We're Still Mad About the finale of 'The X-Files' Miniseries, And Here's Why

I can fully admit to my own biases. Here at Better With Popcorn, I tend to cover things I'm prejudiced towards, that I'm predicated to like. This shouldn't surprise you; BWP in its current form is a self-indulgence. I write about stuff because I like writing about stuff, and I'm more likely to enjoy writing about that stuff if I enjoy what I watch. That doesn't mean that I'm unable to view an episode of television critically. It just means that I go into things more positively if I was reviewing them based on assignment. The reason you get weekly reviews of The Walking Dead, of Homeland, of It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia is because I like those shows and because I want to spend more time with them than 20 or 40 minutes a week. But that doesn't mean I'm unable to see those shows' faults, or that I criticize something I was excited for that failed to meet my expectations. But again, I'll readily admit that the scores on this site are probably skewed a little higher than if I was looking at everything 100% objectively. I just refuse to call what I do a 100% objective game.

With that in mind, try to contextualize what happened to me between January 25th and February 22nd, as Fox aired their six episode miniseries revivial of The X-Files. I went into it with high hopes and my nostalgia goggles affixed to the front of my face, and I was willing to overlook a lot of potentially glaring problems if it gave me what I wanted. Going into this past week's season finale, it truthfully didn’t matter that the new Mulder conspiracy set up in the premiere was flimsy, that their idea of 2016 technobabble and science was ridiculous, that even the monster-of-the-week cases seemed like ideas discarded on the writer's room floor 20 years ago; The X-Files was back, damnit, and it truly felt as if the people involved gave a fuck for the first time in years, and were committed to giving us something good, something worthwhile, after so much time away from the series.

All of that changed with that pathetic season finale. And, honestly also episode 5... and if I'm being really truthful with myself, episode 4 wasn't that great either, and episode 2 and the season premiere were probably messy and forgettable, in retrospect.

That's how bad "My Struggle II was. It retroactively ruined something I had enjoyed for a full month. It brought into question all of creator Chris Carter's intentions in bringing this show back and presenting it to us in the way he did, and made me scrutinize what I had already seen more critically than I had originally wanted to.

You know the saying; hindsight is 20-20. As easy as it is to look back on something fondly with nostalgia, it’s just as easy to negatively skew something based on a more recent experience. The truth with this miniseries is that the answer falls somewhere in the middle, as it with with most things. Was it as bad as the 0.5 I angrily gave "My Struggle II"? Probably not. Was it as good as the 10 out of 10 I gave "Mulder & Scully Meet The Were-Monster"? Certainly not. Watching these episodes I was kinder to many of them simply because the show was back and coherent. And I gave "Were-Monster" a ten because it was finally great again.

But that finale, man... “My Struggle II” was sloppy, messy, incoherent, incomprehensible, lazy and downright maddening. In that moment, it took all the good goodwill, and the nostalgia factor, and threw it all out the window along with any faith I have in The X-Files going forward. And the craziest thing about it is that, now, a few days later after I’ve had the time to calm down and analyze the episode and what went wrong, and put both my anger and my joy with the miniseries in perspective, I still can’t make sense of why it happened.

The episode was a direct follow-up to the premiere, which saw Mulder come up with a new "Conspiracy of Man", as he theorized that it was never aliens who were manipulating humanity, as he thought for so many years during and after the original series, but instead humans who had gotten their hands on alien technology after the alien crash at Roswell. The alien-created hybrid race meant to survive the cataclysmic event foretold to occur in 2012, from the original series? It was actually all the manipulations of the Cigarette Smoking Man, who led the charge of the conspiracy as a way of purging the human race of all but a select few, in order to save it from the greed and wrath of the human race.

It wasn't the most exciting or subversive idea that Carter could have come up with, but it fit into the mythology of the show fairly well without undermining the original series. And to be honest, I liked the concept. It felt like it had an intelligent subtext to it. Mulder doesn't have to be right about everything; he certainly wasn't right in every single episode of The X-Files. The fact that Scully and her skepticism were such a big part of the show was important, as was giving her the occasional win. Mulder is going to be Mulder, and he's the type to jump on conspiracies and new ideas and invest himself in them, jumping in with both feet. It's even a big theme in this miniseries. How many times do Mulder and Scully parrot that trite, overwrought, eyeroll-inducing line from Mulder's favorite poster? One of the season's only fully-formed ideas was about the desire, the need to believe in something. Giving Mulder a new onspiracy to invest himself in got him up off the proverbial couch, and explained why he may have been away for all this time. What's more, the Conspiracy of Man doesn't have to mean that aliens don't exist on earth, just that Mulder's been chasing the wrong people.

But I probably put more thought into what made the new conspiracy work than Chris Carter himself did. In fact, he's admitted that he didn't know how it would end while he was filming the penultimate episode, and it truly showed, as it all collapsed upon itself with that wretched finale. Carter took five episodes that modestly built on these ideas, that gave Mulder and Scully something to believe in, something to work with as characters, and stomped all over them for the sake of a lazy plot not befitting of a bad action movie, yet alone a prestigious long-running series.

