We're not going to elaborate... hit after the jump for our recap & review.
Two teenage girls enter a rusted out and abandoned ship. Its name is the “Chimera.” Each enters on their own, scoping out the docked vessel in the middle of the night. They’re scared and jumpy, reacting to shadows and the stray, rotting animal carcasses being devoured by maggots in an abandoned corner. This place is awful. They hear each other’s steps, going around different levels of the ship. The brunette calls out: “Are you Ghouli?”
“No, you are…” the blonde replies.
They’re both carrying blades.
“No. I’m not. I swear,” the first counters back, as she moves through the top level of the deck, hitting the spaces with the beam of her flashlight.
“That’s what Ghouli would say,” the second says. “You’re trying to trick me.” She explores the bridge of the ship, now empty and covered in debris.
“Look, I can prove it. Just stay where you are, and I’ll come find you,” the first responds, scared.
“Not if I find you first,” the blonde mumbles.
That’s when the brunette grows impatient, running across the rotten wood deck that collapses under her. She lands inside the bridge, where the terrified blonde screams, wielding her knife at her. But the problem is that neither of them seems to be seeing each other, but instead some kind of slimy monster that rises before them. Each sees the other as the Ghouli.
They scream, hysterically, waving the knives and actually hurting each other. They fight, they yell, they end up stabbing each other over this delusion where each thinks they are attacking a monster. When their injuries are too grave, we pan out from the scene, seeing the pair writhing on the floor in pain, not a monster in sight.
Tagline: You see what I want you to see.
“Most people believe there are two states of consciousness,” Dana Scully begins on a monologue that carries through the images of her sleeping figure, in a bed somewhere, clad in silk pajamas, of course. “Sleep and wakefulness. But there is a third state: Hypnagogia - characterized by dreamlike visions and strange sensory perceptions.”
Dana Scully opens her eyes in the dark, laying on her side on a bed. “It was in this borderline that I found myself frozen on a stranger’s bed.” She’s indeed trying to move, but it is as if she’s been glued to the sheets when a dark figure looms behind her.
She senses the presence, struggles to break away from her paralysis, spotting her service gun weapon on the night table. She finally manages to roll from the mattress and onto the floor, grabbing the gun as she turns, looking for the strange figure. He runs away in the middle of this trance. Cut to Scully on her feet, surveying the house she’s in. It’s a dream, but she’s not aware of this. The darkness bathes everything, as she goes through every room of the house, hunting for the stranger.
Behind her, a door opens and closes, and she follows the noise, crossing over to the living room of a manicured home. Footsteps rush to her left; the figure still hiding in the shadows, and she follows, aiming with her gun. She goes through another door, to find herself back in the same room. The nightmare confuses her; the room spins, her breath quickens… “What the hell is going on?”
Cut to the X-Files office. Mulder theorizes that the experience she lived sounds like sleep paralysis. He asks her if she heard a buzzing or felt an electric current going through her body, but Scully doesn’t quite take his explanation.
“No. It was different, Mulder,” she muses. “After the initial jolt of fear, I felt compelled to follow the dark figure…” She’s even surprised herself. Mulder is troubled by this, as dark figures usually are meant to be avoided.
“Where was it leading you?” he asks.
She tries to remember when she spots a picture on Mulder’s desk. It’s a picture of the “Chimera” - the rusted-out ship we saw at the beginning. “There,” she says, pointing at it, somewhat surprised. She goes back to her memories of her sleep paralysis: where she sees herself grabbing a snow globe with a model of the boat in it.
“That’s an open x-file, Scully,” Mulder notes… and Scully fixates on the name: Chimera.
“Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions,” Mulder says, quoting Edgar Cayce as Scully checks out some videos on her tablet while they drive in his SUV through the roads of Norfolk, VA. Cayce was supposedly called a sleeping prophet, as he would receive messages - just like Scully - in the hypnagogic state. Cayce believed those messages to be true.
“He also believed in the lost city of Atlantis,” she counters.
“Another reason to love the guy,” Mulder replies, amused. “You’ve been receiving visions through seizures. Maybe this is an evolution of the form,” he continues as Scully connects to the FORD Sponsored WI-FI from Mulder’s expedition. Guys, honestly, I’ve written a page and a half without pulling a pun about this, but they make it SO. HARD.
We get it; Ford Expeditions are the best. I’m getting up early tomorrow to buy a tan-colored one, if only we could stop this constant product placement. I’m beginning to miss the beat-up Taurus's you’d rent from Lariat rental back in the day.
Anyway, moving on.
“No, but you’re onto something. I’m sure of it,” Mulder reassures, and then he clocks the cars in his rearview mirror. “We’re being followed, since the airport.”
The bad guys drive Kias - just in case you’re wondering.
They get to the dock, and in the daylight, the “Chimera” doesn’t seem as daunting as in the shadows. The ferry-type boat rests next to other ships in even worse condition.
They meet up with Detective Costa (Louis Ferreira, Arrow) who tells them that the victims -and perpetrators- are two high school seniors. The girls went to different schools, and there’s no evidence anywhere that they knew each other. He confirms that they found two knives at the scene, just like Scully had read on the report. The girls cut themselves badly and almost bled to death.
The victims, now identified as Brianna Stapleton and Sarah Turner are in the hospital. One almost had her carotid slashed and the other sustained other injuries. Currently unconscious, the doctors think they’ll pull through.
They walk to the scene of the crime. Scully notices a bloody handprint left by one of the girls on the glass of the bridge.
“Who reported the attack?” Mulder asks. Costa informs them that it was an anonymous 9-1-1 call, but the voice was of a panicked male. Scully observes the scene; the disarray and the pools of blood on the floor. The detective explains that forensics did their due diligence of taking pictures and measurements but that the scene was pretty much untouched. Scully notices that the blood splatters are very localized, meant to be a final battle. Mulder notices the hole on the roof, exactly above the place of the fight.
Scully comments to Mulder, as they walk the perimeter of the deck, that the way that this fight might have evolved indicates an intense emotional response. “It suggests to me that they did know each other,” she says. But Mulder thinks that if they didn’t know each other, the reason why they reacted that way might have been extreme fear, “a lizard brain thing.” But then - as Scully notes - was this a meeting? It is certainly not a coincidence.
