Who knew that all it took to make a 25-year-old show feel fresh and new again was a new White House.
Just two years removed from its short six-episode 10th season, “The X-Files” returns bigger and bolder Wednesday night, while feeling more urgent and current than perhaps at any time in its storied history.
With 10 episodes offering a little breathing room, the writers have found a better balance with their mythology episodes and their more popular “Monster of the Week” fare. Perhaps more importantly, it allowed them room to build both the new political world the FBI finds itself in, as well as the ever-evolving relationship between the leads.
Suddenly with these new episodes, "The X-Files" feels like a current show, rather than a nostalgic throwback. You can imagine Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) have been fighting the good fight for nearly a quarter century and we found ourselves lamenting that we'd missed out on some of those adventures. We also found ourselves excited to welcome our favorite FBI agents back to our weekly schedules.
'Fake News' and the Political Agenda
Paranoia has sat at the heart of "The X-Files" since its premiere in 1993. Back then, mistrust of the government was a relatively new phenomenon, while today it is a part of daily life. That mistrust has expanded to include faceless corporate conglomerates, and in 2018, the news media. Suddenly, no one can be trusted and everyone is out to get everyone else, working some personal agenda. You're either us or you're the enemy.
Sudddenly, the FBI is surrounded by new government agencies and private security contractors. Add to this the disdain the executive branch has for the FBI and Mulder and Scully are facing more challenges than ever before. In a world of no trust, who can you believe in?
This new landscape finds our intrepid duo having to rely more on their wits than the resources of the government. And they quickly learn, the only people they can truly rely on are each other. Their bond is strengthened, renewed, tested and holds. The chemistry between these two leads is the glue that binds the show together, and this season returns them to their best form yet, united against seemingly everyone.
Season 10 first brought Mulder and Scully back together after nearly a decade apart. Somehow, though, the writers missed the importance of that, throwing them back into the work without fully addressing their history and lingering feelings about one another, and only tangentially addressing the real elephant in the room: the son they gave up for adoption.
It's as if the writers forgot what the beating heart of the show was. They had some clever monster-of-the-week stories, and came up with ways to take the mythology in crazy and apocalyptic directions, but they forgot that without the dynamic of Scully and Mulder firing on all cylinders, we kind of don't care.
The original series was about uncovering government conspiracies and trying to prove that aliens were real. By Season 11, we've moved beyond that premise and the larger story is now about the end of everything and the struggle to try and save humanity. Suddenly, there's an overall sense of urgency to the show that matters, without stifling its ability to offer those standalone episodes that have been its bread and butter.
The apocalypse is now. It has begun. It's not even about trying to stop it anymore, it seems, but rather about what to do as it unfolds. Who gets to live? Who gets to decide? The notion was played with in the closing hours of Season 10, but it takes center stage here, even if not in ways you might have expected.
Last season closed with Mulder dying from an apocalyptic alien plague as a UFO descended from the heavens shining a beam of light on him and Scully. That's a lot to unpack and direct toward a new season of adventure. The premiere picks up from those closing moments, but in a way that is wholly unexpected, subverting expectations again and turning everything we thought we knew about this fictional world sideways.
Overall, the new season looks like a successful follow-up to Season 10, but it brought some of that season's baggage with it. There are still moments of clunky dialogue and lots of over-explaining, though that does get better as we settle deeper into the season. The tone of episodes shifts dramatically from dangerous to slapstick, and yet there's a consistent sense of fun throughout.
Perhaps most importantly, Duchovny and Anderson look like they're having more fun with the stories this season, too. There is significant character work for both of them, a fresh new layer of mysteries to bury them under, and a different sense of paranoia about the state of the world that feels very current. Everything old is new again.
Thank you, Mr. President, for giving "The X-Files" its voice back.