Each episode of The X-Files begins with a promise: “The truth is out there.” It’s been almost 25 years since FBI Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) started investigating global conspiracies, extraterrestrial life, and unknown beasts lurking in the shadows. But many truths remain undiscovered, twinkling in the distance like dying stars thousands of light-years away.
Maybe that’s why it seemed appropriate to bring back The X-Files with a six-episode miniseries in 2016—when the show fizzled out after nine seasons (and two lackluster films), plenty of mysteries were left unsolved. The Season 10 revival was an obvious cash-grab that spent too much time on the show’s confusing mythology, but it’s hard to give up on characters whose mission reflects the very relatable desire to find order within a chaotic universe.
Season 11 premieres this week, and it picks up where the miniseries’ final episode left off: Mulder is on the verge of succumbing to an alien virus, which Scully realizes he’ll only survive if they can get a stem cell transplant from their son William, who she put up for adoption 14 years prior. It’s soapy and incoherent, two trademarks of episodes helmed by X-Files creator Chris Carter (somebody needs to throw his laptop in a lake and then fill the lake with cement).
The search for William drives much of Season 11’s first half, but the overarching theme is the malleability of truth. That’s a pretty hot topic these days, one that X-Files’ writers started exploring last season with Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale), an Alex Jones knockoff with an Infowars-style talk show called Truth Squad. But things have changed since Season 10; with Trump’s presidency, we’ve entered an era characterized by charges of fake news.
Turns out that’s an interesting backdrop for The X-Files, which has spent more than two decades ruminating on the line between fact and folklore. But now Mulder and Scully must reckon with evil doppelgangers, a teen with mind control superpowers, déjà vu, the Mandela Effect, and psychic dreams. It’s surreal, even by X-Files standards—these phenomena scramble the agents’ perceptions of reality, complicating their quest for answers.
This isn’t the first time the series has toyed with its characters’ objectivity. In Season 5’s “Bad Blood,” the agents recounted two different versions of their encounter with a brood of vampires in rural Texas. Mulder’s flashback depicted the town sheriff (Luke Wilson) as a buck-toothed country bumpkin, but Scully remembers him as a dashing Southern gentleman. And in the Season 10 episode “Babylon,” Mulder experiments with mushrooms and wound up line-dancing to “Achy Breaky Heart” at a honky tonk. His hallucinations were indistinguishable from reality, since truth is relative when you’re tripping balls.
But rather than satisfy fans by resolving the series’ long-burning questions, the first half of Season 11 swan-dives into a void of absurdity. It’s more like Twin Peaks or Black Mirror than classic X-Files, but with awkward humor that’s sometimes hilarious and sometimes uncomfortable. I honestly can’t tell whether or not Mulder’s dialogue is supposed to sound ridiculous (in the second episode he utters this baffling phrase: “Scully, you looked so adorbs”).
While Scully is preoccupied with finding their son, Mulder’s passion to investigate the X-Files seems to have faded; now he’s just a quirky older guy who goes squatchin’ in his leisure time. Those hoping for some sexy sparks to fly between Scully and Mulder will be disappointed—their romance feels stilted, but I guess that’s what happens after trying to sustain sexual tension for a quarter of a century.
Though much of Season 11’s first half verges on nonsense, there are some highlights: At one point you will see an alien wearing an Elvis cape descend from its spacecraft on a hoverboard. I don’t recall a single instance of Mulder hanging up on Scully, which used to happen in almost every episode. You’ll see Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) looking shiny and aggravated as ever, plus the still-very-evil Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis) puffing away on those Morleys. The unnecessary baby versions of Mulder and Scully appear, but thankfully only briefly. They even found a way to resurrect the late Lone Gunman Richard Langly (Dean Haglund), whose consciousness was uploaded and preserved, “San Junipero” style, after his death.
Don’t set your expectations too high—the only truly great episode is Darin Morgan’s “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat,” and even that doesn’t compare to his home run last season, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster.” But this season is likely the last time we’ll see Mulder and Scully onscreen—Anderson recently announced Season 11 will be her last, and Carter has suggested he wouldn’t continue without both her and Duchovny (who’s super busy with forays into literature and rock ’n’ roll, anyway).
Season 11 does accomplish something important: In an age when beliefs seem to carry more weight than facts, it’s interesting to see The X-Files test and parody its own relationship with the truth. It’s still out there, but perhaps it was never meant to be discovered.