Getting Back Together with the X: Reactions to the X-Files Miniseries – Episode 6, “My Struggle II”

thexfilesAlmost 14 years after it ended its original run, The X-Files is returning to the small screen with a six-episode miniseries this winter. To welcome it back, Jeff (of Slazenger1) and I will be writing responses to each episode. Here’s the hook: Jeff is a pretty hardcore X-Files fan and I haven’t seen a single episode of the show. How we’ll respond is anyone’s guess, but as always: The Truth Is Out There.

This post covers the season finale, “My Struggle II.” It contains spoilers for this episode as well as the entire original run of The X-Files.

Jeff
If “Babylon” brought me down, “My Struggle II” buried me deep.

I’ve wrestled with this one for a little while, and there are just too many things I don’t like about this episode for my optimism to have a chance. Where the season premiere “My Struggle” undermined a lot of what I loved and “believed” about the original series’ conspiracy storyline, this second part destroyed any hint of good storytelling ability this series (or more appropriately, this miniseries) may have had left. I hate to do it at this point, but a laundry list of the sins of “My Struggle II” might be the best way to go.

The episode separated Mulder and Scully until the very end. I know that’s been status quo for much of this season, but keeping them apart for the grand finale (or is it?) is a misstep in my book. There were clear story reasons that this needed to happen, but ultimately, I’m not into the story and I wish they had done something to bring these two together. Oh, and Mulder doesn’t speak until 24 minutes into this episode (that’s without commercials).

vlcsnap-2016-03-27-12h23m17s142Agent Reyes comes back for absolutely no reason other than “hey, we brought back another series regular” or maybe “we can’t afford Robert Patrick because he’s making crazy CBS money now on Scorpion. Don’t know what it is? Ask someone over 50.” Her reintroduction–refusing to tell Scully who she is on the phone because we need a commercial break cliffhanger–is stupid (plus her name is in the guest credits), and her story about taking sides with Cigarette Smoking Man is worse. Worse than Cigarette Smoking Man still being alive? Maybe not, but we’re stuck with William B. Davis because fans recognize him and will cheer like he’s Kramer entering Jerry’s apartment, right? Just bad decisions all around.

vlcsnap-2016-03-27-12h23m51s947The escalation is ridiculous. Planes releasing vapor is triggering something in the smallpox vaccine that is making people susceptible to diseases they were supposedly protected against? In the space of 30-ish minutes, everyone in the world is affected? I understand that Chris Carter was never able to give us the invasion that the original series was hinting at, but trying to cram its proxy storyline into one episode on a smaller budget with a cast and crew of people who are mostly there because this is a 14 year high school reunion? Bad idea. Sure, the invasion/conspiracy storyline hinted at real consequences for humanity, but “My Struggle” did away with 9 seasons worth of buildup and “My Struggle II” had to build the new threat up on its own.

There was no real drama with the Cigarette Smoking Man either. The big confrontation between him and Mulder (his freaking son) was lackluster, probably because Mulder was weakened by the virus/illness/whatever that is bringing everyone down.

vlcsnap-2016-03-27-12h12m55s607Everyone but Scully, that is. Because she was given immunity when her cancer was cured during the original series and now she has the power to whip up a batch of “cure” faster than you can say “FDA regulations.”

Einstein continues to grate, Miller continues to be bland, Tad O’Malley is back because exposition and Scully actually says “he needs stem cells in him right now.” The episode’s opening credits tagline replacement hinted that “This is the End.” But no, Carter and Co. refuse to be the much-desired George to our Lenny. They end the thing on a damn cliffhanger. A UFO pulls up over Mulder and Scully and the show doesn’t even have the decency to let William roll down the ship’s driver-side window and wave before cutting to black. Ugh. The ending begs for resolution. It screams for more episodes. I might join the chorus, if I didn’t feel so much like I would be screaming for a waffle cone full of shit. Should’ve just ended it, Carter.

vlcsnap-2016-03-27-12h38m41s007So now you know how I feel.

