5 May 2018

The X-Files: My Struggle IV Review (Spoilers)

First, a little announcement. I will be going to the Montreal Comic Con this July. David Duchovny, William B. Davis and Pileggi will be among the guests. As well as James Marsters, a.k.a. Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. To say that I'm excited is an understatement. This will be my first visit to North America, and my first real Comic Con. I still haven't decided if I'm going to cosplay or just go as myself. 

And now to the review. It's the grand finale, baby! 

Just like the previous three obligatory mythology episodes, "My Struggle IV" opens with a monologue by one of the main characters. It's William's turn to tell his story. In Ghouli, we were introduced to a complicated young man who had trouble controlling his superpowers. And here we learn through flashbacks just how much trouble William's superpowers have caused him and his loved ones.

William is now on the run from the law, wrongfully accused for murdering his adopted parents. He's having visions of an upcoming apocalypse, and of the man who is behind it all. Having been in hiding for months, he now wants to find the Cigarette Smoking man so that he can find out the truth about himself and his role in his biological father's plans.

The episode proper begins at the FBI headquarters, were Kersh is chewing out Skinner for allowing Mulder come out in the media with the statement about the Spartan virus and an upcoming pandemic. Kersh tells Skinner that he closes the X-files, and orders him to take Mulder and Scully's badges. Seriously, the Bureau has shut down the X-files so many times, it has become a running joke.

 I want to like Kersh, but his inconsistency makes it difficult for me to see anything but a straw antagonist. He has shown glimpses of character development on a few occasions, but here his only role is to be a nuisance for our heroes, an obstacle they choose to bypass anyway. Still, I don't completely disagree with his reasoning. As the Deputy Director of the FBI he cannot afford panic on the streets because of some allegations made by Spooky Mulder.

Except that it wasn't Mulder who has come out with this information. It was Scully. Scully, who has maintained that her visions are being sent to her by William, still believes the pandemic to be a real threat. Desperate, she calls Ted O'Malley, the right wing online webcaster we were introduced to in the previous season and tells him to run this story.

Skinner tells Scully about Kersh's decision, but Scully couldn’t care less. She had a vision of Mulder dying at the hands of Cancerman, and she needs Skinner to help find him. Just then, Cancerman gives him a call, threatening to unleash the Spartan virus if Skinner won't deliver him William. 

In a flashback, Mulder and Scully get a call from Monica Reyes who tells them that their son is being held in Mr. Y: s warehouse in Maryland. Scully is skeptical, but Mulder can't miss this opportunity, and off he goes on his silver Mustang.

Mulder sneaks his into the warehouse where he spies what looks like a spacecraft. He is then surrounded by several armed guards and in a shootout that is left conveniently off-screen, kills them all. He then bursts into Mr. Y: s office, demanding to see his son. Mr. Y. doesn't have William, and he scolds Mulder for not being able to kill his father for the good of humanity. He then reaches for his gun, but Mulder draws first and shoots Mr. Y. in the head. So much for the new and exciting Big Bad.

The rest of the episode is a hot mess that consists mostly of car chases as all the concerned parties are trying to find William, and of William doing some impressive parkour to escape Erika Price’s private army. 

William, who up to this point has been good at staying under the radar of both the Syndicate, Cancerman and his parents, has made a few choices that immediately attracted all the parties' attention to him. He used his psychic powers to win a suspicious number of lotteries and then returned to Norfolk to persuade his ex-girlfriends to come with him.

Mulder follows William to Norfolk and begs his ex, Brianna to tell him where his son is. The highlight of this little scene is Brianna's distrusting friend, played by Duchovny's real-life daughter, West Duchovny.

Mulder admits to Brianna that William is his son, prompting her to give up his location. Mulder then finds William in a motel, and this is where we get one of the highlights of the entire season. The father and son reunion is bittersweet to say the least, and I didn't expect this scene to affect me as much as it did.

"I held you when you were a baby." says Mulder as he is drawing his son into a long overdue embrace, taking us back the final shot of season eight, with the happy parents holding their newborn son. This is the moment that the previous three seasons have been leading up to. This is also the first time I realized William's significance in Mulder's own character arc.

