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The X-Files Newbie Recap: “Shadows,” “Ghost in the Machine”

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This week, we have ghosts and HAL 9000, and Scully makes the same Poltergeist reference I did last week. Fab.

Shadows

I’m so glad they’re making vengeful ghosts part of this universe. I love ghosts. I’m so here for this.

This episode focuses on a woman named Lauren Kyte, who works for an industrial technology company. Her boss, Howard Graves, has recently passed away and in the opening scenes she’s shown clearing out his office. A sign on the desk emblazoned with a Ben Franklin quote twitches and moves by itself. She doesn’t see this, but turns and picks up the sign anyway. Later, while stopping at an ATM, she’s set upon by two men who drag her into an alley. Next thing we know, a pair of youths are trying to scale the fire escape in the alley and inadvertently dislodge two bodies. It’s the guys who grabbed Lauren earlier, and they go crashing into the dumpster. Evidently, they were at that long before Daredevil made it cool.

Our heroes are called to Bethesda hospital in Maryland to consult on the bodies. They were summoned by two very reticent non-FBI agents who refuse to disclose any further information on what’s going on. The medical examiner says the men were killed when their throats were crushed – only problem is, there are no marks on their necks. The larynx and oesophagus seem to have been crushed from the inside. Even worse, one of the bodies has a posthumous muscular twitch going on, which is exactly as unnerving as it sounds. Scully’s MD cap is flabbergasted. Mulder tries to press the sketchy agents for more info, but all they’ll say is Mulder and Scully were called in due to their experience with extraordinary phenomena. The agents request full denial, prompting Mulder to reply “I’d say you people already suffer from full denial.” Pardon my slang, but lawlz. I wonder if he can self-five. Outside, when Scully speculates as to what might have caused the men’s throats to implode, Mulder suggests psychokinetic manipulation. This elicits the first excellent Scully face of the episode.

You what now
On the more helpful side, he’s pinched a pair of glasses belonging to the dead guys. There’s a thumbprint on the lens. Excellent.

When we catch up with Lauren again, she’s gone into her remaining boss’s office to hand in her notice. This Mr. Dorland makes a big show of claiming the company is one big family, but then starts wrapping his hands about her head and saying he won’t let her leave. Gross. Suddenly, his watch starts tightening about his wrist and he’s forced backwards by the pressure. It’s enough for Lauren to get up and escape. Hmm. The episode is set up so that it looks like Lauren has some kind of Carrie-esque power, the clear implication being she may have accidentally killed Graves. However, she seems as stunned by what’s going on as anyone. The situation becomes clearer later on when she wakes up in the middle of the night to voices in her house. She grabs a baseball bat and follows them carefully, tracing the sounds to the bathroom. There’s no one in there but when she pulls the shower curtain back, the tub starts filling with blood.

I guess that's not food colouring
She sinks to the ground, whimpering “they killed him.” Ouch.

Meanwhile, Mulder and Scully have used the fingerprint to ID the dead men. They discover that both were linked to a terror cell operating out of Philadelphia. The Philly police in turn lead them to the alley where the bodies were found. There’s an ATM around the corner. On pulling its security feed, they discover footage of Lauren being attacked by the men. Mulder spots a blurry shape behind her, and in a rare shot of the ’90s being more realistic with technology then present-day cop shows, Scully laments that the “the resolution’s too poor… it won’t help to enhance it.” Moment of silence for that.

They track Lauren down and ask her some questions. She’s reluctant to say anything, claiming at first she doesn’t recognise the dead men and then backtracking when Scully points out that they grabbed her at the ATM. She claims that they pulled her away but she was able to slip loose and make a run for it. She also says she doesn’t know anything about the shape behind her on the security feed. When they leave, their car is seized by some kind of unseen force (at least it’s not lights in the sky this time!)  and they go plummeting backwards into another car. They’re unhurt, but when the car is towed the headlights keep twitching – even though they’re not actually switched on. Eeep.

