The following article contains spoilers.
Convincing emotions have always been hard for Chris Carter and his collaborators to write well in The X-Files. Perhaps it just became increasingly hard, as the mythology of The X-Files — and, therefore, the emotional underpinnings of different scenarios in the storyline — became more complicated. Mulder and Scully are usually best in all-business, stoic mode, with a touch of wry humor.
That’s not to say sentimentality has never worked for the show. Certainly, one can recall early episodes of the show that were something close to moving: Scully losing her father in the excellent “Beyond the Sea,” Mulder’s frenetic outbursts when addressing the memory of his sister, or his reaction in the episodes following Scully’s abduction and subsequent, mysterious return in Season 2.
Scully’s coma in that season is referred to briefly in tonight’s new X-Files episode. Mulder and Scully sit in the hospital, where Scully’s mother is on her deathbed. Scully jokes about wishing she could use a supernatural power to resuscitate her mother, to which Mulder retorts with a sentimental joke: “I invented it, back when you were in the hospital like this.”
Following this conversation, Scully’s mother, in her last words, asks after William — Mulder and Scully’s child — and things become more complicated emotionally. The viscerally upset Scully demands to return to work immediately; this is, as it has been for the duration of the franchise, her typical coping strategy. Previously in the episode, she and Mulder had been in Philadelphia investigating a street artist’s monster come alive: an infamous, foul-smelling, clay “Trashman” (yep, that’s the real title — he appears out of a garbage truck).
The intersection of the two plot lines undoes the episode, in its last quarter. The concept of the Tibetan-legend-influenced Trashman could have been a relatively effective and gross X-Files monster in the Tooms tradition. Sure, the final sloppy info-dump monologue from the Banksy-aping, head-tatted street artist responsible for him also robs the monster of some of its mystique. But it’s the awkward tie-in between the Trashman’s creation story and Scully’s feelings of loss and guilt after giving up her son that really sabotages things. The street artist’s abandonment of his project (after it turns into a vicious supernatural being) is likened to Scully’s abandonment of William, who was also an unexpected and troublesome gift. The Trashman’s back story unlocks an unforeseen wave of emotion in Scully, which leads to a melodramatic final conversation between Mulder and Scully, and the incredibly unfortunate final line of the episode: “I need to believe that we didn’t treat him like trash.”
Another unintentional comic element to the final scene is Mulder’s near-silence. He sits next to Scully on a log on the rocky beach, looking sort of constipated and staring off into the distance. This is his son, too, but only Scully seems to be bothered. It ties in with the recurring through line of Mulder being debilitatingly self-absorbed — this is what, ultimately, keeps Mulder and Scully’s relationship from working throughout the franchise — but one wonders if this is intentional or not.
If this is the odd, hurried level the reboot intends to tap into the mythology on in the next two episodes — which are set to feature the Cigarette Smoking Man — then maybe continuing the “narrative” in the six-part reboot really was an error in judgment. Stick around the next two weeks to find out … if you dare.