“You don’t want to believe.”
A chunky, inelegant piece of opening exposition plays us in and serves to highlight the fact that there was virtually nothing between season 10′s finale and premiere that was of any consequence to either. Excusable, maybe, in a procedural content to hum along indefinitely, but grueling in an episode of television meant to feel urgent and far-reaching. ‘My Struggle II’ recreates the slack, scattered feel of the season premiere while telling us nothing new about our protagonists, serving up cinematography a multi-cam sitcom would find embarrassing, and brewing up a rich, meaty stew of conservative dreck before kissing the air like some vindictive Italian chef about to poison a roomful of hated guests.
It’s an episode in which vaccines are tools of conspiratorial genocide, where the army and the police are the truest defense of the people, and where nice white doctors have to stop black looters from trashing the city. Tad O’Malley is back, and more heroic than ever as he tells the world that chem trails are activating diseases implanted in their genes. It feels like clumsy neo-conservative apologism, and it’s also a poor substitute for actually showing us the chaos and struggle he blusters about, and the fact that his program is up, loaded, and paused at precisely the right moment for characters to learn vital information every time someone turns on a computer is agonizing. It’s an NCIS-level play, a sloppy admission that the mechanical progress of the plot is grounded in whim instead of in logic.
The rest of the episode is more or less a holding pattern. Is there anything more tedious on a sci-fi procedural than the introduction of a virus? ‘My Struggle II’ runs the epidemic playbook beat for beat, giving us such riveting dialogue as “Alien DNA is what I have, and alien DNA is all that can save us” alongside the heart-stopping thrills of vaccine synthesis. It’s foregone from the moment the first sniffles start in that this will all be over before the credits roll, and give or take an IV drip, that’s exactly where we wind up by the time the ship that torched Nina from The Americans in the premiere shows up to bathe Scully in greenish light. The presence of agents Einstein and Williams does little to liven up the action, especially because neither really has much of anything to do. Skinner, too, after spending a season sidelined, does nothing and says little in the finale. Why bother bringing him back at all, you know?
Action Mulder, the kickoff to a thread no better than Scully’s hospital adventures, feels like the garnish this episode deserves. A friend, when I mentioned the awful fast-motion fight scene in Mulder’s house, invoked Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s similar tendency to make Picard into an action hero on occasion, and the comparison sticks. Sure, Mulder is an FBI agent, but turning him into Jason Bourne cheapens the central appeal of the knowledge-seeking character. In a season that never gave itself a good reason to exist, it feels like a nail in the coffin. The hacky back-and-forth between Mulder and the Smoking Man never goes anywhere, though the reliable fire between them shines through a few times. Even dialogue that weak can’t rob William B. Davis of his natural charisma. His ability to project a sense that he really believes his own bullshit, and that he cares for Mulder and considers him a close confidante who gives purpose to his work and life, is a small treat in a wasteland of boredom.
Ultimately, if this is the best that the resurgent The X-Files has to offer, then perhaps it’s best they stay sealed.