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X-Files Episode Guide: Ghost In The Machine

Too early to feel like a retread
Too early to feel like a retread
netflix.com

X-Files: Season 1, Episode 7

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Written by Alex Gansa & Howard Gordon
Directed by Jerrold Freedman

Twenty years after originally airing, it's not surprising that some aspects of The X-Files seem dated. The idea of an artificial intelligence isn't one of them--- Person of Interest is only the most current show to use a similar idea, and The Matrix probably made it mainstream. So the fact that this episode doesn't have the best reputation among fans or even the shows creator is a little surprising, considering the show might be considered ahead of curve. The biggest problem is the budget. Those series had them; The X-Files at this time didn't.

The biggest problem with the episode isn't the fact that it blatantly is stealing from 2001---- it's that it does so with so little imagination. The teaser is an interesting death, but after that, it's very little that the average viewer hasn't seen or read before. Once again, it's clear that the writers are still feeling their way around, and haven't got the idea of what their series is supposed to be doing. Even a season from now, the show would've had a style that it could borrow from, and make this idea fresher (and then make it more tired--- see both of William Gibson and Tom Maddox's scripts), but right now it doesn't have one, so it finds itself trying to hit several discordant keys at once.

First, it tries to give the story more value than it has by having it brought to an agent who was one of Mulder's former partners--- Jerry Lamana, who is never mentioned again--- a trick that police procedurals have done over and over Then it tries to add to the episode by having the partner steal Mulder's profile, and then have the agent die as a result of the investigation. Then it brings in Deep Throat, who we haven't seen since the second episode, and it's clear that the writers don't have quite the idea how to use him--- we have no idea how Mulder made contact with him, or why he's helping him with what amounts to a traditional monster of the week. Then it tries to add the conspiracy element by having shadowy government operatives trying to get a hold of Wilchek's work, complete with a 'surprise' mole. By the time Scully's crawling through the air-conditioning system to try and shut down the COS, we know what the real problem is with the show. Individually, one or two of these items might work. Having them all in the same episode makes the series seem like the mish-mash that it, unfortunately, seems to be becoming.

Of course, the real problem is one of how the writers were working at the time. Each of the three groups had presented their introductory script, and now they were all scrounging for idea. Carter took on Bigfoot, Morgan & Wong took on Poltergeist, and now Gordon & Gansa have taken on Demon Seed. Again, like other supernatural series that would follow, the show was still trying to find it's feet. And even though it's reputation is bad, and the use of the technology involved dates the episode far worse than it should, it's not as horrible as some of the other turkeys the series would produce. The problem is, it's just not good, either. The show is playing it like it has done everything else in the last few episodes--- so seriously, with no sense of enjoyment and precious little fun. The series can't make up its mind whether it's a police procedural or science fiction, so it does both, and as a result both suffer. Even the capper at the end is out of every horror movie that came before or since

Looking back on it , any critic or viewer who had even glimpsed at an episode of X-Files--- and at the time, that was almost nobody---- would've figured that the series, which started so promisingly, has basically gone down the crapper. There are interesting ideas being used, but that's all they are. It's possible that many of those people who loved the show--- like me--- would've regarded it as not worth the time. There has not been a flashpoint to galvanize the series, and one wonders if there would be one. Episodes like this one probably would've demonstrated, like the COS, that the series might not have much of a future.