When they reach the top deck from where Brianna fell through, Detective Costa informs them that the EMT had heard the victims ask “if they’d found Ghouli…” But Scully’s attention is drawn to a man that observes them intently from one of the portable walkways. Mulder takes note of this bit of info from Costa, nodding to Scully to see if she knows anything about this particular name, but she doesn’t know either. When she turns to check if the mystery guy is there, he’s gone.
Cut to Mulder and Scully sitting at a coffee shop and checking the internet. They’ve found Ghouli.net, the blog that might explain what’s at the root of the attack. Mulder makes fun of the look of the monster: teeth, fangs, and mucus. “Ghouli probably feeds on human flesh… yawwwn” he mocks.
Scully notes that the website has only been active for the last few months and the content is mostly fanfiction. They’re onto us, guys.
“This is my problem with modern-day monsters, Scully,” Mulder explains, much to Scully’s amusement. “There’s no chance for emotional investment. Frankenstein, Mothman. Not only did they inspire bowel-clenching fear but there was pathos...” According to him, the monster’s fears were relatable.
Seriously? You’ve been going to the wrong fanfic site, Mulder. If you want recs, we’ve got quite a few.
“There’s a lot of money to be made in scaring people,” Scully says. So… are we gonna talk about this then? Are we just gonna be honest about the gazillions FOX has made from our insatiable need for all things X-Files? “Maybe they were also manipulated to attack each other in order to goose traffic?” She ponders.
Man, we gotta talk to these guys, all you need to “goose traffic” these days is a headline that reads: “SPOILER: Here are your pictures of Mulder and Scully’s shocking…” and just cut the title there. Let people fall for the bait. You’ll appreciate that we here at XFN have never done that to you because we hate that … doo-doo.
“Most of the stories are written by an @Rever,” she continues, as Mulder’s phone vibrates with a text message: the girls have regained consciousness. They can talk to them in the hospital.
“Bob! Double shot cappuccino - extra foam!” The barista calls out. It’s actually Mulder’s order. Scully is amused at his doppelganger coffee nickname.
“Like I wanted to explain Fox…” I’m with you buddy… I’m wondering about the choice of BOB. Has James Wong been lurking on Gossamer? I dread the thought, especially because of recent fanfiction finds that make me… slightly… let’s just say: my Google searches have been quite amusing this month.
Cut to the hospital. Scully talks to Brianna. Her face is slashed, and she’s been hurt pretty badly. She claims that Ghouli is real and that he was as close to her as Scully is now. She was scared and had to defend herself.
The same goes for Sarah; she tells Mulder that the “thing” was just inches from her face. “He had rows of sharp teeth, and this goo was dripping from his mouth.” But, regardless of the horrific sight, his breath smelled like cinnamon. Leave it to the monster to be horrid, but never bad breath!
The girls continue to tell their stories to Mulder and Scully.
Brianna found Ghouli by falling into his “lair.” Sarah had heard something drop down and when she turned around, she heard screaming.
“What about Brianna Stapleton?” Mulder asks Sarah.
“I didn’t see anyone else,” she replies. And the same goes for Scully’s interview with Brianna. She didn’t see Sarah even though she was on the floor right next to her. But she doesn’t know Sarah. So how did they know that they had to go to the ferry?
Sarah scoffs because she fears that Mulder may think she’s crazy. Both girls describe that they knew to go there because they had dreams, so vivid that they felt they were living them. They’re describing exactly what Scully went through: sleep paralysis, being on a stranger’s bed, a dark figure that they couldn’t quite see even when they jumped out of bed scared. They were in a stranger’s home, trying to get out but trapped in a never-ending labyrinth. Just like Scully… and she’s not missing this point of their narratives. They also saw the snow globe - the ferry. Everyone knew where it was because kids would go there to get stoned in the summer.
“Have you ever experienced a dream like this before?” Mulder asks.
“Kinda,” Sarah replies almost dreamily. “My boyfriend and I did this fun house thing at the fair.”
Scully also asks Brianna, and she also has a boyfriend that her parents don’t know off. “They’re really lame,” Brianna says while offering a cinnamon candy to Scully. “But he’s cool.”
“What’s his name?” Scully asks, touched by the teenage candor.
Both girls answer the same name.
“Jackson Van De Kamp.”
Mulder and Scully struggle to keep their reactions at bay. Me on the other hand when watching this the first time… it sorta went like this: Hyperventilating. Pausing to chug wine. Holding back tears. Figuring out how to hug Scully. And boy, we were only eleven minutes into the screener.
Anyway. Moving along. Mulder and Scully regroup as they exit the girls’ rooms. Mulder points out that the girls share the same story with Scully and she remarks that the girls also share a boyfriend: Jackson Van De Kamp.
Mulder wants to go there… and Scully is already reading his mind. “It has to be a coincidence,” she says, trying to convince herself.
“It’s not. You were sent here. You were meant to be here,” Mulder fights back, much to Scully’s resistance. “We gotta find out where this kid lives.”
Cut to a two-story single family home. It’s night time now, and we assume this is nearby Norfolk, at least. Whatever happened to the Van De Kamps that they had to move from their farm in Wyoming?
Mulder and Scully get out of the world’s most featured Ford SUV, and they’re a bit hesitant, a bit in wonder of the door they’re about to open.
“I feel like I’m about to fall off a cliff,” she says, definitely affected by the possibilities. Mulder comforts her… and then they hear two gunshots. They run to the entrance of the house, but the door is locked. Mulder slams his body against it and kicks it until it caves. They come in, guns blazing. The house is dark, but that’s when Scully recognizes it... This is the house from her dream.
The french doors across the foyer are open; someone must have escaped through it, perhaps. As they continue going through the rooms, they find two bodies, a man, and a woman. We assume these are the Van De Kamps. Then they hear a third shot, coming from upstairs. They rush to the staircase; Mulder goes left, and Scully goes right when they reach the upstairs landing.
She moves slowly, cautiously, to the open door leading to a room. She moves in to find... a teenage boy... laying on the ground with what seems a self-inflicted wound to the head.
