I feel like this season’s X-Files write-ups are turning into excuses for an old man to reminisce, but hear me out. Back in the early days of the original series, there was barely an Internet. I mean, it existed but such a small number of people had access. I know it’s not true, but I feel like you used to be able to just check out the whole Internet in a single afternoon of browsing. And yeah, there was a really interesting X-Files fandom online back in those early years, but this isn’t the week to get into that.
These days, just about every fandom has its own space online. There are people who are super passionate about Canadian comic strip For Better or For Worse and I once spent an afternoon reading a forum war in that fandom and it remains the craziest thing I’ve ever seen online. But every fandom has ‘shippers. The people who are super invested in a relationship that may or may not actually exist in the original work. People define themselves by who they ship and it gets heated. And I hate it. It makes me crazy. It’s weird to reduce creative work to a vehicle supporting your (likely imagined) romantic pairing. People get super wound up when others don’t agree with them or when the actual TV show doesn’t play along with their desire. It’s a big reason why I try to stay out of any kind of organized fandom. I want to talk about Deadwood, not hear about your fan fiction where Bullock and Sol are in love, you know?
That said, I am extremely invested in Mulder and Scully as a couple. Not so much in the early days when I was more interested in weird monster stuff, but I think that’s also because the conventional wisdom of TV at the time was that putting together the couple that everybody wants together will ruin the show. (Moonlighting, the Shelly Long years of Cheers) That was gospel at the time and it’s only in the last few years that The Office and Parks and Recreation really did away with that. (Parks and Rec is the more interesting of the two, since The Office kept trying to throw adversity at Jim and Pam. Parks let Ben and Leslie be in love and then get married and then just be a good and happy couple, and that was a very big deal.)
Still, even in those days we were all looking for the smallest breadcrumbs that would indicate a relationship. And the show knew what we were up to and enjoyed trolling us. This was back in the days before social media let viewers hassle the people who make TV shows directly, of course. I feel like if Twitter had existed during the original run of The X-Files, it would have killed the show. Everybody screaming about Scully and Mulder and trying to decode the mythology ahead of time – there’s not a social media team in the world that would want to deal with that.
And this is not my way of saying that TV was better before the Internet, because it wasn’t. But I don’t think X-Files could have been what it was if it had premiered in the age of social media. It was the perfect show to be discussed online but not to confront the creators. Basically, I’m taking the long way around to say the way we saw Mulder and Scully’s relationship in this episode is what I’ve been waiting on for a very long time.
Their relationship has been kind of fuzzy through the revival. Where last season picked up had them in a very different place than where the second movie left them. Once Mulder rejoined humanity, there wasn’t much indication as to what that meant for them, and now this season has leaned pretty heavily into the two of them as some kind of couple.
And it’s still a little weird because they’re in bed together and Scully mentions the possibility of Mulder “meeting somebody”, which is not really the way you talk about your partner leaving you. You’d say “leaving me” instead of “meeting somebody”. There were a couple of other beats that made it feel like they weren’t a full-on couple yet, but maybe they’re headed back in that direction. The timeline of the revival is still kind of wonky, but it hasn’t been that long since Mulder was a crazy hermit and so maybe it’s best to move a little slower.
But we can argue the specifics all day and it doesn’t really matter. Because what I loved, and maybe it’s what I actually wanted all along, was the tenderness and intimacy of the scene where they’re talking in bed. You feel the weight of their decades together and there’s this easy affection between the two. And holy smokes, Scully worried about getting old and getting left behind hit me hard. I mean, I’m single and elderly and not nearly as attractive as Scully, so this is a thing I think about a lot. Like, any time I’m not thinking about Gotham, that’s what I’m thinking about. I have actual gray hairs now, and it is an unending bummer.
Man, I don’t know how this turned into a mediation on my own mortality and fear of dying alone. Point is, they’re showing us two people who know and love one another and that was very gratifying.
As for the rest of the episode, well, I liked it. It seems that this season they’re already more comfortable with bringing some fun to the show. I enjoyed the first revival season but you have to admit, other than the Weremonster episode and Mulder’s drug trip, it was incredibly dark. The last couple of episodes have dealt with some dark stuff but they haven’t seemed excessively dour or grim. They haven’t been jokey, either. They’ve just had a sense of fun about them. In this episode, we got a pair of fun performances from Karin Konoval as both Judy and Chucky. And for the record, Konoval also appeared in two of the most famous episodes from the original run, “Home” and “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”.
The gimmick of the episode was well-done because it didn’t have a simple mechanical explanation. It wasn’t that one of the twins was a shapeshifter or anything. They created murderous duplicates of people by playing Hangman, which is a crazy idea that I’ve never seen before. All the weird details like their personality shifts and the bread pills are just left there to be strange rather than tying the case together in a nice little bow that explains how everything worked. The disconnected threads made it seem creepier. It reminds me of one of the original show’s contemporaries, Homicide. That series had an episode where a sniper played Hangman with himself and the word was always “Eromitlab” (“Baltimore” spelled backwards). Something about the game determined, in his mind, how many people he would shoot. And the significance of Hangman didn’t make sense, but it wasn’t supposed to. The shooter was mentally ill and we couldn’t reconstruct his thought processes. Here, the weird extra bits really make it feel like something the twins made up over the years and kept revising.
And I love that Mulder and Scully are constant presences in the episode but don’t really affect the outcome. They don’t cause Chucky and Judy to turn on one another. It’s like how Indiana Jones doesn’t affect the plot of Raiders of the Lost Ark other than to help the Nazis get their hands on the Ark a little sooner than they would have if he hadn’t been there. It’s a fun idea and I think it works nicely after a couple of episodes where they were the motivating factor in the plot. No matter how long they’re at this, Scully and Mulder are never going to know everything. It’s a weird world out there.
Next time, we’ve got an episode about the Mandela Effect written and directed by Darin Morgan. I hesitate to use terms like “Instant Classic”, especially for something that hasn’t aired yet, but come on. This one is going to be great.