The X-Files Recap: Rm9sbG93ZXJz
You are probably reading this on a phone or a tablet…which is exactly what the drones want! The X-Files returned from its Olympics hiatus with a fresh new episode written by Kristen Cloke Morgan and Shannon Hamblin. In other words, The X-Files was written by women for the first time in 18 years. That itself is worthy of a celebration, so…let’s get it on, honey.
The teaser discusses the AI bot that researchers developed and put on Twitter in 2015, which quickly learned what humans taught it…and since it was Twitter, it was taught hate, misogyny, porn, and general unpleasantness. There was even a quote about hating feminists and SJWs that I think I prob get about once a week now in my own Twitter feed. Ahem. Anyway, the bot was shut down, but the concept lingers on. The tagline came up after the credits in the same gibberish as the title, which is not gibberish at all but a computer language called Base 64. “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” translates into “Followers” and the tagline is still “The Truth Is Out There,” just in programmer-speak. I have my master’s in literature so don’t hurt me, all you technical types!
This episode was talked about up, down, and sideways for its lack of dialogue and reliance on technology to tell the story. I want to stress right off the bat (ha! Bat! Mulder has one of those.) that I felt it was very successful and did a great job giving us suspense and humor with little effort. Leading off was…wait for it…you aren’t ready…an actual DATE NIGHT. Yes, Mulder and Scully went out for sushi and had a date. Mulder even paid, although he didn’t tip the server-bots because he did not get the correct meal. Scully got a lovely plate of prepared sushi but Mulder got…a blob fish. It looked really unappetizing, but it was worth it to hear Scully laugh the way she did, and snap a few photos on her phone of Mulder making faces with it.
Mulder couldn’t find anyone to fix his messed up order – the kitchen was populated entirely by automated robot chefs, preparing the sushi. He tried to pay but after he declined to tip, the machine wouldn’t give him his credit card back, and then the automated doors locked them in. Scully, ever the badass, got them out with a chopstick. Her not-an-Uber pulled up shortly after, ruining what might have been a nice goodnight kiss. The door opened upward like a Delorean, which was a nice touch. Scully was trying to tell her “Whipz” car to slow down, stop annoying her into choosing TV or music, or rate the sushi restaurant. Mulder got a parking ticket despite having 3 minutes left (haven’t we all been there?) and then his smart car system wouldn’t play Prince. It played “Teach Your Children”…which we heard several times in this episode. Thanks, now that song is gonna be mad creepy til the end of time.
Scully escapes her Whipz car yelling about how awful it was and she was never going to do it again. Girl, we feel you. Inside, her home alarm is going nuts and she repeating enters her passcode (0223, her birthday) and then calls the alarm company yelling her password – Queequeg, aww! – at the them.
Mulder makes it home and tries contacting his bank, “Bigly Credit” (which is kind of hilarious) about his credit card getting eaten by robots. Doesn’t work – he’s not having a good day with technology. It was a full moon on the show, but is Mercury in retrograde? He busts open some pop tarts and sunflower seeds since he didn’t eat his blob fish. Dinner of champions. His dinner choices are being spied on – there is a drone outside the house. He goes outside and tells it to scram, thinking a kid is controlling it. But we know better, don’t we?
Scully, back in her weirdly swank smart house, starts getting ready for bed and throws out a used tube of styling gel. Her phone asks if she’d like to reorder “Rock it Like A Redhead,” since it somehow knows she is out, which is creepy and has actually happened to me very recently. I was running out of my foundation makeup and thought, I need to go get some, and later that day I got an email from Sephora saying “you must be running low! Want to reorder?” AHHH! Skynet is real! Anyway. Scully then hears a terrifically loud noise and goes outside to find a drone delivering a package. Inside, she opens it on her giant dining room table (for her and…five nonexistent friends? Sorry to be rude, Scully, but you aren’t exactly a social butterfly) and finds that it is a Roomba-like sweeper bot. She sets it down and it goes about sweeping and mapping her house. Under her bed it finds her vibrator, which is awesome and I love it.
I’m going to talk about this in my interview with Kristen Cloke Morgan and Shannon Hamblin, but I just wanted to note that it is great that a writer actually acknowledged that Scully is a sexual person with needs. And also note that the vibrator looked awfully lonely and dusty under the bed…forgotten about, since Scully has a Mulder for that job again. Wink wink.
