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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”!

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!

Some Complementary Season 10 Mythology Elements

Season 11 is less than a month away! Its two-and-a-half mythology episodes promise to be very dense: a lot of plot to go through, a lot of returning and new characters, William, flashbacks, the ungrateful task of attempting to reconcile this new mythology direction with what we considered to be “the truth” in seasons 1-9… and conclude in a cliffhanger for season 12! Season 10’s mythology’s lukewarm reception motivated FOX to downplay the mythology this season, however the new mythology doesn’t sound more welcoming to new fans and still has to convince old fans. Since My Struggle II aired, fans have been trying to connect the dots in the hope that the mythology would make sense, once more — theorizing is a typical x-phile occupation.


Follow and comment the #46DaysOfMythX (FB, t) as we count down to season 11 by reviewing the “classic series” Case Files — and finish transferring material from the old version of EatTheCorn to this modern version!

A shout out to the incredibly ambitious X-Cast Podwatch project, with one hundred 20-minute podcasts covering two episodes at a time released daily (or even more than daily)!


We analyzed in detail the complementary mythology elements in the book “The Real Science Behind The X-Files” by virologist, X-Files science advisor and Chris Carter friend Dr. Anne Simon here.

Carter’s other science advisor, for the second film onwards, is Dr. Margaret Fearon, a medical doctor and microbiologist, and Simon’s friend; the sick boy Christian Fearon in I Want To Believe is named after her.

Simon & Fearon contributed with ideas and suggestions to Chris Carter when writing the season 10 mythology episodes. For their work, they were credited for co-writing the season finale My Struggle II! On February 22 2016, Anne Simon hosted a viewing party for the finale in the University of Maryland, where she works.

What follows is commentary on the behind the scenes info and bits of information that she revealed during the Q&A session that night — long before season 11 was a reality and long before Carter put fingers to laptop to write the My Struggle III script!

The making of My Struggle II

  • About The X-Files returning after so many years, Simon says: “I heard Chris many times saying he would never do it again. I never thought it would come back.
  • Carter asked Simon: “I want you to come up with a way to kill everybody off – everybody except the chosen few“, among whom Scully. Simon: “I was really surprised when he asked me to kill everybody off. Because then who would be the audience? And how would you get out of it?
  • This is the third time she’s been asked something like that in the series [I suppose the other two refer to bees carrying smallpox in 4X21: Zero Sum, and the Black Oil virus itself in Fight the Future]
  • In the beginning there was a misunderstanding: Simon had Scully be the victim. But Carter said no, that alien DNA has “got to be the key“.
  • Simon had the idea of the threat not being an alien virus again, but something that would remove the immune system. She came up with a mechanism to lose one’s ADA gene. Carter was very happy with the idea and kept asking “write a lot more“, “I want more science“. The use of actual science is one of the distinguishing marks of The X-Files.
  • Anne Simon and Margaret Fearon together came up with involving Crisp-Cas9: to have the smallpox vaccine with a second virus that would deliver the DNA that would then deactivate ADA gene. [Simon certainly remembers her own contribution in making the smallpox vaccine a tagging device in 4X01: Herrenvolk; we still don’t know how this new use of the smallpox vaccine articulates with what we learnt before, and why the conspiracy would know how to use this virus from at least the 1970s but then focus on using the Black Oil virus.]
  • How is this activated? Carter wanted it to be chemtrails and aluminum [following recent conspiracy theories]. Simon thought it could be the level of CO2 in the atmosphere, which is rising; Carter didn’t like that idea. [The trigger remains unexplained.]
  • Margaret Fearon came up with the symptoms observed in the first victims, and using anthrax as an example.
  • Simon was helping with My Struggle II at the same time Carter was shooting Babylon. Every day there were pages going back and forth with corrections and suggestions, it was a difficult time for Carter. [This is the actual script; we do not know how far ahead the story was conceived.]
  • Simon says that My Struggle IItakes place 6 weeks after the first episode” [as mentioned in the dialogue]. In My Struggle Ithere are some hints that something is going wrong. So it’s really taking quite a while before thew immune system is starting to go down“, it is “very gradual” [but this connection between the two episodes is never made explicit in the scenarios].

Gillian Anderson calls William, the presumed pilot of the UFO/ARV!

What could come next

  • Carter cut the final 10 pages of the My Struggle II scenario to create that cliffhanger. [We could then say that season 10 and season 11 mythology were conceived as a single story arc, if not in the details then at least in story directions.]
  • Simon knows what happens after “that close encounter” at the end of My Struggle II. [This would mean that the occupants of that craft could be alien, and that the arrival of the UFO/ARV was not something that was added after the first draft in order to create a cliffhanger for next season.]
  • Simon and Fearon had mapped out the science for the next episode [My Struggle III] already.
  • With Scully’s vaccine, we all have alien DNA now. Simon: “could this be what they wanted all along? Maybe this is their plan.” [This gives credence to the theory that the Spartan virus is a ploy and the real objective is to have people vaccinated with Scully’s cure, which will prove to be a biological Trojan horse of some kind. The alternative would be that there are several kinds of aliens, and those would be benevolent towards humans.]
  • About producing the vaccine with Scully’s extra nucleotides on an industrial scale for the whole world: “The idea is that then they would be able to synthesize this. But initially it would require Scully’s blood. That was all worked out. Chris was asking about that, but how long would it take… So where are the last 10 pages?” [Does that mean that a general cure for the entire world’s population is what we will see in My Struggle III and only necessitates 10 pages? This is asking a lot of suspension of disbelief! Scully would presumably get some slight help from the CDC and the WHO — perhaps even from the occupants of that UFO/ARV as well?]
  • Simon wrote more material: “I had a dream kind of thing, where you go back and the Cigarette-Smoking Man takes his first puff, he was really young, I thought it was good. And Chris said no, you cannot do a back in time thing, because he was doing it with Monica and I didn’t realize he was planning on that.” [But then My Struggle III seems to be all about flashbacks to a young CSM! Perhaps Carter kept Simon’s ideas for My Struggle III.]
  • And finally, about My Struggle II and the coherence of the mythology: “I hope people can see how this episode fits in with the mythology. I think it explains a lot. What was the conspiracy? This is the conspiracy. Now, did Chris know that this was the conspiracy? Obviously not because I told him what the conspiracy was — but he knew there was a conspiracy, he just didn’t know what it was.” When she sent ideas, Carter was happy: “Chris could see that it fit what had been done before.” [My Struggle I & II present lots of problems of continuity with earlier episodes: the purpose of the Syndicate, the absence of Colonist aliens, the absence of Black Oil in greys, the credulity of Mulder, the absence of Supersoldiers, the chronology of the Syndicate using the smallpox vaccine to introduce this Spartan virus since the 1970s while spending decades afterwards to find a way to use the Black Oil virus as the trigger of the Apocalypse instead and developing hybrids immune to it, the inconsistency of the CSM’s behavior if he manipulated everybody from 1947, and more. Some of these problems depend on future twists in My Struggle III and so forth, but it is likely that is will not be possible to reconcile everything.]

