And we’re back to the Monster-of-the-Week stories with the second episode “This” from The X-Files. It was better than last week’s season premiere, however, I fear that the standard by which to judge these episodes has been degraded to such a low level, it’s difficult to be objective.
The episode opens to Mulder and Scully on the couch in Mulder’s living room when suddenly long-dead Lone Gunman Langley appears on Mulder’s cell phone with a message of warning. Almost immediately, Mulder’s home is attacked. However, he and Scully are able to overcome the attackers, only to be attacked again by a Blackwater-type small army led by a Russian, of course. They escape, go on a DaVinci Code-type scavenger hunt, discover that Langley was uploaded to a virtual world simulation owned by, you guessed it, Russians, or the Syndicate, or both. Mulder and Scully break in, destroy the server which houses the simulation (but not the backup server, or the other redundancies? Come on.), and get back to Mulder’s couch, suggesting an Infinite Jest-type loop (although since the show already explored this Groundhog Day scenario in season six episode “Monday”, I’m choosing to believe that this episode just ends with Netflix and Chill).
It’s interesting to watch this episode after recently watching Black Mirror’s “USS Callister” (and to a lesser extent “Hang the DJ”). Whereas both of the “Black Mirror” episodes take place in the simulation, The X-Files looks at the scenario from the meat world. The simulation in which Langley lived seemed mostly positive: He lived on a diet of donuts, no one got sick, and the Patriots always lost. The dark side, because of course there is always a dark side, is that his brain and ideas were farmed out and used by the Syndicate, or Russians, or both. Black Mirror treated this idea better, I think. They explored the loopholes and wrote a tight story. The X-Files took a cursory stab at it, and while plot holes abound, I think the story was truly meant as a background to Mulder and Scully’s hijinks, banter, and relationship.
One of my biggest problems with the later seasons of The X-Files, and particularly these two new seasons, is the transformation of this show from quiet, smart, calculated, knowledge-driven plots, to shoot them up, action-packed, car chase stories. Mulder used to sit in a dusty basement office, reading through countless files or books while Scully was in a lab, centrifuging blood samples, sequencing DNA. They exchanged ideas, discussed histories, cultures, and legends. Yes, they worked in the field, but rarely did the show involve them James Bonding their way through scenarios. The show was always above that kind of cheap, macho nonsense. Now we get car chases, a kickboxing Mulder, and lazy B&E schemes.
I’d also like Chris Carter to be a little bit more subtle, please. The opening credit line “Accuse your enemies of the crimes of which you are guilty,” Scully’s line “So the Russians who tried to kill us have had access to all of our work,” the entirety of Skinner’s speech in the garage. Dude, we get it. You don’t have to beat it into us. Trump, Trump, Trump. Inserting so many current events into these episodes ages them immediately. Still, I can’t deny loving all the Easter Eggs thrown out to the fans in this episode. From Mulder’s handcuffs quip, Frohike’s Spank Bank folder, and the Hannibal line for all of us Gillian Anderson worshippers. More episodes like this, and I might consider forgiving them for last season.
Ursula would like to join Mulder and Scully for Netflix and Chill, please. You can follow her here.