Boy it’s a good thing that I have mentally checked out of the mythology in Seasons 10 and 11. Otherwise, My Struggle IV would have left me frothing in rage. As it is, I am merely amused by how poorly the My Struggle quartet stacks up to the rest of Season 11.
My Struggle to Say Something Good About This Episode
Lets start with the good, of which there is not much. The storyline was more coherent than the previous My Struggles. Rather than focus on the global pandemic, it mostly focused on Mulder and Scully (really just Mulder) pursuing their son. With that came a sense of momentum that, fleeting as it may be, was much better than we’d seen previously. It didn’t feel like Chris Carter was trying to cram fifteen episodes of exposition into one episode..nah this time he paced himself by cramming only six episodes into one. Thankfully, some of the legwork was done already, most notably in “Ghouli”. MS IV didn’t have the ridiculous amount of exposition of MS I, II, and III which allowed the story room to breathe.
With a more coherent structure in place, David Duchovny decided not to phone in his performance here like he did in the prior My Struggles. Can’t really blame him because the writing in those episodes was absolutely horrific. Here the writing is merely bad so I am assuming that DD recognized the immense improvement and dialed his performance up a notch. There were some genuinely well-acted scenes with him meeting William and being consoled by Scully at the end.
What else? Hmmm…the William centered content was decent enough. They finally developed his character in Ghouli and this helps the story-line carry some weight here.
And of course Gillian Anderson, per usual, was awesome with what she was given.
So is there anything else? Nope. It’s just DD/GA’s acting, William being decent, and a coherent storyline. And that last one is not really something the episode did good. It was just more competently told than three of the worst episodes in the series’ run.
So lets dive into the bad using some fancy bullet-points.
- “Militarized Mulder”
I get that Mulder is emotionally invested because he’s chasing after his son, but that does not excuse this character suddenly becoming a murderous goon. I’ll buy him killing CSM at the end on impulse based on the fact that CSM had just gunned down his son. But this episode continued this ridiculous “Militarized Mulder” that has more in common with Jason Bourne or Jack Bauer than with Fox Mulder. He’s suddenly this super efficient killing machine who has no qualms about gunning down multiple armed guards on a whim in an airport hangar. What’s worse is he started that murderous reign of terror by disarming one of those guards while unarmed. Worse still is that its played like this is a normal facet of Mulder’s character.
“I have a very special set of skills, none of which I displayed in the past 25 years”.
- “Sidelined Scully”
I don’t know the inner-workings of Gillian Anderson’s mind but I really think she doesn’t want to do this show anymore because of how poorly Scully was handled in MSIII and MSIV (and I’m not even talking about the terrible CSM/Scully twist).
The X-Files has always been a 50/50 split with Mulder and Scully carrying equal importance and each carrying their share of episodes. Scully was the original audience stand-in back when the characters were introduced and everyone was coming to grips with Mulder’s eccentricities. So why are these episodes structured like action movies with Mulder domineering the proceedings? Scully is shortchanged to a laughable extent and it feels very tone-deaf to see an episode like this where Mulder is doing all of the leg work while Scully sits at home, makes worrisome phone calls, and….calls in a tip to Tad O’Malley (seriously, did we need him to make a return?)
This is all bad and all but its even more galling knowing that this is likely the final episode. Seriously, we are in the show’s final episodes and Scully is completely sidelined. She’s in a hospital bed in MSIII except for one moment when she gets out of bed to get in a car crash so she can go back to the hospital bed later. In MSIV, its even more egregious because her health isn’t an excuse. Nope, in this episode Scully’s response to learning that her son is on the run is to…tell Mulder this so he can go chase after him. Seriously?! This was the final episode! Why is Scully just a passive observer??? Terrible writing and an almost sacrilegious handling of one of the greatest characters ever.
“Oh my God David, what did Chris do to my character?”
- Meaningless Character Arcs
Soooo…how bout Erika Price and Mr. Y? They get introduced in MS III as a sort of new consortium. They rambled for a bit about a secret space program to rescue the 1% from annihilation. Then Erika Price apprehended Mulder and explained to him about a secret program about preserving human consciousness online. Then, Mulder learns that William is being hunted and happens upon Mr. Y in an airplane hangar where he blows his brains out in a terribly directed/structured scene. Then Erika Price tracks Mulder and William’s location remotely until William explodes Erika with his mind.
The above paragraph comprises the entirety of the character arcs of two characters that Chris Carter felt the need to introduce into the already bloated My Struggle III. I swear, the amount of time it takes to read the above paragraph is longer than their combined screen-time. What the hell did they accomplish or add to the show? What was their purpose? Why did we have to waste time watching them when Chris Carter had literally NO plan for them?
