Welcome back. In part 2 of my review, I’ll be recapping episodes 4 – 6 of The X-Files revival. To read my review of episodes 1 – 3, click here. It’s safe to say the spoilers are out there.
Episode 4: Home Again
It was unfair to call this episode “Home Again.” There are so many other obvious titles: “Trash Man,” for example. Let me explain. “Home” (1996) is a fan-favorite episode. It’s gross and scary and dark and brilliant. When I read that Glen Morgan, original co-writer of “Home,” was helming “Home Again,” I assumed this was going to be a sequel of epically gross and scary proportions.
But Chris Carter didn’t want to back track. He said over and over again, “This isn’t an exercise in nostalgia.” Fair enough. So instead, viewers got Tim Armstrong playing a trash monster and watched Scully’s mom die. Thankfully, the misleading title was easily forgiven, because “Home Again” turned out to be the best episode of the season.
In its previous life, this The X-Files story would’ve been two different episodes: one about the trash monster and one about Scully’s mom. Shorter season, crammed episodes — we’ve talked about this. But unlike “Founders Mutation,” which did the same dual-story structure, both plot lines in “Home Again” are equally intriguing, albeit equally under served.
Trash Man (I love the casting of Tim Armstrong, from the punk band Rancid, by the way) is one of the more unique monsters of the entire series that I can remember, bringing with him a commentary of homelessness and lavish waste. That’s all secondary though. Trash Man is straight up 90’s horror — a slow moving, but steady killer.
So then we switch to Scully’s story. This is Gillian Anderson’s best performance of the season. She’s given room to work with longer scenes. She’s also given well-written dialogue, elevating the rest of the production, as she usually does when given good material. Scullly’s mom dies (farewell, Mrs. Scully!!!!) and then we switch back to the monster. For me, Scully “needing to work” after her mom’s death is a bit too-convenient plot device. Yes, it gets her back into the field, but it also destroys any emotional punch felt by the loss.
The final scene does a lot to mend the two disparate storylines. Scully, sitting on a log before a beautiful, Twin-Peaksy setting, expresses to Mulder the weight of giving up her son, how she disposed of him like garbage. Next to her on the ground, ashes waiting to be spread, Scully recognizes that her mother was also haunted by the loss of William, her grandson. There are a lot of layers to unwrap here, and I love it. It’s great storytelling at work.
What Worked: Trash Man attacking the woman in her home with “Downtown” playing. This isn’t a sequel to “Home,” but that scene sure felt like it.
What’s Flawed: The rushed explanation of why the monster exists, and how they stopped it. No shock: this problem exists in almost every X-File monster episode. Forgivable.
Final Grade: A
Episode 5: Babylon
With only six episodes in a “This could never happen” season, “Babylon” wastes all of our time. It’s indulgent, grossly symbolic, clunky, clichéd. After Season 9 (2001), the 2nd movie (2008), and all three of Chris Carter’s episodes in the revival season, I’m beginning to fear the writer/director/creator has lost his touch. Maybe, just maybe he should consider stepping back (a la George Lucas) and let his writing team (Morgan, Wong) take over. (I have since discovered that other critics feel the same way).
There were moments, when watching “Babylon”, where I thought I was being Punk’d. There was just no way that FOX Network, Chris Carter and Co., the actors, grips, whomever, looked at this script and said, “Yeah, let’s make that one.” But they did. It felt like, after more than a decade of not writing X-Files, that Carter couldn’t manage to think of enough ideas to fill a six-episode season, so he just winged it, making “Babylon” up as he went along.
The cold open begins with a young Muslim man who is praying. We think: Oh cool, a part for a Muslim actor in a major TV show that isn’t a terrorist. And then, of course, we find out he is a terrorist. Him and his other Muslim terrorist friend go blow up a building. Cue opening credits.
But what about that classic X-Files twist? Nothing. Just a heaping serving of awkwardness from an easy, lazy target (i.e., the Muslim community). For me, however, the worst part of this cold open — other than reinforcing the idea that all out-of-place, young Muslim men are dangerous — is that this sequence is long and boring. There’s nothing paranormal going on here. So why show it? Why give this much time to something you could’ve just explained through 20 seconds of dialogue? Hint: A big fiery explosion!
So there’s that, then there’s that way-too-long sequence of Mulder tripping out on mushrooms in a Texas bar, dad dancing. The Lone Gunmen make a cameo, which almost redeems the scene. The drug sequence then shifts to a darker tone (more bi-polar tone shifting from an episode that can’t decide what it wants to be) where Old Smokey makes an appearance. It’s such an odd placement for the actor, you almost wonder if William B. Davis’ contract required him to appear in at least three episodes — FOX saying, “Okay, how about you stand over there with a whip?”
(At this point I’m screaming at my TV, yelling, “You didn’t have this much time to waste!!!”)
People on Twitter seemed to enjoy Agents Miller and Einstein enough. I couldn’t care for them. Their chemistry was forced and their doppelganger shtick just confused all the metaphors and symbolism that was already spinning in this episode. I’m not sure what they really added.
If you want to peel back all the layers, Chris Carter has some intriguing ideas floating around: that Mulder’s dedication to his quest parallels that of a terrorist; that we are all susceptible to the power of persuasion, suggestion and speech; and that your interpretation of the Tower of Babel will determine your opinion of God and his relationship with creation… But simply put: all these metaphors and messages could’ve been achieved with a much better story. Imagine that final scene in the field, for instance, placed after a completely different story. It would’ve had the same effect.