An otherwise useless zoom-in into Scully’s eye echoing the closing shot of the episode

Would the original conclusion that Simon is referring to actually take place right after what we saw in My Struggle II? How could we switch from a UFO/ARV suddenly appearing and menacing Scully to Scully saving everyone by mass-producing her vaccine, thus cancelling that particular Apocalypse? — until…”could this be what they wanted all along?

Recent season 11 promotional material seems to confirm a theory that started as hearsay mentioned by Jonathan Maberry all the way back to October 2016: that starting from the zoom-in in the first scene in the X-Files office until the zoom-in in the last shot, My Struggle II would be a sort of vision of the future that Scully had. This could be a premonitory dream, a vision given to her by somebody who has psychic powers (spiritual beings, aliens, William?), or a vision projected on her by someone via her implanted chip, which can be tele-operated (e.g. to call her to a specific place, as in 5X13: Patient X) — perhaps so that she would know of the future and act to prevent it. This is not the retconning of Millennium end of season 2 to beginning of season 3 (the viral Apocalypse was actually a local event with low death toll), but it is a way out.

My Struggle I cut scene

The DVD/BluRay (released in June 2016) included some excellent making of documentaries by Julie Ng, whose love for the series shows on every frame! — some additional anecdotes that did not make it in the final edit of the documentaries can be found here and here (originally a feature for X-Files News, it has disappeared there?).

“Our lives are at danger now.” echoes Deep Throat’s “Your lives may be in danger” from 1X01: Deep Throat in the same way the Old Man’s “You’re nearly there. You’re close.” echoed Deep Throat’s “Don’t give up on this one. Trust me. You’ve never been closer.” from 1X23: The Erlenmeyer Flask!

This included a cut scene for My Struggle I. In it, Mulder is waiting to meet the Old informant a second time in the same spot. Instead, he meets who pretends to be the informant’s daughter, who tells Mulder that her father was dead — presumably killed by the conspiracy because he was feeding Mulder with presumably true information. My Struggle I was a very dense episode and this short scene was cut for no other reason than for time; we can thus consider this information as canon (until proven otherwise).

This scene explains why we do not see the Old informant in My Struggle II, something that would have made narrative sense given the important impact of his information on Mulder’s beliefs, and given the informant’s promise of revealing more secrets to Mulder in the future. Instead, this character was of one-time use: Carter introduced him, he told Mulder what he needed to say, served his purpose, and was written out, all of which in the same episode. (Sadly, the actor portraying him, Rance Howard, passed away just days ago, on November 25 2017, making the return of this character impossible without a recast.)

This is one more example of the issues Carter’s recent scripts have with pacing, and Carter’s tendency in most of his post-season 5 mythology episodes to have characters tell the plot and not have Mulder and Scully actually investigate to uncover the truth.


Carter took a bold leap into the unknown by choosing to do a cliffhanger without a guaranteed season 11, which, with two years’ negotiations versus five months for season 10, nearly didn’t happen. Nevertheless, he created an X-Files cliffhanger like no other where everything — characters’ fates, humanity’s survival, the very meaning of the narrative of the mythology that makes the fabric of the show — is up in the air, and got people talking. We will know shortly how, and if, it all comes together!

Mythology elements of The Real Science Behind The X-Files

Dr. Anne Simon is a researcher in virology and professor in the University of Maryland. She also has in her curriculum the no less respectable title of science advisor for The X-Files! Anne Simon got involved in the show from the very first season, 1X23: The Erlenmeyer Flask, through a family connection — her mother’s best friend is Chris Carter’s wife and writer Dori Pierson — and has remained involved to this day, even earning a writing credit on the show’s last episode to have aired to date, 10X6: My Struggle II. She is also the daughter of screenwriter Mayo Simon, who wrote several science-themed or science fiction features (Marooned, Phase IV).

In 1999, Simon wrote “Monsters, Mutants and Missing Links: The Real Science Behind The X-Files“, a book that mixed episode stories with her own scientific knowledge and participation in the making of the series. Simon’s contribution in the series as a scientist elevates this particular book above the usual “the science of…” tie-in books that get released to ride on a pop culture phenomenon’s success. The book makes for a great read for the science amateur and informed X-Files fan, it invites the reader to enter the mindset of a scientific researcher questioning everything and attempting to reconcile facts in order to come up with theories — a quintessentially x-philian activity. The X-Files, after all, tried to balance Mulder’s encyclopedic knowledge of paranormal phenomena with Scully’s no less encyclopedic knowledge of medicine and more.

The US cover

The book covers seasons 1-5 as well as Fight the Future and the first episode of the sixth season. It would be interesting for Anne Simon to do a second edition of this book, with additional chapters not only covering seasons 6-9 (and importantly, as will be seen below, the revival) but also offering an updated view on the science: medical sciences and biology in particular are very lively fields that have seen great advancements over the past 15 years. Scientific truth is an ever-expanding, ever-shifting landscape!

By her own account, Simon only helped Carter with the science of the mythology episodes, the only stand-alone exception being 5X06: Post-Modern Prometheus, also a Carter episode. The science in other X-Files episodes must have been the writers’ own work or Ten Thirteen’s in-house researcher. Thus, the book’s science can be broken down into three types:

  • The book attempts to provide a scientific background for the phenomenon seen in an X-Files investigation. These are more akin to more or less wild sessions of theorizing and of attempting to put science where scientific accuracy might not have been the writers’ concern. For example, finding a biological basis for Virgil Incanto’s need for fat matter (from 3X06: 2Shy).
  • Scully (mostly) and Mulder explicitly reference a scientific concept in an episode, and the book offers further background to that concept. If the concept made it into the script, then it’s likely that the writers used this concept as the basis for their script, or at least they were aware of it and wrote it in in order to strengthen the scientific accuracy of the script. For example, the Chupacabra fungus launches a discussion of how fungi and enzymes work (from 4X11: El Mundo Gira).
  • A third category is Simon’s own contributions, which are first-hand accounts of what research was done to give these episodes scientific verisimilitude and what were the writers’ (well, Carter’s) intentions by including some elements of the research and not others. For example, identifying alien DNA with the two extra nucleotides (from 1X23: The Erlenmeyer Flask).

