Welcome back, Dragons! It’s been two years since the initial revival of The X-Files, and here we are again, this time with ten episodes. And we’re off to a rough start. Rough start? Bad start. Awful start. Let’s get into it.
The episode, as you can perhaps tell from the title, is a continuation of the mythology episodes from last season. In other words, this is written by Chris Carter and is essentially a disjointed disaster. “My Struggle” is the title of the episode but also is a fair description of me trying to get through this episode. So, open a bottle of wine and get ready to go through this journey with me (and gifs).
We open with a voiceover. Oh, good! We’re still doing those. This time, it’s a monologue by the Cigarette Smoking Man – you know, the guy who died in a missile explosion in the original series finale? Yeah, I can’t explain that either. He tells us his name is actually “Carl Gerhard Bush” (really?). He tells us about his career in the government, eluding to the fact that he’s responsible for various horrors in history. He also refers to his two sons – Mulder and Jeffrey Spender. There are a lot of clips of political figures, and the monologue ends with the assumption that CSM – my bad, CARL – faked the moon landing. Okay.
Opening credits are the same, except instead of the trademark, “The truth is out there,” we get, “I want to believe,” as the last word slowly fades to “lie.”
Hey, so remember the entire last episode where there was like the end of the world and aliens were invading and Mulder was dying? LOL, JK, that was just a vision Scully was having!!
Let’s clear the air about this right now. I hate hate hate HAAAAATE this choice. Why, you may ask? First of all, it’s stupid. It wastes an entire episode. Second, it’s a ridiculous trope that has no place in modern drama. Unless your story is about dreaming/visions/etc, this is unacceptable. In other words, unless you are writing the sequel to Inception, you should never, ever pull the ol’ “It was a dream!” BS.
Anyway. Moving on.
Scully’s in the hospital – again. Because when in doubt, put Scully in peril, am I right? Chris, your writing is tired. Mulder’s called for parademics after finding her on the floor, presumably after having a seizure. The medic asks if she’s had seizures before. “She’s perfectly healthy. She’s a doctor. She would have told me,” Mulder insists. Oh, yeah? Like that time you had a brain tumor in the background of season 7 and never bothered to mention it? Oh, right, Carter’s forgotten about that plotline.
At the hospital, Mulder is being grumpy and wants to talk to Scully. Doctor Joyet says she’s still unconscious but is having extremely abnormal brain activity. Joyet shows Mulder and Skinner her brain scans, where they see that a part of Scully’s hypothalamus is flashing in a repetitive manner. Skinner identifies it as Morse Code, spelling out, FIND HIM. Let me rewrite that. Scully’s brain is flashing Morse Code.
BRAIN FLASHING MORSE CODE.
Mulder finally gets to see her, and he holds her hand, which I’m sure is supposed to warm my shipper heart, but look, this is your life partner. You have a child together, and you lived together. Holding hands during trauma isn’t doing it for me anymore. Joyet tells him that neurologically speaking, “her brain is on fire.” Umm, I don’t think that’s right, doc. Skinner calls Mulder into the hallway and says he thinks the Brain Morse Code message is to find their son. “I’m just looking for answers,” Skinner says. Mulder tells him that he can go look for answers, “but where I’m needed is in there.” He goes back to Scully’s bedside.
Then we get a Carter classic – a Mulder voiceover! The point is that he’s sad and wants to help Scully. Per usual, it’s not in anything remotely resembling how a person would think.
Scully wakes up! But she’s still loopy from her visions. “Mulder, you have to go to find the Smoking Man. I’ve seen it. I know how it begins.” She tells him about the Spartan virus. Mulder tries to explain that she had a seizure, but Scully – medical doctor Dana Scully – believes that what she saw was a vision of the future. She tells him that he has to go to Spartanburg, South Carolina to find the Smoking Man to get the cure. She says that they need stem cells from their son.
Wait. Spartan virus. Spartanburg, South Carolina. What exactly goes on in this writer’s room? “Aw, crap, we need a name for the virus.” “Just name it the town!”
Also, apparently in her vision, Scully also saw that whole interaction with CSM and Mulder, even though she wasn’t there? Okey dokey.
Oh, look! It’s Jeffrey Spender, who we last saw horribly disfigured in season 9. Miraculously, he looks fine now! Man, there is some intense alien technology out there. A bad guy chases Spender and hits him with a car, shouting, “Where’s the boy?! All we want is the boy!” And then Bad Guy just sort of gives up on him once he’s behind a closed door and walks away.
