Skip to main content

My life's become a punchline.

The X-Files
10.1: My Struggle

I must count as one of the few who actually liked 2008’s I Want to Believe. It wasn’t anything special, admittedly, but Chris Carter’s decision to base the plot around a paedophile priest, while drawing inspiration from Dirty Pretty Things and Body Parts, was almost perversely commendable as an act self-sabotaging any prospects the series might have of garnering a cinematic second wind. It was also a relief to have no connection at all to the over-arching alien conspiracy he’d progressively made such a hash of during his near decade steering the show. My Struggle, alas, finds Carter cobbling together more alien shenanigans, with little in the way of conviction. As such, it’s really the pleasure of seeing the old team back together that sees the first of this mini-event season through.


Carter’s pretty much the George Lucas of The X-Filesuniverse, only without the billionaire part. If only he would divest himself of the show, it might have a chance to explore untold new climes (someone could base a whole new seven season arc just on the provocative paradigms of Corey Goode, let alone the snowballing of conspiracy theories in almost any given aspect of the news and media since the series finished in 2002). Instead, we’re dragged back to familiar territory of humans with alien DNA, Carter’s peculiar reasoning being this might work as some kind of hook. Most bizarrely, he sees fit to revisit probably the weakest season of the show, the fifth (it’s either that or Seven), in which Mulder becomes convinced the alien conspiracy is all a hoax and grows disillusioned, only to get his mojo back in time for Fight the Future.


Except that here Mulder admits to aliens; it’s only the abductions that are being undertaken by humans (not exactly a new idea, even within the show’s confines). The episode rather garbles Mulder’s argument, almost as if Carter is tired just dredging up the same-old, same-old (“What if there is no alien conspiracy?” asks Fox – what he means is one by them, as opposed to involving them) Where did the DNA come from? Roswell, of course. Presumably Carter returned to this warty old standby because he’s got one eye on luring potential new audiences with something broadly familiar. It’s rather feeble, though. As is the notion that the Cigarette Smoking Man somehow still carries some juice (he stopped being interesting as soon as Carter realised he was popular enough to furnish with devoted episodes). Too much of My Struggle is stuck in the ‘90s, rather than embracing the chance its makers have to show they acutely understand that TV has moved on in the last decade or so.


What makes this particularly frustrating is that Carter’s clearly aware of this low-hanging fruitful material, even furnishing the episode with an Alex Jones-esque conservative conspiracy monger (Joel McHale’s Tad O’Malley), making an industry out of paranoia. And nodding to how mainstream all this is now (in the wake of influence of The X-Files itself); “My life’s become a punchline” observes Mulder, seeing Obama exchanging quips about UFOs on Jimmy Kimmel Live. But O’Malley is wheeled on as a rather unconvincing facilitator for reinstituting the X-Files and bringing Mulder and Scully back together (they’re estranged, which is something at least), only for him to shut everything down when his star witness turns on him. Who then gets blown up by a UFO?! As wrap-up devices go, it’s about as rushed and unconvincing as the series was at its worst.


More interesting is Mulder happening across an ARV (Alien Replica Vehicle), which for some reason O’Malley hasn’t gone straight on TV with, and Mulder imparting that free energy has been intentionally supressed while the oil companies make billions (very Tesla). Carter’s always been good at giving Mulder lists-come-monologues, and Duchovny seems right at home nursing that faintly bored, dry, deadpan drawl again.


In the opening Mulder cites various mass sightings, and the admissions of Ed Mitchell and Gerald Ford, then sadly admits “But now people only laugh, and only Roswell is remembered”. They’re mostly laughing because of Carter’s nonsensically labyrinthine plotting, though, and the line could be seen as a meta-commentary on the demise of the show itself. There’s a mention of 911 as a false flag (I doubt they’ll actually go there in an episode, whatever the future holds for the show), GM food, and “They police us, and spy on us, tell us that makes us safer? We’ve never been in more danger”; the most astute thing Carter does here (and there aren’t many, sadly) is to draw parallel lines  between the more liberal, New-Agey thinking of Mulder and the arms-maketh-the-man rhetoric of the right wing shock jock; when distrust of the presiding establishment is so endemic, there’s bound to be common ground, such that it’s Scully, with her staple quizzical head back on (there’s no Doggett around to make her the de facto believer) accusing him of being stupid and borderline treasonous.


