Sunday, June 17, 2018

"The X-files," Year Eleven (Or Twenty-Five)

Minor spoilers ahead.

After the previous season of "The X-files," I wasn't expecting much from this one. The monster-of-the-week episodes were fine, but the Chris Carter penned "mythology" episodes that bookended the season were both inept and absurd. That pretty much holds true for this year too, with "My Struggle III" and "My Struggle IV" continuing the increasingly ridiculous alien conspiracy storyline that involves several soap opera twists, endless chase scenes, and some really horrendous dialogue. Fortunately, the eight episodes that take place between them are much, much better.

Aside from one quasi-mythology episode that Chris Carter mercifully didn't write, the middle episodes are all stand-alone monster-of-the-week cases. Varying wildly in tone and content, they feature monsters, doppelgangers, killer robots, witches, and all kinds of other supernatural business. While last year's Darin Morgan episode was the only one I'd really call memorable, this year boasts at least three stronger episodes - one of which was also written by Darin Morgan. Best of all, many of these episodes feel like the old "X-files" in a way that the previous season didn't. The actors feel more engaged, the writing more relaxed, and the show is on steadier ground as a whole. Having an extra couple of episodes for this order clearly gave the creators some breathing room.

It also helps that the status quo has been more firmly established. Mulder and Scully are romantically involved, but that side of their lives stays firmly in the background. None of the shenanigans with the "mythology" episodes carries over to the individual cases, making the season feel more like an anthology of their various adventures. This is especially apparent in episodes like "Rm9sbG93ZXJz," a surreal technophobic story that feels like it takes place in an entirely different universe than the others, and would make a good "Black Mirror" installment. Or there's "The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat," Darin Morgan's self-parody episode that confronts the silliness of the "X-files" concept in the age of Trump and fake news. It's definitely one of the season's highlights.

The writing staff was noticeably expanded, with several episodes being scripted by newcomers. Also, though Carter clearly retains a good amount of creative control, everyone seems to have realized that many of his contributions really were not working, and took steps to minimize them. So the new FBI agent characters played by Robbie Amell and Lauren Ambrose only have cameos, and the show retconned some of the events of the last season finale. The world is back to being on the verge of ending, rather than halfway there. Mulder and Scully's long lost son William, now a teenager played by Miles Robbins, takes a central role in the mythology episodes here. He's not all that bad, but feels like he belongs in a very different kind of show. Maybe on the CW.

Other familiar faces like Agent Spender, Agent Kersh, and Agent Reyes make appearances, but they're brief and mostly inconsequential. The one significant character from the show's past I was glad to see was Langly the Lone Gunman, who features in the stand-alone episode "This." They found a way to bring him back from the dead that was pretty clever. However, much more enjoyable were the return of the autopsy scenes, Mulder's snarky quipping, creepy character actors like Jere Burns coming over to play, and generally all the stuff that I liked about "The X-files" back in the '90s. All of it still works just fine, even though there's a lot more winking at the camera and everyone complaining about getting older.

I think "The X-files" probably could come back for another few seasons after seeing how well this year turned out, but I certainly don't want it to. Even with the improvements, I can't say bringing the show back was worth it. Also, Gillian Anderson says she's finished. We've seen what the series looks like without her and it isn't pretty. The last episode doesn't end on a great note, but it ends decently enough that I didn't come away from it feeling too badly, unlike last tine. I'm hoping FOX decides to leave well enough alone, and the whole "The X-files" revival experiment can finally come to a close.

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