The X-Files – Seasons Ten and Eleven (2016 & 2018) review by Daniel Tessier
The original, nine-season run of The X-Files ended in 2002, with a bang that turned out to be a whimper. In spite of a poor reception for much of its last season, the series had been a huge hit throughout its run, with a dedicated fanbase and a solid audience of more casual viewers. At its height it was one of 20th Century Fox's highest earners. So it was inevitable that The X-Files would continue, in some shape or form, some day.
The franchise's first return to the screen was in cinemas. The X-Files: I Want to Believe hit screens in summer 2008, the second cinematic outing for Mulder and Scully, with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, along with Mitch Pileggi as Assistant Director Skinner, returning to their roles for the first time in six years. I Want to Believe, which co-starred Billy Connolly, Amanda Peet and Alvin Joiner (aka Xzibit) was refreshingly standalone. A dark thriller, it leant into questions of faith, a common X-Files theme over the years, rather than alien beings or monstrous creatures. Among the series, it would have stood comfortably as a middle-ground episode, but this wasn't enough to secure a strong critical or audience response. Series creator Chris Carter's vision of continuing The X-Files as a series of films was shot down by the distinctly average box office returns.
Off the screen, tie-in material continued sporadically, with the most notable being IDW Publishing's comicbook continuation. It was officially titled The X-Files: Season Ten from 2013 to '15, and Season 11 in 2015 to '16, with a tie-in prequel, The X-Files: Year Zero in 2014. The new stories, over which Carter had creative supervision (if not direct input), were a mix of sequels to popular episodes and an actual attempt to move things on. As with most such spin-offs, it was popular with fans but had little impact beyond, and was inevitably overwritten when the series did return to the screen, although Audible more recently released audio adaptations of the scripts with the series cast returning, lending them a certain official quality.
Eventually, increasing interest in the property, and the growing popularity of streaming services and major television events opened the door for The X-Files' return to the small screen in 2016. Initially marketed as a “limited television event,” the six-episode miniseries was pretty much immediately referred to by fans and creatives alike as Season Ten, which is how it has been referred to on the various streaming sites it's been licenced to since. While it was aired initially on traditional broadcast television – on Fox itself in the US, CTV in Canada and Channel 5 in the UK, away from the original series' slot on the BBC – the miniseries' real home has been streaming services, and it is currently available on Disney Plus and Amazon Prime, along with the series back catalogue.
Season Ten brings back the classic team of Mulder and Scully to lead the show. Long since separated from the romantic relationship in which they'd ended the main series, the former FBI agents are not so much estranged as moving in wholly different directions. Scully, whose career with the Bureau always seemed like a side-step from her medical career, has returned to medicine full-time as a children's surgeon at the Catholic hospital, Our Lady of Sorrows. Mulder, in the mean time, has become more reclusive than ever, remaining as eccentric and obsessive as he always was, albeit somewhat more cynical to people's tall stories.
Viewers might have expected a six-part series like this to cover a single, long form story. Instead the revived show echoed classic series of The X-Files by splitting its time between arc-based “mythology” episodes and standalone “monster-of-the-week” stories. Season ten is bookended by a two-part mythology story entitled “My Struggle,” which sandwiches the standalone mysteries. Part one opens brilliantly, with Mulder expositing over spectacular footage of the 1947 UFO crash in Roswell, a key piece of modern folklore that had been mentioned many times before on the series but never shown. Right away this is a visually distinct series, taking advantage of a big budget, advances in effects and filming techniques. This is The X-Files in High Definition and it looks amazing.
Unfortunately the story doesn't live up to the visuals. The opening episode sees Mulder contacted by Scully at the behest of AD Skinner to contact a right-wing TV pundit turned online rabble-rouser named Tad O'Malley. Played by Joel McHale (Community, The Soup), O'Malley is the kind of nonsense-peddling reactionary that was plaguing media in 2016 and has only become more ubiquitous since. Mulder, although initially sceptical of O'Malley, is rapidly drawn into his worldview, awakening his own paranoia. O'Malley introduces the former agents to a young woman named Sveta, who shows signs of multiple abduction experiences and claims to have extra-terrestrial DNA. Played by the stunning and multi-talented Afghan-American actress Annet Mahendru (The Americans, The Walking Dead: World Beyond), Sveta is the emotional core of the episode and Mahendru gives a truly captivating performance. McHale, too, is impressive, giving O'Malley arrogance and charisma in equal measure.
Frankly, it's Duchovny and Anderson who let the side down, neither one of whom looks particularly engaged with the material. But who can blame them? Given that the promised alien invasion of 2012, predicted in the final episode of the programme's original run, had notably not occurred or been dealt with onscreen, the series had to find a way to reconcile fantasy and reality. What we're presented with is the claim that there is no alien conspiracy, and that since appropriating technology and biological material from the Roswell site, various governments have been conducting “a conspiracy of men.” All well and good, but we've been here before. Mulder gets closer to the truth, only to find out that actually it's a hoax by some other conspiracy... and then that turns out to be a hoax instead, and so on and so on. It's aliens, it's men, it's aliens working with men... eventually it becomes impossible to care.
What results is Duchovny and McHale going into an expository rant the likes of which has never been seen before in a drama, setting out the conspiracy to end all conspiracies as they see it threatening modern America and the world. There's a noble attempt to address very real privacy and rights concerns, mentioning the increase in live and online surveillance, the harsh treatment of leakers like Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, but these are merely trivialised by being thrown into a stream of absurdities. Scully doesn't come across very well either, first detecting no unusual DNA in Sveda's cells, then concluding that there's alien DNA not only in the young woman's but hers as well, claiming that this is the key to exposing the conspiracy rather too late to actually do anything. To top off the ridiculousness, the Smoking Man is revealed to be alive, albeit rather scarred by his apparent immolation at the end of the original run, as he is informed that the X-Files have been reopened.
Far better is the second episode, “Founders Mutation.” Although this ties in with the mystery of the alien DNA, it's otherwise a standalone adventure very much in the spirit of classic X-Files episodes, a distinct case that starts out with one mystery and then develops in unexpected directions. A reasearcher at Nugenics Technology is inexplicably driven to kill himself at work. Mulder investigates, speaking to the scientist's secret lover Gupta (a nice performance by Vik Sahay – Chuck) who says that his last message was that “ his kids were dying.” The reinstated FBI agents investigate at Nugenics, where the head scientist and owner, Dr. Goldman (a sinister Doug Savant – Desperate Housewives, Melrose Place) is treating young children with genetic disorders leading to horrific deformities. It's genuinely quite upsetting, especially considering that each of the (heavily made-up) children exhibits a different, rare, real-life condition.
Matters are complicated by the fact that Goldman is one of the biggest donors at Scully's Catholic hospital, where the obligatory nun is offering support for single expecting mothers. One of them approaches Scully who says her unborn child is abnormal and who later escapes, only to be found dead with the foetus removed. Probing into Goldman's life, it's revealed that his wife (Rebecca Wisocky – Devious Maids, Ghosts US) is confined to a mental hospital, having claimed that her daughter was inhuman and forcibly performed a caesarean on herself. It becomes clear that Goldman has been performing genetic experiments on unborn children, including his own. It leads to a stunning conclusion where Goldman's confined daughter and estranged son – the only two successful experiments – are explosively reunited. Shades of Scanners and Carrie mark the frightening climax to this episode. There's a also an important and affecting subplot where the agents imagine life with their son William, who Scully was forced to give away as a baby in season nine. Written and directed by James Wong in his first contribution to the series since the popular fourth season episode “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man,” “Founder's Mutation” proved that The X-Files could still provide a gripping sci-fi thriller like it used to, and sets up thematic elements for the ongoing story.
