A lot has superficially changed since the earliest days of The X-Files. Back in 1993, Mulder and Scully would make calls from phones in motel rooms. Their research was done on microfiche rather than Google. But despite mobiles and the internet being rife in this 2016 reboot, so much about the series remains the same. Mock up an X-Files Bingo card and you’d be quids in: ‘the truth’ wanting to ‘believe’, talk of a ‘conspiracy’, mentions of Roswell. It’s all here.
So much so that it could well alienate (pardon the pun) those who want to jump in afresh rather than indulge in nostalgia. Fans who stuck with The X-Files throughout its entire original nine-season run know that it disappeared up its own chronology a long time before the final episode aired. So to plunge viewers waist deep into a fresh government cover-up – and one that involves a brain-scrambling info-dump that’s edited like an Adam Curtis polemic – feels like a risk.
If you want a monster-of-the-week plotline featuring bogeymen like the stretchy Tooms or the sewer-dwelling Flukeman, then this is not the place for you. At least not in this opening episode. Instead of genetic mutants, we’re once again in the look-over-your-shoulder land of shadowy cabals, armed with syringes, bright lights and the odd cigarette. What’s clever is that their actions force Mulder to reassess everything he’s ever known, turning him – at least at the outset – into something of a sceptic. We’re used to Scully casting doubt on alien intentions, not ‘Spooky‘ Mulder.
What’s not so smart is the overblown storytelling that turns everything apocalyptic and cataclysmic within the space of 20 minutes. Gone is the wryness and in comes a po-faced paranoia that feels faintly risible once it’s been chewed and digested. To give the show its due, the drama harks back to one of the very first X-Files episodes Deep Throat, in which Mulder suspected that alien tech from Roswell was being used by the military for nefarious purposes.
But instead of the fear coming from what was once faintly glimpsed around a corner, The X-Files of 2016 leaves nothing to the imagination. Instead, it opts to ramp up the risk to a daft degree, with Mulder’s theories about man-made (and not extra-terrestrial) cover-ups leaving him looking increasingly wild-eyed. “Claptrap, isolationist, techno paranoia”, admonishes Scully, before she herself does a complete volte face and starts taking him seriously.
Where this leaves us remains to be seen, but you can’t help but feel that despite the truth still being out there, The X-Files’s crazy plotting will ensure that it remains forever out of reach.