Joyet talks to Mulder and Scully and seems to buy into this whole “vision” thing. Between that and the brain on fire comment, I’m not too confident in her medical abilities. “This is rather sensitive territory,” she says. She claims to have had patients who have had similar side effects who were in medical experiments by the government. Okay. I’m not saying I know what the federal government does or doesn’t do with its side projects, but I don’t think it’s sending its alien technology experiments to GW Hospital to some rando doctor (no offense, GW Hospital, your ER is well-run!). Anyway, Scully wants to run off and find answers, but Mulder says he’s on it and leaves the hospital.
AND THEN WE HAVE MY FAVORITE MOMENT OF THIS EPISODE. Mulder gets a missed call and voicemail from “Jeffrey Spender.”
BITCH, MULDER HASN’T SEEN SPENDER SINCE SEASON 6, AND THAT’S ASSUMING SCULLY TOLD HIM THAT HE’S NOT DEAD. WHY WOULD MULDER HAVE JEFFREY SPENDER SAVED IN HIS NEW-ISH SMART PHONE. WHY. WHY. WHY.
In the hospital, Scully has more visions and seems to morph into a young man – William?
This is Jeffrey Spender’s voicemail: “Mulder, it’s Jeffrey Spender. Someone’s looking for your son, for William. They came after me in my home. You may all be in danger.” Of course, CSM has Mulder’s phone tapped. Also, who leaves a voicemail these days? ALSO, why does Spender have Mulder’s number? No way does Fox Mulder, most paranoid man in the world, have a number that can be found on the internet. CSM tells Monica Reyes (oh, hey, girl) that Mulder’s coming for him and that if he finds him, he’ll kill him. “But we are not to be found,” he insists.
Yet another Mulder voiceover. Mulder tells the audience that he’s been followed since he left the hospital, and in a twist, he loses his tail – and then TAILS HIS TAIL. That’s why he’s an FBI agent, y’all. Meanwhile, in South Carolina, CSM is predicting this isn’t going to go well, (SAME) but assures Monica that he has a backup plan.
Meanwhile, Spender shows up at the hospital. What?! Okay, first, how would he know Scully was there? Did he not have Scully’s cell phone number, like Mulder’s, to just call her? Also, does this mean Spender’s living in DC? For a man who is presumed dead and should be laying low, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG. He tells Scully that someone came at him trying to find her son. Scully says she has to know where William is, and Spender says that she made him promise to hide his son all those years ago. Sooo, back in the day, you trusted Jeffrey Spender, out of all people, to hide your kid? Cool, cool, cool. Mother of the year award over here. Spender says he only has a name of the adoptive family – Van de Kamp. Joyet shows up and tries to calm Scully down, but Scully says she’s leaving the hospital.
CSM tells Monica that he’s concerned for Scully. “If she were to fear her boy was in danger, like Mulder, she’d stop at nothing.” Monica says, umm, didn’t you just say he IS in danger? Well, yeah, CSM replies, but he doesn’t know why now, and more importantly, he doesn’t know who is the danger. I think we all know.
(Vince Gilligan, I love you. I miss you. Come back to us.)
Monica refers to William as CSM’s “weakness,” and he insists that no one can know that, but Monica points out that everyone seems to know everything these days. This is such a conversation where NOTHING IS ACTUALLY DISCUSSED. Did Carter just have a word count he had to meet? Actual photo of Carter working on this script:
You’re right. That’s mean. That cat is adorable and probably not a misogynist.
Scully calls Mulder and tells him that Spender came to her. She’s back at the FBI, standing at Mulder’s desk. He tells her that he’s in South Carolina, and Scully is insistent that, “I have to find our son. You need him. And I need you.” But before she can finish, she has anything vision, clutching at her head.
CSM and Monica discuss how Scully and her son has a special bond beyond blood – but that’s a secret only the two of them know. And they don’t elaborate.
Then CSM reiterates that he’s worried about Scully. Monica says, “I think you’re in love with her.”
Mulder busts into a house in South Carolina, but it’s not CSM’s house. We meet two new characters, credited as “Mr. Y” and “Erika Price.” Because that’s what we need here. Mr. Y says that CSM was here “not too long ago.” He claims to be a surviving member of the Syndicate. Erika Price says that CSM is hellbent on exterminating humanity. They say that the aliens aren’t actually coming – they have no interest in our planet anymore. What CSM has is an alien pathogen that can kill us all. But he needs William to do it (why???? no one feels like explaining that). Mr. Y says they want to “save humanity” – through space colonization. “Building Dyson spheres.” Listen, if Elon Musk had walked out in this scene, I would have forgiven all of this. But, alas, no. LOLOLOL at the idea that we could even start thinking about Dyson spheres. Anyway. They offer Mulder a chance to get on the rocket to Mars if he’ll just help them. Mulder refuses and heads back to DC.
