Tag Archives: My Struggle II

The Art or the Artist?


In the aftermath of the severe disappointment that was “My Struggle II” (10×6), the hullabaloo on the internet has been, well, loud. And is that a cry of mutiny I hear rising from the din?

Well, our guest post today is from Michael O’Connor who adds his very astute, not to mention loyal, 2 cents into this mess and it’s about friggin’ time. His original post can be found here, and since he appears to be a glutton for punishment, do check out Why I Love The Phantom Menace over on his blog

 

i want to believe

Comments sections are rarely a place to go for insightful discourse. Even so, there’s one recurring comment that rankles me more than most in any conversation about a particular creative property, and it’s this: suggesting an artist be forcibly removed from his or her own creation.

The latest call for revolution has been directed at Chris Carter, the creator and showrunner for The X-Files. Some folks claim that he doesn’t “get” the X-Files, and someone else should be brought in who understands the concept better than the guy who created and ran it for nine seasons going on ten (and two movies).

That kind of sentiment deeply aggravates me; it demonstrates a really ugly side of modern criticism and fandom: a profound lack of respect for the creator of a beloved property, impatience with anything that doesn’t recapture one’s original passion for the material, and arrogance that the critic or fan somehow knows better than the progenitor.

I’m not saying that Chris Carter is perfect, but I would rather suffer through the occasional dud of a mediocre episode than see anyone else at the helm.

In other words, I’m for the artist. How about you?

Before you answer, let me explain my position and also my struggle. When I look at an episode of The X-Files like the recent mini-season premiere (aptly named “My Struggle”), I’m perplexed. This is the guy who gave us “The Post Modern Prometheus,” “Paper Clip” and “Duane Barry,” to name just a few stellar episodes with his name attached. But “My Struggle” is not only a victim of wonky pacing and cardboard one-dimensional characterization; its greatest sin may be its misguided aim to clumsily dispose of the entire alien colonization conspiracy developed and fostered over the course of nine seasons.

It’s almost enough to make me question my faith in the man.

For the record, it wouldn’t be my first crisis of faith with a beloved creator. Comic book writers Frank Miller and Alan Moore could do no wrong for at least a decade, with works like Miller’s The Dark Knight ReturnsDaredevil: Born Again, Batman: Year One and Sin City and Moore’s V for Vendetta, Watchmen, and From Hell still ranking among my favorite series I’ve ever read. But now I’m hard-pressed to say something positive about any of their more recent works.

Even George Lucas, whose prequel trilogy I would argue is nothing short of a masterpiece (your mileage may vary, though you should at least hazard a look at my argument in favor of The Phantom Menace), is equally culpable with Steven Spielberg for a disappointing entry in the Indiana Jones series with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

crystal skull

But so what? Nobody’s perfect, and rather than treat our favorite creators like incompetent Imperial officers who have failed Darth Vader for the last time, let’s step back and embrace the things we love rather than dwell on those that didn’t work for us.

And let’s also consider that maybe, just maybe these geniuses that invented The X-Files or Star Wars orWatchmen might still have some brilliance left in the tank. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t feel confident with anyone at the reins of Indiana Jones except for Lucas and Spielberg. Ditto with Watchmen and Alan Moore (although props to Darwyn Cooke for a noble go of it with his Before Watchmen: Minutemen miniseries). And The Dark Knight Returns IV without Frank Miller–? Well, you get the point.

But you might also see a contradiction. Frank Miller may have created the world of The Dark Knight Returns, but he was using a character who had already been created by someone else: Batman. Isn’t the success and brilliance of a piece of art like Returns proof positive that the original creator should get out of the way at some point (either voluntarily or by force)? I’d say it all depends on where your sympathies lie.

Let’s take a quick detour into the origin of Batman’s creator, Bill Finger. I’d say it’s entirely possible (and even likely) that you could be a fan of the character and never have heard of Bill Finger or never have read a Finger-penned story. That isn’t because Bill didn’t write plenty of them or create the characters you know and love, because he most certainly did. He contributed to the Batman mythos for over two decades. And The Joker, Two-Face, The Penguin, Catwoman, The Riddler, Robin, Commissioner Gordon, Alfred, etc. etc? It was all Bill (with a little help from Jerry Robinson).

batman v joker

And the stories still hold up. If you want original, unfiltered Batman direct from the source, you can’t go wrong with “Robin Dies at Dawn” (Batman #156) “The Origin of Batman” (Batman #47) or “The Joker” (Batman #1). Finger built the foundation upon which all other Batman stories have grown and thrived, and yet his name is completely absent from the art he created. Part of that is due to his shady partner Bob Kane taking credit and financial compensation for Bill’s creations. But part of it is also due to the fact that Batman has now been around for over 75 years and prospered in film and television with hundreds of different creators lending their considerable talents to his ongoing myth. It’s easy to be introduced to a Finger-less Batman.

