After the return of an old friend, The X-Files 11×02 threw Mulder and Scully into the crosshairs of a powerful enemy and gave us a classic team-up
After the mythology intensive season premiere, FOX‘s The X-Files shifted gears slightly this week. Somewhat surprisingly, “This” continued to develop one of the conspiracies connected to the mytharc. Instead of delving into the plans of the Cigarette Smoking Man, the episode took a closer look at his rivals’ plans for humanity. After receiving a video message from Langly (Dean Haglund), who has been dead for the better part of two decades, Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) quickly found themselves on the run from a government contractor named Purlieu Services. Without knowing who to trust, the pair did what they do best: work together and trust each other to get the job done no matter what.
Langly’s brain was added to a computer simulation made up of an unknown number of other human brains. The purpose? To serve Erika Price’s (Barbara Hershey) surviving faction of the Syndicate and help humanity colonize space. Scully successfully wiped the servers containing the simulation but unfortunately for Langly and the others trapped in their hellish version of reality, Price’s people had backups, which left Langly’s fate unknown. Skinner’s (Mitch Pileggi) loyalties continued to be questioned in this episode. He did help the agents when they asked, but why didn’t he warn them that their lives were in danger?
Mythology episodes can often end up being incredibly serious. When the fate of the world and humanity are in the balance, it makes sense that characters may not be cracking jokes or have a lot of time to stand still. While “This” had a serious storyline at the center, it lacked the baggage of being the first new episode after a two-year hiatus. It also remembered that Scully and Mulder teaming up can be fun, and this was enormous fun. Throwing the duo into dangerous and compromising situations while also having them work together immediately gave the story the vibe of a classic episode of The X-Files.
Anyone familiar with The Matrix trilogy and other stories about reality being a computer simulation likely felt right at home in “This.” Despite the material not being unique to The X-Files, the episode still managed to give us plenty to think and talk about. So let’s meet our roundtable guests and discuss the second episode of season eleven!
Vicky (@MrsWilliams1704) – Lifelong X-Files fan, who would sit and discuss the show constantly given half a chance.
Anaka (@YngBloodRusher) – Student, animal lover, music/TV/movie nerd.
Briana (@sassy_scully) – PR student. Lover of cheese, bacon and all things Scully.
Gigi (@trilliaventuras) – Mom to triplets. Passionate, my glass is either full or not there at all. Sci-fi nerd since before it was cool. Fangirl extraordinaire.
Soledad (@Solecalvo1) – Physical therapist, sci-fi nerd, X-Files fan for 20 years, smart is sexy.
Trycee (@believeinxfiles) – Hardcore X-Files fan for life.
1. In the season premiere, Scully was injured, unconscious, or otherwise indisposed and Mulder spent a lot of his time off doing his own thing. How did it feel to have Scully and Mulder fully backing each other up in the field again?
Vicky (@MrsWilliams1704): Having Mulder and Scully back doing what they do best, watching each other’s backs was fantastic. They’ve been sorely missed! Even after 25 years, they’re in sync with each other and know what the other is thinking. That skill has been honed over the last 25 years and this really showed in the opening few minutes. Mulder just telling Scully “go” and she just knew what to do was amazing. I love that they have this kind of relationship that all they need to do is share a look or a simple word and they’re in the zone. Welcome back, Mulder and Scully!
Anaka (@YngBloodRusher): It was great! In this episode Mulder and Scully had a really good chemistry going on. They seemed to always know what the other is thinking. I loved seeing them kickass together again!
Briana (@sassy_scully): It was the best feeling in the world and I may have shed a few tears. This episode was a BIG step up from the last episode. To see Mulder and Scully working together again and so cohesively…beautiful. Their scenes in this episode were so on point and it felt like the good old days. I couldn’t stop screaming! THANK YOU, GLEN MORGAN!!!!!
Gigi (@trilliaventuras): It was amazing. This time it really felt that The X-Files was back. Everything I loved was there – the dynamic, the banter, the innuendo. Watching Mulder and Scully work so in sync with each other, putting together all the clues to solve the puzzle and reminding us how awesome they are at unspoken communication was the best feeling ever. It was an absolute rush.
