Monday, January 25, 2016

The X-Files - S10:E1 "My Struggle"

[ I Want To Believe <<< Season 10 >>> S10:E2 "Founder's Mutation" ]

To cut straight to the point of this review, I'll say from the outset that my overall impression of the first episode of this new miniseries is...lukewarm. Maybe I got my hopes up a little too high expecting it to be insta-classic X-Files, just add water. But it's only the first episode, and there's still time to improve. Besides, a lot of this episode seems to be setting up, getting us back into the groove. Perhaps we'll have Mulder and Scully shouting each other's names and waving their flashlights around more in the monster-of-the-week episodes. Regardless, I'm eagerly anticipating the episodes by Darin Morgan, Glen Morgan, and James Wong.

Spoiler Warning: The rest of this review is going to contain spoilers, both for this episode, and for much of the mythology of the series, to which this episode begins a new chapter.

So, my first impression as the episode began was that it didn't look or feel like classic X-Files. It's all very modern (and not just because of the hashtag in the corner of the screen). I see heavy usage of digital effects, and I'm not sure how comfortable I am about that. One advantage it may provide (although I've never been prejudiced against men in rubber suits), is that perhaps this series will actually have some aliens in it for the first time in like forever. Despite what I said during my marathon back around the time I reviewed the first movie, the series never really switched over to alien-alien characters. Right up to the end we were still dealing with alien replicants and Super Soldiers that looked, to the viewer's eye, entirely human.

And now we have an alien pilot crawling from the wreckage of a crashed UFO (Roswell, 1947, if I'm not mistaken). But it doesn't look like the crashed UFOs we've seen before. It's less esoteric - less glowing lights and men in hazmat suits, and more a broken saucer sticking out of the ground. In the first of many throwbacks to the series' earlier mythology, we see a presumed government agent executing the alien pilot, in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1013 (as alluded to by Deep Throat in E.B.E., and then addressed more explicitly in Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man).

I think the thing I like best that this episode has done, conceptually speaking, is restructure the entire conspiracy around which the show hinges. Even if that requires considerable retconning (one of the more eye-rolling examples of which is changing the date of the alleged alien apocalypse, as discovered in The Truth, to the date of the start of a countdown). The episode hearkens back to the fifth season's mythology quite a bit, even insofar as ostensibly placing Mulder in a position of doubt (initially). But while there has been alien contact, it is not the aliens that are the threat, but the government alone. Acting in a The Day The Earth Stood Still sort of capacity, the aliens have been drawn by mankind's achievement of nuclear warfare, and ever since 1947, the government has been stealing alien technology and hiding it from the public (creating ARVs - Alien Replica Vehicles, like the UFOs we saw in the episode Deep Throat), in a long-term plan to take over the world.

At least, that's what conservative talk show host Tad O'Malley (Joel McHale) is convinced of. And in true X-Files fashion, it's not altogether clear who one should trust. But Tad wants Mulder and Scully on the case, for obvious reasons, what with their background in fighting the conspiracy. It's not an easy sell, although, much like in I Want To Believe, Mulder seems more readily drawn to the action than Scully, who is again seen working as a doctor at Our Lady of Sorrows. Tad has been in contact with an abductee by the name of Sveta (a radiant Annet Mahendru), who appears to be exhibiting mind-reading abilities similar to those that Gibson Praise has demonstrated. Scully determines that she does indeed possess alien DNA, but then, as an abductee herself, she does, too.

Another thing that I think I like about this episode (in spite of myself) is how convincingly it seems to depict Mulder's obsession in an unhealthy way. I've always defended Mulder, and he'll probably turn out to be right yet again, but it really does start feeling like he's gone off the deep end. It doesn't help that he's getting older, and going gray, yet rambles (frequently only just barely coherently) more and more with the passing years. Tad - young and coiffed though he is - doesn't seem to be helping things, with his ultra-paranoid mentality (almost reaching levels witnessed in the episode Trust No 1; I daresay even The Lone Gunmen would call him crazy - and that's saying something).

No, don't kick it, Mulder!

As the episode opened, it was immediately clear that this series is sticking to its UFO-centered subject matter. But it really hammers on the paranoid conspiracy talk. A lot of it coming out of these characters' mouths sounds as obsessively paranoid as it would coming out of anyone's mouth. Similar to the fact that the best argument against conspiracies is that people are messy and prone to error, the fact that technology exists for perfect surveillance doesn't mean that we have the human resources (or inclination, necessarily) to use it that way. Just as the possibility of being seen when you pass a window doesn't mean that somebody will necessarily be looking at the instant you pass, the fact that there's a security camera on the street corner doesn't necessarily mean that you are or ever will be witnessed walking past by any human eyes. Similarly, Google may save all your emails, but somebody's still got to sit there and read through them all, and who has that kind of time?

Obviously, this isn't an argument against standing up for our privacy, because even if it's not ubiquitous, if the capability exists, there will be cases of people taking (selective) advantage of it. Power corrupts, and all that. Plus, if you throw into the mix the knowledge that computers are getting smarter, there may conceivably come a time when a machine could be up to the task of spending the necessary man hours (which would be considerably fewer computer hours), as well as an AI sophisticated enough to parse meaningful information. I guess, then, the important thing is a proactive defense of our privacy, laying the framework now, before it's too late (and the machines - or those that control them - take over)!

