X-Files Recap is a weekly column by Keith Uhlich covering Chris Carter's 10-episode continuation of the X-Files television series.
To know someone intimately is to risk familiarity, and we all know what that breeds. Not that FBI Special Agents and ex-flames Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are contemptuous of each other, exactly. Their disdain is more often directed inward, at those subconscious voices that dissuade and derail, reminding them that the clock (on both their work and on life itself) is always ticking. The duo's flirty, jargon-heavy banter is, beyond its innumerable surface pleasures (could any other pair so bewitchingly debate Gastaut-Geschwind syndrome?), a defense mechanism against the devils within and without. Find that one person who you can most easily converse with, whose sentences you don’t just finish but practically prophesy, and nothing can hold you back. That’s how it should ideally work, anyway. But the universe finds a way of amplifying our private fears, to the point that they're often projected onto others, especially the ones we care for most. And so maybe, in the interests of survival and sanity, it’s better to let those people go—for a while, if not forever. Why allow the demons to dictate things? Why wallow in scorn? Why go mad in the name of love?
The Mulder and Scully we see in the third installment of the eleventh season of The X-Files (an episode titled “Plus One,” written by series creator Chris Carter and directed by Kevin Hooks) have let each other go, but retain the sense memory of the more heated years of their professional and romantic partnership. “Correct me if I’m wrong,” says Mulder to Scully in their first scene together, “and I know that you will!” Their repartee is so perfect and polished that it seems a guarded pose, the badinage of two people always trying to head each other off before too much anguish arises. It’s not immediately clear that their latest case is going to be anything other than a bit of pro forma paranormalia, which is just what they could use after all the alien-virus-infecting, miracle-child-finding, end-of-the-world rigmarole of recent weeks. Per Mulder, the time has come to “get back to our bread and butter” and the strange case of Arkie Seavers (Jared Ager-Foster) seems just the needed distraction.
In brief: Did this inebriated, Virginia-residing twenty-something really drive himself off the road? Like, really—as in his doppelgänger materialized from thin air, grabbed the wheel of his speeding car, and crashed it into a tree? Doubles again. That’s something of a not-always-successful Carter gambit; witness the much-disliked Mulder and Scully corollaries, Agents Miller and Einstein (Robbie Amell and Lauren Ambrose), of these two recent seasons, or—horror of horrors—the twin Kathy Griffins from Season 7’s abrasive, atrocious “Fight Club.” Fortunately, Carter makes inspired use of the conceit, employing it to dig into the troubled hearts and minds of his two most famous creations while also providing a plum dual role for guest actress/series alum Karin Konoval.
The X-Files faithful probably best know Konoval as the incestuous Peacock family's deformed matriarch in Season 4’s infamous “Home,” though she’d previously appeared as a doomed psychic in the teaser of Darin Morgan's poignant, profound Season 3 installment “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.” (In addition to an ever-expanding stack of television credits, Konoval’s most famous recent role is as the motion-captured orangutan Maurice in the new Planet of the Apes film series.) Here she brilliantly inhabits fraternal twin siblings Judy and Chucky Poundstone, the former a not-as-docile-as-she-seems female patient in a hospital mental ward, the latter a blustery male guard at the prison from where the duo procure their prey. By playing a telepathic game of Hangman (the word is the target’s name), Judy and Chucky incite the person’s double to appear and kill their original, though the successful outcome of the murder is directly related to the victim’s level of fear when faced with themselves.
An existential quandary to be sure, though the creep factor is offset by a broad comic tone that does not feel as discordant as it does in some of Carter’s more out-there efforts. (Fond as I am of the creator's divisive Season 10 episode “Babylon,” which viewed Islamic terrorism through the prism of screwball comedy, it is the very epitome of aggressive and demanding.) Credit Hooks—a TV veteran who I will always affectionately recall as the director of the Snipes-on-a-plane action thriller Passenger 57 (1992)—for conjuring the perfect frame within which Mulder and Scully can have an ultra-serious pre-coital heart-to-heart and a goofy macho lawyer named Dean Cavalier (Ben Wilkinson) can lewdly joke to a waitress about his extensive samurai sword collection…then actually have an extensive samurai sword collection (via which he meets a gory demise).
Did I bury the lede? Yes, Mulder and Scully unambiguously do the beast with two backs, a turn of events that surely sent all the “shippers” (those of us who believe M&S are soulmates, to hell with you “The Field Where I Died”—I kid, I kid) into spasms of ecstasy. It’s tempered, of course, by the fact that this isn’t so much a romantic revival as it is a temporary salve for both characters’ deep-rooted heartache and alienation. Carter cleverly sets up their encounter through a running gag: The agents share an adjoining suite in their motel and Mulder keeps popping up behind a sleeping Scully to let her know that Judy and Chucky have claimed another victim. Scully also mentions, while at one point recalling her Catholic upbringing, that she still sleeps with her back to any door so that Lucifer won't steal her soul in the night. So when a restless Scully finally turns the tables on Mulder, sneaking up behind him and asking, tenderly, “Can you hold me?,” the underlying meaning is clear: Better the devil you know.
