This episode is, for sure, one of a few that doesn’t age very well, but that’s no fault of the show or the writing. It just seems odd now, in 2018, to think of people being so perplexed and overwhelmed by a computer of all things since we literally have computers all around us doing everything from tracking our heart rate to allowing us to share awesome dog memes. But, at the time, they were much newer — and sometimes scarier — machines.
They make no attempt to hide the references to 2001: A Space Odyssey, but rather than a rip-off I think of it as an homage. The system’s name, COS, is reminiscent of HAL, and the way it asks “What are you doing, Brad?” when Mulder inserts the disk. It evokes a similar sense of fear, really — mostly a fear of the unknown. We still, to this day, don’t fully know what some kind of AI machine would be capable of, so I imagine watching this episode and having similar thoughts in 1993 was even more frightening.
We, in a way, got to see Mulder in a similar situation as Scully’s in “Squeeze”. He wasn’t so much forced to choose a side as he was just visited by people from his past, and I think it seemed obvious how far removed he felt — I mean, he introduces Jerry to Scully merely as someone he worked with and Jerry has to correct him and add “we were partners”. The awkwardness was palpable, especially after Jerry cockily jokes “I taught him everything he knows” at the crime scene.
But we also get another glimpse of Mulder’s history in the sense of hearing about how intelligent and skilled he is at the art of criminal profiling. It comes as no surprise, really, watching him work, but we’re reminded of how much he has sacrificed, in a sense, in pursuit of the truth. Jerry at one point refers to him “dazzling them on the high wire”, referring to their superiors, and it’s obvious that Mulder could have climbed the ladder as high as he wanted — as Jerry desperately wants to — but it holds no appeal for him. It’s an interesting sort of companion perspective since we’ve seen on multiple occasions now, in both “Squeeze” and “The Jersey Devil”, how much Scully has given up to work with Mulder.
SCULLY: How come you two went your separate ways?
MULDER: I’m a pain in the ass to work with.
MULDER: I’m not a pain in the ass? We had different career goals. Jerry wanted the fifth floor.
SCULLY: And you?
MULDER: I was gunning for a basement office with no heat or windows.
It was kind of a cool episode in the sense that it showed how expansive the X-files can really be. They aren’t just limited to the supernatural — they can be any unexplained case, even when it focuses around technology. It was also still very much a scary episode, with chilling moments like Scully’s computer turning back on after she went to bed, or Brad screaming in horror as the COS killed Jerry in the elevator.
I thought the addition of Deep Throat was maybe a tiny bit gratuitous — he wasn’t particularly needed. But I did enjoy the more political route they went with Brad’s reasoning for confessing to the murders.
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.
While the conclusion of the episode wasn’t the most satisfying thing ever — there’s not really much dramatic flair to injecting a virus into a computer system, even when you’re Fox Mulder — we did get to see a badass Scully climb through a ventilation system and then brandish a gun.
And, true to The X-Files, we got to see the system re-boot during the final search, reminding us that it’s never truly over…
Rating: 6/10 | Director: Jerrold Freedman | Writer: Chris Carter, Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon | Music: Mark Snow | Cinematography: John S. Bartley | Starring: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Rob LaBelle, Tom Butler, Wayne Duvall, Blu Mankuma, Jerry Hardin