Scully decides that someone tampered with their car while they were inside, and later becomes convinced that Lauren is up to something. They look into her history and find the death notice for Graves. Scully theorizes that he faked his own death and is working with Lauren on something, possibly something big enough that the CIA are involved. This would explain the agents who called them in to investigate the bodies earlier. Mulder has slightly more colourful theories as to what’s happening (of course!) but goes along with his partner to investigate Graves’ autopsy records. The records aren’t extensive – he was found bleeding out in the bathtub, as per Lauren’s little vision earlier, so it was assumed to be a suicide. However, his organs were donated. Scully pulls the transplant records to get some DNA information and confirms that Graves is indeed dead, unless he’s running around somewhere missing all of his vitals. Bah.

In the interim, Lauren’s had her going away party at work. While preparing to leave, Dorland corners her again and growls that he knows Graves “told” her. Lauren retorts that she knows Dorland had Graves killed, and manages to get out. She calls Mulder and asks him to meet her at her house. Before he and Scully arrive, a pair of goons show up and try to attack Lauren. However, they’re stopped by the same force that’s been protecting her. One is crushed up against the door and has her neck crushed in the same way as the dead terrorists, and the other is dangled in mid-air until he chokes to death. Mulder bursts in just as this guy drops to the ground and, to his eternal credit, even he looks dumbfounded.

Um
Lauren’s taken in for questioning. The CIA agents reappear and start chastising Mulder and Scully for compromising their investigation. Again with the agency-on-agency thing. Lads, these things would go so much more smoothly if you all could just get along. Our heroes try to reason with them, and eventually they reveal that the company Lauren worked for was under investigation for selling restricted parts to the Philadelphia terror cell. They don’t have enough evidence on Lauren to hold her, however, so they’re trying to make her talk. One of the agents squares his shoulders and announces that he can “make” her talk, compelling Mulder to scoff magnificently and retort, “My advice to you? Don’t get rough with her.” Indeed.

A few hours later, the CIA concede defeat and let Mulder and Scully take a shot. At first, Lauren refuses to say anything to them either, so Mulder tries a different angle and asks about how Graves is apparently “watching over her.” This is enough for her to open up a little and reveal that Graves was a lovely guy who looked out for all of his employees. Before his death, he was worried about the loss of certain key contracts, which would have had an adverse effect on the company. Graves had found out that Dorland was selling parts to the terror cell and that these parts were used in an attack in Florida which killed several people. Lauren had originally thought this was why he killed himself, but now she knows he was murdered. She tells them Graves “showed her” how he was killed and relates what she saw in the bathtub earlier.

Interestingly, it’s Scully who uses this as a means of getting her to help the investigation. She asks Lauren to help them finish Graves’ unfinished business, as otherwise, neither he nor Lauren will be able to rest. Mulder later asks why she said this when she doesn’t believe in ghosts. Scully replies that she believes Lauren believes, and she wants to help her to stop Dorland. This is such a lovely show of character. Scully is a skeptic in the very best way – understanding, reasonable, and willing to engage with earnest beliefs where it’s necessary to save the day. I love that she doesn’t waste time trying to convince anyone of the truth of things, but keeps the bigger picture in mind and adapts to what they’ve got.

Lauren’s information is enough for the FBI to get a warrant to search the office building. At first, it looks like Dorland might have anticipated them as they can’t find anything suspicious. However, when they go looking in Dorland’s office, he gets angsty and the ghostly force swings into gear. It blows the lights and locks the door – naturally, Mulder is the one inside with Lauren, while Scully’s outside trying to hammer the door down – then jams a letter opener into the wall. The wallpaper shreds and the door unlocks. Scully bursts in and Mulder goes to the wall, pulling A FLOPPY DISK (oh this is wonderful) (#90skid) out of a hidden compartment. The contents of the disk are enough for them to prosecute the case, and all’s well that ends well. Hurray!

At the end of the episode, Mulder and Scully discuss the afterlife. He asks her if she believes in an afterlife, and she responds that she’d settle for a life in this one. I’m sure she’ll look back on that fondly sometime, but in the meantime carpe diem, Dana. Good choice.