Anne Simon circa 1999

Sometimes, the additional research that didn’t make it into the final script and the behind-the-scenes discussions Simon had with Carter provide interesting insights into the script-writing process and valuable information about the mythology that cannot be found elsewhere. This mythology information could be described as “secondary” canon information: although not in the episodes themselves, it is certain it was in Simon’s and Carter’s minds and intentions when the episodes were being written and this extra information does not contradict the episodes. I used this extra information for EatTheCorn’s Mytharc Primer. This will be the focus of this article.

Are all of these elements below things we were to ponder on purpose as part of the larger mysteries of the mythology, or are they fan theories extrapolated from trying to inject too much science into a scripted piece of entertainment?

Mythology elements

The DNA to create an alien is already existing in humans and the Black Oil/Purity virus switches on this junk DNA

Quote:

Chris Carter, the movie’s scriptwriter, originally wanted to connect the black oily slime and the lizard-like entity in the following way: the black slime carries a virus, which is infectious when the slime enters a person; in the warmth of a person’s body, the virus develops into the monstrous creature..
Very imaginative, yes.
Minutely possible within the framework of biology, no.
After reading the movie script in early 1997, I hoped that Chris would change his mind. Having a special place in my heart for viruses, I discussed with him why a virus couldn’t possibly develop into anything. Viruses are, after all, just a bag of genes. A bag of genes that turns into a lizard with large black eyes and long pointed nails wouldn’t fit even my expanded definition of an extraterrestrial virus. I explored with Chris an idea for tinkering with his scenario. What if the black slime virus is responsible for the development of the creature but is not the progenitor of the creature? The virus, carried into a human by the black slime, could invade a cell in the person’s body and cause the cell to lose its identity. The cell could then be enticed by the virus to enter a new developmental pathway. That cell, together with its descendent cells, would regenerate into the hideous alien monster. I was thrilled that Chris liked the changes, since I wasn’t enthusiastic about the ribbing I would have taken from my fellow virologists if viruses changed into lizard-like aliens on the big screen — with me credited as science advisor.

The concern for scientific realism here is remarkable. A virus is a simple strand of DNA, much, much shorter than the DNA of a single-celled organism let alone of a complex multi-cellular organism like humans or grey aliens. For a virus to turn a human into an alien monster, it would have to carry much more information than a simple virus; so much so that it would not be categorized as a virus at all! The solution Simon found was to have the virus just be an activator of genes that are normally inactive in humans.

It would be have been simple to ignore that and just handwave the science away and make the virus do what viruses can’t do, but Carter was more than willing to incorporate this into his script.

Victim of (a strain of) Purity

Implications: human origins

This has large implications. If the information to create an alien were already present in human DNA, how did it get there? What happens if random genetic mutations switch part of that DNA on but not all of it? Gibson Praise and the Biogenesis trilogy storylines are the results of this idea. Super-human abilities such as mind-reading are the result of select genes in the so-called junk DNA being switched on (5X20: The End, 6X01: The Beginning). The alien DNA was put there by design because we are creations of aliens (6X22: Biogenesis). It would make sense then that the Ships with inscriptions on them containing a transcript of human DNA on them would belong to that same alien race that created us (7X03: The Sixth Extinction): Purity.

Implications: Black Oil virus origin

The Black Oil virus can thus be understood as a biological tool to transform a human into an alien. Could that mean that the Black Oil virus itself is manufactured, a tool of biological warfare on humans? The Purity aliens then would, in their natural form, be humanoid greys, the end result of the Black Oil virus’s life cycle. The Black Oil virus and its derivatives (see the creation of the Supersoldiers) would just be a tool for the Purity aliens to spread.

Extending this concept further, the Black Oil virus arbiters the mixture of active human genes and active alien genes in an organism, i.e. determines how much of an alien/human hybrid that organism is. Could that mean that hybridization experiments that result in our well-known green-blooded hybrids consist in finding out which genes to switch on and off? In the study of 5X14: The Red and the Black I theorized that the green blood in Alien Bounty Hunters and Faceless Rebels would mean that this race was created by Purity using some Purity genetic material in the same way humanity was, and that the green blood in alien/human hybrids is proof of that: could it be that this race of Shapeshifters actually be the result of earlier genetic experiments on humans?

Scully is not buying that viruses can think

Implications: virus vs. sentient organism

And so Carter and Simon thus went out of their way to present the Black Oil as a virus, behaving like a real virus. In most episodes we see it, the Black Oil infects people like a normal virus and at most put them into a coma (depending on things like temperature conditions, exposure of the host to a vaccine, potential weakness of the Black Oil strain). What doesn’t jive well with this is that the Black Oil, at times, behaves as if it has sentience: once it is inside a host, at times, it makes the host behave as if he is controlled by an intelligence other than his own. A simple virus would be very far from having the complexity necessary to do this. At best it could influence the behavior of the host in a specific way, like the worms wrapped around the brain in 1X07: Ice made the host violent. Could this be anything else than artistic license?

To be fair, the only times when the Black Oil virus shows real intelligence all by itself is in 3X15: Piper Maru / 3X16: Apocrypha, when for example it drives Krycek to negotiate with the CSM in order for it to reach its UFO — and the writers might not have yet settled their minds about what this black fluid was or that the “black cancer” they introduced in 4X09: Tunguska was the same entity. The other instance is in 8X16: Vienen, where the infected try to get more people infected. Interestingly, it is only in these two instances of the Black Oil that we see the host emit a flash of radioactivity to protect and attack, as if this were a different entity altogether. In both these instances, it could be that the Black Oil merely manipulates the brain to usher the host to rejoin with more of its kind, and the host uses the resources at its disposal — the host’s intelligence, memories, capabilities — to achieve that. This would not be unlike what some real parasites do when they control the host to their own benefit, for instance by ingesting more food or by moving to a safe place for the parasite to mature (see these or this lovely example).

How the Black Oil operates inside the Alien Bounty Hunters would be a different issue entirely.

The Black Oil/Purity virus doesn’t have extra nucleotides: is it terrestrial or extra-terrestrial?

