TV Review: The X-Files (Season 11, Episode 2)
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A return rather than revival, the tenth and eleventh seasons of The X-Files have allowed the return of familiar faces to tell fresh stories in an era fraught with governmental collusion, the threat of nuclear war and a country under the leadership of a falsified reality star.
Whilst The X-Files’ tenth season was set around unbelievable debates and campaign trails, its eleventh season is set a year into the reign of Trump, and the world Mulder and Scully inhabit has become a whole lot darker.
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While ‘My Struggle III’ erased however many episodes of the previous season and barely touched upon where Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) are at in 2017 (thanks to Carter’s impeccably convoluted writing, as always), Glen Morgan took the writing and directing reigns of ‘This’; an episode that could have easily been the premiere for this season, had we not been left on a cliffhanger that needed to be resolved in order to proceed.
Glen Morgan is widely known for delivering some of the best Monster-of-the-Week episodes in The X-Files canon (alongside James Wong), including ‘Squeeze’, ‘Ice’, ‘Beyond the Sea’, ‘Blood’, ‘Die Hand Die Verletzt’, and ‘Home’. It was only fitting that the first MOTW of season eleven be written by Morgan … or was it purely a MOTW? As many other episodes did within the original series, the two strains of narrative merged within one another to add a small amount of backbone – and flavour – to the overarching mythology, whilst also retaining an air of self-containment; ‘This’ does just that.
An old, dead friend – Richard Langly (Dean Haglund) of the famed Lone Gunmen – suddenly infiltrates and activates Mulder’s phone with a distorted image of himself, asking for their help. What follows is a siege on Mulder and Scully’s home (yes, Scully does say ‘our home’ later in the episode to Skinner). The duo are handcuffed after a brutally badass home invasion, which eventually leads them to a cemetery in Arlington to find the tombstones of The Lone Gunmen.
After following Langly’s breadcrumbs, Mulder and Scully solve his intricate – and somewhat longwinded – puzzle, which eventually leads them to an old X-File that Mulder and the Gunmen put together on a secret project undertaken by the NSA named Titanpointe. Using algorithms presented by Langly’s soulmate, Mulder and Scully can communicate with Langly who reveals that once he died, he was uploaded to a ‘virtual heaven’, which turns out to be a reality in which he and the great minds of our world have been reduced to digital slaves. He instructs the duo to shut the simulation down, which is conveniently being stored in the Long Lines Building in Manhattan, a.k.a. the supposed location of Titanpointe.
For the casual viewer, ‘This’ combines Morgan’s talents in writing coherent, character developed narratives to create a well-tuned machine that keeps on giving. But for the avid fan, a question is already presented straight away… wasn’t Langly secretly alive? In 2013, IDW published a comic book series entitled The X-Files Season 10.
This series was executively produced by Chris Carter, so there is some legitimacy that the narratives presented in the comics would be transferred in some way or another onto the show. This wasn’t really an issue in season ten, but it was understood that The Lone Gunmen had faked their deaths and were hiding out under their graves in Arlington. There was no mention of Langly in a virtual simulation, nor of a soul-mate that he wanted to be forever entwined with.
It’s a trivial aspect to focus on, sure, but as confusing as the mythology is on the show itself, so are its written tie-ins when it comes to what is actually canon and what isn’t. If you push all that to the side, however, ‘This’ is what The X-Files has needed since it first came back on our screens in 2016. An air of familiarity runs deep within the episode, and it’s not being shippy. Seeing Mulder and Scully lounging in their home, with the instinctual reflexes for Scully to flip a table and slide under whilst Mulder prowls for cover at a second’s notice is what we wanted to see with our agents in the first place.
Morgan wrote lines and directed sequences with their electric chemistry in mind, and made the episode feel like a script that was long-lost in the 90s writing room. Leaving the first half of the episode ambiguous in nature to a fantastic setting in one of the creepiest buildings in Manhattan is such a Morgan move, along with beautiful one-liners such as ‘Who needs Google when you’ve got Scully?’ and quick quips of needing to go on a trip to IKEA once Mulder and Scully survey the damage produced in their home.
Mulder and Scully’s relationship deepens as it had always done with Carter on the sidelines, with Mulder contemplating if he were to be uploaded into the simulation if Scully could be with him. Their companionship as soulmates is an underlying, unspoken entity within the series, and it’s nice to see it pop up in small, beautiful moments like that.
That’s what The X-Files is all about; Mulder and Scully forever searching and kicking ass, and Morgan presents their world with his usual flair and badassness.The X-Files airs on Mondays at 9pm on Channel 5.