The upward trend continues with the spectacular third episode, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster.” Exactly as serious as it sounds, this was the first script from Darin Morgan since his award-winning third season episode “Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space.'” Originally submitted to Frank Spotnitz's short-lived Night Stalker revival, Morgan reworked the script and directed the eventual episode as a much-needed return to the sillier, funnier, more care-free side of The X-Files. As a little nod to its origins, though, the principal guest character dresses like Kolchak, the original Night Stalker.
That character is a wild lizard-man who, when bitten by a crazed human, is cursed to turn into a human himself by day. Taking on the absolutely perfect name Guy Mann, he finds himself drawn by unnatural urges to wear clothes, get a job and lie about his sexual performance. Guy is played with poignant, hopeless and hilarious confusion by Rhys Darby (Flight of the Conchords, Our Flag Means Death, Voltron: Legendary Defender). Cursed by self-awareness and drowning in existential distress, the shapeshifting monster bonds with Mulder who is investigating him due to a series of unexplained murders. The case reawakens Mulder's love for the strange and inexplicable that the middle-aged agent has started to lose.
“Were-Monster” is, like all of Morgan's best, absolutely hilarious, a perfect balance of horror, mystery and comedy. Both Duchovny and Anderson seem revitalised by the fun of the script, while there's a memorable guest role for Kumail Nanjiani (Silicon Valley, The Big Sick, Eternals) as the monstrous man who kicks off the whole debacle. There's also a fun callback to Morgan's classic third season script “War of the Coprophages” (the one with the cockroaches), as Tyler Labine and Nicole Parker-Smith return as the same useless stoners who so failed to assist the agents in that episode, while Alex Diakun, the very definition of a jobbing bit-part actor, makes his fourth appearance in a Darin Morgan episode, this time as a voyeuristic motel manager.
The fourth episode, “Home Again,” is a pretty solid, meat-and-potatoes sort of episode that still displays a quirky humour. Written and directed by the other Morgan brother, Glen, “Home Again” is a straightforward horror with an underlying, if muddled, message. When city officials in Philadelphia begin trying to move homeless people out of one area to make way for development, while others try to use their plight to further their own political agenda, a wave of impossible and brutal murders begin. The only evidence is patches of waste that are seemingly made of no known material, and gruesome graffiti by an artist known only as Trashman. Played by Rancid singer Tim Armstrong, who gives a surprisingly decent performance, Trashman is attempting to give the homeless a voice through his art. However, one of his creations, the Band-Aid Nose Man, has come to life, willed into existence by his anger and is now murdering those who threaten or profit from the homeless.
The Band-Aid Nose Man would likely have gone down as one of The X-Files' classic monsters had he been introduced in an earlier season. The towering John DeSantis (The New Addams Family, The 13th Warrior) portrays the creature, a hulking, silent giant composed of rotting matter, who rides along in the back of a garbage truck and viciously rips apart his victims before binning their parts. It's gory but effective, particularly the unforgettable scene in which one official is murdered in her own home to the stirring chorus of “Down Town.” The Band-Aid Nose Man is suggested to be a tulpa, a supposed Tibetan thought-form, which Mulder is oddly sceptical about considering he had identified a similar murderous avenger as such a being, back in episode 6.15, “Arcadia.” That episode's monster was also formed from waste, and “Home Again” forms a sort of response to the earlier episode, dealing once again with those who would go to extreme lengths to maintain the right image for their neighbourhood. This time it is the homeless who suffer and they who are avenged, rather than the wealthy residents.
The episode also features a major B-story, that of Scully mother Margaret (Sheila Larkin), who has had a heart attack and is dying in hospital. Margaret's deathbed attempt to reconnect with her estranged son Charlie links back to Scully and Mudler's loss of their son William, returning to the central concern of the season. Anderson gives a heartfelt and beautiful performance as Scully is consumed with confusion and grief.
