X-Files - Scully and Mulder

OfficialXFiles.com: February 2018

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The X-Files - Recap of Episode 7

If you watched this week's X-Files and you're reading this on a smart phone or tablet, I applaud your bravery.

Because the overarching theme of the episode is that artificial intelligence - via smartphones/smartcars/smarthouses and the like - will probably kill us all in our sleep the moment it is able.

"Rm9sbG93ZXJz" opens with the story of "Tay." If you were wondering, this is a true story: A chatbot was introduced on Twitter by Microsoft in 2016, with the idea that it would learn from interactions with humans and then adapt accordingly. But after only 16 hours, it was spewing racist, hateful language, learning from what it saw on the Net. It was shut down. If we're going to have AI that learns from our online behavior, shouldn't we be concerned about so much of our online behavior?
This is the introduction to a dinner date between Mulder and Scully at an empty Japanese restaurant called Forowa. The entire restaurant is deserted, and Mulder and Scully order their food on screens. They just swipe and push, hearing a robotic voice say "Yum." Scully reads a headline about Elon Musk's belief in the danger of AI and they wait for their food to arrive. Scully's looks great; Mulder's looks like a slimy fish. He goes into the kitchen to complain and finds out that robots are preparing the food as well. There are no humans to hear his complaints. Mulder goes to pay with his credit card and the machine holds it when he refuses to tip. He bangs on the counter and the place goes haywire. They pry open a door to leave, but Forowa still has Mulder's card. And their technological nightmare is just beginning.

Scully leaves in an Uber rip-off called Whipz, which also happens to be driverless. After an entirely wordless opening, we finally get some dialogue, but it's between Scully and her talkative machine, which then starts going way too fast. She tells it to slow down, but repeatedly gets nowhere. It finally gets her home, and she stumbles out of the car, deeply dissatisfied with the experience.

Mulder's ride home isn't much better. He tries to get his car to play Prince's "Controversy" but it blasts CSNY's "Teach Your Children" instead - the song will return again and again this episode, telegraphing that we need to teach our technology how to behave or risk its AI revolution. On his way home, Mulder is encouraged to tip Forowa again. He refuses.

From there, Morgan intercuts truly bad tech nightmares for both of our heroes that jump back and forth. At Mulder's house, he first tries to call his bank (named Bigly) to cancel his credit card, but gets stuck on hold. He goes to watch The Six Million Dollar Man and suddenly sees footage of himself being recorded live from outside. It's a drone! While dealing with Bigly Bank, the drones keep returning. He takes out the first one with a baseball bat, but it calls reinforcements, including one that picks up the wounded soldier. Before long, Mulder's computer is asking him what he wants to believe in, while dozens of mini-drones appear outside of his house like fireflies. He flees, and on his way to Scully, he gets a message about tipping Forowa again. Could this stop the madness?

Scully's AI agony is even worse. First, she runs out of "Rock It Like a Redhead" styling cream and gets a notification asking her if she wants to buy more. Creepy. Then she gets a drone delivery on her front step from a company called RoboEx. It's a Zuemz - a riff on the Roomba. She fires it up and follows it around as it vacuums her house, pushing a "personal massager" from under her bed, immediately getting a notification about new colors for others she could order. She tries to text Mulder and it fails, just as her Zuemz starts getting a little aggressive.

Scully packs up her robot and ends up on hold while trying to return it. As the volume rises on "Teach Your Children" in Scully's house, the Zuemz escapes its box and makes a mess. She grabs it again and takes it outside to find the driverless Whipz waiting for her, getting another notification to like something. And then, as she leaves, it looks like the Zuemz is transmitting info about Scully's house to the Whipz, echoing the real controversy about Roomba mapping your house.

That's when Scully's house really goes haywire. There's coffee everywhere and the returns website tells her that the answer to her privacy question is wrong when she knows it's not - who hasn't that happened to? - and then her fridge starts shooting ice cubes at her. She can't open the doors. The gas fireplace goes off and starts leaking. And then her Zuemz actually tries to kill her, sparking an explosion as she busts the glass door of her house into Mulder's arms.

