THE X-FILES Premiere Recap: A New Conspiracy for A New Era

the x-files

THE X-FILES finally made its return to television after over a decade, and the first installment of its six-episode revival turned all the old truths inside out. With David Duchovny’s Fox Mulder and Gillian Anderson’s Dana Scully separated both personally and professionally and Mulder himself a man who had all but given up on searching for the truth, perhaps the most difficult obstacle for this return to attack was finding a way to bring both of its main characters back to their former world. With the help of new additions like Joel McHale as paranoid conservative conspiracy theorist Tad O’Malley and Annet Mahendru as Sveta (like Madonna, apparently, she’s lacking in a last name), “My Struggle” did just that. There’s a new conspiracy afoot and relationships to explore, both old and new…So the question is, are we ready to believe?

Getting caught up to speed. When “My Struggle” opened with a voiceover from Fox Mulder, introducing himself and giving an exceptionally brief retelling of the original series’ story, there was already evidence of Mulder’s disillusionment. There was something present in Duchovny’s voice, something in the way those photos were just tossed on the table in the retelling that screamed, “something’s wrong here!” Perhaps the final and most telling proof of our former believer’s struggle was the moment when the entire collection of photos went up in flames, with a photo of Mulder and Scully together the first to be sacrificed to the embers.

Pain, anyone? This is only the beginning.

Getting the gang back together. Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny, Dana Scully and Fox Mulder. Welcome back to THE X-FILES. Welcome back, too, to Mitch Pileggi as Walter Skinner, especially since it’s his phone call to Scully that set everything in motion. When Mulder was unreachable, Skinner called Scully, who we found still working at Our Lady of Sorrows. Mulder, on the other hand, was living some sort of isolationist, weirdo life as far as I could tell. Maybe that’s what happens when your life’s work gets you nowhere, and your touchstone has moved on to other things.

After a tense phone call, in which it was revealed that Scully was supposed to be done with UFOs because of the “stranglehold they put on [her] very existence,” and Mulder thought his entire life had been turned into a punchline, the two were finally reunited face-to-face. It’s not like these two  ever had an easy relationship, though, so let’s not be surprised that there was a fair amount of disagreement and that certain push and pull between the two partners right from the very start.

Another return to form? When Mulder entered his old office and had a chat with Skinner for the first time, that same old underlying mistrust, despite everything Skinner had done to work on his side, was back. So, too, was Mulder’s “I want to believe” poster — right back on the floor after the last image of it in the original series saw Doggett rolling it up for safe-keeping — which he actually kicked and ripped. The pencils were still in the ceiling; the only thing missing was Mulder’s collection of X-files, which was what started the argument with Skinner.

At this point, Mulder had everything he needed, save for his own beliefs, to get back to business. Scully? Check. Skinner? Check. Basement office? A lot worse for wear (not like that’s never happened before), but check.

That just left a story to chase, and Tad O’Malley delivered. Big time.

A new conspiracy for a new era. Tad O’Malley brought with him the promise of a new, improved government conspiracy for Mulder and Scully to investigate. He claimed he was going to blow it wide open with their help.

But Mulder wasn’t biting. Neither was Scully, still the ultimate skeptic. Nothing like a paranoid “news” host to make Fox Mulder look sane, at least for a few minutes.

Cue Sveta, who claimed to have been interviewed by Mulder years ago, after her first of many abductions. Mulder didn’t remember her, but he and Scully stuck around to hear her story. It was one they (and we) had heard before: multiple abductions, alien experiments, impregnation only for the babies to be taken away, and lost memories from the time of the abductions, though certain parts returned. It was all there, and even though O’Malley supposedly knew who Mulder and Scully were, he actually thought he needed to explain to Scully about the memory wiping. Scully, who had basically no memory of her own abduction and suffered so much.

Sveta also claimed to have alien DNA, which Doctor Scully was tasked with testing. During that time, Sveta revealed she had certain abilities, like reading minds (Gibson Praise, anyone?). Scully believed exactly zero of Sveta’s claims. That is, until Sveta read her like a book. While it probably didn’t require mind-reading skills to notice that Mulder and Scully were once an item, Sveta also knew why Scully ended the relationship, as well as the existence of her son.

Cue the first time I needed to write “Gillian’s face. Scully’s in pain, and so am I because of it” in my notes.

While Scully was busy with the scientific side of things, Mulder was off with Tad, digging up the paranoia. Little Fox Mulder, who saw his sister abducted by aliens and had been obsessed with them ever since, finally got to see his first UFO — when not being abducted by one, that is. In that moment, his childish delight showed us a glimpse of who Mulder might have been, had he never been involved with the X-files. More important to the narrative, however, was his discovery that the government was using technology gained from this craft but not to prevent an alien invasion as we had previously been told.

At this point, Mulder went back to see Sveta on his own. After asking her why she’d glanced at O’Malley before answering the questions about her alien babies, she said it was because she was afraid of what would happen to her if she told the truth: She didn’t believe she’d been abducted by aliens; she believed everything that was done to her was done to her by men.

So, here’s the big twist: The entire alien invasion story that Mulder was fed in the original series was a lie; it was only ever a conspiracy of men. A dark, dirty conspiracy of selfish, power-hungry men. Interestingly enough, when Mulder had nearly given up somewhere around late season four or early season five (think “Gethsemane” and/or “Redux,”) he had had this exact idea. So, actually, this new conspiracy isn’t quite as new as one might believe, except for the parts where current events were effortlessly folded into it.

