TV REVIEW: X-Files: Season 2, Ep. 2 (This) - "Am I Dead?"
The X-Files reached back to their past to bring back one third of The Lone Gunmen: Richard ‘Ringo’ Langley. And he had one question for Mulder and Scully; "Was he Dead?"
The episode starts out with Mulder and Scully, having fallen asleep on the couch in front of the tv like many couples do. Then the scene shifts to a car speeding to their home carrying three killers. That does not happen to most couples. Mulder’s phone comes alive and they are awakened by Ringo Langley, who has an important question for them: Is he dead?
Not having much time to answer the question, Mulder and Scully hear people on their porch and spring into action. They manage to take out two of the three assailants while the third one flees. Mulder deduces the attack is related to the phone call and shares with Scully that he was not there when the Lone Gunmen died and asks if it is possible that Langley might still be alive. Afterwards, he hides the phone while Scully calls in the incident.
They are both surprised to see a quick reply-from what looks like an armored assault team. They decide to call Skinner, who surprises them by seeming to know what is going on and advising them to surrender. They don’t, and though successful in taking out some of the invaders, are eventually both captured. The people who capture them are Russian, and are intent in finding Mulder’s phone (which he has hidden away inside the oven). The phone goes off, and he and Scully use the distraction to rush their captors and make a break for it into the woods.
The fugitives make it to the road, where they run into a car driven by Skinner, who shares the identity of their attackers: a private Russian security force working on American soil. Apparently, a ew directive issued by the Executive office allows them to do so. He offers to drive them away but the once solid bond of trust they shared with him is clearly shattered. Frustrated, Skinner offers them all the money he has in his wallet and drives away. Because he goes, they ask him if he knows if Langley is alive. He responds that both he and Scully saw them all die and that he's was buried in Arlington cemetery 16 years ago. However, they also note he never actually answers them. Mulder and Scully make it to Arlington cemetery and by using the birth dates on the tombstones of the Lone Gunmen, find a message left to them by Langley: a disc with a URL code. Not too long afterwards, they find themselves in the crosshairs of the third attacker (that had got away before) but soon subdue him and flee. Upon arriving at an internet café, they access the disk and find a very old file that Mulder says Langley helped him with. They need more information, and for this, they need the X-Files.
The scene changes and they both ambush Skinner inside a parking lot. Guns are drawn as the tensions between the old allies runs very high. Skinner talks about how when Scully first started it was just them, but now there are so many other intelligence agencies out there. Both collaborating and backstabbing one another. Scully says: “Walter, we need you, but don’t trust you.” When Mulder mentions he needs access to the office to look into the X-File, Skinner tells him he does not need to be in the office for that.
Skinner takes them both to his home, where he reveals that all of the X-Files have been digitized. Mulder is outraged that his files were made available like this. But Skinner counters with saying that both he and Scully had left, and it was just him. He decided the files were too valuable to just sit in storage gathering dust. Mulder accesses the file on the building Langley’s message had mentioned, and manages to find (through the ‘Scully Spank Bank’) a message from Langley directing them to a professor at the University of Maryland.
They visit her after her class and she reveals that she and Ringo both joined an initiative to have their brain scanned and their consciousness digitized and uploaded to a server. The digital consciousness would only come online once the real life person died. She provides them with her phone and an equation to use to facilitate Langley reaching them on her phone. As she completes the equation, the gunman from the cemetery sows up again and kills her before they kill him.
Mulder and Scully escape to a dive bar where Langley finally makes contact with them. He tells them he lives in a paradise where The Ramones play every night, don’t fight, and the Patriots never, ever win. But he knows it is all fake. He says that all recent geniuses who have died are there and they are no more than digital slaves, where their genius is used to bring to life in the real world several discoveries, such as space colonization. He asks them to shut down the server and reveals it’s location near the FBI building in New York.
Using subterfuge and a hidden tunnel connecting the locations, the pair gain access to the building. Mulder is apprehended by the private Russian security force, and they bring him to (surprise!) Erika Price, the member of the Syndicate introduced in the season premiere. She says her respect for Mulder has now grown, and says he too could be uploaded. She is impressed because not only is Langley the only one in the digitized world to realize it is all a made up matrix, but of all the billions of people in the world this man could have reached out to, he reached out to Mulder. He then asks to see the machine, and when she asks why, he says it is because he wants to be able to say he ‘saw’ the divine. She agrees and the Russian head of the private security force takes him to where the server is and opens the door. At that moment Scully, who has found the room on her own but lacked access, goes into the room while Mulder fights off the security chief and shuts down the servers, which flash critical warning signs.
The scene shifts to Scully and Mulder leading an FBI team into the building only to find the entire server room has been cleaned out. Tired from everything that has happened, they find themselves back at home when the phone rings again. It’s Langley. He says that they need to also destroy the backups, and that he is scared because ‘they know that they know’. His image then frazzles and is replaced by the killer they thought they had seen the last off at the University of MD.
The continuing gulf between Scully and Mulder and Skinner. This will take some time to resolve and is no quick fix.
The usage of contemporary themes in the storytelling: digitizing ones consciousness. The influence of Russia in domestic matters. The unchecked growth of security agencies. The X-Files being scanned and moved unto a cloud.
The reference to what Skinner had to do while they both were away from the Agency.
The usage of humor. From Scully dryly noting that Frohike was probably born looking old, to Mulder saying he would open an X-File into why is muffin tasted so good.
Mulder never shows any bruises from the punches he takes.
You can’t just walk around Arlington cemetery at night and not have anyone notice.
It was a great stand alone episode that touched just enough on the overall storyline set in the first episode. It is painful to see the divide between Skinner, Mulder and Scully, but also fantastic to finally see Skinner given some actual work and conflict to deal with. It was perhaps a mistake to kill off the Lone Gunmen 15 years ago, but nice to see this clever usage of plot to say one last goodbye to at least one of them. The X-Files being scanned is an analogy to the show’s themes also being brought into modern times with discussions such as digitizing our consciousness. And the idea that ‘Paradise’ is unique to each individual with his/her specific wants and desires.
There are many more questions left to be answered this season. One of them being, perhaps, with the return of The X-Files and it being so good: are we dead?