TV Review: The X-Files (Season 11, Episode 5)
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Monster-of-the-week episodes morphing into a narrative centered with the series mythology seems to be becoming a trend in this new incarnation of The X-Files, and when done right it can explore immense depths of emotional turmoil and character development.
In this instance, ‘Ghouli’ presents what seems to be a Slenderman like tale with a distinctively ambiguous cold open; two girls believing in an urban legend with an extensive internet history leading them to a remote abandoned location where they nearly kill each other from their shared delusion.
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In a surprise turn of events, this fictional monster known as Ghouli is actually a psychic inference created by a teenage boy who both girls refer to as their boyfriend.
When shown the internet forum on Ghouli, Mulder is less than impressed. He vocalizes his disdain to today’s monsters, reminiscing on the creatures he and Scully used to investigate in the 90s; monsters that were innately terrifying, yet had a strange aura of empathy. Today’s monsters are like the 90s urban legends, spreading via comments and Reddit posts as opposed to word of mouth.
‘Ghouli’ is an instance where The X-Files in the millennial, digital age is blatantly obvious. The original run of the show grew with the advent of the internet, slowly but surely integrating it into the story (more so in the later seasons), but it’s hearing lines like ‘we checked their social media’ and Mulder and Scully being able to instantly look up lore on their phones that is jarring.
It’s comforting to see them in this century, but it also brings an aura of longing and nostalgia for the good ol’ days of dial-up and modems. The mystery is still there, and Mulder and Scully are doing what they do best, accompanied with smartphones rather than the bricks and Motorola’s we became so used to in the 90s.
In ‘Ghouli’, Wong utilizes a mixture of both, fitting to Anderson and Duchovny’s acting strong suits, to which he has had over 20 years of experience with. Anderson delivers her devastating emotion through speech and action, whilst Duchovny translates a similar feeling of desolation and loss via silence and facial expressions, standing by Anderson ready to comfort her. Combine those two together, and you’re surrounded by tissues and a longing for Mulder and Scully to have kept William all this time (especially after seeing them go through those photos in his room … goddamnit Wong).
The inclusion of William in this ‘monster-of-the-week’ surprisingly works. Sometimes the inclusion of mythology in these types of episode can seem as though it was shoehorned in last minute to try and explain something (which rarely ever works), but here it allows Mulder and Scully to explore deep wounds that have been haunting them ever since 2000.
They’ve both had to deal with the ‘loss’ of their son for eighteen years, even though it was for his protection. It’s cathartic for them and us as long-time viewers to actually see William as a young adult (portrayed by Miles Robbins) and try to see facets of Mulder and Scully in his characteristics, features, and mannerisms; and boy, did they ace the casting. That believability strengthens the introduction of William even more so, as an immediate connection is built between a character that we barely knew even as a baby.
We saw (well, think we saw) the conception of Mulder and Scully’s son, his birth, the beginnings of his abilities and Scully’s eventual decision to give him up to protect him in the last season (Mulder was on the run at this point to protect both Scully and William aka Duchovny left the show, for those of you don’t remember).
William’s potential alien DNA is further explored here, with his abilities of psychic transference and slight of hand introduced and a secret government project that he may have been inadvertently involved with – Project Crossroad – due to his parents.
The ins and out of this aren’t really explored, other than the CSM and the Department of Defence has something to do with it; an alien/human hybrid experimentation with unpredictable results. Who knows how William came to be or have these powers – I’ve always been under the assumption that he got some semblance of alien DNA through Mulder and Scully’s continuous exposure to alien DNA on multiple occasions through rigorous torture and experiments throughout the series.
Maybe this DNA was transferred to Scully via the theory presented in the opening episode that I wholeheartedly detest, but at least with that theory, it still is Mulder and Scully’s kid at the end of everything. For what all they went through, Mulder holding Scully as they watch her interact with their son on a small, blurry surveillance camera is what they’ve been waiting for eighteen years.
Maybe there’s hope.
The X-Files airs on Mondays at 9pm on Channel 5.