I will praise the episode for dropping us into the middle of the action with only one “X hours earlier” moment showing the Mulder fight. Also, I think it was pretty propulsive, despite the lack of Mulder and every other weakness I listed above. These little things can’t save it from its sins, however. Maybe I’m a jaded, nostalgic fan, righteously angry in a Phantom Menace/Crystal Skull sort of way. Maybe I’m blowing this thing beyond the proportion that a six-episode reunion miniseries deserves. I’ll wear those hats if I need to, but that won’t change how I, personally feel about “My Struggle II.” It’s at the bottom of the X-Files barrel, and not just because it’s the show’s final episode…for now.

What did you think, Patches? Your time with and investment in the show is much different than my own, and you’ve seen some of the earlier lows this miniseries has offered. Did “My Struggle II” work for you as an episode of TV or for that matter, as a season finale?

Patches
For about 41 minutes, “My Struggle II” was balls-to-the-wall outstanding. For the first time, at least this season, The X-Files had stakes. Real stakes. Extinction-level, Syndicate-activated global pandemic stakes. Tad O’Malley returned, as did Agents Einstein and Miller. Even something as simple as bringing back Nurse Sandeep felt like it was pulling together the season’s narrative threads.

Then, Scully mumbled some poorly-written line about stem cells and needing William. I thought “Dang. All of that seemed long for five acts. Time to grab another brew.” [Hits pause button] “One minute left? What the fuck? Oh no…” And the alien-hybrid vessel Cliffhanger descends.

vlcsnap-2016-03-27-12h44m44s675Weirdly, I have very little positive to say about “My Struggle II,” but only because the first 40 minutes were so effortlessly engaging. They stopped talking about things maybe happening and things happened. If it wasn’t for your point-by-point evisceration of “My Struggle II,” I would say that this episode’s excellence was a given. More than anything else, I loved the narrative propulsion you mentioned. The shit hitting the fan was exhilarating, even if it only lasted for as long as the viewer refused to think about it.

Some of the episode’s negatives, however, could use some more fleshing out. First among them is the return of the Cigarette Smoking Man. I get that the series wanted to bring back its iconic villain, but there’s just the little problem of this. In the Season 9 finale, the CSM ate two rockets to the pueblo. His face melted. You could see light through the other side of his skull. And if that didn’t kill him, the explosions would have. That mofo was dead as shit.

vlcsnap-2016-03-27-12h34m40s141As I indicated in my opening, I also had problems with the ending. Before we start, I have nothing against cliffhangers. Some of my best friends are cliffhangers. Terriers and Stargate Universe both ended their runs without resolution and I enjoyed both immensely. Of course, those shows ended prematurely while The X-Files knew EXACTLY how long they’d be back for, but still ended on a cliffhanger – and an unsatisfying one at that. Why so many layers of cliffhanger?  Why bring up the stem cells seconds before mentioning William seconds before the “alien” craft returns?

“My Struggle II” highlighted Chris Carter’s failure to organize Season 10. Carter went with mytharc at the beginning and at the end with creepy and fun in between. That didn’t work. Some weird guy tells Mulder he is so close to breaking open the entire conspiracy and Mulder goes chasing random monsters until it’s too late. William became the emotional core of Season 10 and nothing comes of it. The government has alien tech and it shows up for no raisin and everything important from “My Struggle” was left unresolved at the end of “My Struggle II.”

Cliffhangers can work to end a season, or a series, but they are a poor substitute for good writing or narrative cohesion or just finishing what you start. Ultimately, Season 10 might have been better off with six episodes of smart, tight mytharc. Of course, that means we would have have been deprived of the genius of “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” and the trippy fun of “Babylon,” but the season as a whole probably would have benefitted for it.

Of course, we’d be foolish to think Chris Carter didn’t ponder, and reject, that option. He just valued a victory lap over actually doing something with his revival. The X-Files came back because it could, not because it needed to. That’s fine. We TV snobs might complain, but Season 10’s existence is justified by the folks who went “Cool! It’s back!” Plus, it seems likely that the show will be back to (hopefully, maybe?) wrap things up with another season.

vlcsnap-2016-03-27-12h06m33s141Back in our introduction post for this DSD, I said I’d be happy if the miniseries was entertaining and spoke to the quality of the rest of the series. If that was the task I gave Season 10, then mission accomplished. All’s well that ends well but right now, The X-Files did not end well. Of course, it might not be over yet. See you all in 2030!