Her shock is my shock, and I’m nauseous. We cut to commercials, and I needed a drink and a breather after this, and we’re not even halfway through the episode. How dare you, James Wong!? I love you.
When we come back, Costa is talking to Mulder who’s crouching next to Mrs. Van De Kamp, who also has a shot to the head. “You said you heard three shots,” he asks. Mulder nods and Costa thinks that this is a murder-suicide. Jackson would have killed his parents and then shot himself when he realized he was going to get caught since Mulder and Scully had arrived. This guy doesn’t know the guilt trip he’s laying on Mulder.
“That’s a rather convenient explanation,” Mulder retorts.
Costa thinks that Jackson had two girlfriends, that happen to be trying to kill each other, and that there’s something strange happening around him.
Mulder is not convinced; the back door was open when they got to the house. Costa thinks it could have been just left open in the haste of the actions. “I mean, you were here Agent Mulder. There was no one else in the house when he killed himself.”
Dude, Costa, I like you and all, but really, you’re killing everyone right now. “Look, I appreciate your expertise,” he says, “but I think you’re trying to find answers to questions that no one is asking.”
You got that right.
“I appreciate your input,” Mulder says, as a way to kill his dismissal. He has no time for this. Scully needs him.
Meanwhile, Jackson is being put into a coroner’s bag. I can’t deal with this and neither can Mulder, who looks cautiously on, as if he can’t believe this is happening. It’s not awe, but he’s not conceding to pain. It’s as if he’s trying to mask a reaction to witnessing what could be the ultimate earth shatter… in the secrecy of his own contained emotions. He’s not ready to admit this.
Scully is in Jackson’s room, going through his drawers and finding pictures of him as a baby. It could be William; he certainly looks like him. I’d say though: this is the cleanest teenage boy I’ve ever met in my life. I’m a girl in my 30’s, and my room isn’t this clean. Regardless, Scully is having a Gillian Anderson moment, so I’m gonna shut up about this now.
Mulder looks at her from the corner of the room. We’ve seen this cautious heartbreak before… with Emily, with Scully's mom, with her own illness, with the hesitation he always has whenever there’s a moment that he wants to allow her pain to breathe, and her private heartbreak, but he needs to come to her… because in this instance, his pain might match hers.
“This is his room. I recognize it from my dream,” she says, holding back tears. “You’re right, Mulder. Whoever he is, he wanted me to be here.” She looks through the pictures, and it portrays a whole life of milestones.
Milestones that she missed.
Mulder doesn’t know what to say; he looks around, and it's then he notices the energy drink can sitting on the desk. It’s full and still cold. It’s weird that he would “crack open a can of soda before you decide to kill your parents,” he notes and continues his perusal. Scully is a bit speechless at this… the notion that Jackson - or William - might actually have killed them.
Mulder goes to the dresser, amused at the fact that he has a book called “The Pickup Artist. Memoirs of a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing” by Peter Wong (François Chau, The Expanse) - This is the man that Scully saw at the ferry docks. Mulder jokes that at least he had his priorities straight.
“He was troubled, maybe even schizophrenic,” Scully reveals as she examines two prescription bottles. “He was seeing a psychiatrist.” And he was taking Diazepam and Clozapine. On a curious note, these prescriptions come from the future as production noted them to have been filled on March 5th. 2018. And ordered by Dr. J. Bishop. “They were prescribed two months ago, and they’re still full.” He was off his medication… and so… in the show… are we in May 2018, then?
“I have great doubts about what appears to have happened here, Scully,” Mulder tells her as he continues to look around. He then notices a Malcolm X poster taped to the ceiling above the bed. “The future belongs to those that prepare for it today.” He reads from it, and Scully admires it too.
“Is that his hero?” she wonders as she joins Mulder on Jackson’s bed, maudlin.
“You don’t know that that body is William, Scully,” he tells her, trying to make her feel better, trying to hold on to hope, perhaps… and she can’t take it. She’s holding on by a thread. She remembers that Malcolm took the last name X because he wouldn’t take the slave name given to him.
“Was Jackson’s identity so adrift that he couldn’t see himself being a part of a family?” she proposes. “Is that why he killed his parents and then himself?”
Mulder has gotten off the bed and now stands by the window.
“Why would he call you here just to see him die?” he ponders. But Scully has to confirm his identity still.
“I need answers,” she says, holding back tears. And, oh. My. God. Gillian Anderson. Yes, we all do.
Mulder is frustrated, too. He turns to the window, to see the flurry of cops and emergency personnel, and that’s when he sees the men that had been following them earlier. He tells Scully that he’ll catch her later, leaving her alone in the room. She’s emotional… and that’s when she spots the snow globe collection that populates the shelves of the room. And particularly one of them: a windmill trapped in a keepsake alluding to “The Wizard of Oz” with the phrase “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” Indeed.
Scully takes it, first, to examine it as if it held all the answers, but then as if it were a precious part of her son. She's broken by the thought of what could have happened.
Meanwhile, Mulder approaches the men by the Kia. Why are they following them? The men act cool and collected, and they claim just to be curious onlookers. Mulder wants to know which agency they are with; he assumes that by the crappy rental car they’re probably from the Department of Defense. Ouch… so… no love for Kia?
“You make a lot of assumptions,” Goon #1 says.
“I’m also going to assume it's one hell of a coincidence that you’re here the night the Van De Kamps are killed…” he says, and Mulder has had enough of your doo-doo.
“Wow, three bodies - a tragedy,” Goon #2 comments, sarcastically.
“Yeah. Keep cracking wise,” Mulder warns. “You have no idea of my state of mind.”
Be still my heart. Here we go.
Cut to the grim and small-sized morgue where they hold Jackson Van De Kamp’s body. The fluorescent lights buzz, and it’s all terribly unpleasant. Not at all high tech like the bays at Quantico… this is sad all around.
Scully enters and grabs a cotton swab that she uses to scrape her cheek while giving a sideways look to the body bag laying on the nearby gurney. She then approaches it, cautiously, opening a little jar and unzipping the bag. Scully carefully unveils the boy’s face, matted with dried blood but looking almost peaceful. She looks at him for the briefest of times, and continues - she’s here to collect a sample of his hair.