Episode five is Carter's controversial “Babylon.” A young Muslim American named Shiraz (Artin John – Thirteen Lives, DC's Legends of Tomorrow) takes part in the suicide bombing of a shopping centre in Texas, in retaliation for artwork in the mall showing an offensive depiction of the prophet Mohammed. Left horrifically injured and in a vegetative, he remains the only survivor. Two young agents assigned to the case soon arrive in Mulder and Scully's office. Agent Miller, played by the young and handsome Robbie Amell (Upload, The Flash), is a true believer, and has come to ask if Mulder has any ideas how they might communicate with the comatose and virtually brain-dead bomber to find out and stop any further upcoming attacks. However, Agent Einstein, played by the brilliant and beautiful Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under, Torchwood: Miracle Day), is entirely sceptical and highly embarrassed by the entire debacle.
It's a pretty funny send-up of how Mulder and Scully were in the early days of the show, although both Miller and Einstein (a distant relation) are even more extreme in their polarised opinions. Initially dismissive, Mulder later contacts Einstein to suggest she, as a medical doctor, might be able to help him contact the suspect using psilocybin – the chemical found in magic mushrooms – to attain a higher state of consciousness. Scully, meanwhile, contacts Miller, to try a scientific approach that may allow limited communication, which she has discovered following her mother's death.
The episode will be best remembered for the extended sequence of Mulder tripping balls as he, under the apparent influence of psilocybin, goes for a wander around town, crashing a line dance while hallucinating wildly before he finally manifests in a realm between life and death, where he receives a cryptic message in Arabic from the bomber. The apparently deceased Lone Gunmen were advertised before broadcast as making a comeback appearance in the episode, but it's merely a brief, hallucinatory cameo. Eventually, the two pairs of agents are able to ascertain vital information using their combined methods, even though Mulder, it turns out, was tripping on a mere placebo.
The episode deals with the power of belief, be it in religion, spiritualism, science, or the effect of allegedly mind-altering substances, and also with the contemporary issue of Islamophobia. Multiple characters, from a hospital nurse to overbearing Homeland Security agents to passers-by, are shown to be openly and aggressively bigoted against the suspect and other Muslim Americans and immigrants. There's some discussion on the cycle of hatred perpetuates, with terrorists taking violent action in retaliation for their treatment by westerners. On the other hand, the script, by focusing on terrorists (the only non-violent Muslim character is the bomber's mother, played by Nina Nayebe), it skirts perilously close to being Islamophobic itself. Still, The X-Files has had many episodes in the past dealing with Christian and Judaic beliefs driving people to extreme action. While the jury's out on what this episode was trying to say, it's a solid instalment with some great performances, particularly from Ambrose, who gives it everything as the young Scully-plus.
The revived season ends with “My Struggle II,” picking up six weeks since the opening episode and continuing the series' latest version of the overarching conspiracy. A deadly virus spreads across the American population, shutting down victims' immune systems and leaving them prey to any infectious agent they're exposed to. Only those who have had alien DNA added to their system – like Scully – have resistance. McHale, Amell and Ambrose return as O'Malley, Miller and Einstein respectively, taking their places as the next generation fighting for the truth.
Scenes of panic amid the epidemic, and urgent scenes of Scully and Einstein fighting to find a vaccine, add some urgency to the proceedings, and Duchovny is particularly good as Mulder, badly beaten and visibly ill, fights to find the truth. It's more effective today, in fact, in the COVID-19 world. The final shot, with alien spacecraft finally arriving openly over American cities, it's powerful. Otherwise, though, this episode is an absolute mess. Bringing back William B. Davis as the scarred, ancient but very-much-alive Spender, the Smoking Man, doesn't have the impact the showrunners clearly believed it would, although Davis retains his gravitas. Much worse is the return of Annabeth Gish as Monica Reyes, now working for “Ol' Smokey” in return for her own immunity, a betrayal of a character who was always staunchly moral. The script is chaotic, relying on voiceover exposition to try to make sense of the ever-more contrived series mythology. It's a poor end to a season that showed great promise, finally proving that the only way forward for The X-Files is to ditch the endless conspiracy theorising and try something new.
