Published on January 26th, 2016 | by Craig Silliphant0
The New X-Files: The First Two Episodes
With the premiere of a new season of The X-Files, we take a look at the first two episodes to see if they hold up.
It’s been almost 10 years since we last saw Mulder and Scully in 2008’s X-Files: I Want to Believe, a movie that wasn’t as bad as some say, but was definitely a lost opportunity to bring a new generation of fans aboard. Instead, Netflix did the heavy lifting by streaming the old episodes, and the time seems to be right to return to this franchise for a six-episode mini-series.
The X-Files was one of my favourite shows of all time (and we even ran my thoughts on what the show should do back when it was announced), so I was pretty excited. As a side note, I wonder how many fans had the experience ruined by the football game running long for the first episode, especially if their PVRs cut off halfway through the show? Could there be a better metaphor for jocks wailing on us nerds? I’m sure Fox wanted The X-Files to ride on the back of the massive football numbers, hoping some people will stay tuned to watch the show after. But they inadvertently alienated the actual people who wanted to watch the show in the first place. Goofy.
Anyway, we’re going to look at the first two episodes here in an attempt to decide whether this run is closer to the glory days of the first few seasons of the show, or whether it feels like a tacked on thing we didn’t really need to bother with, like the last few seasons (and the bizarrely mishandled finale). I think it’s important to mention that you shouldn’t really judge the run of a show on an episode or two, so take this critique with a grain of salt. Also, be warned, I’m also really just barfing out my feelings here in an almost stream of consciousness manner. And spoilers abound. This is for people who have watched the episodes.
Episode One: “My Struggle”
They waste an opportunity to hook the audience with a good cold open, one of the best parts of The X-Files. Instead of building a good hook, they do that thing where a voiceover and plunking down some still photos explains the history of the series. Or rather, Mulder tells you about his run so far (and says something like, “Oh, and I have a partner named Scully who had adventures too!”). It reminded me of the beginning of The A-Team, where they clumsily explain the premise of the show in the intro. After that, My Struggle cuts to a cold open where they probably give you too much. That said, when it’s finally time for the opening credits, it was nice to see the classic opening is still being used.
The show itself had its good and bad. I did enjoy it; because it felt like The X-Files and it was great to see Mulder and Scully back at it. But it also seemed to be ramming everything but the kitchen sink down your throat, rather than building a good story. There are a couple of scenes where people shout different conspiracy theories in long tirades, spewing a lot of muddled information at you, making it feel a bit like an X-Files greatest hits. Joel McHale plays an interesting character for the agents to partner with, a right wing TV commentator, but their interaction with him is hit and miss too.
However, there are some great moments. Finding out that Mulder and Scully have ended their romantic relationship works — that Scully has walked away because she can’t let his obsessions take over her life any longer. The episode is at its best when it takes its time to reveal these things. It also takes some care in revealing a bit about Scully’s abduction from years past, which is well done, and will become important later, it seems.
The biggest bit that felt forced was the re-opening of the X-Files themselves. This has been a major plot point through the series, because people were always trying to shut them down or get them reopened. But suddenly, not only are they open again, but Mulder and Scully are back on them? Even though they don’t even work for the FBI anymore? Even though the search for truth, according to Scully, actually broke them up? They really should have spent the first episode rebuilding this world. Did I miss something? Maybe they’ll address this in episode two.
Oh, great ending by the way. The Smoking Man might have been a bit cartoonish, but he also seemed more evil, so that’s cool.
Episode Two: “Founder’s Mutation”
They’re definitely not going to explain how the X-Files were reopened, though now Mulder is clean-shaven and wearing a suit. They’re also identifying themselves as FBI and taking shit from Skinner again. So, it’s back on. I’m glad they went back to this premise, but it’s stupid that they wished it into existence instead of writing a few scenes that have it make sense. But, in the interest of moving things along, I guess I’m just going to have to go with it.
This is more of a standalone episode, though it does features some elements of the mythology. It feels like it has much more room to breathe than My Struggle did. It’s hard to say it’s as good as classic X-Files, but it did feel pretty good.
In both episodes, Scully is starting to feel well written, where Mulder is either taking a backseat or as in the first episode, becoming a bit of a paranoid parody of himself. But in dealing with children and pregnant women, we’ve been getting some well-handled exposition about Scully. And it’s arguably good that they’ve chosen to address William. These people had a baby together that we’ve sort of glossed over. Maybe it was better to leave him in the past, the spoiled fruit of a mediocre season’s bad ideas, but I think it makes sense for the show to recognize that he exists. Their faux flashbacks to life with William are a little over-the-top, but they are mostly well done and provide an emotional weight to the case/episode.
There are some genuinely shocking moments, even if it feels like they’re riffing on places they’ve been before. Episodes like Young at Heart, Home, and The Post-Modern Prometheus dealt with things like progeria, mad scientists, and mutation-based gross out gags. In fact, the episode does miss a great opportunity to do something they’ve never done before when some of the babies escape unhurt from their mothers’ mangled bodies. The mother is bashed to death and the baby is missing and presumed dead. But is it? That would have been a classic X-Files cold open. (Speaking of openings, they also double down on Mulder’s A-Team exposition at the start. I guess I’m going to have to live with that too?).
Anyway, I don’t want to ride the episode too hard. I liked it. It’s not as good as classic X-Files, but not as bad as some of the later season stuff. All in all, I’m trying to balance expectations. Though, part of me thinks they could be doing better with this tight, six episode arc. Look at a show like Marvel’s Agent Carter or any HBO or AMC show. They really benefit from a short story arc. We haven’t seen the whole picture yet, but it feels like The X-Files is really missing the opportunity to take advantage of today’s different TV season lengths. No longer do you need to churn out filler episodes to make 24 episodes in a season. Yet, these episodes both feel a bit like that.
I’m still over the moon, but some of the cracks in the execution show are easier to spot than a flying saucer crashing on your front lawn. Obviously, I’m one fan that’s overthinking this by a mile. But that’s part of the fun of fandom, isn’t it? Overall, it has been really great to see two of my favourite characters back in action. So I’m more than happy about that.