What worked: The final scene with Mulder and Scully in the field. Heartfelt and grounded. Almost made up for the 40 minutes that came before it. Almost.
What’s flawed: Everything I just mentioned, plus Skinner only getting another 2 minute scene. Give the SKINMAN MORE TO DO! This should’ve been his episode.
Final Grade: D+
Episode 6: My Struggle II
Hold up. I really need to work this out:
The invasion wasn’t an invasion, after all, but a long-con genocide. Okay. Because a Shadow Government played with our DNA via smallpox vaccinations. Okay. Scully was immune because she had alien DNA. Okay. Mulder was summoned by Old Smokey to offer (yet again) a partnership to watch the world burn together, only for Mulder (yet again) to say no. Okay. Scully raced to Mulder on a backed-up freeway with the cure (i.e., her), only to not administer the cure, jumping to a logical (?) conclusion that what Mulder really needed was stem cells from their long lost son. Okay? An alien ship hovered over Scully and the lights turned black…
Wait. So. What happened?
As with the season premiere — aptly titled “My Struggle” — the bookend “My Struggle II” is just as nauseatingly fast paced, confusing, and disappointing. It has its moments, of course, so let’s start there. The Jason Borne-ish fight sequence with Mulder is incredible (if for any reason, other than the great choreography, because it slows down the pace of this damn episode). Seeing Monica Reyes again was a delight. I didn’t quite buy her motivation/explanation for working for Old Smokey, though I will concede that it was a clever way to bring back both characters. Speaking of Old Smokey, his “face reveal” was a well-timed shocker. It was gross and I loved it. I couldn’t help but think of Mr. Silva in Skyfall.
But besides all that, I’m not sure I can wrap my head around anything else.
Can we talk about Tad O’Malley for a minute? Tad (played with passion by Joel McHale) is a crazy, Glenn Beckian type persona, and he’s there to… do… what exactly? Sweat, I guess. Provide transition between scenes, I guess. Waste the talents of a good actor, I guess. Chris Carter — the former mastermind of constructing strong, complex and purposeful characters — forgot to ask himself, “What are we supposed to learn from Tad?” The answer, kids, is to trust your local right-wing conspiracy theorist nutjob based on how passionate he can speak. The more they talk about chemtrails and anti-vaccination, the more likely they’ll be right! Got it?
Can we talk about Agent Einstein for a minute? Einstein (played well enough by Lauren Ambrose) is there in this episode to be a sounding board/devil’s advocate for Scully to work out theories based in giant leaps of logic (i.e., to become Mulder). But to become Mulder, Scully first needs a Scully, so Einstein becomes her Scully. Confused? So was I. Why can’t Mulder and Scully just be together for a friggin finale? And why does Einstein’s name have to be Einstein? Every time Scully addresses her, it sounds like an insult to me, and I laugh.
Can we talk about selling a global pandemic to your audience? Until the last scene of the episode, I wasn’t even sure the virus was affecting more than Scully’s hospital. Then we saw a backed-up freeway. Maybe rush hour? How widespread is this infection, Mr. Carter? It’s kind of important to the story BECAUSE YOU CLAIM THE WORLD IS COMING TO AN END. By the way, if the entire world really was falling apart, then who the hell is watching Tad on TV?
What Worked: The cold open. Opening credits. Commercial breaks.
What’s Flawed: They needed four episodes to explore this mythology, instead we got two. This could’ve been great. The story is there, but it’s too big, too ambitious, too everything. I’ll tell Carter what I tell people who don’t know how to roll a burrito: know the limits of your tortilla.
Final Grade: C
Not So Final Thoughts
It was obvious, the way this season was going, that we weren’t in store for any long-awaited answers (William?) or any semblance of closure (let it die, Mr. Carter, mercifully, please?). And now, standing knee deep in the debris that was that finale, it all becomes clear: The six-episode revival wasn’t about giving Mulder, Scully and their fans the once-in-a-lifetime closure they deserve; it was rather all a ploy — to set up yet another cash-grab season. Call it job security. Call it selfish. Call it Cigarette Smoking Man sitting on his throne with an empty, evil laugh.
Chris Carter is not coy about it either, telling the NY Times, “Of course,” when asked if the finale was a calculated way to get more episodes made.
As an X-Phile, I should be thrilled. With the ratings Fox had, a new season is bound to get made, and I’ll get more Mulder and Scully chasing the big, scary monsters. But here’s the thing: I don’t want another season. Even if it’s better than the mediocre revival season we just had, I don’t want it. All another season will do is bring yet another season and another one after that. Eventually, everyone will get burned out and quit and the characters will be left just as unresolved as they are today.
I’ve been watching this show almost my entire life. I want finality. Closure. Peace. Take a cue, Chris Carter, from your own X-File alumni Vince Gilligan and end your show on a high note.
If you do return again, X-Files return with hope. It’s time for Chris Carter to take a step back and to let his team steer the ship. Bring back Wong, both Morgans, and Gilligan (give him all the money). Will I watch the next season? Of course. Will it improve, give closure and kick ass?
Despite my better judgment, I still sincerely want to believe.