The season gained mixed responses, with most critics preferring the standalone middle episodes to the bookending “My Struggle.” A six-episode run doesn't really have room for any duff episodes, but it proved successful enough to ensure an eleventh season. Expanded to ten episodes – still a way off the old days of twenty-odd instalments but nonetheless more substantial – season eleven arrived at the beginning of 2018.
Season eleven kicked off with – you guessed it - “My Struggle III.” Perhaps realising that almost wiping out humanity with a virus left little room for the series to continue, Carter's opening instalment erases all of that by declaring that the entire previous episode was merely a vision of the future, experienced by Scully. There are ways to pull off a reveal like that, but this fails absolutely. It's not quite JR in the shower, but it's still tremendously frustrating. Perhaps it would have been better to wipe most of the world out and have the spacemen invade, and go in a completely new direction with a post-apocalyptic send-off. At least it would be more original and surprising than yet another instalment of the endless cycle of conspiracies.
In fact, this episode posits two rival conspiracies, both working against the Syndicate, whose own conspiracy had maintained the original run. While Spender puffs his way through a masterplan in which he will thwart the aliens and humanity alike and start the world anew, two further shifty figures are working against him. The so-called “Mister Y” (A.C. Peterson – Z.O.S, Superman & Lois) and corporate magnate Erika Price (Barbara Hershey – Killing in a Small Town, Once Upon a Time) work behind the scenes on a space colonisation programme for the world's elite. Meanwhile, Pileggi, giving a solid performance, plays a divided Skinner, who meets with Spender. Mulder demands to know whose side he's on in a confrontation that really brings to mind the last time this happened.
From the outset, it's clear that the Scully's missing son William is to be the focus still, with Scully seemingly receiving visions from him, Price looking for him for her own reasons and Spender revealing that, ugh, he's actually the kid's father. Yes, he reveals to Skinner (for some reason) that back in 7.15, “En Ami,” he impregnated Scully with alien DNA and his own, after drugging her. Without anything to make this episode more than a rehash of elements done better before, Carter throws in what is essentially the rape of the central female character for shock value. It also makes Mulder actually William's half-brother rather than his father, just to make it even more convoluted.
It's followed up with “This,” an uninspiring title for a corny but fairly entertaining episode that reveals Price's group have been running a simulated universe in which the world's best and brightest have their minds duplicated. Believing they're signing up for digital immortality, the people's simulated selves are put to work as a digital thinktank. Dean Haglund returns for one last time as Langly, deceased former Lone Gunman, reaching out from the simulation to Mulder through his phone. He puts in a strong performance, particularly considering he's just sitting in the dark talking directly to the camera, selling the misery of someone in a digital heaven that is truly a prison.
It's a reasonably effective episode, with events on the inside and outside affecting each other. Mulder and Scully have to solve an absurdly complex puzzle left by Langly to find a way to contact him, all the while on the run from a ghoulish Russian assassin. There's plenty of action, but oddly this is an episode that would actually have benefitted from more talk, less fisticuffs. As it is, it lacks the impact that the central concept deserves.
Episode three, “Plus One,” sees Carter go back to basics with a truly standalone supernatural mystery. It's a huge step-up, presenting us with an exceptional performance by Karin Konoval, previously the psychic Zelma in 3.4, “Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose” and the gruesome Mrs. Peacock in 4.2, “Home.” This time she portrays both versions of Judy, the inmate of a mental institution, suffering from a particularly pronounced form of multiple personality disorder. Frighteningly unpredictable, Judy is in telepathic contact with her twin brother Chucky. The similarly afflicted Chucky, also played by Konoval, engages in endless games of Hangman with Judy via telepathy, by which they select people to kill for fun. This causes their victim's double to appear, visible only to them, before murdering them in what inevitably appears to be an accident or suicide. While the ending is a little predictable, it's an excellent, disturbing episode, truly made by Konoval's performance and strong direction by Prison Break's Kevin Hooks. There is also some very tender and believable chemistry between the two agents, facing their increasing age.
