting fan-wank at this point but it was an “oh wow” theory I had while reading them.

  5. Andrew says:

    I agree that he had it planned and he had a very difficult task, bringing back a series so complicated and rich in just six episodes is not easy. The series means different things to different fans and it’s hard to say what they should sacifice. Perhaps Babylon for a two parter mytharc at the beginning or at the end? Also they could leave a lot of parts out from MS to slower the pace and create a better atmosphere. Tad’s theories, Sveta, the old informant etc weren’t that significant as they disappeared. Instead of these they could gve time to Monica or explained how CSM survived etc. And what was the purpose to tell us that colonization wasn’t the plan only to take it back that in MSIII? It served no purpose, if the colonization was still on board then I understand if they wanted to manipulate Mulder but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Great ideas for the revival but too confusing and rushed. But the reviews for the next four stand alone are good so maybe they’ll find their pace. For the finale I’m worried.

    • orodromeus says:

      In retrospect, it’s amazing how much of MS1 was not necessary. Much of MS1 was to get Mulder to doubt his beliefs, but they could have found a way to better introduce that, and I still believe it’s an absolute mistake they didn’t introduce the search for William and the ticking clock for the viral apocalypse from the very start in MS1, not MS2.

      • ndrew says:

        I’m with you, I don’t understand why they didn’t introduced Willian and the virus apocalypse as a way to bring back Mulder and Scully in the X-Files. So much easier and more consistent with the series. They need to hire you in the writing staff or as a consultant. Morgan or Wong said that they check this site to remembr the mythology, the series needed an advisor in the mythology. Star Wars has a story group tasked to keep the movies, novels, comics in continuity. Such a big franchice as the X-Files should do the same, not with the comics but with the series itself cause many of the problems could be avoided whith the ways you suggested.

        • orodromeus says:

          Thanks! To be fair I’m not sure Wong visited this site, and Carter also mentioned he checked things online. If they did (hi!) they might not like what they read.

  6. E. says:

    Thanks for writing this! I had so much trouble trying to keep up with that episode due to the jerky pacing, editing and quick cuts.

  7. Demijan Omeragic says:

    Outstanding job. As I’ve read elsewhere, the best review of the episode, by far. It’s actually much more than just a review. It should be required reading for anyone who contributed in the creation of not only MS3 but also MS1 and MS2, since we can’t separate these episodes.

  8. Doug Taylor says:

    As always, an excellent analysis and detailed summary, oro.

    I feel much the same way you do about everything.

    One thing I haven’t seen mentioned much is how Scully commented that William was reaching out to her, but that how he was ALSO reaching out to Mulder!

    It will be interesting to see how CC resolves all of this in MSIV. Here’s to hoping he fixes some of the mess he’s made!

    Nonetheless, I’m still looking forward to each episode!

    • orodromeus says:

      “My visions… are from William. I don’t know how, but I know that he’s guiding me. And you.”
      So yes the visions are meant for both, at least according to Scully, but Mulder is not having visions himself.
      If the visions are meant for both, it would show that William cares about Mulder too – another hint at who the father is.

  9. Anna says:

    Excellent points in your review as always.

    One thing I miss in the mythology in the revival is the sense of mystery and the investigations of Mulder and Scully. Mulder finds Mr. Y and Ericka and they start telling him their story and Smoking man and Monica tell their part of the story to Skinner. In classic episodes like “The Erlenmeyer Flask” or “Anasazi/The Blessing Way…” M&S do their investigations, they follow clues trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle before they finally meet … Well-manicured man who reveals about the hybridization project. In “My struggle” episodes the answers are coming before we have the time to ask the questions.

    Also, I have the sense that we are thrown in the middle of a story having missed the beginning. Skinner is not that surprised to see Monica after all these years (he only asks what she’s doing with CSM), he doesn’t even seems that surprised CSM lives, Spender is on the speed dial, nobody is asking about Doggett … I just have the feeling that these are things that we should know and we don’t. Unless, Skinner and Monica are working together to bring smoking man down but didn’t MSII hinted that she works for CSM since after s9 finale? These things are not significant but the attention in details made the series so realistic and grounded in the past.

    Thanks for the review Orodromeus and keep them coming.

    • orodromeus says:

      Thank you!
      Yes, there’s a lot more “tell” than “find” and “show”. The lack of investigation is a staple of the mythology in the later seasons, in season 8 already you have Krycek or Knowle Rohrer explaining it all for example.
      I also get the sense that we are missing something, that we are finding this situation but there’s a lot that has happened that we haven’t seen or that the characters know that we don’t. In My Struggle I I figured this was just the start of the story and there’s more to come that will explain things, but now we are 3 episodes out of 4 if you just count the core mytharc and there’s still a lot in the air, more than one episode can address. And so you start digging and building these theories but you don’t know if any of it in the episodes was done on purpose for you to dig.

  10. Anna says:

    A thought I just had: What if the premonition/vision Scully has is not the actual future but is William reading the mind of CSM? That would explain some discontinuities such as CSM’s face and how Scully saw Monica and CSM in the past but it wouldn’t explain how Scully sees events and they happen shortly afterwards. But what if William’s brain is so active, more than Gibson’s Praise, and he can actually see the thoughts of everyone and in a sense many possible futures? It’s probably a stupid idea but I thought to share it anyway.

    • orodromeus says:

      There might be something going on indeed about mind reading, seeing possible futures, seeing how decisions impact the future, and the resulting multiverses. We know episode 4 talks about alternate universes, but that’s just Darin and his episodes are a “bubble universe” of themselves.

  11. edward says:

    This site is very good and your work is better than the original material. Thanks for the dedication!

    As for “My Struggle 3” … The episode is pathetic.

    The political approach is childish, making late talk shows sound like geniuses of analysis and observation.

    The conversations are shameful, all the characters are cheap stereotypes (even the real ones are presented so without dimensions!).

    The story (let’s call it that for the sake of the past) looks like the sum of randomly drawn ideas.

    As an old enthusiast I felt even more embarrassed than with the aberration that was the previous attempt to revive the XFiles (S10).

    But the most terrifying thing is that Carter remains faithful to the ad-hominen fallacy as a narrative weapon: he believes (personally and in the voice of characters) in authority by simple quoting the word “science” every 10 seconds without any criteria or common sense even in a work of exaggerated fiction.

    It’s really depressing to watch the dizzying fall of someone you’ve held in high regard for years.

  12. TN1 says:

    I think that the cinematography is a HUUUGE step in the right direction. It looks dark with earthly colors, much like the original run of The X-Files as opposed to bright, plasticy looking season 10.

    • orodromeus says:

      I still don’t enjoy the cinematography in My Struggle III – apart from the flashbacks, which are beautiful. Look at “This”, it looks like a different show, and much closer to the original. Like with My Struggle I vs Home Again, really.

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