Despite Mulder's reassurance, William is keeping him at a distance, understandably so. He knows from his visions and from the events of "Ghouli" that Mulder means well, but he also believes that neither Mulder nor his biological mother can protect him from Cancerman or from himself.

What Mulder doesn't know is that Erika Price and her private army have been following him all this time. They burst into the motel room surrounding Mulder and William. But then in an intense and at the same time hilarious scene, William uses his powers to make the bad guys explode in a firework of blood and guts. Spontaneous human combustion, indeed. He then dashes off again, leaving Mulder alone in the blood-stained room.

Scully and Skinner are still racing to find Mulder before Cancerman does. With Skinner at the wheel, and Scully wearing a beige winter coat, this scene gave me a flashback to when the two of them were searching for Mulder's rogue ass in I Want to Believe. Of course, in that movie Skinner didn't have a bomb to drop on Scully. We see the guilt on the Assistant Director's face as he's about to tell her the hard truth about her son's conception.

Scully takes the news surprisingly well, or maybe she's just focused on finding Mulder alive. Which she does, as by an amazingly convenient coincidence, she spots his silver Mustang on the road.

Scully goes after William, but Mulder pleads with her to let him go, telling her that this is something that he wants, and that he knows that she loves him. "How do you know that?”, Scully asks. Just then, the real Mulder appears, and William in the guise of Mulder runs off again. Another chase ensues, this time through the dark twisted corridors of the factory.

Cancerman and Reyes have made it to factory, too, where they're confronted by Skinner. What follows is a truly WTF-scene that I will never forgive Chris Carter for. Monica, who's at wheel, tries to put the car in reverse to save hers and Skinner's life, but Cancerman takes control of the car, and floors the pedal, in an attempt to run Skinner over. Skinner pulls out his gun and shoots Monica in the head. He should have shot CSM instead (for so many reasons), because in the next instant Cancerman crushes him with his car.

Cancerman then confronts Mulder at the waterfront, and after a charged exchange, shoots his first-born son in the head. Just as Mulder's lifeless body plummets into the water, the real Mulder appears, and in a fit of rage, shoots his father several times before pushing him into the water. It’s an intense and chilling scene that immediately took me back to all those moments when Mulder held his biological father at gun point but never having the balls or the callousness to pull the trigger. I love the rage on Mulder's face, and the dumb surprise on the CSM: s face as the realization hits him.

Scully then catches up to Mulder, and he tells her that Cancerman has killed their son. Mulder is on a verge of a breakdown, but Scully tells him that William was never their son, but an experiment created in a lab.

"What am I if not a father?" Mulder says, to which Scully replies that he is a father. She then takes his hand and places it on her stomach, revealing to all of us that, yes, she's pregnant again. The two then embrace, and as they're standing there, comforting each other, the camera cuts to the dark water, and we see William resurfacing with a bullet hole in his head, but alive.

Where does one begin untangling this ball of abandoned plot lines and tearful embraces? In short, "My Struggle IV" is a hot mess. A whole season arc is destroyed with a few gunshots, key characters are killed off, as the story is pinballing between moments of brilliance and steaming piles of alien poop.

The first time I watched this episode, I did it as a fan. And by the time the end credits rolled, I felt cheated. The reason I felt cheated was because it felt like all of the show – all the fantastic and amazing stories, twenty-five years of them – have been nullified, neutralized by this one episode. All those years, all those arcs, all those theories, all those hopes and questions – it has all led to this?

And had I written this review immediately after watching the episode, my reaction would have been akin to that of Mulder's at the end of "The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat".

The biggest problem with this episode in my book is the pacing. The season has been overall well-balanced, and the stories evenly paced, and here we are, in the final episode that has all these questions to answer and all the complicated subplots to resolve, and most of the time is spent on car chases and parkour. It's all very messy, frantic, and incoherent. 

The structural problems of not just this episode but of all the mythology entries in the past two seasons (except for "Ghouli") may have to do with the awkward way that mythology has been shoehorned into this revival. 

