Warning: This recap for the “ My Struggle II” episode of The X-Files contains spoilers.
Season 10 of The X-Files ended the way it began: with an absurdly talky, absurdly plotted, and just plain absurd conspiracy-minded hour written by series creator Chris Carter that tried to resuscitate the walking corpse that is the franchise’s larger mythology. Having established in the premiere that aliens weren’t the ones seeking to invade Earth and replace humanity — a theory that Fox Mulder, and the show itself, had spent the previous nine seasons advancing — “My Struggle II” saw the long-teased depopulation scheme finally being put into effect, with a shadowy cabal of men (and not of the little green variety) behind it all. And rather than super soldiers pulling the trigger, a viral outbreak was going to be responsible for reducing the planet’s population by billions. Turns out the the viral assassin had been implanted in the marked victims via the smallpox vaccine, an unwelcome nod in the direction of anti-vaxxers.
But every disease has a cure, and this cure’s name is Dana Scully. Just as David Duchovny dominated the premiere, the finale was all about Gillian Anderson, who took over the role of “true believer” in Mulder’s lengthy absences. For the skeptic, Carter brought back Lauren Ambrose’s science-minded Agent Einstein, introduced in last week’s much-derided episode, “Babylon.” (Robbie Amell’s Mulder-in-training, Agent Miller, also hovered around the fringes of the episode, mainly functioning as transport.) It was Scully who first connected the smallpox-laced dots explaining the contagion, and while Einstein initially fought her hyperbolic reasoning tooth and nail, eventually even she realized they were both up against larger, more sinister forces. It was also Scully who pieced together that — in this revised mythology — aliens represent humanity’s savior rather than its executioner.
Specifically, extraterrestrial DNA would counter the spread of the virus and save the infected population… including Mulder. And who happens to possess alien DNA? If you guessed a certain adopted child whose name has been bandied around a lot during this shortened season, you’d be spot on. But Carter bought himself another year to find a young actor who could convincingly pass as the result of a Duchovny/Anderson union. The finale ends with a UFO hovering over William’s birth parents — the craft that will likely transport them to a long-awaited mother and child reunion. We’ll have to wait until 2017 to see whether that’s a family get-together anyone still wants to attend after this flat-footed ending. (Who are we kidding? Of course we’re all going to tune in again next January.)
The Monster: He’s baaaaack! The Joker to Mulder’s Batman. The Red Skull to Scully’s Captain America. The Smoking Man aka Cigarette Smoking Man aka Cancer Man aka William B. Davis returned in force, putting the X-Files duo (and the world) on notice. He’s the one spearheading the plan to wipe out a wide swath of his fellow man, assuring that only a select few will survive in the brave new world to come. Ever the gentleman, he even offers Mulder the chance to be part of that elite number, an offer the sickened agent spurns with extreme prejudice.
Maneuvering the Smoking Man into the role of comic book villain — or, if you prefer James Bond to Spider-Man, spy movie megalomaniac — was the only logical place the show could have gone after re-writing the aliens as victims rather than co-conspirators. At least it’s a role Davis is well equipped for. One of the reasons Carter kept the character around long past any logical narrative purpose was due to the fact that Davis cut an effectively adversarial figure. He looked like the kind of guy that would be involved in a high-level conspiracy, so it’s not a huge leap to see him running the whole show. And the only highlight of the ridiculously prolonged encounter between the Smoking Man and Mulder was the ruthlessly efficient way that Davis delivered Carter’s pulpy prose. Compared to the largely unmemorable creatures populating this season’s designated monster of the week outings — special exemption given to Rhys Darby’s Guy Mann, of course — the Smoking Man came across as an actual monster.
The Mythology: Apart from what was already addressed up top, the other significant “mytharc” callback was the return of Annabeth Gish as Agent Monica Reyes. Since we last saw Scully’s erstwhile replacement back in Season 9, Reyes has become Cancer Man’s reluctant collaborator, tempted by the promise of surviving the coming plague. But she hasn’t abandoned her former colleague completely, coming forward to tip Scully off to her boss’s plot. Never a fan favorite, Reyes’s return came and went without leaving much of an impression. Now if the producers can tempt Robert Patrick into reviving John Doggett for Season 11, that might be a plot thread worth picking up again.
One thing Carter has to make a point of doing when (not if) the show comes back is commit to giving us a flesh-and-blood William so that he’s an actual character and not just a theoretical idea. The boy’s importance to the mythology has been stressed so many times already, it’s starting to feel less like foreshadowing and more like stalling. With the battle lines now clearly drawn, William’s a game piece that needs to be put on the board, not kept in the box.
The Mulder and Scully of It All: It’s been an odd season for everyone’s favorite paranormal investigators. Although the show’s legacy and appeal rests largely on their dynamic, this season hasn’t done a particularly great job depicting Mulder and Scully as partners. Most episodes — even the excellent “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” — were strangely lopsided, giving one agent more screentime than the other. (That was likely the result of the show’s compressed shooting schedule, although it’s common knowledge that Anderson and Duchovny haven’t always gotten along in the past.) In fact, one of the reasons I responded to “Babylon” more positively than others is because Mulder and Scully actually felt like a team rather than two individuals who occasionally work together. In “My Struggle II,” they don’t even share the same frame until the very end of the episode, spending more time with their young doppelgangers, Einstein and Miller, than each other.
The lack of Mulder and Scully in what could have been the second series finale — although it won’t be — is troubling, but can I say again how much I like Ambrose as Agent Einstein? She and Anderson clicked in their relatively brief screentime last episode, and that dynamic is given more room here. Ambrose brings a brittle edge to Einstein’s skepticism that makes her distinct from the younger Scully, and prods Anderson to give a more emotive response than the eye-roll she usually sends in Mulder direction. (I like Amell as Miller, too, but he’s written as more of an agreeable disciple, rather than a combative challenger.) Ambrose is the one addition to the X-Files mythology this season that actually paid off.
Season 10 of The X-Files can be streamed on Hulu.
Chris Carter says he wouldn’t return to ‘The X-Files’ without Anderson and Duchovny: