Towards the end of “My Struggle II,” Joel McHale‘s online news zealot says, on air, that humanity will go out with a whimper, with a “deafening silence.” He’s talking about the spread of the Spartan Virus, which has infected everyone on the planet but a select few who will run the world when most of the population has fallen dead – Agent Scully and the Cigarette-Smoking Man (William B. Davis) are two such predestined survivors. McHale’s character’s pronouncement about the end times is equally an apt summation of where we end with the first of a presumed few seasons of the X-Files revival, the continuation of which seems inevitable by the end of the episode.
“My Struggle II” is a whole lot of talking without much in the way of real action, treading over truly inconsequential backstory to build up to that flagrant, empty cliffhanger of an ending. The flashbacks with Agent Reyes (Annabeth Gish), Mulder’s visit with the Cigarette-Smoking Man, and that inexplicable opening bit that seemingly felt the need to give a reminder of the past of Dana “I’ve been in this show since jump street” Scully all seemed to offer innocuous “revelations” in lieu of the more adventurous and curious excursions that have peppered the extraterrestrial-based episodes of the original run. The return of Reyes and Cigarette-Smoking Man don’t really have any bearing on the actual story of the episode, that being Scully and Einstein’s (Lauren Ambrose) attempts to find a quick cure to the Spartan Virus, and the show gives little sense of the so-called “perilous” and “global” stakes of this disease.
Mulder’s journey in the episode seems to be little more than to give one last “fuck you” to the Cigarette-Smoking Man in his ravaged face, which looks something like a sketch that Guillermo del Toro threw away in his waste-paper basket. And when he gets to have a physical scene, such as when he fights one of the Cigarette-Smoking Man’s agents, there seems to be a fundamental betrayal of who Mulder is at the end of the day. The fight scene plays out like some vaguely engaging variation on the kind of brawl one would find in either the Bourne or Raid franchises, which simply doesn’t fit with our knowledge of Mulder. Maybe I missed the episode when Fox Mulder got really into MMA fighting and Parkour or whatever these skillful stunt actors are displaying.
This might seem like nitpicking, but it speaks to the overall problem with this revival, and one that could be fixed. The primary alluring element of the character of Mulder has always been his inherent shagginess and, to a lesser extent, his proud place as an obsessive nerd working on the fringes of modern crime. His masculinity has never been of concern to him, at least from what I saw in the series’ initial nine seasons, and yet this revival has seemed in need of adding an element to macho to the character that feels off in its very roots. It’s not just the fight scene, but also that wretched “trip” he took and “Mother Love” speech he gave in “Babylon.” The random bursts of knowledge about the uncanny and the unknown, as well as all the bad jokes and obvious puns, have been tampered down in the hopes of making Mulder into a more mainstream hero.
In other words, this revival has been in constant danger of losing its crucial sense of strangeness, and this goes as much for Scully and the show overall as it does for David Duchovny‘s character. Of course, Chris Carter and the rest of the heads of this series are under absolutely zero obligation to make the character the same as he ever was in the original run, but this new track yields no new insights or even entertaining elements to either of the main characters or, for that matter, Mitch Pileggi‘s Skinner. Glen Morgan‘s episodes have largely strived to find a balance and have had modest success in this, er, struggle, but Carter’s episodes have consistently aimed for cheesy sentiment, humor without wit, and unthinking politics that has stripped the show of its all-important oddness, only to replace it with a kind of awkward preachiness and shallow sort of nostalgia.
It’s worth noting that, as compared to an outright fiasco like “Babylon,” “My Struggle II” is merely forgettable and is never quite as hammy as the season opener, but it’s build up to what is essentially a cop-out, a tease to make viewers rally for and return to another season, leaves a bitter aftertaste. If the series is to continue, the creators would benefit from reclaiming the show’s pulpy origins or, in a more radical move, giving the series over to Einstein and Miller (Robbie Amell) completely and finding a new tone, a new vision of modern weirdness that’s not so risibly self-serious. That would make up for much of the posturing and condescending fan service that has denoted a great deal of this new incarnation of The X-Files, including the bland allusions of “My Struggle II.”
★★ Fair — Only for the dedicated