In the original show, there were between five and ten mythology episodes per season, which gave the storylines plenty of time to develop at their own pace. The conspiracies unfolded slowly, and the payoffs were usually satisfying. 

In contrast, the new mythology has a total of five episodes, one of which has turned out to be a dream sequence. In hindsight, the last two seasons would have been much more consistent and well-balanced had Carter just dropped the mythology altogether and focused instead on telling new and exciting standalones. I have always felt that the mythology has outlived itself sometime in season six anyway. But this is Carter's show and the alien/government mythology is an essential part of it. 

Well, nuts to that, because the masterminds behind this new conspiracy are killed off like a couple of faceless minions. Is there someone else to continue their work? Who knows! It's the finale. Neither we will know if Cancerman really did have the Spartan virus, and if Scully's visions were in fact precognitive.

If there's a lesson to be learnt here it's that you shouldn't start a huge story arc if you know you won't have the time for the a proper payoff.

How much more coherent the mythology episodes would have been if Carter instead chose to make it entirely about William. Speaking of which, we need to talk about William.   

William's life is a tragedy, and the bitter irony is that Scully had given him up to protect him, but by making that hard choice she basically doomed him. Okay, so he didn't die, but that last shot of him peering out of the water spying on his (sort of) parents doesn't inspire hope. On the contrary, it makes him look like one of the many monsters that Scully and Mulder had come across. What is he going to do now? Who is he going to turn to? Where is Professor X when you need him?

One very observant fan on Facebook noted that this ending has been foreshadowed in "The Post-Modern Prometheus" from season five. Whether or not this was intentional, the parallels between these two episodes are haunting. So haunting that it inspired me to make this cheesy little edit for Instagram.

Regardless of whether you think William’s character was treated poorly, one question at least got answered: yes, William was an experiment, a human-alien hybrid created by the Cancerman. And yes, that seemingly invincible reptiloid is William's biological father.

The revelation is icky, and it just feels wrong, but as I said in my review for "My Struggle III", it's not unwarranted, and the twist fits well within the overarching theme of the mythology, that of the immorally powerful government abusing innocent people - mainly women - for their own gain.

So, I didn't have a problem with this twist, so much as I was grossed out by it. But as I was watching the finale, I realized the inherent mistake of this plot twist, something I had only joked about before. Mulder has always believed himself to be William’s father, and in a way, he built his identity around his fatherhood, but now it turns out that William was not his son, but his half-brother. Though not incestuous per se, this family constellation is still wrong, and I feel like Carter basically wrote himself into a corner with this one. Was shooting William the only way out of that corner?

William's character has been sold short, just like he was in season nine. Carter is notorious for dangling hopeful mysteries like that for years and then giving the audience the middle finger. In season seven it was finally revealed that Samantha - the driving force behind Mulder's work and the reason behind so many heartbreaks had been dead for years, long before Mulder started searching for her. And here, after three seasons of build-up the pay-off gets shot in head and thrown into the cold dark river.

I couldn’t understand why Scully didn't have a shock reaction when William died. She raised him for a whole year and then spent the next sixteen years torturing herself for her choice, and now she's okay with him dying because she has a new baby instead? It felt wrong, and out of character for Dana Scully. But maybe, it was because Scully already had her goodbye in the morgue in "Ghouli". Maybe. Some other fans also suggested that at that particular moment, Scully was just being strong for Mulder. I don't disagree with that, given how hard Mulder took it all.

Throughout the series, I have almost always sided with Scully, and to me personally it was Scully's story that has been more interesting and relatable. This season has done something that none of the previous seasons have - it made me feel for Mulder, and truly empathize with him. Mulder is the vulnerable hero, and he's not ashamed of it. In season ten, he had to be strong for Scully when dealing with loss of William, but we saw that he, too, was suffering. And in this season, Mulder's grief over what could have been and his longing to have a family are open and naked, mostly thanks to Duchovny's performance, but also because of the character's history.

Mulder lost his entire family - his sister, his mother, and his adopted father. Sure, he still has his half-brother Jeffrey, but they don't exactly send each other Christmas cards. Scully is all the family he has left. And when Mulder says, "What am I if not a father?" this question is loaded with seventeen years of regret and hope.

But Mulder is a father, at least according to Scully and Chris Carter. Scully is pregnant. But she also does have alien DNA. What does this mean for the baby? And for the world? I guess we'll never know. At first, this revelation felt an insult to William's head injury. It was as if Scully was saying, "William turned out wrong, but who cares, he has a new, untainted baby on the way!".

The truth is, Scully's pregnancy has been hinted at throughout this whole season, although all those clues have completely gone over my head, like Mulder and Scully staying (and doing it) at St. Rachel's Motel, in "Plus One" or Scully holding her hand over her flat belly in "Followers". It isn't just the visual clues that have foreshadowed this revelation, but the stories themselves. Mulder and Scully's conversation and their two-night stand in "Plus One" as well their intimate moment in the church in "Nothing Lasts Forever" (which is the episode's only redeeming quality).

Chris Carter broke Scully and Mulder up prior to season ten to recapture that chemistry and the sexual tension that has been spicing up the original show. This season has been all about Mulder and Scully trying to find their way back to each other. In the church, Scully admits that it was her fears that drove her away from Mulder. Whatever the reasons for their initial break-up, they never stopped loving each other, and their bond is still strong.

I'm not a shipper. If anything, I was hoping that Carter wouldn’t go for a big Hollywood ending with the two beautiful heroes sharing a passionate kiss as the fireworks go off in the background. And he didn't. Instead of a passionate kiss, our heroes share a comforting embrace, holding on to each other like a lifebuoy, and instead of fireworks, there is only the black night sky. And a tiny fetus in Scully's once barren uterus.

In a way, the recycled miracle pregnancy plot twist is a reward for all the tragedies and heartbreaks our heroes have endured. It's a clunky compromise, not entirely a happy ending, but one that at least gives our battered heroes some hope. Does it make sense? Who cares, it's the finale.

So here we are. No justice for Monica. Skinner may or may not be dead. And William is Deadpool. So many questions left unanswered. But maybe Reggie was right. Maybe its wasn't about finding the answers. Maybe it was about giving these amazing characters a new life and exploring how they have changed since we last saw them.

As far as season finales go, this one was pretty bad. This isn't the "Anasazi" or "Existence". But is it better than "The Truth"? Both the original series finale, and "My Struggle IV" have Mulder and Scully facing an uncertain future. And in both episodes, Cancerman gets what he deserves. This is were the similarities end, but I can't decide if I prefer the lazy exposition of "The Truth" or the frantic car chases and parkour of "My Struggle IV". 

The new series finale is far more ambitious than "The Truth" was, and it at least tries to answer some of the most burning questions. It's also more hopeful than that old finale, what with the new baby and Mulder not facing a death penalty again. On the other hand, "The Truth" felt like a more balanced, self-contained story, and it did a better job and wrapping most of the subplots. 
 In the time when more and more cancelled TV-shows get revived, and nostalgia is the new black, these last two seasons of The X-Files have been more than just about recapturing former glory. Rather, this is the result of years of devoted fans nagging and begging the Fox executives to give us more stories. Not because we wanted to revel in nostalgia, but because we knew that there were more stories to tell. And even though nostalgia has been heavily used in the marketing of the revival, the show itself proved to be fresh and relevant. As Mulder put it, "you still have some scoot in your boot!".

Bildresultat för the x files promo season 1

Well, that's it. Ten episodes. Ten reviews. I loved season eleven. I loved watching it, I loved writing about it. What happens next? I have a long term plan for a complete X-Files episode guide, starting from Pilot, all the way to the season ten, including the movies. But that will take a very long time to make. 

Other than that, I don't have any plans for this blog. Honestly, I don't really know what to do with this blog. I fell out of love with writing book reviews, so we'll just have to wait and see. Anyway, the finals are coming up, and I won't have the time to blog much anyway. Let's just say, this blog is going on a hiatus. 

Thank you for sticking with me, and for allowing me to nerd out on a regular basis. 

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