Jeff, what did you think of the season? Did S10 leave The X-Files better than it found it? And most importantly, do you think Kim Bauer is available for a stem cell donation?

Jeff
Good question. You’ll have to visit The Ranch to find out.

As for the other stuff, it’s hard to judge this one because it’s so short and so far removed from the rest of the series. I’d probably rank it last, though if you did away with “My Struggle II” I don’t think its average quality is that much worse than Season 9. Another way I might express it is that while I unequivocally prefer Season 9’s “The Truth” as a series finale, I don’t really feel different about the series overall now that the miniseries has concluded. Are we better because Season 10 exists? No, but we’re not really worse either.

I think this is somewhat in line with my original hopes for the miniseries. In our “Prologue” post, I said that my hope for the miniseries is “that it’s solid X-Files. Even if it doesn’t knock ‘em out of the park, as long as I’m not cringing and rolling my eyes, it’s a win.” Well, there was a bit of cringing and eye rolling, but also one episode that could be considered a home run, and few more that got on base. The miniseries may not live up to the original series, on the whole, but its quality justifies its existence.

Plus, there’s the nostalgia factor and the curiosity factor. As a long-time fan, I was definitely pumped for more of the show. As a realist who understands that something like this might be disappointing, I was interested to see just what form this show would take and I was prepared for disappointment. I got the full range of quality and emotion here. Even if I don’t like all of them, I feel better knowing the answers to “what happens when The X-Files comes back?” than living with the questions of what we might have missed. That cliffhanger though….

vlcsnap-2016-03-27-12h44m56s641I’m glad to hear that not only did you enjoy this beginner/expert project, but that you also seemed to like the miniseries for the most part. That makes me alternatively really excited and really nervous about the possibility of you actually watching the original series. Excited because I love the show dearly and I believe it’s great TV. Nervous, because if you like Season 10 (more than I did, I think it’s safe to say), what happens if you don’t like the original run as much? Will you be able to handle the 1990s of it all? Can you get past the dated fashions, sometimes hokey special effects and the lack of smart phones and internet? I assume you can, because that’s selling you short if you can’t, plus we’re the same age and have the same cultural reference points. However, I fear the show may be built up quite a bit and I think my glasses are decidedly rose-tinted when it comes to much of the series. You never know until you try, I guess. So that’s the question. Are you going to try?

Patches

You’re right, Jeff, I did enjoy our project. To be fair, I could say that about every show we’ve watched together, but I get the impression I would have mostly liked this miniseries regardless. I probably liked the revival more than you, although I think that can be explained by a comparison to another recent miniseries revival, 24: Live Another Day. I don’t remember if it was in our Live Another Day ReJacktions or a Skype conversation we all had, but we couldn’t figure out why people loved LAD so much. Why did Season 5 win all the awards when we all thought Season 3 was better, and half of us placed Seasons 1 and 2 higher as well?

My hypothesis (and your words) was that they didn’t watch Seasons 1-3. Ratings climbed in Season 4 and spiked for Seasons 5 and 6. The narrative-driven characters, stupid twists, and brawn-before-brains plotting of LAD was just a coked out version of the 24 they knew and loved. Meanwhile, folks like you, Dylan, and Zach, who had watched 24 from the beginning, were less impressed.

I think that same thing happened here. I was entertained because, by default, this was the best X-Files I’ve ever seen. You’ve seen at least eight seasons of better X-Files. I came in fresh. You remembered the 200+ episodes “My Struggle” swept aside in order to ready the narrative for viewers like me. It’s just easier to impress newcomers.

vlcsnap-2016-03-27-12h15m33s783Back to The X-Files, however. I don’t know how much of an X-Files ultra you are, so I hope we can still speak to each other at the end of this section. I watch 14 shows that are on the air and are scheduled to air more. That does not count shows like The Expanse and Mr. Robot that I need to catch up on, nor does it count completed shows I need to watch from Arrested Development and 30 Rock to Damages, Six Feet Under, and Breaking Bad.

