The X-Files Season 11 Episode 1 is Chris Carter’s third installment of his putrid “My Struggle” arc. To be honest, we didn’t need “My Struggle” or My Struggle II.” And it sounds like it doesn’t end here. We might be getting a fourth piece of crap, based on William’s struggle.
I have so many things to say about this premiere episode, of which I liked maybe 90 seconds, so join me as I rant about this hour of garbage television.
The Struggle Is Real.
Apparently, “My Struggle” referred to Mulder’s struggle, and “My Struggle II” was Scully’s. Based on that, “My Struggle III” is the Cigarette Smoking Man’s struggle. Or, as we learn, Carl’s struggle. Carter probably should have left the mystery of CSM’s real name a mystery because “Carl?” Really?
What is left a mystery is the fact that the dude is even alive. The aliens must have some really good shit to bring back someone whose skull incinerated into ash before our very eyes. We love retconning, don’t we? No, we don’t, but Carter loves it so much he should marry it. More on that later — whole section, in fact.
The little history lesson that CSM gives us at the start of the episode, accompanied by real-life news footage, is totally Yawnsville. I’m all for digs at Trump and his administration; but I see more entertaining drags daily on Twitter, so it doesn’t do much here. All of the scenes this character is in leave so much to be desired. I can only take so much of his signature smugness. Lines like “Mind if I smoke?” just don’t hold the same weight they did 20 years ago, especially if you’re like me and cannot get it out of your mind that he should be dead. As a fan of sci-fi, I am well-versed in suspending my disbelief, but sometimes you have to draw the line. It also shows a lot about Carter, and how little he regards the intelligence of his audience.
Not to mention, all this recap of CSM’s past feels like a regurgitated and poorly-done version of The X-Files 04×07, “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man.” That episode bored me back then, but I could appreciate its purpose, and I think it is a well-executed episode of television. So even if it’s done well, I am bored by this man, his past and his motives.
[Oprah Voice] You’re out of character! You’re out of character! Everyone is out of character!
Most notably, Monica Reyes is out of character. It’s not looking good for the redemption so many fans were hoping for. If redemption is in the cards for her, it will most likely be in the series finale, and might be too little too late to have much impact. This was another wasted opportunity on Carter’s part. If the events of The X-Files 10×06 did not occur (yet??), that’s a chance to redeem Reyes. Carter seems to be so fond of bringing dead people back to life, why can’t he un-assassinate her character?
But, nah, let’s have her hold a gun to another fan favorite’s head, and then let’s vaguely insinuate that HE also will easily betray Mulder and Scully for his own survival. Cool, cool.
Carter loves that Scully is a skeptic and Mulder is a believer. Their roles have been reversed many times throughout the series. Sometimes, it works…and sometimes it doesn’t (I’m looking at you, religious episodes). After everything they’ve been through and seen in their 25 years together, I don’t really buy Mulder dismissing anything out of the ordinary. He can’t believe that Scully is having visions or that Skinner sees a message on her CT-scan? That’s Season 1 Scully-level denial, man. You know he would be all over that shit (especially since he had his own “brain on fire” disease). It made him look foolish, like it made Scully look in so many of those early episodes. I mean, who can forget swamp gas?
Luckily, Gillian Anderson made Scully an admirable character in spite of how she was written and pigeon-holed. David Duchovny is able to salvage these out-of-character moments for Mulder, too; but at this point, after all this time, it stood out as a glaring inconsistency.
Even one my favorite moments seemed out of character: Mulder straight up murdered a dude by slicing his neck open. Like, all of a sudden, it’s a slasher flick? The show has taken things like this pretty seriously in the past. Whenever the agents took the life of someone in the line of duty, it was handled gravely — “Orison” in Season 7 and “Redux” in Season 5.
Listen: I am glad Mulder killed that guy and saved Scully. It was the only time I cheered during the episode. But, there were so many ways he could have stopped him that were not lethal. Slitting his throat, it was so…gangster. What does it say that one of the most enjoyable moments for me also seemed out of character?
Holy Retcon, Batman!