Once she locks the jar, she looks at him and then she sits by his side, the weight of seventeen years on her shoulders.
“I don’t know that you are what I think you might be…” She begins as her eyes well up with tears, and Gillian Anderson does what she does best: destroy our hearts. “But if you are William, this is what I’d say: I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that I didn’t get a chance to know you. Or you get a chance to know me, or your father.”
“I gave you up for adoption not because I didn’t want you, or because you were any less loved; I was trying to keep you safe.” By now, Scully is just all of us, a massive ball of tears and pain and it’s never going to be alright. “I hope you know that… And maybe-- Maybe I should have had the courage to stand by you, but I thought I was being strong because it was the hardest thing I’d ever done… to let go, and to know that I was gonna miss your whole life.”
“But it turns out that this is the hardest thing. To see the outcome and how I failed you.”
Dear James Wong, what did we ever do to you? Please give me more.
“I need you to know that I never forgot you, and I thought-- I felt even recently that we were gonna somehow be reunited. I wish I could have been there to ease your pain…”
Scully catches herself between sobs, chastising this undisciplined moment and deeming it so inadequate. Maybe embarrassed at the possibility that she may be confessing all of this to the body of someone that’s not her son? Maybe because even if he were, she still feels that she has no right to be making this about her?
“I’m just so sorry. I’m so sorry.” She can’t breathe, and her voice is almost a whisper. And then there are just sobs that she tries to keep at bay and fails at. That’s when she feels Mulder’s presence by the door, who’s cautiously just observing this unfold. She looks at him, with a sad grimace, trying to make him feel that she’s alright.
“You’ve been there the whole time?” she asks, finding her voice.
“No, but I heard enough,” he says, coming to her.
“You have nothing to apologize for,” he says as they embrace. He wants to protect her, console her, as he looks at the body laying on the slab. Could it be William?
“This is torture, Mulder,” Scully claims against his chest. And yes. I agree. And then, in the most Scully fashion, she blocks her emotions by busying herself.
“I need to get the results,” she announces, grabbing the samples, and Mulder reassures her, holding her and ushering her out. They’ll get the lab in the hospital to run the comparison, and they’ll be back.
As they leave the room and the door clicks closed, we stay on the body bag… that now has movement inside of it. The zipper opens slowly, revealing hands - Jackson’s hands - as he finishes opening it, sits up and cracks his neck. No sight of weird vertebrae, though.
Cut to Scully, lying asleep on a couch in the hospital waiting area. She’s experiencing another episode of sleep paralysis… and the dark figure is back, just out of her field of vision, scurrying behind her.
“William...” she calls out, but no one can hear her. She manages to roll off the couch, still in her vision, to see him open a door nearby and disappear. She then transports to a door that opens a hospital room. She sees the windmill snow globe on a surface nearby, and she takes it.
“Is this a message for me… or am I sending a message to you?” she says in her vision, and then we get flashes of her previous ones: the bridge, the UFO hovering above, the bloodied alien hand, and then back to the current vision. The figure looms behind her. She turns around, and a shadow darkens her face.
“Agent Scully!” we hear. It’s Dr. Harris, the coroner, waking her up from the vision. She’s still laying down on the couch. He doesn’t look amused. “Where did you put the body?”
I’m sorry, what? - I think that’s exactly what Scully's inner dialogue is saying right about now.
Indeed, now back at the morgue, the body bag is empty - as if it had never even held a body. Mulder comes to the door and asks her to have a word.
“It’s okay, Mulder--” she starts.
“Is not good news,” he warns.
“I know, it’s William,” she says, hopeful even. “His body is missing.”
The coroner says that there’s no way that anyone could have taken a body out of there; Scully asks about windows, and indeed there’s one, that’s open from the inside when it shouldn’t be.
Scully takes off to the halls of the hospital, maybe hopeful that she might run into William as she did in her dream. Mulder calls out for her as he follows.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he says. “And I want him to be alive every bit as much as you do. And in my heart, I never thought that we would have to face this moment, but here we are…”
Scully is growing distraught at Mulder’s attempt to rationalize.
“Hope is not a fact,” he continues. “And I’m always the one to jump at extreme possibilities, but this is not as simple as that.”
Then Scully confesses that she had another vision where she saw the globe that she snatched from William’s room. She doesn’t know why she took it; she just needed to hold on to something tangible. Mulder will check the surveillance, but at the end of the day, this won’t change anything.
“He wants us to find him, Mulder.” Scully is sure of it.
We cut to Scully exiting the hospital, adjusting her jacket, and running into Peter Wong - the mystery man that she spotted at the docks. Unfortunately, the stumble makes her lose the grip of the snow globe, and it shatters. Wong apologizes for it, and Scully blames herself too. He recognizes that she was distracted.
“You like windmills?” he asks as he walks away and toward the direction of the hospital.
“I like this one…” she replies, wistfully. “Who are you?”
“Don’t give up on the bigger picture,” he says, almost as a command, rattling Scully as he walks away.
Mulder and Scully go back to the Van De Kamp residence. Scully is browsing through Jackson’s diary. There are drawings and scribbles of a very dark mindset. She finds a ticket stub and tucks it away. Mulder is on his computer, checking the hard drive when he gets a notice that nothing came out of the surveillance video at the hospital. There’s also no history of visits to Ghouli.net, or porn for that matter. What kind of seventeen-year-old doesn’t have porn on their computer? Mulder has a program that can trace the hard drive but only if they have the right computer and he’s convinced that there’s another one hidden away somewhere. But they have to rush, the cops - or something else entirely - have shown up at the house. They get to it, going through every surface and piece of furniture that could be hiding the computer. Scully finds it under the mattress. “Teenage girls have secrets too,” she says.
They start combing the computer; there are hundreds of files pertaining to Ghouli.net and some backdoor files from the DOD.
Agents start shouting from the first floor, commanding them to cease their activity in the house, but Scully stalls them, coming out of the room and claiming that the FBI has jurisdiction over the investigation. But the men have a warrant straight from the DOJ that they smugly hand over as they pass her by on their way upstairs.
