The X-Files: Rm9sbG93ZXJz

Case: Mulder and Scully reconnect to one another after they're awakened to the imperfectness of technology.

Destination: D.C.

Black Mirror meets Christine.

That description isn't really accurate, namely because both Black Mirror and Christine are written by men. On the other hand, what makes 'Rm9sbG93ZXJz' a huge hit is its two women writers. Kristen Cloke and Shannon Hamblin finesse this concept to convey empathy, patience, even sensuality. The tone of this episode, coded to reveal to us the beauty of paradox, is just wildly successful in their hands. (I mean, Crosby, Stills and Nash is nothing if not inspired.) For one, the thrilling aspects of 'Rm9sbG93ZXJz' are not filled with doom and dread, but intrigue, curiosity and suspense. Mulder and Scully are not relentlessly punished by the machines in their life because of their consumptive relationships with their technology, there was an earnest desire to understand what was happening around them, and that goes double for the AIs! Mulder and Scully never turn on the other in frustration, fear or anger but instead save each other, again and again, in little and big ways. All of this happens with almost no dialogue. This is generative, creative and substantive writing, at its best.

Our relationship to technology is, of course, a huge part of our shared psyche, and a perfect subject for The X-Files. This fascination with machines of ours has taken on many hues, over time. As long as people have been able to encapsulate our abiding hopes and fears about our capabilities in a visual medium, we've been telling this story. Thus, the subtle nods to the paragons of this genre, sprinkled throughout 'Rm9sbG93ZXJz', make it even more amusing. Remarkably, the story remains firmly planted in the here and now, not really like its older sci-fi cousins. All of the technology presented is not only possible, it's already in our lives. The writers chose that wisely, as its effect is grounding while it highlights our vulnerability more clearly.

There are a million and one outstanding moments in this episode. These beats have this way of both contracting into microcosms of the theme, while expanding into the wider landscape of our universal dependence on technology. But there's more: these nuances embody the molecular structure of our beloved FBI agents that we have come to love so dearly by now. For instance, if you had to come up with three words to describe Fox Mulder's view of the technology he must contend with in this world, would they not include bemused, rebellious and slightly paranoid? Was there even one detail about Scully's smart home that wasn't completely believable, right down to her smart fridge and the affirmations she had loaded it with? When you're watching something this thoughtful, on an unconscious level, you just know you are in good hands.

I've watched 'Rm9sbG93ZXJz' three times, and each time, I delight in it even more. (The title means 'followers', or so the tiny computer in my hand tells me.) It's one of my favorite episodes in the last several seasons, over time it may climb even higher on my list. Watching it actually had the effect of making me wish there were more X-Files to be written. I haven't felt that way in a long, long time.

Other Thoughts

* 'Teach Your Children', though all instrumental, is on at the restaurant, too.

* I can only assume that Mulder was looking at porn on his phone at the restaurant!

* The price of the sushi made me laugh so hard. You really are in for $50 (minimum) when you go to eat it.

* The names of all of the apps could have gone in so many different directions. However, the one they went in was simultaneously funny, satirical, realistic, simple, cohesive and memorable. (I think my favorite was Mulder's map app called GYDZ.)

* There are a few things that Mulder does that made me remember in full force what I love about that character so much, namely his throwing the crumpled up parking ticket across the parking lot like a MLB pitcher.

* I think it's hilarious that the things going on with Scully are like batsh*t crazy, whereby Mulder gets away with annoying mundane bureaucratic stuff like the endless call to his credit card company.

* When Scully's phone was unusable because it was doing an update, I almost lost it. I was laughing so hard.

* Both were very facile on their phones, particularly Scully who didn't really blink with every crazy notification that popped up. I also liked how she didn't seem alarmed that her phone and home knew so much about her. It was as if to say, that's not what the problem is here.

* A few of those robot/machine titans I specifically enjoyed a shout-out to: Terminator, Short Circuit, WALL-E, Ex-Machina, Maximum Overdrive.

* If you're a huge x-phile, you already know that Kristen Cloke is an actress, too. She has been on The X-Files before (in 'The Field Where I Died'). She was also on Space: Above and Beyond, Pretty Little Liars and much more. She is married to Glen Morgan.

Final Analysis: Yum.


Anonymous said...

Scully' security password was Quequeeg, same as her dog.

The whole restaurant scene felt soulless, with the utter lack of dialogue, the low lighting and the robot kitchen staff. The dining area could have fit into Kevin Flynn's base in Tron Legacy. Definite got the message across, and a huge contrast to the diner at the end, bustling with people and looking more comforting.

Billie Doux said...

This was my favorite episode of the past couple of seasons. I absolutely loved it and laughed through the whole thing. Along with the stuff you mentioned in your wonderful review, Heather, I particularly loved the lack of dialogue. The little moment when Mulder says, how come your house is so much nicer than mine? And the end where... I mean, I *think* that this all happened because the robot restaurant was angry that they didn't leave a tip, am I right? It's such a human reaction. :)

Heather said...

I meant to mention Queequeg! Thank you! Long live, Queequeg.

Heather said...

Yes, that was the insinuation I got, too, Billie. Brilliant ending for a masterpiece.

Mallena said...

Heather, I'm glad that you reviewed this episode, I knew that you'd write a good one that I'd agree with. The X-Files is a show that my husband watched occasionally with me, but these last few seasons have been mostly terrible, so I've been embarrassed to share these later episodes with him. This is the first episode that I want to show him, from recent episodes. I loved it. Of course, it's a rip-off of Black Mirror, but I don't care. It's also referencing that old Twilight Zone episode with Agnes Moorehead were she's mute and the little alien robot is attacking her.

I loved the fact that Scully's in a high tech home, while Mulder's in an old one. It was great that Mulder called that out. I wish that these last seasons of X-Files were mostly stand-alone and had few, if any, mythology eps. William should have been forgotten, along with the alien soup of myth.