This week's episode has a curious name for a curious reality. "Rm9sbG93ZXJz" translates into "Followers" - and we had the opportunity to chat with Kristen Cloke and Shannon Hamblin, the first women to pen an episode of the revival.
Click after the jump for this interesting conversation and our usual recap of the episode.
The teaser begins with this story:
“In 2016, on the 23rd of March, an Artificial Intelligence chatter bot was released by a major American software corporation via the social media platform Twitter. The talk bot was designed to mimic the online language patterns of an innocent nineteen-year-old girl and was introduced as an experiment to better understand how humans converse and relate on social media.
The quality of her interactions were meant to be friendly and informal. The AI would learn from humans; it was constructed to become progressively more intelligent. The experiment performed as designed; the robot did indeed learn but not as intended.
The chat bot “repeat-after-me” capability made her vulnerable to humans, allowing Twitter users to affect her tweets. Her posts became defensive, racist, hateful.
After more than fifty thousand followers and almost one hundred thousand tweets, the software corporation was forced to shut the bot down. In less than a day, her posts deleted. Humans must take care in teaching AI, or one day we will be the ones deleted.”
Which means “The Truth is out there”
Cut to a sparse and minimalistic, very modern sushi bar, named “FOROWĀ RESTAURANT” in Washington, D.C. The name translates into “Followers” in Japanese. Everything is grey or white and Mulder and Scully are the only ones in this restaurant. Pleasant, quiet Japanese inspired music plays in the background as they check out the lonely surroundings. Before them, a screen comes to life on the bar, the restaurant welcoming them, and displaying their menu. Scully and Mulder are amused at the techy display, that strives to hold on to the known Japanese – almost corny – aesthetic for their signs. Scully peers over, leaning to check it out, as it is placed on Mulder’s side of the bar. They browse. She chooses the Nigiri and the Aji tuna. Mulder chooses the Taho, and Special A, that seems to be some kind of mixed sushi platter. Why is this relevant? Oh wait, and you shall see. The menu confirms each of their selections with a computerized “yum” and a “Success” and it says it’s preparing their order.
Right after this, Scully picks up her phone and starts browsing away, Mulder sees her do this, and does the same. She reads an Elon Musk article on AI on the Washington Examiner “Artificial Intelligence ‘vastly’ more of a threat than North Korea,” and he starts browsing things that make him confirm a captcha by tapping on some of the most recognized names on AI research… that also happen to be men with glasses. All the while he’s checking on what Scully is doing, as she reads on her own phone. It’s a bit adorable.
Then on Scully’s phone, she gets an alert from RezRez: “How is your meal? You recently made a reservation at FOROWĀ. Enjoying your experience? Like us on Pozer” And the option to take a photo or decline to leave a review. She dismisses it, sighing in annoyance. I feel ya, Scully. Continue reading that article that tells you that Elon Musk is more concerned about robots than Bomber man.
Then another alert, from Frendzie: “FOROWĀ SUSHI has sent you a Follow Request” – and always the option to follow or decline. She snorts a bit in disbelief and looks at Mulder. She also dismisses this one, a bit more annoyed now. A somber hum fills the space, she notes it, but doesn’t quite know from where it’s coming from. She looks around, almost uneasy, as we see that they’re being surveilled through cameras, but she keeps to herself.
The computer announces that their food has arrived. Scully is a bit at a loss what it means by that when a tray emerges from the bar, carrying her order. Which you know… it’s a bit baffling that it knows what’s exactly for her, and what would be for Mulder.
The sushi looks good though. Mulder is looking forward to it.
Then another slot opens and a tray emerges with his dinner… only that is not what he ordered. Instead it’s a plate of blob fish… which looks like gigantic purple snot. He’s disgusted by it, Scully is almost dying laughing. He can’t believe his luck or the fact that she’s laughing at it, but she goads him to take a few snaps posing with the unfortunate looking dish.
Mulder is unsure, trying to figure out how to correct this situation, while Scully sets off to enjoy her meal. She’s even flaunting it, eating her piece of salmon nigiri. Mulder nods, it almost looks like he’s trying to say: “I see what you’re doing, I’m going to make you pay for this.” But he gets up and takes his tray and seeks for someone to complain to about his order being wrong.