One of the things that really bugged me about the first “My Struggle” was that it included these moments that made Philes question their knowledge of the show. They referred to the “scoop-mark scars” on Sveta like it was something we should have known about. Mulder’s old-guy informant also feels like we’ve missed out on the history. (Also, what happened with that guy? He was never mentioned or seen again.) It felt like Carter wanted die-hard fans to feel stupid and out of their depth.
Similarly, in “My Struggle III,” changing actual dialogue of an aired episode that we heard with our own ears feels like another slap in the face. In 07×15, “En Ami,” CSM said, “I carried you. You’d been up for over 30 hours. You were delirious. I only wanted to make you comfortable.” Here, flashbacks have him saying, “We carried you. My housekeeper and I. You’d been up for over 30 hour. You were delirious. You can ask her.” Why this change? Does he think we won’t notice? Does he care if we do?
This kind of retconning weakens an already weak mythology. Nobody can follow these storylines anymore, especially when facts can be changed, willy-nilly, should the mood strike Carter. And with the things he is retconning, will there be any fans left who care enough to try to figure it out?
In Season 10, Carter took the one good thing Mulder and Scully had left, each other, and broke them up. By the end of the season, they were reconciling. Now, the only good thing they’ve got is the belief that they created a child together out of love. Carter decided to shit all over that idea, and have CSM claim that he is the father of William.
To quote Scully:
“Of all that is vile and hateful in life…”
This new version of events is so disgusting and so unnecessary. Let’s break it down a little bit:
Okay, so you want the evil villain to do something really evil. I get that. But, you know what? I was sold after nine seasons, NINE FUCKING SEASONS, of evil character development. We been knew.
And why can’t his desire to DESTROY ALL OF HUMANKIND be the evil thing that he does? That is pretty evil. How about we leave it at that? What kind of degenerate thinks killing off Earth’s population with a deadly virus needs that little extra evil touch, and adds medical rape on top of it.
And don’t even get me started on Carter being quoted saying, “He didn’t rape Scully. He impregnated her with science.” Can we get Stella Gibson to give him the definition of consent, please? His use of medical rape in this “twist” is for shock value, and a cheap attempt at that. His blasé attitude on rape and violence against women has appeared time and time again on the series. Rape is treated as a joke in both “Small Potatoes” and “Post Modern Prometheus.”
In “My Struggle III,” Carter doubles down on it. It shows how out of touch and insensitive he is. In this day and age, with things like the #MeToo movement, why would you even consider this route? My only guess is out of stubbornness and/or laziness. He’s either so set in his antiquated, misogynistic ideals that he thinks this is good storytelling, or he’s just too lazy to come up with something more creative and interesting. Neither are good traits for a show-runner to have.
This reveal does nothing to move the plot forward. The search for William was always an important point. His alien DNA makes him valuable. His connection to Mulder and Scully and their desire to keep him safe is more than enough for the villain to want to find him first. There is no reason to add this.
I’ve heard the argument that this exact kind of thing has happened on the series before, so why the uproar now. Yes, it’s happened many times in the past; and, most importantly, to the main character. How does recycling tired plots make good television? Oh yeah, it doesn’t. You write science fiction, dude! You can come up with anything! You’re able to use your imagination to bring CSM back to life countless times, maybe try using your imagination to give us some new stories.
There is the possibility that Carl — yeah, I can’t do it — CSM is lying. He’s been a lying liar who lies before. I mean, his pants were literally on fire when he was blown up by a rocket the last time he died. I keep seeing comments about reading deeper into the episode, and how the “I Want to Believe” tag changed to “I Want to Lie;” and, in the beginning, he claims to have two sons, Mulder and Spender. (If you consider these “clues” clever in the grand scheme of this mytharc, might I suggest you aspire to have higher standards.)
So, yeah, it is most likely a lie; it doesn’t make it any better, in my opinion. From what Carter says, he’s been sitting on this plot since Season 7. And he sounds proud of this? You’ve been sitting on a shitty storyline for more than a decade; I wouldn’t brag about it. “If The X-Files never came back, we would have never gotten to explore it,” said Carter to Entertainment Weekly. Um, you can keep it. Way to make me wish The X-Files never came back at all.