All of this is to say that I’d like to watch The X-Files. There was a lot to like in the miniseries and it’s important enough to the science fiction genre that I should add it to my list. But this miniseries wasn’t good enough for me to prioritize it over FX or HBO content.

So, my plan is to watch The X-Files, but it will probably need to share time with my thesis. I’d love to get a list of episodes that demand my complete attention to and then start going to town on The X-Files, and my thesis, this summer.

Please don’t hate me.

Also, if I can get that Greatest Hits list…

Jeff
Don’t worry, I don’t hate you. I should actually take a moment to thank you for joining me on this little experiment. I’m glad you enjoyed the miniseries, and I’m very glad you enjoyed it more than I did. It would probably hurt even more if you saw the miniseries and decided “nope, I’m good” with regards to more X-Files. I wonder if it would work that way with Live Another Day.

I can definitely sympathize with your TV watching dilemma. There’s so much that’s good on right now that there’s hardly any time to watch older shows (which a lot of current TV probably owes a debt to). The X-Files is “important” TV by most measures, but the bulk of it is over 15 years old, and it has a lot of bulk. Whenever you decide you’re ready to see what all of my fuss is really about, I’ll be there to guide you through all 200+ episodes. Shoot, maybe we’ll even write about it.

Quick Hits

Patches: You get one of your body parts and one animal to kick you to rate how the Cigarette Smoking Man’s return felt. Go.
Jeff: I’ll say my head trampled by a unicorn. Yes, it’s painful, disorienting and confusing, but there’s an element of impossibility to it that means maybe it didn’t happen?

Jeff: The biggest question this miniseries wants you to answer: are you going to buy a Ford?
Patches: Hell naw… I played Rainbow Six: Vegas a long time before watching this. I’m a Dodge man now.

Patches: What is the worst possible way for this cliffhanger to resolve?
Jeff: Tune in next time. Chris Carter will find a way to write it.

vlcsnap-2016-03-27-12h06m56s402Jeff: Did the new tagline card have any effect on you? It was usually a big deal when they changed it during the original run.
Patches: Ummm… There was a new tagline?

Patches: There’s a global pandemic and you are about to get sick and die in 1 day. What do you do before then?
Jeff: This is the first thing that came to mind. However, I’m married. So, probably eat something really good, try to catch my last sunset on earth and then huddle in and watch The Lord of the Rings: Extended Edition as I slowly start to vomit out all of my insides.

Jeff: We know that Mulder “needs stem cells in him right now.” What alternatives to stem cells would “improve” that line?
Patches: “He needs leeches in him to drain his humours right now.” “He needs a rosary and a dozen Christian Scientists in him right now.” “He needs Bon Jovi’s “Bad Medicine” in him right now.”

Xuestions and Xnswers
(Where Patches asks why things are the way they are and Jeff pretends he knows a lot)

Patches: How much has Skinner been on board with the X-Files? Where is he on the Mulder to Scully spectrum?
Jeff: Skinner has pretty much always been in Mulder and Scully’s corner, but he’s also always been beholden to his superiors. He can help them, but only so much, and sometimes he has to rein them in. I’d say he’s closer to the Scully end of the spectrum, but really he’s past caring about being a skeptic or a believer and is more concerned with doing things right.

Patches: Agent Reyes. What’s her deal? How was she “there for Scully” in the past?
Jeff: Reyes showed up halfway through Season 8 and was a regular through Season 9. She has been “there for Scully” through the latter part of her pregnancy and also the year she had with William, trying to protect him from Super Soldiers, scary nannies and wild eyed cultists. That was never as interesting as her relationship with Agent John Doggett (Robert Patrick), which wasn’t amazing, but was getting stronger as the series progressed.

vlcsnap-2016-03-27-12h22m34s880Patches: The Cigarette Smoking Man is Mulder’s father you said? What’s up with that? Do they have anything other than a purely antagonistic relationship?
Jeff: Yep, he’s dad. Nope, they don’t like each other at all. CSM has stood in Mulder’s way forever, constantly frustrating Mulder’s attempts to find “the truth.” Mulder has never known him as anything other than an antagonist, and the show has rarely made him sympathetic.