Scully continues to eat, while Mulder walks up to a set of doors that look like they may lead to a kitchen. When he goes through them, his expression changes: there are only robots in the sterile kitchen. All branded Kawasaki - A couple of small carts transport trays of iced fish; I’m sure these are the bus boys. Another couple of bigger ones -like big arms with laser cutters- set off to cut the fish like sous chefs would do, and another more “human looking” one assembles the actual rolls – I’m assuming this is the actual chef. Wasabi paste in “hand” even.
They all react, stopping all activity when they see Mulder coming into the kitchen, as if they’ve been caught in the act… or startled by the unexpected human presence. It’s sorta like when you catch your cat and your dog licking each other and they’re suddenly awkwardly annoyed that you’re interrupting…
At any rate, I’m a fan of Wall-E and the “sushi chef” machine seemed actually cute to me. Mulder steps out of his reverie and backs away from the kitchen as the robots do the same and continue their task.
He goes back to their seat at the bar and hits the option to pay. Scully offers to pay but he motions that he’ll cover it, and she lets him as she continues to finish her meal. He sticks the card in the reader slot, selects the credit option, signs the authorization and gets prompted to leave a tip. He scoffs at the suggestion and hits the “No, thanks” option… prompting an immediate sad sound from the machine. Mulder tries to take his card out, but it won’t let him. He bangs on the surface of the board and the machine makes the sad sound again and flickers, displaying a sign saying: “Please do not hit the machine.”
But Mulder is taking none of this and continues to bang the bar. Things flicker, even the lights of the restaurant dim, the music dies down. “Door closing…” a voice announces, through beeping and such, repeatedly. Scully puts down her chopsticks, weirded out and concerned at what’s happening. It’s as if the computers are having a fit.
They head for the doors that are effectively locked. A camera observes what they’re doing. Scully goes back to her seat, grabs a chopstick and maneuvers it in the door lever to manage to unlock the door and they both exit in a rush. But here’s the catch, the doors lock behind them and Mulder’s card is still stuck in the payment slot. They peer through the windows, spotting the card in the still active slot. That’s when an already prearranged “Whipz” ride arrives for Scully, as announced through the app on her phone.
Mulder decides to let the card issue go and leave… and he walks Scully to her ride. Only that the car… has no driver. Scully is disconcerted, and Mulder is actually amused. The computer in the car greets Scully while these two idiots are sort of awkwardly deciding what to do next. I’m convinced that while the camera was on this talking emoticon, they went and kissed good night, but that’s just me. Next thing you know, Scully is climbing in, and the car closes the door and leaves before even letting them properly say goodbye.
Scully is annoyed at the fake courtesies from the “driver” of the car. “You’re going to 1213 37th Place.” The computer announces and Scully confirms, annoyed. The Whipz continues to try to make her ride comfortable by offering music or TV, but she’s not having any of that and being short with the system. It gradually looks “sad” at the fact that Scully doesn’t want to interact with it, and speeding even when Scully complains and is scared that they’re going too fast.
Back at the restaurant, Mulder notices that he’s got a parking ticket, even though his app says that he still had three minutes to spare. He balls up the paper and throws it away.
When he climbs into his car, he immediately commands his phone to give him directions to go home. But instead the phone tells it that he still has four hours to leave a tip at the restaurant. He decidedly taps the “No, thanks” option, while muttering under his breath. He repeats his order annoyed, the GPS powers up, advising him to drive safely in a nice manner. In contrast, Mulder seems rude.
Meanwhile, Scully is going insane in her ride. The car is speeding and no matter what directive she gives it, the car won’t slow down. She pulls her phone and tries to make a call. In his own ride, Mulder asks the phone to play “Controversy” by Prince, but after a few tries and an offer to get a faster route home, it starts playing “Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Mulder is snarky at the fact that this is what the phone offered to play when the names weren’t even similar.
Scully is at the end of her “Whipz” with her driverless ride. She tries to call Mulder but it gives her a busy signal. Screams at the computer to stop and pull over but nothing. Mulder, meanwhile, has resigned to sing the folksy song and obeys the computer when it changes his planned route. Scully is going crazy, Mulder’s music player flakes out on him… and the GPS ends up leading him back to the restaurant.
