Shane Harvey/FOX
Kelly Connolly
January 17, 2018 AT 09:00 PM EST

The X-Files

type
TV Show
genre
Drama, Mystery, Sci-fi
performer
Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny
author
Chris Carter
broadcaster
Fox
seasons
11
Current Status
In Season
tvpgr
TV-14

We gave it a B

Tracking the story of Mulder and Scully is like studying pointillism, like the scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when Cameron Frye has a crisis of identity in front of a Seurat. Every episode of The X-Files is its own self-contained dot, consistent within itself but completely distinct — and often wildly different — from the dot next to it: tragedy followed by adventure followed by horror followed by farce.

This is usually a strength, and not just in a something-for-everyone sense. If you step far enough back, Mulder and Scully are made vibrant by how many contradictions they’re capable of holding. In his recent exploration of just what is going on between these two, my colleague Darren Franich cited the haziness of their relationship timeline as part of the pair’s “strange, paradoxical power”; leading up to this season, the show’s tonal elasticity was one of series creator Chris Carter’s favorite talking points. At its best, The X-Files is a reminder that we are elastic people.

But that doesn’t make those little dots of paint any less confusing in close-up, especially when one of them is trying to be pivotal but comes after the dot it feels like it’s pivoting toward. (I’m done with this analogy now.) Last week, Mulder and Scully were comfortably cohabitating and ribbing each other about handcuffs. This week, Scully makes a show about sharing a motel room. In an episode about doppelgängers, it’s tempting to think of this Mulder and Scully as slightly parallel to the ones we saw last week, or the ones we’ll see next week. The Mulder and Scully who talk about their future in “Plus One” are not their dark doubles, but that doesn’t mean they’ve never steered themselves into a tree.

We open on concertgoer Arkie Seavers crowd-surfing to a punk rock rendition of a David Duchovny song (!) when he spots his menacing double in the crowd and speeds off in his truck. His double appears in the passenger seat and grabs the wheel, sending the truck careening into a tree, and though Arkie flies through the windshield, he survives. As it turns out, Arkie isn’t the only local to be beset by visions of a doppelgänger, but he is the only one on record who’s still alive, so Mulder and Scully pay him a visit. His very enthusiastic lawyer insists that despite Arkie’s history of DUIs, alcohol isn’t the only force at work here.

Issues of blame get even more muddled when Scully and Mulder visit a doctor at the psychiatric hospital who treated multiple patients, all of whom are now dead, who claimed to see their doubles. The doctor says none of those patients had previously been treated for psychiatric problems — though, she adds, they weren’t exactly “upstanding citizens” either. For some reason, it’s the medical professionals in this episode who do the most work to reinforce negative and statistically false stereotypes of mental illness. On The X-Files, science has become a dark doppelgänger of itself.

While at the hospital, Mulder and Scully stumble upon a patient whose walls are lined with games of hangman, which is symbolic and therefore worth checking out. (Toward the end of the hour, Mulder will yell, “You’re under arrest! Put the pencil down!” On The X-Files, the paranormal has become an MFA class.) Naturally, one of those stick men hangs from a gallows that bears Arkie’s name. It was drawn by a woman with schizophrenia named Judy who claims to play hangman telepathically with her twin brother Chucky. Both characters are played by Karin Konoval, already infamous in the world of this show as Mrs. Peacock, the incestuous amputee mother kept under a bed in season 4’s “Home.” The X-Files is no stranger to reusing Vancouver-based actors, but in this story Konoval’s return plays into the idea that there’s nothing under the sun Mulder and Scully haven’t already faced, including themselves. It all comes back around.

Take the motel. In an encounter that would have made a lot more sense in the early years of this show — but hey, isn’t this why they broke up? For the fun tropes? — Mulder and Scully get to a local motel to find that there’s only one room at the inn. Mulder takes the room without a second thought; Scully looks amused that he would dare, which would have made sense before last week’s domesticity but feels pretty rich now. She banishes Mulder to a pull-out couch that is inexplicably behind a closed door, just to combine the tension of sharing a suite with the excitement of adjoining rooms.

(Of note: Mulder and Scully get to the motel at 11:21 p.m., a recurring motif since Mulder called Scully at the end of the pilot. The name of the establishment? St. Rachel Motel — as in, the Old Testament Matriarch whose greatest struggle was infertility until she was rewarded for her faith in the form of two sons, one of whom is best remembered for his amazing technicolor coat, the other of whom killed her in childbirth. Before Rachel married Jacob, her father tricked him into marrying her sister Leah first. Appearances can be deceiving, even, apparently, in bed.) (Next: Panic! At the motel)

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