Should we judge this season finale as just another Chris Carter fever dream, or the last X-Files ever? As the former, it has plenty of entertaining developments, but if this is truly the final episode of The X-Files, it’s more than a little disappointing. Sure, it’s not as ludicrous as the season ten finale, but it ends on such a ridiculous note that you almost want to start a petition to make sure we get another season. Although, that presumes Carter wouldn’t just cliff-hanger us again at the end of that one. We all know he would, right?
“My Struggle IV” could have been called “Scully on the Phone” or “Running With Flashlights,” as those are the main motifs in what is basically a chase hour. Bafflingly, the episode doesn’t even put Mulder and Scully together as they try to track down their missing son William in the hope that he can stop a coming pandemic. Everyone is after William — Mulder, Scully, Skinner, Reyes, and even the Cigarette Smoking Man — and yet Carter even leaves his fate hanging.
The first reboot episode entitled “My Struggle” opened with narration by Fox Mulder. The season ten finale, “My Struggle II” started with Dana Scully. “My Struggle III,” the season 11 premiere, began with words from Cigarette Smoking Man. If you were hoping for Walter Skinner this time, you’ll have to wait for chapter five. “My Struggle IV” starts with the words of William, who has had visions of pain and confusion for years. We learn he’s basically a young X-Man, developing powers as a kid that have only grown more intense. We then flash to the action of “Ghouli,” in which William’s ability to mess with perception led to the deaths of his adoptive parents and got Mulder and Scully on his trail. We then flash to a scene of Cigarette Smoking Man with a gun on Mulder, threatening to end his life. A shot rings out and credits finally roll.
Mulder is looking for William at the Timberland Motel just as Kersh is ordering Skinner to shut down the X-Files. Mulder has been on the net talking about the coming plague, and Kersh has finally had enough. Skinner goes into the hall to find Scully, who needs his help.
Cut to 15 hours earlier. Reyes goes behind CSM’s back to tell Mulder that they’re on William’s trail. Mulder wants to go after him, but for some reason, Scully doesn’t follow. The decision to separate Mulder and Scully in this final hour is perplexing, but let’s face it: Nobody knows how Chris Carter thinks. He’s certainly original.
That originality comes through in a crazy sequence in which Mulder shoots the man who told him about alien colonization. It’s a strange scene with slow motion, shattering glass, and head shots. (Maybe Carter is auditioning to direct John Wick 3?)
As armed men come for William, Mulder gets one of the most Carter-esque lines of the episode when he tells Scully he had some “payback to pay back.” Scully has a lead on William that involves lottery tickets, which gets Mulder closer to his son. As he’s speaking to a woman in the gas station where William appeared just a couple hours ago, someone places a tracker on Mulder’s car.
On Interstate 81, William hitches a ride with a truck driver and he randomly decides to show off his powers, Large Marge–style. The driver freaks out and Mulder catches up to him quickly, but William has escaped yet again. This is a weird scene in an episode full of ‘em. Why not show us Mulder talking to the truck driver? Or William escaping? Why the overhead shot? Do you think Carter shot more than he could fit into the episode? It’s possible.
Anyway, Mulder knows where William is going. And we know that William hitched a ride with the guy who’s following Mulder. As Mulder tracks his son to the girls from “Ghouli,” we get some scenes with William, a.k.a. Jackson, as he’s known to his girlfriends. He threatens to kill himself, and one of the girls offers to meet him at the Timberland Motel. But Mulder gets there first.
As we see shots that reveal that William mutilated the guy who was tracking Mulder, we get a nice father-son scene. It’s a bit odd that Anderson didn’t get this moment, but it’s still a good one. William says people are never going to stop coming for him — and right on cue, things get ugly once the people who have been coming after both Mulder and William arrive. William blows them all up Scanners-style, including Erika Price, the former Syndicate character played by a wasted Barbara Hershey. William glares at Mulder, but chooses not to make him go boom too.
Finally, Scully tells Skinner that she needs to go after William, and he offers to drive. On the way there, Skinner drops the knowledge about William’s origin, which we don’t even get to hear, much less see Scully react appropriately to. This should be a major moment for Anderson — not to mention the show’s mythology — but it’s interrupted by Mulder driving by and the chase continuing. In an episode of problematic moments, this is definitely the most frustrating.
Everyone gets to the Sugar Factory, a location chosen because it allows for a lot of running and flashlights and calling out of names. The first big moment comes when Skinner pulls a gun on Reyes and CSM’s car. He shoots as CSM forces the car forward and Reyes appears to die. It’s a sad way for her character to go out, to say the very least. Skinner dives under a car as CSM crashes into it.
Meanwhile, Mulder tells Scully that William doesn’t want to be found. He asks her to let him go. Of course, we figure out quickly enough that William has actually taken the form of Mulder, adding weight to the line, “He knows that you love him.” We see Mulder running at them and another chase ensues.
The X-Files culminates on a dock as Cigarette Smoking Man pulls that gun on Fox Mulder, his son. Because CSM needs William. But we just got the fake-out with William pretending to be Mulder, so it’s pretty obvious that’s also happening here too — not that CSM knows yet. Will he really shoot Fox Mulder? Yes, it turns out he will. And it turns out that the real Fox Mulder won’t hesitate to shoot him too. After the shoot-out, both CSM and William (still disguised as Mulder) fall into the water.
Mulder is upset, thinking William is dead, but Scully comforts him. Does Scully know that William isn’t actually dead? I guess so, because that’s the only way the scene that unfolds next would make rational sense. Otherwise, she’s way too calm and collected, calling William “an experiment.” She even says, “I was never a mother to him.” That’s cold, Scully. He can’t really be gone, right? Again, maybe she knows that William didn’t die, as they’ve always had a psychic link.
As The X-Files winds down for perhaps the very last time, Scully has one last bit of news, too: She’s pregnant! You just knew Chris Carter wouldn’t leave us without some kind of cliff-hanger.
• When the camera pans out on Mulder/Scully’s final hug, you can see what pretty clearly looks like a big fuzzy boom mic in the upper left corner. Maybe Carter never got used to filming for widescreen.
• The X-Files loves to recycle character actors, so it’s no surprise that they did it one last time by bringing back Mark Acheson, the truck driver, who also appeared in season three’s “Quagmire.”
• I know it’s sacrilegious, but does anyone else feel like David Duchovny phoned this one in? Anderson can do anything, but Duchovny had a tough time selling some of his emotional beats, especially in the final scenes.
• The final tag for the credits is “Salvator Mundi,” which is Latin for “Savior of the World,” which probably refers to William, although it could also be Chris Carter’s nickname for himself. (Kidding!) It’s also the name of a Leonardo da Vinci painting that sold for $450 million just last year.
• Do you want Mulder and Scully back? I do. I feel like there were enough strong episodes this season to justify another return, even if that means we’ll get a “My Struggle V” and “My Struggle VI.” If this is really the end, are you satisfied?
• Finally, thanks for reading this season. I grew up adoring The X-Files and was ecstatic to get the chance to write about again. Hope you enjoyed the ride!