The X-Files S11E01 “My Struggle III”
Director: Chris Carter
Starring: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi
Writer: Chris Carter
Review by Michael Walls-Kelly
Mind if I smoke?
Well, that wasn’t a great start to season 11, was it?
It wasn’t the worst episode that The X-Files ever produced. After the “My Struggle” episodes from season 10 (also written and directed by series creator Chris Carter), I braced myself for a real shitshow. And it kind of was a shitshow, but I didn’t consider it terrible either. That probably has something to do with my lowered expectations. There were a couple of solid scenes and moments, a big retcon/twist (which I’ll get back to later) and just a general, nostalgic pleasantness of knowing there will be weekly episodes of The X-Files again.
I’ll start by recapping the basic vagaries of the story, or as much of it as I can understand. Almost everything that happened in the season 10 finale was a dream or psychic vision that Agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) had. Like so many times in the original show, she is sick and in the hospital while Agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) attempts to track down the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) who has some sort of connection to Scully’s episode. Meanwhile, the CSM is laying out the government conspiracy to Assistant Director Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) and getting him to switch sides.
A lot of this involves Carter’s worst instincts. Incomprehensible secrets and twists and double-crosses, overwrought and melodramatic voice-overs, and some awful and interminable car chase scene. I am, however, a fan of some of Carter’s tics, even if other fans may have grown tired. He is great at fun and impactful images of Cold War paranoia, like the UFO crash in season 10 or the pull-back from the fake moon landing in this episode.
I also really enjoyed the slideshow montage at the beginning of this episode. He did this a few times in the original show. Carter’s government conspiracy gobbledigook always plays better like that. The fast-paced, real-life imagery puts you into a paranoid mindset that works. Of course, this element is ripped-off wholesale from Oliver Stone’s JFK. But whatever, steal from the best, right?
The big twist that happens is something I’m torn about. On the one hand, it’s the only legitimate moment in the episode that didn’t feel lame, confusing or bored with itself. On the other hand… well, I’ll let these lines speak for themselves:
Skinner: “You impregnated her.”
CSM: “With science, Mr. Skinner. Alien science.”
So. That happens.
Basically, on a trip, Scully and CSM took in the season seven episode “En Ami” CSM drugged and impregnated her. William, the child Mulder and Scully gave up to keep safe, is actually CSM and Scully’s. And part psychic alien? William is the ones having the visions of plague and his connection with Scully is what caused her episode. Presumably, Mulder and Scully’s search for William and the government conspiracy to cause the plague and wipe out a majority of humanity so that aliens will wanna hang with us again will be running subplots throughout the next nine episodes. That’s fine though. I’ve watched The X-Files since I was a kid. I’m used to shitty subplots.
We’ll see how this all plays out. Anderson is great as usual while Duchovny, gruffer and grizzlier than in the original series, seems a little checked out. He’s always at his best when he was someone, especially Anderson, to play off of. Putting the man alone in a car while throwing a melodramatic voiceover on top isn’t a good use of him as an actor, it’s just kind of an homage to Red Shoe Diaries. I admit that it was fun seeing William B. Davis deliver conspiracy dialogue while chain-smoking Morley’s again. He has a great way of making you feel like a complete idiot for not having thought of the most ridiculous conspiracy theories ever.
And hey, Jeffrey Spender (Chris Owens) popped up again. He was a strangely important aspect of the original series for a stretch, so it was nice seeing the revival acknowledge him. Even if, like the premiere as a whole, his appearance didn’t make a lot of sense.
Verdict: Keep watching! With the remaining episodes — save for the finale — being standalone, monster-of-the-week stories it’s hard to judge this season based on this episode. Clearly, the mytharc is played out, and while this wasn’t the worst episode the series has ever had, it wasn’t great either. But I still have faith — see how I avoided saying “I want to believe”? — because Anderson and Duchovny continue to display great chemistry when the show actually lets them share scenes together. We also have an episode coming up called “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” written by Darin Morgan. Morgan wrote five episodes of The X-Files, and they’re five of the best, so hold out until that one at least. If even it turns out bad, then all hope is lost.