Spoiler alert: This recap contains plot details for the first episode of “The X-Files.”
Containing virtually none of the wit, tension or style that made the original series so special, Sunday’s premiere of “The X-Files” reboot opens with a three-minute-long monologue (the first of several scattered throughout this talky hour) that reintroduces the show’s basic premise.
Accompanying David Duchovny’s groggy voice-over are images of memorable mutants from the past, including the hideous flukeman, an inbred Peacock brother, the diabolical Eugene Tooms and the brain-sucking Rob Roberts.
From there, we see found-footage of flying saucers and alien autopsies, prehistoric cave paintings, Biblical drawings and vintage clips of President Gerald Ford, all while former agent Fox Mulder drones on about Roswell and various other UFO sightings.
“But we must ask ourselves,” he intones sleepily, “are they really a hoax?”
Despite this less-than-gripping prologue, it’s nice to see the return of the show’s original credit sequence, along with Mark Snow’s iconic theme music.
Jumping back in time to 1947, the episode — titled “My Struggle” — intros a recurring flashback set in New Mexico, where a young army doctor is transported by bus to a UFO crash site, accompanied by a government agent. There, he discovers an injured alien crawling away from the wreckage. Before the doctor can intervene, the agent shoots the extraterrestrial, killing it.
Back in the present, we catch up with former agent Dana Scully, who’s assisting surgeons at the appropriately named Our Lady of Sorrows Hospital in Washington, D.C. An urgent call from fan-favorite Walter Skinner, Assistant Director of the FBI, interrupts her while she’s scrubbing in. Seems that Skinner is looking for Mulder, who’s gone underground.
“Why doesn’t he just call me?” Mulder asks when Scully reaches him by phone.
“He doesn’t know how to reach you, Mulder,” she answers. “I barely know how myself.”
This comes as news, since the last time we saw the couple (in the 2008 film “The X-Files: I Want to Believe”) they were living together. Throughout the episode, oblique references to their breakup are made, but no concrete reasons are given. The gist seems to be that Scully left him, unable to deal with his singleminded obsessions.
Skinner’s purpose in wanting to speak with Mulder makes very little sense. Apparently, a slick TV conspiracy theorist named Tad O’Malley (think Glenn Beck meets Bill O’Reilly) is desperate to reach the former X-Files agents, and Skinner is… what? Just passing along the info?
Mulder’s never heard of O’Malley, who’s shown on a website ranting about false flag operations, second amendment rights and the UFO crash at Roswell, but the chance to see Scully again is hard for him to resist.
Scully and Mulder meet in downtown D.C., and for some reason the idea that Mulder arrives in an Uber is treated like a joke. The two former lovers make uncomfortable small talk until O’Malley’s limo pulls up.
“That’s quite an entrance you make there,” Scully remarks, though literally all O’Malley did was step out of a vehicle and introduce himself. Fearing low flying aircraft that can secretly record conversations, the paranoid O’Malley beckons Scully and Mulder into his limo, and off they drive.
And here’s where we’re treated to another momentum-killing monologue, this time from O’Malley proving his conspiracy credentials to Mulder.
“I’m rattling some pretty big cages in the intelligence community, but I’m prepared to go all in,” O’Malley says. “I’m prepared to blow open maybe the most evil conspiracy the world has ever known!”
How’s that for scintillating dialogue?
The limo arrives at a small house in Low Moor, Virginia, where we meet a young woman named Sveta, who claims to have been abducted by UFOs and implanted with alien embryos.
All this baby talk clearly brings back painful memories for Scully, whose own children, Emily and William, both had suspiciously extraterrestrial origins.
While Scully tests Sveta’s DNA for proof of alien contact, O’Malley takes Mulder to a secret hanger in the middle of nowhere to see an ARV (Alien Replica Vehicle). Though it looks like a standard Stealth Jet, the sleek aircraft floats silently using “Zero Point Energy” stolen from crashed UFOs. It also has the ability to turn invisible and vanish.
Unfortunately, this special effect isn’t nearly as cool as the invisible elephant from the classic 1995 “X-Files” episode titled “Fearful Symmetry,” or the invisible alien from the 1993 episode “Fallen Angel.”
At the hospital, O’Malley interrupts Scully, who’s busy testing her own blood. What’s the purpose of his visit? “I just wanted to see you again,” he tells her, flirtatiously.
While O’Malley hits on Scully, Mulder arrives unannounced at Sveta’s home and questions her about the abductions she’s experienced. Within seconds, she confesses that it wasn’t aliens who abducted her, but humans in ARV ships.
For some reason, this seemingly routine info rocks Mulder’s entire world. He quickly calls Scully, who’s now absurdly shown sipping champagne in the back of O’Malley’s limo. Fast mover, that O’Malley.
“We’ve been misled!” Mulder tells Scully. “Sveta is the key to everything!”
Excuse me, but did we miss something? How does hearing one woman claim to have been abducted by men in ARVs suddenly negate years worth of evidence to the contrary? And what makes her the “key” to anything?
Feeling betrayed for whatever reason, Mulder meets with Skinner at the FBI, where he discovers that all of his old files are missing. Well, duh! It’s been 13 years, dude! Did you really think they’d be where you left them? The fact that the office ceiling is still littered with dozens of pencils is some kind of miracle.
Meanwhile, Scully gets the blood tests back and seems shocked at the results.
Later that night, Mulder meets with a mysterious old man who he’s clearly had contact with before (though we’ve never seen him on the earlier series). This is the doctor from the 1947 flashbacks. The old man confirms that Mulder has been misled the whole time, but why he doesn’t just come right out and tell Mulder everything, instead of merely saying “You’re nearly there, you’re close,” makes zero sense.
Eventually, Mulder, Scully and O’Malley meet with Sveta at her home, at which point the already dull episode comes to a complete halt as O’Malley launches into an interminable monologue that drags on for nearly five minutes. This hopelessly muddled rant manages to include the economic conditions of the Cold War, the Manhattan Project, weather wars, George W. Bush, the Tuskegee airmen, FEMA prison camps, the corporate takeover of agriculture, the Patriot Act, waterboarding, the militarization of police forces and the use of fast food to “dull and sicken” the population, in the hopes of taking over the world.
Did you get all that?
Thankfully, Scully announces that Sveta’s blood tests came back negative for alien DNA, bringing an end to this painfully protracted scene.
The next day, Scully watches on TV as Sveta announces to the press that O’Malley wanted her to lie about being abducted by aliens, thus ruining his reputation. Who knew he had one to ruin?
Fearing for her safety, Mulder races over to Sveta’s house and discovers that she’s gone, while at the same time a team of soldiers arrive at the secret aircraft hanger and blow up the ARV.
With the evidence seemingly destroyed and O’Malley’s website taken down, Scully and Mulder meet in secret and decide to pursue the truth, no matter the cost.
Sveta’s storyline concludes with her fleeing car being blown up by a UFO at night.
The episode ends (not a moment too soon), with the last-second reappearance of the Cigarette Smoking Man, the memorable villain from the original series. Judging from the burns covering his hand and face, it appears as though he survived the rocket attack that seemingly killed him in the 2002 finale.
“We have a small problem,” he croaks to someone on the phone. “They’ve reopened the X-files.”
Hopefully, whatever comes next will be more interesting than this disappointing hour of television.