Mulder and Scully try to flee to a neighbor's place, but the mini-drones chase them into a nearby warehouse. Before they get there, Mulder gets one of those "Sorry, I had to adjust my headset" robocalls that have taken years off our collective lives and Scully gets an ominous note that she will never make it to her office. They get rid of their phones - and personal massager - but a drone rescues Mulder's phone from the trash.

In the warehouse, there are a lot of electronic noises, and even a 3-D printer that creates bullets to fire at our heroes. A robot hands Mulder his phone, and it's Forowa again: "Last chance to tip." As the timer winds down, he finally tips, stopping the madness. The message is the key: "We learn from you."

The episode ends at an ordinary diner, as Mulder and Scully drop their phones and take each other's hands. It will make you want to do the same with whomever happens to be near you.

Other Notes
o You have to love the different styles of Mulder and Scully's houses, even before he questions why hers is so much nicer.

o If you like this kind of tech-conspiracy thing, don't miss the truly great podcast Reply All, especially this episode that looks into if Facebook might be listening to you.

o This episode could have been a disaster if not for Glen Morgan's excellent direction. He keeps it moving, even if the climax feels rushed, much like a lot of the other installments this year.

o Of course, nothing is accidental on The X-Files. The name of the restaurant that causes this tech nightmare is Forowa, which means "follower" in Japanese. It's all about the followers.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The X-Files recap: 'Kitten' - Episode 6

It's a Skinner episode! We've seen the distrust between Scully, Mulder, and Skinner grow this season, and "Kitten" is a solid hour in terms of bringing them back to the same cause: discovering the truth. It also offers some nice insight into the background of Walter Skinner, including how he became both a reliable keeper of government secrets and someone looking to expose them.

It all started in Vietnam. That's where "Kitten" opens, introducing us to a young Skinner and a fellow soldier named John, played well by Haley Joel Osment. John, Skinner, and another man have been assigned to protect a crate labeled "MK Naomi" with their lives. As they're taking gunfire in a Vietnamese hut, the crate is punctured, allowing a green-yellow gas to emerge. John takes the brunt of the chemical impact, and instantly sees a figure in a terrifying skull mask. He starts stabbing. People are massacred.

Post-credits, we jump to years later and get an appearance by a familiar face, FBI Director Alvin Kersh (James Pickens Jr.), whom we haven't seen since the original series finale. He tells Mulder and Scully that Skinner is missing, also noting that their buddy has basically stalled his career by protecting the X-Files. Kersh is still kind of an asshole, but he does tell them to bring Skinner back while he still has a shred of his career left.

Mulder and Scully head to Skinner's apartment and find no personal items, mementoes, or family photos. They do discover the clue needed for this week's adventure - don't you love how conveniently that always happens? - in an envelope addressed to Skinner that reveals he was a Marine. What's in the envelope? An ear! Ewww. They also find a piece of paper that says, "The Monsters Are Here," and they track the package to a little town called Mud Lick, Kentucky.

Their first stop is the Mud Lick police station, where they encounter a homeless vet out front rambling about "kitten." They learn that there's been some weird happenings around town, including hunting traps and missing teeth. People are even saying they've seen a monster in the woods. Cut to a hunter falling in a trap and Skinner appearing at its edge. Is he setting the traps?

After Scully and Mulder do a little detective work involving a conveniently placed motion-sensing deer cam, they figure out that "Kitten" refers to a person. It's the Vietnam vet's nickname - and Skinner's nickname is Eagle! Awesome.
Cut to Eagle walking around a house in the woods. He sees a picture of John on the wall with the faces of his family cut out. We get a really disturbing flashback to what the gas did to John. He brags about cutting off his enemy's ears, and wearing them around his neck like trophies. Then we see Skinner save John's life when an enemy approaches with grenades strapped to his body. Skinner's investigation is interrupted by John's son, Davey, who looks exactly like his dad (and is also played by Osment because The X-Files loves actors in dual roles).

Davey isn't happy. He rails at how Skinner betrayed his father, testifying against him after the war and never revealing that the gas changed a scared, peaceful kid into a killing machine. Skinner wanted to make amends, but the government "vanished" John. Davey insists his father wasn't crazy, just forever altered by the gas, and that the experiments continued at a local veterans' facility after the war. Skinner was forced to stay quiet and keep a dangerous man off the street, but at what cost?