Ghost in the Machine

I just recently watched Ghost in the Shell for the first time so that title amuses me. This one is adorably dated – there are dial-up connections and they get excited over pre-programmed computers for some reason – but it’s a nice take on the scourge of murderous AI. That won’t ever go out of style.

We open at Eurisko HQ, evidently this universe’s version of Apple. An employee named Brad Wilczek is going postal on his boss because costs are being cut and a programme called the COS is being axed. Brad angrily shouts that they’ll “regret this”, before flouncing out in a huff. Later that night, Drake (the boss man) is typing out a memo on the termination of the COS programme. Something is watching him – a security camera in his office feeds video back into a computer which quickly reveals itself to be the COS in question. COS stands for Central Operating System, apparently, which makes me nostalgic for this age of innocence. Bless them.

Drake finishes his memo and heads into the bathroom, where he notices that the sink is overflowing. For some completely indiscernible reason, there’s a landline phone right beside it and it picks this inopportune moment to ring. Drake answers it but then the lights blow out, the door jams, and when he tries to use his key card to open it the lock shorts and blows him across the room. We then cut back to the COS computer, which ominously announces “file deleted” as it destroys the memo Drake had been working on. I love the idea of rogue AI narrating its actions, I have to say. There’s something very Hamlet about the delusions of grandeur. (Can I also say that I love the way so many greedy businessmen go the way of the dodo in this show? It’s like the paranormal’s personal vendetta against capitalism.)

Mulder and Scully are consulted on the crime by Jerry, an old friend of Mulder’s. Jerry’s in a bit of a tight spot as Drake was a friend of the Attorney General’s but, even worse, he himself is still on probation after messing up on a hate crimes case in Atlanta. He lost a key piece of evidence and a federal judge was badly injured as a result of the delay in capturing a suspect. Jerry is precious, albeit slightly unscrupulous, in this episode. In his mad rush to solve the crime, he steals Mulder’s profile notes and passes them off as his own. He later tries to apologise and says he’s lost faith in his abilities since Atlanta, which made him envious of Mulder because he’s always “dazzling” everyone. That’s hilarious. Has he met anyone who works with Mulder?

Anyway, while investigating the crime scene at Eurisko, a totally-not-suspicious-at-all super named Peterson advises Scully and Mulder that someone would have had to override the building’s central security system in order to tamper with the bathroom door. The list of people with the know-how to do so is made up of one name, which leads them to Brad Wilczek. Brad is exactly as obnoxious as you would expect someone with an IQ of 220 and resulting god complex to be. He laments Drake’s “short-sightedness” and acknowledges that he could totally have overridden the system, cos he’s the one who designed it. Hey, guys, Ex Machina is out now and you should see it. Oscar Isaac plays a far more attractive version of this character and there’s feminism.

Later, Scully compares recordings of the voice on the phone call Drake answered just before he died and a recording of Brad giving a lecture. The computer programme she uses to do this looks like a vintage version of Windows Media Player and it’s splendiferous. The analysis suggests the voices are the same, which leads her to believe Brad committed the murder. Mulder, of course, thinks it’s too obvious, but they together with Jerry decide to bring him in anyway. Jerry goes to pick him up alone. Brad is at Eurisko, trying to hack into the COS. He discovers it has a voice synthesizer and is stunned when it locks him out. There’s a hilarious montage of him actually arguing aloud with the computer, and the best part is Brad just looks mildly put out throughout the whole thing, as though the COS just deliberately dropped his ice-cream cone.

Jerry’s on the way up in the lift. You know what’s coming. There are actual horror movies about lifts. It reaches the top floor and then the building’s resident HAL 9000 wannabe sends him plummeting back to the ground. Brad hysterically shouts “Noooo!” in his dark shady room but never looks anything more than vaguely disgusted. Tells you a lot about what people in the 90s thought of technology, really, that this murderous computer’s hidden in what looks like an upper-class prison cell.