Quote:

In ‘The Beginning’, the opening episode of the sixth season, Mulder’s convinced that there is a connection between Gibson and the virus involved in activating the development of the lizard-like creature. Unfortunately, hard evidence is lacking. Gibson is gone and the creatures have vanished. Muider’s only piece of evidence is a trace amount of the virus that he believes is extraterrestrial. Mulder is crushed when Scully cannot support scientifically the alien nature of the virus. After running tests, Scully reveals that the virus, although of an unknown species, has the same four nucleotides in its DNA and the same 20 amino acids in its proteins as earthly viruses. She therefore concludes that Mulder is mistaken. The virus comes from Earth.

Here Simon just summarizes how 6X01: The Beginning unfolds, but doesn’t counter Scully’s argument. Throughout the book, the Black Oil virus is casually referred to as alien and there is no question that aliens are here to colonize. There is just this catch: the Black Oil virus doesn’t contain the two extra nucleotides that was the most convincing proof of alien biology! Simon explains in detail her idea of two extra nucleotides to the usual four found in all earthly organisms, and how Carter integrated this idea in his script for 1X23: The Erlenmeyer Flask involving alien gene therapy on humans (i.e. inserting bits of alien DNA in the DNA of living humans). Surely, this is the best evidence Scully should have to make her believe in aliens. By Fight the Future and 6X01: The Beginning, Mulder believes the Black Oil virus and the clawed creature it spawns to be alien, but Scully’s analyses do not show something out of the ordinary apart from the fact that humans share a large part of their genome with it.

Southern blot DNA test in 5X02: Redux

Does that scientific result insinuate that the Black Oil is, in fact, terrestrial in origin and the entity with extra nucleotides is the only thing that is alien? The extra nucleotides are encountered in 1X23: The Erlenmeyer Flask and 5X02: Redux (and again in 10X6: My Struggle II; and since it is inside Scully, presumably it is what the Lone Gunmen analyze in 2X08: One Breath). What this would imply for the overall mythology is unclear. The Syndicate obtained the alien fetus with the extra nucleotides DNA from a deal with the aliens (6X12: One Son), the same aliens that are identified with the Black Oil/Purity colonization effort in many instances. Are the extra nucleotides necessary only in the mature grey form of the alien but not in the virus and first “clawed alien” forms? Is the Black Oil race in fact also seeking protection from the extra nucleotides race and conducting hybridization experiments as well? Did the Black Oil race originally evolve on Earth before leaving and now returning once more?

Gibson Praise’s DNA test in 6X01: The Beginning

This raises more questions than it answers, and unless it is building up to a future revelation about multiple races I will categorize it as an oversight on behalf of Carter for now.

The Syndicate’s endgame was the depopulation of the planet

Quote:

As Kurtzweil explains to Mulder in the X-Files movie, the corn is for production; the virus is the product; and the bees are for transportation. A deadly sting that the conspirators thought would depopulate the world but instead will repopulate it with virus-induced alien life-forms.
And that’s all the buzz on bees, corn and viruses.

Although there were talks of plagues and viruses and Apocalyptic warnings, the Syndicate’s purpose as it was exposed in Fight the Future and again in 6X11: Two Fathers / 6X12: One Son and 9X19/20: The Truth was to spread the Black Oil virus and see the world be taken over by the alien colonists, with the Syndicate members themselves surviving as immune hybrids. Indeed, if the Black Oil virus didn’t do anything else but put people in a coma or kill them why term it “colonization”? Why would the aliens collaborate with the Syndicate if they didn’t get something in return? In Fight the Future the Syndicate discovers the Black Oil triggers a gestation of a “clawed” alien. Well-Manicured Man: “This isn’t Colonization, this is spontaneous repopulation!” “We believed the virus would simply control us, that mass infection would make us a slave race. Imagine our surprise when they began to gestate.” We thus discover that the aliens perceive colonization as using the human population to reproduce themselves and increase their numbers, at humanity’s expense (and extinction).

The Well-Manicured Man spills the beans (that he knows about) to Mulder

Simon’s sentence could have been a shorthand — what effectively happens whether humans become hosts to Purity for life or humans die giving birth to the clawed alien form is that humans as such decrease in numbers. The mention of “depopulation” in Simon’s text is not backed up by anything in the series’ canon and would not mean much more — right until depopulation was presented as the (a?) conspiracy’s endgame in 10X6: My Struggle II. It could be then that the conspiracy’s initial objective was depopulation and choosing who would survive. Then came along the colonist aliens who offered the conspiracy with a means to achieve this objective: a potent pathogen, the Black Oil virus. In 1973, the conspiracy became the Syndicate by agreeing to share the spoils with the aliens in a post-depopulation colonized Earth. The Syndicate might have believed that the Black Oil virus would make humans into slaves that they, as new world leaders, would control jointly with the aliens. When the Syndicate discovered the aliens’ true purpose, the agreement was off and what remained of the Syndicate returned to the original plans of depopulation we see in season 10, using the Spartan virus injected into the population before 1973 along with the smallpox vaccinations.

Scully’s cancer was not cured, it only went into remission thanks to chip

Quote:

In the summer of 1997, I discussed with Chris some cool new treatments for curing Scully’s cancer. Scully’s health was getting progressively worse, until she lay near death in the sequel to the episode ‘Redux’, called ‘Redux I’. Chris decided to have Scully ‘cured’ when a synthetic chip was placed at the base of her neck. While watching the episode, I groaned. I knew what would happen the next day when I faced the 500 rabid X-Files fans in my Introduction to Biology class. Hands flew up as soon as I entered the room. ‘How could a computer chip in the neck cure cancer, Dr Simon?’ I was asked repeatedly. When I talked to Chris later that week, he said ‘It’s not a cure! It’s only remission!’ I remain hopeful that some new neat medical technology will prevail in the end.

The Redux trilogy ended in an excellent way synthesizing the core themes of the X-Files. Scully’s cancer disappeared, and it could have been due to her prayers being answered by God, or due to the conventional treatment she underwent, or due to the chip that was put into her again, a symbol of unconventional science and perhaps of the existence of aliens.

Studying Scully’s very first implant

That it would be just a remission instead of a cure makes some pseudoscientific sense. Scully’s cancer was caused by the experiments done on her during her abduction (radiation exposure to trigger hyper-ovulation? contact with alien genetic material?). A cancer is certain cells losing their constraints and duplicating endlessly growing into an unwanted tumor. The chip put inside Scully during her abduction put shackles on these cells and stopped their spread. The removal of the chip in season 3 caused the spread to begin anew; the addition of a similar chip in season 5 stopped it. Scully only has to remove the chip and her cancer could return; or, the chip could be reprogrammed to kill her by permitting the cancer to grow. Carter’s quote above could be both an acknowledgment that the chip did not magically cure her cancer, and a tease for a potential future development — one story thread that has not yet been pulled back to the fore.

