Tuesday, 23 February 2016

I didn’t set out to destroy the world, Mulder. People did.

The X-Files
10.6: My Struggle II

So Chris Carter bookends what he began, and in so doing entirely ignores the prevalent trend of interconnected episodic TV during the intervening years. My Struggle II is pretty much an of-a-piece sequel to My Struggle, which is to say it’s a muddled mess of rewritten series mythology, exposition and would-be topicality (both in terms of mainstream media and the conspirasphere).


The series’ mythology episodes tended to pull the stops out in terms of action and spectacle, by virtue of their being openers, finales, or “sweeps”, so I can only assume Fox gave Carter and Co peanuts to play with for this speciality run. Throughout, I was continually struck by how cheap the production was, not just in terms of visuals (one bridge scene at the end does not a high budget make) but as a piece of writing. That might not be unusual for Carter, who’s a natural at B, or C, -movie dialogue, but My Struggle II could barely even muster Doctor Who’s approach to mass-panic (generally a mock-BBC news broadcast); instead we’re told early on that “There’s talk on the Internet” and from thence Carter obligingly cuts to Joel McHale’s shoestring online show (“It’s gone from bad to worse out there”; it’s so bad, even his Internet connection is breaking up!)


It might have worked better if there’d been a line about how the MSM simply wasn’t reporting these terrible events, but, as it is, insult is added to the injury of a broken-backed narrative whereby Scully attempts to mass-produce a vaccine, which involves her going out onto the street and yelling at people that help is on the way (that’s really sensible, encouraging a deluge of demanding citizens to occupy the hospital) before getting her priorities mixed up and charging off to save Mulder. The scale is all skewed, and one needs to look to an apocalypse Carter had nothing to do with, and reneged on, to see how this thing sort of thing should be done (the Millennium Season Two finale).


Talking of skewed, this is most definitely a Scully-centric instalment, with Mulder spending most of his time lying on a couch looking peaky while Cigarette Smoking Man (William B Davis, reliable as ever, but Carter completely fails to justify his resurrection) mocks his scruples. There’s a flashback fight scene, but that’s more distracting than engaging, thanks to Carter showing he has no idea how to make dropped frames and slow motion cohere effectively.


CSM is the author of all Mulder’s pain, just like Christoph Waltz (“I’ve controlled you since before you knew I existed”), but, as an embodiment of the elite/cabal, “the most powerful man in the world”, he’s rather a disappointment; you have to go back to John Neville for the show exuding the sense of a substantial, co-ordinated operation. CSM appears disconnected from any kind of coherent power structure. This protracted scene has little bite, because there’s nothing visceral about them meeting for the umpteenth time. Added to which, the Luke-Vader “Join me” business inevitably musters not so much as a glimmer of interest on Fox’s part. Lines don’t so much trip as cascade off CSM’s tongue (which we don’t see, but we do clock his hollowed-out visage, a combination of Tiger comic’s Death Wish and Red Skull) some of them holding a vaguely meta-irony (“You think you’ll get far? You’ve no idea how well we’ve planned”; have you, Chris? Have you really?)


Predictably, removed from last week’s quirk-fest, agents Einstein and Miller are altogether less welcome presences. Miller’s pretty much irrelevant, aside from offering Mulder a helping arm, while Einstein, at loggerheads with a scientist who wants to believe, is, because Carter doesn’t have any other character cards up his sleeve, effectively doing a Doggett-with-a-degree-in-medicine to Scully’s Mulder (“My prejudices are only against pseudo-science”). I get that there needs to be explanation of the “science” (and this one gives story credit to a couple of actual doctors, Anne Simon and Margaret Fenton, the former having been an advisor on the original series), but Carter’s entirely unable, or can’t be arsed, to offer any variety in how it’s done.


