[Editor’s note: Spoilers follow for “The X-Files” Season 11, Episode 2, “This.”]
Previously, on “The X-Files”…
Agents Mulder and Scully are back to investigating paranormal crimes, which they used to do with some help from a group of hackers known as the Lone Gunmen — until the Lone Gunmen nobly sacrificed themselves to save the world back in Season 9.
This Week’s Dossier
Mulder and Scully are enjoying a lazy night dozing in front of the TV when Mulder’s cell phone starts getting strange messages from the presumed-dead Langly — oh, and three armed men barge in, leading to a firefight and then the arrival of a second group of armed men who get Mulder and Scully in handcuffs, though the duo are able to escape.
Now on the run (but with an assist or two from Skinner), the partners follow breadcrumbs left behind by Langly that take them from Arlington National Cemetary to a secret NSA facility called Titanpointe, where they find a mainframe that contains great minds working as “digital slaves” (including their ol’ buddy Langly) for some sort of conspiracy. Mulder and Scully take down the computer, theoretically releasing Langly and his fellow “digital slaves” from their purgatory, but the people behind it escape and Langly appears once more on Mulder’s phone… asking him to destroy the backup.
Wait, Explain It to Me Like I’m Five
The conspiracy is doubling down on virtual consciousnesses as the next stage in human evolution, since animal life on this planet is doomed. Langly from “The Lone Gunmen” got himself stuck in a digital hell. Mulder and Scully try to free him, and it’s a lot of fun watching them solve puzzles and investigate, even if they basically fail in the end. And the Ramones played on.
Who knows what Mulder and Scully were doing on that couch before or after falling asleep, but even without confirmation of them having a physical relationship, it’s undeniable that Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny’s chemistry was operating on a whole other level this week. Not only that, but their interactions in “This” didn’t feel like more of the same platonic partnership that we’ve grown accustomed to; perhaps because we were seeing them in a more informal light, there was an easy breeziness to their scenes together (and Mulder and Scully were in nearly every scene together, which isn’t all that often the case) which made this 25-year-partnership feel more believable than it’s been in quite some time.
Also, yes, from Mulder calmly informing Scully that “you look good” to this exchange…
SCULLY: “Why do you operate so well with your hands cuffed behind your back?”
MULDER: “As if you didn’t know.”
…the entire episode was a ‘shipper’s dream.
Not to get too sentimental, but the Lone Gunmen were always a treat on screen and it’s nice to see them remembered fondly, as evidenced by the prominent framed photo in Mulder’s living room (that may resemble publicity art for their fledgling spinoff).
Also triggering a nostalgia alert is the plot’s similarity to another “X-Files” episode: Season 5’s “Kill Switch,” written by William Gibson and Tom Maddox. That story was also about people seeking to upload their consciousnesses for a digital existence, though in that case doing so worked out a whole lot better for everyone involved.
But It’s Not 1993 Anymore
One of the episode’s major themes was that the world is a far more complicated place now than it was in 1993, a message hit home particularly well by Mulder standing at Deep Throat’s graveside, remembering the days when government conspiracies were an awful lot easier to track.
Skinner’s comments about how the world has changed and the head evil Russian’s musings about America played less well, just because of the jumbling together of implications involving the “executive branch” of the government. There are times when Chris Carter’s desire to keep “The X-Files” grounded in the real world feels like it serves as a disadvantage, especially given how nothing Carter and his writers come up with can beat the surreality of today’s news. If the show were to exist more in its own clean fictional universe, it might be a lot easier to parse and a lot easier to watch.
You know, during Seasons 1-9, we had a pretty good understanding of where Mulder and Scully happened to live. Here in Season 11, that is true of Mulder — in fact, we now have his home address in Farrs Corner, Virginia (which, by the way, is a bitch of a commute to FBI headquarters in Washington, DC).
But where does Scully live? When it comes to this question, “This” is extremely confusing, because when Scully calls in the firefight she very specifically refers to their location as “Fox Mulder’s residence.” Yet later, she tells Skinner that “we can’t go to our home.” So does Scully live with Mulder under the radar? Does she have her own place, but hang out at his place often enough to think of it as her home? Seriously, would it kill them to give us a straight answer here?
Well, it’s “The X-Files.” Theoretically, we should be used to this.
“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)
“If you can do it through my phone, then I don’t have a choice.”
“Of course you do. You could not use your phone.”
– Mulder and Price
It’s a clever joke on the surface, but this moment — as well as so many other bits of Price’s “sales pitch” to Mulder — just didn’t make any sense. It seems like she’s trying to convince him to join her side, but then she tells him that not only can they make this happen against Mulder’s will, but even if he agrees to do it willingly, with Scully, “It won’t be her and it won’t be you.” The flow and logic of the moment are confusing, to say the least. We doubt that the point is that Price is a terrible salesperson. Instead, it simply seems like a scene that just doesn’t hold together.
“Dear Diary: Today my heart lept when Agent Scully suggested ‘spontaneous human combustion.'” (Best Quote)
“Scully, you look so adorbs just there, all curled up in a ball in the booth of a skanky bar, with your fingers wrapped around the grip of an assassin’s glock.”
There were a number of charming exchanges this week, not the least of which was Mulder and Scully digging with delight into bran muffins. But this specific moment represented one of the things we enjoyed most about “This” — as mentioned before, the way in which they interact feels like it’s truly evolved (and not in a weird dystopic abandoning-human-form sort of way).
Real talk: The ending, which reveals that Langly is still trapped in some fashion and the curly-haired psycho we thought was dead is now stalking him through digital space, is hella problematic if only because it’s a narrative thread we’re not going to get back to anytime soon — maybe ever. Are we supposed to believe that Mulder and Scully will just leave their old friend in a digital hell? Should we expect the story to continue in future episodes? Unlikely.
That said, this episode is so much fun for longtime fans who just want to watch Mulder and Scully working in perfect sync to investigate the strange. With the characters largely isolated from the rest of the world, everything from their graveyard puzzle-solving to conning the NSA for access to the Titanpointe building was a perfect reminder of what elements have made the show so enduring — not to mention the fact that both Anderson and Duchovny got to showcase their inner badasses in multiple well-executed fight sequences. It could have held together better, but “This” was a welcome change of pace.