A monster encounter becomes a surprise link to something much closer to Scully and Mulder in the latest episode…
The loss of William has played a big part in The X Files‘ revival, which is surprising considering that Chris Carter seemed prepared to gloss over the later years, or at least re-write it (*cough*Monica Reyes*) in favour of the show’s glory days. And Scully’s son (he’s not really Mulder’s is he?) became a key player in the latest season 11 episode Ghouli.
The episode was written and directed by James Wong, who also worked on season 10’s Founder’s Mutation and there was a very strong thematic feel to Ghouli that shared similarities with that previous episode. It was the first episode of the revival to properly deal with the legacy of William, it was an episode that saw teenagers with super abilities, had some gruesome moments and sinister agencies working against Mulder and Scully; all of these were apparent here. But whereas that episode dovetailed Scully’s grief over giving up William as a tangent to the main story, this episode worked it into the central narrative.
What is clever is how Wong starts the episode as a potential monster story, before taking a surprise twist; into psychic abilities and government conspiracies. The opening is well executed and very atmospheric as two teenage girls hunting a monster on an old abandoned ship. But when Mulder and Scully learned that they share a same boyfriend with the name Jackson Van De Kamp, the surname immediately rang a bell; it was the surname of the adoptive parents who adopted Scully’s son back in season nine’s William. As I always suspected, they met a grizzly end, shot dead in their own home.
Here’s where Wong plays his second card as their son is presumed the murderer before the turning the gun on himself, leading a traumatised Scully to believe that she has found William too late. The scene where she stands over his dead body in the morgue and grieves over the heartbreak of giving him up was very powerful, with Gillian Anderson proving once again why she is the best actor on the show. But of course, the dead body is all an illusion, created by Jackson to make the agents believe he is dead.
It was an intriguing development of those abilities teased years ago in season nine and ties into the vision he sent to Scully which formed the prophetic drama that was My Struggle II. Here the audience learned that William was only half aware of his birth mother and the connection he had formed with her. This vague relationship and Miles Robbins’ somewhat distant performance meant that it was hard to find a connection with Jackson / William, but perhaps that was the point. He was troubled teenager with special abilities he couldn’t control, who had seen his parents murdered by shady government agents and then framed for their murders. What we had here was less a happy family reunion and more a step closer to the truth about Scully’s son.
The scene with Ben Cotton and Zak Santiago mysterious Department of Defence agents in the office was a very tense climax, as Mulder and Scully rushed to save their son. I’m not sure if they were working at the behest of the Cigarette Smoking Man, who made an appearance in Skinner’s office (I’m still undecided if this was a great throwback to the early years or more of the frustrating undevelopment of Skinner’s character). Either way, they proved to be a viable threat to both William as well as thorns in Mulder and Scully’s side.
I also liked the small twist of Scully encountering Peter Wong at the gas station at the end of the episode, only to discover later that it was her first proper encounter with her son in years. Again, Anderson’s performance as Scully reacted to this very bittersweet encounter was very moving to watch.
Ghouli emerged as a quasi mythology filler and but also the weakest episode of the season after My Struggle III. I was till very entertained, but it felt more like the good stories of season 10 than the greater ones that The X Files has had for the last three weeks. At the very least, it developed the William storyline without cramming into another, presumably, rushed finale. I am intrigued to see if Scully will get a proper reunion and a happy ending now that they are aware of each other. Given that Anderson has no intention of continuing The X Files after season 11, this seems the best possible outcome when season 11 comes to a close in five weeks time…
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