Except maybe in his out-of-the-blue turning of the returning Reyes (Annabeth Gish) into a turncoat. I’m reluctant to take this at face value, unless Carter simply thought no one would care about the character (I understand she was unpopular, but I always found Gish a decent addition to the cast; by that point it felt like Scully was more of the square peg), and Scully does tell Einstein that “a friend” gave her this vital information to locate a cure, so perhaps Reyes was biding her time, waiting for the right moment to save everyone. Regardless, her behaviour just doesn’t fit with the empathic, intuitive character of the last couple of seasons of the show, and one ends up pondering Scully’s “Why did you call me, Monica? To tell me what a coward you are?” perhaps more than was intended. By implication, Reyes is weak and manipulative, in contrast to Mulder, who is strong and stalwart, whether or not she turns out to have been on the side of the angels. As such, it’s an uncomfortable betrayal of her character.


Where the episode possibly gains some currency is the notional purpose of the returned show as a vehicle for partial disclosure (as I mentioned when discussing Home Again); those of such a view will no doubt be heartened by the UFOs/ARVs on display to the mass public (a first for the series, I think), who doubtless all have working camera phones. Carter doesn’t just continue ticking off conspiratorial subject matter he began listing in My Struggle, mostly via McHale’s Tad O’Malley, he douses us with it. The remainder of this mini-season has had little apparent interest in such areas (unless Darin Morgan’s lizard from the dawn of time was intended as a nod to David Icke’s reptilians; it might just have been a reference to Doctor Who and The Silurians).


This time Gillian Anderson is subjected to the X-lore recap, complete with “Weren’t they all young and chubby-cheeked back then?” archive footage, that restates the idea of covert, advance tech (“a conspiracy of men, hiding science for almost sixty years, secrets kept from the American people by a self-interested cabal intent on the consolidation of power both at home and on a predominately global scale”). Carter’s patchwork retconning of the show posits that Season 10’s developments are a directly-intended result of science acquired in the ‘50s, given to men by an alien race, who didn’t want to invade in 2012 at all, they just wanted to set in motion the end game. Which is?


One of the most popular and monumental mischiefs levelled at the Illuminati, that of culling the population to a more modest level. It seems CSM was responsible for the Georgia Guidestones, or paid the man who was, and in his attempts to convey this Carter is reluctant to throw anything back from his prize catch of conspiracy topics.


Cigarette Smoking Man: I didn’t set out to destroy the world, Mulder. People did.

As such, suspect vaccines are a key tool (not just a cause of autism, or even Gulf War Syndrome, but a full-blown ticking time bomb of auto-immune failure, so embracing the conspiracy theory that AIDS is a man-made virus, intentionally unleashed). Beyond engineered diseases, McHale brings up chem trails, which “trigger a genetic response”, and indicates microwave radiation is also used. Carter gives the cabal’s motivation as saving the planet, rather than simply controlling it (CSM cites the hottest year on record, 40% less bird life, the decimation of mega-fauna, and comments that “Aliens predicted all of this. They saw it happening to themselves”). Einstein’s observation that “If this works, I’ll have alien DNA” might even be seen as a nod to the idea of man’s essential engineering via the combined DNA of 22 alien races.


So My Struggle II is pretty much a grab bag for any conspiracy theory going. Its undiscerning nature means it nestles comfortably near the bottom Carter’s roster of arc plots. While I didn’t actively dislike the episode, like a good half of this season, I was simply underwhelmed by it. At his best, Carter could deliver a kind of demented faux-poetry in his episodes, but this one’s most memorable line is the risible “You speak to me of hell, when you look to be the one who’s hellbound”. As for the cliffhanger, Mulder on death’s door and Scully announcing the desperate need to locate William for some stem cells (that’s right, go find him when you finally want something from him!), it’s further illustration of what an inward facing show this resumption has been. Unless wee William is piloting that ARV, Flight of the Navigator style. That, at least, would be unexpected.


Season 10 Ranked:

In the cold light of revisiting them over the next couple of months, the lower half of the season will probably end up as no more than **1/2s. It’s been good to have the show back, but it’s abundantly clear its ever-ready producer needs to become an erstwhile one.

6. My Struggle II

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