We gave it an A-
The files send Mulder and Scully to Karah Hamby, a professor of mathematics in Bethesda, which is where things take an unexpected turn for the Black Mirror: Apparently, Hamby and Langly were part of a program that uploaded their consciousnesses to a simulation they could live in after death, “San Junipero”-style. It’s a surprise that Langly was in a romantic relationship, if that’s even what this is — maybe he and Hamby had the sort of purely intellectual partnership some people still believe Mulder and Scully have, even though it’s now confirmed they use handcuffs recreationally. At the very least, they wanted “a life eternal together.” It’s also a surprise that Langly would take that deal; in his final episode, he said of his hero Joey Ramone, “He never gave in, never gave up, and never sold out. Right ‘til his last breath. And he’s not dead. Guys like that? They live forever.” Langly’s definition of living forever seemed less literal and more to do with legacy. But maybe I’m remembering him wrong.
Langly sure seems to be remembering Mulder right — he picked the best people to trust with this. When the white-haired home invader shows up and shoots Hamby, Scully kills him (finally), and Mulder and Scully take Hamby’s phone and hide out in a bar to get back in touch with what’s left of their old friend’s mind. Langly lights up at Scully’s name and tells the agents that he’s living in what might as well be his personal heaven: No one dies of cancer, The Ramones play “California Sun” every night, and the New England Patriots never win. (That makes Langly’s heaven the antithesis of the world shaped by the Smoking Man, a walking cancer who insisted in season 4 that the Patriots’ rival Buffalo Bills must never win the championship as long as he’s alive.)
But in a Brave New World-esque speech, Langly explains that this world he’s in needs to be destroyed: There’s no choice or diversity in it. “We dream, but we’re not allowed to have dreams.” He, along with other great minds who also uploaded, like Steve Jobs and Michael Crichton, is just a “digital slave” whose mind is being used to develop the science that elites like Erika Price and Mr. Y want to use to colonize space. The neon lighting on Langly also illuminates Mulder and Scully in that scuzzy bar, drawing them into the nightmare in which a person is broken down by brain chemistry alone, all science and no X-File.
The partners suffer a rowdy bus ride to New York, then con their way into Titanpointe by pretending Mulder is a “Hannibal Lecter-level psycho” whom Scully has captured and brought in for NSA questioning. (This isn’t The X-Files’ first Silence of the Lambs reference, but this is the first time it doubles as an inside joke for Gillian Anderson.) The ploy works until it doesn’t; Mulder and Scully are cornered in the stairwell, but Scully badasses her way out as Mulder stays behind to fight back.
He’s brought before Erika Price, who monologues about the coming end of humanity, and while it’s good to see some continuity with the premiere, she doesn’t really say anything new. Price admits she was trying to kill Mulder, disappointed in his response to her earlier proposal, but he’s since impressed her with his instinct for survival. It doesn’t hurt his cause that out of all 7 billion people on the planet, Mulder is the one Langly chose — though of course what Langly needs is Mulder’s instinct to never give in, never give up, and never sell out, not the sort of instinct that might compel him to upload to a computer. Which is not to say he isn’t tempted — Mulder asks Price if killing his father would be enough to get him into San Junipero 2.0, and if Scully could come with him. Even as he’s maneuvering to get in a room with the machine and hopefully destroy it, he also obviously sees its appeal.
Scully, a woman of faith for all her scientific degrees, doesn’t. As soon as Mulder gets Al to unlock the door to the computer room, he fights off the commander while Scully shuts down the machine in dramatic, glass-breaking fashion. (“Bye-bye, Ringo.”) Mulder staggers away from his long day of hand-to-hand combat, victorious (he even got his phone back) but about to pass out, and he and Scully return home and collapse on the couch in wearied heaps, because they aren’t going to literally live forever but they are, for now, alive, and maybe more alive than we’ve seen them in a long time.
And the fight goes on: All traces of Purlieu Services are erased before the FBI can open an investigation, and Langly buzzes back to life on Mulder’s phone, begging him to destroy the “backup.” He disappears; the white-haired assassin takes his place.
- Mulder and Scully’s dynamic in this episode is exactly as comfortable and lived in as it should be after all this time. “I’m going to open an X-File on this bran muffin.”
- “Frohike looked 57 the day he was born.”
- Skinner was saddled with a few clunky reminders of the current political climate in this hour, but nothing was weirder than when he got in on the game of rewriting history: Apparently in 1993, there was “barely a Russia.” What? (ETA: As pointed out in the comments, Skinner was likely referring to the Russian constitutional crisis, but his wording felt like it ignored how much the specter of the Cold War still loomed over the original series.)
- Calling him “Walter” is an amazing power move on Scully’s part.
- “Scully you looked so adorbs just there, all curled up in a ball in the booth of a skanky bar with your fingers wrapped around the grip of an assassin’s Glock.”
- “We gotta take a trip to IKEA.”