In “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” (which apparently isn’t just a random keyboard smash), THE X-FILES explored the dark side of artificial intelligence. Even with the sparse dialogue reminiscent of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER’s “Hush” and a plot that could have easily fit in on BLACK MIRROR, this latest chapter in Scully and Mulder’s misadventures managed to set itself apart. There was no mythical monster of the week; and (thankfully), the episode lacked any mention of alien-government conspiracies. Instead, “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” was just a worst-case scenario of where society’s fixation on more and more “smart” devices might take us.
Oh, and THE X-FILES’ latest, unlike over 90% of the other 200-plus episodes, was actually written by women. Perhaps this, more than anything, was what actually made “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” feel fresh.
The sushi date. After a brief introduction, which discussed how a bot quickly learned how to be trash by following real-life twitter users, THE X-FILES found Scully and Mulder ready to take on a new dining experience at Forowa Sushi. There were no other customers in the place, and there was no need for any conversation. This was a completely plausible situation — new, hip ordering and preparation methods and all.
When these two characters are together, they don’t fully recognize that other people exist; and after 25 years, it’s not exactly as they need anything more than an eyebrow-raise or a smile to communicate.
The Forowa date featured Special Agent (Medical Doctor Who Rewrote Einstein) Dana Katherine Scully at full-cackle. Bonus moments included Scully taking adorable pictures of Mulder next to a blobfish, Mulder enjoying watching Scully show just how much she could put in her mouth, and more open happiness than either character had probably experienced in years.
It was the perfect night…until Mulder chose not to leave a tip. His credit card got stuck in the payment portal and refused to budge. Angry Old Man Mulder’s fix for this problem was to bang on the computer, which said machine didn’t like. At all.
Scully hopped her Whipz car, basically a driverless Uber, back to her apartment; and Mulder went in the opposite direction toward “his” house. Because we’re still playing like these two people aren’t in a relationship, despite the side-by-side couch nap after playing action heroes, the double hook-up on the doppelgänger case, and sharing Goop-O in a Bigfoot mold (also on the couple’s well-used couch).
Sure. Fine. Whatever.
But the first word that either character muttered in the entire episode came from Scully, when she dejectedly said Mulder’s name as the car door closed. At least there was that! And more to come!
Rise of the machines. If you’re Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, you know that happiness never lasts long; and Sushi Date Night was far from the exception. On the ride back to her super-teched-out apartment, Scully’s Whipz ride was, essentially, the road rage adventure from hell. No matter how many times a clearly terrified Special Agent Uberscientist begged the virtual driver to slow down or pull over, it didn’t. And when the car’s associated app demanded a rating, Scully’s answer was pretty clear: “Poor! Awful! Terrible! Never Again!”
If that sounds anything at all like the average X-FILES viewer’s response to various “Struggle” episodes, that’s probably pure coincidence.
Things went from bad to worse for Scully. First, her apartment’s security system wouldn’t take her password. Then, she received a Zuemz 9000 (generic X-FILES Roomba!) that she didn’t order and that left more dirt on the floor than it picked up — but seemed to want to classify her roughly tongue-shaped personal massager as trash. From there, everything from self-brewing coffee that overflowed on the counter to power loss and, once again, being viewed as an intruder by her state-of-the-art alarm system made Scully’s night pretty much suck.
Maybe you should’ve gone home with Fox, Dana. Just a thought.
Or, well…maybe not. Not yet, anyway.
Mulder’s post-date experience wasn’t any better than Scully’s. His car turned off his jams right in the middle (an interesting parallel to the trouble that Scully would later have with her music becoming too loud) and even brought him back to Forowa instead of taking him home. Fox Mulder is old school, though, so he found himself a real-life paper map and navigated back home all by himself.
Emphasis on “all by himself.”
The house was pretty miserable without Scully in it, though, as it probably has been for the past…however many years that she’s supposedly been (platonically) an ex-resident of the place. When he wasn’t arguing with the automated caller at Bigly Credit in a futile attempt to speak to a real human so he could get his card back, Mulder was busy doing whatever he could to kill time. In one crazed moment, Old Man Mulder swung a baseball bat at a drone but took forever to get a hit.
Maybe Scully should remind him of his own “hips before hands” advice sometime.
Eventually, Fox realized what his defense against the dark bots was missing: his partner. When Mulder found himself outnumbered by angry drones, here to avenge the one he’d (finally!) managed to ground, he hopped in the car and rushed off to Scully’s place.
No GPS needed.
These bots are totally shipperbots. Mulder arrived at Scully’s apartment just in time for the place to blow up. Neither agent’s phone worked to call 911, and Scully’s neighbors pretended not to be home, so she couldn’t make the call from their place, either.
