That was my immediate response to the opening and indeed the entirety of “My Struggle II,” last night’s X-Files season finale. The season began (in “My Struggle I”) with Mulder first explaining his half of the show’s mythology to us via voice-over and then discovering that the Syndicate still exists and its members have been using salvaged alien technology to secretly influence all of human history since Roswell. Their end game is to kill most of us through a pandemic we’ve been made susceptible to through years of manipulated public health initiatives. In that episode, the titular struggle was Mulder’s.
“My Struggle II” was Scully’s turn. She talked to us through voice-over and explained her journey on the entire series to this point. She witnessed the first stages of the pandemic first hand, running around a hospital with her young doppelganger Dr. Einstein and making bold statements like “this is only the beginning” and ranting about her alien DNA. Of course, Mulder was also around, kicking ass and pointing a gun at the surgically repaired Cigarette Smoking Man, but this was Scully’s episode. She doesn’t even share the screen with Mulder until the final scene.
From the get-go, though, Scully’s opening summation of her remarkably convoluted half of the show’s mythology strained to connect everything that has happened to everything that was about to happen. Don’t try to wrap this all up in a neat little bow. Too much has gone down on this show for that to work. Why not worry more about wrapping up the storylines you started in this six episode season?
Granted, “My Struggle I” and “II” form a two-part episode which sees the world threatened by disease and saved by alien DNA, but that’s not really what this season has been about. The first and last episodes of the season are shouting at us (often through Joel McHale’s character) “This is how the world ends, poisoned by a shadowy cabal of men using alien technology” whereas in-between those episodes the show was was telling us “Mulder and Scully are still super, super sad about William.” The way “Struggle II” attempts to use its absolute final moment to connect those two elements is a disappointment, giving the impression that this six-episode season was never going to tell us a complete story but instead use our lack of closure as leverage to secure future episodes or even a movie.
That’s a lot of weight to put on “Struggle II,” which shouldn’t really be blamed for its cliffhanger ending or inability to fully satisfy the season’s various arcs which were clearly never meant to be completed. Its natural to want to review the entire season instead of focusing specifically on “Struggle II,” but it’s also something I think I’m leaning toward because I didn’t find “Struggle II” to be a completely successful episode on its own.
It, like so many other parts of season 10, tried to do too much, cramming in a pandemic on an obvious budget, an exposition dump from a returning Annabeth Gish, a confrontation between Mulder and the Cigarette Smoking Man, etc. As a result, Chris Carter, who wrote and directed the episode, had to cut corners. Scully receives vital information about the pandemic off-screen. We enter Mulder’s part of the story halfway through. Joel McHale’s conspiracy pundit simply tells us all the things the episode can’t afford to show, and the transitions from his scenes to the rest of the episode were often clunky.
For example, at one point he stands in front of a screen displaying obvious stock footage of medical personnel in action and rants about reports of hospitals being overrun with sick patients. To make sure we got the point, the very next scene features Scully walking down a hospital hallway full of patients before a nurse rushes up to her, “Dr. Scully, we are being overwhelmed here.” It’s not a terrible transition, per say, but it made me want to do this:
To be fair, using McHale’s ranting as a linking element and window into the larger world is understandable for an episode which tried to do in 45 minutes what a different show would have spent an entire mini-series exploring.
It was far more interesting to see Scully and Scully, Jr. pulling a Martian and science-ing the hell out of the problem to find a solution, particularly when Scully spiraled into Mulder conspiracy territory and was pulled back into rational analysis by her younger counterpart. Carter told THR, “There are two other people credited with the story, Dr. Anne Simon and Dr. Margaret Fearon, and I had been talking to them about the science of the show. Anne has been the science adviser since the beginning, really, and I’d let her read the first episode. She kept talking to me about this cutting edge genomic science and how it might be used.” Throw some alien DNA into the mix, and you have probably the most science-based episode of the season.
You also have an episode in which millions will likely still die considering how long it takes Scully to find the cure, and how long it should take to mass produce her cure and distribute it throughout the world.
On top of that, you also have an episode where the villain’s evil speech about thinning the herd was straight out of a comic book movie (is that the Cigaratte Smoking Man or Ultron?), and hundreds if not thousands of people witnessed what appeared to be a gigantic UFO shining a light down on a random stretch of Washington, D.C. highway.
In Carter’s THR interview, he said two things which were rather telling. For starters, he admitted that when the season started he didn’t know it would end. It was only during the filming of the fourth episode that it started to come together in his mind. Secondly, he acknowledged that if they do come back for more episodes it will need to be on a more manageable schedule, “For me, it’s just a matter of trying to do [The X-Files] when it makes sense and not try to shoehorn something or hit a schedule. This was hard enough doing what it did. We had a very hard beginning and end date. To meet those dates, it was difficult. We were running for our lives to get them done. You’d prefer not to work like that.”
Of course, not knowing your ending when you start isn’t damning on its own nor is it anything new for X-Files, and not all films or TV shows which are rushed actually end up feeling that way. However, in this case this entire season did end up feeling rushed, with multiple episodes built off of scripts which were probably a draft or two from being truly finished and season long story arcs failing to reach any kind of conclusion. In fact, in multiple interviews the writers of the episodes admitted they wished they’d had just a little more time. Some of them succeeded in spite of that, other did not.
Is the end? When asked about that, Carter acknowledged, “Fox is going to ask for more. The ratings were very good. They were happy with the show. I talked to Dana Walden today. She said they’d very much like more, but nothing’s being negotiated yet.” It took five months of negotiations to make this six-episode season happen. Who knows how long it will take to negotiate more episodes, and if Anderson and Duchovny play hardball they can’t simply move on to Lauren Ambrose and Robbie Amell for a spin-off since neither actor was signed to a series contract.
Perhaps the bigger question is whether or not this should be the end. Regardless of the fact that they went out on a cliffhanger, did they do enough this season to justify more episodes? If you’ve seen “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” you know that the answer is yes. That’s not to say that it was only the good episode. Instead, it was the only truly great episode, and another one of those could be right around the corner for us just as soon as they work out their contracts and have Mulder and Scully save the world.
1. Annabeth Gish came back. Huh. Good for her
2. Annabeth Gish’s character works for the Cigarette Smoking Man now because she doesn’t want to die. Huh. Bad for her.
3. Cigarette Smoking Man and South Park’s Michael Jackson, no-nose buddies:
4. The fish-eyed camera lens during the flashback was presumably meant to represent CSM’s plane of vision since he had only one eye left, but it was also used in the hallway outside of his hospital room at which point it served no purpose.
5. I was positive that in the final scene when Scully told Agent Miller about her son William and he asked “Where is he?” instead of responding “I don’t know” Scully was going to dramatically reveal “I’m looking right at him.” Alas, Miller is not their son, or at least if he is we don’t that yet.
6. I hesitate to think how well this episode will play with the anti-vaccination crowd.