Mulder has found scans of a “Project Crossroads” - he’s copying all this information as he goes - when the goons from the DOD walk in. He gets up and smugly tips over the can of soda that Jackson had left behind, pouring the liquid all over the computer, mocking their rivals. The goon is left behind trying to fix it, while Mulder exits satisfied.
Cut to Skinner, the next day.
“Mulder, how is it possible that the only updates I receive about what you’re doing come through complaints from other agencies in the government?” Skinner says, annoyed, or mildly amused… I can’t tell.
The DOD and the DOJ are filing for obstruction and tampering with evidence. But Mulder is not worried about it because this is all about a conspiracy that the DOD is trying to cover up.
“Does this have anything to do with the missing dead body of Jackson Van De Kamp?” Skinner asks, and Mulder doesn’t want to share much more until he knows more. Skinner wants him back to DC, but Mulder, in fact, asks him to come to Norfolk. He then proceeds to put on an act, and pretend he can’t hear him while scrambling to get a coffee… meant for a fictional Bob. He hangs up.
Skinner is left, pissed off, on the other end of the line. But he’s not alone in his office. The familiar twirl of a cigarette comes to the screen, as CSM is sitting patiently nearby, listening to this all transpire.
“Mulder is close,” he states as he lights up. “I suspect he will be interested in Project Crossroads. We’ll be able to find what we’ve been looking for.”
And by that, he means William.
After the commercials, we come back to Mulder meeting with Skinner at the Chimera. He’s annoyed by the fact that Mulder summoned him to a place that’s cold and smells. Oh, Skinner, you delicate flower.
Mulder explains that this is where it all started when the two girls were attacked by the monster that only they can see.
“You’re wrong,” Skinner counters. “This is the end of the road.”
The two men size each other up on the upper deck of the ferry.
“It started decades ago when they decided to combine alien and human DNA to create hybrids,” Skinner continues. “But listen to me… I came out here to warn you and Scully. Drop this investigation.”
Mulder doesn’t even look at him in the eye, even when the older man tries to connect with him. He finally gets over it.
“I’m listening,” Mulder says.
“After the crash in Roswell, our government’s interest in alien technology exploded. In all directions. And finally in the 70’s our science caught up to our ambition.” The eugenics program was initiated by Dr. Matsumoto, using part of the alien technology.
“Project Crossroads…” Mulder asserts. “I read the report. It was ultimately deemed a failure because they couldn’t predict what attributes the test subjects would get from the hybrid DNA.”
Skinner nods. He’s right. The project was defunded fifteen years ago and the files burned so he could save the lives of the subjects. And then Matsumoto disappeared.
“The DOD has been trying to track him down ever since,” Skinner informs Mulder.
“That’s why they were following us, we found one of their own,” Mulder then realizes.
“Jackson Van De Kamp,” Skinner confirms. He wants Mulder to understand, but Mulder instead has something he wants Skinner to understand.
“Jackson Van De Kamp was our son, Skinner.”
The man doesn’t know how to react. Mulder continues. “He was named William before he was adopted. I checked his DNA against Scully’s.”
Skinner is very apologetic. He truly is sorry for what he has just heard and doesn’t know what to say. Mulder eases his awkwardness. He doesn’t need to say anything.
“Thank you for the warning,” Mulder says as he walks away. “It just came too late.”
He leaves, and Skinner stays behind, at a loss.
Meanwhile, Scully is talking to Jackson’s therapist, who finds it hard to believe that he would harm his parents; he loved them very much. She didn’t recognize any suicidal tendencies in him; this is not the patient she knows.
Scully questions why she prescribed him with medication for seizures. The psychologist explains that he had symptoms that coincided with extreme electrical activity in his brain.
“Can you tell me… did he have visions?” Scully probes.
“What he saw was specific and detailed,” the doctor explains. Scully expects more, but the woman won’t say more unless she brings a warrant.
“His visions were apocalyptic.” Scully states. “A pandemic was spreading across America, hospitals were overwhelmed, people were panicking, and a vaccine was needed. One that had to be created with the combination of human and alien DNA.”
The doctor is now intrigued as to how Scully knows this. She’s heard this before.
“And Jackson himself was the key,” Scully continues. “It ends with a UFO hovering above the 14th street bridge. That’s what he saw, Dr. Scholtz.”
The woman is shaken by the detailed description of the hallucinations. How is it possible that Scully knows?
Cut to Scully waiting for Mulder at the coffee shop. She’s still entranced by everything that’s been happening. Mulder comes to her with a coffee and wonders if the fact that these are shared visions makes them more likely to come true.
“What if I didn’t get a glimpse of the future? What if I was just the receptacle for his message to me?” she wonders. “Just like my dream to come here.”
The barista walks by and says hi to Mulder… “Hey, Bob!” Mulder nods and smiles at Scully.
“It’s an alternate reality,” she jokes. Fox Mulder doesn’t exist in coffee shops.
“No. It’s a false reality, just like everything we’ve seen so far,” Mulder clarifies. “I’ve been going through the forensics of the case, and the police think that Jackson killed his parents and then himself. But the spatter pattern tells me different.”
We go back to what could be Mulder’s imagination of a flashback of what happened, with the goons from the DOD being the perpetrators.
“It tells me that there were two shooters.” The Van De Kamps get killed. “Her body was moved after the fact to make it look like there was just one shooter.” He believes that through CSM, Scully was an unwilling participant in a eugenics program. He explains what he knows about Crossroads and how Matsumoto disappeared two years after William was born. “I believe our son was one of their test subjects.”
Mulder thinks that the DOD goons planned to get William but when they tried to get into the house, they were spooked, and they exited via the back french doors, leaving them open. Their son would hide the only way he knows how: creating an alternate reality by playing dead.
“So he made us hear that shot and see the hole in his head?” Scully asks, almost incredulous.
“I guess,” Mulder nods. “And those two girls-- they thought they saw a monster.”
So, where’s William now?
The answer is: the hospital, checking on his babes. The guy has priorities.
He enters Brianna’s room and wakes her up, sweetly. They kiss; it is full on teen angst.
