A dancing Deadpool holding his own head on a spike attached to a sign declaring “I WANT TO BELIEVE” greeted hordes of ecstatic X-Philes Saturday at New York Comic Con’s U.S. premiere of the sci-fi series’ rabidly anticipated revival. The first episode of the tenth season—which was such a welcome return to form that this writer actually shed a tear in nostalgia—played to a packed auditorium that collectively cheered, sighed, and swooned at every familiar face (hello again, Cigarette Smoking Man) and every mind-blowing extraterrestrial revelation. The X-Files have officially been re-opened and there’s no need to want anymore—we believe.
The season premiere, called “My Struggle,” comes 13 years after the last episode of Season 9 when the FBI officially shut the X-Files project down for good. Of course, as ex-FBI agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) re-establishes in a voiceover at the start of the episode, his lifelong obsession with uncovering the truth about the paranormal and finally finding his abducted little sister has never been abated by government efforts to shut him up. The truth is still out there; within the first few minutes of this episode, we realize it’s closer than ever before.
In a miraculous feat, X-Files creator Chris Carter (who wrote and directed “My Struggle”) manages to avoid any excess baggage from nine seasons past and boils the backstory down to a sparse yet compelling introductory voiceover, making the revival both wholly accessible to new audiences and deeply satisfying to older fans.
There’s zero hand-holding from that point on, though; suddenly we’re launched into the X-Files’ perhaps most ambitious storyline ever, revolving around a mind-bending global web of government and corporate lies that one character (conservative Internet news network host Tad O’Malley, played by Community’s Joel McHale) calls “the most evil conspiracy the world has ever known.”
Which sounds like a crock of paranoid horse shit, especially to Our Lady of Skepticism and Shoulder Pads Dana Scully, reprised by the flawless Gillian Anderson. But as events unfold—without getting too deep into spoilers here—Mulder and Scully realize O’Malley may be right and that they might have been lied to from the very start.
The duo find themselves once again standing alone (with a bit of help from fan favorite Walter Skinner, the FBI Assistant Director played by Mitch Pileggi) against the darkest depths of humanity—embodied, as always, by the omniscient, strings-pulling Smoking Man, whose years of nonstop Morlys consumption may have finally taken their toll…
As for what the Mulder and Scully shippers of the world most want to know—I hate to re-confirm what the trailer already established but, yes, Mulder and Scully are no longer a couple. I know. It’s absolutely tragic. The reason for the demise of sci-fi’s ultimate will-they-or-won’t-they couple is never explicitly addressed in the episode but after seeing the state Mulder is in after all this time, it’s not hard to imagine why they fell apart. While the Mulder of seasons past was a driven, bright-eyed (if always wise-cracking and aloof) believer, the Mulder of 2015 has been beat down and depressed. “My life’s become a punchline,” he says, watching President Obama joke about aliens with Jimmy Kimmel on TV.
That’s not to say he’s lost his key characteristics: his passion and his instinctive empathy for victims no one else believes. Scully too remains as heroic as ever; though she works as a surgeon now and not a gun-toting special agent, she is still the fearless, science-savvy voice of reason—and yes, skepticism—who leaps to action when faced with injustice. And then there’s Skinner, still the perennially disappointed father figure in Mulder’s life. Indeed, at a post-screening Q&A hosted by Silicon Valley star Kumail Nanjiani (who will appear in a later episode), Pileggi teared up when recalling how much of Skinner’s gruff demeanor is informed by his own late father, a former Department of Defense contractor who worked in the Middle East. “I didn’t realize what I was doing until I watched the episodes with my mother and sister and they said, ‘That’s Dad,’” Pileggi said, choking up.
Carter also confirmed after the screening that two of the episodes in the six-episode miniseries (the first and the last) will center on the show’s central alien mythology, while the middle four will be standalone, Monster of the Week-type jaunts. The Lone Gunmen, the beloved trio of conspiracy theorist sidekick nerds who scoured the Internet to help Mulder prove his theories, will also be back, though they were sadly absent from the first episode. (Yes, they’re dead, but as Carter said later during a roundtable, “no one ever stays dead in the X-Files.” Ditto Cigarette Man.)
And it’s the perfect time for Mulder and Scully to re-enter our lives. For one, the show looks better than it ever has before; several dazzling special effects in the episode indicate a higher budget this time around. And, as Carter reiterated, stories about government lies and coverups have taken on new relevancy in today’s post-NSA-leak world. “Every time I open the paper, I see something that would make an interesting X-File,” Carter said during a roundtable, going on to describe his recent interest in the New World Order theory and the Secret Space Program.
While we have yet to see how the rest of this experimental season unfolds, “My Struggle” made us want to believe so badly. It was the X-Files in its finest form, a perfect distillation of everything that makes this show great—from utterly batshit and unpredictable mysteries to Mulder and Scully’s classic, cerebral arguments. As for the rest of the truth, it’s out there and coming our way January 24, 2016.