Synopsis of Part 1 of 6: Fox Mulder is drawn back into the X-Files by a conservative talk show host who believes he’s uncovered the truth about the government’s actions post-Roswell. Scully questions the truth about her abduction and her relationship with Mulder.
Chris Carter came to prominence in the era immediately before the showrunner was king. He watched as creators like David Chase, David Simon, Ryan Murphy, and so many others borrowed his storytelling structure on The X-Files and built on it, helped it evolve, created genre and medium defining TV shows that ironed out the rockiest parts of the ‘90s hit and made something more streamlined and successful.
And it’s clear, to some degree, Carter is clearly sick of it. It’s telling that in one of his first lines Fox Mulder, who often served as Carter’s mouthpiece, says “My whole life has become a punchline.” It genuinely feels like the return of The X-Files is less about creating a sequel to one of the most beloved TV shows of all time but is more about Carter finally, desperately trying to prove his place in a medium that has mostly left him behind.
He does that at least partially by radicalizing Mulder in “My Struggle.” Mulder is easily swept into the paranoid, conservative ramblings of Tad O’Malley, a Glenn Beck-esque figure with a seemingly popular online show and a fascination with Mulder and Dana Scully’s work in the ‘90s and early 2000s. He believes he’s exposed the truth, that the government is behind a seemingly never-ending list of human rights violations, primarily kidnapping American citizens and experimenting on them with captured alien DNA under the auspices of an abduction.
It’s an important thing to note that the aesthetic of The X-Files was always firmly rooted in ‘90s post-Gulf War paranoia, an era where it seemed clear that there were things the government wasn’t telling us, where someone was profiting off of our suffering, where there was someone that had to be someone behind it all.
It’s an era Chris Carter has both a fascination with and a weird reverence and nostalgia for. The relationship between Tad and Mulder is a clear distillation of this. In Carter’s mind, Tad’s consciously or unconsciously a pretender, looking to the truth for the wrong reasons while Mulder’s actions and thoughts are purer, more powerful and potent.
It just doesn’t quite make sense because even from the beginning, Mulder’s belief is fundamentally selfish. From the third episode, the first utterance of the phrase “I want to believe,” we know Mulder’s belief system is built on creating something that gives him even a little bit of hope, of faith that someone is in control of his life. He’s never fundamentally been a better person than those actively profiting off of the same paranoia and the best episodes of The X-Files always recognized that.
Despite the motives, there’s a sense pervading the returned version of The X-Files that the work Mulder and Scully once did could never be repeated, that the work physically and mentally broke Mulder and Scully in ways that they would never willingly go through again and it’s understandable. Both have a worried, dogged determination to them, as if they’re walking steps they feel they have to walk.
Mulder has to investigate Svetta’s initial lies. Scully has to question what happened to her so many years ago. There’s no other choice. It’s a path they’re locked into. That sense of fate and brokenness is a little heartbreaking but it also paints a compelling portrait of what Mulder and Scully mean to each other after all the things they’ve seen and survived.
To some degree, the biggest problem of “My Struggle” is the feeling that Chris Carter is trying to fix something that’s fundamentally unbroken. The original X-Files is the story of Mulder and Scully hunting petty, small, terrified men who had sold their souls and the future of the planet for a chance at survival. It was a mantra that made sense in Clinton’s presidency, that powerful men were lying solely to save their own skins.
Now, it feels like Carter is trying to match the conspiracy du jour of 2016, that rich, powerful, evil men are actively working to fuck over you, me, and everyone we know for a couple dollars and a little bit of knowledge. On the one hand, it gives The X-Files an arguably more compelling villain but it sells out the humanity and relatability that’s so fundamental to what The X-Files is and a last second reveal doesn’t bode well for how this conspiracy will continue to unfold.