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THE X-FILES Showed Us Life After Death (Sort Of)

The following contains spoilers for the most recent episode of The X-Files, “This.” If you haven’t seen the episode and do not wish to be spoiled, we suggest you bookmark this and come back. Otherwise, get ready for the truth, which is, as they say, out there.

After a pretty uniformly derided first episode (I definitely didn’t like it), the 11th season of The X-Files got back on track with its second episode, “This,” written and directed by Glen Morgan. It showed Mulder and Scully actually together and doing FBI work, but not getting any time to rest on their laurels with clandestine private security firms from Russia trying to get them for essentially speaking to the dead. It’s a different world in 2018–OBVIOUSLY–than it was in the ’90s, and “This” is the first episode since the return that really embraced what’s scary about now.

Back in season five, cyberpunk pioneers William Gibson and Tom Maddox co-wrote an episode entitled “Kill Switch,” which dealt with, among other things, the idea of uploading one’s consciousness to a computer mainframe. Since then, the idea of the Singularity has perpetuated and has become more and more theoretically possible as capabilities have increased. “This” supposes we’re edging ever closer to this actuality, and there’s already a horrible conspiracy at work to keep the memories of exceptional people alive even if they don’t want to be.

Ringo Langley (Dean Haglund) died in the season nine episode “Jump the Shark,” a backdoor series finale to the cancelled-too-soon spin-off The Lone Gunmen, and made a hallucinatory appearance in last season’s “Babylon. “This” showed us what happened to him after he died…kind of. Langley, it transpires, was one of the architects of the world in which these memories reside and that he made as perfect as possible…and he’s still super ready to leave.

This kind of story is in the zeitgeist these days, with series like Westworld dealing with the consciousness or not of machines, and the 2017 Doctor Who Christmas special depicting a database of the memories of every being in the universe at the exact moment of their death, essentially preserving their whole entire being. Memories are all we are, essentially. Langley undoubtedly is the Langley we knew, even only appearing on Mulder’s phone, and the explanation for why a previously dead character can reappear is consistent not only in the world of The X-Files but the greater science fiction world of today.

One of the reasons “My Struggle III” didn’t work for me was the way it tried to do something earth-shattering and “super relevant” without engaging with today’s world believably. Any time it referenced the current presidential regime or the state of the world, it felt hollow and not like the show it used to be. By contrast, “This” finally brought The X-Files‘ mentality and ethos up to the present day. The FBI are under fire from the executive branch and therefore in possession of the same privileges as before. That’s something Mulder and Scully, being outre within the FBI, would have to contend with all the more. Same with a foreign, private security force.

The world is a scary place, and The X-Files should be at the forefront of stories about it. In 1993 when the show premiered, the idea of government cover-ups and possible annihilation were far-afield and fictional, but now they are in the conversation on a daily basis. “This” embraced it, and relevant scientific possibilities, in a way the show has felt ashamed to since its return. Skinner was once a valued and important ally, but now his loyalty has been compromised, and while “My Struggle III” made me roll my eyes at this idea, “This” made it seem plausible and scary.

And, not for nothing, but getting to see Mulder and Scully take out home invaders using actual training and tactical know-how is nothing short of awesome. “This” is a major step back in the right direction for the show that, as of last week, seemed painfully uncool and out of touch.

Images: Fox

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

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