Remember when The X-Files was obsessed with alien abductions, conspiracy theories, and monsters-of-the-week? Well, it still is, but the new episodes that begin airing Wednesday night on Fox have a new boogeyman: President Trump. Show creator Chris Carter and other writers pepper the scripts with references to Trump’s current dislike of the FBI, one of the series’ key characters talks about “fake news,” someone else wears a red Make America Great Again cap. There’s more — much more (I’d almost forgotten about Trump accusing Ted Cruz’s dad of assassinating JFK — damn you, Chris Carter!) — but I’ll let you find all the rotten Easter eggs on your own.
The 10 new episodes represent the return of The X-Files, a continuation of the revival that began in 2016, and follow closely on the mythology spun out from those episodes. As is always the case, the season premiere is written and directed by Carter. It’s titled “My Struggle III,” to remind you of last season’s bookender episodes, “My Struggle” and “My Struggle II.” This new 11th season picks up where Season 10 left off, with the Cigarette Smoking Man and talk of a “global contagion.” The “struggle” of the title, although plural, can be ascribed to both FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson). It’s always fun to spend time with these two — the characters and the actors. Indeed, as time goes by, it’s somewhat more fun to just appreciate the actors: Mulder and Scully remain fixed in their philosophical positions and reactions to various wild events, but Anderson and Duchovny have become more subtle performers who are using the fact of their middle-aging as an opportunity to present themselves as more sly, more self-aware, yet eminently comfortable with each other and appreciative of each other’s deepening skills. I wish I could say the same for Carter’s mythology, but, alas, the paranoid conspiracies that were so absorbing, the mythology that was once so satisfying to ruminate upon, has started to seem like dry, barren ground to be trod across, again and again, out of a sense of weary duty.
Of the first five episodes made available for review, it’s the one written and directed by resident chief eccentric Darin Morgan, titled “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat,” that has the most interesting stuff to say. It’s not as tight and sharp as the previous season’s Morgan standout, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” but “Forehead Sweat” serves a different purpose. With its talk about “environmental catastrophe” and its theme of fond memories proving unreliable, “Forehead Sweat” seems to be Darin Morgan’s way of critiquing Chris Carter’s myth-making, and in such a cutting way, you may wonder whether Carter himself is aware he’s being ridiculed at least a little bit. (If so, he’s a very good sport.)
Morgan’s episode is the most enjoyable, but it’s also the most Trump-obsessed, which undercuts the enjoyment quotient significantly. It also contradicts what Carter, Morgan, Duchovny, Anderson, and everyone else here have labored so hard to do, which is to provide a provocative alternative to our real world. The show’s longtime slogan is “The truth is out there,” but this time around, The X-Files wants to suggest that, in the current era, we wouldn’t agree on what “truth” was even if Mulder and Scully finally discovered it.
The X-Files airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on Fox.
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