After more than a decade off TV, The X-Files returned with a bang last night—a bang only slightly delayed by the perceived cultural precedence of football. Once the postgame was over and the show actually started, it was a wild and nostalgic ride from beginning to end.
Spoilers for the episode below the jump!
The story of this episode follows two distinct character groups: our heroes and our mysterious government antagonists. The latter appear first, when a UFO crashes in a remote location. A sinister official brings an equally amoral scientist and a squadron of troops in to patrol and control the crash site and secure what assets they can from it. They discover an extraterrestrial body, and, to the great dismay of the scientist, pump it full of bullets before he can take it away for study.
Meanwhile, Scully is back to a vaguely normal life as a medical doctor when she gets a call from Skinner, looking for Mulder. He connects the former partners with Tad O’Malley, a smooth and intelligent talk show host who’s part Glenn Beck, part Ancient Aliens guy, and even more of a conspiracy theorist than Mulder. O’Malley in turn introduces them to Sveta, his smoking gun, a woman who claims, among other things, multiple alien abductions and impregnations, as well as altered alien DNA. Sveta immediately gets under Scully’s skin and Scully decides to test her own DNA against Sveta’s to see if she’s telling the truth.
While Scully’s off doing Science, O’Malley continues showing off all his proof of extraterrestrial conspiracy to Mulder, including a facility where they have an ARV—an alien replica vehicle—that runs on free energy and can make dimensional jumps. Mulder is amazed at the technology but isn’t as quick to trust Sveta; she was clearly taking some of her cues from O’Malley earlier, and when he confronts her about it she admits that it wasn’t aliens who had taken her, but rather a human conspiracy to use alien technology to subjugate the rest of humanity. Further intel suggests that the aliens who have been appearing since Roswell—since this conspiracy began—have been trying to interfere in the plot and help humankind.
Mulder and O’Malley decide—without Scully’s input and to her great dismay—to broadcast this information on O’Malley’s show. They believe they know the where, when, why, and how of this takeover of America that’s about to be perpetuated by this mysterious and wealthy technocratic elite, and that it’s up to them to bear this news to the American public.
This is, of course, when everything goes terribly wrong. Sveta disappears and reappears on the news, recanting everything she’s said to Mulder and O’Malley and discrediting herself and O’Malley on live TV. Troops burst into the secret facility where the ARV is kept and blow it to smithereens, and the website where O’Malley hosts his show crashes and stays down. Sveta, fleeing to unknown parts, is attacked and her car blown up, leaving us unsure whether she’s still alive. (This, of course, is concurrent with Scully’s discovery that Sveta does indeed have alien DNA and that she must be protected.) We close out the premiere with a sinister cameo from our favorite villain-cum-tobacco enthusiast, now smoking his Morleys through a tracheotomy hole as he delivers a characteristically ominous one-liner.
I actually really enjoyed this episode. It felt more like the X-Files than any of the movies, and honestly moreso than a lot of the end of the original series. The only thing that really seems different about everyone is that they’re ten years older and using smartphones. The ending of the episode viscerally reminded me how frustrating it is to root for Mulder and Scully, because they’re always going up against enemies with nearly godlike power in comparison to their own, and their smoking-gun proof of this or that conspiracy is always going up in, well, smoke. There were plenty of nods to nostalgia without being too campy, as well: for one thing, they used the opening theme music and classic title sequence after the cold open. Later, Mulder briefly visits the FBI to see Skinner and they go down to the abandoned X-Files office, where the pencils are still stuck in the ceiling tiles and Mulder’s iconic poster gathers dust on the floor.
While it is kind of sad to me that Mulder and Scully never worked out as a romantic duo, I think the way they’ve taken their relationship in the show makes sense in terms of what’s come before. The fact that Mulder was absent for much of the end of the series led to certain inescapable characterizations and I don’t think it would make sense, where the characters are now, to have them still passionately in love (although they clearly still care about each other deeply).
My only real concern about the series so far is that Sveta was much more a plot device than a character, and a bit of a sexist one at that. She seems totally helpless and without agency, and her abuse by her not-alien abductors—being constantly impregnated with genetically mutated fetuses and then having them harvested out of her once they’ve developed—is horrifying mystical pregnancy trope central. If we’re lucky, she won’t turn out to be dead and she’ll get some more character development that will round out this otherwise problematic characterization.
The second half of the premiere airs tonight, and I can’t wait to see what happens next and what faces from the past reemerge. My fingers are crossed for the Lone Gunmen (I love those nerds) but no matter what, the premiere has left me confident that whoever appears or doesn’t appear, the series is going to be good.