Which, I guess, is what's at the heart of the mythology in this episode. (And if it can engender this much discussion, maybe the themes are more on point than I realized). Questions still remain - as is ever the case when Chris Carter puts pen to paper. Who is in charge of this conspiracy? Besides the Cigarette Smoking Man, I mean - although his appearance raises even more questions. Like, how did he survive being incinerated to his very skeleton? He looks better now than he's looked since his surgery in Amor Fati, although he's never been as cool since he's had to smoke his cigarettes through a stoma. But if everything we thought we knew about the conspiracy - the Syndicate's plans, the aliens' agenda - is wrong, then there are a lot of contradictions that are going to need to be ironed out, unless we're being asked to ignore an awful lot of what this series has already laid out. Which I wouldn't be unwilling to do, but it would be helpful to know whether or not that's the case here. (And a brief reference to William would indicate that we're not completely jettisoning canon yet).

Anyway, I think the success of this episode will depend largely on how the rest of the miniseries plays out. And there's really not any other way that could be. The episode ends with the X-Files being re-opened (Skinner appears in a minor role that as yet may not do justice to the main credit he's nonetheless rightfully earned - otherwise, the opening credits sequence has been returned to the classic one, much to my relief), but in spite of the long passage of years, it doesn't feel as exciting (or as natural) as it did when it happened in Ascension, or at the end of Fight The Future. Anyway, it was a foregone conclusion, regardless, and as I mentioned above, I'm looking forward to seeing how this new series handles the monster-of-the-week episodes. (Me, looking forward to a Darin Morgan episode more than a mythology episode? My, how times have changed!).

Memorable quotes:

Mulder: We must ask ourselves: are they really a hoax? Are we truly alone, or are we being lied to?

(Great setup for the alien business, even if it doesn't feel as convincing as it did in the '90s - I'm not sure if it was the times, or just my youthful naiveté. Either way, the rest of this episode unfortunately undermines the pull of this opener by suggesting that the threat hanging over us is not in fact alien, but entirely human).

O'Malley: Do you miss it at all - the X-Files?
Scully: As a scientist, it was probably some of the most intense and challenging work I've ever done. I've never felt so alive.

Sveta: Who can I trust? They would call me a liar when they're the liars!

Mulder: Scully, listen to me. I've been misled - we've been misled. What if everything we've been led to believe in is a lie? What if there is no alien conspiracy?

(So, The X-Files was its own biggest conspiracy all along? I'd be more impressed if this ground hadn't already been tread in Gethsemane).

Mulder: You owe me some answers.
Skinner: Will you just...calm the hell down, Mulder - before we both get pissed off?

(Like old times).

Skinner: Since 9/11, this country's taken a big turn in a very strange direction.
Mulder: They police us, and spy on us, tell us that makes us safer. We've never been in more danger.

Informant: You weren't even close. Warring aliens lighting each other on fire, and other such nonsense.
Mulder: I was being cleverly manipulated.

(We were all being manipulated. Apparently. By Chris Carter).

Informant: Tell me something new.
Mulder: Alien technology being used against us. Not by aliens, not with aliens, but by a venal conspiracy of men against humanity.

Informant: The lies are so great, Mr. Mulder, the truth must be unassailable.

Informant: Roswell - that was a smokescreen.
Mulder: So I've been told.

(Between this and his reluctance to exterminate an alien pilot, I'd swear this guy is Deep Throat all over again. But without the magnetic presence of Jerry Hardin.)

Scully: I have seen this before. You're on fire, believing that you're on to some truth, that you can save the world.
Mulder: This will finally be their undoing.
Scully: It'll be your undoing, Mulder.

(If this wasn't The X-Files... Scully makes perhaps the most convincing argument yet, that Mulder's quest for truth is really just a symptom of madness. Tilting at windmills. As badly as we viewers want to believe in Mulder, all these years have passed and there is still no hard evidence. Even now, everything we thought we were sure of is evaporating into thin air. I'm almost convinced that the best true finale to this series would have Mulder realizing - or not, but the rest of us would - that there are no aliens, or conspiracies. That he's just insane. I know fans probably wouldn't like that, but I've always been fond of mindfuck endings).

Sveta: Why do such a thing and lie about it? Our own government?
Mulder: Your own government lies as a matter of course, as a matter of policy.

Scully: You can't say these things.
O'Malley: I'm gonna say them tomorrow.
Scully: It's fear-mongering, claptrap, isolationist, techno-paranoia so bogus, and dangerous, and stupid, that it borders on treason. Saying these things would be incredibly irresponsible.
Mulder: It's irresponsible not to say it.
Sveta: Especially if it's the truth.

(I'm not a fan of fear-mongering, but I'm a hard-line free-speecher, so my perspective is, crazy conspiracies like this should live or die by the evidence that supports them - or lack thereof. If Scully really wanted to dissuade them - even if she thought they were just paranoid delusions - she should have emphasized the danger over the "irresponsibility").

Mulder: Scully, are you ready for this?
Scully: I don't know there's a choice.

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