On the one hand, Bill got screwed. He ended up unknown, penniless and ignored, even as Bob Kane and DC profited handsomely from his creation. On the other hand, would Batman be the cultural touchstone he is today if DC had given sole creative control of the character to Finger? If they had stopped publishing Batman stories after he died or given creative control of the films to his estate?

Who do you side with? The artist or the art? The human being affected or the fiction that inspires so many (and makes so many others wealthy)?

I’m not saying it’s easy to choose. We love the art. We want it to be around forever and we want what we feel is best for it. But we must also understand that the reason we love the art is because someone created it. They had something to say, and we listened, and it touched us and improved our lives in some way.

billfinger

Speaking for myself, I’ll say this: I prefer my art straight from the source, from the original creator. And yet, while I genuinely believe that some of these franchises shouldn’t survive beyond their creators, I don’t know if I’m strong enough to ignore whatever comes after. I can’t deny that I will probably at least take a glance. Whether that’s merely satisfying curiosity or indicative of a deeper addiction I can’t kick, I don’t know. Maybe a little of both.

Regardless, I would question any critic or “fan” who would posit that the solution to the problem of a television show (or film, or series of novels, or comic book) that they no longer enjoy is finding someone else besides the creator to run it. The far more reasonable solution to that problem is simply walking away from it.

If you’ve reached the point with a beloved franchise where you simply can’t stand it, you’ve probably gotten everything you’re going to get out of that universe, those characters, and the scenarios and themes it presents. Insisting that it can be fixed by “someone else” is playing armchair executive. You’ve ceased to engage with it as a piece of creative art and storytelling; instead you’re seeing it as a product that can be exploited and transformed to favor your tastes and predilections.

Speaking personally, I always expect that an artist I admire knows what they’re doing. I operate from that optimistic–perhaps even naive–viewpoint. When I’m confronted with something that challenges my expectations or even upsets me, I’m intrigued to explore further rather than denounce outright. I’m not saying it’s easy, but if you truly love something (or someone), you don’t waste your time and passion demanding for it to be better; you try to understand it and appreciate it for what it is.

Which is why I’m eagerly anticipating Monday’s finale of The X-Files mini-season written and directed by Mr. Carter despite the premiere’s shaky start. Ultimately, my faith can be challenged, but when it comes to art and its artist, and especially where it concerns The X-Files, I still want to believe.

—————–

Michael O’Connor is a writer, filmmaker and designer based out of Portland, Oregon. A graduate of NYU and former editor for Marvel Comics, he has been published in numerous print newspapers like The Winston Salem Journal, The Willamette Week, and The Portland Tribune as well as online sites such as Brewpublic, The New School and RetroZap! He is passionate about art in all its forms, but is particularly fond of novels, comic books, movies… and craft beer.

My Struggle II 10×6: Spoken like a true psychopath.


MyStruggleII273

The (un)emotional reunion we’d all been waiting for.

I do understand, Chris. I want to forget about the Super Soldiers too.

It seems that in order to facilitate said forgetfulness, we’re going to take it back… alllll the way back to the perverse politics of “Paper Clip” (3×2) and the Hitler-esque horrors of “Herrenvolk” (4×1).

Ah, yes. Hitler. I’d been wondering since “My Struggle” (10×1) what the connection would be between the hijacked title of Hitler’s defining autobiography (“Mein Kampf” in German) and this new era of conspiracy on The X-Files. It would seem that old is new again, and Chris Carter is reeling back in the real world fear of eugenics and calculated experimentation by humans on humans, humans unfettered by morality and governed by nothing but humanism and ambition. (Maybe he should have named this two-parter “Babylon” and “Babylon II”?)

We’ve eschewed the supernatural for a super human evil: Heil Cigarette-Smoking Man, the new Hitler, who is almost single-handedly punishing mankind for its failure as a species — or for his own failure to bring about Colonization, take your pick as to which — and is ready to to wipe out humanity as we knew it and repopulate the planet with the Ubermensch: the human species upgraded with alien DNA. If Mulder would just cooperate, together he, Daddy Dearest, Scully and William could become the new master race, the Herrenvolk.

Oh, and Monica Reyes. I can’t forget about Monica Reyes.

What the heck now??? Monica Reyes as the new Diana Fowley? Stah-ap!!

What’s most insulting to the character is that she’s so easily manipulated by CSM with nothing but the vague threat of impending doom. She already knew there was a battle for humanity; that’s why she helped Mulder and Scully escape in “The Truth” (19/21). What kind of science could have proven to someone who was not at all a scientist that hope was hopeless? How did she explain herself to John Doggett?? And you’re telling me he was willing to save her life purely in exchange for lighting his smokes???