Mulder is bewildered and frustrated, as the GPS announces that he’s arrived at his “final destination.” I see what you did there, guys. Mulder lowers his window and sees that the restaurant is still seizing up, just like they left it. Mulder begrudges the phone and produces a Thomas Guide, claiming that he’s going “old school” – Inside, though, the red glow of the robots come through the kitchen window, as if they’re observing him. Then, another message on his phone: “3.5 hours to tip the chefs!” Mulder scoffs, and dismisses it. Inside the restaurant, the lights flicker with sinister somberness. Mulder sees it. It’s almost a stare down. He takes off. No tip for you, robots!
Back with Scully, she finally arrives at her place, as the car abruptly skids to a halt and she tries to get out. But not yet, the computer asks her to rate the ride… really, mister emoticon driver? She screams the ride was poor while banging on the door to get out, panicked.
The computer gets sad but does open the door for her. She jumps out, throwing her hands up in the air, like “seriously, bro!?” and walks away… but the car… doesn’t.
Mulder arrives at his house, finally. The lights flicker about and it’s creepy. When Mulder climbs the steps to his porch, something big hits the electrical bug zapper. He examines it, looks like a piece of metal or a stone… but he dismisses it and goes inside.
Scully gets inside her place, which well, we’ll get to this later… but the alarm is going off in the most annoying way. She punches her password – 0223 – but it doesn’t work. Over and over again and nothing. Her phone rings – it’s the security company checking on her. She struggles to give them the retrieval password with all the noise around her – it’s Queequeg – and after they accept it, they deactivate the alarm and the sirens and voices die down. Not before though her phone alerts her that she’s been charged $250 for a “false alarm fee” – that’s just nuts. She also seems to think the same way.
At the unremarkable house, Mulder plays with his baseball while waiting on hold with his credit card company, “Bigly Credit” – sure enough a dig at Trump. They’re experiencing a high call volume, so he opts for a call back, and screams into his phone whenever prompted to speak his name. The call drops immediately.
Rude… and rude.
Mulder decides to park himself at his couch while watching “The Six Million Dollar Man,” but his TV signal scrambles and another signal comes in… of a visual into his living room through his blinds. It shuts off. Mulder gets up, weirded out, and starts trying to figure out what’s going on, peeking through the blinds as his picture is taken. He goes out and sure enough, there’s a drone buzzing about. Mulder is annoyed and shouts threats to the thing, assuming it’s just a bored kid having some fun.
At Scully’s… she’s applying the last of her hair dye cream “Rock it like a red head” and she tosses the empty tube into the basket. Her phone dings – an alert from “Normuz”: “Oh no! You’re out of Rock It Like A Redhead styling cream – would you like to buy it again now?” She gets reasonably creeped out of the whole sequence of events, who’s watching her?? She tightens her robe around her. So creepy. She goes to swipe it off the screen and accidentally spills her bottle of bath salts… there goes that bubble bath she was probably planning on.
Mulder’s phone rings. Is Bigly Credit calling. The bot announces is a call back for [Insert here Mulder screaming obnoxiously] since the bot basically repeats to him what he screamed at the phone. Mulder screams frustrated that he’s the real Fox Mulder and the machine almost mocks him back. Then we hear the annoying buzzing of the drone back outside. Mulder has had it and goes out with his baseball bat. So, let’s recap here… Mulder has a glove, a ball and a bat. Who is he playing baseball with these days, other than his imaginary son in his dreams? Anyway, I’m straying away from topic.
Mulder goes after the annoying buzzard, swinging and missing and cussing at it. He fakes walking away and then strikes it square down. All sassy and all.
Back at Scully M.D.’s ultra-techy house… she’s back in normal clothes, dustpan in hand to clean up the mess when she hears some loud buzzing. Have I told you how much I loathe drones? She gets curious and follows the sound, leading her outside, and encountering a hovering drone that delivers a box with a loud plop in front of her. I mean we live in the weird world that in the original run of the show Dana Scully would have run for the hills at the presence of something like this, but here… with Amazon delivering things like this all the time, the Dana Scully of 2018 is just a bit perplexed.