Episode four is the delightfully parodic “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat,” another grand entry from Darin Morgan. A fabulous send-up of the whole concept of The X-Files, and its tendency to pile conspiracy on top of conspiracy, “Lost Art” is one of the cleverest episodes for a long time. It guest stars Brian Huskey (Veep, Bob's Burgers, Another Period) as Reggie... something, a man who appears out of nowhere demanding that he knows Mulder and Scully, having worked with them on cases past. He even claims to have started the X-Files, when he became aware that someone was editing human memory en masse in the greatest conspiracy in history.
The episode is a witty exploration of the Mandela Effect, the phenomenon of false memories that proliferate through the population. Many people swear they saw Nelson Mandela's funeral after he died in prison in the 1980s, in spite of the fact that he verifiably died a free man in 2013. In one of the best jokes, Reggie insists that it's actually called “the Mengele Effect” and that Mulder is just remembering it wrong, like he's misremembering his favourite episode of The Twilight Zone. It's a fascinating phenomenon, exacerbated by the modern proliferation of “fake news.”
Of course, some people have their own theories. Mulder, naturally, is convinced that false memories are glimpses into parallel universes, while Reggie believes that “they” are editing memories to keep themselves safe. When Mulder insists that you can't just name some formless “they” for everything, Reggie reveals he's actually talking about the mysterious but charismatic Dr. They – a fabulous turn by Stuart Margolin (The Rockford Files, Nichols, Bret Maverick). Reggie's story becomes almost believable considering how much he knows about the agents. There follows a wonderful run of clips from classic episodes with Reggie (incongruously the same age as he is now) digitally inserted, Forrest Gump-style. In a nice touch, Reggie was actually briefly inserted into imagery in “This” two episodes earlier. Of course, the real explanation is that Reggie is a lunatic who previously worked in surveillance, incorporating his knowledge of the agents into his delusions... or is that just another fiction written by Dr. They?
Episode five, “Ghouli,” starts off looking like it's another standalone, monster-of-the-week story. Two teenaged girls (Madeleine Arthur – The Family, Supernatural – and Sarah Jeffery – Descendants, Charmed) stalk each other in an abandoned ship, eventually viciously attacking each other. They each believe the other to be the eponymous Ghouli – a hideous bogeyman of online urban legend, in the vein of the Slenderman and other modern monstrosities. Meanwhile, Scully is woken in the night, suffering sleep paralysis but certain there's a presence in her room.
Investigating the girls attack, Scully continues to experience visions leading her in a certain direction. The two girls have a boyfriend in common – Jackson Van Der Kamp. This was the family name of the people who adopted Mulder and Scully's son William. When other powers, including the Department of Defense, become involved, it becomes clear that there's something important about Jackson, who has the power to not only send people visions but to make them see whatever he wants them to see.
“Ghouli,” then, is a secret, sneaky mythology episode, and while it might have been more interesting to have it stand alone after all, it works as an unexpected entry into the ongoing story. It's well put together and, crucially, very well performed, with Anderson in particular excelling once again as she gets ever closer to finding out the whereabouts of her son. Miles Robbins (Blockers, Daniel Isn't Real) puts in a strong performance as Jackson/William, unsettling in his darker moments but naïve enough to be likeable and sympathetic. The Ghouli, unreal as it is, is a pretty decent monster design too.
The sixth episode, “Kitten,” has the feel of an old school X-File. It's a showcase for Mitch Pileggi as Skinner, delving into his past. It's always interesting to learn more about Skinner, and Pileggi, as ever, dominates his scenes with a strong yet subtle performance. He has gravitas, only more so now he's older. The episode features numerous flashbacks to the Vietnam War, with Pileggi's own nephew Cory Rempel putting in a good turn as the young Skinner during his time in the Marines. In the field, Skinner is exposed to a toxic nerve gas supposedly being used by the US forces, but his friend John “Kitten” James takes a much higher dose. It causes them to both see monsters in the field, but James is driven to horrific acts of murder and brutality on innocent civilians. In the present day, Skinner goes AWOL as he tries to find out what has become of James since he, under orders, pushed him under the bus at a military court hearing on his actions.
