Monday, February 22, 2016

The X-Files: My Struggle II (S10/E6)

by JASmius

Rating: 1/2 (out of four)

Written & directed by Chris Carter

Wow.  Just, wow.  For a (mini-)season finale that quite evidently had such lofty ambitions, "muSeHbogh Dotlh cha'" (sorry, I had to use Klingon because I couldn't find an English-Reticulan translator online) came across like Double-C had no idea how to even begin delivering on them.  It's like he was his own "I want to believe"poster, only without the flying saucer.  A blank sheet.  Which is appropriate, because for all that it was attempting to do and be, very little actually happens in this hour, and the blizzard of incoherent dialogue cannot distract from or cover up that fact.

Being, of course, the bookend to the (mini-)series premier, the ep opens with the same sort of mytharc update, this time from Scully's perspective, just as the first was Mulder's.  The monologues are much the same, if not verbatim: In the first nine seasons, all their alien-chasing was a wild goose chase to conceal the REAL "Truth": A small cabal of evil men, using alien technology, are not the ones collaborating with a returning alien race, but are themselves the Ultimate Evil bent on wiping all humanity.  Bwahahaha.


Still, I was hoping that the tag line after the opening credits - "The end is here," in place of the usual "The truth is out there," which I'm assuming was meant to be attention-grabbing - meant that, given what it was suggesting - that this was the endgame episode toward which the series had been building for twenty-three years - we would get a blockbuster story that lived up to that ambition, threw in some left-field swerves, and provided closure to the mytharc, even if it was seriously downgraded from "alien invasion" to whatever this was going to be.

This ep disappointed on that score.  The only one that mattered.  Bitterly.

Mulder has disappeared.  Again.  Scully finds the X-cave empty and Mulder's laptop logged onto Tad O'Malley's site.  O'Mally, you may recall, was the Glen Beck-esque conspiracy theory-spouting online TV host from the premier who (along with Skinner) lured Mulder and Scully back to the X-Files and was the narrative device by which the show's mytharc was seriously downgraded from alien apocalypse to mere human villains plotting to take over the world (bwahahahaha) using abandoned and reverse-engineered alien technology.  After the alien-abductee Sveta is blowed up real good, O'Malley disappeared.  Now he's back (because the plot required it) with news that, in the real world, would elicit uncontrollable eye-rolling to the degree that anybody even paid attention to it, but here is a bombshell: Not just Sveta, not just Scully, but every human being on the planet has had alien DNA added to their genetic code.  How?  Don't worry, we'll get to that.  It's by a means that is tediously mundane, in fact.

Does this explain to where Mulder disappeared?  Not as such.  O'Malley calls Scully in turn, agreeing to rendezvous at Mulder's house, which they find ransacked and deserted.  Apparently either O'Malley contacted Mulder earlier or vice versa, agreeing to meet at Mulder's house.  But "somebody else got to him first".  Bwahahahahaha.

Other than this scene, O'Malley stays in his online TV studio, serving as a lame expositional plot vehicle substituting for actually seeing all the things and providing us a scale of the global disaster the ep doesn't even try to portray.

Still unable to contact Mulder, she and Agent Einstein (yes, the dyspeptic duo are back for a second consecutive week, although more as plot props than anything resembling interesting characterization) go to Our Lady Of Zeta Reticuli Hospital, where Scully had been working until the past four weeks, to "find answers".  Which means they might just as well have gone to a day spa for facials with the little cucumber slices sitting on their eyelids for all the answers they were ever going to come up with, because answers are not, nor have they ever been, what this series is about.

Sure enough, Scully and Einstein find more questions, and the calm, rational scientist who isn't a bitch starts leaping to conclusions.  Which, on this show are "highly educated guesses".  Case in point: a soldier walks up to the two women asking for help.  He's got some sort of lesion on his upper left arm near his shoulder that looks like he's growing reptilian skin.  Scully's on-the-spot diagnosis?  He's been exposed to anthrax and his immune system has been suppressed by the smallpox vaccine all military personnel were given prior to deployment to the Middle East that wasn't actually a smallpox vaccine but was REALLY alien DNA.

My first reaction?  "Whaaaaaat?"  My second?  Maybe Agent Einstein is the only rational person left on this show.

