The X-Files returned to FOX last night after a, frankly terrifying, 14-year hiatus. Launching straight back into the show’s epic, and complex, mythology, Mulder, Scully, and the gang were back in fine, if confusing form in the unfortunately titled “My Struggle Part One”, an episode that delighted fans but is unlikely to win over many new faces, whilst positively alienating (pun absolutely intended) anyone sitting in the right hand side of the political spectrum.
Read on for our spoilerific recap!
“My name is Fox Mulder,” David Duchovny intones as the episode opens – as if he needs to introduce himself. The opening minute of this return to the airwaves is given over to a brief, and somewhat confused, overview of “The X-Files so far.” It is followed by a montage of supposed UFO found footage mixed with newspaper cuttings, historic video footage, and declassified documents from the past 60 years, all shown while Mulder continues his latest in a long and colourful history of flowery opening monologues – this time giving us an overview of the history of the UFO phenomena. Just before we cut to the iconic opening titles, we see a UFO crash to the ground and Mulder asks the big question, “are we truly alone, or are we being lied to?”
“My Struggle” jumps back and forth in time, opening in 1947 on the aftermath of the Roswell crash as an unnamed doctor, accompanied by someone who appears to be a Fringe Observer, arrive at the site, before jumping to 2016 where former agent Dana Scully is scrubbing for surgery at what fans will recall is the same hospital she worked at in 2008’s I Want to Believe movie. After hearing from Skinner, Scully calls Mulder who is sitting in the dark munching sunflower seeds and brooding over Obama’s Jimmy Kimmel Live interview – clearly getting “as far away from the darkness as we can get” at the end of the second movie didn’t work out too well for him. Scully asks him to watch an online show at Skinner’s request: Truth Squad with Tad O’Malley, a right-wing zealot who, within seconds of appearing on screen, has already waxed lyrical on both Americans’ “God-given right to bear firearms” and the “false-flag operation” of 9/11. Mulder considers him a “jackass” but agrees to meet O’Malley, on the proviso that Scully accompanies him.
The pair meet in an amusingly photoshopped Washington DC and us viewers very quickly get the lay of the land as regards their relationship. Together the two appear cool, almost hostile, but in the forced way that only people desperate to conceal their own feelings can be. O’Malley appears and Scully makes it immediately clear how unimpressed she is by his persona, sarcastically commenting about his entrance in an enormous, shiny black limousine. Mulder similarly can’t resist, using the opportunity to sneak in a little snide comment about Scully which she decides to let slide.
Inside the limo, Mulder is also quick to distance himself from O’Malley’s right-wing agenda. The former agents are confused as to how they can help, explaining that since their days working on the x-files they’ve both moved on in their lives. “Yes, we have,” Mulder agrees, not moving his eyes from Scully’s face, “for better, for worse”. Scully struggles to look at him and O’Malley (and we the viewers) sense that there’s a big something left unspoken here. Is Mulder insinuating that the pair married? The three bicker about the facts of conspiracy, Mulder testing O’Malley on obscure UFO lore, before heading out to meet multiple abductee Sveta who claims to have had tests performed on her, and unborn foetuses stolen, as well as claiming to have alien DNA.
Back in 1947, the soldiers working the UFO crash discover an injured alien crawling from the wreckage, shooting it on sight to the horror of the doctor whom we saw arriving earlier. Scully takes Sveta to the hospital to perform tests on her DNA, where Sveta reveals that she has a mild mind-reading ability. She picks up on details of Mulder & Scully’s relationship, but misses the fact of Scully’s abduction, something Scully immediately clears up without needing to say a word. Meanwhile, O’Malley takes Mulder to see an ARV (alien replicant/reproduction vehicle) which runs on free energy, “no fuel, no flame, no combustion” – technology the government has supposedly kept secret in order to allow oil companies to make trillions. The vehicle cloaks, becoming both invisible and losing solid form as we saw with the ship that abducted Mulder in earlier seasons, and Mulder questions where the element needed to create the technology was obtained, leading us back to Roswell where the doctor carries away the alien body.
O’Malley visits Scully at the hospital, finding her taking a sample of her own blood which she claims is to test for high cholesterol. He is fascinated by the work she is doing, helping surgeons create ears for children with microtia – a congenital deformity which causes them to be born with no outer ear – and comments on how “alien” the children appear without them. The two discuss her previous work at the FBI, and with Mulder, a relationship she quietly admits to being “intense”, “challenging”, and “impossible”. Asked why he’s there, O’Malley hedges before finally admitting he “just wanted to see [her] again”. Elsewhere, Mulder appears on Sveta’s doorstep and questions her about her pregnancies, discovering that she believes men took her unborn babies, not aliens. Mulder calls Scully, now riding in O’Malley’s limo & drinking champagne, ranting about how he’s been misled for years and that Sveta is “they key to everything”. The whole thing is reminiscent of his previous epiphany way back in 1997 when he came to believe there were no aliens at all, only a conspiracy of men. Scully, somewhat understandably, questions whether he could be jumping to conclusions but he cuts her off.