If you think Price and Y got short-changed because they were new characters, then what the hell happened with Monica Reyes??? They introduced her in Season 9 and 10 as an ally to Mulder and Scully. She wasn’t particularly compelling but she sure as hell seemed like she was supposed to be a good guy throughout her twenty-something episodes of development. Then Chris Carter dragged her back into the revival and everything went to hell. Her arc in the revival summed up to her being a double agent in Scully’s fever dream, driving CSM around for meetings with Skinner i, suddenly deciding to become a triple agent via one phone call in MSIV, and getting shot in the head by Skinner. Nothing was gained by including Reyes in these episodes. Honestly, it felt more like a random character CC introduced in the revival who happened to be played by Annabeth Gish.
Annabeth Gish hurriedly trying to warn her agent how terrible the script is while Chris Carter approaches in the background
- Failure to Elicit Emotion
Did you know that CSM died (again) in this episode? And that Skinner may have also died? These are two of my favorite characters ever…and I couldn’t give a shit about what happened to them here. The reason being is that the scripting for the My Struggle anthology is so bad that I just chalk everything that happens in them up to complete nonsense.
CSM has been balls-to-the-wall terrible throughout the revival. He’s a character that no longer feels relevant in 2018…he’s here to serve us up a platter of nostalgia while spewing out whatever garbage Carter threw into his scripts about global epidemics, secret projects, rape-through-science…etc. It’s simultaneously boring and infuriating so I really did not bat an eye when this character (a character who was such an incredible nemesis for Mulder and Scully in the original series) died again. Lets hope those three or four bullets to the chest keep CSM dead, unlike the sniper shot in Redux II, the fall down the stairs in Requiem, or the helicopter missile blowing up his scull in The Truth (that last one looked like it hurt.)
Skinner has been handled better than CSM in the revival but only because it wasn’t revealed that he impregnated Mulder back in the original series. Seriously, they went back to the ridiculous “we can’t trust Skinner” routine and it didn’t hold any water ten episodes ago. Yes, they tried desperately to garner some emotion from that storyline during Kitten with slightly better-than-middling results. But still, to me the Skinner in this revival (other than in Kitten) is not actually Skinner but just a random character with zero personality that Chris Carter wrote for his dear friend Mitch Pileggi. It pains me to say that because I love Skinner. I wanted him to have something substantial to do. I wanted to be invested. But…I just couldn’t. That explains why my reaction to Skinner’s unknown fate at the end was “what?? They aren’t telling us if Skinner lived or died?! How could….never mind I don’t care.”
- The Final Mulder/Scully Scene
That final scene with Mulder and Scully was so well acted that it almost tricks you into thinking its a good scene. I mean there is emotion, there is crying, there is catharsis, there are two of the greatest characters ever with some of the best chemistry on television in any era attaining some semblance of closure after years of heart-break! It had to be good, right?
No amount of Mark Snow’s manipulative music will make me think that Mulder and Scully could possibly be at peace at that final moment when, in their minds, their son was just murdered by their chain-smoking, soliloquy delivering, missile surviving, arch-nemesis. Mulder responds to his son’s death by selfishly talking about how William’s death upends Mulder’s view of himself as a father. (Mind you, this death occurred roughly 74 seconds prior to this existential crisis of Mulder’s.) He is then placated by Scully saying they are having another baby. Meanwhile Scully has been a hot mess at the very mention of William throughout Seasons 9, 10, and 11 and now she’s able to write him off as an experiment just because of a conversation she had with Skinner ten minutes ago in the car? THIS IS HER SON! Her very own flesh and blood had just been shot in the head…and her reaction is “it’s ok Mulder, you put a real non-experiment baby in me last episode so we’re good.” It’s such an “ahh shucks” attitude that its embarrassing that this is their final scene.
“You know Scully, our son may be dead but at least we still have our health.”
My Struggling Conclusions
The biggest reason this episode was unable to elicit the proper emotional response rests with the decision to maintain the mythology/monster of the week dichotomy. The MOTW episodes this season were very enjoyable so I’m glad we got them. But I really think the mythology would have been better if they had written the revival with the idea that the entire set of episodes would follow one over-arching story (basically the four My Struggles). The events would have had time to be introduced and breathe, characters would actually get some substance to them (those two characters I talked about earlier who I already forgot their names), and Skinner and CSM could have been given some actual emotional meat to their scenes. Instead, the mythology/standalone split forced the mythology into this horrid, poorly paced mess where events/conflicts are introduced haphazardly and bear no emotional resonance. Its no surprise that the only part of this episode that worked was Mulder and Scully’s search for William, a plot-line that was given some legs in Ghouli.
I could write more about the problems in this episode but let me just finish by saying I was really happy with Season 11 as a whole. When thinking of MOTW episodes, I didn’t think any of them were actually bad. They felt like The X-Files and it was great to see the characters back on my screen and seeming somewhat relevant. It’s just a shame to end the season on an episode like this. It doesn’t affect my enjoyment of the other episodes but it takes a lot of mental calisthenics on my part to ignore the existence of the My Struggle saga.