The X-Files 'This' Is The Return To Form The Show Desperately Needed [S11E02 Recap]

Last week, The X-Files returned for its eleventh season, two years after it and its creator, Chris Carter, infuriated us (and I mean really made us angry) with a finale that threw continuity, the show's mythology and frankly the very concept of what it means to make competent, intelligible television out the window. To some of you, that might sound like hyperbole, but it was seriously that bad. "My Struggle II" is possibly one of the worst episodes of television I've ever seen. Not only from the perspective of it being a highly anticipated episode of a show with ten seasons of mythology to try and weave together, a show with a legacy that's so important to so many people; but also simply from a production standpoint. It looked bad, it was poorly edited, even David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson seemed to be phoning it in.

You can understand why I might not have been enthused for last week's premiere, "My Struggle III". For started, baring the same name as two of the worst episodes in the history of the series is a bold choice, and it speaks to how tone deaf Chris Carter has become to the quality of his work. And any episode that carries his name as writer or director (yet alone both) is worry-inducing by default. My concerns were justified, as My Struggle III turned out to be as much of a mess as its previous two namesakes. But while My Struggle II was infuriating, My Struggle III just kind of made me sad, to the point where I didn't even want to write about it. And it almost made me feel bad for Chris Carter, the creator and shepherd of such a wonderful, beloved thing that was a mess long before he started naming episodes after Hitler's book.

Without getting too much in the weeds, let's just say that My Struggle III really felt like Carter was trying to clean up the mess he's been leaving in the show's wake. Carter attempts to revamp the show's mythology, update it to make sense for today's world and leave behind the stuff that doesn't work anymore. The problem is that Carter isn't elegant enough a writer or director to convey it in any cohesive way. My Struggle III is as messy and nonsensical as II, but at least by the end we have less mythology and clutter to worry about. It's Carter admitting that the stuff before didn't work, and pleading with us to give him and his writing team another shot.

But it's this week, in "This", where things start to make a little more sense. Mainly because the episode is in the hands of a competent writer/director, Glen Morgan, but also because it more clearly conveys what The X-Files can and should be in 2018. It more clearly convey the new concepts the show is tackling and the new reality that Mulder and Scully are living in, but it also presents us with a relatively new idea for this world; that Mythology and Monster-of-the-Week can coexist. "This" blends the two kinds of X-Files episodes, which is a rare occurrence, and does it in a way that makes sense and feels coherent and interesting. It's an evolution for the show, which is something that was desperately needed even in season 10. It even manages to be funny, interesting, and present us with a spooky case (albeit one that it doesn't have much time to elaborate on). They even manage to throw in a surprising amount of action that looks and feels good, especially considering the age of its stars.

"This" sees Mulder and Scully on the run from a Russian security force, unsure of who to trust, after they appear to receive a message from the long-dead Langly. It turns out that Langly had his brain copied to a server while he was still alive, and that copy has been living inside of a simulation/singularity since his death. Being the skeptic that he is, however, he developed a trick that allowed his copy to figure out the true nature of the simulation, that he and many other long-dead smart people were being put to work by shady figures (figures, it turns out, are being led by Price, the Barbara Hershey-played Big Bad introduced in last week's premiere). The short of it is that Mulder and Scully bust into the facility housing the servers of this simulation and destroy it, releasing Langly from his servitude. The more complicated version involves the revelation that not only is Price putting dead smart people to work for her posthumously, she's also in control of the Russian forces after our heroes. Reality is even further muddied when they confront Skinner about his role in all of this and whether he can be trusted.

That exchange with Skinner is actually my favourite part of the episode and the season so far. While the episode goes for some obvious references to real life, telling Mulder and Scully about how the FBI and the executive branch aren't exactly on the best of terms, that it may be them in bed with the Russians and how the numerous intelligence and law enforcement agencies now in operation are consistently at each other's throats. Basically, America's a mess, and this is the show's not-so-subtle way of evoking the realities of the post-fact trump era. But somehow, it doesn't manage to be too heavy-handed or cheesy. Through Morgan's writing, it comes off as part-frightening, part-sardonic, part-ironic, and it's the perfect mix for what this show is eleven seasons in.

"This" basically completes the task of telling us who Mulder and Scully are now fighting, and it does so in a way more relevant and topical than anything since season 10. They're no longer fighting a singular shady dude that's managed to infiltrate and corrupt many levels of government and law-enforcement. They're fighting the establishment itself. And it also manages to give us an interesting and relevant case-of-the-week. And even though we don't get much of it, the fact that Langly appears to continue to live through his copy thanks to a backup of the simulation gives me hope that this will be explored further in future episodes.

It's an episode that's still rough around the edges, and I'm not convinced that the show can maintain this level of quality over the course of the entire season, but it's a huge improvement over the last couple of episodes and a solid return to form for a show that desparately needed a win. "This" gets 7 delicious bran muffins out of 10.