The short return season of “The X-Files” ended as it began — as if someone had put an array of story elements from the show’s original run into a blender and served up the resulting slurry in big, ungainly piles of exposition. The episode ended on a cliffhanger, but left little appetite to see what happens next — not without a serious attempt to address the ham-fisted, messy state of the series at the moment.
This is no jeremiad against reboots and the idea of revisiting shows from television’s past. Even if it was, that train long ago left the station. Nostalgic return visits from long-ago programs are here to stay, and there’s no reason that just about any property can’t be freshened up for the modern age — as long as that project is undertaken with care, consideration and vision.
Sadly, aside from the episode written and directed by Darin Morgan, the scattered version of “The X-Files” viewers got this year had little vision, less grasp of subtlety and only small scraps of coherence. Almost everything that could go wrong with this reboot did go wrong, and the clearest evidence of that was the Feb. 15 episode, which is one of the most bafflingly awful and tin-eared hours of television of this year or any other.
Just as that hour in no way earned its bewildering and downright alarming tonal shifts, the season finale did little to actually establish the sense of tension it continually kept trying to create. Why did a pandemic break out at this particular point in the show’s timeline? No real reason was offered, despite the excessive amounts of dialogue various characters were forced to recite.
Why would Dana Scully — having seen one man in a hallway with a lesion on his arm — instantly decide that an epidemic was about to arrive? Well, because. This season of the show hasn’t really done much in the way of deepening the central characters, but to see Scully abandon her core skepticism for the flimsiest of reasons was the most shocking moment of the hour. It was quite frustrating too.
Between the ungainly flashbacks and the conspiracy talking points that littered the episode, much of the narrative in “My Struggle II” was simply gibberish. At one point, internet conspiracy maven Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale) pointed to a picture of squiggly graffiti and said it was a warning about the coming pandemic. Actually, it looked like a someone attempted to map out this season and just gave up.
Gillian Anderson emerged as the MVP of the six-episode return: She was able, against all odds, to ground some moments in emotional truth, but the scripts were usually of little help to her in that regard. Most of the episodes were themselves like “X-Files” experiments gone awry— disparate elements were awkwardly spliced together, grafts of old mythology to new security concerns didn’t quite take, and the attempt to introduce a hybrid into the mix, in the form of Mulder and Scully’s son William, was the most undercooked element of a cluster of frequently forced and contrived storylines.
It’s hard not to arrive at the conclusion that in these six episodes “The X-Files” simply tried to do too much — an episode about Scully’s mother passing away could have been a lovely meditation on grief and connection, but the show was determined to jam in another plot that made little sense and had no impact. “The X-Files” helped birth a whole wave of programs that meld reasonably meaty character development to supernatural phenomena, and it’s disappointing that the show that originated the formula seems to have forgotten how to effectively and efficiently join the two.
Few longtime “X-Files” fans wear rose-colored glasses: The show was always capable of creating a few dud episodes — or a number of dud episodes — in a given season. Unfortunately, this return was mostly duds, and for all its frantic energy, couldn’t hide the fact that it had very little to say. There weren’t any themes, emotional or cultural, that had much lasting resonance, and trying to skate by on the chemistry of Anderson and David Duchovny only got the show so far.
It didn’t help that the fifth and sixth episodes spent a lot of time trying to set up a new team via the characters of Einstein and Miller. Both Lauren Ambrose and Robbie Amell are appealing performers, but they weren’t showcased well here, nor do they have the kind of chemistry that could anchor another iteration of the show.
Few season finales are all that concerned with nuance, which is fine, in principle. There’s often too much to get done and too much to set up for the next round of episodes, if more are coming, and based on the commercial success of this “X-Files” reboot, further installments are a real possibility. But the lost opportunities that preceded the clanging, hollow finale — which separated Mulder and Scully for most of the hour — hung over the episode like a ghostly UFO.
Cliffhangers are only exciting if what proceeds them makes a modicum of sense, but the ending of “My Struggle II” felt as slapdash as everything else that transpired. Given that the 2016 version of “The X-Files” couldn’t create much in the way of momentum, thematic resonance or emotional connection (again, the Darin Morgan episode excepted), there are two ways to read the four words that appeared at the end of the opening credits of the season finale: “This is the end.”
It sounds like a threat. But at this point, it’s hard not to hope it’s a promise.
What did you think of “The X-Files” finale and the season as a whole?