Tuesday, February 23, 2016

(Some) Assorted Thoughts on: The X-Files, season 10, episodes 5 and 6: "Babylon" and "My Struggle II" (2/15/16 and 2/22/16)

Had I gotten around to writing about "Babylon" before the latter edition of "My Struggle" had aired, I would be subjecting you to a far more negative blog post. Indulging in bloated production orchestrations and a sense of humor that's not just gimmicky and shallow, but just plain puzzling, "Babylon" found Chris Carter embracing his worst tendencies, all too painfully evoking memories of the insufferable inanity of, say, "The Post-Modern Prometheus", "Triangle", and "Improbable". Most will probably point to the insipid, totally unfunny "Mulder goes line-dancing while on mushrooms" abomination as the episode's worst sin. However, I was absolutely SHOCKED AND APPALLED that Carter shamelessly pulled a tired old trick (one that the show has done five or so times in its history) out of his that: that of introducing obvious, cutesy doppelgangers to Mulder and Scully, apparently intended to illicit irony and humor.

...actually, I'm leaning toward the episode's TRULY biggest, most unforgivable sin being the bill of goods Carter sold us with his promise at last year's San Diego Comic Con that "the Lone Gunmen will be back". Memo to Carter: Having their distorted, costumed visages appear for a couple seconds in Mulder's drug tri DOESN'T COUNT.


(...oh. All of my negativity toward "Babylon" came pouring out after all, didn't it?) As was always the case when contrasting Carter's bloated-budget "family entertainment" episodes with his cornerstone Mytharc episodes, "My Struggle II" is an all together different case. Having eagerly awaited it with baited breath these past four weeks, it exceeded my expectations, not just following through and delivering on what was set up in the first part, but -- as foreshadowed by the numerous stills from the show's early years that complemented Scully's voiceover intro-- actually bringing the Mytharc full circle, explicitly honing in on story threads harkening all the way back to the second season.

 The most exciting development was the significant screen time given to Cancer Man (who we were teased with at the very end of Part I... and whose appearances here -- as he deserves --  were given the show-stopping, shamelessly histrionic gravity of a veritable arch-villain for the ages, as he deserves) and a certain other returning cast member whose made-over role might in fact be considered controversial and seen as cheap by some. As likable as the character of Monica Reyes as played by Annabeth Gish may have been, she never really got to come into her own the way that Robert Patrick's John Doggett did.

Patrick fully assumed the position of male lead for nearly the entire duration of season 8 and 9; even when he did "have" to share the spotlight with Mulder, in the writing and the performing, it was a totally convincing meeting of wills. Reyes, on the other hand, was "brought in the backdoor" late in season 8 as a recurring guest character, forcibly presented in a one-note way as the quirky "New Age" agent with weird interests. When she was officially made lead for season 9, she was re-characterized as completely bland, presumably to fit some conception of mass appeal. And not only did she have to share space with Scully, her sensitivity and earnestness made her seem of junior status compared to Doggett, ostensibly her partner. And even Doggett got a shoehorned "personal" Mytharc, while Reyes had no backstory and, really, no character arc -- she was a purely functional investigative agent assigned to the X-Files. So while she may have had potential, fast-forward to 2016, and she's obviously going to be given a secondary role as long as Mulder and Scully are restored as the leads. Thus, her surprise return and the twist revealed with it gives this exhilarating tsunami an additional point of intrigue and "edginess"...and believe me, it already has A LOT going for it. 

Things escalated so rapidly, Scully was rushing to literally save the entire world, in a state of panic from an abrupt mass viral outbreak, before I'd even registered what was happening. The Mytharc has endured loads of criticism throughout the years for eternally setting the stage for an impending threat to all of humanity but never delivering. Honest to God, they actually did it, and even though it was contained in one mere episode (well, so far... read a bit further), they actually hit the "epic apocalyptic feature film" level that a "Mulder and Scully save the world" barnburner calls for!  

And it should have seemed all too much contain in 42 minutes, for in fact, we were left on an out-of-field (but very appropriate, given the series' iconography in the popular consciousness) cliffhanger that would be AGONY if it were never followed up on... but I'm happy with what preceded it, and all signs are that both Carter and Fox are more than ready and eager to continue, I'm not too worried. 