Soledad (@Solecalvo1): I know the first episode had to go that way since Scully was having seizures because of the visions she was having thanks to her telepathic link with William, so it was consistent with the plot. But the second episode allowed us to get back to the Mulder and Scully dynamic we love so much. I personally enjoyed this episode because we saw them as romantic partners (living together and such) and work partners fighting as a team (the whole synchronicity of their movements was captivating). It reminded me of back in the days but at the same time, it felt fresh and in tune with their current lives. “This” definitely made me want to see more!
Trycee (@believeinxfiles): This is the way it should be. You can’t have one without the other.
2. This episode found a way to bring back Langly! Sort of. What did you think of the way they brought him back?
Vicky: First of all, poor Langly! I love that we got at least one of The Lone Gunmen back in the show, even if it was just a simulation. The Lone Gunmen were computer geeks so bringing Langly back via artificial intelligence was a great move, especially as this tied in with “Kill Switch” from season 5 (great Easter egg there). So living in a computer isn’t new territory for the show. I just felt sorry for him being stuck in a virtual kind of hell.
Anaka: I thought they did it perfectly. It wouldn’t have worked as well if he was actually still alive. It was a great treat for the fans of the show to have an old character that everyone loved be brought back for an episode, even if he technically wasn’t alive. Overall I just loved it so much.
Briana: At first I was very wary of how they were going to bring him back exactly. I thought it was very interesting and we were able to learn things about him that we didn’t know before. Bravo, Glen.
Gigi: As soon as I saw the grainy Langly image on the promos I was reminded of the episode “Kill Switch,” and this was a continuation of sorts of it. At least of the idea it presents, and with today’s technology, it actually seems feasible. I love it that they chose to bring back Langly that way. It had to be him. It doesn’t feel impossible (CSM not being dead, I’m looking at you!) and it really is something you could see Langly doing.
Soledad: It’s an interesting take that was attuned to this season’s theme: perception of reality/alternate reality. Also, it’s consistent with what was suggested on “Kill Switch” about uploading your consciousness into a simulated reality to become immortal. This whole notion relates to the idea of an afterlife as heaven being a parallel universe or simulated reality. Made me wonder if that’s where Mulder and Scully are meant to live forever after this show is over, trapped in an ongoing digital fanfic.
Trycee: I think it was very interesting and reminded me of the episode “Kill Switch” with Esther Nairn. It seems that the Gunmen decided that they wanted to follow in Esther’s footsteps.
3. If you had the option to live on in a computer simulation with the goal of working to help the future of humanity, would you choose to do it? Or would you prefer to have your digital self destroyed?
Vicky: Great question. My answer is…I’m not actually sure. Theoretically being able to live forever, virtually speaking, and help humanity move forward, seems like it would be good. But, if the technology were to fall into the wrong hands as seems to have happened here with the clearly nuts Erika Price, I wouldn’t like to think to be used for nefarious purposes. I think I’d have to pull a Langly and try and get my virtual self killed.
Anaka: I would like my digital self destroyed. The way Langly explained it sounded terrible to me. Not knowing if you’re alive or dead? No thanks. Plus you never know who’s controlling the simulation.
Briana: Destroy me. Burn me. Bury me. That sh*t creeped me out.
Gigi: I’ve actually thought about this before. Hey, everyone who watched The Matrix has, at some point! At first, it sounds so good to live in. Essentially, utopia, but when you come down to it, it would be really boring. If there are no consequences, and therefore, no rewards, why do anything at all? I’d rather stay human, with all it carries, than live a half life forever. Maybe I’m being selfish.
Soledad: My scientific curiosity tells me to try it but I think I’d rather live a real life for a limited time than a fake one forever. Besides, I don’t need it since I believe that my spirit/energy will never die and just take material form again and again, as the laws of physics tell us that the only way is transformation. Would I destroy it? Maybe some people would like to live in a Matrix-like reality and I cannot choose for them.
Trycee: Absolutely NOT. No. A digital life is not an actual life, so no.
4. We learned a little more about the plans of the former members of the Syndicate in this episode even though it wasn’t technically considered a mytharc episode. What do you think of their plans? Are they completely crazy or do they have some merit?
Vicky: Personally, I think they’re crazy. Wanting to have the elites consciousness uploaded to an AI in order to help humanity evolve just seems insane to me. What possible use could they have from these super intelligent peoples’ consciousness? I don’t believe that Erika Price’s reasons for doing this are altruistic and that her company is helping humanity. I can’t wait for this to play out to see what the actual reasons for all this are. Can these simulations be programmed to hunt out information from other countries networks? Can they be programmed to lure people into a false sense of security? Is that what was happening with Langly and he’s rebelled? Can’t wait to find out.
