The return of the X-Files to television in 2016 following a 14-year absence was a mixed bag. There was one classic (Mulder and Scully meet the Were-Monster), a few mixed monster of the week episodes, and a couple of creator Chris Carter’s overly-convoluted mythology episodes that everyone got bored with in about 1997. And while Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny fell seamlessly back in to the shoes of Scully and Mulder, the show felt like a pale imitation of the one that caught the zeitgeist back in the early ‘90s.
Fortunately, the follow-up season is a vast improvement. Expanded from six to ten episodes, the show and characters have space to breathe. Both leads get a chance to shine, with Anderson in particular a delight, and the supporting cast all get their moment in the spotlight. Hell, there’s even space for a Skinner-centric episode (making it approximately two in 25 years).
The secret to the X-Files’ success has always been its ability to refuse to be pigeon holed. During its original run it alternated between sci-fi, horror, technophobia, comedy, romance and outright weirdness. The new run is the classic series in a microcosm, revisiting and updating many of the show’s favourite themes and, surprisingly, generally to a standard matching the original.
Highlights include Ghouli; a monster of the week episode with an unexpected connection to Mulder and Scully, This; featuring the return of Lone Gunman Richard Langley, and Rm9sbG93ZXJz; an experimental, almost silent episode featuring the pair being pursued by a pissed-off A.I.
Best of all though is Darin Morgan’s The Lost Art Of Forehead Sweat. His episodes, which include past classics such as Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose and Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” have often taken the show in unforeseen, absurdist directions, simultaneously poking fun at the format while providing many of the series’ finest hours. Forehead Sweat, which examines the Mandela Effect, is no exception.
As with season ten, the show is bookended by two of Chris Carter’s mythology episodes. Early in the X-Files’ run, the show’s alien mythology storyline was its MVP, providing many of its most vital hours. Somewhere along the way though, they went off track, becoming overly-confusing and often just plain dull. Unfortunately this is very much the case here. Following an unsatisfactory resolution to season ten’s cliff-hanger, the focus switches to the search for the couple’s lost son William and his possible key role in the future. There’s an unpleasant, misjudged twist involving the Cigarette Smoking Man, Monica Reyes is still inexplicably acting totally out of character, and frankly, does anyone care about these episodes any more?
Unfortunately the final episode - which may well serve as a series finale after Anderson announced she wouldn’t be returning - is probably the revived series’ weakest instalment, neither satisfactorily tying up storylines nor providing any kind of emotional resolution for any of the key characters. That aside, it’s a vast improvement on the mixed season ten. If this should be the X-Files’ last hurrah, for the most part, it’s going out in style.
THE X-FILES: SEASON 11 / WRITER: VARIOUS / DIRECTOR: VARIOUS / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: DAVID DUCHOVNY, GILLIAN ANDERSON, MITCH PILEGGI / CERT: 15 / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW