I was a little nervous about the return of X-Files this year. The new episodes last year were interesting (one was really great) but the conspiracy plotlines hadn’t aged really well and the cliffhanger ending was destined to disappoint. Add to that the fact that the Trump administration has changed a great deal how government generally and the FBI specifically are perceived. The idea of intrepid investigators pursuing the truth seemed almost quaintly outdated. I was wrong though. This year has fixed much of the problems of last year by focusing on the leads, being willing to go over the top, and lean in to the weirdness all around us. The world is falling apart, and we need Mulder and Scully more than ever.
I don’t blame you if you stopped watching after the first episode. The show announced a focus on Mulder and Scully’s son, introduced some new enemies, and added yet another twist to the show’s lengthy mythology. The show bounced back with “This,” in which Mulder and Scully, having discovered a friend’s consciousness is forcibly trapped in an artificial reality (very much like Black Mirror’s premier episode), shoot and punch their way through hordes of suited thugs to free him. The show then slowed down for “Plus One,” as the monster-of-the-week took a back seat to Mulder and Scully’s mature, relaxed, comfortable chemistry with one another (Wednesday’s episode “Ghouli” did as well). Then, of course the inimitable Darin Morgan’s stellar episode “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat” achieved the kind of perfection that his episodes almost always achieve. It’s a little early to call it, but X-Files seems to be having a pretty great season.
I think the success of this season has a lot to do with how well the show has adapted to the modern age. When the show premiered in the 90’s, the FBI was widely respected, politicians seemed somewhat distant from their constituents, and the government was carefully guarding its secrets. Today, the FBI is struggling for credibility, the President is omnipresent on Twitter and the news, and secrets leak out of the government on a daily basis. We don’t need heroes to seek out secrets, uncovered scandals are daily occurrences. Rather than fighting for the truth, I feel like we’re now just fighting for our own quiet space, our own place of sanity. In many ways, the Trump administration has actually been really great for the show. The FBI’s loss of prestige means Skinner struggles to get the same authority he had previously. The villains use Russian agents who operate with relative impunity. And, of course, the President himself gets a nod by the alien who solemnly intones that rest of the universe is enclosing our galaxy in a big, beautiful wall because “you’re bringing drugs, you’re bringing crime, you’re rapists, and some” he assumes, “are good people.” XFiles’ sense of humor is alive and well in the age of Trump.
That’s what makes this show work so well this year. Scully and Mulder are doing a great job modeling how to cope with life in this modern era of constant crisis and endless scandal. They do their work, they don’t sweat the uncertainty, they don’t take anything too seriously, and they lean on each other. There is something perfect about watching Mulder and Scully, having fought their way against a swath of enemies they didn’t know they had, crash on the couch to watch TV together. Let go of hoping for sanity right now, they say, just lean on your relationships and yourself. Despite all the craziness that’s out there, you’re going to be okay. The show was good last year but seems more essential this year as it gives us a pair of heroes trying to make their way through a world that seems to have fallen apart. Maybe the world’s gone a little nuts, but keep your sense of humor, lean on your loved ones, and everything is going to be okay. That’s a message that resonates even better than “The Truth is Out There.”