Wednesday, 3 June 2015

X-Files Rewatch | Ghost in the Machine

What happens when you combine Skynet and HAL 9000 with The X-Files in the early 90s?
You get 'Ghost in the Machine'.

Replace Skynet with Eurisko and HAL 9000 with the COS Project, and that's what you're left with. And this operating system runs the entire Eurisko company/building and has a vendetta against the company for firing its creator - Brad Wilzcek - and begins killing to protect itself. Mulder is asked by an old partner to investigate a chain of murders that are beginning to unfold within the building, with both Mulder and Scully discovering that the COS is the killing machine, capable of thought and could become something of a holy grail for the department of defense. And Wilzcek is the only person who knows how to destroy it. 

This episode could have really been something if it were fleshed out more. There's a lot here to work with, like how the COS managed to create its own voice synthesizer and how it learned to kill - but it's never really touched upon. Especially with Wilzcek's reasoning as to why he's protecting the machine - he doesn't want to become the next Oppenheimer, spending the rest of his life regretting what he had created. By sharing the COS with an immoral government, there's no telling what they'll use it for.

We get glimpses of the potential that this episode has throughout, but it's layered upon extremely cheesy acting and dialog. Even for X-Files, it sometimes gets to a point in this episode where it's cringe-worthy. Acting wise on part of Rob LaBelle in the cold open of the episode and with the COS' one-liners when it 'terminates' people in the Eurisko building.

'Ghost in the Machine' is one of the most outdated X-Files stories, yet it still works. Extremely well, in fact. With things like the COS managing to hack into Scully's computer through the phone line, as computers were still on modems seeing as its 1993. It still manages to creep you out. This came out at a point in time when everyone was still getting used to the idea of computers being used in daily life, so to show a computer being able to configure itself and teach itself to kill would be and still is horrifying. That there's no way anyone can outsmart it, as it's already smarter than humanity itself. And it lends well to Mark Snow's score in the background with the use of electronic synthesizers and whirs heightening this fear.

In this episode, it isn't Mulder that finds a case. He's called upon by one of his old partners, Jerry Lamana. Which by the look of Mulder's face when he meets him and Scully getting lunch, I don't think he's so happy about seeing him again. But with Jerry, you get the same feeling of animosity towards Mulder that the rest of his colleagues have. They seem to have a disdain for Mulder being on the X-Files. That Mulder is wasting his talent by being in the basement, that it's a waste. But they always need him to help them with their cases. He's one of the top profilers and investigators in the bureau, but as he says to Scully, "I was gunning for a basement office with no heat or windows". He never seems to care what people like Jerry think of his decisions because he uses his skill for the good and advantage of his cause - helping people. Others, like Jerry, use him to 'climb the ladder' - as Brad did to him in 'Squeeze' through Scully.

Mulder doesn't like to flaunt his intelligence or use it to get higher in the bureau. He doesn't care about his ego or reputation, he uses it to solve X-Files cases and that's it. Mulder is so dedicated to his cause and to those files, he doesn't matter what paths are taken. As long as it's solved and he's helped or saved someone, he's happy. And even if Mulder wasn't on the X-Files, he still wouldn't use his intelligence and talent that way. He'd still use it solely to help and save people, plain and simple.

So, this makes Jerry stealing Mulder's profile notes extremely upsetting because Mulder seems to be the sort of person that doesn't get too caught up in colleagues stealing his work. Sure, he's angry about it, but he quickly brushes it off when Scully asks him if Jerry apologized. It seems that Mulder's probably used to this, that no one apart from Scully has consideration for the work Mulder puts into these cases. You feel sorry for Mulder at the meeting whilst Jerry is reading out his profile and he begins to realize that it's his, and Scully begins to too. But Mulder doesn't want to create a scene about it, he's considerate to someone who is being inconsiderate. He even offers to Jerry that all he "had to do was ask". He would have happily helped Jerry with his profile, teaching Jerry to be a better profiler in the process. But obviously, that's not the case.

And even when Jerry is eventually killed by the COS, Mulder blames himself as he does throughout the show - mostly stemming back to Samantha's disappearance. But Scully is always so considerate around Mulder when she knows he's blaming himself for something. In Jerry's case, she knows that they weren't exactly best friends but that he's "been through a lot, more than [she] thinks [he] realizes". Scully grounds him, she makes sure that he doesn't go insane from being so selfless and blaming everything that goes wrong upon himself. She knows it'll break him, but she also knows that he is strong. Mulder may blame himself for his sister, yet here he is, still fighting the good fight.

Even though this episode isn't nearly as fleshed out as it could be, you can see the shift in partnership with Scully and Mulder. Scully isn't just tagging along. She adds an additional layer of intelligence and skill that no one else could have given Mulder. A layer that Mulder didn't have before on his own either. And he does the exact same thing for her. It's these sorts of episodes that showcase how this teamwork is what cements Mulder and Scully as the heroes of the show. They're saving humanity and making it a better place one case at a time, even when it's not a mythology episode. They may not officially solve cases half the time, but they do prevent a lot of bad shit from happening and innocent people from getting hurt. Which is all you can ask for, really.


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