The X-Files Season 11: How to Watch and What to Know About the Confusing Mythology

The X-files have officially been reopened...again. Despite the poorly received revival in 2016, creator Chris Carter is determined to keep his aliens and conspiracy mythology alive. Season 11 premieres on Fox on Wednesday, with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, back as FBI Agent Fox Mulder, the show’s believer, and scientist agent Dana Scully, now sort of believing.

The first episode of Season 11, “My Struggle III,” picks up where the Season 10 cliffhanger left us—kind of. It was a confusing six episodes: Something about… alien insemination? A world-ending contagion? The somehow-still-alive Cigarette Smoking Man? Even for the die-hard X-Filer, the show’s underlying conspiracy is an enigma wrapped in a conundrum. And if you’ve never seen the show? Good luck.

With that in mind, here’s a preview to Season 11’s continuously unraveling truth, which is still out there.

XF-S2_202-Sc_35-SH_0040_hires1 FROM LEFT: Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny in Season 11 of 'The X-Files.' Shane Harvey/FOX

How to watch

The X-Files Season 11 premieres Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018 on FOX at 8 p.m. ET. If you don't have satellite or cable, you can stream the episode on FOX's website one week after it airs.

If you're not willing to wait that long, you can at least watch the first episode with a free seven-day trial of Sling TV, a service that allows you to stream live TV from your computer. (Just remember to cancel before you’re charged.)

What to know

Season 10 doesn't matter

The Season 10 finale, "My Struggle II," went big in a bad way. Rather than tying up any of the series' tangled conspiracy plotlines, Carter added a new wrinkle to the mythology: All this time, the government, via the shady Syndicate (a group of white guys who run everything—just like in real life!), has been injecting the Spartan virus into unsuspecting American citizens, via smallpox vaccines, in order to facilitate widespread contagion.

XF_sc35_0009_hires1 David Duchovny in “My Struggle II,” the season finale episode of 'The X-Files' Season 11. Ed Araquel/FOX  

Cigarette Smoking Man (or CSM, played by William B. Davis) was, of course, behind it all. He's now running the Syndicate, aided by former Special Agent Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), who agreed to to join CSM because he offered her immunity to the virus. A regretful Reyes confessed to Scully in Season 10. Reyes also told her that she’s immune to the virus because of the hybrid DNA left over from Scully's 1994 abduction. Using that DNA, Scully is able to develop a vaccine.

Meanwhile, Mulder has fallen ill. Naturally, by the time Scully gets to him, it’s too late. His only chance for survival is a stem-cell transplant from Mulder and Scully’s long-lost son, William.

Before she can begin looking, a UFO arrives outside the house where Scully has found Mulder. With the world on the edge of apocalypse, she stares into the lights of the spaceship. That's where the season ends.

So here we are in Season 11. The first episode, "My Struggle III," is tasked with resolving all of ignoring it. The result is an impossible hash. The contagion, we learn, wasn't really the apocalypse. Convenient! Mulder and the rest of the world appear to be healthy ("There's no plague," is the explanation Mulder offers). Now Scully is the sick one, unconcious at the start of the episode thanks to abnormal brain activity that flashes morse code on the monitors: "Find him." (Don't worry, she wakes up quickly.) No sign of that UFO, minus a millasecond flashback. 

x-filles FROM LEFT: David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in the 'X-Files' Season 11 premiere. Shane Harvey/FOX

Perhaps Carter took note of Season 10 criticism and realized that The X-Files mythology needed about 50 percent less plot. All that’s left of it in episode one of Season 11 are Mulder and Scully searching for their son.

A bit about William: Scully gave him up for adoption 13 years ago, after she became pregnant in Season 7. William at first seemed like an immaculate conception, or the result of some alien shenanigans, until Mulder was revealed to be the father in Season 8.

In Season 9, Jeffrey Spender (Chris Owens) had returned with a message for Scully. Spender, the son of CSM, had been shot by his father in Season 6, for betraying the Syndicate, and then subjected to brutal and disfiguring cloning experiments. The flashback episode, “William,” has the unrecognizable Spender revealing what many fans had guessed: Fox is CSM’s biological son, the product of an affair between the evil smoker and his mother.

XF-S2_201-sc47-RF_0040_hires1 William B. Davis as CSM in the "My Struggle III" season premiere. Robert Falconer/FOX

That means Spender is also Mulder’s half-brother. Because of his previous work for the Syndicate, Spender knows baby William, who seems to have telekinetic powers, has some of Scully’s alien DNA. Spender tries to save the baby by injecting him with a serum that would make him fully human. When Scully stops him, he tells her that the conspirators will always pursue William, which is why she puts him up for adoption, never knowing who the parents are.

In Season 10, Mulder and Scully had visions of what it would have been like to raise William as their own (then played by actor Aiden Longworth). In Season 11, Carter promises we'll see more of William, who is now 17.

the-x-files-william FROM LEFT: William and Mulder in 'The X Files' Season 10. FOX

So there is more mythology confusion in Season 11 (guess it wouldn't be The X-Files without it), but not nearly as much as Carter crammed into last season, allowing, we hope, for more standalone episodes. As many fans will tell you, the best of the X-Files, at least after Season 2, were the standalones—horror stories, like Glen Morgan and James Wong’s Gothic tour de force "Home," or Darin Morgan’s hilarious “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose—which allowed the show's writers ambition beyond conspiracy, as well as the humor Duchovny excels at.

Season 10’s lone highlight was written by Darin Morgan, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster.” And he has written the current season’s best story as well: Episode 4,“The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat.” His musings on the artifice of reality may almost convince you that The X-Files mythology makes sense. Almost.