“My god, they told me you were dead!” she whispers.
“Not yet,” he says, smug. He coos at her, lamenting her wounds… even when technically… he was the cause of them. “It’s horrible. I’m so sorry.”
I don’t know, guys. He doesn’t seem the least bit sincere about this… but, honestly, it might just be Miles Robbins - who yeah, by the way… this is the dude that plays William. One of his credits is “Who Do You Think You Are?,” and I’m asking that too right now.
He explains to Brianna that he’s been hiding because there are people after him.
“Look, I just came to apologize. I didn’t think anyone would get hurt. I thought it would be funny,” he says. She doesn’t get it. “I thought it would be like a prank; like you would see the Ghouli and run away.”
“Are you Ghouli?” she asks, almost afraid.
“No, there’s no such thing as Ghouli,” he tries to convince her. He made up everything on the website. But she won’t believe him. What she saw was too real; it attacked her and Sarah.
That’s when Jackson explains that they attacked each other because they saw what he projected into their heads. It’s this power that he’s learning to control, and he couldn’t stop it. He’s horrified by the blood that came out of the attack.
Brianna is disgusted by what he’s revealing, confirming that this started when he began having seizures. He’d see things. Jackson would see UFOs and would feel pain, and he could share the experience with a woman… he believes that she’s his birth mother. He’s at a loss.
He came back because everyone around him is in danger. With his parents dead, he needed to say goodbye to her. She’s accepting of it, but then he hears the sirens outside. He’s been found.
Mulder and Scully arrive at the hospital and meet up with Costa who tells them to chill because they have it under control. The detective can’t understand how Jackson could be alive, but they are working on taking him into custody. It turns out that Sarah sent Costa a text with a picture of Jackson and Brianna kissing. Oh, the wrath of a woman scorned…
Scully requests that they be the first to go in, but the DOD agents beat them to the punch. Mulder and Scully rush in.
Back in the hospital rooms, Jackson is pissy at Sarah for telling on him. She, of course, justifies it on the fact that he’s a player. And you know what? Good for you, gurl. Baby-special or not, you’re a cheating bastard, and you were not on a break. Ross Geller excuses do not apply.
Regardless, she starts apologizing, and he actually says that he’s the one that should be apologizing.
“Are you going to be in trouble?” she asks, anguished.
“I will if they want to kill me…” he says, and they kiss, and lord. I can’t with the teen drama.
We’ve seen William kiss more in this episode than Mulder and Scully in this entire show.
Sarah blames herself for what’s about to happen to him, but Jackson tries to get her out of that space of mind. They’re going to be alright.
He gets out of the room in a rush but gets intercepted by one of the DOD goons. He rushes the other way, and another one tackles him. They follow him into a room full of equipment, and Jackson hides behind it. The men look in between all of it, guns blazing.
Mulder and Scully rush into the hospital halls.
Jackson continues to hide, but he’s running out of room. That’s when he resorts to projecting himself and makes one of the DOD guys think that the other is a monster. He shoots and inadvertently kills his partner.
The shots ring out and Mulder orders to evacuate the floor.
As the remaining DOD goon checks on his deceased partner, he calls out to the others via walkie that Jackson is on the loose.
As Jackson runs through the halls, he gets intercepted by yet another goon. He tries dodging him, going back from where he came from as this guy shoots him. He manages to dodge the shot but just barely.
Meanwhile, Mulder and Scully try to make their way to the floor where all the action is taking place. Jackson continues to run, as he gets followed by goon #1 and the additional DOD dude. I know, I’m being super accurate with these distinctions.
Jackson gets to the end of the floor, and there’s no other hallway to escape to. Just then Mulder and Scully arrive at the same level and spot the first goon. Mulder takes off to one side while Scully takes the other and orders the goon to lower his weapon. But he won’t hear her and warns her to stay out of his way. He runs to continue looking for Jackson, but Scully won’t let go; she goes after him too.
Goon gets to the same spot we last saw William. He knows he’s hiding there. And he is, under a desk.
Meanwhile, the other goon also approaches this same area. Jackson can feel it, and he starts to project. That’s when Scully turns the corner spotting goon #1, and they both shoot at each other, numerous rounds!
They both fall to the floor, but then we cut to Jackson. He’s been part of this. Mulder hears the shots and comes rushing… and just behind him… so does Scully. It’s been a mind game from Jackson, making the goons mistake each other for Mulder and Scully and shoot themselves.
Which begs the question… they have no qualms at killing Scully over getting William… hmmm, interesting.
Anyway, Mulder notes that they shot each other and that Jackson has to be there.
“It’s safe; it’s over!” Mulder shouts.
“Jackson we just wanna talk to you…” Scully tries too, sounding like a conciliatory mom. “To make sure you’re okay…”
Jackson comes out from under the desk, but he’s taken the shape of a nurse, and so he slips by, running from Mulder and Scully without them noticing.
Cut to the two of them canvassing the crowd, looking for Jackson. There are many patients and staff all concentrated in front of the building. Too many people, too many shapes he could have adopted.
“Anything?” Scully asks him when they run into each other.
“No. He just disappeared,” Mulder responds, stunned. Scully's crushed… he is too. And so Mulder holds her, and she holds on to him. And I need someone to hold me.
Cut to the next day and them driving back. Scully is in the front seat of the SUV holding the piece of hair that she had taken as a sample to compare their DNA. She's solemn, sad.
She spots a rural gas station that has a windmill just outside and asks Mulder if they need gas. He agrees they could stop. He could use a bathroom break.
While he’s gone, Scully fills up the tank. As she does, out walks Wang from the convenience store, bag in hand.
“Are you following me?” he jokes.
“Hey! Didn’t I see you at the hospital?” Scully remarks.
“It must be kismet. But I doubt that we’ll be seeing each other again,” he says with a smile. “I’m driving across the country.”
“Oh, anywhere in particular?” Scully asks.
“No, I just want to see the world,” he says. “Things are about to change.”
Then Scully takes a leap: “Are you, Dr. Matsui Matsumoto?”
He scoffs. “A doctor? I never finished high school!”