It’s an episode of soundbite lines, with a barely adequate supporting structure, all the better for Carter to set out his over-familiar stall. Mulder can ignore all the evidence of aliens he saw with his own eyes for the sake of “I only want to believe” (“Actual proof has been strangely hard to come by”; well, I guess the memory takes a knock after a decade and a half), and the 2012 invasion was now never going to come to pass (Carter couldn’t not mention it), retconned as the initiation of a countdown. We’re supposed to be satisfied with the new key mystery being the rather fragile question of what these abductions are for. All this time Chris, and that’s the best you could come up with?


This amid mentions of corporate greed and the takeover of America, weather control and a state of perpetual war to enslave the population, the Patriot Act, militarised police forces, prison camps, drones, mass monitoring, WikiLeaks and the ruse of false flag Russian or terrorist or alien invasion to initiate martial law. All named and potentially juicy narrative engines, but Carter bums us out with a tired one.


Duchovny is a little squinty and jowlier, slowly turning into Droopy as he ages, while Gillian looks ever more finely sculpted. Mitch Pileggi is only shinier of dome, otherwise exactly the same as he ever was. Despite the return to Vancouver, this lacks the portentous atmosphere its pregnant skies used to instil. The exploding psychic girl is used to impart Scully-Mulder backstory (“You were a couple before”) but fortunately little substance is given to a relationship stone that was best left unturned. The downside is, this also seems symptomatic of Carter’s abiding affection for the reset, rather than using this opportunity to fully invest his characters and make new hay with new stories.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

He’s probably paranoid, high-strung, doesn’t like daylight. You know, has a lot of crumbs in his beard, if he has a beard.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) (SPOILERS) I’d like to report I had a blast with Godzilla vs. Kong . It’s lighter on its oversized, city-stomping feet than its slog of a MonsterVerse predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters , and there are flashes of visual inspiration along with several engaging core ideas (which, to be fair, the series had already laid the seeds for). But this sequel still stumbles in its chief task: assembling an engaging, lively story that successfully integrates both tiny humans and towering titans.

You stink, my friend.

Mulan (2020) (SPOILERS) Let that be a lesson to Disney. It’s a fool’s errand to try and beat the Chinese at their own game, no matter how painstakingly respectful – or rather, pandering – you are. Indeed, Mulan ’s abysmal $40m box office take in the country – where it did get a proper release, so no plandemic excuses can be cited – feels like a direct rebuke; don’t try and tell us how to suck eggs. There’s an additional explanation too, of course. That Mulan sucks.

It's Dark Age, by Jupiter!

The Dig (2021) (SPOILERS) An account of the greatest archaeological find Britain would know until Professor Horner opened the barrow at Devil’s End. And should you scoff at such “ fiction ”, that’s nothing on this adaptation of John Preston’s 2007 novel concerning the Sutton Hoo excavations of the late 1930s. The Dig , as is the onus of any compelling fictional account, takes liberties with the source material, but the erring from the straight and narrow in this case is less an issue than the shift in focus from characters and elements successfully established during the first hour.

Roswell was a smokescreen, we've had a half a dozen better salvage operations.

The X-Files 1.24: The Erlenmeyer Flask The Erlenmeyer Flask makes for a fast-paced, tense and eventful ride, but does it make any sense? That less than mattered at the time, but revisiting the mythology arc (for probably the fourth or fifth time) reveals increasingly tenuous internal coherence as the various conspiracy elements begin to pile up and the situations become ever-more convoluted. This will become the Chris Carter’s signature: don’t examine the details too closely, go with the flow. Trust Chris implicitly.

UFO IN MOSSINGHAM?

