“My Struggle,” the inaugural episode of The X-Files reboot (or, Season 10, if you’re counting), sees Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) reuniting years after their marriage and parenting of a son, William. The case that brings them back is that of an alien abductee, played by Annett Mahendru, one of the myriad revelatory performers that broke out in FX’s The Americans, which was brought to their attention by Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale), an online video personality with a love for gun rights and alien conspiracy theories. It’s worth mentioning that guns are as much a point of righteousness for McHale’s character as his belief in aliens as “My Struggle” similarly feels like a frantic political screed nestled alongside the return of one of the 1990s most beloved television shows, fronted by two of the most ingratiating characters to ever be written for television.
Indeed, “My Struggle” serves as a stark reminder that The X-Files was always at its creative best when acting as a science fiction procedural, rather than leaning back on the broad concept of alien landings and abductions. This is not a steadfast rule, of course, as there were plenty of episodes in the original run that were both inventive and emotionally involving in plumbing premises that touched on abduction and alien contact – I’m thinking specifically about the Duane Barry episodes, but also “Anasazi,” “The Blessing Way,” and “Gethsemane,” amongst others. More often than not, however, episodes steeped in these narrative notes work too hard at exposition that ultimately reveals nothing about Mulder and Scully as characters, nor to expand the vast enigmas of space and science. “My Struggle” certainly purports to offer revelations, specifically for Duchovny’s character, but it’s ultimate goal seems to be nothing more than to express an overtly cynical and borderline unhinged distrust of the government, but not in the customarily playful way.
As much as governmental skepticism and even paranoia were part of The X-Files DNA from episode one, these elements always felt subtle in their deployment and less about politics than general societal control. The X-Files is not and has never been a boastfully political show, and yet “My Struggle” is earnestly, recklessly political, and never in a way that is insightful or shows a distinct, unexplored part of Mulder, Scully, or any supporting characters. And what’s worse, the episode’s narrative is remarkably vague in its emotional allusions and scatterbrained plot turns, centered around uncovered secrets that the dialogue casts as game-changing but, in the moment, feel anti-climactic at best and superfluous at worst. Large portions of the episode feel like assemblages of footage and narration that would be better at home on a YouTube channel for the radical right or left, and there’s absolutely no sense that Carter, who both wrote and directed the episode, has a balanced perspective or even a counteracting suspicion that such claims are perhaps just a bit overblown and self-serving.
In fact, as the episode concludes – messily, I might add – Carter makes it completely clear that his fear and suspicion of the government is very serious and that their means are quite cruel. There’s no sense of the desperation, panic, or even possible good intentions that such means of control might be rooted in, nor, for that matter, does the series suggest that there would be any selfish or ill-willed impulses behind revealing the truth. In terms of visuals, Carter’s imagery is continuously engaging, if similarly not particularly thoughtful, but the story is so dull and ludicrous in the same measure that even the kind of masterful visual rhythms of The Knick, Hannibal, or Better Call Saul would save it. That the pilot of the series’ tenth go-around is such a astounding misfire is startling and sad, but it’s all the more bewildering to know that, having seen what follows, the series somehow regains its footing after this.
★★ Fair — Only for the dedicated