Robert Falconer/FOX
January 31, 2018 at 09:00 PM EST

The X-Files

TV Show
Drama, Mystery, Sci-fi
Gillian Anderson, David Duchovny
Chris Carter
Current Status
In Season
We gave it an A-

Before she and Mulder can prepare themselves, Mr. and Mrs. Van De Kamp are shot and killed inside the house. When a third shot rings out upstairs, Scully is the one who finds him: Jackson (Miles Robbins), dead on the floor with a gun in his hand. There’s another critique to be made here regarding this show’s tendency to martyr Scully by heaping trauma on her, but I won’t be making it — this is the best dramatic material Gillian Anderson has been given in years. At the morgue, after taking the samples she’ll need to compare Jackson’s DNA to hers, Scully sits down next to the body of the boy she believes is her son, and Anderson takes that morgue to church.

“I don’t know if you are who I think you might be,” Scully begins, “but if you are William, this is what I’d say.” What follows is an agonizing apology: that she, Mulder, and William didn’t get to know each other; that, in Scully’s eyes, she failed her son. She cries that she didn’t give him up for lack of love but out of a desire to keep him safe. “And maybe,” she admits, reckoning with season 9’s hazy justification for William’s adoption, “I should have had the courage to stand by you, but I thought I was being strong because it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done: to let go, and to know that I was going to miss your whole life.” The same complications that made this story frustrating 16 years ago make it painfully human now: Looking back, Scully isn’t sure she understands her choice either. She grasps at the consequences of a decision no pretty speech can take back: “Oh my God, this is so inadequate.”

As for Mulder, he sidelines his grief by focusing on Scully, only hinting occasionally at the toll this is all taking on him. “You have no idea my state of mind,” he snaps at two smug DOD agents who’ve followed him and Scully to the Van De Kamps’ home. The DOD is after the subjects of Project Crossroads, the eugenics experiment hybridizing human DNA with alien technology that shut down not long after William’s birth. (It’s fitting that this episode is itself a kind of hybrid Chimera, a monster-of-the-week episode spliced with the mythology arc.) Skinner, likely going behind CSM’s back, warns Mulder to drop this case before it leads him and the nosy DOD straight to William. This is not the first time Mulder has been told the best move he can make as a father is to stay away. (“Everyone around me is in danger,” Jackson says later: a neat tagline for his life.) But it’s too late — the DNA confirms that Jackson is William.

Where does CSM fit into all of this? Mulder tells Scully that he believes the Smoking Man had a hand in making her an “unwitting participant” in Project Crossroads’ eugenics experiments; it’s the same basic suggestion he made in last season’s “Founder’s Mutation,” the last episode written by James Wong, updated with more smoke because Mulder knows now that old Smokey lives and is therefore the cause of all bad things. His theory ties into CSM’s claim that he medically raped Scully, but if Mulder already suspected as much, this is one heck of an underwhelming reaction. Does Mulder assume CSM’s involvement to be less invasive, maybe related to the chip in Scully’s neck? And whose version of events is closer to the truth?

At least, despite what Dr. They claimed last week, the truth still matters here: If Scully is right about the coming apocalypse, the truth of William’s parentage is literally life or death. When Scully finds Jackson’s body bag empty, she — not Mulder — is the first one to believe their son is alive. As is always the case when one of them decides to switch roles, Mulder balances her out, unleashing his inner skeptic: “Your hope is not a fact.” (For all of his open-mindedness, Mulder doesn’t bridge the gap between “I want to believe” and actual belief until he has proof. It’s Scully who’s accustomed to Catholic leaps of faith.) But Mulder does understand finding safety in an alternate reality. In the season 5 premiere, he and Scully spread the lie that he had killed himself to buy them time. After the DOD shot his parents, Jackson did the same, projecting the image of his suicide with the same powers that made the girls see Ghouli. He rises from the body bag — a chilling visual and a gloriously unsubtle metaphor for his return to this show — as soon as Scully leaves the morgue with Mulder. He heard everything she wanted him to. (Next: Fight the Future)

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