Monday, February 22, 2016

The X-Files - S10:E6 "My Struggle II"

[ S10:E5 "Babylon" <<< Season 10 >>>  ?????? ]

Last week I said this season could live or die by its finale, but the truth is, it was already dead in my heart. It probably died six weeks ago, when the premiere failed to live up to my expectations. I don't want to see Mulder and Scully looking and sounding so old. I don't want another excuse for why the Smoking Man has escaped death and found another way to play the megalomaniac yet again, and I don't want to watch The X-Files in hi-def, with super-slick CGI. What I wanted was a revival of the good old days, and that's most decidedly not what this is. This isn't The X-Files seasons 2-5 revisited, this is The X-Files season 10, the one that comes after 9 (except that everybody's fifteen years older). The only bit of it that's worth watching, honestly, is Darin Morgan's episode - Mulder & Scully Meet the Were-Monster. Treat it like a one-off canonical modern spoof of The X-Files featuring the original actors, and forget that it's part of a dubious "revival".

Spoiler Warning: Yeah, the rest of this review is going to contain spoilers.

I suppose I should talk about the finale. To start with, it feels a little weird that all this stuff happened in the premiere, and then Skinner's like "do something about it", and reopens the X-Files (like, what kinda difference is that supposed to make?), and then they detour for four weeks, after which all of a sudden, pow! - time to wrap up those story threads! It's like they took a classic two-parter, but instead of sticking them together, they wedged a few episodes in the middle.

Tad O'Malley is back, but he exists literally to do nothing more than spout exposition on his little webshow. Sadly, Sveta did not survive that car crash like I hoped she would. Agents Miller and Einstein are back, too. I neither loved them nor hated them in Babylon, but they feel kinda like set dressing here, in spite of driving major plot points (because Scully could have done that science herself, and Mulder could have saved himself from the Smoking Man if the writers had so willed it). Weirdly, there's a non-cameo by a nameless thug who could well have been Alex Krycek's stand-in - to hell with plot consistency, they should have just brought him back! Oh, and Agent Reyes turns up. It's nice to see her again, actually (though it's a pity Robert Patrick wasn't available), but she doesn't do much of consequence either, except try to make excuses - both for being absent for the past decade, as well as why she made a deal with the devil (the way a certain Agent Fowley did once before her).

On the plus side (I guess), there are a lot of explanations in this episode, and we do finally get that global invasion (of sorts), that's been a long time coming (but don't expect to see any aliens on this show). We get to see how the Smoking Man was pieced back together after being incinerated (no matter how final that death seemed to be). And we learn a little more about the alien's plans. Or the conspirators' plans. Whichever. The aliens are indeed working in a The Day The Earth Stood Still capacity, intent on wiping out mankind before it becomes a danger to the rest of life in the universe. The Smoking Man, having made a deal with those aliens, holds the trigger to the device that will wipe humanity out. It's moderately clever - involving a global contagion in the form of not a disease, but actually a genetic invader (finally giving a purpose to all those hints about smallpox vaccinations in the original series) that deactivates a person's immune system, effectively making them susceptible to just about any disease on the face of the planet. They call it "the Spartan virus".

Scully and Einstein share a scene that's weirdly homoerotic.

Anyway, there's a lot of time spent in the hospital, as the world falls apart in a very Outbreak-like scenario (that we've all seen a million times before). Mulder has a confrontation with the Smoking Man (like we've all seen a million times before), that ends with neither one of them dead or in any different a position regarding their feelings for each other than they were before (other than the absence of any pretext obscuring the fact that the Smoking Man is indeed Mulder's father). And the episode closes on a dubious ending in which Scully runs through the streets to save Mulder's life by injecting him with the alien DNA inside of her (courtesy of her abduction experiments) that renders her immune to the Spartan virus. She babbles something about him needing stem cells (all of a sudden), that can only come from their absent son, William. Does this mean Mulder's doomed? Cue the deus ex machina, in the form of a UFO hovering above them, inside which I'll be damned if William isn't waiting.

Except, that's the end of the episode. Just like that. It's not even really a cliffhanger - you can't put "to be continued" if there's no guarantee that there will ever be any more episodes. (The tagline that replaces "The Truth Is Out There" at the beginning of this episode ominously - but probably insincerely - reads "This Is The End"). Except that Chris Carter had dispensed with using "to be continued" for his season finales going all the way back to Requiem in season 7 (season 5's The End, if you count tie-ins to movies - hint, hint). Frankly, I think he's gotten too comfortable with the uncertainty of knowing whether the series will continue or not. At least back then, his finales had a sense of closure, even as they left certain questions unanswered. Here, it's like a foregone conclusion that the story will continue - and that may well be the case, but it's still a pretty dickish way to end the episode and the season.

