Halfway through this 11th season—and, more importantly, the season in which The X-Files has rebooted and re-evaluated itself to a degree that only now appears to represent Chris Carter and his writers playing the long game—and the pieces seem to be tumbling into place. The pieces of what? Still not entirely sure, though all intuition points to a re-imagining of the series foundationally, of the season premiere’s conceit—that Scully just dreamed up the happenings of the already-rebooted tenth season—facilitated by grander ideas regarding alternate realities, double lives, altered memories and apocryphal history.
I’ve been beating these ideas within an inch of their lives because Carter and co. do the same. This week, with “Ghouli,” written and directed by James Wong, The X-Files pulls its second-riskiest plot device of the season so far, re-connecting Scully (Gillian Anderson) and Mulder (David Duchovny) with their son, who they once named William (Miles Robbins), second only to the riskiness of thinking the show’s legion of audience members would patiently accept the fact that the cliffhanger to the tenth season was “solved” by a contrivance fanboys once only reserved with the hatingest of hate for shows like Lost.
As is usually the case in mid-season mythology episodes, not much occurs in “Ghouli” besides Scully’s emotional turmoil, and Anderson, undoubtedly, is up to the challenge of running her character through the motions of re-re-experiencing the same trauma she’s been re-experiencing for more than two decades. Thankfully, Wong doesn’t indulge in the facile poeticism of his showrunner, which means that the most awkward voiceover we endure occurs at the beginning of the episode, after the cold open, in which Scully has a vision akin to sleep paralysis, visited by the silhouette of a person she intuits as her biological son, William, and pointed in the direction of a recently opened X-File. With Mulder—who seems pretty neutral about finding the son he fathered with Scully, because Mulder doesn’t know that he really isn’t the father (?); it’s hard to keep these alternate plot points straight, but more on that in a bit—Scully visits the scene of an almost double-homicide, the victims being two teenage girls (Sarah Jeffrey and Madeleine Arthur) nearly murdering each other, claiming they were attacking a District 9-like insectoid monster they refer to as a “ghouli.” Despite the ill-defined interference of a government agency or three, Mulder and Scully trace the attack to a 17-year-old named Jackson Van De Kamp (Robbins), who’s discovered dead alongside his parents, Scully understanding pretty quickly that it’s probably her son whose body she finds on a bedroom floor.
To be sure, Scully conducts a DNA test on Jackson’s corpse, using the chance to give the body a post-mortem, teary apology through which she lays out the reasons why she and Mulder gave William up almost 20 years ago, no surprise to anyone but those who’ve either forgotten (because X-Files mythology can be impenetrable) or who are just now tuning in to the series (which is weird, because: Isn’t it just us hardcore fans still sticking around?). Granted, Scully admits that her speech is “inadequate” and Mulder overhears it because Scully can’t get an ounce of fucking privacy. Mulder, ever chivalrous and emotionally supportive, offers to finish up the test for Scully so she can go sleep on a waiting room couch or something. Mulder, of course, discovers that Jackson is in fact William, though never bothers to firm up his own familial connections to the kid.
Instead, Mulder touches base with Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), who’s still in Cigarette Smoking Man’s (William B. Davis) pocket after the revelations of the season premiere. CSM wants William/Jackson because, as Skinner tells Mulder, the boy was a subject of secret government testing to determine the effects of alien-human hybridization, which obviously gave William/Jackson super mind powers, especially because the kid was already infused with the alien DNA from his mom. Yadda yadda yadda: William/Jackson used his mind powers to fake his own death, knowing that the Syndicate or whatever CSM calls his cadre nowadays has their sights on his liquidation. Also, the whole “ghouli” thing is explained away by Jackson visiting the two girls who nearly killed each other, admitting that he can’t quite control his burgeoning abilities? The episode obviously doesn’t care about this plotline. Best we just move on.
So here’s where we’re at: Scully knows that Jackson is her son, and that not only does he have the extraordinary power to alter the thoughts of others, he has been sending thought-messages to Scully, dredging up flashbacks of the end of Season 10 in which Scully was on a bridge, the world ending via alien plague around her, the future a disaster waiting to happen and Mulder on the verge of death. Either this season is an illusion given to Scully by Jackson, or (more possible given the season’s trajectory) Jackson’s so brain-powerful he was able to create an alternate reality in which the world-ending scenario of last season is only a dream, existentially saving his mom while unfortunately confirming that his “dad” isn’t Mulder, but a test-tube filled with CSM’s jizz. Scully, haunted by visions of the other reality, embraces this season’s timeline, in which, at the very least, she can live out her days with Mulder, having desperate sex due to very normal thoughts about aging and loneliness and why a show like The X-Files almost demands a perfunctory reboot.
Still: What does Mulder know? Why does Skinner still bow to the unearned influence of CSM, who has not shown at all this season how he still wields any world-shaking power at all? (Unless the intervention of the “DOJ” and “DOD” are somehow tied to CSM, which they probably are, but the show makes no real attempt to clarify.) Why is the show even toying with these multiple reality scenarios at all? If this whole reboot has been an admittance that The X-Files mythos is really confusing and a capitulation to the need for fans to be less confused, then “Ghouli” just feels like more of the same: Inadequate. The answers to these questions aren’t clear, obfuscated not by convoluted plot but by the convoluted retconning of convoluted plot. Halfway through this 11th season, and the end can’t come soon enough.
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.