Still building momentum, Mulder arrives at his old basement office with Skinner, discovering that all the old files have been removed leaving the room empty. Skinner is unaware of what has happened, claiming that to the best of his knowledge the files had been left untouched since Mulder & Scully “left the Bureau”, erasing Mulder’s trial and subsequent fugitive status for the second time in 25 minutes, and also strongly suggesting that agents Doggett & Reyes never returned to the x-files after the events of “The Truth”. Mulder begins rambling in his classic way, demanding answers and goading his former boss into a confrontation which the older man refuses to further. “Since 9/11 this country’s taken a big turn in a very strange direction,” Skinner muses, allowing Mulder continue his rant right along Skinner’s chosen trajectory until Skinner issues him a challenge: “Do something about it,” instead of shouting into the dark.
Over on the Truth Squad set, O’Malley is once again getting angry about firearms rights, before (somewhat abruptly) moving on to a “feel good” story, telling his viewers about Scully’s work with children. Scully, watching the show on her laptop, appears mortified and annoyed in a way that usually on Mulder can cause. After being handed some test results, she requests the blood be re-tested. Mulder meanwhile is back to his old tricks of meeting mysterious and paranoid men in darkened locations. The two elaborate on Mulder’s new-found “truth”, Mulder growing increasingly passionate as he describes warnings of the military-industrial complex becoming too powerful. The man, revealed to be the same doctor we’ve been watching in the Roswell flashbacks, encourages him, whilst warning about the lengths those in power are prepared to go to. “The lies are so great Mr Mulder,” he says in a truly great X-Files line, “the truth must be unassailable.”
Scully’s turns up uninvited at Mulder’s door, concerned for him, and the two fight more than we’ve ever seen. Mulder has that dangerous glint in his eye, the one we have seen so many times over the years that has led him to Russian gulags, secret laboratories, and eventually his own trial, and Scully both recognises and fears it. The two are surprised by Sveta who looks out from inside Mulder’s house, and we see the pain in Scully’s eyes. She goes to leave but O’Malley arrives before she can and it soon becomes obvious that the two men are up to more than we all realised.
Inside Mulder’s home we finally get to the scene this episode has clearly been building towards, as Mulder explains to us a revised world history. The H-bomb, he claims, attracted aliens to our planet, concerned for the well-being of our species and sacrificing themselves to help us learn new technologies. The government covered up these events, conducting their own secret experiments and using the public as unwilling test subjects. When Sveta asks why they would do such things, O’Malley takes over the narrative, describing a government so consumed with “corporate greed” and desire to take over America that they would hide away this technology at the expense of our future. He talks about the use of alien technology to create a “state of perpetual war” designed to “distract, enrage, and enslave” while they use the Patriot Act and others to strip away liberties. His speech builds to a crescendo of anti-government rhetoric, creating a vision of a government who want to dull its populace by any means necessary, making us incapable of fighting back when they initiate their end game and fake an attack against the US which will allow them to assume full control. “You can’t say these things”, Scully warns, “…it borders on treason” and she’s right, to the extent that, watching the episode again and really focusing on what is being said, I’m surprised it ever made it to air. O’Malley announces that he intends to reveal this “truth” the following day and Scully, using up her only hope of making the others see reason, reveals that her tests on Sveta’s blood have revealed she has no alien DNA after all.
At work the next day, Scully turns on O’Malley’s show to discover that Sveta has spoken out against him, claiming to have been paid to say she was abducted. Mulder goes out to Sveta’s house to find her missing while, across town, unknown military men blow up the ARV and the scientists who created it. Post-surgery, Scully discovers that O’Malley’s show has disappeared from the internet entirely. She discovers Mulder lurking in the hospital parking garage and reveals to him that she sequenced both Sveta’s and her own genomes after distrusting the initial test results. She has discovered that Sveta does indeed have alien DNA, and she does too. Together they agree that someone has to stop these men and, ready or not, they don’t have a choice about getting involved once again.
As the episode ends, we see Sveta driving down a deserted road. Her car breaks down and we all know what’s about to happen. A green light appears and a UFO hovers above, trapping her in the car until it explodes in a giant fireball. Finally, we cut to a cosy room where the Cigarette Smoking Man, still smoking through a tracheotomy, reveals to an unseen companion that the x-files have been “reopened.”
As an opening episode for a new season, “My Struggle” does well at setting up a new, modernised X-Files mythology that still feeds from the original. This new conspiracy taps into modern day fears – The Patriot Act, drone technology, and NSA surveillance – while linking it, albeit rather tenuously, to the alien conspiracy that was always central to the show. It’s clever, but I find myself hoping that Mulder is wrong and that we are still looking at an alien invasion and not simply a cabal of corrupt men.
One of the biggest issues The X-Files always had was in diversity, with a cast that was astonishingly straight, white, male – and “My Struggle” did little to alleviate that problem. New faces included Joel McHale (finally graduated from Community college) and Rance Howard who both add to the white male stack. On the positive side, Japanese actor Hiro Kanagawa returns for his third X-Files bit-part, and Indian/Russian actress Annet Mahendru plays the vitally important abductee Sveta – however, those steps forward are quickly reversed as neither character survives to the end, unlike their white male counterparts. In fact, the only surviving character of minority background is an Indian nurse who works with Scully and remains unnamed beyond “nurse” throughout the episode. Not exactly the most positive steps towards increasing diversity but there’s still hope.
Sophie is a staff writer at X-Files.News where you can find all the latest news about The X-Files, and the latest news from the show’s cast and crew.
Top Image: “My Struggle” © 20th Century Fox/1013 Productions