So, The X-Files is back. Well, not quite yet in the UK, we still have to wait until “Early February” to see the revival series on Channel 5, but we were lucky enough to catch a screening of the first episode ‘My Struggle,’ so here’s a spoiler-free preview for you!
After kicking off with a (very) brisk catch-up narration from Mulder over a greatest hits collection of polaroids, we find our favourite agents no longer working for the FBI. Scully’s gone back to being a surgeon, while Mulder is…doing whatever Mulder does when he’s off the grid. The two get brought back into the mix when they’re contacted by right-wing TV personality Tad O’Malley (Community’s Joel McHale, acquitting himself well), who wants them to meet Sveta (The Americans‘ Annet Mahendru, who carries the burden of being the person so badly in need of rescuing that she brings Mulder and Scully out of the shadows), a repeat abductee whose history has some uncomfortable parallels with Scully’s.
So, without giving any more of the plot away, the big question is: does this live up to expectations? Well, for the most part, yes, provided you’re an X-Files fan. Many of the criticisms which this first episode has come in for will be familiar to the hardcore faithful. Dodgy dialogue? Yeah, sometimes. Over-earnestness in the face of increasingly outlandish conspiracy theories? Of course! Relying on the chemistry between the two leads to make you overlook some of these problems? You’re damn right.
But for fans of the show that are willing to overlook these issues (or even treat them with a weird kind of masochistic nostalgia, as this reviewer did), this first episode is a very strong case for why the show’s revival was justified, and you’d better believe it’s more fun than I Want To Believe. Teeing up a new plot direction is intriguing, but it’s not as fun as seeing Mulder and Scully together again, noting every tip of the hat to the classic mythology, and seeing how Chris Carter and company can bring a show that seems so firmly rooted into the 90s into the present day.
In fact, we’d best get the fan service out of the way: there’s a lot. If you’re confident that you’ll have a good time as long as they use the classic theme and you see the I Want To Believe poster at some point, you’re absolutely covered, and there’s a lot of great nods to the show that we’ll leave for you to enjoy. It’s also great to see the return of Mitch Pileggi as Walter Skinner, complete with a new beard and an urgent need to get Mulder back on the X-Files.
Even greater is seeing David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson back as Mulder and Scully, and slipping pretty much seamlessly back into these roles. Having recently rewatched the later seasons of The X-Files, seeing Duchovny giving Fox Mulder an urgency to go with the sly sense of humour is surprisingly refreshing, while the wide-eyed wonder with which he greets [redacted] reminds you of his essential desire to believe much better than Carter’s overuse of that famous phrase does.
As for Anderson, with one exception this first episode doesn’t give her too many opportunities to go beyond “worried” and “stressed out,” but she gets an excellent scene with Annet Mahendru in which the young woman prods and probes at her sceptical doctor, realising that Scully’s got much more experience than she’s letting on. She’s still got an excellent rapport with Duchovny, which only stumbles in the episode’s worst scene (you’ll know it when you see it, it’s the one with the catchphrases).
This may not be the most accessible introduction for newcomers. It’s certainly not X-Files at its best, yet, but it understands what worked and shows that Carter and the cast are capable of channelling that classic energy. There’s a scene near the end of the episode in which Mulder launches into a conspiracy theory speech that takes us back to Roswell and up to the present day, and in that moment we’re absolutely reminded of why we love this show. We hope that the next five episodes improve, but as a reintroduction and a reminder, this is a good start. Is it taking advantage of our massive nostalgia? Yes, but just try not grinning when Mark Snow’s theme kicks in, or when they pull back the curtain on that final reveal.
The X-Files begins on Channel 5 in early February in the UK and is currently airing on Fox in the US. Read all about the revival in the new issue of SciFiNow.