The great mystery of this X-Files reboot has nothing to do with alien DNA, government conspiracies, or why the FBI would let a perfectly good basement office go to waste for over a decade. No, the real mystery is how the worst part of an X-Files episode could be when Mulder and Scully are talking to one another.
It’s impossible not to discuss the dialogue problems that have plagued the first two episodes of this six-episode run, but considering there were actually a lot of other things to like here, let’s put that on the back burner for a minute and focus on the good, like that opening scene.
If you were looking forward to recapturing the feeling of the original show, you got it during that opening. If you didn’t know you were watching a brand new episode made this century, you could have been fooled into thinking it was from an episode you missed in 1996. It was tense, creepy, and totally engaging. I couldn’t help but feel excited about what was to follow, all while simultaneously feeling nostalgic. It was exactly what I hoped this reboot would be.
Lots of the other classic elements were there too. Every stranger seemed a million times more ominous and dangerous than they probably were, and we also got a clandestine meeting in a bar, followed by a mysterious doctor with nefarious intentions, showing us his hospital full of locked up children with horrible mutations. For the most part, this felt like a real and genuine (though particularly gruesome) X-Files episode, far more than the first episode, which came across like an insulting parody.
Both the plot and atmosphere of this episode hit the right tone. Creepy children with superpowers are a good formula for this show, and when combined with shifty nuns and evil doctors it’s almost impossible not to be completely into it.
Because, and we have to discuss it now, the dialogue was as bad as those things were good.
I really can’t believe this is the case, but almost every scene with just Mulder and Scully speaking was a mess. Sometimes it was pure exposition that went far beyond what we needed to be told, while other times it was clunky–forced conversation with no sincerity behind it. You have two good actors that have so much history between them, they can accomplish a lot with just a look or a word, yet Chris Carter has them delivering lines that sound like they came out of a crappy B-movie.
I don’t even know if David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson have been bad, or if their lines are so flat and silly it’s making it impossible to do anything with them, but everything since their opening few minutes in the first episode feels totally joyless. As serious and somber as the show could be, even at it’s creepiest, it was always fun. So far that’s been completely absent. Even the misunderstanding with Gupta, which was probably meant to be funny, just came across as embarrassing and weird.
It almost feels like Carter doesn’t trust the audience to infer (or his actors to show) what the characters are feeling. That’s what those dream sequences felt like, too. The first one with Scully felt okay on its own, but when they did it again with Mulder it seemed like both were there to make sure we know they have some regrets. You know, in case we missed the conversation earlier where they talked about those exact same regrets without any ambiguity. You could remove those entire sequences and just show the end shot, where they both look at William’s photo, and you would have had the exact same result without hitting us over the head.
Just like in the first episode, this one also had pacing issues, though not quite as bad, but it seems like maybe this should have been a 12-episode run instead of six. Maybe the young women on the show would have survival rates exceeding twenty minutes and their deaths would have a greater emotional impact.
X-Files fans stood with the show for years as it led us down a complicated path, trusting that even when we were lost we’d be smart enough to find our way when it mattered. So far it seems like this time around they insist on holding our hand and pointing out every road sign so they can explain what the words mean.
At the very least, this was an improvement over last night’s premiere, and with four more to go (including some standalone monster-of-the-week episodes), gives us hope that by the end of this path the journey will have been worth it.
Even if we did have to deal with someone reading all the signs on the way.
What did you think of tonight’s episode? This isn’t some conspiracy; tell us in the comments below.