The finale and how it plays out is absolutely mindless. There's no more subtext to the ideas the Conspiracy of Man invoked. There is no resolution to the plight of these characters, who once fought for truth, for the future. In the span of what can't be more than an afternoon, it devolves into madness as the conspiracy and the characters take a backseat to the show rushing us towards the end of the world. Literally. They discover that these men with alien technology have essentially given everyone a virus that breaks down their immune system. For reasons I'm still not sure I understand, the conspiracy activates their virus, and over the course of the day, people start dying in the streets. Society starts to crumble, and all the while, Scully and Agent Einstein try to come up with a cure using Scully's alien DNA (ugh), while Mulder slips away to go confront the Smoking Man. In a rapid sequence of events, society collapses, and Mulder (aided by Agent Miller, as he too is quickly dying) and Scully rush to each other. When they finally meet, a space ship appears and starts blasting some sort of ray at them, as we end on a cliffhanger.

It's not so much the idea of the finale, it's how poorly put together it is. None of it really makes any sense. There are cuts from one scene to the next that seem to skip over critical information, exposing major plot holes. The dialog is at its weakest, and we're talking about a miniseries that used the phrase "I want to believe" at least two an episode. And despite the fact that the world is ending and we see Mulder and Scully finally exposed to an alien spaceship, none of it feels as important as it should. Instead it comes off as as cheap disaster porn that doesn't go much further than the surface of what it sets up.

And when it does, it's to explore Chris Carter's weird ideas. This episode and the miniseries in general gave me the idea that Carter is a right-wing anti-vaxxer who scoffs at global warming and puts Fox News conspiracy theorists on a pedestal. You probably have to be somewhat crazy to come up with a show like The X-Files in the first place, but this miniseries in particular left a really bad taste about where he's coming from. For a show so firmly based in science and forward-thinking ideas, the finale is shockingly backwards. Joel McHale's conspiracy theorist is less a mockery of Alex Jones, and more iconography of Bill O'Reilly (meanwhile, the new doctor agent is almost sarcastically named "Einstein"). The entire plot of the miniseries invalidates the very idea of the Small Pox vaccine, and makes the Smoking Man look crazy for wanting to wipe out humanity because they blew a hole open in the ozone layer.

Even more disconcerting is how the show handles the concept of Islamic fundamentalist. I was actually very curious how the show would handle that. If one thing has changed in the US since the days of The X-Files, it's that. The FBI of 2016 is not the FBI of 1993 or even 2003. That's not what The X-Files was ever about, of course, but you can't have Mulder and Scully gallivanting around with FBI badges without at least skirting issue. Instead they tackle it head-in in "Babylon", one of the Chris Carter-directed episodes. Carter would have you believe the episode was less about terrorism and more about faith, but every Islamic character in that episode is little more than a caricature, and it undermines the show's very concept of belief by basically confirming the existence of God. It makes you wonder what happened to Chris Carter since the show first went off the air.

Not to mention the cringeworthy way the show treats technology, speaking of things that changed law enforcement since the days of the old series. Every time Mulder or Scully said something about "the web", I wanted to shoot myself. The show doesn't even try to mask the fact that it has 50-year-olds reading lines written by a 60-year-old who truly doesn't get it. The closest thing to anything interesting the show has to say about technology is when Mulder's ringtone is the show's theme. And it's almost clever when it's revealed that the conspiracy nut leaves his laptop open with a cellphone tracker on it in the finale.

Carter uses the show as his personal soapbox, leaving James Wong and Glen and Darin Morgan to do the heavy lifting for what should be important to the show, the characters. It's their episodes, the monster-of-the-week stories, that do much more in terms of character development. The reason I gave "Mulder and Scully Meet The Were-Monster" a 10 wasn't just because it was hilarious and compelling, it's also because of how much it does to explain Mulder's motivations. He's so quick to believe this new theory because he was frustrated for so many years, stifled after not finding the truth all those years ago. Discovering that the Were-Monster is real, and that he treats his own existence as quite normal, it's a small victory that means volumes to him, and it's delivered in a way far superior to anything Carter did. Sure, Carter had to deal with exposition and table-setting, but he had time for all the bullshit mentioned above. Imagine how much of a disaster this would have been without his other three contributors? And wonder why other notable X-Files writers like Vince Gilligan declined the opportunity to come back.

I hate that I have to shit on the series so much. Even though I wonder if it was only because of nostalgia, I truly did like a lot about it. It produced an episode that would stand alongside the best the show ever had to offer, it gave us an interesting new conspiracy that almost had something interesting to say about the characters, and it managed to put together something more worthy of its title than the 2008 movie or even the last few seasons of the show. It's just a shame that it couldn't manage to put it all together, and so frustrating that it can so easily be traced back to the man we have to thank for the show in the first place. I want to believe that The X-Files can come back again and be good, but I don't think it can with Chris Carter.