After a lengthy hiatus, courtesy of the Winter Olympics, The X-Files returns to our screens with what some people are calling their Black Mirror episode. But in true X-Files fashion, Rm9sbG93ZXJz .
A lot of commentators, critics and the general audience have merely dismissed this episode as being X-Files does Black Mirror. Despite the fact there have been at least three episodes off the top of my head of its ilk before Black Mirror was thought in the mind of Charlie Brooker. “Ghost In The Machine” (S01 E07), “Kill Switch” (S05 E11) and “First Person Shooter” (S07 E13), all had Scully and Mulder deal with the perils of technology gone wrong.
This is a slightly more humorous take on the ‘Dangers of A.I.,’ focusing on the simple relationship aspect of Fox and Dana. As they are at alone awaiting their sushi order in a completely robot-run restaurant, both Mulder and Scully are wrapped up in their phones. Scully, in particular, is reading an article on Elon Musk forewarning the dangers of artificial intelligence. It is only after a very dodgy order for Fox, and then the refusal to tip the robots for the poor quality of food, is when things start to go wrong.
At the start of the episode we are told the true story of Tay, the Twitter bot that responded and learnt from its interactions with other Twitter users. And as things go on the internet, the bot ended up conversing on controversial subjects, and after just 16 hours online Microsoft pulled the plug. It is a real life example for us to be careful what we teach; as Fox states at the end, “We need to be better teachers”. The episode’s title, “Rm9sbG93ZXJz,” is base64 for “Followers;” are we following them, are they following us?
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This monster-of-the-week episode is very small stakes, including homages to various films and TV (Six Million Dollar Man makes an appearance with Mulder’s take on the theme, plus several homages to Hitchcock’s The Birds). All of this together hints as to how much technology we rely on as a society nowadays, and in turn its potential pratfalls and dangers.
Glen Morgan’s excellant direction helps to tell the story with minimal dialogue. The script was written by Kristen Cloke and Shannon Hamblin, who have been involved from The X-Files in some capacity for a long time, and it shows, even if this their first written episode for the show. They are two of the few women writers on the show, however they didn’t feel like it was a big thing as stated in their (very good) interview with SyFy Wire that, “It didn’t feel crazy that we were going to be writing an episode…”
There are nice little touches to appease long time X-Files fans. Scully mentions her long gone Queequeg, Mulder’s love of classic rock music, the differences in appearance in their houses, which prompts Mulder’s “Why is your house better than mine?”. There’s also the subtle references as to the intimate side of their relationship, Scully’s “personal massager” gets an extended cameo.
After being chased by technology and being exposed to the coldness of artificial intelligence, we end the episode in an old-fashioned diner with paper money and a waitress to talk to. Fox and Dana put their phones away and hold hands and look at each their properly. It is really comforting to see them together.