Some additional short tidbits that have their significance

Dr. Anne Carpenter

In 1X23: The Erlenmeyer Flask, Dr. Anne Carpenter’s name comes from Anne Simon’s first name and not legendary director John Carpenter, but after Anne Simon’s husband name.

Magnetite

Magnetite is mentioned extensively in the description of the (real) Mars meteorite that might have contained fossilized bacteria, which served as inspiration for 4X09: Tunguska. Magnetite is of course a widely common iron compound found on Earth and elsewhere and there is nothing particular about it, however magnetite’s importance as the aliens’ weak spot introduced in season 9 does make this research relevant. One theory would be that the presence of magnetite in the Mars meteorites is what weakened the Black Oil’s potency and allowed the research into a vaccine to proceed faster in Russia compared to other, more potent Black Oil strains, like the ones in Fight the Future and 6X01: The Beginning.

Black vermiforms

Foum Tataouine

Discussing Mars meteorites, Simon also mentions the Tatahouine meteorite, which was analyzed in the wake of the potential bacteria find in the ALH84001 meteorite from Antarctica. That meteorite fell in the Foum Tataouine/Tatahouine/Tatawin region of Tunisia in 1931. This is the same place where we find Conrad Strughold at the end of Fight the Future. It is possible the Syndicate installed GMO corn fields above findings of Black Oil, some of which might have landed on Earth with meteorites.

S.E.P.

In Scully’s and Pendrell’s analysis of smallpox vaccination tags in 4X01: Herrenvolk, the aminoacid sequence that appears onscreen is not random: it is that of the cowpox virus, as could be expected from a smallpox vaccination!

Look what Pendrell found inside Scully

The chimera organism

The chimera organism in 5X02: Redux that develops under Scully’s microscope and could be alien is actually footage of a proteus urchin!

Alien urchin

Genetically modified plants

Fight the Future and colonization in general is based on genetically modified corn that carries the DNA from the Black Oil virus, which is passed on to bees when the bees come into contact with the corn’s pollen: the transfer of genes from one organism to the other is something that is observed in nature with Agrobacterium tumefaciens, which transfers its genes into plant cells and has been used to insert specific genes and thus create genetically modified plants.

Black Oil worms

The Black Oil coalescing into worms was inspired by dictyostelium slugs. It looks like the Black Oil behaves intelligently, for example when it forms worms that “attack” a host in Fight the Future. There is however a real nature counterpart to such behavior, as odd as it seems. One could imagine the Black Oil virus organizing itself and the hydrocarbons in the oil it is bathing in order to behave like a multi-cellular organism looking to infect a host, in a broadly similar way to the ‘dicti‘ organism.

Dictyostelium discoideum life cycle

ADA enzyme & gene

There is mention of the severe immunodeficiency syndrome caused by a faulty gene producing the ADA enzyme. Years later, Simon would use that knowledge to come up with the mechanism with which the conspiracy would depopulate the planet with the ADA-removing Spartan virus, in 10X6: My Struggle II.

Southern blot

Simon is well aware that the Southern blot test conducted by Scully in 5X02: Redux was done way too quickly because the narrative of the episode demanded it, and it has become a bit of a recurring joke that she has received criticism for this. (To accelerate the test, more heat is needed, thus the mention of a “blazing hot probe”: little did she suspect that FOX censorship might take issue with that expression!) I wonder how the same people would react to 10X6: My Struggle II and its extremely quickly produced alien DNA vaccine.

Annex: Book contents

An overview of all the information in the book’s six chapters:

1: Hidden and Hungry
Episodes: The Host ; Ice; Darkness Falls; Firewalker; El Mundo Gira; F. Emasculata
Described: extremophiles; pathogens; antibiotics; hypothalamus & hormones; flukes & worms; hermaphrodites; reviving extinct species; spores; silicon-based life; fungi & enzymes; immune system; parasites & outbreaks

2: Visitors from the Void
Episodes: The Erlenmeyer Flask; Tunguska; Piper Maru; Ice; Gethsemane/Redux
Described: bacteria; microscopes; DNA, RNA & nucleotides; virus replication; Human Genome Project; ALH84001 Mars meteorite, PAHs, carbonates & magnetite; dicti slugs; Tunguska event; life in space & panspermia; ammonia-based life; chimeric organisms; Piltdown Man hoax; RFLP DNA test; mitosis & somatic development

3: Mutants and Monsters
Episodes: Post-Modern Prometheus; Home; Small Potatoes; 2Shy; Leonard Betts; Fight the Future; The End/The Beginning
Described: fruit flies; genetic engineering; DNA mutations; epidemics & mutant gene spread in human population; birth defects & genetic disorders; chromosomes, autosomes, sex chromosomes; dominant & recessive genes; extra chromosomes & chromosome inactivation; inbreeding; PCR DNA test; enzymes, proteases, lipids & digestion; regenerating limbs & repression by the immune system; cancer, proto-oncogenes, p53 gene & mutation suppression; bacteria redirecting the identity of cells & viruses activating genes; junk DNA; God module

4: Releasing the Genetic Genie
Episodes: Eve; Memento Mori; The Erlenmeyer Flask; Redux; Zero Sum; Herrenvolk; Fight the Future
Described: cloning; genetic engineering; chemotherapy & radiation treatment for cancer; gene therapy; Southern blot test; cloning & extra chromosomes; reproduction by cloning; forensic entomology; smallpox, immunization with cowpox, Smallpox Eradication Program; immunohistochemical staining & protein amino-acid sequence “tagging”; adding genes to plants & Agrobacterium tumefaciens

5: Seeking the Fountain of Youth
Episodes: Young at Heart; Dod Kalm; Roland; Synchrony; Our Town
Described: immortality & cell life ageing theory; HeLa cells; Hayflick cell division limit; human experimentation & consent forms; ‘wear and tear’ ageing theory, progeria, Werner’s syndrome, helicase enzyme; gene therapy; telomeres; cancer & telomerase enzyme; free radical ageing theory; antioxidants; male/female longevity, hormones & metabolism; cryonics; cells freezing process & ischemia; cryopreservants; vitrification; nanotechnology; brain diseases, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease; prions; cannibalism & kuru disease; ‘mad cow’ disease

6: Fooling with Mother Nature
Episodes: War of the Coprophages; The Jersey Devil; Blood; The Pine Bluff Variant; Quagmire
Described: environmental problems; invasive species; species extinction from loss of habitat; mutations, global warming & Hsp90 protein; insect sterilization for pest control; man-made insecticides, DDT, environmental oestrogens & link to cancer; artificial chemicals & health problems; animal & human pheromones; adrenaline; biological warfare & US & USSR programs; flesh eating bacteria, Streptococcus, anthrax; terrorist groups with biological agents (Aum Shinrikyo & nerve gas sarin, domestic terrorism in 1998); amphibians extinction; Endangered Species Act; coelacanth; chytrid fungi

XF comics update: Comics to end soon? + #10-13 review

The X-Files comics at IDW continue their course since their launch right after the live revival in March 2016.

