The biggest shift concerns the nature of conspiracy-theorizing itself, which in the Internet age has evolved from a demanding hobby for only the most devoted paranoiacs to something far more widespread, accessible, and pervasive. Early stories in The X-Files traded on every whispered secret and half-baked theory about the government, every spooky urban legend, every mythic creature given half a page in the encyclopedia. Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) was an obsessive in an old-fashioned way fans could understand—charming and laconic, but with a basement full of weird secrets and passion projects, most having to do with alien abductions. Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) balanced him out as the level-headed skeptic, but her characterization and growth over nine years was the show. Mulder was the constant, while Scully was the person who drew all of the drama and crackling wit out of him.
That dynamic, happily, remains in the show’s new incarnation, but things are different for the semi-retired FBI duo. In the first episode, “My Struggle,” written and directed by the show’s creator Chris Carter, Mulder buddies up to a far-right-wing, Alex Jones-style conspiracy theorist played by Joel McHale, mourning the current coolness of his relationship with Scully. But his fervor for the planet’s weird and wacky mysteries—the very quality that made him Mulder—seems to have waned. Conspiracy theories are embarrassingly mainstream at this point (think of the egg-avatar Twitter accounts ranting about lizard people or contrails or heaven knows what), and Mulder’s passion for discerning the truth from the lie is apparently sapped.
I don’t know what to say about “My Struggle” (perhaps a reference to the Hitler manifesto of the same name, or the Norwegian autobiographical opus by Karl Ove Knausgaard, although the episode does little to point at either), because I barely understood what happened in it. Chris Carter long ago lost the thread of his “mytharc” for The X-Files, which was initially about a planned alien colonization but morphed into five other related things. “My Struggle” does nothing to clear things up, and it does even less to revitalize Mulder’s ardor for his work. Duchovny, perhaps shell shocked after years of making the drearily sexist Californication on Showtime, sleepwalks through the premiere and gives the usually energetic McHale little to work off of. “My Struggle” feels like it’s trying to catch up to all of contemporary TV’s new cinematic flourishes (which The X-Files helped spark in the 1990s), but its visuals are muddled and its wide-ranging plot idiotic.
But in many ways, none of this matters much. All the viewing public really wants is a trip back to the good old days, when The X-Files was the hottest, creepiest show on television, Mulder and Scully were the greatest will-they-won’t-they couple around, and you could murmur darkly about the government without sounding like a bigoted loon. The second episode, “Founder’s Mutation,” written by the veteran X-Files writer James Wong, gets closer to that vibe and does well to address one of the show’s weightier dangling stories (Mulder and Scully’s “child,” William), but it’s the third hour, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” that really feels like a return to that old-time religion.