TV-Review: The X-Files Season 10 – Episode 1

It’s good to have them back on the television screens – fourteen years since the last episode aired and almost eight years since their second movie, Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully have returned to open the X-Files once again. For a long time, creator and producer Chris Carter had been looking for a way to continue the series either with a third movie or more episodes – and at the beginning of 2015 a proper compromise was found with a six-episode mini-series, allowing the lead actors the freedom to pursue other projects and the producers to concentrate on quality and not volume. The first episode, which aired in the UK and Germany this Monday, had a lot to promise and mostly delivered the good stuff – it feels like classic X-Files from the early days of the series with all the familiar elements in place.

Even though the ominous title My Struggle seemed to suggest a tearful psychological drama, it was anything but that. Chris Carter, who both wrote and directed the episode, pulled out all the stops, bringing out all the old tricks of the franchise and even adding a few new ones – with the result that the story seems a little bit too crowded for comfort in some parts. Maybe Carter’s old co-writers and producers Frank Spoonitz and Vince Gilligan would have helped in fine-tuning the script a bit more, but neither of them had found the time to work on the series. Instead, veteran X-Files writers and directors Glen Morgan, Darin Morgan and James Wong joined the team, writing three of the episodes.

Mulder and Scully seem a bit like Douglas Adams’ Arthur Dent in this episode, as they are suddenly hurled back into their old lives by completely external forces. Like the Vogons arriving, a conspiracy talkshow host brings the band back together with a little help from Assistant Director Skinner and plunges them into a familiar cat- and mouse game. But stuffing Roswell, even in an elaborately recreated scene, a suspected alien abductee, a hefty jab at conspiracy talk shows and plenty of references to earlier X-Files stories into one single episode might almost be too much in one sitting. Is the government lying? Are the alien and their abductions even real? Who is doing the conspiring and why are they doing it? It feels like Chris Carter has been playing this game with his audience a few times too often, but once again it’s a satisfying round this time even only for the sake of entertainment.

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are completely at home playing their most famous characters once again, but they are definitively not simply sleepwalking through their scenes here. Mulder now seems a bit more unhinged than usual and Duchovny has visible fun letting his character go loose on several rants, but he also plays the slightly grizzled ex-FBI-agent in his familiar cool and slightly funny manner. Scully, however, remains the voice of reason that she has always been, despite her own experiences with alien encounters and abductions. Gillian Anderson’s perfect portrayal of her character leaves no doubt about this and by the end of this first episode, Scully seems even more tough and resolved than Mulder.

Mitch Pileggi makes two short, but intense appearances as Assistant Director Skinner, who doesn’t seem to have been promoted in more than a decade and another familiar face also shows up briefly, but those are all the recurring characters who have returned from the previous episodes. Almost stealing the show is comedian Joel McHale as the ultra-conservative conspiracy show host Tad O’Malley, an almost brutal satire on America’s right-wing media and specifically someone who is best not named in a review like this. Slightly disappointing, however, is Annet Mahendru as the alien abduction victim Sveta, who seems awkward in her role which should have been emotional, but mostly falls flat – perhaps because the script does not give her too much opportunities to shine.

The look and feel of this first episode is absolutely spot on and continues the familiar dark and brooding atmosphere of the series. Frequent X-Files cinematographer Joel Ransom, who had been instrumental in shaping the visual appearance of the series over its previous life, was again behind the camera and while most shots look relatively conventional, there are quite a few familiar classic compositions. The colour timing is also typically desaturated to the point of being almost monochrome in parts, but thanks to the much improved special effects we still get treated to some exciting visuals. Mark Snow also returns as the series’ composer and while his familiar style is distintly noticeable in this episode, his music remains relatively undistinguishable in the background.

For someone like me, who has seen almost all previous episodes of the series, My Struggle looks like a perfect continuation of The X-Files despite a slightly uneven script and some flat acting. Viewers who are completely new to the series might, however, be somewhat confused by the plot, which is certainly not easy to follow without any previous knowledge of the X-Files. Overall, this is still a great start to a series which seems to be getting better in the next episodes – but that is going to be a subject of the next reviews I’m probably going to be writing weekly from now on.

One quick postscript: make sure you watch the English original and not the German dub if you can – Mulder’s original voice actor was replaced and there’s a big controversy about the lackluster German dubbing.

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