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I can’t remember the first time I watched an episode of The X-Files, but I assume it was some time in the show’s third season. I do remember that I quickly became enamored with the series, and would watch each new episode with an excited anticipation holed up the the basement of my family’s house. I loved watching Mulder and Scully work together to try and solve the Monster of the Week cases, but I also remember realizing pretty early in my viewing experience that the show’s mythology was going to be more trouble than it was worth. The show went off the air when I started high school, and I put it out of my mind.
However, in college, one of my roommates happened to own the entire series on DVD. Shockingly, the majority of our posse had never watched The X-Files, which naturally prompted nightly viewing parties where we introduced our friends to the wonderfully twisted world of the series, even showing them the infamous episode “Home” (which was so disturbing to people- rightfully so- that it has never been rebroadcast). It was a great bonding experience and something we still talk about to this day.
Now, you might be wondering why I’ve included this trip down memory lane in my review. It’s to explain that I have, like many people, a deep history with The X-Files. It is a show that evokes strong memories and tugs at my emotional center. I care about these characters, and I desperately want the show to live up to its past. I want to believe that it still has the ability to entertain and amaze after all these years. And that is why I was so disappointed in last night’s episode.
“My Struggle” took everything problematic about The X-Files and put it on full display. Series creator Chris Carter took both the writing and directing reins for the episode, showcasing his knack for atrocious dialogue, poor pacing, and constant reliance on the show’s complex and confusing mythology. It was clear from the episode’s opening moments- Mulder offering a three minute recap of his reasons for following the X-Files and all they have learned about the government conspiracy- that this was going to be a rough outing. Frankly, if you don’t understand the show’s mythology at this point, a quick primer isn’t going to make it any clearer and can only serve to confuse even more.
But the episode’s true crime was that nothing really happened. Yes, it appears Mulder is on the right track (finally) toward dismantling the vast government conspiracy, but with the destruction of all the evidence the episode presented him, he’s essentially back to square one. And, perhaps even more egregiously, the episode wasted the talents of two wonderful actors in Joel McHale (Community) and Annet Mahendru (The Americans) by handing them one-dimensional characters who only exist to push Mulder to the breaking point. Knowing that each actor has the ability to be exceptional when given the proper writing and character, I was really sad to see Carter fail these two in this instance.
And you know who else was failed by Carter’s laughably bad dialogue? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, who are both immensely talented actors, but couldn’t even come close to making sense of the script. Duchovny appeared to have checked out at various points in the episode, while Anderson tried valiantly to make the clunky lines work with little success. It was actually painful to watch at points. The chemistry between Duchovny and Anderson, which was so essential to the show’s original success, was completely sapped from the episode. Mulder was even more manic that usual (one of the weakest elements of the series has always been having Mulder go completely off the deep end, while Scully remains rigid in her position opposed to him). The show works best when Mulder and Scully learn from each other, with their opposing viewpoints working for them as a team rather than serving to drive a wedge between them.
I have hope that the series will improve, as the next two episodes were written and directed by X-Files standouts James Wong and Darin Morgan. But this was a troubling note to begin this six episode journey on. And with the mini-series’ final two episodes coming from the mind of Carter once more, I fear things might not end as smoothly as we might hope.