In my first recap, I noted that one of the season’s overarching themes (based on the five episodes out of ten made available for preview) was “the way things are vs. the way we remember or wish them to be.” And there’s no better illustration of this than the conversation Mulder and Scully have for most of “Plus One’s” penultimate act. “What’s gonna happen…when we’re old?” asks Scully. “What do you mean ‘when,’” jokes Mulder, though his sarcasm-dipped veil is finally slipping. They touch on potential retirement (“Are we gonna spend time together?”), whether they could ever see themselves with other people or raising more children, and—weekly Donald mention—the anxiety surrounding “a president working to bring down the FBI.”
Near the end of their talk, Scully says, “Sometimes I think the world is going to hell, and we’re the only two people who can save it”—a knotty sentiment that's at once earnestly altruistic and myopically egocentric. The past is established, and the future will be. All you can do for the present is navigate your churning paranoias and passions, and hopefully come out the better for it. Easier said than done. Is it any surprise that some people would rather perpetually distract themselves, whether through friends-with-benefits carnality or a homicidal game of Hangman?
My personal précis of the original X-Files series is that it’s a love story in which one partner slowly (with tectonic-plate-shifting gradualness) warps the other to their way of thinking. (The second-to-last line, spoken by Scully in the 2002 finale “The Truth”: “Then we believe the same thing.”) Whether Mulder warps Scully, Scully warps Mulder, or each, about equally, the other depends on the week. Yet if Mulder’s flighty, look-to-the-skies perspective feels like it takes precedence more often than not, it would still be nothing without Scully’s more grounded scientific approach. You can't have one without the other. And love often requires a readiness to cede yourself to (as well as see yourself in) your partner.
But what happens when the self, perhaps forcibly, takes on a life of its own? Beginning with the second movie, The X-Files: I Want to Believe (2008), Carter and his writers have used Mulder and Scully as vehicles to explore what happens when love is past its prime. When kindred spirits are scattered, and what chiefly remains are faded memories and worn, if still willing flesh. Is there anything to rekindle? Are there any new foundations to build on? Or do we just act as we were with the people we’ve known because it’s too forbidding to let old habits die?
It’s telling that, in “Plus One’s” final act, Mulder and Scully must face their own doubles alone, and none too elegantly. Scully downs a handful of bread-based placebo pills that Judy gives her as "protection" and, like a steely parishioner in the church confessional, wishes her doppelgänger away. A fearful Mulder, meanwhile, just gets his butt kicked by Mulder prime—male cockiness come literally to life. It’s also telling that what finally saves the agents is a bit of meta sibling rivalry. Like a pair of dueling X-Philes, Chucky loves Scully and wants to kill Mulder, while Judy loves Mulder and wants to kill Scully. So brother and sister, via some impromptu telepathic vengefulness, kill each other instead. Affection perverted by animosity.
Lesson learned? That depends on how you read the episode’s final scene, in which Scully playfully yet pointedly banishes Mulder to their neighboring room. Then, after a few moments’ pause, she saunters up to the door, opens it, and finds her partner waiting for her on the other side with a come-hither stare. Giddy swoon and all, but a question lingers: Is this a retreat to stagnant safety or a genuine step forward? The answer, perhaps, is in a cheeky aural touch after the image smash-cuts to black: The sound of one of Dean Cavalier's samurai swords unsheathing—ready, willing and able to penetrate. Shades of the train-in-the-tunnel punchline from Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959), and a brazen suggestion that, if life is indeed one big cosmic joke, we should get our fucks where and when we can.
MUSINGS OF A NON-CIGARETTE-SMOKING FAN
• The thrash band in the episode’s teaser is a Vancouver-based ensemble named The Sore Points. They’re covering the song “Unsaid, Undone” by one David Duchovny, off his 2015 album Hell or Highwater. Eagle-eyed viewers might also notice a familiar design on the band’s bass drum: It’s “This Man,” again. Seems we have ourselves another running gag.
• The motel that Mulder and Scully check into (at 11:21—one of the series’ two recurring times, the other being 10:13) is named St. Rachel. In the Old Testament, Rachel is the beloved of Jacob, with whom she bore two sons, Joseph (he of the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat) and Benjamin. Saint Rachel's pregnancies were miraculous; she spent many years of her marriage in shame over her own sterility, which she thought was a curse from God. It was ultimately an (unintended) curse from her husband that felled her, and she died while giving birth to Benjamin. I’m going to take this as a piece of poetic resonance and not as doomy foreshadowing because, as we all know, Scully can never die.
• Twinning: The opening credits tag, “The Truth is Out There,” is doubled, while The Patty Duke Show (with its “identical cousins” who are “two of a kind”) is playing on Judy’s hospital room television.
• Groaner at which I giggled: “No one’s judging you Judy.”