“Kitten” features Hayley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense, Forrest Gump, What We Do in the Shadows) as both the younger John James and his present day son Davey, consumed with anger and retribution against Skinner, and the US government for experimenting on and betraying his father. From this comes a gripping thriller, as Mulder and Scully try to find Skinner, while he himself fights for his survival. It's a powerful episode, inspired by the very real MK-ULTRA behaviour modification experiments that US intelligence and military performed on their own men. The only weak element is that once again stand with the agents questioning whether we can trust Skinner, which is really getting old by now. Otherwise this is a very good episode, with an excellent guest performance by Osment. Plus, we get some explanation as to why Skinner has remained Assistant Director, never advancing since we met him in 1993.
The frustratingly-titled “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” - that's Base64 for “Followers”- follows as episode seven. A script by Shannon Hamblin and Kristen Cloke (the latter who previously appeared season five's “The Field Where I Died”), this is genuinely something new and different for The X-Files. Told with minimal dialogue and no non-diegetic music, it's an effective story told almost entirely visually. The story is, in fact, incredibly simple: Mulder and Scully try to have dinner in an automated restaurant using an app on their smartphones, only to be beset by a series of apparent malfunctions. These strange events follow them to their respective homes, with every item that is connected to a computerised network acting up in increasingly threatening and, eventually, potentially deadly ways. An effective look at the rise and ubiquity of AI in the mundane world, it has far more in common with an episode of Black Mirror than in any of The X-Files' previous AI episodes, especially when it comes to the, for want of a better word, punchline. Proof that The X-Files can still give us something new and surprising.
Another new creative team brings us episode eight, “Familiar.” Holly Dale (P4W, Blood and Donuts) directs her first episode of The X-Files, from a script by Benjamin Van Allen, also new to the series. It's an excellent work by both of them, both feeling like quintessential X-Files and nicely up-to-date. A child's murder in rural Connecticut brings the agents to investigate. Scully suspects the boy's father (Jason Gray-Stanford – Monk, Dragon Ball-Z), a local police officer, while Mulder believes it something more otherworldly. Of course, we know something strange is going on, as the opening scene sees the boy wandering into the woods following a nightmarish children's TV character – a man-sized ventriloquist's dummy named Mr. Chuckleteeth.
Van Allen was inspired by the creepiness of much children's television, with Mr. Chuckleteeth inspired by Mr. Noseybonk from Jigsaw (a British kids' series that ran from 1979-84). Frankly, as unsettling as Chuckleteeth is, he doesn't hold a candle to the terrifying Noseybonk. Another child is later tempted to the forest by creatures called the Bibble-Tiggles, beings that combine the equally-unsettling Teletubbies and Boobah creatures. Mulder's hunch, unsurprisingly, turns out to be true, as the chief of police (Alex Carter – The Island, Point Pleasant) blames himself, due to his infidelity leading his wife (Erin Chambers – General Hospital) to turn to witchcraft in vengeance. Her conjuring of some kind of demon or bogeyman, able to take any form it chooses, has led to the murder of the children.
As well as being creepy as hell, “Familiar” cleverly juxtaposes the agents' literal witch-hunt with a figurative one, as the bereaved officer and then the townspeople as a whole turn on a registered sex offender in their community, leading to his murder. With an especially good performance by Carter (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Point Pleasant, Burn Notice), this is a very strong episode.
