'The X-Files' Review: The Final Breakdown

The six episodes of the 10th season of The X-Files wrapped up on Monday night with “My Struggle II,” an episode written and directed by series creator Chris Carter. It was a sequel to the episode that began the rebooted series — that would be “My Struggle” — and frames these half-down episodes as a very uneven enterprise. SPOILERS FOR THE X-FILES FINALE FOLLOW.

“My Struggle II” was a frantic exercise in heavy-breathing hoohah. The episode’s chief nemesis was nothing less than threat of worldwide anthrax contagion via the so-called “Spartan virus,” which was not spread, as I first thought, by repeated viewings of the Val Kilmer movie, but rather by smallpox vaccination, which doubtless made Jenny McCarthy the happiest X-Files viewer of the night. The plague was to be prevented only by alien DNA in the person of Dana Scully. (The show helpfully illustrated this by having Scully’s face morph into what looked like a grown-up version of E.T.)

The hour hauled out not just the Cigarette Smoking Man but also Annabeth Gish’s Agent Reyes, who offered to help Scully but who was also polite enough to place a flaming butt into CSM’s blow-hole so he could get his nicotine fix. Mulder was very much a secondary player here, weak and sickly-looking right from the start, yet nevertheless capable of pulling off an extended fight scene with some guy with a gun.

If this sounds vague, well, vagueness is key to keeping the entire X-Files contraption lumbering on, at least as Carter continues to patch it together. Looking over the whole six-episode run, one must sorrowfully conclude that it is the creator’s contributions that are the most repetitive and excessively earnest. Earnest in the sense of wanting to keep making X-Files episodes, and therefore extending the mythology of the show despite the fact that its original aura of paranoia about the government has been played out to exhaustion by so much pop culture that followed in the wake of The X-Files’ original run.

Certainly it was the hours created by others — the stand-alone, “monster-of-the-week” entries such as Darin Morgan’s “Mulder and Scully Meet The Were-Monster” — that fared best in the revived series, which may only mean that the X-Files now works best as winking self-parody, and that’s no way to sustain a revival.

Related: ‘The X-Files’ Finale Recap: This is the End… Or is It?

Last week’s “Babylon,” with its Mulder and Scully dopplegangers played by Lauren Ambrose and Robbie Amell, and its cringingly corny Mulder-as-Urban-Cowboy sequence, was mediocre, but it was at least a knowing jape. “My Struggle II” was cripplingly self-serious, its ultimate aim to have viewers become so reinvested in Scully and Mulder as saviors of the world — and Worst FBI Parents Ever — that the audience would accept a UFO cliffhanger aimed at leaving fans clamoring for more episodes, or at least a clear resolution.

What preceded the cliffhanger could not fill anyone with warm assurance that continuing to make occasional X-Files runs — the TV equivalent of opening a pop-up store — will be a good idea. As the portentous dialogue began to clog up my ears — “I didn’t set out to destroy the world; people did”; “I am the most powerful man in the world!”; “You are one of the chosen elite!” — I began to remember that The X-Files was never at its best when it focused on reminding us that mankind is ruining the planet and that sinister forces are just waiting to pounce. (Although I have to give Chris Carter credit for neatly predicting the current arc of Donald Trump’s candidacy.)

As Scully turned her face skyward, fixing the UFO with a sharp eye (the right one, in crushing close-up, a literal iris-out), I’m afraid all I could think of looking at Gillian Anderson was, Gee, I wonder when the new season of The Fall starts?