Free from Chris Carter’s awful writing or directing, the second episode of ‘The X Files’ this season is a small improvement over the dreadful premiere. Just a small one, unfortunately.
Episode ‘This’ (a lame title that’s not really explained or justified) was both written and directed by ‘X Files’ veteran Glen Morgan. Over the years, he was responsible for some great episodes of the show, and some that were less than great. This one is probably more in the latter category than the former, but at least it’s vaguely coherent and feels more like ‘The X Files’ than the garbage Chris Carter shoveled out last week.
Having fallen asleep on the couch at Mulder’s house, he and Scully are awoken by a mysterious static-y video call on Mulder’s phone from what appears to be their old friend Langly (Dean Haglund). The thing is, Langly and the entire Lone Gunmen crew died 16 years ago in a Season 9 episode very aptly titled ‘Jump the Shark’. Almost immediately, the house is invaded by a trio of assassins shooting up the place. Fortunately, both Mulder and Scully apparently went to John Woo action hero school at some point between the original series and the revivals. They have a crazy shoot-out with the assassins, killing two of them. The third, a weird-looking guy with long curly blonde hair (credited as “Softie Boy” for some reason) gets away.
Practically as soon as they call for FBI backup, a pair of military humvees pull up outside the house, and a Russian-accented voice calls for their surrender. This leads to another, briefer shoot-out until Mulder and Scully are captured. The Russians ransack the house looking for Mulder’s phone. They find it, but a kill switch program deletes all the data. Mulder and Scully pull a silly stunt and escape through the woods, where they promptly run into Skinner, who explains that the Russians are black ops military contractors hired by the “executive branch” (wink, wink – we know who that means!).
Scully and Mulder next visit the Lone Gunmen’s graves in Arlington National Cemetery, where they discover that the birthdates on all three gravestones are incorrect. They deduce that this is a clue and use bewildering logic to instantly solve the puzzle, which points them to the grave of Season 1 informant Deep Throat, where they easily find a chip with a QR code hidden behind a cross. Another incompetent assassin comes up on them, and they kill this one too.
The QR code decrypts a video of a secretive NSA building called Titanpointe. Mulder connects this to an old X Files case, but of course can’t exactly return to his office to get the file. Skinner helps by showing them that all the old X Files were digitized and put online during the time they had retired from the FBI. However, a lot of files were purged, including everything on Titanpointe and Langly. Nevertheless, Langly left a secret message in another file that Mulder has no trouble finding.
This leads to a woman named Dr. Hamby (Sandrine Holt), who immediately confesses that she and Langly were in love, and had both volunteered for a top-secret project to have their brains scanned and their consciousnesses uploaded to a VR simulation where they could live forever. (Hey, this sounds a lot like Chris Carter’s short-lived ‘Harsh Realm’ series.) Before she can tell them more, the goofy-haired assassin barges in and kills her. Mulder and Scully finally kill the dude.
Using the doctor’s phone, Mulder and Scully get another video call from Langly, who knows that he’s not real and begs them to destroy the simulation, because he and numerous great minds of the past 20 years are being used as “digital slaves,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.
Remembering that a nearby FBI field office has a convenient underground tunnel directly into Titanpointe, Scully pretends to take Mulder prisoner and marches him into the office, which is staffed by all of two agents, both of whom are gullible dipshits and let them right in. They cross over into Titanpointe, which has no security whatsoever and appears to be deserted. However, they get trapped in a stairwell by the Russians. Scully escapes, but Mulder is captured and brought before Erika Price (Barbara Hershey). She monologues at length about how the VR simulation represents the next phase of human evolution and will be all that’s left after the impending apocalypse. She also boasts about how a person’s brain can be scanned and uploaded by their cell phones without their knowledge.
Mulder bluffs striking a deal with Price, offering to kill the Cigarette Smoking Man in exchange for him and Scully being uploaded into the simulation together so that they can live happily ever after. He just asks one thing – he really wants to see the computer banks for himself first, preferably with just one guard taking him there. Price, who must be a total idiot to believe any of this, agrees. The head Russian walks Mulder straight to the server room. All this time, Scully has been allowed to walk freely through the building until she finds them. Mulder fights with and eventually handcuffs the Russian while Scully breaks the computers, presumably ending the VR simulation.
By the time an FBI team arrives to assist, Erika Price is gone, and so are all the mainframes. Wiping the data wasn’t enough. The actual physical computer banks all got detached and hauled away in the five minutes Mulder and Scully were gone.
Considering all this a job well done, Scully and Mulder return home, only to receive one more panicked video call from Langly, begging them to shut down the backup too. Then he’s chased away by the digitized face of the crazy-haired assassin, who’s now in the simulation with him.
Do not expect that any of this will ever be followed up in another episode. I’m confident that this is the last we’ll hear of any of it.
This episode is ridiculous on many levels. The supposed science in the storyline is entirely idiotic, and feels like it’s all based on 1990s ideas of how computers and the internet work. Even if that were intentional (which I doubt), it’s still dumb. The plotting is filled from start to finish with absurd conveniences and contrivances to help our heroes to get what they need; the buildings are all empty, the bad guys are all incompetent, and the puzzle clues all get quickly solved despite making no sense at all. Even the over-the-top action scenes are very silly.
On the other hand, where this episode is a huge improvement over the season premiere is that Mulder and Scully feel like themselves again, not just pawn pieces mouthing Chris Carter’s incomprehensible dialogue. Their relationship is much more convincing, and they even get a few moments of levity interspersed here and there. That’s much needed. I’ll take what I can get while waiting for everything to inevitably fall apart again in the Carter-helmed season finale.
Note: Just like happened to the last revival, it appears that Fox is juggling the order of the season’s middle episodes from what was originally announced. Next week was supposed to be the latest Darin Morgan episode (certain to be the highlight of the season), but now that’s been bounced back a week while another episode is moved up.