After calling Scully in the middle of an apparent date with O’Malley (ew) and raving about his new truth, Mulder did what Mulder always did best: He hung up on her to continue investigating on his own. Because that always worked out so well.

The next day, when Scully still hadn’t heard back from Mulder, she hunted him down, had a classic “Mulder, you’re on dangerous ground” argument with him that could fit into nearly any episode of the original incarnation of THE X-FILES, and stormed off to her car in the middle of obvious emotional distress.

But then O’Malley showed up. Again. This guy. I’m with Scully on this one: He’s “full of charming b.s.”

As it turned out, Mulder invited O’Malley and Sveta both — but didn’t invite Scully because he figured she wouldn’t believe him, not that she’d stuck by him for all those years — to discuss the new alien conspiracy. Aliens exist, but they neither have nor have had any relation to the government. Some key points on that:

  • It goes back to the last century, with the conditions of the Cold War era the perfect time for “actual execution” due to the political and economic climate.
  • After World War II, the H-bombs drew alien life forms to Earth, “concerned for mankind and the threat of our self-destruction.”
  • Alien technology was studied in secret, as ordered and sanctioned by world leaders. (Hidden government experiments are historical fact. Mulder brought up both the Tuskegee Airmen and Henrietta Lacks as examples. There’s good reading on Lacks out there, if anyone wants a recommendations…)
  • Abductions were all staged, using the alien technology recovered from crash sites like Roswell.
  • The goal: the takeover of America “and then the world itself, by any means necessary, however violent, or cruel or efficient.” Cue O’Malley rambling on about droughts, 9/11 as a hoax to enslave Americans through constant warfare, NSA spying…and here we had every strangely believable and therefore scary connection to the current era of distrust and turmoil in the world.

Scully, still the true skeptic, wasn’t having any of it. On top of sitting through both Mulder and O’Malley’s rants with a permanent, trademarked skepti-brow and barely-held-back eye-roll, Scully left the meeting after labeling their ideas with: fear-mongering, bogus, paranoia, and other colorful terms. The ultimate nail in the coffin? Scully said Sveta, who was “the key to all of this,” according to Foxy, didn’t even have any alien DNA.

…except that, later, we found out Scully had retested the DNA and found Sveta did have alien junk in her genome. By this point, it was far too late for Sveta, who apologized for her “lies” via the media, only to have her car stopped by either alien or human forces (you choose) and…kaboom! Evidence destroyed.

This new take on THE X-FILES is timely, but it does little, if anything, to explain the goals of the rebel aliens from the original mythology. It also makes the sacrifice of the Syndicate’s children, including Samantha Mulder and Jeffrey Spender, to be even more despicable. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes.

The elephant in the room. I’ve done little, if any discussion of the state of Mulder and Scully’s personal relationship so far, but since MSR and Philes basically defined shipping, it has to be addressed. If Sveta’s mind-reading skills are believed, Scully left Mulder after diagnosing him with depression. That is simultaneously the only sort of ending to their relationship that would make sense and something that makes no sense whatsoever.

After everything Mulder and Scully went through together, through the original episodes and films, it seemed unlikely that anything could ever permanently tear them apart. Even Mulder’s death couldn’t do it — Scully just used her medical training and working knowledge of the alien virus to bring him back.

On the other hand, between the aforementioned “stranglehold” that this work put on Scully’s life, her admission to Mulder that she worried about him out in the house all alone, and even her comment about being afraid of the effects of isolation on him back in the second film, it would be perfectly logical to believe she simply couldn’t watch Mulder destroy himself any longer. And with lines like “I’m always happy to see you” from Scully, followed by “and I’m always happy to find a reason” from Mulder, even after Mulder got his jab in about how getting out of the house had been good for her, the emotional attachment doesn’t appear to have gone anywhere at all.

The relationship is, in some sense, what it always was — the back-and-forth, with a side of underlying angst — and, at least in this episode, it appeared as if the separation was as painful for Mulder and Scully as it was difficult to watch for viewers who’d rooted for them to be together for so many years. It’s the contradiction that makes this just another classic element to THE X-FILES: In the original series, their relationship was always there and not there, more a collection of loaded moments open to interpretation than anything clearly defined — until the whole “Millennium” kiss and the creation of William, of course…

With the chemistry between Anderson and Duchovny as magical as ever, it will certainly be interesting to see how, and if, these two make their way back to one another. I don’t personally buy the idea that a happy couple can’t be compelling to watch; but if the current trajectory of this relationship serves a purpose in the end without destroying either of the two leads in the process, I’m willing to give it a shot.

And one more thing. CGB Spender made his unexplained return at the close of the episode, delivering a classically vague and ominous line: ”We have a small problem. They’ve reopened the X-files.”

Uh, oh. Are you ready for this, Philes? I don’t know if there’s a choice…With THE X-FILES’ return and a new conspiracy for Mulder to obsess over, there’s nothing left for Scully and the rest of us to do but follow him and hope that, this time around, we uncover the actual truth.

Don’t miss the next new episode of THE X-FILES on its regular night and time on January 25 at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.

For all the latest TV news and reviews