“I quickly came to understand Mulder’s work on the paranormal wasn’t such as I’d been led to believe, that the X-Files were worthy of Mulder’s investigations and of mine, that a world existed on the far fringes of accepted science, a world where a scientist would have her strongly held beliefs tested and retested. I would also come to fear that the institution I’d joined and invested with my trust was subject to the influence of dark forces outside the Bureau and sometimes within, forces threatened by Mulder’s work and increasingly mine.”
— Dana Scully’s opening sequence voiceover
The final episode of The X-Files revival, “My Struggle II”, serves as a companion to the first episode, “My Struggle”. Told from Scully’s (Gillian Anderson) point of view, as opposed to Mulder’s (David Duchovny) in “My Struggle”, “My Struggle II” delves right back into the big conspiracy mythology Chris Carter favors. Unfortunately, the episode often feels more silly than serious, and is further proof that the show’s larger mythology has only managed to bog the series down with its self-importance.
“My Struggle II” is also hampered by the amount of characters brought back for the episode. Agents Miller (Robbie Amell) and Einstein (Lauren Ambrose) both return to help Mulder and Scully, Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale) continues to serve as the conspiracy theorist telling the truth, former Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish) makes an especially well-timed appearance, and the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) is, as always, the ultimate Carter villain. There are too many people to follow and threads to unravel in one episode for it to be ultimately satisfying, particularly as it constantly shifts focus between them all.
Much of what weighed down the end of the series’ original run was the over-reliance on the government conspiracy mythology, because it only grew more convoluted and difficult to follow as it went on. Certainly, Duchovny’s departure and Anderson’s lessened role didn’t help matters, but Carter’s always valued the conspiracy theorizing to the point where he’s clearly emphasized plot over everything else.
Although this season has shown Scully as much more ready to believe in the supernatural and seemingly unexplained, her almost instant acceptance of the grand government plot to infect all Americans with the Spartan Virus through systematic smallpox vaccination, and her and Einstein’s subsequent theory that the alien DNA in her own sequence is what has made her immune, is ludicrous. Yes, at this point Scully has seen and experienced the unexplainable over and over again, yet the speed with which every plot point is revealed makes for a rushed, and eventually, an unbelievable story.
As the episode is told from Scully’s point of view, it’s much heavier on the science side and the actual medical ramifications of alien DNA being implanted in humans. In fact, Carter consulted scientists to aid in the dialogue and believability of such an infection. Although the episode benefits from the obviously well-researched scientific hypothesizing, again, it’s all worked out too quickly for it to seem plausible. While Scully and Agent Einstein search for a cure, Mulder is beaten up (in an extended and well-choreographed fight sequence), and eventually tracks down the Cigarette Smoking Man. He offers Mulder the chance to be saved from the virus, but Mulder refuses and is eventually saved by Agent Miller.
In many ways, the Cigarette Smoking Man is at the center of the episode, even more than Mulder and Scully. He’s the reason Reyes contacts Scully to tell her of their deal from a decade earlier that has saved her from the current epidemic. The flashbacks of a horrifically burned, and then a partially healed Cigarette Smoking Man, still asserting his power offer Davis the opportunity to play up his villainy with relish. He’s orchestrated the entire epidemic, even from a hospital bed. He’s also chosen who will live, including Scully.
Davis’ scenes with Duchovny straddle the line between monstrous and cartoonish. In one scene, the Cigarette Smoking Man removes the lifelike mask that covers half of his damaged face (Mulder laughs and says “I wish Scully was here”.) and it’s both gruesome and ridiculous. Later, Carter subtly makes reference to the show’s past when Mulder tells the Cigarette Smoking Man that all his insane explanations are merely the “musings of a monster”. It’s a wonderful callback to “Musings of the Cigarette Smoking Man” from season 4, an episode that linked him to assassinations and alien conspiracies since the ’60s, but still left some ambiguity to their truth.
“My Struggle II” eventually ends with Scully using the alien DNA in her own sequence to create a cure, but by the time she reaches Mulder and Agent Miller (in a scene that seems straight out of a disaster movie) Mulder’s too far gone for the treatment to work. He needs stem cell treatment that can only come from their son, William. As she reveals this to Agent Miller, an alien spacecraft looms overhead and again, the camera zooms into Scully’s eye just as it did at the start of the episode. It’s a terrifically cinematic device that works to link Scully’s perspective from the beginning to the end of the episode. Unsurprisingly, the season ends on a cliffhanger.
Six episodes, and the tenth season of The X-Files has come to an end. A true revival, it brought back much of what made the series so beloved; it also showed some of its weaknesses. Even when it wasn’t at its best (“My Struggle” and “My Struggle II”), the series still managed to include enough of what made The X-Files such a phenomenon the first time around. Perhaps most importantly, the revival has always felt like The X-Files. Part of accomplishing that daunting task was the number of original cast and writers that stepped in to continue the story, but also Mark Snow’s unmistakable score, and the many smart and clever references to past episodes.
The revival can also add at least one excellent new episode (“Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster”) to the list of classic ones from the original run. It seems impossible that the show wouldn’t return for another season at this point, but regardless of its future life, The X-Files revival has reinvigorated the series in both familiar and unexpected ways.