Back at the Unremarkable House, the drones are invading. Mulder whacked the one outside with a baseball bat so a million more came to its funeral. He grabs his phone, keys, and jacket and makes a break for it. The little drones are still swarming as he heads over to Scully’s, where she is having some serious issues. The coffee maker is going nuts and she gets a mild electric shock when unplugging it, the fridge is shooting ice cubes at her, and then the smart house interface asks if she’s cold and turns on the fireplace. Uh-oh. Fire! Plus, more gas is escaping from the fireplace. The house goes into lockdown while Scully tries to escape – Mulder bangs on the glass doors as Scully grabs the fire poker. She breaks the window just as a spark explodes the living room, and Mulder pulls her to the ground as the flames billow above them. Yikes!
They escape on foot to the neighbor’s smart house, but no one answers and the drones are a-comin’. After a bit more running and being chased by the Whipz car (its mad! Ahh!), they wind up in a warehouse of robots that is quite close to Scully’s house – maybe they manufacture the smart house community components there? A whole army of angry drones is after them, marching in creepy unison. The warehouse is dark and they have their flashlights, but no guns. I’m surprised Mulder didn’t grab his before he left! Scully realizes they are being tracked with their phones and they start shedding their electronics – car door opener, phones, Scully’s Fitbit…and the vibrator was in her pocket. Mulder is like UM WHAT but there is no time to waste on vibrator mysteries! Gotta run!
Our intrepid agents get trapped in a room with a 3D printer that prints bullets. Which it starts shooting at them. A big robot busts in the door holding Mulder’s phone, which is still urging him to tip the sushi restaurant droids. Seriously, just give it a tip! He does, and all the droids back off. The screen says “we learn from you.” Guess they were really mad about doing all that underappreciated work!
The next morning (I’m choosing to believe Scully slept over at the Unremarkable House since her own is a den of fire and murder), Mulder and Scully finish up breakfast at a cozy diner, bustling with patrons and staffed by actual people. A nice waitress puts the bill down and tells them not to rush. Both seem happy and relieved to hear this, and pull out their phones. Scully hears Mulder tapping on the counter and puts her phone down, reaching over to take his hand and leaning into him. Mulder looks up, a bit surprised, but also puts his phone down and entwines his fingers with hers. They sign contentedly, and it is over.
That is how every X-Files episode should end, boys. Take some NOTES.
I always say that the scariest X-Files episodes are the ones that could actually happen. “Irresistible” and its all-too-earthly bad guy are the gold standard for this (which Chris Carter wrote), and I felt that this was definitely a disturbing, close-to-home scenario. Honestly, one of the most upsetting movies I ever saw was “Into The Forest” with Ellen Page and Evan Rachel Wood. They played sisters living with their dad in a house in the hills of northern California, and one day the power just goes out. That’s all that happens in terms of technology…aliens don’t land, monsters don’t crawl out of the forest…just no power ever again. Of course with no power, there is no way to communicate, to manufacture and transport food, energy, or water, no using the gas in your car because when it’s gone, it’s gone…things go south really quickly. How frightening is that concept?
As soon as “Rm9…” finished, I turned to my husband and expressed how glad I was that we have older cars with no digital interface, we have no ‘smart’ alarm in our house, we don’t even have an automatic ice maker on our fridge! And I am obviously never buying a demonic Roomba. Like Mulder and Scully, our favorite place is the old-school neighborhood diner, where the cash register is ancient and the owner knows our names. However, like nearly everyone else in 2018, we still use our phones and laptops constantly and do all our banking and bills online. We have an Alexa that was gifted to us…which I only use sporadically to tell it to play “The Imperial March” from Star Wars. I honestly don’t know what else to do with it.
The lesson here, especially in Mulder and Scully’s handholding at the end, is to put down your devices and interact with each other (and the larger world around you). I had an analogue childhood, but I have a digital adulthood. It is an odd place to occupy in time, as my generation is the last to remember the pre-Internet days as we take selfies and order food on Seamless. I like it that I knew what it was like before, though. I miss the days when I wasn’t constantly plugged in to the 24-hour news cycle, and I’m sure Mulder and Scully do too. As Scully said in last season’s “Weremonster” episode…“Mulder, the Internet is not good for you.”
And yet. I love that the Internet is what made me such a big X-Files fan! I watched it with many of you, back in the day, and convened on message boards at the tender age of 14 to squeal over red Speedos and bottles of wine with not-Mulder. Like all things, there is a light side and a dark side. Here’s hoping that humanity learns how to wield the Force before the robots rise up.
Stayed tuned to the Legion for my interview with Kristen Cloke Morgan and Shannon Hamblin about this excellent and innovative episode! Until then, I’m on your Twitters @lightstar1013, RTing that hand-holding gif.