TV Review: The X-Files Season 10, Episode 1 "My Struggle"
Synopsis: Agents Mulder and Scully are reunited when a zealous TV host points them in the direction of a potential alien abductee.
REVIEW: The X-Files is back, and it’s like it never left. And if you think that’s hyperbole, you should see the first episode of the forthcoming tenth season, which premiered earlier today at New York Comic-Con. Disappointingly, but perhaps necessarily, the revival’s first episode hits every predictable beat you’d expect from one of the show’s “mythology” episodes: Mulder ranting about government conspiracies, Scully patiently doubting him, mysterious UFO sightings, hints of a nefarious conspiracy behind the scenes and at least one traumatized alien abductee. Yes, it’s a welcome return to familiar territory, but it’s just so incredibly familiar. As someone who has waited over ten years for the show to return, I can’t help but feel like an opportunity to hit the ground running is missed in favor of reestablishing the show's greatest hits.
The plot is the stuff of countless X-Files episodes before it, save for the re-introduction of Mulder and Scully. Both are brought out of semi-retirement by uber-paranoid conservative cable TV personality Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale), who is hellbent on proving a secret sect of people are conspiring to control and enslave the American population. When we meet Mulder, he’s living scruffily on his own, while Scully is continuing her medical practice. The two have separated for unknown reasons, but we gather than Mulder’s overbearing personality caused an irreparable rift between the two. Not much is explained in terms of their break up, but then again the show’s fans are so familiar with the duo that a lack of exposition is acceptable and welcome. Mulder and Scully are reunited by O’Malley when he introduces them to alleged alien abductee Sveta (Annet Mahendru), who has a tale of mysterious lights and a subsequent blackout that the former FBI agents have heard plenty of times. Sveta’s story seems a little shaky, and O’Malley’s outrageous claims almost make Mulder’s theories seem tame by comparison, but the case galvanizes Mulder and provokes him to reopen (or at least consider reopening) the X-Files.
In a nutshell, the plot of My Struggle is old hat for the series. It covers very familiar ground for the show’s faithful fans, and while it’s understandable showrunner Chris Carter would want to revive the series with an episode that goes down easily and predictably, it’s somewhat disconcerting that it’s not a more lively affair. (Flashbacks to an alien crashdown in the 1940s provide some spark, but again, even these scenes have an atmosphere of “been there, done that.”) Much of Mulder and Scully’s dialogue plays like it came straight from X-Files fan fiction (“You want so desperately to believe, Mulder” and “What if everything we’ve been led to believe is a lie?!” are two quintessential samples); as someone who knows the series pretty well, I couldn’t help but think, haven’t they had this conversation a thousand times before? When weighed alongside the original series, this episode comes up quite short of hitting any real high notes. There's also a surprising dearth of humor here; some of my favorite X-Files moments are when the show winks a little at its own self-seriousness, or allows Mulder and Scully to exchange in some dry-witty banter. This episode seeks to provide one or two smiles, but otherwise it's a fairly grave affair. (Even McHale mostly plays it straight, the comedian's inherently sarcastic personality isn't at all capitalized on.)
But... it’s undoubtedly reassuring to see Mulder and Scully back together, simply from a fanboy POV. Duchovny and Anderson wear their characters as comfortably as ever. The characters indeed seem older, more tired, but that’s to be expected; the episode does carry with it the palpable feeling that the world has passed these people by while they continue struggle to cope with their complicated pasts. Duchovny gets to rattle off a few patented Mulder speeches with vigor, while Anderson is at her skeptical best. While what they’re saying isn’t anything very new, the actors are still able to create some dynamic chemistry. A brief appearance by Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) adds to the feeling of excitement for what the future holds.
In the meantime, we’ll have to make due with this lukewarm premiere; perhaps it’s the sky-high anticipation for the return of The X-Files that left me wanting, but I still feel the need to warn those who are expecting a crackerjack first episode of Season Ten to manage their expectations. All that said, I want to believe the best is yet to come.
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