This Sunday, The X-Files returns for a six-episode miniseries. It’s been eight years since the last movie, and fourteen since the last TV episode. We’ve already watched the first three episodes of the new series, and are here to tell you, with no spoilers, that it’s worth your time. But it may not be worth the wait.
The X-Files always mixed long-running “mythology” arcs with standalone cases. And the new miniseries does the exact same thing. The first episode, “My Struggle,” is a hardcore mythology episode. Whether or not you enjoy it is going to depend on whether or not the show’s complicated mythology interests you. Even though it seems to throw out everything the show spent nine years building, explaining, retconning, and re-explaining, “My Struggle” is exactly like any of the mediocre mythology episodes that the X-Files aired over the years. There’s an abduction victim and an informant. There’s a government lab. There’s men in black, disappearing evidence. Mulder runs headlong into danger, while ignoring Scully. People monologue about truth. Go back and watch one of the other Chris Carter-penned episodes, and it will all look very familiar.
The only thing separating this episode from the old series is raised expectations. This is the first episode of the revival and everyone’s back, so we’re all hoping for something that blows us away. What you get is just The X-Files—exactly as it has always been.
Which isn’t a bad thing. It’s just not revolutionary.
Chris Carter announced a while back that the first and last episodes of the miniseries would be mythology episodes. The middle four are standalone cases, which is where the show always excelled. There’s incredible variety in The X-Files, and in the standalones in particular. And that’s exactly what the miniseries provides.
The second episode, “Founder’s Mutation” is heavy on paranoia and body horror. It’s not for the squeamish and does bring to mind some of the creepiest old school X-Files episodes. It’s a solid episode, with some interesting character work revolving around Mulder, Scully, and their past. Plus, we get the requisite “Mulder and Scully report to Skinner” scene.
But the third episode, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” is where the revival finally starts approaching the high highs of the original show. Darin Morgan’s script is weird, twisty, and—as usual—hysterically funny. Everyone’s back on their game here. Mulder’s got a crazy theory, that is both wrong and right. Scully’s doing autopsies and calling Mulder out on being “batcrap” crazy. Just like previous Morgan triumphs, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” and “Jose Chung’s From Outer Space,” this episode has a superb guest cast. Rhys Darby’s performance deserves to go down in X-Files history. He’s got to be sympathetic and annoying at the same time. It’s a hard line to walk, and he is brilliant at it.
The only sour note in the episode is a run of transphobic jokes that aren’t just offensive, they’re unoriginal, and out of date.
Which is kind of how everything that doesn’t work about the revival feels. It’s recaptured the feel of the old show, but hasn’t updated anything. Mulder, Scully, and the FBI feel a bit like they were put in cold storage until now. They haven’t advanced or changed at all since we last saw them. Their understanding of the internet and politics, and everything else, feels as though it froze in the early 2000s.
The show goes to great pains to put everyone right back where they “belong.” Mulder and Scully aren’t together any more. The X-Files is reopened, and they’re back in the FBI. Skinner is their boss. You could slot these episodes in almost any season and, except for the age factor, they’d fit right in.
For fans, the X-Files revival has everything they loved about the show. And everything that drove them crazy about it. It’s six episodes of pure, concentrated X-Files. Which is exactly what we want—just not what we may have hoped for.
This review originally ran on January 20.
Top image: Frank Ockenfels/FOX. Middle Image: Ed Araquel/FOX
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