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The X-Files Recap: Ghouli

The fifth episode of season 11 is one hell of a ride on many fronts – I am still recovering. Gillian Anderson gives one of THE BEST performances as Scully that we’ve ever seen, and the William storyline advances significantly. There is also a lot of insight on the website that was set up to tie into this episode, called ghouli.net, and you should go there and read all the posts by “Rever”. That is William. Or Jackson? We’ll discuss.

The creepy factor is turned up to high as the episode opens with a girl finding her way onto a discarded, rusty barge anchored at a small lake. The name of the barge is “Chimera,” which is the title of season-seven X-Files episode as well as a known monster of Greek mythology with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail. A more modern definition of ‘chimera’ is anything that has cells from two or more different species – bingo. William as a human-alien hybrid, perhaps? At any rate, the teen girl meets another teen girl on said barge and they both see “Ghouli,” a tall, grotesque monster with razor-sharp teeth, long bat-like limbs, and a passing resemblance to the Cloverfield alien. The girls attack it with knives, but really are attacking each other.

After the credits, which contain the new tagline “You See What I Want You To See,” Scully wakes up in an unfamiliar bed, having another dream-like vision. At first she is paralyzed, but then is able to grab her gun and follow a shadowy person (creature?) around an unfamiliar house, and every time she goes through a door she winds up back in the same place. She details this to Mulder in the basement office, and he suggests sleep paralysis but then a picture of the Chimera barge on his desk triggers her memory – she saw a snowglobe with the barge in her vision. Mulder tells her that it’s an active X-File and they go to investigate.

They chat with local law enforcement, hear about “Ghouli,” examine the crime scene, and Scully sees an older Asian man watching from below – I recognize this actor from Lost and I’m going to call him Dr. Wick since we never get his name…sort of. All will be revealed! They head to a coffee shop to refuel and check out this Ghouli website. Mulder finds is all a tad dull, what with the monster fanfiction, mucus, and feeding on human flesh. That’s just another Tuesday to him! The barista calls out a coffee order for “Bob” and Mulder pops up to get his double-shot, extra foam cappuccino while Scully smirks at his faux name. “Like I want to explain Fox for the millionth time,” Mulder quips. Not a bad idea.

Mulder and Scully chat with the two injured girls, both of whom will recover. They describe the dream Scully had perfectly, and then tell our agents about their boyfriend, the same teenage dude – Jackson Van de Kamp. Ding ding ding! Scully obviously recognizes the name as the one Spender gave her for William’s adoptive parents. She begins to hope against hope, while Mulder tries to temper her stress. Mulder does really well in this episode as an anchor for Scully. Some fans criticized him for not being emotional enough about William, but he certainly is – James Wong’s “Founder Mutation” in season 10 showed us how he thought about his son frequently. Wong also wrote and directed this episode, and there are many tie-ins and consistency with his previous work. How about that! Continuity! Maybe Wong can teach…other people…a thing or two about it.

David Duchovny tweeted this photo of himself with James Wong on set – you are da real MVP, James!

But I digress. Our agents head to a well-appointed house in Virginia suburbia, and as they approach the door, shots are fired. Mulder busts down the door to find a man and a woman dead on the kitchen floor, and Scully heads upstairs and find a dark-haired teen boy on the floor, apparently also dead from a head wound. Jackson. Backup arrives, along with DOD (Department of Defense) agents who have been following Mulder and Scully since they left the airport. Although this has me wondering – they flew to Norfolk, VA from DC? It is only a three-hour drive, and they stop for gas (on the way home? Just to refill the rental car?) at the end of the episode.

Mulder is super irritated with the DOD intrusion, and he even says “don’t try me right now – you have no idea my state of mind.” Which is a really good indication that he is quite upset about the possibility that this is his dead son, and he’s barely keeping it together for Scully’s sake. He finds her in Jackson’s bedroom, looking at photos of him growing up. They also find a pick-up artist book (explains the two girlfriends, but ughhh), a Malcolm X poster above the bed, and a lot of space-themed stuff like a telescope, planet décor, and little astronauts. There is a collection of snowglobes on a shelf, and Scully picks up the one that says “We not in Kansas anymore” with a little windmill inside. She takes it with her.

