Welp, that was kind of like an X-Files episode.
The ’90s-defining show returned Sunday night after the Panthers and the almighty Cam Newton absolutely wrecked the Arizona Cardinals on your local Fox affiliate. Said hammering took the game into the 9 p.m. hour, prompting a flurry of tweets from people getting a little impatient waiting for their Fox Mulder.
I wonder if, after the episode, those same folks were like, “OK, maybe we could have waited a little longer.”
If you kept your expectations Marianas Trench-low, the first of six episodes was, well, a reminder of who these folks were. Mulder (David Duchovny, delivering a performance of Harrison Ford-level who-cares-ness) lives in the woods, Scully (Gillian Anderson, who didn’t look like she could move her forehead) is a doctor (surgeon?) at a DC hospital.
After a listless voice-over from Mulder that noted writer Maggie Serota characterized nicely (“Imagining it was some PA’s job to wake David Duchovny up at 4am and then shove a mic in his face for those voiceovers”), the episode, apparently one of only two conspiracy episodes in this six-ep arc, delivers, well, a lot of confusing setup. Joel McHale shows up as a conservative talk show host named Tad O’Malley who’s some sort of blend of Alex Jones, Art Bell and Bill O’Reilly.
Add in an abductee named Sveta (Annet Mahendru, best known as Nina in “The Americans”), some genuine alien tech than manages to get destroyed and Mulder’s seeming conviction that no, aliens aren’t real at all but it was all a massive conspiracy by actual homo sapiens with all-too-human motives — cut to the still-amazing Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) who now smokes through a hole in his neck. (For my money, “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man” is one of the most enjoyable, most tragic, most epic hours of TV of the 1990s.)
A few thoughts:
- Mulder’s sunglasses are from the Al Pacino in HEAT collection. We all miss the 1990s in different ways.
- It was somehow very Bedelia to see Scully in a limo.
- Walter Skinner is not aging. Dude is definitely part alien.
- The dialogue continues to be a trainwreck. There has to be a happy medium between, say, David Mamet and whatever creator Chris Carter is doing here. Carter is very much like George Lucas in this regard: Great big picture guy, not so hot with the chatter.
- O’Malley’s monologue was a bit much. The man used the phrase “weather wars,” people. Now, were this a dialectic on the fraught relationship between the West and developing nations regarding climate change, that would be one thing. But it was not.
- I will be seriously bummed if they end up just scrapping the shadowy-human-elite-making-a-deal-with-actual-aliens aspect of the show. Carter and the rest of the “X-Files” actually did a bang-up job for about four seasons on making that aspect hang together. And then the wheels came off, mostly through piling on too many details. Then the show got nearly unwatchable. Then the two main characters left. (And yes, it happened in that order.)
- As many, many people have pointed out virtually from the moment the series ended in 2002, “The X-Files” struggles for a post-9/11 context. The show calls back to a time when the U.S. economy was on fire, we weren’t in a state of perpetual war against a tactic and the Internet was a legitimate frontier. The U.S. just didn’t have all that much to complain about, so it was fun to make up stuff about the government and aliens and weirdness. Now, things are far less pleasant, certain and stable.
- Which brings me to my biggest beef (and one I hope will be addressed in the coming monster-of-the-week episodes, but I am not holding my breath):
- Mulder should be way, way crazier. Given his paranoia and conflict about working for the government while not trusting them back in 1996, he should be a gibbering loon 20 years later. There are amazing places to take the story of these two people — two people who have seen things, over and over again, that nobody will confirm or deny — in the age of total information awareness. (“Mr. Robot” does this sort of thing incredibly well.)
- I would have loved to see Mulder completely around the bend and Scully (and Skinner) trying to coax him back to reality, a reality that all of us deal with every day. Seeing this character attempting to deal with the 21st century and his demons and the possibility of the truth still being out there would have made for outstanding TV.