The last standalone episode before the finale, “Nothing Lasts Forever” takes some of The X-Files' perennial concerns and frames them in a viscerally new way. This is a truly strange episode, from Karen Nielsen and James Wong, opens with two men engaging in clearly illegal surgery in a warehouse, until they are murdered by a black-clad vigilante, who drives metal stakes through their hearts. From there, it only gets weirder, as we spend time with a twisted, sexualised cult where brainwashed youths are led by a couple who are far older than they seem.
Jere Burns (Something So Right, Burn Notice) plays Dr. Randolph Luvenis, a surgeon who has discovered a method of reversing the ageing process – “The greatest disease to afflict mankind” - by using the blood and organs of younger people, both willingly and not. He gives a strong performance, but is overshadowed by Fiona Vroom (Snowpiercer, Star Trek Continues) as his partner and co-leader Barbara Beaumont, an eighty-five-year-old actress with the body of a woman in her thirties. Vroom gives an incredibly disquieting performance as the looks-obsessed Barbara, unable to let go of her youth and constantly re-watching her old sitcom performances and re-enacting them.
The vigilante La Avispa (the Wasp) is in actuality the sister of one of the cult members, who is trying to exact revenge on the murderous cult and rescue her sister in the process. Carlena Britch (Another Life, Charmed) gives a powerful performance as the young vigilante, while Micaela Aguilera (Re:Uniting, The Terror) is haunting as her indoctrinated sister. “Nothing Lasts Forever” combines bizarre imagery that evokes disparate sources, from La Avispa's violent heroics to the unshakeable image of Luvenis, surgically fused to a young woman, lying in bed next to Barbara as she parrots along to her sitcom role. Altogether it's what you might expect if David Cronenberg directed a superhero movie, but with an underlying fascination with religion and belief. The vigilante is, like Scully, a faithful Catholic, but is fully prepared to murder in the name of righteous vengeance against the twisted perversion of her sister's beliefs. Uncomfortably comparing the cannibalistic, even vampiric tendencies of the cult (it's no accident that the chosen method for dispatch is a stake through the heart) with the Catholic Church's consumption of the figurative blood and body of Christ, this is a fascinating, difficult but unforgettable episode.
We come now to the final episode of The X-Files. Yes, it's “My Struggle IV.” While this is a better instalment than part three, it still boils down to an awful lot of exposition punctuated by fire fights. The episode finally brings young William (or Jackson, if you will) into direct contact with Mulder and Scully, as the many players set up in the preceding episodes face up to each other in various combinations, including Spender, Reyes, Skinner and the various conspirators. The result is literally explosive, leaving many characters dead and shutting down the My Struggle plotline rather than resolving it. It's perfectly watchable, and the main players give decent performances, but there's nothing we haven't seen before and it is, ultimately, unsatisfying. Still, it's a stronger finale than the one we originally got with season nine's “The Truth.”
The final episode leaves possibilities open for Mulder and Scully's ongoing relationship, while seemingly drawing a line under the conspiracy plotline at long last. If the series is ever revived – and stranger things have happened – it's unlikely that it will actually continue in this direction. Anderson has made it clear that she is done with Scully, and while Duchovny has expressed potential interest, it's hard to see the character continuing as lead indefinitely. Reworking his character as a mysterious, patrician role for a new generation of agents could give the series a new lease of life. Carter has changed his mind more than once concerning whether he'd continue the series without Anderson, although he has expressed a desire to bring Robert Patrick back as Doggett in a future project (Patrick was unavailable to appear in the eleventh season).
Heretical as it is to say, the best way forward, if the series were to be revived again, would be to give it to a new creative team and a new cast. Much of the strongest material in these seasons has been by writers and directors new to the programme, who have proven The X-Files still has the capacity to be new and inventive. Most importantly of all, the conspiracy mythology, as vital as it was to the series' early years, needs to be put to bed for good, with something new to take its place.
Could The X-Files work in today's televisual landscape? Could it catch the imagination in the way it once did? I want to believe it can.
Published on June 22nd, 2022. Written by Daniel Tessier for Television Heaven.