With a plot that practically ignores its 13-year hiatus, the bigger concern is how just how joyless Mulder and Scully have become
It’s not every day that viewers pick a television series 10 seasons into its now 23-year run, particularly one with a famously labyrinthine plot as The X-Files. But news of the show returning to the small screen was greeted with joy far and wide online last year, meaning anyone with a passing interest in appointment TV was likely to give it the once over. The truth, we were promised, is still out there, and Mulder, Scully, and that grumpy guy with the glasses whose name has failed to make it into the passing pop-cultural discussion about the show are going to find it together. In six episodes – or fewer, as they like to do standalone ones that don’t progress the plot much.
If, like me, the two episodes that debuted this week on RTÉ 2 constitute your very first look at the characters played by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, the opening episode will likely have left you wondering just what all the fuss was about. The show opened with a series of ramblings down memory lane, with Mulder rehashing for the uninitiated the basic premise of the show: he believes in aliens, she is the sceptical one, and together they made for a will-they-won’t-they, their flirtation played out against the dramatic backdrop of super-powered serial killers and shady conspiracies. There were foes, 90s clothes, UFOs, and highs and lows, and now they’re back for more... of those.
Time has passed, they’ve gotten together and broken up, their child William adopted out for his own protection from a threat newcomers don’t quite understand, but damn will Mulder and Scully emote it with a boredom so dull it seems like the kid had a lucky escape. Scully’s now left the agency, spending her days grafting ears onto the lobeless heads of extraterrestrial-looking moppets, her medical prowess demonstrated by spotless scrubs and a smattering of bloodstains on her neck. Mulder has abandoned society, living alone off the grid, with a three o’clock shadow worthy of a shady government conspiracy and an Internet connection so speedy it’s safe to assume Amazon is drone delivering fresh batches of Just for Men every couple of months.
What kind of mystery could drag these former agents back into the field? Enter stage left the right-wing Internet shock jock Tad O’Malley, an iconoclastic conspiracy theorist who’s off his face on YouTube hits and the fumes of steel-melting jet-fuel. Turns out while the erstwhile lovers were dealing with the emotional baggage of their ex trials, O’Malley’s managed to uncover the truth behind the smokescreen that was once considered the truth, but is, in fact, the route of all the conspiracies – that alien invasion, it’s not quite what it seems.
The new season reunites stars Mitch Pileggi, David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson and William B. Davis [©2015 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Frank Ockenfels/FOX]
Perhaps the greatest mistake Chris Carter, creator of the show and writer of three of the mini-season's episodes, is failing to get to grips with how the world has changed in the 13 years since the show finished up. The X-Files, obsessed with the mass deception of the world by forces, alien and domestic, now sounds like someone whose website has a Hotmail email address – woefully old fashioned. The world has moved on, happily sharing every word, thought, moment of existence into the ether and gifting, with our eyes wide open, companies like Google and Apple all the data they could ever need. The truth may be out there, along with all of our private lives, ready for government agencies to explore and mine.
Instead of exploring this bizarre trust of the modern world in the governments that have been successively proven to be spying on us, each other, and themselves, the return of The X-Files feels very old fashioned. A laborious and clunky look into the mind of people so obsessed with wringing every drop of connivance out of every frame, they spend the last five minutes tying up the loose ends in the laziest way imaginable.
“Scully, are you ready for this?” Mulder asks. “I don’t think there’s a choice,” we both reply in unison.
The new season of The X-Files continues on RTÉ 2 on Tuesdays at 9.55pm
Every Thursday, James talks Sean Moncrieff through what's making waves on the small screen this week. You can listen back to TV on the Radio below: