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‘The X-Files’ Review: Confusing But Compelling ‘Ghouli’ Looks Like a Casefile, But Ends Up Being More

In Season 11 Episode 5, a storyline inspired by internet memes takes an unexpected turn after someone lost turns out to be found.

THE X-FILES:  L-R: Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny in the "Ghouli" episode of THE X-FILES airing Wednesday, Jan. 31 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.  ©2018 Fox Broadcasting Co.  Cr:  Robert Falconer/FOX

Robert Falconer/FOX

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “The X-Files,” Season 11, Episode 5, “Ghouli.”]

Previously, on “The X-Files”…

Mulder and Scully work for the FBI investigating weird stuff. About 17 years ago, Scully gave birth to a baby who was conceived under mysterious circumstances, but gave him up for adoption because the conspiracies she and Mulder investigate put him at risk. Oh, and the Season 10 finale didn’t technically happen… yet, anyway. But Scully’s been having visions of that future, as well as visions of now-grown William.

This Week’s Dossier

Two seemingly unrelated teenage girls encounter each other on an abandoned shipping boat, and because each sees the other as a monster called Ghouli, they freak out and start stabbing each other nearly to death. That’s pretty weird! But Mulder and Scully are only on the case because Scully has a “vision” that includes a glimpse of the boat in a snowglobe. Investigating, the agents discover that the connection between the two girls is that they have the same boyfriend, and that boyfriend may or may not be Scully’s son William (now known as Jackson van de Camp), who evil government agents are also trying to hunt down.

But just as Mulder and Scully show up at Jackson’s family’s house to ask (knowing full well that they may be about to meet their long-lost child) there are gunshots! Mulder and Scully burst in to find that Jackson and his parents are dead in a murder/suicide, with Jackson the perpetrator. At least, that’s how local law enforcement explains it, and Scully’s pretty devastated… until they deduce that Jackson has the ability to psychically manipulate what people see, and so when evil government agents murdered his parents, Jackson decided to hide by making people believe he shot himself in the head, and then escape the morgue as soon as the coast was clear.

Now aware that her son is alive, possessing of special powers, and on the run, Mulder and Scully try to find him before the evil government agents do, but ultimately nobody succeeds and William hits the road; though he does, in a roundabout way, let Scully know that he’s alive, and that he forgives her.

THE X-FILES: L-R: Guest star and Gillian Anderson in the "Ghouli" episode of THE X-FILES airing Wednesday, Jan. 31 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2018 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Robert Falconer/FOX

Wait, Explain It to Me Like I’m Five

William’s alive, has special powers, and he’s on the run from evil forces within the government. Run, William, run.

Wait, Why Were Evil Government Agents Trying to Get William?

Not that the mythology here makes a great deal of sense, but here goes: Because of William and Scully’s involvement with a eugenics program called Project Crossroads, the two of them have alien DNA (drink!) and William’s, in particular, is of interest to the conspiracy because it may be able to create a vaccine for that global contagion that happened in Season 10 except it didn’t really happen according to the Season 11 premiere… or, at least, it didn’t happen yet.

Also, yes, Cigarette Smoking Man shows up to explain some of this. We’re still waiting-and-seeing when it comes to the “My Struggle III” revelation that he — and not Mulder — is William’s biological father, mostly because that’s a whole new layer of awkward yet to come.

Honestly, trying to make sense of the mythology can drive a person to drink, but a warning: When watching Seasons 10 and 11 of “The X-Files,” do not play the “drink every time they say ‘alien DNA'” drinking game. It will not work out well for you.

THE X-FILES: L-R: David Duchovny and Mitch Pileggi in the "Ghouli" episode of THE X-FILES airing Wednesday, Jan. 31 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2018 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Shane Harvey/FOX

Makeout Watch

Mulder and Scully may not have taken any on-screen trips to Pound Town lately, but Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny remain keyed into each other as performers. There’s some nice bonding that occurs between their characters in this week’s episode, including a very sweet hug, some flirtier-than-typical banter, and her reaching for his hands as she realizes that the man she encountered at the gas station (which she somehow psychically sensed she and Mulder should stop at) was actually William. As always, “The X-Files” works a lot better when Mulder and Scully are actually working together, not apart.

Some Deep and Relevant Thoughts About Hair

It looks good, even Anderson’s wig! Sorry, it felt like time to revive this section, in preparation for weeks to come.

Ultra-Nerd Facts

Full points to Fox/1013 Productions: Ghouli.net does exist, and they actually put some significant work into building out the “Encounters” section. If you have the time, search for entries submitted by @Rever (remembering that “reve” means “to dream” in French) for some, um, additional insight into William.

Though honestly, William may be theoretically well-meaning, but he’s a PUA enthusiast who not only dated two girls simultaneously but nearly got them both killed. He’s a teenage boy, sure, but maybe, just maybe, also kind of a dick?

By the way, if you’re blanking, the actor playing Fake!William is in fact François Chau, most recognizable as Dr. Pierre Chang from “Lost.”

Nostalgia Alert!

The episode cold open and basic story premise, before the William narrative took over, was reminiscent of creepypasta internet memes (as well as related tragedies, such as the Slender Man case), which was in turn reminiscent of great “X-Files” episodes inspired by real-life events and true science. We miss those.

But It’s Not 1993 Anymore

Just gonna say it: It’s still weird to see Mulder texting.

“I’m not going to ask you if you just said what I think you just said, because I know it’s what you just said.” (Most Awkward Quote)

Just gonna say it: It’s still weird to hear Scully say things like “visions.”

THE X-FILES: L-R: Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny in the "Ghouli" episode of THE X-FILES airing Wednesday, Jan. 31 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2018 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Shane Harvey/FOX

“Dear Diary: Today my heart lept when Agent Scully suggested ‘spontaneous human combustion.'” (Best Quote)

“It’s an alternate reality. Fox doesn’t exist in coffee shops.”
– Scully

While technically the payoff for Mulder’s habit of ordering coffee under the name “Bob” was him realizing that William had constructed a “false reality” to protect himself, this quip from Scully was the real prize, won as a result of this ongoing gag. (Why doesn’t Mulder just use his middle name, you may ask? Because his middle name is William.)

Final Report

If you couldn’t tell from our attempts above to explain the plot of this episode, know that while “Ghouli” had some good scares, a few compelling sequences (the hospital shootout did keep us on our toes), and some solid Mulder and Scully interaction, it was still ultimately frustrating on a narrative level.

However, while a full episode devoted to the creepypasta concept would have been pretty cool, the way this episode surprised us by secretly being a stealth mythology installment was perhaps its most compelling twist, and one which indicates that there is more connective tissue than expected driving this season. Plus, Anderson once again turned in a truly dynamite performance with the emotionally huge material she was given. Ultimately, it’s an enjoyable episode, only suffering from the burden of too much exposition meant to explain a mythology that at times defies description.

Five more episodes to go, perhaps forever. Bring it on.

Grade: B

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