At the hospital morgue, Scully swabs the inside of her cheek and takes some of William’s hair to run a DNA test. Then she sits down next to his supposed corpse (he isn’t dead, you guys) and gives the saddest Scully speech of all time. She apologizes to him, wishes she’d known him and he’d known her and Mulder, tells him how giving him up was the hardest thing she ever did and how much she loved him. She also notes that “this is so inadequate” and when Mulder comes in, having heard most of this, she tells him what torture this is. He hugs her and agrees, saying they’ll get the DNA tests back soon. After they leave the morgue, Jackson unzips the body bag and gets up.

Scully sleeps while waiting for the DNA test and experiences another vision of Jackson leaving the hospital. No one has seen him leave but the body is gone. Scully is hopeful that he isn’t dead, especially when she runs into Dr. Wick again outside the hospital, who tells her “Don’t give up on the bigger picture.” Back in Jackson’s room, Mulder is looking through his computer and finding nothing, but a quick search yields a secondary computer and redacted government files on “Project Crossroads.” The DOD feds chase Mulder and Scully out of the house, but not before Mulder “accidentally” spills a soda on the other computer. He’s still an evidence-destroying rebel!

Look at the hand sculpture on William’s desk to Scully’s right…remind you of the XF credits?

Skinner calls Mulder the next morning and wants to know what is going on, and why other agencies are calling him to yell about his difficult agents. Mulder plays the whole, you’re breaking up, this cell phone connection is bad and tells Skinner he better come down there if he wants to talk. Good call – Carl is in his office, smoking. Carl being the Cigarette Smoking Man’s real name. Like Dumbledore calling Voldemort by his real, nonthreatening name (Tom), I think Carl is the way to go when referring to the CSM in the future. He’s a gross old guy who is obsessed with Scully’s reproductive capabilities, let’s not give him any more power here. Ahem.

THE X-FILES: L-R: David Duchovny and Mitch Pileggi in the “Ghouli” episode of THE X-FILES airing Wednesday, Jan. 31 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. ©2018 Fox Broadcasting Co. Cr: Shane Harvey/FOX

Mulder and Skinner meet on the murder barge, where Skinner lays down a whole bunch of exposition about Project Crossroads. It was a eugenics program to create human/alien hybrids, much like the weird fetuses we’ve seen in X-Files seasons of yore. Jackson Van de Kamp was one of the test subjects, but the project was stopped because inherited traits are not easily predicted. Mulder defeatedly tells Skinner that Jackson is William, since the DNA test came back positive, and Skinner looks upset. He probably already knew, however, because Carl.

Scully, meanwhile, has visited with Jackson’s psychiatrist and the doctor won’t divulge what Jackson has told her about his “visions” – but she doesn’t have to. Scully parrots her end-of-the-world vision back to the doctor, who is surprised that she can know all that. Catch up, doctor lady! These two are psychically linked.

Mulder doesn’t agree with the police assessment that Jackson killed his adoptive parents, and tells this theory to Scully that the DOD agents are the killers, probably on Carl’s payroll. Mulder thinks that Jackson has the ability to project what he wants people to see, and I find it easiest to think of this ability in terms of the X-Men. Jackson has a combo of Professor X’s and Jean Gray’s powers, and he has only recently been using them. If he’s gone off his “seizure” medications, most likely prescribed to suppress his powers, he could be working on honing his abilities.

Jackson returns to the hospital to see his girlfriends, both of whom are a bit confused when he tells them that he is Ghouli and can make them see things. He notes that he is sharing these vision with a woman who is “maybe his biological mother” – ya think?! He heard her in the morgue! Anyway, then the cops, DOD, and Mulder and Scully pull up outside the hospital and a chase ensues. Jackson projects the Ghouli monster and gets the DOD agents to shoot at each other, and then hides under a desk in the main waiting room and projects again – he projects Scully onto the other DOD agent, and she is then shot. But it isn’t her, phew! They really milked that in the previews, which is a reminder to TRUST NO ONE, especially Fox’s previews.