So, naturally, Scully syphons her for a blood sample.  To "find answers".  The next expansion of her theory?  That if alien DNA could be imparted via smallpox vaccine - something that everybody in America over the age of forty-four has received - then 130 million Americans - and many more people around the world - are, in Scully's intended-to-sound-quietly-ominous words, "in terrible danger". As if to provide confirmation, Agent Miller shows up to helpfully inform the two redheads that Tad O'Malley has new revelations about mass secret "genome-tampering" that has released "a man-made plague" that are "setting off a panic".  Which means, I guess, that either Mr. O'Malley's ratings dwarf even those of Rush Limbaugh, or this contagion, whatever it is, is rapidly spreading.  Since El Rushbo didn't do a cameo, we can safely conclude it was the latter.

Agent Einstein finally snaps and starts ripping into Scully for her windmill-tilting as she did Mulder's last week, all the more so because she's supposed to be the rational scientist of the pair.  Scully admits that none of her conclusion-jumping makes any sense or is (yet) supported by any hard evidence.  But based on her and Mulder's experiences with the X-Files, she's positive that there's something huge underway, and "we can't wait" to cross all the t's and dot all the i's.

Did I mention that this global pandemic erupted and flash-spread around the planet in, apparently, a single day?  My goodness, but those bits of alien protein were busy little beavers.

Except - and this swerve bought this conspiracy-mad romp its paltry half-star - it wasn't the alien DNA.  A rather elementary insight Agent Einstein contributes when she points out to Scully that none of what's going on or any of her theories trying to explain it make any sense from adding DNA, but start making sense in terms of removing it.

But there's still one missing piece of the puzzle that there's no way Scully could divine or deduce.  Which means it's time for that cherished plot device from The X-Files' early seasons, the past-character-deus ex machina.

Scully's cell phone rings.  The voice on the other end says she's "someone who was there for you when you needed it" and "has answers" to, shall we say, "current events".  Scully doesn't recognize the voice, which is a little odd, since it turns out to be someone she ought to know well: Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), who, alongside John Doggett, took over the X-Files unit in season nine because David Duchovny left the show a season earlier and Agents Miller and Einstein were probably still in junior high school at the time.

Have arranged a rendezvous off-camera, Scully and Reyes meet in a local park where it's suddenly raining for some reason - bleak ambiance, perhaps?  Reyes turns out to not have all the information Scully needs, but does provide a pivotal clue.  It seems that not too long after the events in Anasazi, New Mexico (or maybe it was in Arizona, Utah, or Colorado, but since Roswell is in the "Land of Enchantment, and Thor had his adventure in nearby Puente Antiguo joined by four other Asgardians and "The Destroyer," I'm going to set course for the southeast of the "Four Corners country"), in the season nine finale, where Cigarette Smoking Man was - or so we thought (cue "bomp-bomp-booooooomp" music with dramatic reverb) - blown to bits by what I guess were his own black helicopters (boy, THAT performance review isn't going to go well), then-Agent Reyes was summoned by "somebody" to a hospital, where whom does she find but none other than that unkillable, Morely-chain-smoking old bastard, anatomically intact but charred to a crisp that should, of course, not have been survivable, but of course was for him, as he had survived several previous seemingly fatal "accidents" over the years.  I seem to recall that in my review of "The Truth," (the ninth season and, we thought, series finale) speculating that the only explanation for CSM's immortality was that he was an alien himself.

Turns out I wasn't far off.  Reyes' big reveal is that the alien DNA isn't causing the sudden pandemic, and not everybody has it in their genomes; instead, only a select few have it, and it provides an immunity to the contagion.  Reyes, as you probably already figured out, is one of the "chosen".  What was the price she had to pay for that honor?  Become CSM's servant, with a single task: bring him his Morleys whenever summoned.  No, seriously.  That's either how much contempt Chris Carter had for the Monica Reyes character or the best idea he could come up with for a past-character-deus ex machina.  I'm guessing Robert Patrick wisely turned the cameo down.

