Be advised: this will go into detail about various plot elements of the episode, and there will be SPOILERS. Trust no one.
"This Is The End" is the ominous title card that finished the usual opening credits, and if this really, truly is the end for The X-Files, then it goes out not with a bang, but with the sort of whimper you might hear after sitting on a rubber chicken. Trying to cram as much as it can into a finale that was by turns hectic and stumbling, it once again represents the sad truth that even Chris Carter, the man who launched it all, doesn't really have the best grip on what makes a good episode. Or season. But let's crack on...
We begin with recap after recap, wasting precious time getting us all caught up when the first part of this story was just a few weeks ago. True, it's useful for newcomers, but is anyone truly tuning in for the first time and thinking, 'you know, I believe I'll start with the finale...'? Doubt it. So the entire pre-credits sequence is a "previously on" and then Scully taking a turn to explain the whole series mythology in loose beats.
Scully (in person) shows up to the X-Files office in the bowels of the FBI looking for Mulder, but her once and future partner isn't there. Instead, she finds his laptop running and Tad O'Malley's (Joel McHale returning to the series for the first time since My Struggle) Truth Squad internet show frozen on the screen. The office phone rings and it's Tad, who asks that Scully come to Mulder's apartment.
When she arrives, she discovers Tad standing in the middle of the scruffy apartment, which looks even more disheveled than usual. There has clearly been a fight in here, but Mulder is nowhere to be found. Tad has more alien DNA theories to share, but Scully is more interested in calling the police and finding Mulder.
Back at the X-Files office, Scully meets with Assistant Director Skinner (who gets perhaps two lines, making us wonder if they just brought Mitch Pileggi back for nostalgia's sake) and Agent Einstein, playing her usual role of Super Skeptic despite the events of Babylon last week. She still accompanies Scully to Our Lady Of Sorrows hospital - where Scully had been working before her brief return to the FBI - and there they encounter a military man with some odd symptoms.
Mulder, meanwhile, is driving - he's headed somewhere and looks both beaten up and sick. He ignores a call from Skinner, which is good road safety advice – don't hold the phone and drive, folks.
In the hospital, Scully is still trying to sell Einstein on her theory that alien DNA is responsible for starting a massive, cross-viral pandemic, which is a big leap to make based on one patient, but we suppose Scully has had a little experience with big-scale conspiracies before. Einstein asks how tampering with humanity's DNA can even happen, but Scully reminds her that everyone these days has had a smallpox vaccine. Is Chris Carter becoming an anti-vaxxer?
Tad's back on the 'net, trying to warn the populace (or at least those who watch his show) of the spreading viruses. The evidence is starting to pile up in the hospital, and Scully posits that the military is being targeted first and that other support services will follow.
As Mulder picks up speed, heading towards Spartanburg South Carolina, Agent Miller (like his partner Einstein, a holdover from Babylon) is searching the X-Files office to see if he can help find the missing agent. A handy dandy phone-finding app is his key, and soon he too is headed for South Carolina.
Scully is doing tests and trying to figure out the Big Plot when she gets a call from someone. Turns out it's Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), AKA One Of The Duo From The Seasons Few People Really Liked. She's conveniently arrived to provide an info dump, revealing that she was offered a deal (in flashback) by the badly burned Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis, who we saw in My Struggle) - in exchange for keeping her safe from the coming apocalypse, she'll work for him. Doing what? Lighting his cigggies, apparently. Okay... The CSM had some major surgery after he was nearly blown to pieces by that rocket in the final episode of Season Nine, but he's ready to conquer the world with his big viral plan. Hardier than a cockroach, this one.
Monica also reveals that Scully is among the chosen few; her alien DNA will actually protect her from death by failed immune system. Oh, and the CSM sent someone to offer Mulder the same deal. In another flashback, we see Mulder take on the guy sent to his place, explaining the chaos in the apartment and Mulder's injuries. Before you know it, he's arrived in South Carolina and is holding a gun on Cancer Man.
Do you think there'll be another speech? You'd be right! CSM goes on to explain the whole shebang, talking about how aliens predicted that humans would screw up the world and helping him and his co-conspirators to target everyone but a chosen few for extinction. They're going to start again. Mulder isn't convinced, but he's already feeling feverish and is soon too weak to listen to much more. We know how he feels.
As Tad slowly starts to succumb himself, Scully is racing to figure out the final few pieces, frustrated that the evidence of her DNA doesn't show up in tests. She reasons that it might help to create a vaccine for the, er, vaccine and the new virus. The power at the hospital is going intermittently offline as the wards fill with sick patients and the doctors themselves begin to show symptoms.
Miller arrives at the CSM's hide-away intent on rescuing Fox. Seemingly there's little security (or they're all to busy coughing their lungs up) and he makes it in. But can Mulder be saved at this point?
Scully and Einstein theorise that they need a larger sample of Scully's DNA to find the alien genome tinkering and thus the key to the cure. Success! Yet now Einstein herself has started to succumb to illness.
In what must count as one of the more unrealistic scenes of the episode, Scully has somehow cooked up enough big IV bags of the cure and starts handing them out. Are we meant to think that she'll be able to make enough to save the world from just her sample? Still, that's what Carter and co. want us to believe. She races outside the hospital where the world's most genteel riot is just starting to break out, and takes off in a car to find Mulder and Miller.
Despite the seeming chaos, she's able to reach them with the minimum of traffic problems. But Mulder is in dreadful shape... Scully says that only stem cells from their son William (wondered when he was going to be shoehorned in) will help now. And they don't know where he is! Before she can worry further, a bright light shines down. One of the triangular alien ships is hovering over the bridge where Mulder and Miller's car was stuck in a mass of humanity. As the camera pushes in towards Scully, closer and closer we... Cut to black.
Yep, cliff-hanger time folks. which just adds to the frustration. If this is truly the end, that's a hugely unsatisfying finish. My Struggle II is endemic of the problems that have dogged this revival. Every idea is crammed in uncomfortably together like a student rushing through a book report. The technical side is still there, and Gillian Anderson in particular acts the hell out of her lines, but it's in all service of a story that is basically half a season squeezed into two episodes. Nothing can be explored properly, characters still stand around in rooms moving the story along with huge, repetitive bursts of pseudo-science and it once again feels like Carter shoving a lot of the ideas he's been mulling since the show went off the air into one script. The appearance of characters such as Reyes serves no real purpose other than dull further exposition and one limited "surprise" and the less said about the "global" scale of the plot the better. A victim of tight budgets and little scope, it's like bad X-Files fan fiction. Even though season finales are often rushed and bloated, this felt worse than usual because of the lack of real buildup.
If there is to be more X-Files (the ratings have been strong in the States), it might be time to have Carter step back and let the other original writers, or some fresh blood, have a crack. Which is assuming everyone can make their diaries match to create more in the first place. For all we know, this could lead to a Sherlock situation, with fans waiting years between series. And unlike the further adventures of Holmes and Watson, do you truly want to wait for more of this?