The real Scully, and Mulder, come into the waiting room and call out to Jackson, telling him it is ok. But he disguises himself as a nurse and flees. The agents head out to the parking to see if they can find him, but he’s gone. They hug, saddened that their son has slipped away from them before they could talk to him and help him.

Scully talks to William in disguise.

In the car on the way home, Scully contemplates the vial of Jackson’s hair. She sees a windmill like the one in her Kansas snowglobe at a gas station, and asks Mulder if they need gas. They stop, and as she fills the tank, she sees Dr. Wick again. She recognizes him, and they have a brief chat. He says that she seems like a good person, and that he wishes he could know her better. He’s headed off across the country. She wishes him safe travels, and he quotes Malcolm X, saying “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” Mulder recognizes the quote when she repeats it back to him, and they notice a surveillance camera on the gas station, and go inside to see the footage.

This was an excellent moment for Scully, as she sees herself talking not to Dr. Wick, but to Jackson/William. Her son is ok, and they spoke. Mulder rests his hands on her shoulders as they watch their son, and Scully’s hopeful, almost smile speaks volumes as we experience this revelation with her. Cut to black.

That episode was just…awesome. James Wong, you are my hero. He knows how to write both of these characters so well, and this new piece of the mythology very quickly righted a lot of the nonsense put forth in the My Struggle series. Honestly, he had Skinner come in and help us out in less than five minutes with Project Crossroads, putting things back on the right track. We had a bit of monster intrigue but mostly a lot of great dramatic moments for Scully/Gillian, as well as Mulder being both incredibly supportive of what Scully is going through and dealing with the reality of government interference in his son’s life.

I would like Gillian to at least be nominated for an Emmy or Golden Globe, as her performance was stellar. She gave us the best Scully since…probably seasons 7 and 8. So proud!

A personal note – I am adopted. Scully’s speech about giving William up and how hard it was, and how much she loved him and wanted to protect him, hit very close to home. I am probably not able to process how seeing one of my heroines say these things truly affected me at this point, so soon after it aired. It was powerful, and I cried, and I texted my brother (who is actually not adopted) to tell him about it. I read in an interview that James Wong is an adoptive parent, which is a huge reason why I think he got this episode so right. Good on ya, James, for accurately representing the adoption aspect of things.

I am also torn about calling “William” by the name Scully gave him. I am Amy, not the name my biological mother gave me, and that is very personal. However, the Ghouli.net blog indicates that he remembers being called “Billy” but is now Jackson? That is very confusing for both him and us as viewers. Everyone is wondering how he got from the farmers in late season 9 to a very upper-class house in Norfolk, Virginia, yet kept the last name “Van de Kamp”. The popular theory is that his parents who died during this episode are actually his second set of adoptive parents, and he was taken from them…maybe after his stint in the hospital post-spider bite, also detailed on the Ghouli blog but told more as a story with a little boy receiving the spider bite and going into quarantine. However, it is unclear whether this is Jackson remembering his farm upbringing, his memories of any tests done on him, or a combo of everything he’s been through told as a semi-fictional story. It’s a bit of a mess, and we may never find out.

Next week, we delve into the Skin-man’s backstory in “Kitten” and it looks like Deputy Director Kersh is back! Perhaps he has mellowed in his old age, as he was a complete jerk in previous seasons. Until then, I’ll be retweeting all the feels from the fandom on Twitter about Ghouli, Scully, and all the Emmys that Gillian needs.

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Amy Imhoff

Amy Imhoff is a writer and editor who blogs at Shoes and Starships, a geek lifestyle blog that specializes in genre fandom, pop culture, travel, fashion, and feminism. She is a featured convention panelist, podcast contributor, and interviewer. Amy has her masters in literature, enjoys a slightly unhealthy obsession with all things British, and likes to sniff old books. Amy is based outside NYC, where she lives with her husband and two silly cats. Find her freaking out about X-Files and Star Trek @lightstar1013

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