The X-Files doesn't officially return until Jan. 24, but a lucky group of attendees at New York Comic Con were able to watch the anticipated premiere on Saturday. And don't worry, X-Philes. A blend of new and old (including the iconic original credits), the episode immediately establishes that this is not a reboot nor a mere cash grab, but a thoughtful continuation of the beloved franchise.
The episode begins with a lengthy narration by Mulder (David Duchovny), highlighting the talking points of the first nine seasons. And though the voiceover is clearly an inserted hook to catch newbies up, it avoids feeling too cheesy or contrived. Maybe that's because Mulder spent so much of the original run talking about his various theories that fans are just used to his long-winded - and sometimes repetitive - diatribes. And this conditioning is definitely a welcome one since Mulder spends the majority of the premiere talk, talk, talking.
The premiere is extremely exposition heavy, which might become an obstacle for first-time viewers, but does serve to set up some interesting new dynamics. In the seven years since we last saw Mulder and Scully (Gillian Anderson), their lives have grown drastically apart. No longer with the FBI, Scully has found work at a D.C. hospital and only has occasional contact with Mulder, whose loss of purpose since the X-Files shuttered has sent him into an isolating depression.
But after a call from their former boss Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), Mulder and Scully join together once more to investigate the claims of web show host Tad O'Malley. Played with a buttoned-up intensity by Community's Joel McHale, O'Malley is an extremely conservative conspiracy theorist whose paranoia nearly makes Mulder look grounded. And while Mulder's dogged pursuit of the truth has left him nearly desolate, O'Malley has profited greatly, turning his staunch beliefs into Bill O'Reilly-like fame, although O'Malley tells Scully, "What O'Reilly knows about the truth could fill an eyedropper."
Through O'Malley, Mulder and Scully are introduced to Sveta (Annet Mahendru), a woman who claims to have suffered alien abductions since childhood and had multiple unborn babies taken from her in the process. As Mulder and Scully investigate these allegations, they are pulled into an elaborate conspiracy that - in an interesting twist - treats the very notion of alien conspiracies as an X-File, rather than the explanation for one.
Creator Chris Carter has taken great advantage of the new world landscape when crafting this revival, incorporating post-9/11 conspiracies, the Patriot Act and the militarization of the police into the new mystery, all the while tying them back to Roswell-era alien cover-ups. In fact, The X-Files so nicely lends itself to these modern issues that it's hard to believe how much the Fox drama pre-dated many of them. Scully's skepticism is also put to an interesting new use, as she now finds herself not only questioning the science, but additionally the benefit of sharing the truth with the public.
But Mulder refuses to listen to Scully's hesitations, widening the schism between their perspectives and adding yet another weight to their already burdened relationship. The spark between Mulder and Scully is still very much present, but so is the strain of their shared past - both what fans have seen and in the intervening years, which eventually saw their romantic split. And so even though the mythology exists on a global scale, everything within the episode feels extremely personal for Mulder and Scully.
This is one of the things The X-Files has always done best: tell an intimate story about two people's challenging and intense relationship in the face of an extremely large, or even intergalactic, threat. Time has clearly gone on for Mulder and Scully in the years we haven't been watching, but the premiere doesn't miss a beat, instantly re-immersing viewers in all the complexities - good and bad - within their relationship.
And while many fans were, to put it lightly, bummed to discover Mulder and Scully had broken up between seasons, the split does comes with its benefits. Since Mulder and Scully aren't living a happily ever after, it reignites the push-and-pull between the pair that made the first few seasons so electric - this time with Mulder doing most of the pulling.
With only six episodes in this season, one can only hope that Mulder and Scully's (potential) reconciliation won't be too far down the line. And they'll have plenty of interesting new cases to bring them closer in the meantime. As Carter revealed during the Comic Con panel, Episodes 2-5 will be devoted to standalone stories, while the sixth and final episode will conclude the mythology presented in the premiere.
The X-Files returns Sunday, January 24, 2016 at 10/9c on Fox.