Friday, March 23, 2018

The X-Files (2018) Struggles To Keep Its Legacy Going

The X-Files season eleven television review
Photo Credit: Fox
After fourteen years of waiting for The X-Files to return, its initial reboot in 2016 wasn't the greatest. While it was great catching up with Mulder and Scully as they thwarted Cigarette Smoking Man's bit for world destruction, the highly anticipated tenth season was a bumpy start. A question weighed on the fandom's mind: could the series eclipse the disappointment with season eleven? Below includes spoilers of The X-Files series so far. You've been warned but hope you enjoy!

Well, as always in The X-Files's realm, the answer is complicated. Bookended with Cigarette Smoking Man's plan to wipe out humanity via a deadly virus, most of the tenth season focused on a collection of a bland cases that ultimately went nowhere. Expectations for season eleven were considerably low.

Tasked with rejuvenating the reboot again, the premiere My Struggle III focused on Cigarette Smoking Man's meandering confession as the master behind humanity's biggest events. Subtly he revealed that season ten (as much as we wanted to forget, at least I did) never happened; his dangerous virus was ultimately a series of hallucinations Scully experienced due to a strong psychic connection with her troublesome son. After the initial hurdle which left the fandom rightfully ablaze, the eleventh season went onto to deliver a fulfilling dose of intriguing episodes.

Returning the story to its original style, the show went back to what made it so addictive and engaging. Within an anthology of conspiracy theories and mysteries like siblings sharing kinetic power to kill and veterans with PTSD being used as enslaved government experiments, season eleven morphed into a breath of fresh air. Leaving Mulder and Scully to investigate thrilling cases like the good old days, the writing and direction stopped diddling-daddling around with CSM's ego to put every episode to good use.

However rewarding it was to see the duo back in full force, season eleven wasn't without problems. Its long-impeded motivations of the Cigarette Smoking Man obsession for targeting Scully to his own devices left the story grappling with straws.

Namely, the series doesn't handle its own mythology with Cigarette Smoking Man well. Once an intriguing shadow cast over the FBI and the world, CSM is much less of a villain and more of a plot nuisance who drops WTF bombs on the story and then disappears: attempting to end the world in sync with the Mayan Calendar running out (or not), making social allegory with aliens used for harvesting and government testing (or not), and orchestrating political smokescreens of sacrificing its citizens in order to save them (or not). Disappointingly, season eleven didn't do much else with him.

Ignoring his history with aliens and focusing on his future, a new uninteresting foe (Barbara Hershey) was also hunting down William but nothing antagonistic happened between the two characters to be vaguely interesting. By not using CSM in the reboot more, the show became entertaining again. But also by not using him, CSM's all-encompassing power was twiddled down to a basic reputation as that guy who orchestrated everything from a fake landing of Armstrong on the moon or Kennedy's assassination, and not much else; he and his reluctant cohorts (Monica Reyes and Skinner) were also so thinly used and disposable, they didn't add up to CSM being a worthy adversary.

Alongside him, as compelling as Gillian Anderson and Scully are, the series didn't do her justice this time. For twenty five years, she's been a beacon for complex female characters as an intelligent, skeptic, vulnerable, culpable, funny, professional woman of faith and science. However, no amount of nostalgic heart eyes shipping Mulder and Scully could undo some of the repetitive abuse showrunner Chris Carter has shouldered her with. While Mulder was often allowed to be alone with his principles, Scully was objectified with an alien abduction that resulted in cancer and a miracle pregnancy. This season we learned that  Cigarette Smoking Man used her body without her knowledge (i.e. rape) as a biological laboratory to create William (undoing all of the storylines where we thought Mulder was the father). Even though Carter aspires to be politically and socially woke, the creative team routinely shying away from even using the word rape proves this show's deeply problematic choices. As amazing as Scully continues to be, it was a major disappointment that not even she could escape the old Hollywood adage: when in doubt writing a female character, take advantage of her.

What's important for most fans with season eleven is if it ends on a good note. For the most part, when it comes to the never-ending conflict between Scully, Mulder, and Cigarette Smoking Man, this installment doesn't end on as big of a cliffhanger like season ten. We're left with questions but nothing that can't be expectantly shrugged off with 'Yeah, this is how the show would end'.

Finally focusing on William, his experiences as a superhuman, and attempting to escape CSM, the season finale My Struggle IIII was just okay. Though the writing decently rewarded fans for the long wait with some kind of conclusion, catching up with the Scully-Mulder clan was emotionally sterile. Despite the weight of humanity and William's life on the line, the episode  became a shoot-em up cat-and-monster chase to bookend a long, long, long story; where Anderson and Duchovny's chemistry was on automatic pilot; Scully acted quite out-of-character despite major revelations about their son and her fifteen year desperate search; it's an ending more suited for fifteen years ago when aliens were all the rage.

In a strange or predictable twist of fate, just as much as we wanted to forget season ten happened, season eleven wanted us to forget its predecessor too. This round of episodes was certainly good, giving a variety of entertaining, thrilling and thought-provoking quests. With time running low on the reboot for the original cast - Gillian Anderson said this was her last rodeo - one has to ask if the series only got its act together because it had no other choice. (Or not because season 12 might be in the works without her). This season at least bestowed fans and its leads a semi-hopeful future. As always, I'm left wondering whether the show could've been better if Carter wasn't stuck on repeat. That's another X-File that will never be solved.

Rating: ★☆☆
Have you watched The X-Files's latest eleven?
What did you think?

No comments:

Post a Comment