In DC, Skinner gets in his car to find Monica in the backseat. She pulls a gun on him. So, does CSM not really live in South Carolina? Or did she teleport here? Whatever. This is the least of my concerns at the moment. Skinner flips the gun on her, because he’s badass, but then CSM gets in the car. “Mind if I smoke?” He’s here to make Skinner a deal, even though Skinner says, in a direct line from season four, that he doesn’t make deals. CSM says he has a pathogen to kill “billions.” And he pulls out a vial – for dramatic effect? Is that, like, IT? You need to keep that in cold storage, man. CSM offers Skinner immunity from the pathogen in exchange for Skinner finding William. CSM confirms that the pathogen is from the aliens. So, is it black oil? ANOTHER alien virus? How many alien viruses can we stand here?! CSM says that Scully and William both have immunity. Mulder – not so much.
Can we take a moment to stop and pour one out for my girl, Monica Reyes? I loved her back in the day. She was a little wacky and believed weird things, but she was so cheerful. And she helped Scully run away to have her baby! She sang her whale songs! And Carter has assassinated her character by making her a traitor. I’m sorry, lady. I hope there is redemption for you in the future.
While this has been going on, Scully left the FBI building and had another seizure while driving, causing an accident. Back in the hospital with you! Turns out Einstein and Miller stumbled upon her as her car was hit, and they brought her back to the hospital. Because Scully was still wearing her medical bracelet. Okay.
A Bad Guy (maybe the same bad guy as before, I can’t keep track) sneaks into Scully’s room to kill her. But Mulder shows up at the perfect time and SLITS THE GUY’S THROAT to save Scully. Okay, this I can get behind. That’s love, people.
Mulder says he’s seen the guy before, but Scully knows it’s not the Smoking Man. “He wouldn’t harm me.” She tells Mulder that her visions are from William. “I know that he’s guiding me. And you.” The Smoking Man can’t act without William – oh, good, a temporary pause on the apocalypse. But Scully says she “knows” that William will find them. “So, we just wait? Do nothing?” Mulder asks. “We do our work,” Scully says. “The truth still lies in the X-Files, Mulder.”
Soooo… let’s not look for our son. Let’s just chill.
Skinner shows up – why is he so late? Was he still in the parking garage? Mulder immediately jumps to the right conclusion – that Skinner isn’t trustworthy – and we flash back to the rest of his conversation with CSM. Skinner says Scully won’t take CSM’s offer without Mulder. But CSM says he’ll offer her a simple choice – Mulder or her only son. It’s more than just vengeance, CSM says. “Dana and I have a history that goes back 17 years.” We flash back to En Ami, an episode written by William B. Davis, who plays CSM. Interestingly, a piece of dialogue is changed to say that he and his housekeeper (as opposed to just him) carried Scully upstairs and undressed her. Scully accuses him of drugging her. “You impregnated her?” Skinner asks. “With science,” CSM says. “With alien science to create the first superhuman child.” Skinner asks who the father is, and CSM responds that he is.
Please don’t take me as glib. I would like to really discuss this for a moment. The idea that the Smoking Man drugged Scully and somehow impregnated her – even if it’s “with science,” Chris – IS SEXUAL ASSAULT. THAT IS NOT CONSENSUAL. THAT IS A VIOLATION. THAT IS NOT OKAY.
The X-Files has a complicated history with sexual assault as it is. Two of the most critically acclaimed episodes, “Small Potatoes” and “The Post-Modern Prometheus,” deal with sexual assault. Scully has already been the victim of experiments which resulted in the harvesting of her ova and the creation of a child without her knowledge. She has already been assaulted. To do this to your female protagonist, again, for no good reason, is reprehensible.
Let me make myself clear: rape is not a gimmick. Sexual assault is not a gimmick. This is not a plot device through which you somehow test your female protagonist, and it is certainly not such in a television show where you have already assaulted and kidnapped your female leads multiple times.
This is not even a plot line where the victim of the assault is the focus. Like with so many other sexual assault story lines in television and movies, this is a device being used to further something else – in this case, to explain where William came from. This isn’t about Scully and her struggle with being assaulted. Hell, she doesn’t even know she was assaulted. Here’s a flow chart for your benefit:
Does your story include sexual assault? –> Yes –> Does the aftermath of the sexual assault focus on the victim –> No –> Does the sexual assault serve as a plot point to get from point A to point B or to explain an event unrelated to the victim? –> Yes –> DON’T USE SEXUAL ASSAULT IN YOUR STORY.
I have read many reviews that say this is the low point of the first five episodes. We have four stand-alones coming up, including a new episode from Darin Morgan, my Writing Lord and Savior, so here’s hoping that it’s uphill from here.
I would love to hear your thoughts. Leave them below in the comments.