Writer Joe Harris, who has been around since the comics started in IDW in 2013, broke the news in The X-Cast podcast: the current run of the comics is set to end soon! The next story arc, #14-17 Resistance (May-August 2017), will be the last — with a return to the “mythology” Harris has been building (modern-day politics and Syndicate remnants). After this, Harris will no longer be involved in the X-Files comics. Will the recent announcement of the making of a live “season 11” change these plans? Will IDW continue with comics under a different writer? Frankly, this announcement came as a surprise and given the way Harris was developing his new mythology it felt like he had some plans for many more issues. This comics run somewhat gives the impression that Harris’s motivation to write these comics has decreased compared to the Seasons 10/11 comics — or is it that the fans’ reception post-revival has been more lukewarm? After over 50 issues it is understandable; perhaps this decision was Harris’s. Do the decreasing sales also have something to do with this? We might know some answers to all these questions soon.

Issues #10-13 (January-May 2017) are covered below. Both stories are two-parters, this format definitely works better than one-offs. Both of these stories are character studies not focusing on the protagonists Mulder & Scully, in both of them the past plays a much more important role than the present (a bit like the Ishmael story with Scully’s father in issues #4-5 of this comic), further reinforcing the feeling that…it looks like this franchise’s most interesting part lies in its past.

Issues #1-9 were covered at EatTheCorn here.

 


#10-11: Contrarians

…or the Cigarette-Smoking Man’s 1980s adventures, featuring President Ronald Reagan and William Mulder! Joe Harris’s love for the character of the CSM is no secret; he was already a very prominent character in the Season 10 comics (or at least a version of the CSM) and Harris misses no opportunity to write for him (he was again featured in the 2016 Christmas Special). Here he is again, still justifying his actions as nothing wrong in the middle of an affair that nearly toppled an administration, and directly advising or ordering about the President himself.

This is something we had never seen in the series itself, where the relations between the Syndicate and real-world power figures were kept vague (final cut scene of 9X20: The Truth with G.W.Bush notwithstanding). This is much more “in your face” and straightforward conspiratorial. The politically charged time of today, with the arrival of the current US president, has been compared with the 1980s and the shock of another outsider arriving in the White House with economically radical policies and who was later accused of “constitutional subversion“. However, The X-Files series managed to never be partisan and certainly never equated the Syndicate’s agenda with the Republican Party’s; while parallels can be made, much is in the eye of the beholder. The Watergate scandal might have served as an inspiration, but the scandal itself was never the focus of an entire episode. The open politics of the Harris XF comics do reflect the status of the world today, where it is very difficult to discuss anything without taking a stance; and while I don’t condemn these parallels, they are a change of approach compared to Carter’s.

IDW_ongoing_10_reagan-csm

The story of these comics issues, in true XF fashion, mixes real historical events with the alternative shadow history of conspiracies and aliens: a secret US-Contra mission in 1980s Nicaragua that also served as a mission to destroy a crashed UFO in the middle of the jungle. The UFO provided healing and resurrecting powers to those that came in close contact with it (something we saw in 7X03: The Sixth Extinction), or that sniffed the cocaine mixed with the UFO’s metal components. The US-backed Contra war lord “El Comandante” Manuel Suaréz/Suárez was one of the resurrectees; he became a drug lord; in the present day he reveals himself to Mulder to stop the cocaine trafficking into the US and stop this chain of events. This is a crazy story worthy of the alien ganja of Season 10’s comics G-23! The story works well in a “complementary information” kind of way, however the present day story is limited and its drug bust resolution lacks much impact.

At the heart of the story are really the CSM and William Mulder, their personal history and their deep character differences that made many mythology episodes interesting — Fox Mulder and Scully here only play a peripheral role and do little investigating. We know of Bill Mulder’s involvement in secret State Department affairs from early on before he retired in his home in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts (2X25: Anasazi); indeed in 1987 he “came out of retirement just to check on this nest egg” in this story. He is paired with the CSM to deal with alien business, just like a reluctant Deep Throat and the CSM did in 1991 in 4X07: Musings of a CSM. Bill is the one with a heart and a conscience, something which led him to part with the Syndicate in 1973 (6X12: One Son). In 1987, Fox Mulder was in the Violent Crimes division of the FBI. The CSM teases Bill repeatedly about his wife Teena, and indeed as Fox later says “my parentage is something of a matter of dispute” (see 3X24: Talitha Cumi). This is all fine, however it is difficult to imagine that the CSM and Bill Mulder would keep such unresolved “family” business over such an extended period of time, or that Bill would continue to be involved in shady State Department businesses well into the 1980s and be grumpy about it while he had already expressed his discontent in the 1970s. Harris had already paired these two in a 1952 flashback in his Season 10 #10 More Musings of a CSM, and the CSM-Reagan scenes are also a delight; it is something that works — but only in small doses.

IDW_ongoing_10_csm-bill

Cut scene from 6X11: Two Fathers

Cut scene from 6X11: Two Fathers

Notes:

  • History check: Of course, the background of the story is the whole Iran-Contra affair, a US scandal in the middle of a war-by-proxy of the Cold War. The Hezbollah, revolutionary Islamist group with ties to Iran, held US & Western hostages during the Lebanese civil war (1982-1992); the US secretly negotiated a hostages-for-weapons trade deal; the arms were passed from Israel to Iran, which was then recently out of the Islamic Iranian revolution of 1979 and under the rule of Ayatollah Khomeini (pictured in the comics); the money was sent back to the US from Israel; part of the money was used by National Security Council member Oliver L. North (his mug shot was used as reference for the comics art, and he is actually featured in one of the variant covers for #10) to finance the Contra in Nicaragua; the Contra (from “Contrarevolucionario”, counter-revolutionary movement) was a right-wing paramilitary group against the socialist Sandinista government of Nicaragua (aided for some time by the Soviet Union, ruled 1979-1990, and again from 2006 to today). The affair broke out in 1985; Congress started hearings about it in 1987; most involved received a presidential pardon in 1992 by George H.W. Bush (himself involved at the time as Reagan’s vice-president).
  • The presidential address at the opening of comics #10 took place on March 4 1987, when Reagan was forced to come clean with his involvement on the affair. “I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts and the evidence tell me it is not.“: the double-speak in this sentence could very well be a character description for the CSM!