I’d like to preface this by saying that “Triangle” is one of my favorite episodes of The X-Files. Carter wrote and directed it. He was once capable of producing cinematic television. Now? Not so much.
I’ve mentioned a few of the problems I have with the writing already, but let me add a little bit more. Mulder’s internal dialogues in “My Struggle III” are the worst the series has ever had, and the it has had a lot. I think I counted six times that Carter resorted to Mulder actually voicing his thoughts in this uninspiring manner. “I was running only on adrenaline and Scully’s premonitions, but was it hope I should be feeling?” One of the first things you learn in Screenwriting 101 is to show not tell. Carter had Mulder telling us his every thought and feeling, and it was grating and tiresome. Also, I think my husband could hear my eyes roll at “A drum beats in my heart.” Ugh, this flowery, maudlin writing made me want shove hot pokers into my ear canals.
Mulder: Your brain is on fire.
Scully: It’s me, Mulder. I’m not an irrational person.
The fact that Carter felt the need to make Scully verbally state that she’s not an irrational person is laughable. It shows the out-of-character element that I spoke about earlier, and it highlights the shoddy writing. It reminds me of a line in the The X-Files: Stolen Lives audio book written by Joe Harris and Chris Carter: “I’m not the most reliable narrator.” It’s amateurish, at best, and Carter has been writing professionally for almost 30 years. Go figure.
I don’t think I’ll ever be done talking about the bad writing in this episode, but I’m going to move on to something else that was bad: the directing.
Gimmicky shots (see-through floors so we can see a face-down phone), car commercial fare (we get it, Ford is sponsoring the show), and uncomfortable blocking round out this poorly-produced piece of garbage. Most of the second act is a Mustang ad featuring Special Agent Fox Mulder. The car chase portion was boring. 84 shots of the speedometer isn’t going to help make it more exciting.
I think I actually got a stiff neck from the scene with Mulder, Mr. Y, and Erika. Mulder enters with his gun drawn, so I understand why it starts off with him behind Mr. Y. But, they stay at those marks for too long. They have a whole conversation with one guy staring straight ahead. It was distracting as hell. Later, when Mulder finally moves to where they can have eye contact, the camera work and editing is still noticeably sub-par.
(Quick side note: Erika and Mr. Y are an evil Syndicate in a race with CSM to annihilate humanity and start their own version of the future with a select few? Is that what’s happening here? If they can do it without medically raping women, then I might side with them over “Carl.” But, anyway, what do I know? Not much about the mythology of this show since, like, Season 3, that’s for sure. Oh, and I have one of those silly, little woman brains.)
Geez, Erin, Did You Like Anything?
Yes, there were some moments I did enjoy, and they were all MSR or Scully scenes. The performances Gillian’s eyeballs gave behind closed lids deserve their own Emmy. It’s amazing how great she is with this beyond crappy material. Duchovny also portrayed Mulder really well in regards to his scenes with or about Scully. Even he couldn’t save those voiceovers, though — nothing could. Mulder’s love and concern for Scully was palpable, and it brought back memories of the show when it was at its best.
There were quite a lot of shippery gestures (hand holding! face caress! leg squeeze!), a lot more than you would expect from an episode directed by Mr. Platonic himself. However, I’m not going to give him credit for it; that goes to David and Gillian. Promotional material proves that there was a forehead kiss that was cut, and that was a lousy decision on Carter’s part. Do you know how much fuel a forehead kiss gives an MSR shipper? Just one can sustain us for YEARS. He cheated us out of a kiss in “My Struggle,” too, so at least he’s consistent? Nah, he’s just an asshole who has openly shown his disdain for the shipper contingent of The X-Files fan base.
I hated this episode so much (can you tell?), that I’m not sure the great episodes that are rumored to follow will assuage my rage. Am I really supposed to laugh about Mulder in a Sasquatch suit after this nonsense? I don’t know. It seems like nothing short of a lobotomy will help me enjoy the rest of this season.
The dialogue that sets it up is just unbelievable.
Mulder: So we just wait? Do nothing?
Scully: We do our work. The truth still lies in the X-Files, Mulder.
Give me a fucking break.