(On second thought, the last time a UFO appeared out of nowhere, it was to kill somebody else with alien DNA. What an ending that would have been if Mulder and Scully had been obliterated by the aliens as the human population teetered on the brink of extinction. As depressing as that would have been, it would have been a much better ending than simply cutting off right there, leaving us all guessing. Hmm, I smell headcanon).

Honestly, though - by this point, I'm just not that invested. I'll definitely watch if there are more episodes coming in the future (frankly I think doing one last big movie to end the series once and for all would be the best move). Maybe I'll even start to like it better now that I no longer have any expectations to be dashed against the rocks. In any case, this has been one hell of a long ride, starting back in June of last year, when I embarked on my series-long marathon. I'm damn exhausted, man, and let me tell you, I'm pretty much sick of reviewing X-Files episodes right now. It's time I had a vacation.

Did I mention that Scully's an alieum?

Memorable quotes:

Tad O'Malley: What may seem like science-fiction, but is science fact - the legitimate and verifiable discovery of alien DNA that's in virtually every American citizen.

(See, this is one of the things that really bugs me about this series. Misdirection is fine, and it's entirely understandable that characters will acquire faulty information and then spread it around like the truth - sometimes deliberately, in the case of the villains. But it gets to a point after a while, that this device has been used so much, it becomes frustrating. I know one of the major, underlying themes of this series is "trust no one", and that you often can't take people at their word. But given that so much of the show's mythology has been actually explained in dialogues that felt disingenuous (like the Well-Manicured Man telling Mulder just "what he wanted to hear" in Paper Clip - despite it also being the absolute truth), it makes an already muddled mythology that much harder to piece together. Come to think of it, the villains are more consistently trustworthy than the good guys - Mulder's informants included. In this case, you're clearly supposed to be strung along by this idea that every American citizen possesses alien DNA - which also dovetails with the whole "alien astronauts"/"more human than human"/"everybody has inactive DNA inside of them that comes from aliens" plot that we've encountered before. And yet, later in the episode, we learn the critical fact that not everyone has alien DNA - only a select few (like Scully, and Sveta) - and that having that DNA isn't what's causing the coming plague, it's actually the cure for it! In other words, Tad O'Malley's "legitimate and verifiable" discovery is complete baloney. Well, that just pisses me off).

(Also, later, they test Scully's DNA, and the alien DNA isn't there. But then they re-test it once more, and boom! - there it is. This could be a lesson on double-checking your work, but it really just feels like unnecessary padding).

Scully: While we share a faith in science, I have come to the understanding that the science that we were taught takes us but a distance towards the truth.

(I like Scully better as a skeptic than a believer, but it's a wonder she hasn't taken this perspective from the start. One of her greatest moments as a scientist was in End Game, where even if she didn't understand the alien toxin that was killing Mulder, she used science to save his life. Scientists aren't usually so hubristic as to assume that science has explained everything. A scientist might claim that science can eventually - or theoretically - explain everything. But just because a scientist encounters something that science hasn't explained, doesn't mean that the scientist will dismiss its existence out of hand - unless it's a well-established hoax, as most paranormal activity is in the real world (but not, as we've seen, in the world of the X-Files). No, in the face of apparent evidence suggesting the existence of "extreme possibilities", a scientist wouldn't stubbornly shut her eyes, she would get out her lab equipment and study it, in the hope of logging documented evidence of the phenomenon, and maybe extend science's reach a little in the process - just the sort of thing that might win a scientist academic esteem - especially if said scientist had previously tarnished her reputation by joining a paranormal investigative division. It would be the proof to redeem her decision in the eyes of her superiors who look down on her).

(Also, I know Scully is Catholic - to her detriment - but I don't like the phrase "faith in science". Faith is something you have in the absence of evidence. The whole point of science is that it backs itself up. You don't need to trust it, because whether it's right or wrong, it'll let you know either way. So rather than faith, one should have confidence in science - not as the truth, but the most reliable method that will lead to the truth).

Smoking Man: You see a man lying here - a seemingly weak man. But I am the most powerful man in the world.

Smoking Man: The world will go on - just in my image, instead of God's.
Reyes: You think you can play God?
Smoking Man: No, not God, certainly.

Smoking Man: Every man has his weakness. Mine was always just...cigarettes.

Smoking Man: Neither you nor I could save mankind from self-extermination.
Mulder: So you plotted your end game?
Smoking Man: I just changed the time table. Everyone still dies in the end.

Smoking Man: The ultimate irony: the defeat of the big-brained beasts by the tiniest, unthinking microbes.

(War of the Worlds much?)

Tad O'Malley: It would now appear...we go out...with a whimper...a frightful, deafening silence.

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