“My Struggle” Recap: In the time since we last saw them – in the 2008 feature film The X-Files: I Want To Believe – Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) have amicably gone their separate ways. Scully has left the paranormal behind, and is working as a surgeon for children with genetic deformities. Mulder keeps to himself, still hunting for the truth but increasingly despondent over a lack of new discoveries. They’re brought back together by conservative talk show host Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale), who puts them in contact with a young woman named Sveta (Annet Mahendru). Sveta claims to have alien DNA, which has made her the target of many alien abductions throughout her life. Aliens have impregnated her and taken the fetuses, a detail which piques Scully’s interest.

While Scully gets Sveta’s DNA tested, O’Malley shows Mulder a secret lab where engineers are working on building an alien spacecraft. They explain that the government has had access to alien technology for decades, but they have kept it hidden. Mulder goes back to Sveta, who tells him that some of her abductions (in particular the ones in which her babies were stolen) were conducted by humans. This gives Mulder a revelation. He calls Scully and posits that perhaps the two of them were being led by the nose all those years, that the alien conspiracy they had spent so long pursuing was in fact a human conspiracy masquerading as an alien one. A shadowy cabal has been using alien technology recovered from UFO crashes (which came from aliens who came to Earth not to harm us, but to make sure we weren’t about to destroy ourselves with nuclear weapons) to conduct their nefarious operations all along. Scully shoots him down, and reveals that Sveta’s test uncovered no alien DNA. Mulder tries to confirm his suspicions with a source, an elderly man who is shown in flashback to have worked with the military in secret studies of aliens.

The next day, Sveta walks back her statements on O’Malley’s show, apparently out of fear. Scully receives the second set of test results, which reveal that Sveta’s DNA has the same signs of alien interference as her own. Suddenly, O’Malley’s website is mysteriously shut down, and Sveta disappears. Scully and Mulder reunite, more determined than ever to get to the bottom of this conspiracy once and for all. The final scene reveals the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis), alive but forced to smoke through a tracheotomy tube, being informed that the X-Files have been reopened.

Review: The first thing that struck me about “My Struggle,” the first episode of the revived X-Files, was the opening credits sequence. It hasn’t been updated or changed in any significant way, except that it’s now in crystal-clear HD and a widescreen aspect ratio. It was a little bit of a system shock, because I was so used to seeing the intro in 4:3 SD. It just feels a little wrong to see that iconic intro in anything above VHS-quality.

But that’s the struggle of being The X-Files in 2016 in a nutshell. This show was quintessentially 90s, so how can it operate in an era which views the 90s nostalgically? Our politics are wildly different now, so how does a show about government conspiracy adapt? Chris Carter and company have come up with an acceptable answer to that question. Back in the day, the most sinister thing that the American government could do was to hide things from the public. Keeping people from the truth was the ultimate betrayal, especially under the guise of safety. Now, in a post-Bush and soon to be post-Obama world, we have a much more elaborate mistrust of government. It’s a widely-held belief in this country that the government is willing and able to act aggressively against its own public. Hiding things to keep us safe is one thing, but now it’s easier to believe that the government would hide things to do us harm.

The PATRIOT Act and drone surveillance get name-dropped, and right-wing crank Tad O’Malley screams into a camera about how 9/11 was a false-flag operation. Mulder pegs him as a nut immediately, which seems a little strange at first. Shouldn’t Mulder be the last guy to be skeptical about a government conspiracy? “My Struggle” brings this contrast into focus. Conspiracy-obsessed though he may be, Mulder was always an idealist. It’s easy for him to believe in our leaders acting out of misplaced, patronizing benevolence for “the greater good,” even when it takes the form of clear maliciousness. But did he ever imagine that the government was capable of mass-murdering its own citizens for its own selfish goals? I don’t think so.

Much more interesting, and glossed over by “My Struggle,” is the parallel notion that aliens were never the bad guys to begin with. Mulder posits that they were drawn to Earth by the energy produced by hydrogen bombs, further speculating that they intended to help save us from ourselves. This is a far cry from the impending apocalypse which had been hinted towards in the old series. The new X-Files has already flipped the show’s entire premise on its head, without retconning the endlessly complicated lore preceding it. It’s still The X-Files, but with a rejuvenated and relevant sense of purpose.

Well, it’s almost still The X-Files. “My Struggle” suffers from stiff limbs throughout. Duchovny and Anderson feel like they’re shaking the dust off of these characters. Both are too mumbly and unexpressive, as though they’re anxious about screwing this up. That said, they both have glimmers of their old selves. Duchovny’s face when he sees the alien spacecraft is classic Mulder, and Anderson nails the scene where Scully tells Mulder how worried she is about him. I hope that they’ll be back in their grooves by the next episode.

In general, I hope the show is back in its groove by the next episode. The myth-arc episodes were never as good as the monster-of-the-week episodes, because the show thrived on Mulder and Scully’s interplay rather than exposition dumps and increasingly knotty conspiracies. They’ve brought back veteran writers and directors like James Wong and Darin Morgan for upcoming episodes, so fingers crossed that the majority of this miniseries is better than “My Struggle.”

Grade: C+

Etc.:

  • So, between the apparent disappearance of Robert Patrick’s Doggett (Annabeth Gish is confirmed to pop up as Reyes later on) and the resurrected Cigarette Smoking Man, I guess they’re pretending that season 9 never happened. Fine by me.
  • Mulder’s opening monologue is inevitably info-dumpy, but I couldn’t help being more bothered by those photographs. Who took that close-up of the Flukeman?
  • Mulder rips the classic “I Want To Believe” poster in half, and I felt a little twinge of loss. In all honesty, I admire the show’s willingness to destroy one of its best-known pieces of iconography, even if this episode did lean pretty heavily on nostalgia.
  • Oh, I don’t think I mentioned Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) at all. Skinner’s back, too.

See the next page for a review of episode 2, “Founder’s Mutation”!

My Struggle | Founder’s Mutation

Featured Image: FOX