The X-Files enters the era of post-truth with a remarkable level of chutzpah. After the relaunch of Season 10 aka ‘the Event Series’ and it’s rampant success, Season 11 became almost assured once difficult contract negotiations (principally with Gillian Anderson) were figured out, but despite only a two year gap between both seasons, the cultural landscape on which they were playing has changed almost beyond recognition.
Chris Carter’s series became a pioneer of cultural & sociological allegory, probably the most powerful in terms of defining the 1990’s as Star Trek defined the 1960’s, so for The X-Files to truly feel needed and relevant again, ironically we perhaps needed the election of Donald Trump and the rise of anti-intellectual, fake news, nationalist propaganda. One of the reasons Season 10 didn’t quite work was because it sat in a strange space – the end of Obama’s divided but relatively stable era, and the beginning of the most anxietal period in American history for decades.
The X-Files was a show built on the search for eternal, ephemeral, philosophical Truth with a capital T. My Struggle III, the season premiere of what could be the show’s final run, proves The X-Files could well end fighting back against post-Truth. The tag line says it all. I Want to Believe, one of the show’s maxims, turns into I Want to Lie.
Lies exist at the heart of this episode, both in front of and behind the camera.
Chris Carter lied to us, essentially, about the truth of My Struggle II and the almost intractable plot-hole the season led us into, with Mulder near death from the Spartan virus and a UFO appearing on Washington bridge in front of hundreds of spectators. Perspective is key in our post-Truth world and Scully’s perspective, intentional or not, comes via the trauma of her adopted son William. This does resolve the essential problems of My Struggle II but the conspiracy entanglements put forward in My Struggle are only deepened here by the continued, ‘beautiful’ lies of the Cigarette-Smoking Man aka Carl Gerhardt Bush.
That might be his confirmed real name, it might be a lie, much like his long-standing supposed name ‘CGB Spender’ was apparently a lie. It’s appropriate that this ‘Struggle’ belongs to the uber-villain of the piece, the Smoking Man. His lies are the most pervasive – staging the Moon landings in 1969, the assassination of John F. Kennedy (calling back to the semi-apocrypha of Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man in Season 4) in 1963, all the way through to seemingly endless lies about the conspiracy mythology since the beginning. The greatest lie of all could well be the stunning, powerful revelation at the climax of this episode that he, biologically, is William’s father, not Mulder.
With this plot twist, you can almost feel Carter enjoying the antagonisation of the agenda fanbase who believe he is a repulsive misogynist. I wrote about this very recently after these fans quite aggressively tried taking him to task on this via an AMA, unaware he was about to hit them with the biggest, apparent, bolster of their case of all. To believe this, however, vastly misses the point of what Carter is trying to say with this startling development, which calls back to a rather obscure Season 7 mythology episode called ‘En Ami’.
In that episode, the Smoking Man takes Scully on a road trip after offering her ‘the cure to all human disease’ (which could well be the same cure of the Spartan Virus in retrospect) and there is a nebulous moment where the CSM transports a sleeping Scully from her car to a bedroom, replacing her clothes with pyjamas off camera. My Struggle III cheekily adds a few lines of dialogue into flashbacks to En Ami to sell what could be the Smoking Man’s greatest lie of all – that he used this moment of vulnerability from Scully to impregnate her with what he describes as ‘science’, in order to get her pregnant with a part-alien child he either plans to use or protect, at this stage it’s unclear.
Many will be horrified by this turn of events and rightly so. Carter is quite clearly not just tethering his new season to the post-Truth era of lies, misinformation and the creation of false narrative, but via the Smoking Man he is able to comment on the most sensitive of recent issues – the abuses of power by significant white male figures in the entertainment industry. The Cigarette-Smoking Man is the ultimate expression of abuse of power; for decades we have seen him abduct innocent people to be tested on, experiment on alien life forms, subject his own children to dangerous medical procedures or extreme torture (which led to the disfigurement of his son Jeffrey Spender, after he shot him in the face – a character who reappears here after a long absence) and ally with alien colonists at the expense of the human race.
His Spartan plan, to wipe out billions so an ‘elite’ can rule the Earth, is a completely logical step for the Devil incarnate, so for him to have abused Scully’s vulnerability and trust in such a personal, horrific way would be totally in-keeping with his character. It also allows Carter to almost inverse the point levelled against him as a creative – rather than actively contributing to the narrative of exploitation against women, he makes his ultimate villain the very incarnation of that abuse. You should be horrified by this, every bit as much as the fact we have a President of the United States who thinks that kind of behaviour is completely acceptable.
