The X-Files creator Chris Carter took some heated criticism for 2016’s mini-season of his iconic show, but he doubles down with this season 11 premiere, amplifying the elements of his style that his detractors don’t like in a way that almost turns them into poetry. There’s a glorious insanity to “My Struggle III” that approaches telenovela ridiculousness and climaxes in a series of revelations that challenge the entire arc of the show.
The Carter episodes — and this season, he’s only directing the premiere and finale — have become like fever dreams turned into X-Files fanfiction. They’re purposefully ludicrous, but Carter is so committed to his loony tone that it’s easy to get carried away by it all. There’s a meta way to read Carter’s willingness to push boundaries, too: He’s always preached that structure and routine are just lies to keep us comfortable. Don’t ask questions. Just believe.
So, of course, “My Struggle III” opens with one of the greatest lies of all time, as a young Cigarette Smoking Man watches the staging of the moon landing. This comes after an introduction by CSM, in which we learn his name is really Carl Gerhard Bush, and we watch the show’s villain Forrest Gump–ing his way through history. To be fair, this feels a bit anti-canon given how often this character has been portrayed as operating in the shadows and not alongside presidents, but this episode is all about blowing up what we thought we knew. It’s Carter in full mythology-destruction mode, asserting that this iteration of The X-Files is more revision than revival.
After the intro, we open on Scully’s eye — Carter loves eye imagery — and the conspiracy opera starts by essentially wiping out the cliff-hangers from the end of season ten with a Dallas-esque “it was all a dream” rationalization. Or does it? Was the action of “My Struggle II,” which saw the world nearly destroyed by a plague and Dana Scully staring up into the beam of a spaceship, all a dream or a prophecy? Either way, it happened in Scully’s head and she’s now in a hospital bed, communicating with Skinner through her brain waves. In one of the show’s more WTF moments, Skinner swears that her brain activity is communicating through a message in Morse code: “Find him.” It’s a callback to two beats from last season: “Find her” from “Founder’s Mutation” and Scully’s mother’s deathbed words about William in “Home Again.” Who is the him? Is it William or CSM or Mulder?
As Mulder is inner monologuing about how he can save Scully, she wakes up. She starts rambling a bit about the plague, and Mulder turns skeptic. (Fans of the show will note how the standard “Mulder the believer” and “Scully the skeptic” dynamic can be regularly twisted whenever the plot demands it or emotions are involved.) Mulder presumes Scully’s ramblings are a product of her illness. CSM can’t be alive. But we know that he is, and Scully is right that he’s in Spartanburg, North Carolina, from where he will unleash Hell on Earth. How exactly Scully knew this seems to be the unfolding arc of the season, but it likely also has something to do with her son.
Suddenly, we see Agent Jeffrey Spender for the first time since the original series finale in 2002, looking a bit more like himself as he’s chased down and hit by a car in a parking garage. All they want is the boy, he’s told. Spender hides behind a door of an apartment building that reads “The 209.” As you might have guessed, nothing is by accident on this show. Guess what episode “My Struggle III” is in the series overall? Yep, 209.
Spender calls Mulder and CSM hears the call, revealing he’s in a room with Monica Reyes, who basically becomes his sounding board for conspiracy monologues this episode. (After all, every supervillain needs someone to monologue to.) CSM says, “We’re not to be found,” and we see a car speeding after Mulder. While our hero is distracted with some pure unfiltered Carter inner monologue, a car chase unfolds. It’s actually well-staged and one of the only pure action moments in an episode that’s heavy on mythology dialogue, although Carter has to intercut it with some Reyes-CSM silliness about not being able to stop “what’s already begun.”
Like a ghost from her past, Spender appears at Scully’s bedside, revealing that someone is looking for William. He first balks at telling her the location of her son, revealing only the name of the family that adopted him. Meanwhile, CSM is still rambling, although it’s fun to hear this iconic character drop the phrase “fake news” and consider how his brand of disinformation plays in the Trump era.
Mulder is following the bad guy that he thinks will take him to CSM, but he arrives somewhere else with mysterious conspirators who look a lot like his resurrected father and Reyes. We learn that the pair Mulder is seeking are with Skinner in his car. It’s time for everyone to talk.
The final act of “My Struggle III” consists mostly of a pair of three-way conversations: Mulder and his two new friends, then CSM, Reyes, and Skinner. The doppelgänger pair says they are part of “the Syndicate,” a group involved in alien colonization. They want Mulder to kill CSM so they can colonize space. A hilarious argument ensues about the feasibility of such a thing as CSM asks Skinner to turn his back on the whole human race. Meanwhile, Scully is back in a hospital bed, rescued by agents Einstein and Miller, who saw her get into a car accident. It’s just an excuse to put her in a vulnerable position so an assassin can try to kill her again. And if it’s not clear who’s trying to whack Dana at this point, I think that’s Carter’s purpose — confusion over loyalties and purposes.
After Mulder kills the assassin, Scully says that she doesn’t think CSM sent him. She reveals her visions are from William, the new “Chosen One” of The X-Files. As Skinner comes in, smelling like smoke, we flash back to the car and then flash back further, 17 years, to the major revelation of this episode: CSM, not Mulder, impregnated Scully. “William is my son.”
• “My Struggle III” contains SO many echoes of season ten. It’s got visual cues like the focus on eyes, as well as plot callbacks like “find her” and the piercing sound from “Founder’s Mutation,” the deathbed wish of a mother from “Home Again,” and even the Einstein and Miller doppelgängers being reflected in the new doppelgängers of the Syndicate. I half expected to see a were-monster in the background.
• My favorite beat may have been the Skinner and CSM showdown. When Skinner told him, “Get your ass back in the car, I’m not finished,” I was reminded of how much I adored these characters in the show’s original run. They both felt like mere devices in season ten, so it was good to see both actors get something meaty this episode.
• Actually, take that back, the best beat is Scully saying, “The truth lies in the X-Files, Mulder.” You know it does, fans.
• “My Struggle” opens with narration by Mulder; “My Struggle II” opens with narration by Scully; “My Struggle III” opens with narration by CSM. Is this episode more about his struggle than Mulder or Scully’s?
• The words “William” and “my son” are repeated over and over again, so you can be sure that’s going to be the major arc of the season, possibly even through the non-mythology episodes.
• The images from the end that reveal the “truth” about William are from season seven’s “En Ami,” although they’ve been cut a bit for dramatic purpose. It’s a PERFECT callback to the opening scenes of the faked moon landing in that it’s saying, “Here’s something you’ve seen before, but you didn’t know the truth about it.” And, interestingly, it was the only episode of The X-Files written by … you guessed it, Cigarette Smoking Man himself, William Davis.