I went into this week’s episode of ‘The X Files’ with very low expectations. My hopes for the season have been tempered in general (outside of the Darin Morgan episode), and the plot description sounded kind of inane. Amazingly, it turns out to be fantastic, a surprise highlight of the season.
The episode features only two characters (Mulder and Scully, of course), a small handful of locations, and barely half a dozen lines of dialogue in the whole thing.
On a slow night with no work to absorb them, Scully and Mulder find themselves at a high-tech sushi restaurant where everything is automated, from the touchscreen menus to the food delivery. They’re the only two customers this evening, without so much as a server in sight. Distracted playing on their smartphones, they order and find their phones inundated with ads and social media requests from the restaurant, all of which they ignore. When the food arrives, Mulder’s order is wrong. An unappetizing blobfish sits on the plate. Searching for a server or chef, he walks into the back room and finds the entire food prep process handled by a robotic assembly line. Disappointed, he returns to the table and pays the bill, selecting “No Tip” at checkout. This was a mistake.
The payment machine confiscates Mulder’s credit card, the lights in the restaurant go out, and the doors lock them inside. Panicking, Mulder and Scully force their way out and then can’t get back in to retrieve Mulder’s card. Almost instantly, a car service (called “Whipz”) arrives for Scully with a driverless car. The two part ways for the evening. The first word of dialogue either speaks occurs about 16 minutes into the episode (with commercials).
Scully is terrified when her driverless car speeds down the road recklessly and won’t pull over. Meanwhile, the GPS in Mulder’s car leads him in a circle right back to the restaurant. A helpful ad on his phone reminds him that it’s not too late to add a tip to his payment. He refuses.
Scully survives her ride and gives the driver a negative survey rating. This makes the car unhappy. She enters her house to find that the alarm system won’t stop blaring. Her attempts to enter a security code fail. She finally stops it through an aggravating voice response system, for which she’s charged a $250 convenience fee. Invasive ads on her various devices seem to be spying on Scully. They know when she runs out of facial cream, and send a drone package delivery with a robo-vac after she spills some powder on her floor. The vacuum maps her house and does not like it when she skips rating it on a survey. It acts screwy, banging into things until she boxes it back up and puts it outside.
While failing to make any human contact with his credit card company (“Bigly Credit”), Mulder is pestered by a drone flying outside his house. After he smashes it with a baseball bat, a second drone flies in and picks it up.
Scully’s whole-home audio system goes crazy and blasts music all through the house at deafening volume. The rest of her smart appliances follow suit, malfunctioning in various ways. Mulder is terrorized by a swarm of miniature drones that chase him out of his house. He drives to Scully’s and pulls her out just in time before a gas leak explodes and blows up her living room. The two of them are chased by more drones, and are pestered by reminders to pay the restaurant tip the whole time. They ditch their phones and run into a factory, where they’re trapped by robots from the assembly line.
Eventually, a scary-looking robot returns Mulder’s phone to him. An app reminds him that he has one “Last Chance to Tip.” Reluctantly, Mulder relents and adds 20% to his charge. The robots promptly stand down and the factory doors open. All of their various devices begin working properly again.
The next morning, Mulder and Scully sit at an old-fashioned diner, surrounded by plenty of human company and a real, live waitress. Out of habit, they find themselves once again drifting to browse their phones. Thinking better of it, they put their phones down, take a moment, and hold hands.
This episode grabbed me right away and never let go. It’s riveting, extremely clever, and hilarious throughout. Admittedly, the punchline is easy to guess very early on, and the episode feels like it belongs more on ‘Black Mirror’ than ‘The X Files’, but it’s simply great fun. Duchovny and Anderson look like they’re fully engaged and having a great time with this one. It also has a terrifically creative sound mix filled with interesting noises buzzing all around the soundstage to make up for the lack of dialogue.
Given the current state of the series, I’m actually surprised to see that this isn’t a Darin Morgan episode (though it was directed by his brother, Glen, a longtime ‘X Files’ alum). I’d actually given up on any of the show’s other writers. It’s a wonderful treat to see that they still have something this inventive in them.