From a mythology standpoint, there are precedents for this twist. Scully’s entire overarching story has been about her own exploitation by men, from an abduction back in Season 2 which almost certainly was engineered by the Syndicate, given later we find out that male conspirators–and white male clones–have harvested Scully’s DNA and implanted within her a chip which gives her cancer. Even when she is stung by a demonstrably alien virus in the first movie Fight the Future, she is taken captive by male conspirators helping to run a massive alien UFO base, in which abductees end up gestating reproductive alien organisms. Scully’s entire narrative has been the pillage and exploitation of her reproductive ability, it’s just always been couched in the older mythology in more abstract, scientific or conspiratorial terms – experiments, diseases, ovum.
Even during her pregnancy in Season 8, despite claims baby William was created as part of a military-industrial supersoldier program, there were strong inferences of a bigger, cosmic level of destiny and immaculate conception behind Scully giving birth. Only in what was originally designed to be the last ever episode of the show, an episode named, now ironically, The Truth, did Carter expressly commit to the description of Scully saying to Mulder “our son”. We now have to accept that even if a DNA test proved Mulder to be the father, he shares the same DNA with the Smoking Man. As a plot development, however unplanned, it works. What it also does is reinforce long-standing pre-existing ideas inside the show’s mythology around how Scully has been abused by a conspiracy of men, and writs large the concept in a world where lies and the reconceptualisation of Truth are now a fact of life.
The other major mythological point to be addressed also taps into a modern anxietal fear: climate change. One of the most significant bugbears of Season 10, which I discussed in my piece about the evolution of the series’ mythology, was how Carter appeared to reject the idea of a colonising alien force which was coming to destroy life on Earth, in favour of a very human conspiracy of men exploiting alien life for a New World Order subjugation of humanity. Many feared he was ignoring years of continuity and canon when in truth (there’s that word again) he was reconstituting the mythology to fit the zeitgeist of 2016 rather than 1996.
He takes that one step further in the revelations delivered to Mulder by the mysterious Erika and her cigarette-smoking reflection of the Smoking Man – that the aliens have called off their colonisation, not out of any kindness or reflection on destroying humanity, but rather because we’re doing the job for them. Mulder learns these people seek to spirit the ‘elite’ off the sundered Earth rather than save it, in opposition to the Smoking Man’s desire to wipe clean the slate and rule as ‘God’, and that the aliens are no longer interested in a planet with ‘dwindling resources’. This, too, tracks with the same kind of anxietal fears put forward in Season 6’s Biogenesis, whereby Carter asks questions about a ‘sixth extinction’ and whether we may be the harbingers of our own doom.
Given the Trump Administration’s retrograde rollback of climate change measures, indeed belief that the Chinese have fabricated the very idea of climate change for an economic agenda, Carter’s new series of The X-Files lives in a world where even the original destroyers of humanity have forsaken us. Man is now completely on the road to its own self-destruction, and the ties back to the original mythology and the Smoking Man’s personal, viral apocalypse, are simply extensions and re-evaluations of a story Carter has been using The X-Files to tell us for twenty-five years. We continue to be deceived and lied to by the highest levels of government and influence – the corrupt, abusive one percent, who seek to subjugate and dominate our future. The future we’re fighting is no longer against aliens. It’s against ourselves.
My Struggle III stands to be one of the most contentious, indeed outright hated, episodes of The X-Files ever, principally for what it chooses to again do to Scully – make her the victim of a corrupt, insidious, and highly personal conspiracy of men who wish to remove her of her reproductive ability and control it for their own ends. A modern day Lucretia, of sorts, Scully is set to be further martyred for these choices, and Chris Carter vilified. And while the episode itself has significant structural problems–the kind of strung out monologuing from Mulder of the like we saw in Season 5’s Redux, the essential retcon of the Season 10 climax, all the way through to Monica Reyes’ increasingly pantomime reimagining as a villainess & moments of soap opera dialogue–but look closer and you’ll see Carter’s writing is tapping deeper into themes, issues and anxieties which are a development of the series he has spent a quarter of a century writing.
This season stands, on this evidence, to be a searing commentary on the terrifying power of a post-Truth world in which everything we want to believe in is a lie. In one stroke, The X-Files just became more relevant to our world than it has been since 1993. Be afraid. Be very afraid.
★ ★ ★
DIRECTOR: Chris Carter
WRITER: Chris Carter
CAST: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi, William B. Davis, Lauren Ambrose, Robbie Amell, Chris Owens