In “Plus One,” instead of offering her a beer, Mulder (David Duchovny) assures Scully (Gillian Anderson) that she’s still “got it going on,” that there is still “scoot in [her] boot.” In a small, modestly furnished hotel room, functionally and irrevocably alone except for each other, Mulder and Scully finally talk about what the future holds for them—what it means to have aged into a world that has seemingly left them behind, Mulder now 56 and Scully almost 54 (though arguably in better shape than they were 20 years ago, if the Hard Boiled gunfights and car chases of the previous two episodes mean anything). Scully asks Mulder to hold her; he quickly obliges and together they broach, for what appears to be the first time, what it might mean if they retire from the FBI, if they find romantic partners outside of their duo, if their work on the X-Files ultimately proves, after all these decades, to not have been worth that time.
Last week, Erik Adams wrote about Andrea Natella’s thisman.org as a way to interpret this season of The X-Files, and the ideas he presents are undeniable given my past criticisms. The egregious retconning, the mind-boggling lurches in tone, even the aforementioned, physics-defying gunkata: If this whole season is a dream “gifted” to Scully by her son, William—though I’m not sure why William would try to convince his mom that Cigarette Smoking Man is his real father—as a way for her to live out the rest of her life, in some sort of cerebral parallel dimension, with Mulder, doing their “work” and growing old together, then all the clues are there, in varying shades of obvious.
Perhaps all this subtextual exploration of the zeitgeist—especially the expectations and roles of an aging woman in both the professional and domestic spheres, as Scully first asks Mulder if he thinks of her as “old,” and, by extension, not desirable, and, by further extension, not fertile—feels like too much coming from the pen of Chris Carter, who wrote “Plus One” and is a guy who typically writes characters as if they’re agender Victorian poets. Still, the ongoing symbol of the double, of twins and alternate versions of oneself—like Computer Langley in “This,” or the entire plot of the season premiere—becomes impossible to avoid with “Plus One,” as Mulder and Scully investigate a rash of killings in which the victims seem to be defeated by their own doppelgängers. This means we’re party to a scene in which Mulder beats himself up, à la Jet Li’s The One (directed, it’s worth mentioning probably, by X-Files mainstay James Wong), as well as one of those standout guest performances this show always seems to nail, this time care of Karin Konoval playing twins Little Judy and Little Chucky Poundstone like they’re active members of Carnivale’s traveling 1930s sideshow. A sleazy lawyer type (Benjamin Wilkinson) cuts off his own head with a samurai sword, an auto-beheading on par with Noel Kahn falling neck-first on a medieval axe in the last season of Pretty Little Liars. In other words, “Plus One” was a pretty good episode.
Whether the season can exist, in the end, as an overarching conceptual piece will of course depend on how much one trusts Carter not to blow it, but regardless, the ideas this episode raises about the trajectory of The X-Files are exciting. At its most functional, “Plus One” transcends the long-abandoned “will they or won’t they” between Mulder and Scully (they will, twice in this episode) by examining the nuts and bolts of rebooting the show at all, questioning inevitability, expectation, fan service and change in the context of a foundational network drama that can no longer survive solely on that reputation. Should Mulder and Scully be together, or is their bond one born of tragedy and trauma, their reunion in Season 10 the unfortunate result of their shared existential loneliness reaching a terminus of sorts? Have the X-Files destroyed better lives they could have lived?
“Real” or not, Season 11 of The X-Files envisions Mulder and Scully constantly on the edge of whatever reality is supposed to be—between the lives they want and the lives they have, between belief and skepticism, between the limits of the physical body and the breadth of our imaginations. I still think Carter is gonna blow this, but in this liminal space is, I think, where I want this show to be, embracing the future rather than fighting it.
Dom Sinacola is Associate Movies Editor at Paste and a Portland-based writer. He’s been to at least one X-Files convention. You can follow him on Twitter.