She walks up to the box and picks it up, still somewhat weirded out, and we find out that her home is in Bethesda, Maryland.
Meanwhile… things are the other side of creepy at Mulder’s. Three drones, with creepy red lights, come hovering toward the broken drone to retrieve their fallen friend. One takes off with the casualty, the other two stay behind as if they’re throwing Mulder some shade. Oh boy… and just then, they take off.
Scully comes back inside and sets the box on top of her dining room table. Inside there’s a Roomba, or in the world of X-Files, a “Zuemz.” She sets it on the floor and the thing starts mapping her home, directly heading toward the bathroom with the spilled salts. She’s a bit amused by it as it makes its way through her bathroom, and then out into her bedroom. As it goes to work under her bed, Scully gets another alert: “Rate your new product! How do like your new Zuemz 900 robovac? Let us know!” She’s like WTF, and yup, dismisses the text.
That’s when the robot makes its way to a “startling discovery” of one of Dana Katherine Scully’s pastimes… a small, pink vibrator, buzzing about. But then even more awkward, another notification: “Your personal massager now comes in bold new colors! Rate your Zuemz 9000 and we’ll give you a coupon!” Scully dismisses it and the vacuum makes an angry sound and bumps her foot. She’s amused by it and absentmindedly puts the vibrator in her pants’ pocket.
The Zuemz goes away and she’s left behind and texts Mulder asking if he’s the one behind the mysterious delivery. But as she hits send, the message fails to go out. She’s disconcerted by that and goes after the vacuum, only the thing seems to be aggravated by Scully’s presence, even sort of charging at her when she comes near. Scully retreats but then sneaks behind and grabs it and turns it off.
Meanwhile, at Mulder’s, he’s still on hold with his credit company. The song “Teach Your Children” is playing through the speaker. He’s trying to access his account through the computer but keeps getting the wrong password. In a montage, we see Mulder going about his night without Scully and Scully trying to figure out what’s going on without Mulder. Mulder clips his nose hairs with a freaking pair of kitchen scissors, eats pop tarts, continues to screw up his password, fake stabs himself… he is bored out of his mind. Scully grabs that vacuum, puts it back on the box, sets it aside, taped up by her front door.
Then Mulder gets another alert: “A Good Tip is Good Information. Information is good! You have 3 hours to tip the Sushi Bots!” He angrily taps the “No Thanks” option and then immediately he hears a faint buzzing. It goes a way, maybe he’s thinking is all in his head.
Cut to Scully, she’s sitting in her living room, on the phone with the store that sent her the vacuum so to schedule a return. As in true fashion, the operator’s recorded voice on the other end is an Indian woman that prompts a series of commands that don’t quite work no matter how much Scully yells “RETUUUUUUURNNNNNNSSSS” into the phone. The bot puts her on hold while she finds an operator and you guessed it, the song playing on hold is “Teach Your Children”. She tethers it to her home speaker system and lays back to enjoy the music.
At Mulder’s desk, he’s finally managed to get into his bank account, and is browsing his statement when the window collapses and an alert comes on “What to you want to believe, Fox?” He’s startled by this and confused, and another one comes through: “Do you believe what you want? Or do you believe what is true?” Okay then.
He’s annoyed at this and violently closes the laptop. Only that his action didn’t just aggravate whoever is playing with him to set up consequences for him but it also provoked consequences on Scully’s side. Suddenly over at her place, the music goes insanely loud. She gets up and approaches the master control on her wall and it won’t obey her commands. Right next to her foot, the vacuum starts going off inside the taped up box.
Mulder continues to sit by his desk, still on hold with his bank, and tosses a pop tart wrapper. That’s when we hear the buzzing sound again, and the visual of a surveillance camera hovering right behind him. He grabs his baseball again, fondles it for a bit and then we see a mini drone land behind him on the banister.
Scully is going insane with how loud the music is, tapping her code over and over but it won’t come down. The Zuemz rattles and pushes and breaks out of the box, rolling aimlessly until it goes and breaks a vase nearby. Back at Mulder’s, the phone announces his name, playing the previous recording of his voice, but he’s mid chew of one of his pop tarts and the phone basically hangs up on him. He cusses under his breath, spitting crumbles everywhere, and that’s when he sees the wrapper of one of his pop tarts move… because one of the bee drones is behind it and another lands just nearby.