I’m so done with this desperate attention seeker of a plotline. Moving on.

Scully: The technology wasn’t there, Mulder. DNA wasn’t even identified until 1944. This is all a lie! – “Paper Clip”

Scully’s doubts reflected my own for much of this episode. How could CSM & Co. have been manipulating human DNA through the Smallpox vaccine when we hadn’t yet mapped the human genome? Well, kudos to Chris Carter for harkening back to what he established way back in Season 3, that the government had long been keeping its scientific knowledge from the public.

But I’m going to have to dock a few kudos for not keeping more of this scientific knowledge from the public. “My Struggle II” is 90% science and 10% story. If in order to pull off the plot the science is so complicated that you have to take your audience back to school for half an hour for them to understand it, it’s too complicated. Leave it out. Way too much time is spent listening to Scully and Einstein explain things to each other that doctors would never have to explain to each other. What’s more, as always, Scully has special knowledge far beyond her speciality. But I suppose I’m used to that by now.

I’m also used to William being treated like a prop. Yet it would seem that if we do get a Season 11, FINALLY, the hunt for William will become paramount. That’s all I ever wanted and it was not too much to ask.

The ending leaves much to be desired. The episode leaves much, much to be desired – less exposition, more Mulder and Scully some, any, a crumb of Mulder and Scully would have sufficed. The whole point of this revival was to put the team back together. I didn’t campaign like a house-bound otaku for Miller and Einstein.

But it’s not “Babylon” (10×4), and for that, let us all give thanks.

Verdict:

Let me tell you about my struggle. It’s the struggle of a teenybopper fangirl who desperately wants to believe in her first love with the enigmatic skeptic inside. If The X-Files keeps going, will it get better or will it get worse? Are we apexing toward another Season 5 or are we snowballing toward more of Season 9?

I’m betwixt and between. And “My Struggle II” leaves me feeling little more than apathetic.

Though at last, AT LAST we’re seeing something akin to an apocalypse. Colonization has been threatened for so long without any significant movement in that direction. True, this large scale immunological breakdown is the machination of man, not of aliens… or is it? Chris Carter giveth and Chris Carter taketh away; he’s won’t to take back a plot he’s discredited only to discredit it again. We might find that CSM put this current drama into motion in 2012 for a reason.

There may be a master plan here, but even if I make sense of it I’m not sure it will be satisfying. The ending left me with neither a sense of completion or anticipation. I get both out of “Requiem” (7×22) and even “The Truth”. “Existence” (8×21) has its faults, but at least the characters’ story arcs are made whole. “My Struggle II” ends with a pure cliffhanger, but not the kind of cliffhanger that makes you pick up the phone and call your mother screaming. The characters haven’t evolved and they’re not in any sort of emotional crisis. Mulder’s sick, but he’ll be healed. Scully’s likely been abducted… again… but she’ll be back. Then what? More giant jumps of assumption from our level-headed scientist? More mini Moose and Squirrel? More Truth Squad?

C+

Musings of a Madwoman:

If I’m reading this right, CSM is behind the murder of Sveta and the abduction of Scully, the first to keep her quiet and the second to keep her from saving lives.

Seeing Well-Manicured Man and Krycek in the teaser made me all kinds of nostalgic. That helped propel my “Paper Clip” and “Herrenvolk” rewatches, which in turn were the best parts of watching and rewatching “My Struggle II”.

Mulder’s beat up and Scully doesn’t know where he is. It’s like old times.

Speaking of beat up, the fight scene was a little long, but it was bomb.

Scully looks the best she has the whole revival.

Okay, are we just going to utterly ignore CSM and Mulder’s familial relationship? One “S’up, Pop!” would’ve sufficed.

Scully wouldn’t have had room to weave through traffic like that if the world was in a real panic.

That’s it, huh? Scully gets abducted… again? Time for another ride on the abduction merry-go-round? How about taking Skinner next time, hmm? I guess he’s overdue for a turn.

Inevitable Questions:

I could have sworn that somewhere in the previews for the revival I saw a glimpse of the old warehouse used to store vaccination records in “Paper Clip”, but then it never materialized. Or did I just imagine it? It would have made perfect sense with the plot.

What about the people who either somehow avoided or missed the vaccine, or those who came to the country after the vaccine? They wouldn’t be affected and neither would their children.

Mulder, the Patriarch of Paranoia, has a GPS tracker on his phone? But really now?

Best Quotes:

There are times when the awkwardly formal dialogue of The X-Files can be endearing. This was not one of those times.