Anaka: Honestly, they’re crazy. But they’re crazy with a plan. A plan that might just be so complicated that it works. We’ll have to wait and see how this goes.
Briana: Honestly I think they’re all insane and the plans are crazy. I’m interested to see how this plays out in the rest of the season.
Gigi: Every time this woman speaks she seems crazier and crazier. She’s like a supervillain pulled out straight from a comic book. It is phenomenal. It’s perfectly in sync with the old syndicate while, who at the same time, feels new and improved. Absolute megalomaniacs who think themselves above everyone else and who will bring destruction to the world rather than accept they were wrong.
Soledad: Although I see the merit in trying to save humankind in some way, the moment the Syndicate talks about a surviving elite makes the plan selfish and immoral like CSM’s intentions. Both sides of the Syndicate are fighting for control and corrupt power with different approaches, but the final goal is just the same: EVIL.
Trycee: I think they will continue to come after Mulder especially until he kills CGB. I think their plans continue from the Syndicate’s plans to save themselves. I respect the idea of their plans, but not at the expense of mankind.
5. Like with the season premiere, this episode continued to use the current political climate as the backdrop for the story. Now that you’ve seen two episodes incorporating that climate, do you think the show is doing a good job using it?
Vicky: Yes, I do think they’re doing a good job. Being from the UK, I don’t really get how just how much the US people are suspicious of their government. We don’t have it to the same extent as the USA. But what I do know is that in this day and age with all the issues surrounding hacking and being spied on, the show is doing a great job of buying into the suspicions that people have. Technology is being used against us all the time so using people’s fear of that technology and in particular, worrying about what the government is hiding from us is classic X-Files territory.
Anaka: Honestly, I hardly noticed it in this episode, I was too busy watching the action and MSR, and laughing at the amazing humor. But I’m still fine with them mentioning the topics as long as they don’t overdo it. If I wanted to hear about current world problems, I’d watch the news.
Briana: Yes, I do think they’re doing a decent job of using the current political climate. I think that was a smart move on the writers part.
Gigi: This time, I think they’re doing a great job. It was treated almost as a joke. That line, about the FBI not being in good standing with The White House, was pure gold. It was funny and deadly serious at the same time. I love the way it was used, sort of subtle but definitely there. It won’t let us forget how much the world has changed, how much harder everything is now without making us yearn for the past because look at all the amazing things we can do now!
Soledad: Absolutely! The post-truth/fake news is totally implied through what we have seen so far. The nature of reality, the perception/manipulation of facts, the dispute of groups of power ‒ it’s all there and I’m betting will see a lot more of it during the course of this season. It all sends a message that we can’t escape that anymore. We have to wake up from the Matrix.
Trycee: Yes. It’s not as preachy as Season 10, but it is making an important point nonetheless.
6. While Mulder and Scully have good reasons to not trust Skinner, do you think he’s actually on their side? Or did he make some sort of deal with the Cigarette Smoking Man?
Vicky: After watching the first two episodes and being highly suspicious of Skinner in “My Struggle III,” I now believe that Skinner is working to help Mulder and Scully. He looked truly devastated when Scully told him that they don’t trust him and I hated that. Skinner has been their defender and protector for years and I hate to think that he’s working against them now. I don’t want to believe that he’s betrayed them in the worst way. Any deal he may have made with the CSM, I’m hoping beyond hope that it will benefit Mulder and Scully in the end. I can’t accept that Skinner would work against them after everything they’ve been through.
Anaka: I’m pretty sure Skinner made a deal with CSM. I’m really hoping not, but all the evidence leads to that right now. So yes, Mulder and Scully shouldn’t trust him. He was acting very suspicious in this episode.
Briana: I think Skinner made a deal with the CSM, but I also believe that he’s trying to protect Mulder and Scully. I don’t think he’d fully turn on them but I do think that at this point his allegiance is more towards the CSM because he wants to get more info to help Mulder and Scully in the long run. I’m sure he’s thought this through.