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon (2020) (SPOILERS) One might reasonably suggest the recourse of the ailing or desperate franchise is to resort, seemingly out of nowhere, to space aliens. Even Police Academy didn’t go that far (to Moscow, yes, but not to space). Perhaps animators think kids have no skills of discernment and will swallow any old sugar-coated crap. Perhaps they don’t, and they will. Ice Age had been enjoying absurd success until Collision Course sent Scrat spinning into the cosmos and grosses tumbled. Shaun the Sheep has been around for a quarter of a century, but this is only his second movie outing and already he’s pulling an E.T. on us. Of course, this may all be part of the grand scheme, and Nick Park is simply doing his bit to familiarise the tots in time for Project Blue Beam.

Careful how much boat you’re eating.

Onward (2020) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s Bright , or thereabouts. The interesting thing – perhaps the only interesting thing – about Onward is that it’s almost indiscernible from a DreamWorks Animation effort, where once they cocked a snook at such cheap-seats fare, seeing themselves as better class of animation house altogether. Just about everything in Onward is shamelessly derivative, from the Harry Potter /fantasy genre cash-in to the use of the standard Pixar formula whereby any scenario remotely eccentric or exotic is buried beneath the banal signifiers of modern society: because anything you can imagine must be dragged down to tangible everyday reference points or kids won’t be able to assimilate it. And then there’s the choice of lead voices, in-Disney star-slaves Chris Pratt and Tom Holland.

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987) Cheeseburger Film Sandwich . Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon . Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie . Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie , arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate t

By heaven, I’d thrash the life out of you… if I didn’t have to read the Nine O’Clock News.

The Green Man (1956) (SPOILERS) The Green movie from Launder and Gilliat starring Alastair Sim that isn’t Green for Danger. Which is to say, The Green Man can’t quite scale the heady heights of that decade-earlier murder mystery triumph, but neither is it any slouch. Sim is the antagonist this time – albeit a very affable, Sim-ish one – and his sometime protégée, a young George Cole, the hero. If the plot is entirely absurd, Robert Day’s movie wastes no time probing such insufficiencies, ensuring it is very funny, lively and beautifully performed.

Well, I’ll be damned. It’s the gentleman guppy.

Waterworld (1995) (SPOILERS) The production and budgetary woes of “ Kevin’s Gate ” will forever overshadow the movie’s content (and while it may have been the most expensive movie ever to that point – adjusted for inflation, it seems only Cleopatra came close – it has since turned a profit). However, should you somehow manage to avoid the distraction of those legendary problems, the real qualitative concerns are sure to come sailing over the cognitive horizon eventually; Waterworld is just so damned derivative. It’s a seafaring Mad Max. Peter Rader, who first came up with the idea in 1986, admitted as much. David Twohy, who later came aboard, also cited Mad Max 2 ; that kind of rip-off aspect – Jaws birthing Piranha – makes it unsurprising Waterworld was once under consideration by Roger Corman (he couldn’t cost it cheaply enough). Ultimately, there’s never a sufficient sense the movie has managed to become its own thing. Which is a bummer, because it’s frequently quite good fun.

Wow. Asteroids are made of farts. Okay. I got it.

Greenland (2020) (SPOILERS) Global terror porn for overpopulation adherents as Gerard Butler and his family do their darnedest to reach the safety of a bunker in the titular country in the face of an imminent comet impact. Basically, what if 2012 were played straight? These things come to test cinemas in cycles, of course. Sean Connery struggled with a duff rug and a stack of mud in Meteor , while Deep Impact plumbed for another dread comet and Armageddon an asteroid. The former, owing to the combined forces of Bruce Joel Rubin and Michael Tolkin, was a – relatively – more meditative fare. The latter was directed by Michael Bay. And then there’s Roland Emmerich, who having hoisted a big freeze on us in The Day After Tomorrow then wreaked a relatively original source of devastation in the form of 2012 ’s overheating Earth’s core. Greenland , meanwhile, is pretty much what you’d expect from the director of Angel Has Fallen .