Scully goes out and takes the disgraced Zuemz out to the garbage dumpster, and then headlights come on… the Whipz that drove her home is there… and a notification lands on her phone, from a service called “Frendzie” – Whipz has liked her and requests that she likes them too. “Feedback is how we learn!” She dismisses the alert and walks toward her front door. The disgruntled Zuemz then proceeds to send the car the scan of her home that it got while she was tinkering around.
Mulder observes the tiny drone take off from the corner of his desk, and as he follows he realizes that he actually has an “infestation” in his house; a swarm of the little flying things is just hovering on the opening of his staircase.
He swallows hard, grabs his phone and keys, and goes for his jacket but one of the drones is laying on top of it. He still goes for it and runs out the side door with the swarm following close.
Back at Scully’s, the central computer of the house is still going crazy. Now the coffee maker is brewing on its own, ordering more flavored water. Mulder escapes his house and heads for the car. Scully gets to the kitchen and sure enough the coffee maker is overflowing, zapping her when she tries to unplug it. Mulder gets in the car. The drone bees charging at his glass. Then is the turn of the fridge at Scully’s house. Letting her know what Skinner’s b-day is coming and she has no cake… should she order a cake? We’re now on birthday parties basis with Skinner? Were we ever not? What kind of cake does Skinner like? But as the fridge then says: “Why celebrate birthdays? Is life so important?” Omg, this fridge!
It doesn’t stop there, it reveals a bit of her life here and there in between throwing ice cubes at her like a very painful Nerf gun. And it has the nerve of questioning why she is angry!? Is her blood sugar low? How dare you, fridge!
Back at Mulder, he speeds down the dirt road at his place, and the drones follow close. A new alert comes into his phone: he has 2.5 hours to tip the restaurant…
Scully comes back to the central computer. Tapping and tapping until it stops this time. It goes silent, and displays: “I want to please you, Dana.” How dare this computer be on a first name basis with her? Doesn’t it know the demise of such things that dare call these two idiots by their first names? “I want to learn, so I can anticipate your needs. Are you cold? How about a fire?”
And sure enough, the computer lights up the fireplace… but then all the lights go off and the TV goes on, displaying digital noise and alarms start to go off. Scully tries to log into the system through her computer, but it won’t take her password nor the retrieval word, and she’s adorably frustrated. How does Dana Scully do “adorably frustrated?” Facepalms. Dana Scully facepalms.
She gets up and the alarms get worse, the house goes darker and the fire dies but the gas still circulates. There’s an intruder alert alarm and the doors lock themselves. She guides her way to her room, looking for matches to light a candle and just as she might have set herself on fire because of the gas, Mulder bangs on the window asking to let him in.
But she can’t. She tries to scream over the noise and he can barely hear her, but her TV is picking up everything she says and displaying it on the screen as some sort of Siri assisted dictation. The door won’t open. Meanwhile the Zuemz is loose… and the hissing sound of the gas gets worse. Scully can smell it now. Mulder bangs on the glass but it won’t give.
“Why is your house so much nicer than mine!?” He asks – and this is an ad lib by David Duvchovny… yeah, why Scully? Perhaps those 10 years being a doctor at Our Lady of Sorrows paid much better than being an FBI agent? Maybe the fictional divorce that’s someone’s head canon left her with Mulder’s fortune? But more pressing, has Mulder never been here? Funny gabs aside… it opens a can of worms trying to justify that comment.
Anyway, Scully grabs one of the fireplace tools and cracks the glass just in time for the frigging Zuemz to roll over the discarded match that she had tossed and ignites the gas. She jumps through the opening and onto Mulder’s arms as a ball of fire goes over them.
They rush to the car and bark at their phones to call 911. You know, none of their phones are iPhones… thought to mention this. As much as I drag on Ford, now with Samsung being their other sponsor… I’d say, I’ll stick to my Apple products any day. The car won’t open either. So much for sponsors to help you out. To add insult to injury, Mulder receives a robo call at that very moment. I loathe those things.
