Now “This” is more like it. Last week’s sloppy premiere got season 11 off to a rough start, but the state of The X-Files is looking much brighter after this Glen Morgan-penned (and directed) hour. I’m sure some fans will be frustrated by the lack of fallout from that twist at the end of “My Struggle III” — the Cigarette Smoking Man’s claim to Skinner that he medically raped Scully and is the real father, even if not biologically, of Scully and Mulder’s son — but this show has always drawn a hard line between its mythology arc and its monster-of-the-week episodes. Increasingly, that’s been for the protection of the MOTW episodes, which have evolved into self-contained, experimental tone poems that deserve better than to be dragged down by the details of a conspiracy that no longer makes sense. Of course, a story told in 10 episodes has a different rhythm than one told in 24, and this season wouldn’t feel cohesive if a few aspects of its larger arc didn’t bleed into its standalone hours — as some do here, to mostly great effect. But CSM’s claim stays tucked away for now, and that’s fine by me. Why let one bad apple spoil the whole bunch?
We find Mulder and Scully, blissfully unaware of any paternity concerns, napping on the couch in their home (Scully may call it “Agent Mulder’s residence” on an official FBI call, but to Skinner she calls it “our home.” If she hasn’t moved back in permanently, she at least seems to be heading in that direction). It’s unclear how much time has passed since the events of “My Struggle III,” which made contemporary Trump references despite picking up right after an episode that aired in February of 2016. This episode also alludes to the current political climate, meaning we’re dealing with a time jump of anything from two weeks to nearly two years. But this is a show whose pilot, which aired in September of 1993, was inexplicably set in March of 1992, and that time difference was never explained either. Welcome to the new X-Files, same as the old X-Files.
Files are strewn on the table; the TV is muted on an old Ramones concert (the San Francisco Civic Center in 1979. If you’re interested in useless trivia, that’s just around the corner from a building by the name of Fox Plaza). Mulder’s buzzing phone rouses Scully, who nudges Mulder: It’s a FaceTime from an old, long-thought-dead friend who loved The Ramones. Langly, one of Mulder’s trio of hacker friends The Lone Gunmen, seems like himself but not. He says, “I believe you knew me as Langly” and asks, “Am I dead? If I am, they know that I know.”
The pseudo-reunion is interrupted by a creak on the porch and a silhouette in the window, and Mulder and Scully spring into action. At Mulder’s signal, Scully dives under a table, Mulder shoves the couch against the door, and the music kicks up: The Ramones’ “California Sun.” Remember that these two went on the run after the original series; after that, taking down three armed home invaders is as easy as summer vacation. Scully shoots one; Mulder gets another; the third, a sinister-looking man with long white curls, flees.
And apparently it’s open season on the FBI’s most unwanted, because no sooner does Scully report the intrusion than a pair of humvees roll up to the yard. They’re under the command of a cocky young Russian, credited as Commander Al, who acts like Mulder and Scully were in the wrong for defending themselves against his men. “They were wearing body cams,” he says, “so you know how that turns out for the ones who weren’t.” Setting aside the fact that I didn’t see any body cams, the commander’s point stands: Even a tool that’s meant to uphold objective truth can be bent to fit the story of whoever holds the power. History is written by the authorities.
The soldiers come in shooting, pinning Mulder and Scully to the ground while Al retrieves Mulder’s phone. But the guys make a crucial mistake when they proceed to cuff our agents together, and with practiced badassery, Mulder and Scully fight off the man guarding them, run out the front door, and dive over the side of the front porch while still handcuffed to each other. They’ve never been cooler.
They’re met in the woods by Skinner, whose allegiances are still questionable but whose fetching FBI baseball cap is not. After freeing Mulder and Scully’s wrists, he gives them the lowdown on what they’re dealing with: The soldiers work for Purlieu Services, a private American security contractor headquartered in Moscow that has ascendancy over the FBI thanks to a directive from…the executive branch. You can practically hear the theme song over that last bit. Mulder and Scully draw the line at getting in Skinner’s car (he did tell them to surrender, though he claims he had no idea the soldiers were trying to kill them), so the assistant director leaves his agents in the woods with all the money he has on him. Trusting Skinner seems so obvious at this point, but it’s a time-honored tradition for Mulder and Scully to suspect him of betrayal despite more than two decades of evidence to the contrary. Their mistrust would be exhausting if the premise behind it — Mulder and Scully will still burn everyone they care about to protect each other — weren’t so central to the show. It’s “trust no one” to the extreme.
That mentality leads them now to the graves of the only three men who could ever match them for paranoia. After sacrificing themselves in season 9’s “Jump the Shark,” the Lone Gunmen were given a heroic funeral, but the X-Files season 10 comics series, executive produced by Chris Carter, suggests that the Gunmen faked their deaths and are now hiding out beneath their graves. When Skinner pointedly tells Scully, “They’re buried in Arlington,” I thought he might be hinting that this story was about to take the same turn. That doesn’t seem to be the case, but thankfully we’re not denied the fun of Mulder and Scully on a veritable date night in Arlington cracking ciphers National Treasure-style. (Next: Scully aces American history)