That left nothing for Special Agents Mr. and Mrs. to do but fend for themselves; and, after ducking into a dark alley to whisper sweet nothings (or warnings, whatever) in each other’s ears, they opted to dump their phones in the garbage. At this point, Scully was exposed: The personal massager that she’d pocketed earlier also made its way to the trash heap.
Subtext: She prefers the real thing. Or maybe she just has better toys. Either way.
Scully and Mulder’s next move was to go into an abandoned factory of sorts, where they were chased by slightly-less-murderous versions of the dogs from BLACK MIRROR’S “Metalhead.” After being shot at and cornered by a giant robot, the agents learned what started this mess: The artificial intelligence had learned pretty quickly
that they belonged together how to be mean from each of them, and — oh yeah — Mulder really needed to learn to leave a tip.
When Mulder finally did what the Forowa app had repeatedly asked him to do, the nightmare ended. The next morning, the agents had breakfast at a place that was more their usual: an old-school diner. Mulder left a pretty massive tip (good boy — those servers get stiffed a lot), and both agents nearly went back to ignoring one another to play with their tech toys as they had, to some extent, done on their previous date.
This time, rather than spend a lot of time in cyberspace, Scully opted to put down her smartphone so she could hold her platonic work partner’s hand and lean into his side. Mulder, for his part, smiled like a man 25 years deep; and “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” closed out with Scully just caressing that hand and swiveling her chair to get closer.
Shipperbot mission accomplished. No separate apartment for Scully and more time spent on each other than on shiny distractions.
- Good to know that, no matter who writes the episode, THE X-FILES’ biggest mystery continues to be what the crap is going on between its two leads. (Thanks. I hate it.)
- Why does Scully’s dining room table have six chairs? Does she actually socialize with anyone other than Mulder? Her mother’s dead. One brother is estranged, while the other is a douche…And she hasn’t exactly had any friends since before she became Mrs. Spooky. Does it really take six chairs for Mulder and Scully to do whatever it is they do in that apartment?
- Speaking of whatever-it-is they do: “Good to see you got all your personal devices back.” “Not all of them.” Message received. Make sure she doesn’t miss it, Fox.
- Which brings up another point, actually: Having female writers made that personal massager moment. There’s no way something male-gazey would have managed to pull off the feeling that having such a device was perfectly normal and healthy (it is!), partner or not. Scully wasn’t some lonely or pathetic soul for having the device, and it didn’t need to be something so elaborate and pornographic as to fail to make it past network censors. The inclusion of that personal touch was also a really nice moment of seeing Dana Scully get to control some of her own sexuality — something terribly important for any woman, especially one that lives in the weird dichotomy of having lost so much body autonomy at the hands of men…all while being held up as some kind of feminist icon.
- “We learn from you.” This is probably the most terrifying thought? Humans have a pretty awful history; now, apply that to the unlimited potential of A.I. To quote Mulder, “We have to be better teachers.”
- Scruffy Mulder. A+.
- “Why is your house so much nicer than mine?” As if you haven’t seen it before when you’ve come over for a platonic sleepover. Ok, Foxy.
- Scully’s PIN is her birthday, and her password is her dead dog’s name. Meanwhile, the location of her latest stolen dog continues to be THE X-FILES’ second biggest mystery!
- “Why celebrate birthdays? Is life so important?” Also, do we really need a cake for Skinner’s birthday? Is Skinner‘s life important at all?
- Bigly Credit. Bigly. I see you, Shannon Hamblin and Kristen Cloke. (Also, I applaud you for absolutely everything about this episode…except the separate dwellings, which probably weren’t even your fault.)
- This probably goes without saying, but Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny are such experts at communicating without words. I fully believe that [keyboard smash episode] would have even worked with Scully and Mulder saying exactly zero words. These actors are that good. We knew exactly what both of these characters were thinking from things like signature raised eyebrows and looks of “I just saw an alien!” wonder. We’ve heard the words that accompany these types of expressions so many times before that it’s easy to hear immediately upon seeing the appropriate gesture, despite the fact that those words aren’t being said out loud. I can’t praise the way these two actors have not only slipped back into their respective characters, but also expanded their mastery of them, enough.
- Beautiful, colorful lighting. Flashlights in the dark. Good warehouse scenery. Good X-FILES goodies. Mmmhm.
- The message of Scully choosing to focus on Mulder, rather than other distractions, was nice. But let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that no human interactions are possible through social media. If I had one gripe here — other than the dead, platonic separate-homes horse — it’d be the implication that technology doesn’t provide just as many opportunities for connections as physically being together.
The next all-new episode of THE X-FILES airs Wednesday, March 7, at 8/7c on FOX.