IDW_ongoing_11_ufp

  • The 1987 flashbacks take place in Bluefields, Nicaragua, one of the places that was mined by the Contra with the help of the US in the 1980s.
  • some mealy-mouthed bedwetter from Massachusetts“: refers to G.H.W.Bush’s opponent in the 1988 Presidential elections, Michael Dukakis, Democrat and then Governor of Massachusetts.
  • My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.“: Reagan really did say this, minutes before an official broadcast, as a joke to the sound people present.
  • Regan’s nickname was “Dutch“.
  • After he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1994, Reagan retired at his home in Simi Valley, California, where the CSM pays him a visit in 1999. Does his “legacy” refer to the upcoming election of G.W. Bush after the Democrat interlude of Clinton?
  • The case starts with a dying man saying “Mulder” when he really only knew Fox’s father: this is similar to the beginning of 5X15: Travelers.
  • 1980s events and conspiracies name-dumped to by Mulder: the US invasion of Caribbean island nation Grenada (1983 overthrow of leftist revolutionary strife); the 1986 baseball World Series (Bill Buckner’s loss to the New York Mets); G.H.W. Bush vomiting on the Japanese Prime Minister in 1992; the Berlin Wall conspiracy theory (the wall as a containment boundary for evil / the Antichrist, which was released once the wall fell).
  • The Iran-Contra deal was previously mentioned in The X-Files: Mulder shouts it at Deep Throat’s face in 1X16: E.B.E.; and the man who killed Melissa Scully with Krycek, Luis Cardinal, was a Nicaraguan who had participated in the Contras deal and became part of the School of the Americas as revealed in 3X16: Apocrypha.
  • Scully plays the old videogame The Legend of Zelda (1986).
  • Nitpicking: The Nicaraguan flashbacks in #10 should be in 1987, not 1988. Several mistakes in the Spanish (also, the CSM himself speaks Spanish! Maybe he learned it during his Cuban days?)
  • The art is by Greg Scott (also: S10 #9 Chitter, and X-Files: Year Zero), who does a great job at the likenesses of Ronald Reagan and William B. Davis; oddly enough, all the 1980s flashbacks are drawn in much more detail than present-day Mulder & Scully, which appear to be done much more in haste.

 


 

#12-13: Skinner

Skinner’s past as a soldier in the Vietnam war in 1970 are the focus of this unimaginatively titled two-parter. During the Seasons 10-11 comics run, Joe Harris had mentioned that he wanted to do a Skinner-centric story, and had Season 11 not been cut short this story might have been part of it.

Skinner famously described his near-death experience in Vietnam in 2X08: One Breath.

I enlisted in the Marine Corps the day of my eighteenth birthday. […] One night on patrol, we were caught and everyone, everyone fell. I mean, everyone. I looked down at my body, from outside of it. I didn’t recognize it at first. I watched the V.C. strip my uniform, take my weapon and I remained in this thick jungle, peaceful, unafraid, watching my, my dead friends, watching myself. In the morning, the corpsmen arrived and put me in a bodybag until I guess they found a pulse. I woke in a Saigon hospital two weeks later.

His succubus history was explored in 3X21: Avatar.

She was there with me. Watching me as I was watching myself dying, my blood spilling from a hundred different places. Until she lifted me up and carried me back, away from the light.

XF_ongoing_13_skinner

Here, Harris adds a third paranormal dimension to his experience, with a Southeast Asian amulet and a sort of curse that follows Skinner and his platoon. Ultimately this paranormal curse acts as an allegory for the soldiers’ remorse on their morally questionable acts during wartime — namely, the murdering of civilians and of children. Echoes of 2X04: Sleepless and its guilt-ridden Vietnam War vets. The demon haunts the soldiers and torments them to their death; Skinner escapes because despite his guilt he stands his ground and doesn’t give in to despair. An excellent profile of Skinner’s strong character! — although the spell is broken in the conclusion in a sudden way, just like in the previous story.

That’s a lot of paranormal phenomena linked to a single event in Skinner’s life! The concept is a bit hard to swallow just because of this accumulation and the willingness to “top the ante” every time Skinner’s past is explored. An out-of-body experience is interesting enough and was instrumental in drawing Skinner’s character (of course, One Breath was a Morgan & Wong script); but two additional paranormal phenomena taking place simultaneously? That being said, this is less incredible or out-of-character than the past of the Scully family explored in #4-5 Ishmael.

The entire first issue is devoted to events in 1970; half the second issue travels in various moments in the past, leaving just a few pages taking place in present day. Mulder and Scully play minor roles, like in previous Skinner-centric episodes, however this extensive focus on the past is original. One could have imagined the narration starting from the present and explaining the past via dialogue, à la Skinner’s confessions, or focused flashbacks embedded in the story instead of this back and forth.

Notes:

  • The temple is mentioned as pre-Buddhist. The amulet has an inscription in Latin which is never fleshed out or mentioned in the dialogue: “Tibi, magnum Innominandum, signa stellarum nigrarum”, which can be translated as “To you, the great Not-to-Be-Named, signs of the black stars/dark stars”. This is a callback to H.P. Lovecraft’s and Robert Bloch’s Cthlhu mythos: it is a spell or invocation to one of the Ancients that cannot be named, found in the fictional De Vermis Misteriis (Of the Mysteries of the Worms). The revival comics are building quite a few Cthulhu references!
  • The ghostly appearances of the amulet demon resemble a lot the demon glimpsed in #4-5 Ishmael. Is the reader meant to make a connection, is Harris building something here? Or is this just lack of imagination in the drawings?
  • “Born to Kill” helmet: a Full Metal Jacket reference!
  • Is the smoking agent in the 1970s trial…the CSM? Was that the CSM’s first meeting with Skinner?
  • Compared to the previous two-parter, this one is much, much less dense! It even indulges in two entire pages with no dialogue at all.
  • The art here is by Andrew Currie and colors by Sebastian Cheng, the same team behind #4-5 Ishmael. Same comment applies: the drawings are very “comic book-y”, i.e. targeting a young adult audience, the colors are very bright, and there is little mystery and dark atmosphere, an overall very un-XF-like product. Although Skinner’s likeness is expertly done.

