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The X-Files: Ghost in the Machine

Case: The electrocution murder of Benjamin Drake, CEO of Eurisko, a Fortune 500 company.

Destination: Crystal City, Virginia

This week’s theme is “when good technology goes bad,” or as I like to call it “an ode to 2001: A Space Odyssey.” Mulder and Scully are brought in to help out Mulder’s former partner, Jerry, on a case involving the electrocution of Eurisko’s CEO, which appears to be an elaborate booby trap. Seems Jerry had a bad break on a case in Atlanta, and his old buddy Mulder’s profiling skills could really help him get his career back on track. At first, the agents suspect Brad Wilczek (the founder of Eurisko) hacked the Central Operating System he created, then used it to murder Drake. But they later discover through an intuitive leap of Mulder’s (and a little assist from Deep Throat) that the operating system --- an adaptive, thinking machine --- is actually the culprit.

I suppose it was only a matter of time before they did an episode on the dangers of machines that think. Artificial intelligence gone awry is a great sci-fi theme, and one that ties in nicely with the general government conspiracy theme of the show. (Of course the Department of Defense would be interested in adaptive networks, and of course they’d want to keep it a big fat secret.) Unfortunately, ‘Ghost in the Machine’ is a rather poor exploration of the topic.

In spite of a kick-ass opening kill, the Central Operating System never felt that sinister to me. Between its goofy mechanical voice and inane dialogue (“File deleted.” “File opened.” “Program executed.”), the system came across as more comical than scary. The ever-watchful cameras were the most ominous thing about it (but mostly because they evoked shades of Big Brother from 1984).

The terrible acting from some of the guest stars did not help matters any. Rob LaBelle as Brad Wilczek was particularly underwhelming. The opening scene with Brad yelling at Drake was just awful, and his reactions during Jerry’s death scene were also pretty weak. LaBelle did OK in the prison cell scene with Mulder, but otherwise his Brad vacillated between over-the-top and just plain forced.

About the only interesting part of the episode was discovering Mulder had a “friend.” I’m not sure how mutual the friendship was, given the crappy way that Jerry used him, but Mulder sure seemed to have a soft spot for his former partner. Even after Jerry stole his profile, Mulder kept trying to help the guy. Maybe he just felt bad for Jerry, because he knows what it is like to be out of favor. Or maybe he somehow felt responsible for Jerry’s fall from grace. Either way, it gave us a chance to see the quieter, more restrained Mulder. (At least until secretive government agents told him to get off their turf, which is pretty much guaranteed to fire up the reckless Mulder we know and love.)

Other Thoughts

The Jerry/Mulder dynamic was a nice contrast to Mulder’s current partnership with Scully. The latter two clearly have a better foundation of respect, trust, and support.

What a waste of Deep Throat. It was interesting to learn that Mulder can contact him for help and information, but this was some pretty dull ‘conspiracy’ stuff. I totally forgot that Deep Throat was even in this episode.

The operating system was an obvious allusion to Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey. “Welcome back, Brad.” “What are you doing, Brad?” “Don’t do this, Brad.” Except Hal was actually scary.

Why didn’t Jerry just arrest Brad at his home? Did he not have the warrant yet? Or did the writers need him to go to the office so they could do the plummeting elevator death?

How many phone lines does Scully have? If her computer was being hacked via modem, thus using her phone line, how did she call out for a trace using a land line?

What the hell made Scully think shooting at the rotating metal blades was a good idea? Ricochet, anyone? Apparently it worked, but still.

I was surprised to learn that the Eurisko building systems engineer was working for the government. In a relatively obvious episode, I didn’t see that one coming.

On the subject of repeat actors: Nancy “Iron Maiden” Spiller (the woman leading the investigation) is played by Gillian Barber, who also appeared as different characters in later episodes, including a memorable role in Seasons 3 and 4.

As a former DC commuter, I was amused by the elevated train passing in the background when Scully tells Mulder he needs to talk to someone. Clearly not a DC Metro train.


Scully: “How come you two went your separate ways?”
Mulder: “I’m a pain in the ass to work with.”
Scully: “Seriously.”
Mulder: “I’m not a pain in the ass?”

Mulder: “We had different career goals. Jerry wanted the fifth floor.”
Scully: “And you?”
Mulder: “I was gunnin’ for a basement office with no heat or windows.”

Wilczek: “After the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Robert Oppenheimer spent the rest of his life regretting he’d ever glimpsed an atom.”
Mulder: “Oppenheimer may have regretted his actions, but he never denied responsibility for them.”
Wilczek: “He loved the work, Mr. Mulder. His mistake was in sharing it with an immoral government. I won’t make the same mistake.”

Mulder: “They can’t just take a man like Brad Wilczek without an explanation.”
Deep Throat: “They can do anything they want.”

Final Analysis: Technology run amok was a good idea for an episode, but ‘Ghost in the Machine’ is poorly executed. Another swing and a miss.

Jess Lynde is a highly engaged television viewer. Probably a bit too engaged.


  1. I'm so glad you reviewed this, Jess. It's such a laughable episode that it only makes me appreciate the really good ones more.

  2. Haha, this is a bad episode. Even way back when, I thought it was awful. With almost no Hollywood experience, I was oblivious to bad acting though, so maybe it's even worse now.

    It seems like one of those television laws that any show must do at least one computer-gone-bad episode. I mean, how can an AI ever be good on TV? The X-Files did two that I know of. In season 7 they did First Person Shooter, which was a lot better than this one, but still pretty awful.


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