The X-Files 2016: monsters good, conspiracies bad

Fourteen years on from the last meaningful contact we had with them, and iconic FBI Agents Mulder and Scully are back on the case for six new TV episodes promising intrigue, visual spectacle and – maybe, just maybe – some answers to the big questions of the overarching mythology of The X-Files.

Six brand new episodes later, and I’m still none the bloody wiser. But we’ll get to that.

the-truth-is-out-there

‘Monster of the week’ – big successes

The middle four episodes of the new seasons of The X-Files were at times gripping, action-packed and even hilarious. Episode two continued to give me a sinking feeling before we finally hit upon a trio of decent-to-good episodes of the ‘monster of the week’ variety which gave the show its original cult appeal back in the 1990s.

My favourite by far of the new run was ‘Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster’, an episode written in much the same tongue-in-cheek manner as was worthy of their finest funny moments during the original run – but critically, made to be fresh and funny for this new age of TV rather than tinged with the camp sense of irony which we got so used to back then.

Relying on the old formula of scepticism versus belief, this battle was turned upside down with a few choice reveals about the guest stars Rhys Darby and Kumail Nanjiani, and some fantastically funny interpretations of the evidence including some ridiculous testimony by Darby’s character that he’d seduced Agent Scully in his place of work.

If we’d been treated to a few more episodes like this, without the need to drag up the over-arcing storyline which began to bog The X-Files down in its own pretentiousness first time round, we could have chalked the whole thing down as a job well done. But…ugh.

Mulder and scully x files 2016

The mythology episodes – big disappointments

When The X-Files first aired on the BBC, the scheduling was…let’s call it inconsistent. Being pre-empted at the drop of a hat for an episode of Question Time or, say, the World Hat Dropping Championships, meant that it got difficult to keep up with events if the show aired elsewhere that week. The bulk of the one-off episodes and the odd injection of long-term plot was fine to miss every now and then, but over time it became apparent that you just couldn’t miss a single episode or you’d be stuffed trying to keep up.

And at that age, and with that scheduling, well…I was stuffed.

With only six episodes in the entire run, even with a Sky+ box that’s temperamental at the worst of times, I didn’t expect to be hard done by from the scheduling this time. Sadly, the producers of the show decided to give us that same sense of baffling treatment themselves in the way they tried to cram a full six episodes’ worth of mythology material into two – and failed badly.

Entire scenes whizzed by and left me none the wiser as to what the hell just happened. Logical, reasoned discussion gave way to frenzied declarations like “the other shoe is waiting to drop!” or “No one has the right or the ability to tamper with your DNA,” as if we’re supposed to be caught up on 12 years of evidence-gathering in 12 seconds. This is The X-Files; I’m prepared to suspend my disbelief for a few minutes until another plot thread comes in to tide me over, but during the two rushed episodes which made up ‘My Struggle’ I was left hanging for ages at a time without any reason or willingness to go with it.

I don’t want to spoil things but the plausibility which the programme spent nine and a bit seasons trying to make you doubt really came through in the final ten minutes, as Scully performed the job of a team of medical scientists alone, in seemingly ten minutes.

On the whole, the X-Files revival was an excellent trip down memory lane in all the houses that are still lit up fondly – the one-off mysteries – but failed spectacularly to turn the lights on elsewhere – the headache-inducing twists and turns of the mythology. Judging by that cliffhanger it looks like we could see Mulder and Scully (not to mention Miller and Einstein, the weird Mini-Me characters) again down the line – but Scully herself would be proud of my scepticism that the conspiracy plot will be worth the return.

 

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