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

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

If a rat were to walk in here right now as I'm talking, would you treat it to a saucer of your delicious milk?

Inglourious Basterds (2009)
(SPOILERS) His staunchest fans would doubtless claim Tarantino has never taken a wrong step, but for me, his post-Pulp Fiction output had been either not quite as satisfying (Jackie Brown), empty spectacle (the Kill Bills) or wretched (Death Proof). It wasn’t until Inglourious Basterds that he recovered his mojo, revelling in an alternate World War II where Adolf didn’t just lose but also got machine gunned to death in a movie theatre showing a warmly received Goebbels-produced propaganda film. It may not be his masterpiece – as Aldo Raines refers to the swastika engraved on “Jew hunter” Hans Landa’s forehead, and as Tarantino actually saw the potential of his script – but it’s brimming with ideas and energy.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Hey, everybody. The bellboy's here.

Four Rooms (1995)
(SPOILERS) I had an idea that I’d only seen part of Four Rooms previously, and having now definitively watched the entire thing, I can see where that notion sprang from. It’s a picture that actively encourages you to think it never existed. Much of it isn’t even actively terrible – although, at the same time, it couldn’t be labelled remotely good– but it’s so utterly lethargic, so lacking in the energy, enthusiasm and inventiveness that characterises these filmmakers at their best – and yes, I’m including Rodriguez, although it’s a very limited corner for him – that it’s very easy to banish the entire misbegotten enterprise from your mind.

Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character.

Pulp Fiction (1994)
(SPOILERS) From a UK perspective, Pulp Fiction’s success seemed like a fait accompli; Reservoir Dogs had gone beyond the mere cult item it was Stateside and impacted mainstream culture itself (hard to believe now that it was once banned on home video); it was a case of Tarantino filling a gap in the market no one knew was there until he drew attention to it (and which quickly became over-saturated with pale imitators subsequently). Where his debut was a grower, Pulp Fiction hit the ground running, an instant critical and commercial success (it won the Palme d’Or four months before its release), only made cooler by being robbed of the Best Picture Oscar by Forrest Gump. And unlike some famously-cited should-have-beens, Tarantino’s masterpiece really did deserve it.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

Our very strength incites challenge. Challenge incites conflict. And conflict... breeds catastrophe.

The MCU Ranked Worst to Best

The adversary oft comes in the shape of a he-goat.

The Witch (2015)
(SPOILERS) I’m not the biggest of horror buffs, so Stephen King commenting that The Witchscared the hell out of me” might have given me pause for what was in store. Fortunately, he’s the same author extraordinaire who referred to Crimson Peak as “just fucking terrifying” (it isn’t). That, and that general reactions to Robert Eggers’ film have fluctuated across the scale, from the King-type response on one end of the spectrum to accounts of unrelieved boredom on the other. The latter response may also contextualise the former, depending on just what King is referring to, because what’s scary about The Witch isn’t, for the most part, scary in the classically understood horror sense. It’s scary in the way The Wicker Man is scary, existentially gnawing away at one through judicious martialling of atmosphere, setting and theme.


Indeed, this is far more impressive a work than Ben Wheatley’s Kill List, which had hitherto been compared to The Wicker Man, succeeding admirably …

I am forever driven on this quest.

Ad Astra (2019)
(SPOILERS) Would Apocalypse Now have finished up as a classic if Captain Willard had been ordered on a mission to exterminate his mad dad with extreme prejudice, rather than a mysterious and off-reservation colonel? Ad Astra features many stunning elements. It’s an undeniably classy piece of filmmaking from James Gray, who establishes his tone from the get-go and keeps it consistent, even through various showy set pieces. But the decision to give its lead character an existential crisis entirely revolving around his absent father is its reductive, fatal flaw, ultimately deflating much of the air from Gray’s space balloon.