Armed with this information, Scully and Einstein begin a frantic attempt to synthesize a vaccine from Scully's alien DNA, which they (apparently) do, but not before Einstein falls ill.  With Earth's population dying like flies and all infrastructure collapsing (the lights briefly go out in the hospital, Ted O'Malley's webcast intermittently spits and crackles with static), how does Scully get the word out to what's left of the world that she has a cure?  She sends O'Malley a text.  I'm guessing that two tin cans and a really long string were next up.

Of course, there would be the issue of curing Agent Einstein in order to cure the doctors in the hospital, and even then there'd be no way the vaccine could be mass-produced to save the general population in time at the rate that what came to be called the "Spartan virus" was propagating, at least based on what we saw from O'Malley's webcasts, which, again, were the only conduit to convey, but not show, how the pandemic was global in scope ("We go out with a whimper" - an homage to The Stand, perhaps, which had seven additional hours to depict "Captain Trips" - "and in deafening silence").  And, since we're on the topic, how did "Spartan" spread so wildfiredly fast?  "Chem trails" and "microwaves".  And probably flouride in public drinking water.  Better not nuke that Cup o' Noodles you were planning on having for lunch.

The sight of Dana Scully wondering through the chaotic streets of Washington, D.C. yelling "I have a cure, get to the hospital(s), I have a cure" like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's character from the aforementioned The Stand shouting "Bring out your dead!  Bring out your dead!" was downright comical.  Which, I'm guessing, is the opposite of the effect for which Double-C was going.

But after she receives a phone call from Agent Miller, who informs her that he's on the way to her with Mulder, and that both of them are gravely ill, she stops caring about "saving humanity" and can only think of saving the man she still loves.


Believe it or not, that was the better of the two story tracks.

Throughout the early part of the hour we get brief glimpses of a bruised and bloodied Mulder driving someplace.  Eventually we find out that he was traveling to, yes, Spartanburg, South Carolina, to confront, yes, Cigarette Smoking Man.  How did Mulder know that (1) CSM had survived the Anasazi attack, and (2) where he was now?  Because CSM sent an unnamed flunkie to Mulder's house (don't ask me how he knew Mulder's address - must be the alien DNA) to "make him an offer," but Mulder jumped the flunkie before it could be tendered and they had a professional wrestling-caliber knock-down, drag-out fight (hence Mulder's bruised and bloodied condition and his trashed house), only after Mulder won in which he pointed his sidearm at the flunkie and bellowed, "WHO SENT YOU?!?"  Or, in other words, Mulder was the attacker, not CSM's flunkie.  But he couldn't have known that, right?

So, again, Mulder confronts CSM.  For all the times that he'd done so in the past, you'd think that he'd stop pointing his gun at the smoke-drenched creature in front of him.  (1) He's never shot him on any of those previous occasions, and (2) what good would it do if he did?  He survived a barrage of Hellfire missiles.  He's unkillable, remember?

What follows is what passes for this episode's polemical scene.  Which might have worked, except that (1) Mulder and CSM have had many such scenes in the past, so the novelty wore off long ago, and (2) Chris Carter has so "J.J. Abrams-ized" the X-Files mytharc with this coda mini-season it's almost as if these are two different characters entirely.  Or at least the same ones with nothing interesting left to say.

As disclosed in the first X-Files movie, the Syndicate, of which CSM was a leading member, was negotiating what Martin Landau's Alvin Kurtzveil character called "a planned Armageddon" with the returning alien invaders that would allow a selected few humans to survive in some capacity after the rest of humanity perished as living incubators for the "grays'" young.  As a backup plan, and to buy time - hence their suffocating secrecy - they developed a vaccine that was capable of at least slowing down the alien virus that was their means of species propagation.  All of this, including the grays, were vividly portrayed on-screen in the movie's climatic scene in Antarctica, where Mulder uses the vaccine to save Scully, they barely escape the aliens, and a gargantuan flying saucer bigger than the one at the end of Indiana Jones & The Legend Of The Crystal Skull lifts out of the ice cap and spins off into the polar vortexed sky.

That was then.  Since it is now over three years past the fabled end of the Mayan calendar, and the world didn't end - in this show's terms, when the aliens were supposed to arrive in force - and Chris Carter decided that the mytharc had to be downsized to accommodate it, this was now.  And while I didn't immediately turn off my TV in disgust, it was probably only because real-life politics has so jaded and cynicized me that I've gotten used to just about anything.

