One last chance to fight the future
Scully saw how it ends, and now we all have. The X-Files’ 11th season went out in an empty blur of fathers and sons and other visions that could have meant something but didn’t. It left us with news that’s sure to be divisive, explained away by a classic X-Files non-answer: “It’s more than impossible.” Which is to say that it’s impossible but is happening anyway.
That is not to say it’s happening because it worked the first time. Season 11 has built itself around nostalgia, sometimes leaning into it, sometimes affectionately tearing those memories down. But if the monster-of-the-week episodes have looked to the glory days, the tweaks to the big picture of the show have all had their eye on what went wrong in the later seasons. Scully and Mulder broke up before season 10 because they never properly got together on screen, and because the fallout of the decision to have Scully give away their son had never been explored. That same fallout, demanding closure, pushed their son back into the picture. And now Scully is pregnant with yet another miracle baby because maybe giving away the first one wasn’t the best idea. If at first you don’t succeed, why not try again two decades later?
I’m sorry, I’m burying the lede. Scully is pregnant. Pregnant! Scully! CUT TO THE X-FILES THEME. The signs were there, but when I read into the symbolism of the partners staying in (and having sex in, and talking about having more children in) a motel named after St. Rachel, I really thought I was taking the reference too far. But as it turns out, Dana Scully is really and truly pregnant at 54, despite the fact that her last pregnancy was a “miracle” and she wasn’t even supposed to be able to have kids 20 years ago. It’s impossible, but it’s more than. It’s the X-Files revival.
The road to this impossibility is paved with questionable intentions and traveled in that flashy silver Mustang Mulder likes to save for life-or-death experiences. He hits the highway after Scully gets a call from Monica, who says the conspirators have William; they’ll be landing in Maryland soon. “The person who controls your son is the person who controls the future,” Monica hints, helping so vaguely that she practically isn’t. She’s obviously trying to sneak around the Smoking Man, but her information is wrong; William (who’s barely called Jackson in this episode, even though Jackson is the only name he knows) isn’t on that plane. Does she believe what she’s telling Scully and Mulder is true, or is Monica just baiting them to Purlieu headquarters — and if so, is that ploy meant to help them or hurt them? Monica’s allegiance with CSM goes nowhere in the end; her motives are never explained, and her shot at redemption comes up about three time zones short. What was the point in making one of the agents’ most loyal friends change sides? Empty intrigue, apparently.
If Monica wanted Mulder to kill everyone at Purlieu, she got her wish. You’ll recall that Purlieu Services is the private security contractor doing the bidding of Mr. Y and Erika Price, San Junipero-ing some of our greatest minds to save a chosen few from the coming alien virus by colonizing space, which is a sentence I have no choice but to type with a straight face because when everything is silly, nothing is. After Mr. Y is the only one to exit the plane, Mulder figures he might as well do a little recon while he’s there and winds up murdering every soldier on the premises. He also, in a very smooth move, shoots Y in the head. Mulder and Scully’s revival-era fight skills continue to bear gifts. (Mulder’s wordplay remains as dad-jokey as ever: “I had some payback…to…pay back.”)
While her partner is off being an action hero, Scully stays home, where she’s reduced to waiting by the phone so she can tell Mulder what she’s learned “on the web.” Wearing cozy sweaters and sitting on the sidelines is her right as a pregnant woman and as a human being, but even given her condition (which Mulder doesn’t know about at this point), it seems out of character that she would let him go alone; the last time Scully was pregnant and Mulder went somewhere without her, he was abducted. Scully has taken greater risks while pregnant than road-tripping with Mulder to find their son, and if the danger is to Mulder rather than to her, there’s no clear reason for her to stay behind. Considering that Gillian Anderson says this is her last episode as Scully, her absence from the bulk of the action is a disappointing missed opportunity.
But there’s so much to learn on the web! Scully, whose implied morning sickness comes with the added benefit of occasional apocalyptic visions, reports to Mulder that she found a cluster of winning lotto tickets in Tennessee. She’s guessing it was William, and she’s right; he divined the numbers and even split his winnings with a cashier. Setting aside the fact that when a lottery hits quit-your-job levels, I don’t think the cash is quite that upfront, the strategy has been good for Jackson’s wallet. But it was bad for staying under the radar; he’s been made, and now Mulder has been made, too. A man sneaks a tracking device into Mulder’s car while he’s busy watching his son hitch a ride with a trucker on a surveillance feed.
The road trip stretches across more states, more cars, and too much of the episode as Jackson aims for his home in Norfolk — a move that feels like it undercuts one of the biggest dramatic consequences of the season. Jackson hit the road because he was in danger, and now he willingly puts the two girlfriends he already hurt in harm’s way because he’s lonely. Not to discount the way the past few months have eroded his will to live, but there was a sad, resigned maturity to the way Jackson was forced to grow up so quickly when he left home. His choices — like so many of the fates that are sealed and unsealed in this episode — are less tragic if they’re not final.
It’s a symptom of this episode’s larger lack of respect for repercussions that Chris Carter envisions Jackson as a little more unfeeling than the boy we were introduced to in “Ghouli.” There, Jackson was a reckless teenager who didn’t think things through; here, the boy describes himself as a criminal before the opening credits. He explains that despite a happy childhood, his growing powers eventually landed him in a school for “bad kids”; a man from the government scared him into lying low, but he messed up when he pranked his girlfriends. Jackson told the girls that he was still figuring out his powers, but he seems to have them under control here — and they’re more powerful than he’s ever let on, which Mulder discovers firsthand when he follows his son to a Norfolk motel. (Next: Death in the streets)