“You seem like a nice person. I wish I could know you better,” he waxes… solemn, wishful.
Scully doesn’t seem fazed by the man’s sudden sincerity and wishes him safe travels.
He smiles and walks to his car.
“If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
He gets in his car and leaves.
Just then, Mulder comes out, wondering who that was. Scully explains that he’s just a friendly old guy, but that he seemed so familiar… and that’s when he remembers, Wang - The pickup artist. The book in Jackson’s room.
She repeats the last phrase he said to her: “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
Mulder realizes that’s a Malcolm X quote and then it dawns on them. They run to the road, but the car is nowhere to be seen. Then they spot a camera at the gas station.
They rush inside, and request to see the recording… on the tape, we can see Scully holding the conversation with William. She smiles as Mulder holds her while they see their son… alive.
Oh boy. Here we go.
Written and directed by James Wong, "Ghouli" is one episode that is packed with information and one that - even when it tackles the mythology - doesn't struggle to deliver.
This is a story that we've been waiting to see on screen, in some way. This is a story that we practically have no frame of reference aside from the starting point. So, in more ways than one, this is a story about uncharted territory.
What do we know about William's existence? To try to figure out what he is… we should look at who preceded him.
Mulder and Scully were both experimented upon. How, you say? Here's a refresher… a very haphazard one.
Mulder was exposed to the black oil -a synthesized version of it. This stuff is, in itself, the primary source of any experimentation that the humans have done to harvest what the aliens may bring. It would be made a weapon, of sorts. Mulder would also develop a condition that allowed him to project into the future, or anticipate it… very much what Scully went through in "My Struggle 3" - kinda.
Scully was abducted, her ova has been stolen, she carries a microchip that when it was extracted gave her cancer - and when she put it back… she was cured. She had a daughter conceived of the ova extracted from her - an experiment she didn't agree to - and one that she found out about in the most cumbersome of ways. The kid would end up dying because, as experiments go, she wasn't a perfect one.
Scully was exposed to the alien virus, and then to the vaccine to counter it. She discovered later on that she was unable to carry a child. But we've recently confirmed that CSM medically raped her - apparently impregnating her - or making it possible that she would be able to conceive. She tried in-vitro, and that wouldn't take. In the course of that treatment and more, she was under the medical control of doctors that pledged allegiance to the syndicate. And then, she got pregnant with William.
That's just a brief tale of what happened to these two human beings before William came to be.
Mulder would go on to be abducted after William had been conceived, with even more brutal experimentation inflicted on him. He would "die" to then come back to life. So, god knows what's going on in his system.
After all of that, things were back to "normal" for Mulder and Scully - whatever definition of "normal" you go by with this show. That is until "My Struggle 2" and "My Struggle 3".
William, on the other hand - as much as we got to witness his life - was a little packet of surprises.
He would be the child that would be born of a barren mother, coveted by forces of devious intentions.
One side would see him as a messiah, the other as a threat. Some wanted him for what he meant, others for what they could get out of him… exploit from him, recreate from him, envy about him. All the while covered by a veil of uncertainty, because no one really knew what they were facing. He is supposedly the first alien-human hybrid that turned out to be successful. The one that didn't carry the problems that other hybrids would have, like his late half-sister, Emily.
At any rate, many tried to protect him. Mulder took off to not bring his ghosts - real or not - near the kid. Scully tried giving him a normal life even though William had exhibited powers of telekinesis, especially around alien artifacts. Reyes, Doggett, Maggie, the Lone Gunmen… even Skinner would put their lives in danger to defend this kid from a variety of threats: super soldiers, crazy religious people, hitmen, and dearly lost uncles with syringes.
That one would be the one that would turn things around.
The last time we saw William, he had been injected with a compound that would dim or cancel out his "powers" - depending on who you ask. Jeffrey Spender would come to reveal that this was a way to make him "normal," but at the same rate, he'd never be. Because everyone knows that he was the "special one" - the one that beat the odds. So, Scully decided to make the ultimate sacrifice, and - in a move that's been more than controversial in terms of what it would really come to solve - she decides to give him up for adoption. A closed adoption. To the Van De Kamp family in Wyoming.
She didn't know his whereabouts, but much regret filled her days, questioning whether she'd made the right decision. Mulder… dealt with his guilt in his own way, whether in fantasies or in trying to probe a reassuring conversation with Scully. But, if Scully barely got to be a mother, Mulder… well, he really has never been a father. Fantasies aside, what kind of father would Fox Mulder be?
For what it pertains to in terms of storytelling, not tackling the William storyline more straightforwardly has been a waste of an opportunity, in my opinion.
When the original run of the show ended in 2002, many theories speculated about what would come to be of this miracle child. Especially because - as we'd come to realize at the end of "William" - his powers hadn't gone away. He could still move things with his mind, be it stars or buffalos on his crib's mobile. So, where has he been all this time?
We've come to learn in this season's premiere that Jeffrey Spender has been in the know of the name of the family that adopted him. And we infer, by the fact that Mulder and Scully don't see him as a threat, that Jeffrey has become an ally. The three of them hate CSM, so… I guess that justifies it? I still have issues with this.
We also know - from MS2 and MS3 - that according to Scully's visions, William would become instrumental in being able to save humanity. Or at least to save Mulder, be it from using his stem cells to cure him or - because between Scully's DNA and his hybrid DNA - creating a vaccine to combat the virus that will exterminate us all.
The truth of the matter is that - if given an appropriate treatment - the William storyline is a gold mine. It's more of a starting point than anything, and it literally could go anywhere, even when the fandom has preconceived ideas of what it should be. William is, by itself… a show within this show.
Take that in any way you may want.
But to the point. James Wong - and Chris Carter as showrunner of this show - present us with the opportunity to meet this character through an X-File… his own X-File. It's an episode that in a different situation - were we in a show with twenty episodes per season - would give enough fuel to drive plenty of stories to tell.
In what refers to tying old conspiracies to this new story, it feels cohesive, and even straightforward, at least to me. Project Crossroads and Matsumoto tie in with what we last learned in Season 9 regarding the experiments being done on the USS Valor. It would have been nice, maybe, if we could bring back the actual super soldiers to make the story come full circle and reap the countless seeds this show has planted.