Now the "truth" is that, as the premier hinted, there are no aliens and no coming invasion, despite all previous X-Files canon.  Just the alien-derived technology and alien DNA from that one, lone, crashed saucer way back in 1948 (don't bother asking why the government would need a "smokescreen" at Roswell for an alien saucer crash that wouldn't happen for another year) that gave plain, ordinary homo sapiens like CSM "ideas".  As in, for "world domination".  Bwahahahaha.

I'd have preferred that Chris Carter leave this cartoon nonsense at that.  But he just had to politicize it.

You see, way back in the 1940s at that one genuine human-alien encounter, the Grays prophesied that the human advent of nuclear weapons would lead to all manner of self-inflicted disasters, like "racism" and "sexism" and "homophobia" and "Islamophobia" and "trannyphobia" and capitalism and free enterprise and constitutionalism and freedom and liberty and the rest of horros from the alternate quantum dimension where the Agenda scenarios of liberal derangement syndrome dwell, most especially "global warming and environmental destruction".  Yep, CSM went on a rip-snorting greenstremist fire & brimstone sermon that served as his justification for releasing his planet-depopulating "Spartan" virus, which he rationalized on the grounds that, "Everybody is going to die sometime; I'm just speeding up the process".

From alien invasion to eco-terrorism.  My, has the X-Files fallen.  Comprehensively.

Mulder has nothing substantive to say in reply to all this other than expressions of personal loathing.  And who can blame him, since it's all basically a bunch of deranged double-talk that contradicts everything he's said before?  Besides, he collapses from "Spartan" soon thereafter.

Oh, yes, why did CSM send for Mulder?  To offer him alien DNA so that he may join the "elite few" and have a "seat at the table" in the "new world" that will be made in CSM's and not God's, image.  Because CSM "loves" Mulder.  Whatever, dude.

Why Mulder didn't already have alien DNA, since he was "abducted by aliens" at the end of season seven, and Scully got alien DNA when she was abducted at the end of season three, I have no idea.  Fox must have refused to add that to his X-Files contract, and thus became the reason he left the show.

Agent Miller picks that moment to arrive for Mulder, and CSM lets them go.  And why not?  Mulder is already dying, along with the rest of humanity.  As he points out accurately when Mulder demands that he stop it, it's far too late for that.

Oh, did I forget that Reyes told Scully back in the rainy park that "Spartan" was released back in....2012, and that the only answer she could give for why the virus would have lain dormant for three years and then suddenly erupted now was that "the science is complicated"?  Because, I suppose, saying "because the plot demanded it" would have been too candid.

So that's it.  Miller drives Mulder back to D.C., where they finally connect with Scully on a panic-traffic-choked Potomac bridge where Scully, without even examining Mulder, decides that he'll need "stem cells" in addition to the vaccine in order to be cured, and that those stem cells can only come from - you guessed it - the son they gave up for adoption fourteen years ago.

That would have been an anticlimactic sticky wicket if not for the alien(-derived) triangular craft that suddenly appears right over Mulder's, Scully's, and Miller's heads - which, given what Scully just said, almost screams that #1 son has come to Dad's rescue, right?

Who the hell knows?  First, a blinding light shoots down from the craft, or the same thing that happened right before an identical craft blew up Sveta real good in the premier, and second, the ep went to black before we could find out.  This followed the general cliffhanger template, but so infuriated me and, from what I've read, so many viewers that, given how thoroughly Chris Carter has eviscerated the X-Files mytharc canon, leaves me hoping that Mulder and Scully get blowed up real good and put this reboot out of its misery.  Especially since the rest of humanity is doomed anyway, and I don't want to see what cock & bull "starchild" conjurings Double-C would come up with for day-saving in a mini-season eleven.

Oh, and why did CSM and...well, the Syndicate was wiped out in season six, if I remember correctly, by a different alien faction, so I don't know who's working for him now, but never mind - why did he trigger the pandemic now?  Because Tad O'Malley "ruffled too many feathers" or something.  Which means it's all his fault, and Mulder should have hunted and gunned down him instead of CSM.  It would have accomplished just as much.

Everybody's going to die sometime, right?

Next: Is anybody else feeling feverish?

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