This X-Files review contains spoilers.
The X-Files Season 11 Episode 7
During its original run, The X-Files was ahead of its time in its depiction of technology. Car Phones became cell phones, advanced computer forensics and virtual reality evolved, and The Lone Gunmen were doing Mr. Robot long before it was a twinkle in Sam Esmail’s eye. There were certainly some episodes that played with futurist concepts–”Kill Switch” and sentient AI come to mind–and alien technology was typically at the forefront of the mythology episodes, but The X-Files often kept its tech grounded in the time period. It was a means to serve a larger end, a cool gadget here, a code hacked there.
If The X-Files hung around long enough, the absence of technology as a major plot point was bound to change. To their credit and maybe fault, Chris Carter and Co. stayed with their bread and butter in the later seasons; practical monsters brought to life by one of television’s best costume and prop units. Machines had their place in the background, but as many have predicted, they’d rise up eventually. Especially the ones with ghosts in them. Coming back for season 10, The X-Files’ relationship with technology wasn’t much more meaningful than a lame dad joke. It felt like someone who fell into a coma in the ‘90s waking up in 2016 and being asked to fumble around with a smartphone. It was awkward! Thankfully in this far improved season 11, Mulder and Scully figured it out.
This week’s episode, “Rm9sbG93ZXJz,” is one The X-Files couldn’t do during its original run. Yet it still manages to evoke what made the series irreplaceable in its prime. It’s Mulder and Scully’s date night goes wrong meets the heart-pumping suspense of Black Mirror’s “Metalhead.” What immediately made me think of that Black Mirror comparison is that by the episode’s end, it’s apparent this is as standalone as The X-Files gets. Much like “Metalhead,” you can drop any characters in this situation and it would make for a compelling contemporary mystery, with no prior context needed. Credit to director Glen Morgan and scriptwriters Shannon Hamblin (Lore) and Kristen Cloke, Morgan’s wife who has appeared in both The X-Files and Lore, for putting the Mulder and Scully flourishes on an episode that barely sees the duo verbally interact.
The episode is really all about looks and code. In one of my favorite cold opens of the revival, we are told AI learns from humans, who as Mulder puts it at the end of the episode, have to be better teachers. What we’ve taught our automated robot friends to do is take the jobs typically reserved for working class people. On date night, Mulder and Scully go to a fully automated sushi restaurant. No chef, waiters, or bus boys. It’s a frustrating experience, especially when problems emerge. That Mulder can’t return a wrong order and his credit card gets stuck in the machine becomes the least of his worries when he refuses to tip the machines. It eventually turns into a vengeful game of cat and mouse between man, woman, and machines.
As fun as the chase is, it’s still endearing when Mulder and Scully act domestic. After years dedicating their entire life to the X-Files, it’s a joy to see them laugh and marvel together at what the world has become. It’s almost like this weird little slice-of-life date night episode set in a Black Mirror universe. I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many key scenes of this season are set at the homes of Mulder and Scully. Despite the complicated situation of “My Struggle III” and tensions with Skinner (AND THE RETURN OF KERSH!), it feels like they’re truly moving away from the FBI and into the next phase of their life. No matter what happens in the finale, as a fan I appreciate seeing these characters wind down. Plus the fan service was phenomenal in the episode; from noted baseball fan David Duchovny taking down drones with a big swing and a bat flip, to Mulder asking Scully why her house is “so much nicer than mine?” And yes, Scully has a vibrator, and the woman absolutely deserves it. Sorry, Fox!
Above all, what’s great about the episode is that even in its 11th season, The X-Files is fearless. They asked two highly paid actors to do what is the equivalent of a silent episode of television in 2018, and they pulled it off. Visually, there was a lot to love here; from the lot of colorful drones buzzing around Mulder’s apartment, to the abundance of shadows I’ve dearly missed from this show, and the sight gags like Scully’s redhead cream. Plus, they even threw in a great reference to the New York Times story about the Pentagon’s UFO program, which could have implications on the remainder of the season.
“Rm9sbG93ZXJz” somehow found a new tone for the series after 200-plus episodes. With that, it still maintained a sense of humor in the face of urgency, a formula that’s elevated so many episodes of the series that have come before it.