Originally, the season’s Darin Morgan-penned comedic episode of ‘The X Files’ was scheduled for this week, but either the producers or the network decided to juggle the order of things and move one scripted by Chris Carter ahead of it. At least tonally, that may make a better transition from the prior two episodes.
Despite Carter’s direct involvement, this is a mystery-of-the-week story and not a so-called mythology ep. That’s a good thing, as Carter has done an absolutely terrible job with the latter recently. His intent with this one is obviously to harken back to some of the classic monster episodes that the show’s fans remember fondly. Amazingly, he almost does a decent job of that. Almost.
At a heavy metal concert in Virginia, a crowd-surfing yahoo sees an exact doppelganger of himself staring at him from across the floor and freaks out about it. He runs to his truck to drive home, only for the double to suddenly appear in the seat next to him and force him to crash into a tree.
Mulder seems to be in a pretty good mood as he catches this case. He links it to similar events in the area where people reported seeing their own doubles, all of them ending fatally. This pegs it as a mass phenomenon, which he’s excited about. Mulder is eager to get back to the type of bread-and-butter cases that the X Files used to be devoted to. Back in rational skeptic mode, Scully believes this can all be explained away as a simple matter of mass hysteria.
The victim, a dipshit named Arkie Seavers, survives the crash and is arrested for DUI. While visiting him in the hospital, Mulder becomes fascinated (for seemingly no reason) with a schizophrenic woman locked in another room. She goes by the name Little Judy (Karin Konoval) and has taped pieces of paper all over her walls with a game of Hangman she claims she’s playing with her brother via a psychic connection. The nurses tell Mulder that the woman has a split personality, and he won’t want to be around when Demon Judy comes out. Mulder notices that one of the papers on the wall says “Arkie” on it, which is a pretty unusual name for her to come up with on her own.
Arkie is later transferred to a jail cell, where the double appears and strangles him to death with his belt. Even though he was handcuffed at the time, Scully theorizes that it isn’t impossible Arkie could have hung himself if he was really determined to.
Following a hunch, Mulder pays a visit to Little Judy’s twin brother, Chucky Poundstone (also acress Karin Konoval, wearing a mustache and wig). He’s quite unpleasant and unhelpful, and Mulder antagonizes him.
Scully decides that she wants to question Judy next, and gets there on a Bad Judy day. The woman is a nasty shrew this time and throws poop at the wall towards her. Scully is more convinced than ever that there’s just a lot of mental illness going around in this town. Mulder thinks it’s ghosts.
Scully comes back later to talk to Good Judy, who gives her a handful of magic pills she claim will keep her safe from the bad spirits. The nurses tell her that the pills are just rolled-up pieces of bread, but they’re so afraid of Judy that they all take the pills anyway.
Of course, it turns out that Chucky and Judy really do have a psychic connection, and playing their game of Hangman is how Chucky targets people who rub him the wrong way into getting haunted by their doppelgangers. How any of this works is never explained.
Arkie’s a-hole lawyer winds up decapitated by a samurai sword from his collection. Scully has to admit that it’s difficult to classify that one as a suicide. Shortly afterward, she sees her own double stalking her and promptly takes the bread pills. Scully panics when the doppelganger appears in the rear seat of her car while she’s driving, but tries to keep her head (literally) and manages to talk herself down from a major freak-out. Either this works, or perhaps the magic pills do. One way or the other, the doppelganger disappears.
Mulder rushes back to Chucky’s house to confront him again. Inside, he faces and fights with his own double. As they struggle, Chucky and Judy have a bitter argument while playing another psychic game of Hangman. They both get so pissed that they write each other’s names down. Mulder’s doppelganger suddenly disappears and he finds Chucky dead on the floor. Scully likewise finds Judy dead in her cell.
In many ways, this is a very old-school episode of ‘The X Files’. It feels like it could have been produced somewhere around seasons 6 or 7, while the show was on its decided downslide but before it had become unbearable. It comes close to finding the right mix of scary and fun, with a number of humorous moments balancing out the creepy ones.
Unfortunately, it’s quite sloppily written. Not only is no explanation given for how Chucky and Judy cause these doppelgangers, it’s never clear why Chucky targeted Arkie in the first place. Mulder repeatedly jumps to major conclusions (such as honing in on Judy at the hospital) seemingly out of the blue, based on nothing. I’m not sure Chris Carter even considered issues like these. I suspect that he watched the movie ‘It Follows’ and tried to hastily throw together something in the same vein. Also, actress Karin Konoval is exceedingly hammy and over-the-top as both Judy and especially Chucky, which repeatedly took me out of the story.
The episode is redeemed, fortunately, by the Mulder/Scully relationship, which feels right for the first time this season. In its best scene, the two characters take a moment to have a heart-to-heart about where they are in their lives and where they see themselves going forward. They’re the soul of the show, and moments like that, fleeting though they may be, justify these revival seasons.