"IT SHOT BLOOD at me! From out its eyeball, Scully! I think. It was hard for me to see because I had blood in my eyes."
So claims Fox Mulder in the third episode of the new The X-Files—a six-episode miniseries that kicks off Sunday on Fox, reuniting FBI Agents Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) for the first time since... well, let's just pretend that second X-Files movie never happened. It's in this third episode—which bears the fairly self-explanatory title "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster"—that The X-Files comes back like it hasn't for years. Decades, even. It's good. No, wait—it's great. It's The X-Files in a way that nothing else—not even The X-Files!—has been since the '90s.
Loving The X-Files is like any other serious relationship: It takes a lot of patience, a lot of compromise, and a lot of politely looking the other way during the shitty parts. And maybe no other series has as many great and shitty parts as The X-Files. After becoming a massive hit following its 1993 premiere, the show ranged wildly in quality: For every gripping episode that promised to reveal clues of a sinister global conspiracy, there were three crappy ones that hopelessly convoluted the plot; for every affecting premise (like "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," in which a world-weary Peter Boyle plays a man cursed with knowing how everyone around him will die), there are others that are slogs for even the biggest X-philes (maybe skip the one where Jodie Foster provides the voice of a murderous tattoo).
And yet—despite an ill-advised spinoff, two underwhelming movies, and a much-loathed cast change in the show's profoundly lousy final seasons—The X-Files proved so goddamn creepy, addicting, and funny that just about anyone who made it through the pilot found themselves hooked, wading through the show's bewildering mythology, wincing through countless autopsies, and waiting for Mulder and Scully to do it already.
That's because even with its flaws, The X-Files remains the finest show ever created about two government employees who wear sensible suits and drive sensible sedans around small-town America as they investigate aliens, cannibals, shapeshifters, Loch Ness monsters, vampires, and flukemen. The X-Files has always been a buddy-cop procedural, but each week, it flipped the script: Here, the procedures are sampling blood to see if it contains alien DNA; here, the buddy cops are in unrequited love.
A huge part of The X-Files' appeal is the chemistry and charm of its stars—few shows boast protagonists as smart and sexy as Mulder and Scully. But there's more to it: Despite being a mainstream TV show about government agents, The X-Files always relied on a genuine and healthy distrust of authority. Despite its most memorable moments focusing on the unexplained, The X-Files' backbone was reason and science. (Mulder's conspiracy theories might have been the show's hook, but it was Scully's ability to parse how the world actually works that gave each storyline its weight.) And despite the show's tinfoil-helmet infatuation with stuff like alien-implanted subcutaneous metallic chips, each episode also offered a reminder about something bigger: That even in our own, comparatively boring lives, searching for the truth reveals things we'd never expect.
Naturally, all of this went hand-in-hand with Mulder's paranoia, which always seemed extreme right up until it was utterly justified. So it makes sense that in this new miniseries, we see he's acclimated pretty well to 2016: "I'm familiar with Edward Snowden," Mulder cracks in the second episode, and of course he's familiar with Edward Snowden. If you ask Mulder, he's probably the guy who tipped off Edward Snowden.
Not every moment of the new episodes is so knowing and smooth: While the iconic opening credits are back (albeit in shortened form), and while all the boxes are checked (Mulder monologues accusations, Scully talks to a tape recorder while slicing open a body in the morgue, quotas are filled in both squicky violence and surreal surprises), the miniseries takes a while to find its footing. Mulder and Scully are a little older now, and anti-government conspiracy theorists now carry a different cultural and political weight. So creator Chris Carter spends some time fine-tuning his characters and their mission, as well as throwing out as much clunky, conspiracy-based exposition as he can. But then comes the third episode—and the first in the miniseries that goes back to the show's well-oiled monster-of-the-week setup.
"We've been given another case, Mulder," Scully says at the start of the Oregon-set "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster." "It has a monster in it." Thank god, it does, and thank god, the monster is clearly a dude in a rubber suit. Written and directed by Darin Morgan—the guy behind some of the series' best episodes, from "Humbug" to "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose" to "Jose Chung's From Outer Space"—"Were-Monster" is funny and clever, its underlying existential sadness delivered through laugh-out-loud dialogue, clever surprises, and that oft-forgotten ace-up-the-sleeve of classic X-Files episodes—fantastic guest stars. (This time, we get Flight of the Conchords' Rhys Darby and Silicon Valley's Kumail Nanjiani—who might be better known, in this arena at least, for his podcast The X-Files Files). "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster," in other words, is a blast—a perfect X-file that riffs on, and embraces, the series' most enduring, endearing formula. When the formula is this great, that's exactly as it should be.