Extending to what we learn in MS3, William and Scully communicate through visions. He shows her scenes of what he sees. These are apocalyptic visions of which Scully just seems to be the receptacle, rather than the traveler herself. While this plot point is still not clear, it makes me wonder if there will be an explanation as to why now. Why today and not five years ago? What's happened that William has come to these particular abilities at this moment in his life?
This wouldn't be an X-Files episode and one of my reviews if I didn't have a million questions.
Different from the idealism of a child that would be perfect, William is pretty much… not. And it makes sense; he's the child that went to an adoptive family that possibly was never prepared to have a son that was this kind of different. A child that has suffered from the normal doubts of an adopted kid, compounded now by the fact that he's developed powers that can be quite dangerous if misunderstood.
He is, on top of that, a seventeen-year-old guy. A millennial - or Gen Z - whichever fad is going around now.
And here's the thing. When I first sat down to think about what we get to see of his life in this episode, I also said: "Oh what a brat. Why the two girlfriends? And what did he think they would do in the presence of Ghouli!?" Certainly, it is a cruel and manipulative game. But being the sister of two brothers, I remember that I didn't quite have a very high opinion of their intelligence or maturity when they were that age either… driven by hormones and the thirst to "score" as they were. They thought they were all that, and I wanted to laugh in their faces for how stupid they sounded by saying that they were the hottest thing since Red Bull. My brothers' superpowers were limited to their ability to pimp out cars and drive fast, though. No one was making girls fight to their death over them. They just thought that they were Toretto and Brian from "The Fast and The Furious."
I'm sure that if Scully had raised this kid, he would be a nerd, knowledgeable in caution and the effects of mental manipulation. If Mulder had been his father, he'd be a paranoid heartbreaker, regardless of whose sperm fertilized the egg. His life would indeed be different, one that would have been aware of the true fiber of the world - and how he fared against it - since his early years.
On the one hand, he would have been a trained miracle, with full knowledge or at least protection of what's out there. On the other, by not having had this opportunity, William also got to live a semi-normal childhood, that now has come abruptly to an end.
So, now that we know a bit of the personality of the now miracle-teen, seeing that he's a bit selfish at times, seeing that he's in search of his own identity, seeing that he might be the world's most tidy teenager ever recorded… I question why he would choose to flee. With his ability to explore Scully's brain, to see what he's seen, is it preferable to not come forward and explore a life with people that would actually "get him"? Does William question what's to come and realize it's preferable to go out there on his own? Is it that he's decided to go on a valiant crusade to save the world on his own?
Is it that when the bill in his mind gets squared away, that staying with Mulder and Scully doesn't really mean anything?
It's such a sad possibility. Then again, how can you love someone that you've never known? Maybe this will be something that will begin to happen now that he can telepathically connect to them?
We get to see a boy that lacks empathy at times. And I'm not quite sure what's the fuel for that aspect of his personality. I don't see a grieving William; his adoptive parents were just killed and even if they were just some guys that fed him for over a decade… there's absolutely no emotive response to that… just a mechanical reference. The girlfriends are actually more shocked than he is.
Of the choices made for this new land, I actually think that the most questionable is the casting for this role. I'm sorry to say it but - by no means to sound petty - Miles Robbins's skills are lacking. He may be the son of two powerhouses when it comes to Hollywood legacy, but honestly, when compared to Madeleine Arthur and Sarah Jeffery - who play his girlfriends in the episode - it is clear that the girls are truly invested in their characters while he comes off as just… acting.
I see the fear in the girls' eyes… I don't particularly see it in his. And it's not about nuances of what William may be, or that he's intentionally playing the role this way; with either choice - to be manipulative or to be honest in his discovery - there's just not much depth to his performance. He's nice; he delivers a good run-from-the-cops, he has moments here and there… but stacked against the rest? I've seen far better choices out there.
There's indeed an unbalance, one that's very hard to fight when you have David Duchovny pulling out all the stops to connect Mulder with the urgency of this episode and really portray an honest - while contained - reaction to his own fears. The bar is set even higher when you have Gillian Anderson's performance throughout this episode, one of the most heartbreaking I've seen on this show.
The morgue scene, and the nuances of self-doubt, recrimination, regrets, loss, and even contained terror throughout the episode gave her material that really put many moments out there that we were hoping to explore with Scully.
Is it super dramatic? Oh, you bet. Could it have been any other way? I don't know, I don't care, and seriously, why even wonder?
Gillian Anderson deserves all the nods for that scene, even though in this screener it was hard to judge without it being finished. I don't know if it will have music or not but in the utter silence of this version… her words hit like a bag of bricks, wrapped in barb wire, as you take a dip in a hot bath of battery acid. They hurt.
FOX would be dumb to not submit "Ghouli" to all the things that may come up in this year of awards.
Another thing to note is the use of transmedia for this episode. I find it an interesting and dynamic choice to extend the story, to give more texture and layers to the character, even while off-screen. It would be interesting to see how they maintain this initiative and how strict they stick to canon while having the opportunity to award the fandom - and the audience in general - with an opportunity to be more ambitious about the way you tell a story. As it goes, there's still so much potential.
And that is also a thing about this episode; with Wong at the helm, it feels like what I came to love about "The X-Files" in its original run. There's a texture to them, a pace, a sound with a particular depth that screams of a style that became second nature to me. And this episode has it all.
During the TCA's, James Wong apologized for this episode, and surely he should, but only for the number of tears I shed while watching.
Even the one short moment they gave Mitch Pileggi, having a conversation with Mulder at the ferry, is heartbreaking. This is the moment that Skinner is left by himself to realize what he's set to do to his friends. What he's been forced to be complicit in, and what effects he can see even on Mulder's stoic face. My only regret about this scene is that we don't get to see that information stew on Skinner's face a bit longer, while it hit him in the gut with that pang of betrayal.
If I want to get REALLY nitpicky… I wish that this episode would have been two-hours long. I wish it had included Monica Reyes, and not for personal favoritism. But we still have five more episodes, and more surprises to come.
Next week, it's the Skinner show. I can't wait.