The X Files: 11.07 Rm9sbG93ZXJz
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We all love technology. So much so that with each new upgrade or innovation we depend on it more and more until we're slavishly devoted to it. We've also seen enough movies to know that it will probably turn us all and kill all in the end. And that's the premise behind the delightfully creepy, funny, thrilling Rm9sbG93ZXJz (just don't ask me to pronounce it).
The X Files has attempted artificial intelligence stories gone bad before, but in the mystical aura that surrounded technological innovation in the 90s it was often ludicrous and fantastical, if not plain rubbish. Ghost in the Machine from season one is one of the worst of that debut year, Kill Switch from season five is much better but hardly stands out and fans just don't talk about the direness of season seven's First Person Shooter. But the modern era of The X Files' revival becomes the perfect place to revisit this idea; Shannon Hamblin and Kristen Cloke's first script for the series is a corker and dazzling directed by Cloke's husband and longrunning stalwart of the writing team, Glen Morgan.
The scene is set with the opening monologue telling the true but very creepy story of Microsoft's Tay, an artificial intelligence bot that was tricked into posting racist and insensitive tweets on Twitter in 2016 through the corruptive influence of the site's users. And that is most of the dialogue we get; this is an episode with barely 20 lines of dialogue but thanks to the superb comic timing and facial performances of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson you barely notice.
The most stylised aspect of the episode is Mulder and Scully's first scene in computerised sushi restaurant 'FOROWA'; Mulder's issues with modern technology continue to persist as he struggled with his order - the giant blue fish on his plate while Scully devoured her sushi was hilarious. But we also saw in them what we probably see in ourselves, slavishly fixated on our phone screens as they awaited their meal. It was an odd but bemusing sequence but it was the moment that Mulder wandered into the kitchen to complain about his order and was confronted by disturbing robots preparing raw fish, that really started to raise the hackles.
There was perhaps too much style here though; while clever and expertly performed by Duchovny and Anderson, the lack of dialogue, particularly when things went wrong and the restaurant locked them in, seemed a little forced. Again, Scully readily leaving Mulder to take the driverless Uber-style transport seemed a bit odd. But this was a little qualm in an otherwise great episode and it was when the episode split them up, that the real fun was had.
The second act had plenty of disturbing moments, particularly in Scully's that were played more deadpan than Mulder's. The automated smiling interactive face in the car was off putting, reminding of last year's emoji robots from Doctor Who. But after battling with a speeding car, it was her phone asking her is she wanted to order more hair product - the moment she chucked the empty packet in the bin - that went from bemusing to creepy. The arrival of the drone to deliver the robotic hoover device that ran riot through her surprisingly luxurious home (years of being a surgeon had obviously paid off) was fantastically unsettling too as it 'mapped out' the location. The house turning on her by launching ice cubes from the electronic dispenser on the freezer to locking her and turning on the gas was a great pay off on the weirdness building up throughout these scenes.
The episode really made use of Duchovny's comic acting too; from his frustration at trying to get through to customer services (we've all been there), while his phone constantly reminded him to tip the restaurant; I'd clocked early on that this was the only thing to stop the robotic onslaught but it was still well played. The drones tracking him were creepy too (perhaps saying what we're all thinking about Amazon's plans to deliver automated packages by air) and the arrival of the drones with their glowing red eyes (think 2001: A Space Odyssey's HAL) made for a great threat. The insect-like clear drones settling into his home one by one were creepy little buggers too.
Morgan really let rip in the final act as Mulder and Scully team up and find themselves hunted by robots in a factory; this was definitely descending into Terminator-mode; one creepy robot reminded me of a recent video about a dog-like robot opening the door for another (check it out on YouTube and don't tell me you didn't get a little scared). The 3D printer fashioning bullets to shoot at them was a great twist too and I enjoyed the ticking clock moment as Mulder was presented with his mobile phone by one robot and clicked tip at the very last second.
Rm9sbG93ZXJz bordered on experimental; the lack of dialogue and one-night setting felt more like an episode of The Twilight Zone, but that's no bad thing. Given the slightly longer run for season 11, The X Files can afford two oddball episodes and along with the fantastic The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat, this episode has become one of my favourites of this run. This might not be everyone's cup of tea, but for me this was a lot of fun and another reason why I'm glad we've got more new episodes with our two favourite agents.