TV Review: “The X-Files” Revival – Why?

Written by Jesse Gelinas February 26, 2016

Poster for The X-Files revivalThe X-Files has been the unofficial benchmark for high-concept television for over two decades now. For nine years entire families watched Mulder and Scully investigate the paranormal, and uncover alien conspiracies. Audiences were intrigued, frightened, mystified, and above all else entertained… For, let’s say six of those nine years. Regardless, the show remains a classic series with a dedicated following, and an unmatched influence on television today.

In March 2015 it was announced that our beloved FBI agents would be returning for one last hurrah in the form of a six-part miniseries. Fans were of course ecstatic, rewatching old favourites and introducing friends to the show for the first time. Now, that revival is done, and most fans have been left scratching their heads, jaws on the floor, and sadly, not in the good way. Yes, after fourteen years off the air, Mulder and Scully have returned for some rather ho-hum adventures. And fans have to be asking what went wrong?

*SPOILERS below*

So, a quick refresher on the canon. Fourteen years ago The X-Files was shut down for the final time when Mulder was found guilty of murder in a kangaroo court designed to get him executed. He and Scully went on the run after learning that the final alien invasion was set for 2012. In 2008, Mulder was cleared of all charges in exchange for helping the FBI with a strange murder investigation (The X-Files: I Want To Believe). Now, six years later, Mulder is still living the hermit lifestyle. He and Scully are approached by a far-right TV pundit who believes he has discovered the truth of the global conspiracy, and that the world is in imminent danger. Shortly after, The X-Files are reopened. Somebody cue the music.

“The why is more complicated than you may ever know.”

This miniseries revival begins with the premiere, My Struggle (I). Now, the main issue with this episode is that it’s not very good. Coming from a loving fan of the original series, this episode simply does not work. From the get go, the revival is clearly trying to jumpstart a new(ish) canon, while giving a soft reboot to the series by way of a hard retcon of the crux of the mythology: the conspiracy. After nine seasons of evidence built up the fact that the Syndicate (shadow government) was working with alien invaders to help conquer and colonize Earth, in one fell swoop, Chris Carter takes it all away. We are now told that aliens were never a part of the equation, except as a catalyst for an advancement in bioengineering, allowing a conspiracy of men (just men) to try their hand at world domination.

Scully and O'Malley in The X-Files revival

Now, this new conspiracy angle does not work for a number of reasons. One, the entire series has been about an alien invasion, including the film which literally showed us alien beings inside of an alien ship in the Antarctic. A ship which took off into space after Mulder almost blew it up. Now, please consider the following: in order for this new angle to work, the audience is meant to assume that everything alien tat we’ve been shown, from the black oil virus, to shapeshifting bounty hunters, to the alien invaders themselves, has all been a long-con ruse put in place for the sole purpose of confusing Fox Mulder.

Now, I can understand the desire to shake up your mythology a bit for the big comeback, but this is borderline ludicrous. You can’t ask diehard fans to negate nine seasons of storytelling for one half-assed attempt at a twist. Now, it is worth noting that Chris Carter, the show’s creator, only wrote three of this revival’s six episodes. Unfortunately, it would appear he is the problem.

“It’s about controlling the past to control the future. It’s about fiction masquerading as fact.”

Now, as with the original series, the majority of this revival is made up of standalone “Monster of the Week” style episodes. Tis is where things actually get better. Founder’s Mutation is Mulder and Scully’s first case back on the job (and I have to say, it’s fascinating how the FBI just lets retired agents come back to work, even after fourteen years and a murder conviction). We get a mysterious suicide, auditory hallucinations, talk of alien DNA, and human experimentation. It’s all good things. We also get some development between Mulder and Scully about their lost son, William, and the strain it has on both of their lives knowing he is out there. It’s a well-rounded, serious episode. What follows is something else.

A Were-monster from The X-Files revival

Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is classic, fun X-Files goodness. Throwing all semblance of drama out the window, the agents encounter a shapeshifting creature (Rhys Darby) who just wants to be left alone to roam the wood and eat insects. But, when the sun rises, he suffers a terrifying transformation into… an ordinary human! Harkening back to such classics as Bad Blood, and Josie Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’, the episode reminds viewers how funny Mulder and Scully could be together, and how The X-Files would always boil down to pure entertainment.

“Are we truly alone? Or are we being lied to?”

Home Again deals with social issues, mainly the treatment of homeless in America. Whileit’s not destined for classic status like its predecessor, it’s a perfectly solid episode featuring a perfectly scary creature. Of note in this episode (as well as Founder’s Mutation for that matter), is that after fourteen years off the air, we no longer have to deal with skeptical Scully. She is as onboard as Mulder is with pretty much every wild thing that happens. While Scully was always a great foil to Mulder’s blind belief in paranormal occurrences, it is satisfying to see her cave under two decades of empirical evidence.

Rhys Darby appears in The X-Files revival

With episode five, Babylon, Chris Carter pens another subpar episode. The episode has pacing and tone issues throughout. Never quite deciding if it wants you to laugh at the drug jokes, or be depressed by the suicide bomber plot. The ridiculous moments feel very uncomfortable in an otherwise dark case. The story has no bearing on the main story arc, and actually isn’t an X-File as all. A suicide bomber survives his attack, and the FBI wants to communicate with him in his comatose state. This is not Mulder and Scully’s wheelhouse. But they are dragged along anyway by the episode’s (and really, the revival’s) most terrible transgression: Miller and Einstein, Mulder and Scully Jr.

The two young agents bear unlikely resemblance to our heroes in appearance and personality, but without any notable chemistry or charisma. They are like cardboard cut-outs of better characters. Their purpose in the season is quite unclear, but their appearance in both final episodes is disconcerting to many fans, myself included, who fear they’re are meant to replace Mulder and Scull should a new series go into production. If this be the case, Chris Carter is truly lost.

“I want to believe.”

With the finale, we have another Carter episode, My Struggle (II). Following up on the premiere, the conspiracy of men is moving into its final phase, world domination. People in major cities around the world begin falling ill with terminal diseases. It all happens suddenly, and very little of it is explained, but the phrase “Alien DNA” is spoken no less than two dozen times. We also get the (somehow unsprurising) return of Cigarette Smoking Man who survived a bad case of missile-in-the-face last season The episode is hectic and unbalanced. Miller and Einstein return which is an instant strike against it. And in the ballsiest move since The Sopranos cut-to-black, we actually end on a cliffhanger. A completely unwanted, and nearly unjustifiable cliffhanger. With no closure, no answers, and no guarantee of a continuation, it’s almost a slap in the face to the fans who waited almost fifteen years for this “event season.”

Mulder goes on a trip in the new X-Files

Overall, I suppose the most frustrating thing about this X-Files revival is that I’m not sure what it’s trying to accomplish. It’s not half-assed enough to be a shameless cash-in, but it’s too disjointed and strange to feel like a true continuation. In the end, it’s a lot of fun to seeing Duchovny and Anderson back together in the roles they made iconic. here are a few glimpses of classic X-Files greatness to be found in the MotW episodes, but they end up being the only real saving grace. This revival seems like an unfinished dream of a better season. A fevered wish to improve on the weak final seasons of the original series, but it just doesn’t get there. Perhaps Carter wrote himself too much into a corner to ever give us any better conclusion than this. If so, that’s unfortunate. But I want to believe.

My Rating: 6.5/10

Poster for The X-Files revival

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About Jesse Gelinas

After years attempting to escape the Matrix, Jesse has accepted his fate as a writer and Senior Editor. Now that's he finished with his film degree, it gives him something to do while waiting for the machines to get careless.

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