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The X-Files Revival: Does it Deliver?

by Jason Eliason

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NOTE: Spoilers follow.

In the first episode of The X-Files revival, “My Struggle,” we’re welcomed back by something that’s both comforting and powerfully nostalgic: Mulder’s voice explaining the crusade he’d pursued for so many years, to prove the existence of extraterrestrial life and the government conspiracy created to hide it from the world. He sounds as he always did, passionate and matter of fact but also a little weary, too.

It’s Scully we see first, beautiful and austere as she preps for surgery. She’s interrupted by a phone call from her former boss, FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner. Skinner’s looking for Mulder and Scully’s the only person who can find him. When Scully calls Mulder to relay the news we fall right back into the old familiar chemistry with the easy banter and witticisms, but there’s also an element of sadness on both sides that hints at their troubled past. Our first look at Mulder reveals a man that’s weathered both inside and out but is still as cynical and as dedicated as he ever was. As for Skinner, he’s as abrupt and no-nonsense as he always was, but it’s clear his loyalty to Mulder and Scully hasn’t waned over the years.

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“My Struggle” provides a lot of classic elements for longtime fans of the X-Files, including a flashback sequence that focuses directly on the show’s extraterrestrial conspiracy mythos. We’re also presented with Mulder’s characteristic willingness to leap before he looks into anything that might give weight to the crusade he’s been pursuing for so long. In a shout-out to the show’s pilot that first aired in 1993, the first episode of the new mini-series goes back to its roots by focusing on an alien abductee. The abductee, a woman named Sveta, gives Scully cause to examine some of her beliefs concerning her own abduction (Season 2) and her battle with the cancer that stemmed from that abduction (Season 4). In addition to running tests on Sveta’s DNA, Scully runs tests on her own. The results are what pushes her, finally, in the same direction as Mulder: somebody has to stop the men who are responsible for the conspiracy and all the terrible things that have happened because of it.

There’s a lot of material that’s new to the show, obviously, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that we’re living in the digital age (for example, the last time the show was on the air Mulder and Scully were using those huge, bulky mobile phones from the mid 90’s). The Internet and the way it’s used has evolved in a big way over the past 14 years too, and that fact has been smoothly incorporated into the show’s details. Where once Mulder would meet with strange, reclusive old men in shadowy alleyways to get certain information, researching something nowadays is as easy as reaching for a smartphone.

The first episode ends with a bang so to speak, with several violent, mysterious events happening in quick succession. And then the big reveal: the main antagonist of the series, The Smoking Man, is still alive. He’s speaking on the phone in a scene powerfully reminiscent of another from the show’s heyday. “We have a problem,” he says after ending the conversation, as someone whose face we can’t see holds a cigarette to the stoma in his neck. “They’ve re-opened the X-Files.”

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The ratings for “My Struggle” were through the roof, proving beyond a doubt that this revival was something that people wanted very badly. So, the main question: did the tenth season opener recapture the magic of the original show?  The answer: kind of but not really, and that’s not a bad thing. Too much has changed in 14 years for the show to pick up right where it left off, not only in regard to technology, but in regard to the Mulder and Scully themselves. It’s strongly implied that the two tried for a long time to make their relationship work but that ultimately there was just too much between them to overcome. In response to a question she’s asked about her relationship with Mulder, Scully replies, “… possibly one of the most intense and challenging relationships I may ever have and quite honestly, the most impossible.” We see that there’s a chasm between them but we’re also made to see that, step by step, they’ll be finding their way back to each other in the episodes yet to come.

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Fans hoping to be thrown right back into atmosphere of the dark, dingy office where Mulder spent hours of his time throwing pencils at the ceiling while brooding over the conspiracy may be disappointed. In order to fit with this day and age, things had to switch gears. The revival seems to move faster, leapfrogging through investigations while still throwing viewers enough detail to keep them firmly invested. We’re also made to play catch up, reconciling the show we loved with the show we want to love. It’s the chemistry between Scully and Mulder that make the show what it is, and when the two are on screen together it’s not hard at all to picture the past they share, the secrets they’ve uncovered, and the dangers they’ve survived. The X-Files revival reels us in with a different kind of magic that comes from a rebirth 14 years in the making, and that’s just the way it should be.

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