“This” was a massive improvement for Season 11 of the X-Files over the premiere. The premiere was sloppy, poorly acted, horribly written and badly paced. Thankfully, the majority of my problems with the premiere were minimized here and what we got was an episode that (mostly) would have felt right at home in the original run of the show.
What made “This” good?
A big problem I have had with the revival (other than one seminal episode in Season 10) is it never felt like it tried to recapture the mood of earlier seasons. Here, the opening teaser does a great job of just that with the drawn out tension of the assassin’s approaching while Mulder and Scully are fast asleep at home. Couple this with some very atmospheric scenes in the forest with Skinner and at the cemetery and you have an episode that felt like The X-Files again.
2.) X-Filey Plot
Helping the episode’s cause was a very interesting plot that actually found a coherent way to bring Langly back into the fold but also felt relevant to the year we now live in. The idea of Langly and others uploading their consciousness where they unknowingly become slaves is weird but fascinating in the vein of what the show does best. It also served as a relatively smooth way to integrate the current mythology without bogging down the episode though Mulder’s conversation with Price was a bit muddled.
3.) Side Characters Galore
Gotta give a shout-out to the show tapping into it’s past and giving it’s classic side characters a chance to shine. The Lone Gunmen were crapped all over in Season 9 by being killed off in a terrible episode. However, I would have flipped out if they ret-conned their deaths. Thankfully, their importance to the show and characters was effectively displayed here without being forced. This wasn’t some idiotic fake-out or Mulder hallucination. The storyline made sense for Langly’s character and we got some great character touches/allusions to Frohike. The Spank Bank in particular was hilarious (despite being kind of awful from Scully’s point of view). I wish they highlighted Byers a little more than they did but all in all, good stuff. (Also, was it me or was that long-haired assassin supposed to look like Langly?)
Why do Mulder and Scully have a promotional photo of The Lone Gunmen?
Skinner continues to get more material which is a welcome trend after Season 10 clumsily thrust him to the sidelines (honestly, I wonder what non X-Files fans thought seeing Mitch Pileggi in the opening intro of Season 10 when he literally did nothing). Granted Mulder and Scully not trusting Skinner still feels…short-sighted but this episode makes it a bit more justified. They went on the run after Season 9 and assumed Skinner would uphold their principles in their absence. Of course things are never that easy and politics would get in the way. It’s a bit clunky but I think this episode set up the conflict between Skinner and our duo much better than MSIII.
And finally the best part of the episode: Mulder and Scully reminiscing about Deep Throat. Mulder’s first informant was so endearing during Season 1 making their conversation here that much more effective. Moments like this where the show appreciates it’s past will definitely help ingratiate this season to me (rather than retconning the mythology or, say, RETROACTIVELY MAKING SCULLY A RAPE VICTIM OF CSM).
4.) Mulder & Scully Interaction
It’s so pleasant to see Mulder and Scully together in an episode while also not cringing at their dialogue. Seriously, most of this revival has consisted of them underwhelmingly moping about William ad nauseum or making wink-wink comments to the camera about the good ol days. Hell, even in the amazing Darin Morgan episode from Season 10, they were apart most of the episode. The Mulder-Scully dynamic is what makes this show go and this is the first time since Season 7 that I have really felt it.
They did it all here. They sleuthed out a case, putting the pieces together. They reminisced about Frohike and Deep Throat without pandering to the audience. They had genuinely amusing exchanges (bran muffins, Mulder and handcuffs, Scully being better than Google, Scully almost shooting the waiter, Mulder almost puking). And they were just enjoyable to watch which the revival has shown is definitely not a sure thing. It’s amazing how dramatically the feel of an episode changes when Mulder and Scully are at ease with each other. (Fun fact…I hated every Mulder and Scully scene from My Struggle I, II, & III).
What Made “This” Mediocre
The pacing was such an improvement over the mythology episodes of the revival. Sadly, waiting in a supermarket line would also be an improvement so that doesn’t say much.
This episode still moves a bit too fast. While I liked the plot, I felt like things were too easy for Mulder and Scully. Every clue was solved in moments. Every obstacle was resolved with no real challenge. I’m used to Mulder making leaps but come on, think of the steps they took to get to Deep Throat’s grave! They get a message from Langly, decide to go to the cemetery where TLG are buried, look at their birthdates, figure out that two of them share birthdays with the 32nd and 34th presidents, and then using this knowledge, walk three random rows and three random columns over (for the missing 33rd president) to Deep Throat’s grave where they find their next clue. This happened in about two minutes and was utter nonsense. This episode made it seem like they are almost super-naturally good at putting together clues, which is not how the show treated them back in the day.
“Thirty-three slats…thirty-third president…three rows and three columns away…bingo! Riddle solved!”
Similarly, the climax was a bit too quick and easy. They have to break into a high security building, similar to how Scully did in Erlenmeyer Flask. In that episode though, it felt like a real challenge and she had to get lucky to get in. Here she bats her eyebrows at an idiot employee and is able to get her and Mulder into where they need to go in a matter of moments. And the less said about Mulder escaping Price, the better.
Ok I already praised this episode for it’s atmosphere and the M&S dynamic. However, I think the tone was too lighthearted. The X-Files does light episodes very well but rarely in episodes where a beloved character calls to our heroes from beyond the grave or when assassins are chasing our heroes and killing innocent witnesses in front of them. Mulder and Scully were enjoyable this episode; their dialogue was strong but something feels off when they are making clever quips while the body count around them rises. My how isolation has made our duo quite tone-deaf!
“Langly’s friend got shot because of us? Looks like a ‘grave’ situation.”
Despite all the improvements here, it feels like the show is stuck in this mode where they no longer remember how un-action packed the original show was. Here we have Mulder and Scully gunning down four assassins like nothing, escaping from armed Russian soldiers while in handcuffs, Scully powersliding under a table, etc. I mean there is seriously a scene where Scully lures a guard into a dark room and beats him up! (I would have much preferred it if they went The Simpsons route here.) In the original show, they thought their way out of sticky situations. Now, they Liam Neeson their way out of everything.
Even with it’s problems, this episode was a worthy addition to The X-Files. It felt like The X-Files even if it tried to be cuter than it needed to. It felt refreshing to see Mulder and Scully proactively working together and getting along/rampantly flirting with each other. With “This”, I now have a ray of hope that this season will not be an embarrassment.
Rating: B (probably closer to a B- but my expectations for the revival are lower than for the original show)