Meanwhile, Scully and Mulder have a conversation about whether or not they can trust Skinner. Truthfully, it sounds a lot like Chris Carter jumping in for a quick rewrite: "A man ruled by his moral compass" is very Carter, as is Mulder using the word "unequivocally." The point is that Scully and Mulder can't decide how much to trust someone they're now trying to save.

Davey leads Skinner to his dad's body, strung up from a tree, and Skinner falls in Davey's trap, where he gets speared by a wood spike. As Mulder and Scully drive up, Davey pulls a tarp over the trap. He plays nice and the agents come inside while Skinner tries to get cell service in his death trap. Meanwhile, Davey offers a bit more detail about his father, including references to mind control and MK Ultra, a real government program recently detailed in Errol Morris's excellent Wormwood. It turns out MK Naomi was the successor to MK Ultra. As Davey is rambling, Mulder sees a picture of Skinner in the photo book and tells Scully it's time to go. While she goes to get cell service, Mulder will rescue Skinner.
Back in the house, Mulder finds the skull mask in the closet, but doesn't notice Davey is actually wearing it. He hears Skinner in the trap and bends over to get him out, just in time to get pushed in himself. Don't bend over when you don't know where your attacker is, Mulder! Davey pours gasoline on Mulder and Skinner. He's just about to light them up when Scully comes to the rescue, shooting him once. Davey disappears while they're getting Mulder out, but he's ultimately the victim of one of his own traps as a brutal wall of wooden spikes plummets into him.

The episode wraps up with a nice scene of Skinner saying that he wouldn't be here at all - much less upwardly mobile - if not for Mulder and Scully. He couldn't protect John, a kid who was drafted and turned into a monster. That failure planted seeds of mistrust that made him a natural third musketeer for Mulder and Scully. He's also searching for the truth and wants to bring down a government that betrayed so many people. He owes that kid who really died in Vietnam.

After the nice beat of "Skinner, we're with you," things end a little goofily. Skinner is losing a tooth like the other Mud Lick residents, and the episode leans into a chemtrail conspiracy theory, as planes gas crops against Davey's voice-over about a government that only wants to control its people. You can't win 'em all, I guess.

Other Notes
o The song that Davey plays is thematically perfect: "Fear is a Man's Best Friend" by John Cale.

o In case you missed it, the credits tag this week says, "A War is Never Over."

o The Vietnam plot not only recalls government programs like MK Ultra and MK Naomi, but the controversy surrounding Agent Orange and its impact on our soldiers.

o In an episode that was seriously light on humor, I did enjoy Mulder's reference to his "juices."

o The Skinner background is very well done in the way it provides depth to both sides of this complex character. On the one hand, he kept the government's secrets, refusing to testify about the gas that changed his buddy. On the other, keeping that secret made him more likely to support the X-Files. It's nice to have these three closer together than they've been all season. It's not the same show without Skinner.

Credits: ew.com

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The X-Files creator Chris Carter Says Series Could Continue 'With Gillian or Without'

In what appears to be a reversal of comments he made at the beginning of January, The X-Files creator Chris Carter now says that his sci-fi series may live on even if female lead Gillian Anderson follows through with announced plans to leave the show.

“I think that certainly The X-Files has more life in it, there are more stories to tell, with Gillian or without,” Carter recently told DigitalSpy.com, adding that nothing was certain yet and that he’d be “sorry to see her go.”

A month ago, Carter affirmed to Collider that “For me, The X-Files is Mulder and Scully” and “I think if it were without Scully, I wouldn’t do it. That’s not my X-Files.”

Also in January, Anderson made it clear that she was thankful for the “extraordinary opportunity” to play Dana Katherine Scully for nine original seasons, two movies and two revival seasons. However, she told reporters at the Television Critics Association winter press tour, “I don’t want to be tied down to doing one thing for months and months… I like to be challenged as an actor. That’s why I got into this business. And it’s time for me to hang up Scully’s hat. This is it for me — I’m really serious.”