Recap: Six weeks after the events of the season premiere, Scully arrives in the X-Files office to find her computer open to Tad O’Malley’s (Joel McHale) webseries. O’Malley claims that he was taken off the air to prevent him revealing that everyone in the country has been secretly infected with alien DNA. Scully then gets a call from O’Malley, who is calling from Mulder’s house. The place is trashed and Mulder is nowhere to be found. Scully reunites with Agent Einstein (Lauren Ambrose) for help in solving the case, though she is skeptical of O’Malley’s claim. They head to Scully’s hospital, which is swarmed with people. One distraught man has an unusual lesion on his upper arm.

Scully draws Einstein’s blood for testing, though she still find the notion of DNA tampering improbable. Scully hypothesizes that the tampering could have been done as a part of early childhood vaccinations. Miller (Robbie Amell) arrives at the lab with his laptop, and the three watch more of O’Malley’s show. O’Malley has a guest who theorizes that the alien DNA could be used to shut down a person’s immune system. When they head back to the hospital, Scully learns that the distraught man they saw earlier was in the military. She realizes that the lesion on his arm is from anthrax; servicemen are given anthrax vaccines to protect them from chemical warfare, but if his immune system is failing, then the anthrax would attack the system. Scully splits from the younger two agents to get answers. Miller goes back to the X-Files office and goes on Mulder’s computer. He finds a program that lets him track Mulder’s phone, and rushes off to find him.

Scully gets a call from former X-Files agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), and the two meet up. Reyes explains that she was contacted by the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) shortly after his apparent death. His plan is to depopulate the planet using the DNA tampering learned from the aliens who crashed in the ’50s. He offered to spare Reyes in exchange for her assistance. Scully is horrified, but Reyes tells her that Scully’s previous abduction was to fix her DNA, making her one of the chosen few to survive. She also says that the Cigarette Smoking Man cares deeply for Mulder, and he sent someone to fetch him. This man arrived at Mulder’s house and brawled with him, but Mulder gained the upper hand and left to confront the Cigarette Smoking Man.

The Cigarette Smoking Man tries to convince Mulder to accept his cure, and “sit at the big table” in the new world. Mulder refuses on principle, and calls the CSM a psychopath. He begins to feel the effects of the sickness and collapses. Back at the hospital, Scully realizes that she had it backwards. The alien DNA isn’t causing the sickness in everyone else, her alien DNA is the only thing protecting her from sickness. She enlists Einstein to use her DNA to create a vaccine. As all this happens, the sickness rapidly becomes a global pandemic.

Miller arrives on the scene to rescue Mulder, though the CSM warns him that it is futile. Einstein’s condition deteriorates. She and Scully manage to create a viable vaccine, and Scully hooks her up to it. She and Miller speed towards each other as society collapses around them. They meet on a bridge, but Scully sees that Mulder’s condition is worse than she thought. He will need stem cells, ideally from their child, who will have inherited his mother’s alien DNA. Just as Scully explains that she doesn’t know where their son is, a UFO appears overhead and casts a beam of light onto the three of them. The episode ends with their fates uncertain.

Reaction: I’m not sure that Chris Carter understands why people like The X-Files. More accurately, I’m not sure he understands why people still like The X-Files. For all the digital ink spilled deconstructing the show’s nine-season conspiracy arc as it unfolded, its enduring popularity has nothing to do with that. People like Mulder and Scully, they like spooky mysteries, and they like how the intersection of those two elements sometimes got at some intriguing ideas about the human experience.

A fourteen-years-gone rebooted X-Files was always going to feel like more of a distillation than a real return to form. The best of this season’s six episodes – “Mulder and Scully Meet The Were-Monster” and “Home Again” – worked from an X-Files formula, but that formula was true to the essence of the show. “My Struggle II” works from a very different formula, one almost comically opposed to the previously mentioned one. Mulder and Scully are apart until the final sixty seconds. There is no spooky mystery, but there is a lot of amplified conspiracy nonsense. As for the human condition, there’s a brief and banal point about how population culling is necessary to prevent human extinction. If this is Carter’s idea of what The X-Files is, I hope he gets the chance to rewatch the series in the near future.

Carter’s writing has all the embarrassing faux-profundity of a misunderstood high schooler’s aborted short stories. “You don’t give up, do you?” growls the Cigarette Smoking Man, as a sweat-drenched Mulder pulls himself to his feet. “You’re a madman,” Mulder retorts. It’s a shame that he’s right. The Cigarette Smoking Man’s plan isn’t just incoherent, it’s indefensibly evil. This seems inextricable from Carter’s descent into Alex Jones-style conspiracy obsession. Chemtrails get namedropped as a method of infecting the public, as do early childhood vaccinations. Carter makes no room for moral greyness in this conspiracy. There’s just a very bad man doing a staggeringly bad thing.

Like the premiere, “My Struggle II” feels like a 45-minute compromise. The world plummets into total chaos in the span of about 20 minutes, and we only know this because of 30-second Tad O’Malley interludes where he tells us what’s happening. The episode has such a poor grasp of its own scope; why is the vast majority of the runtime comprised of isolated two-hander scenes if the world is supposed to be ending in the background? This is the most monumental event in the history of the series, but it’s so rushed that it might as well not have happened at all.

Maybe the inevitable season 11 will flesh things out to a greater degree. And it must be inevitable, because Carter wouldn’t leave the show on that cliffhanger if he didn’t expect to get the chance to continue the story. He’s even teed up the future of the show in Einstein and Miller. Last week, I was irritated by this pair, because they seemed like a joke without a punchline. They’re blatant Scully and Mulder clones, but they each replaced their counterpart in a pair (Einstein going with Mulder and Miller going with Scully) rather than bouncing off of that counterpart. I was annoyed that the show treated them like real characters, because surely we were never going to see them again.

Then they showed up this week, and the purpose of “Babylon” became clear. Carter is setting these two up to take the reins of the series. We even got a brief appearance from Monica Reyes, as if to remind us that Mulder and Scully can be replaced. But no one thinks of Reyes when they think of The X-Files, just like no one thinks of the government conspiracy arc. This show is about Mulder and Scully, full stop. The only element that needs desperately to be replaced is Carter.

Etc.:

  • So, yeah, Reyes showed up again, only to get thrown under the bus. Not that I was at all attached to her character, but it’s kinda lame that her only role in the revival is a single scene where she admits to conspiring with the Cigarette Smoking Man to save her skin.
  • I guess Robert Patrick was busy, huh?
  • Opening the episode with a monologue from Scully that mirrors Mulder’s from the premiere is a nice touch.
  • The constant mentions of Mulder and Scully’s son this season had no payoff except for further promise of future payoff. The editing accidentally suggests that he’s the one flying the UFO.
  • Speaking of which, does that really qualify as a cliffhanger on this show anymore? We’ve seen a billion UFOs on The X-Files. Come on, guys.
  • “The Truth Is Out There” was replaced with “This Is The End” in the opening credits. Nice try, Carter.
  • Oh, and by the way, I noticed that “My Struggle” translates as “Mein Kampf” in German. Maybe Carter is history’s greatest troll.