NOOO
The next day, Brad confesses to murdering Drake. Mulder views video footage of Brad at Eurisko and refuses to believe it, asking why he’d let himself be captured on camera if he went back to the building. He goes to Brad’s house but finds it surrounded by agents (possibly our old friends at the NSA again), who inform him that he needs level 5 security clearance to get in. Mulder decides to call in a favour and meets with Shady Bathroom Guy to get more info. I need a better name for this guy, so maybe I should just call him Deep Throat. I’m fascinated at his apparent willingness to meet Mulder in broad daylight in very public places, especially when the latter insists on sitting around looking so ridiculously conspicuous.

The worst secret agent of all time
Anyway, Deep Throat tells him that Eurisko is BFFs with the defence department. Brad had apparently developed an “adaptive network” – a computer that thinks – and it’s become a holy grail for the DOD. Later, Mulder visits Brad in prison and asks why he confessed to a crime he didn’t commit. Brad goes full god complex, quotes Oppenheimer and says he made the same mistake in sharing his work with an immoral government. Eventually however, he agrees to write a virus to destroy the COS.

Scully is appalled by all this. She argues that the level of AI necessary for the machine to have done all these things is decades away and says Brad is using it as an alibi. She reckons Mulder is a bit unhinged over Jerry’s death (the jury’s out on whether it’s a permanent issue), but swiftly comes around when, in the middle of the night, she’s woken up by a phone call. It’s just static interference (dial-up noises!) but she discovers her computer is on and her notes are being accessed. Earlier in the episode, the COS had used her image on Eurisko’s CCTV to track her through DC phone records. This was a pre-Google era. Scully calls FBI HQ (using a different phone, presumably) and asks it to run a trace on her number to find out who’s accessing her computer.

This leads her to Eurisko, where she meets Mulder. He’s there to smuggle in the virus and destroy the COS. When she tells him what happened, Mulder looks up at the building and unleashes the following in his most glorious deadpan yet –

It's alive
Scully is so past arguing with his demented logic that she just asks how they can get in. His response: “Remember the Trojan horse?” (FNAR FNAR I SEE WOT U DID THAR.)

He’s actually referring to a fake number plate, which they use to get past the car park scanner. Unfortunately, the computer recognizes them anyway and drops the garage door on the car. They’re able to squeeze under it and start making their way upstairs. The COS kills all the lights in the building, cos it’s helpful like that. It also booby-traps the doors so that they can’t get through without frying themselves like Drake did. Mulder gives Scully a boost up into the air vent so she can climb into the next room and let him in, but the COS whips up a wind which knocks Scully backwards and almost sends her hurtling into a fan. Meanwhile, the totally-not-suspicious-at-all super Peterson puts in a suspiciously well-timed appearance. He lets Mulder into the room housing the COS and says he’s been there all evening because the machine’s been acting “crazy”. Mulder manages to plug in the 90s equivalent of a USB (it’s monstrous) and goes about uploading the virus, but Peterson reveals his true colours by pulling a gun on him. He’s been trying to access the computer’s CPU for two years and won’t let Mulder destroy it.

Sadly for him, Dana Scully’s about and very very pissed off from her brush with death in the air vent. She disarms Peterson, who tries to talk her round by saying the tech in the machine is of enormous significance. Mulder calmly reminds him it’s a murderer and puts in the floppy disk containing the virus. The machine wails “Brad, whyyyyy” in a hilariously pathetic voice as it dies, and music reminiscent of John Carpenter starts playing. They all look like they’ve been through a Carpenter movie. Scully is so completely done with everything.

The next day, Mulder has another playdate with Deep Throat. He informs him that the machine is definitely dead and Brad’s been spirited away by shady government types. However, the COS isn’t completely done yet. In the final scene, Peterson mucks about with the hardware, trying to figure out how to fix it. He takes a call from someone telling him he has only six hours before it’s to be completely destroyed. “I’m going to figure this thing out if it kills me,” he opines, staring into the screen. Dude, you know it kills people. What is up with these lads?

Check back next week for an episode right out of The Thing and something about space spirits. This show is such a terrific rabbit hole.

Grace Duffy is a pop culture devotée and sometime film critic currently catching up on her classic sci-fi. You can read more on her blogTumblr, or catch her frequent TV liveblogs on Twitter.

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