Patches: Is this the highest the stakes have ever been in the show’s history? I suppose it’s tough to go higher than mass extermination, but you know what I’m saying.
Jeff: I’d say so, but it didn’t really feel like it. While the alien invasion (or vaccine-disease pandemic, as it was in “My Struggle II”) was the anticipated endgame, the real stakes were in wondering week-to-week whether Mulder would find what he was looking for, or hit another dead end, another cover-up. That’s the real joy in watching too, rooting for Mulder and Scully to achieve a victory of some kind. I think the show works best on the individual level of Mulder and/or Scully’s success or failure (and sometimes life or death). Smaller scale stories with huge implications fit this show perfectly.

Patches: Another episode, another week of Mulder and Scully working separate from each other? Was it like this in the original run too?
Jeff: My instinct is to say no, though I’m sure there are plenty of examples where they investigate an X-File from separate ends. Even so, the separation was never this obvious, unless there was a reason for it, like abduction or the closing of the X-Files. That’s another pity of the miniseries. These characters we love are back, now let’s mostly split them up. The screen time they shared in “Were-Monster,” “Babylon” and especially “Home Again” are some of the best moments in this 10th season. I would have loved more.

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5 thoughts on “Getting Back Together with the X: Reactions to the X-Files Miniseries – Episode 6, “My Struggle II”

  1. Before I even finish this review, you guys are damn funny.

    “Waffle cone of shit,” might be the best way to describe unsolicited and misguided but irresistibly enticing follow-on chapters of a thing that ive ever heard.

    “CSM ate two rockets to the pueblo. His face melted…That mofo was dead as shit.” C. McCarthy called and he wants his eloquence back.

    Just great.

    • Erik, first of all let me mention how wonderful it is to hear from you and communicate with you. My regular blog-reading, unfortunately including yours, has been a casualty of my grad school program. I’m looking forward to catching up with that this summer and Dylan, Syd, and I are all mondo-excited to visit you and Steph eventually.

      And thanks for the compliments too! I have’t read enough (or any) Cormac to fully understand that compliment, but it’s high praise by his reputation and by what I know your writing quality to be.

  2. Also – and sorry if you address this in another episode, if so please do direct me there – but “my struggle” plus implied pending invasion and extermination rings of Nazi undertones, is that a thing here?

    • Good question. Jeff and I both made jokes about it in the episode 1 write-up.

      https://nothingbuttherain.com/2016/02/04/getting-back-together-with-the-x-reactions-to-the-x-files-miniseries-episode-1-my-struggle

      As to whether or not that’s a thing, I’m not sure. If it was, neither of us felt it was earned. I’ve alerted Jeff to your question. He knows Carter far better than I do. Hopefully, he replies here to answer it. Otherwise, I can come back to it 200 or so episodes from now!

      • Hi Erik, thanks for reading!

        Someone as smart as Chris Carter probably wouldn’t have named these episodes “My Struggle” without knowing the obvious reference. Or else he’s incredibly self-aware of the pressure to create a quality follow-up miniseries, OR, he’s incredibly un-self-aware, in which case, this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-t271itvSGQ

        There are most definitely Nazi parallels throughout the series, particularly involving “The Syndicate” and their plans for surviving colonization and performing human experiments. They also do cloning (which comes up in an episode named “Herrenvolk” which is essentially “Master Race”) I’m pretty sure ex-Nazi and Japanese scientists factor in on more than one occasion too. So you’re right, it’s kind of a thing.

        That said, I don’t think Carter was obsessed with it or meant for the show to be a retelling of Nazi power and crimes. It doesn’t usually hit you over the head like the title “My Struggle” does. Still, there’s inherent intrigue (not to mention evil) that comes with Nazis (and fighting them) that make it fertile ground for plot points.

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