‘The X-Files’ Turns Personal For Mulder And Scully In ‘Ghouli’

Senior Television Writer
01.31.18

Fox

A quick review of tonight’s The X-Files coming up just as soon as Fox doesn’t exist at the coffee shop…

If last week’s Darin Morgan stunner made a convincing argument that the time for Fox Mulder and this TV show has passed, then “Ghouli” puts forth the best argument available for why Mulder and Scully’s story still has dramatic value all of these years later: their son, William.

Tonally, the episode’s all over the map, though at least some of that seems to be on purpose, as James Wong tries to lure us into thinking we’re just watching a formulaic Monster of the Week story until he hits us with the realization that the Monster is in fact William (or, as he’s been raised to be called, Jackson Van De Camp). From there, the hour still keeps peeking over into odd humor and unwelcome reminders of the new conspiracy plot with the scenes pairing Skinner with the Smoking Man, yet none of that matters, because “Ghouli” finally puts Mulder and (especially) Scully’s sense of loss about the son they never got to raise front and center. Particularly remarkable is the scene in the morgue where Scully gives what she think is Jackson’s corpse the speech she’d give to him if he was still alive — which he eventually turns out to be — before sobbing at how inadequate it is.

At times during the original run’s final two seasons and the first year of the revival, Gillian Anderson’s sheer commitment to the material was the only thing holding the whole thing together. Here, she goes beyond that, finding a rawness and vulnerability the old show only occasionally let her explore, and which she can handle even better now than she could then, because she’s grown as a performer in the years since the series first ended. Scully and Mulder’s shared joy in the final scene when they realized the man at the gas station was really Jackson using his illusion-casting powers made a lovely bookend to the earlier moment of grief, effective in large part because of how understated it was. There’s still a long way to go between biological parents and child, but there’s now an endgame I care about with this season.

The problem, of course, is that William ties into this terrible mythology, and particularly to the “My Struggle III” revelation that he’s not Mulder’s son at all, but the Smoking Man’s. At this point, there’s no redeeming the new mythology as an actual story, but if Carter has a “Cancer Man was wrong” (or lying) twist up ahead, well… it won’t fix everything, or excuse the justifiable anger the previous twist generated, but it’ll at least lean into the strongest ongoing part of this final run.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@uproxx.com. He discusses television weekly on the TV Avalanche podcast. His new book, Breaking Bad 101, is on sale now.

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