Oh, and two important points:

1. The Mulder and Scully "young doppelganger" characters returned, and they actually worked pretty well in a serious drama. Still, it's hard to get over how obvious it is not just that they've been brought on as bench-warmers in case Fox is willing to go ahead with Duchovny and/or Anderson, but that we've been through this before, stringing us along with Spender and Fowley in seasons five and six, and later Doggett and Reyes stepping up as full-fledged, official replacements. (Though both, even the under-realized Reyes are characters unto themselves and by no means clones of Mulder and Scully, nor their inversions as were Spender and Fowley, earning their own respectable places on the X-Files tapestry, ultimately, they were the product of a backup plan.) 

2. Remember last post, when I was speculating as to if they would ever be brave enough to take on the landmark story that would be William's return? Part of the cliffhanger was Scully realizing that the world depends on his being found... yup, they're going all in and giving him a singular spot in the Mytharc as the "Golden Child" immaculately conceived by Scully -- who it's implied is destined to be Central Player in the Grand Scheme of Things herself -- who is to the world's savior messiah. That's right, all in! :D

-- Ryan


  1. I was really disappointed with the way they handled the "return" of the Lone Gunmen too! It could have been an ok little easter egg, but by announcing their return I expected more. I even went back and re-watched their last episode before the mini-series as to get clues on how they could have survived...

    Generally I think a 6-part mini-series would have worked better as one storyline in parts instead of putting in those monster-of-the-day episodes in the middle. They work better in a full season, but in this miniseries I thought they were more like boring "fillers" while we waited for the last episode.

    And I didn’t expect the show to end with such a cliffhanger, so I’m excited for any news about a new season. David Duchovny said in interviews that he was open for more, so I hope that will happen. But the Mulder/Scully "clone" agents sure smells a lot like a backup plan in case David and Gillian doesn’t want to do a new full season.

  2. Hex: Very sorry for the two-month-plus neglect of my blog and thus neglect to respond to your comment until now. (Seeing that X-Files is a subject that I can easily talk about for hours... what's been wrong with me?!) ;)

    Re: the Lone Gunmen, writer Joe Harris handled their return in a PERFECTLY appropriate way in IDW's The X-Files: Season 10 comic. In regards to them specifically, I _DEFINITELY_ wish Carter had taken a cue from Harris for television's version of season 10. There's a few other lessons Harris could teach Carter, but none I feel so staunchly about as the Lone Gunman return that wasn't!

    I've actually felt, for all too long, that all too many of the non-Mytharc episodes -- of all seasons -- as "boring fillers". I'm definitely a Mytharc Man, to a fault. Last year, my ex-girlfriend began watching for her first time the first season straight through, and I was flabbergasted when she raved how much she was "enjoying" every last episode. I was like, "WHAT?! You mean your fuse isn't completely burnt out, not even ashes left, and itching to to get to the three remaining first-season Mytharc episodes and skip the other 15?!" :D

    But with the new six episodes, I managed to accept prior to their airing that it wouldn't be a straight-through serial, gave each one a fair chance, and with one exception, was considerably pleased.

    A few people that I know loathed the finale, assorted reasons being, fore example, 1) too many (at least perceived) absurdities and improbabilities (everything from Cancer Man surviving being hit square-on by a missile at the end of "The Truth" to suspension of disbelief at the sudden, total spread of the plague); 2) getting a cliffhanger when expecting a proper ending; and 3) (related closely with 2), cramming way too much into too little time.

    The latter may well account for there suddenly out of nowhere being a global plague in full swing. And also, for why there was a cliffhanger and not a conclusion -- i.e., they ran out of time! Well, more accurately, Carter rushed through so much so as to get to his intended cliffhanger "on time" for the end of the episode.

    I can see these flaws, but as I wrote above, I _LOVED_ "My Struggle II" anyways, if only because it was doing so many things that I'd been wanting to see for yeras.

    Re: "Mulder and Scully, Jr.", I had at first thought they were a joke exclusive to "Home Again", so was aghast when I first saw the female one in the trailer for "My Struggle II". As I wrote, their roles in that episode worked better than I'd expected, but I'm definitely conflicted about their emergence -- they put an all too familiar bitter taste in my mouth.

    Re: potential renewal, since "My Struggle II" premiered, all has been quiet on the X-Files front... really, the hoped-for announcement could come next week or not until fall. However, with the entirety of summer still ahead of us, there's ample time for shooting and production targeting a January return. So there's definitely cause to be optimistic!

    -- Ryan