Gigi: I think Skinner knows what kind of person CSM is and why Mulder and Scully do what they do. Even though he has walked a grey area in the past, he showed and proved (he helped Mulder escape from jail because it was the right thing to do), his commitment to the truth. I don’t think Skinner would align himself with CSM just to save himself, he always has the well-being of everyone in mind and acts accordingly, even if it may look dubious at times.
Soledad: I’m not sure. His character has always been ambiguous through the course of the show. One thing is certain for me, Skinner has feelings for Scully and he will not betray her. I think, for the moment, he will apparently work for CSM but, in the end, I’m betting he will be the one to kill CSM for good. Just like Krycek.
Trycee: I think he’s been compromised once again but he cares a great deal for them and will still protect them, putting himself in danger.
7. At the end of the episode, Langly appeared again and said to “destroy the backups” (there’s always a backup). While it looked like he may have been destroyed, do you think there’s a version of him still out there? If so, do you think he’ll find a way to reach out and help again?
Vicky: Somewhere out there, Richard Langly lives on and is doing all he can to get back to Mulder and Scully to tell them where the backup system is so that he can be free of his version of hell. I don’t doubt for a second that he’ll find a way back to them. I’m wondering if, being in the AI and therefore privy to whatever Erika Price and her company have planned for humanity, that Langly will use that information to help Mulder and Scully find William. If he can help them, he will. And I think that if he does help in that way, that in return Mulder and Scully will help him end his existence once and for all.
Anaka: I’ve been wondering about this part of the episode a lot. It’s X-Files fashion to end an episode with a cliffhanger that NEVER gets resolved. But this is different because it’s Langly, their friend. And the Syndicate is also involved. So they could mention it in the other mythology episodes, but I don’t think we’ll ever get the answers or ending we all want. Just gotta hope Langly’s finally at peace.
Briana: I’d like to think that they’re finally gonna let his character rest in peace but this is the X-Files and you never know what’s gonna happen. IF there is a version of him still out there then I’m positive that he would help Mulder and Scully again.
Gigi: Gosh, this is one of the things that kill me every single time. Nothing on The X-Files is ever absolutely done, it can always come back. I really wish we’ll have the opportunity to see it through the end, and all the backups destroyed (yes, plural, I’m sure) even if it’s just a comment, from anyone, that lets us know what happened. But again, this is The X-Files, so I won’t be holding my breath.
Soledad: Somehow, I think the episode hasn’t ended yet (the theme), the clue being “The Man of Your Dreams” image that appeared behind the Lone Gunmen’s portrait in Mulder and Scully’s residence. That could suggest they’re already living in an alternate reality or simulation. Also, Langly could come in handy for later episodes involving William’s whereabouts. We will have to wait and see what happens later this season.
Trycee: Yes. I think he’ll reach out to them again.
Final Verdict: “This” presented an entertaining yet compelling continuation of one of the central conspiracies without the baggage of being the first episode after a two-year hiatus
The season premiere of The X-Files had a lot of heavy lifting to do to get both viewers and the mythology back up to speed after a two-year hiatus. Even the most skilled writer would have had their work cut out for them trying to make sense of ten seasons of the increasingly complicated mythology. Given that “This” is the second episode of the season, it had a lot more room to let the characters and story breathe. It also restored a critical component of The X-Files: the Mulder/Scully dynamic. While the premiere’s story necessitated that Mulder and Scully be separated for large blocks of time, “This” took the show in the exact opposite direction.
The agents were immediately thrown into danger and forced to work together and trust each other to survive. The story at the heart of “This” was a thought-provoking and notable entry in the series but the strengths of Mulder and Scully’s relationships were what really made the episode shine. Both their professional and personal relationships were on full display here without ever drawing too much attention to either of them. The creative return of a version of Langly (and his unknown fate), the continued development of the mythology, and the exciting action scenes were also highly welcome.
If the episode has any weakness, it’s the lack of development for the government contractor that was after Mulder and Scully. Purlieu Services was shown to be connected to the Syndicate, and that made them significant. Still, they were mostly nameless Russian thugs with guns and that isn’t particularly interesting. Not knowing Langly’s fate might leave some viewers frustrated as well.
There was a lot to love about “This” but it was the classic Mulder/Scully dynamic that drove the entire hour. “This” managed to prove that the show still has the ability to deliver an entertaining and compelling story despite its age. It’s safe to say that The X-Files is once again in top form.