Three weeks and counting…

It is now 2016 and not only have we survived another winter solstice since December 22nd 2012 but we are presently less than a month away from entering the world of the X-Files again!

The revival

The FOX marketing machine is gearing up accordingly. “I Still Want To Believe” is the new tagline, echoing the old and underlying the fact that this is a repeat, “more of the same”. This fine line to walk between repeating the old — cozy, reassuring, nostalgic — and the new — bold, risky, unsettling — is a balance that all continuations must face. The recent Star Wars sequel (only very relatively successful, in my opinion) is the most recent example in the impulse to keep on continuing pop culture franchises.

So far there have been exclusive premieres of the “pilot” episode at select festivals (Monte Carlo, Los Angeles, Italy), we have seen posters, trailers, and a behind the scenes documentary. This is a lot of material for a six-episodes event, and goes a long way to show that FOX really believes in this and wants it to succeed. Also, the amount of images revealed goes very far — fans have been trying to assign each single frame to not only individual episodes but also chronologically within episodes — and key plot points have been revealed by the promotional campaign disregarding Carter’s previous obsession with secrecy and spoilers control. This is a very modern way to promote entertainment — the social networks buzz must be fed continuously and at all costs — but could prove counter-productive. Already, there is very little one cannot find on the first episode and many story details on the other five by searching the internet.

However, as a fan, I must admit that it all looks extremely exciting! (Including some worrying aspects on the mytharc, but coming up with theories to fill the gaps/plot holes is what we do for a living here.) It is all calibrated to appeal to those who remember the X-Files from the early seasons, including the radical approach on the Mulder-Scully relationship — which is a mix of a non-risk-taking return to how it used to be in the early days and part of a greater plan to reveal what has happened since 2002 progressively throughout all episodes, especially on the fate of William and their romantic split, using elliptic narration and flashbacks. Hopefully the episodes will actually deliver on the good buzz.

TXF_newyear

Of course, everything is done to promote the new series, which also means that the old series benefits from this buzz too — some even say that financially the new series is made so as to pump up the value of the old series as well for broadcasting rights for internet streaming services. The one-episode-a-day event that FOX marketing is animating over all its social media (head over to EatTheCorn’s Facebook page for some comments on each mytharc ep) is not only a way to count down to the new series but also a way to bring in new fans.

The BluRay

The most important event however, and quite possibly the ultimate and, well, last possible thing that could ever be done with the “old series” is its release in BluRay. Long anticipated with HD broadcasts in Germany and the USA since 2013, the whole package, including the two films and all bonus material from the DVDs, and a slot for the future new series’ BluRays (I wonder where “season 11” will fit if there is one?) was released on December 8 2015. After being one of the very first TV series that was edited in complete form in the DVD format in 2000, the X-Files has made the jump to the next format.

The challenges to do such a release were many — head over here for an interview with Jim Hardy, CEO of Illuminate, the company  behind the transfer — chief among which the fact that every single episode had to be recreated from scratch by scanning the films of the raw unedited dailies. Post-production in the 1990s was done directly on VHS, and creating HD transfers is comparatively easier for shows both before and after that period! We’ll leave the debate on whether original 4:3 aspect ratio or feature-like revisionist 16:9 widescreen was better to the experts — what is out there looks amazingly fresh regardless. However, no release is perfect: the fonts that were used for the XF logo, the opening credits, the cast and crew credits, and the place and time tags are different from the original; some departures from “The Truth Is Out There” tag were not respected; and some other issues. These things are all the more frustrating that they could have easily been respected, and I don’t expect FOX to do a re-release (or a re-scan for 4K for example) any sooner than one or two decades. You can see some DVD to BD comparisons and a detailed list of differences here.

“The rest”

Another important “old series” release could also be very close. The third volume in the X-Files music by La La Land has been postponed from 2015 to early 2016, and I could very well see LLL taking the opportunity to make use of the revival to release it. After two volumes for both X-Files and Millennium, it’s going to be worth the wait — and in the case where LLL lacks inspiration, here is a requests list.

The interest on the X-Files has been rising steadily since IDW started publishing X-Files comic books in mid-2013, and EatTheCorn has been covering closely the storylines developed by Joe Harris. “Season 11” should be drawing to a close with three more issues and what follows next is still unclear, apart from an independent “what if” alternative history issue in April. What is certain though is that IDW will be continuing to publish X-Files comics, with Joe Harris very much involved! What form will these comics take (unique stories, continuing storyline) and what continuity they will follow (alternate universe, pre-revival, post-revival) is not yet revealed.

It’s no wonder that IDW is also expanding its X-Files merchandising line: after the X-Files board game (which should have a couple of extensions in the future) and re-prints of all older comics and novels, a trilogy of X-Files short story collections is coming out, edited by horror writer Jonathan Maberry. The stories mostly take place in the “golden age” of the series, around 1996, but not exclusively. The first volume, “Trust No One“, was released in July 2015 and the second, “The Truth is Out There“, will be released in March 2016. There are some older XF alumni in here: Stefan Petrucha, writer of the (excellent) first 16 issues of the XF Topps comics in 1994-1995, Sarah Stegall, famous XF reviewer of old; Joe Harris and Dean Haglund might participate in a future third volume.

Titan also publishing two X-Files Companion books that seem to consist in collections of already published material, namely articles from the official XF magazine (some of which can be found on EatTheCorn) published by Titan in the 1990s. There will be two volumes: the first “The Agents, the Bureau, and the Syndicate” in January and the second “Monsters & Villains” in March.

I wonder what else we will be seeing in terms of merchandising in the coming weeks and months.

The fandom is also gearing up to the revival. Professional genre expert John K. Muir, who has written on X-Files and all things Chris Carter several times on his blog, also published his book on XF, The X-Files FAQ, featuring reviews and analysis of The X-Files and Carter’s other works. Darren Mooney finished his epic series of reviews of all four Ten Thirteen shows on his site, an incredible amount of text and many amazing insights. The reference site X-Files News has relaunched their website afresh. Retrospective articles in the media abound.

FOX is planning to broadcast the episodes in over 60 countries all around the world within 24 hours of their broadcast in the USA. Barely three weeks remaining for the launch of potentially the first season of the revival.