This review contains spoilers.
11.3 Plus One
The X-Files gets cut a lot of slack when it comes to episodes like Plus One even when its supernatural plot has a few holes. Everything about this week’s instalment was as familiar as a well-worn pair of jeans, which could result in critical complacency, and when the new dynamics of Mulder and Scully’s relationship are superimposed on top of what amounts to an episode-of-the-week in the classic style, all is somehow forgiven. In other words, this was an A+ character study with a C+ story.
Never in the life of The X-Files have we questioned how Mulder finds these cases, and we’re not about to start now. Mulder even lulls us into accepting the comfortable pattern when he tells Scully, upon hearing about the ordeal of Arkie Seavers, that it’s time to get back to their bread and butter: a good, old-fashioned serial suicide case with its first survivor. Even the agents’ speech patterns remind viewers how recognisable this set-up is, starting with Mulder admonishing his partner with, “Correct me if I’m wrong, Scully, and I know that you will…” We know, too, Fox; we know, too.
Scully’s scepticism throughout the episode travels a well-worn route as well. Gillian Anderson even delivers her lines full of medical mumbo-jumbo with a monotone that suggests her character is just going through the motions of doubting Mulder’s conclusions in the face of years of unexplained phenomena in her past. She tries her best to dissuade Mulder about the “evil” influence Judy and Chucky have over their victims, and when faced with her own doppelgänger, refers to it as a “manifestation of latent hostility.” Good old Scully; reliable to a fault in her convictions.
But perhaps calling her “old” is part of the point, since much of the success of this episode lies with its examination of its aging protagonists. We’re certainly not used to seeing Scully shaken enough to ask Mulder to hold her; after all, like Mulder says, “We’ve had stranger cases, Scully.” It’s a rare moment of vulnerability for both characters, wondering about having kids and Mulder meeting someone younger, especially with what’s going on in the background with her son, William, in the season at large. Plus Fox is right, Dana: “You still got some scoot in your boot.”
The intimacy presents the perfect amount of evolution for these characters, not just in the decades since The X-Files first aired but also since the reboot began. Oblique references to Scully’s afterglow are all we need as a suggestion that the pair has had a sexual encounter brought about by their uninhibited conversation, and the fact that Mulder twice has to reassure her that he just wants a little shut-eye means this kind of tryst has probably happened before. Because of course it has! Why wouldn’t it? But the understatement is important, and the writers handled the relationship dynamics expertly.
As for the case of the murderous doppelgängers manifested by a game of hangman being played by brother and sister schizophrenics, the most enjoyable aspect had to be the performance by Karin Konoval, who played both Judy and Chucky with gender-bending aplomb. The fact that they were undone by their separate confrontational encounters with Mulder and Scully, fighting over a hangman board that contained the “U” and “L” of both agents’ names, was a fun twist, especially in the midst of the action sequences between the good and evil versions of Fox and Dana as they raced to apprehend the Poundstone twins.
The leap that the viewer must take lies with the fact that Mulder honed in on Judy to begin with. Why would he choose a random patient, a “normative schizophrenic” completely separate from the speculations about the victims Scully and the psychiatrist were making? How convenient that he asked about the one person who ended up being instrumental in solving the case! Do we forgive this sort of investigative contrivance because it was common in the 90’s show? It’s a tough call.
What really punctuates the familiar rhythm of The X-Files, bringing attention both to how things have changed and how they really haven’t, is Scully’s decision to eat the bread pills that supposedly provide immunity to the doppelgänger violence. What better metaphor for Scully’s adherence to her Catholic upbringing despite her scientific approach to everything else than for her to take communion in such a superstitious guise? It was such a small moment, framed humorously by her interaction with the skittish nurses, but it really shone as an insight into a character we love, foibles and all.
That’s what ultimately makes this episode a winner: it’s simply about Mulder and Scully and the light and dark aspects of their personality. The characters have seen so much development over the years that it’s nice to see them in their more mature skins, both physically and emotionally. The mystery was incidental, and its inconsistencies were familiarly inconsequential; what really matters is how Mulder and Scully reacted to the case and how they came out the other side having learned something along with the audience.
After all, Scully speaks for fans of The X-Files everywhere when she says, “Sometimes I think the world is going to hell, and we’re the only two people who can save it.”
Read Michael’s review of the previous episode, This, here.