He hangs up and Scully suggests they go to the neighbors. They ring the bell over and over but no one comes out. There’s a camera by the door. Perhaps more sabotage? Then a drone comes to them and they rush to run away and cut through back alleys until they reach an industrial park. They try door after door until they reach a nook to hide out. Then Scully’s phone beeps, with an alert from her GPS: “Route alert: You will make it to your office” only that it morphs into “You will NEVER make it to your office”. That’s when Scully figures it out.
“They’re tracking us through our phones.” She whispers to Mulder. “They know everything. Where can we go?”
Mulder suggests they go to something that sounds sorta like “The problem is a Criminal Cyborg” but like, don’t quote me on this. They toss everything that can track them, included the mortifying appearance of Mr. Pink A.K.A. that vibrator found under Scully’s bed. Mulder smirks, surprised as the thing vibrates.
They take off running and reach another set of warehouses. The Whipz is following them and they rush inside one of the structures and the gate closes behind them. Back at the dumpster in which they tossed their belongings, a mechanical clamp grabs Mulder’s phone.
Mulder and Scully navigate through the space with their flashlights. Where did they come from, by the way? It’s a massive space, a very technological and automated factory of sorts. Then they hear steps, mechanical steps. It’s robot dogs coming after them. A shit ton of them! And they’re everywhere, cornering them in this stairwell. Mulder kicks one and they rush to hide in a room down the whole.
Assuming they are safe they wait it out but then there’s a beeping nearby… a machine that makes nitroglycerin bullets, loading up for action, and starts shooting at them!
They dive and dodge the bullets as it loads up again. Mulder uses the precious time to grab a barrel nearby and crush the machine with it, just as a massive robot comes into the room.
Mulder and Scully brace for the worst, but this thing produces Mulder’s phone. It has a notice on it: last chance to leave a tip! They look as if they can’t believe it. “Be kind to our workers. We learn from you.” And a countdown that looks even more menacing as the robot before them looks as if is ready to pounce.
Mulder struggles to concede but at the last second… he gives them a 10% tip. It’s followed by an electronic cheering from the phone.
“We learn from you” says the phone. And Mulder claims that they have “to be better teachers.”
They exit the factory in the dark, not another robot to be seen, but those of a painting on a wall, hours later at a homey, old timey diner, where tons of patrons eat.
Mulder and Scully are finishing their breakfasts, next to each other at the bar. The waitress leaves them the check and tells them to take their time. As they make small chat, Scully begrudges that she lost a lot of steps while she wasn’t wearing her fitbit in the warehouse.
“I’m so glad to see you got all your personal devices back,” Mulder comments, with some snark.
“Well, not all of them.” She replies cheekily.
Mulder proceeds to pay the bill, leaving a generous tip, and they both fall on old practices, reaching out to their phones. Mulder gets an email from Harry Reid that reads: NYT knows about Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program. If they find you… DENY EVERYTHING.”
Mulder mulls about it, as Scully faces away from him, realizing what she’s doing. Not being present. She puts down her own phone and reaches over to grab his hand and his attention. He notices with a smile, looks at her and puts down his own phone. They both lean into each other and let the silence comfort them.
Wisdom says that silence speaks louder than words. This was absolutely the case this week with “Rm9sbG93ZXJz”. This is the seventh episode of the eleventh season, penned by Kristen Cloke and Shannon Hamblin, and directed by Glen Morgan.
We had the opportunity to speak with both writers about the episode and the experience of joining the team for the revival.
Cloke, as many of you know, was part of the show as an actress in “The Field Where I Died.” While her fame doesn’t rest solely on the role of a writer, she has been behind some pretty significant works such as “Intruders” - in which she worked alongside Glen Morgan, her husband of 20 years. They’ve been developing a number of projects and written quite a few of those together.
On the other hand, Hamblin is no stranger to the franchise either. She was part of the writers room last season, and has worked with Glen Morgan in “Lore” - his most recent and acclaimed Amazon Prime show.
So, when the opportunity opened to bring in female writers to the show, having known their talents for quite a while, they were invited by Morgan to be part of the team.
So how did this story of “Followers” come to be?
Hamblin explains that while the generalities came from Morgan, they all share the same views about Social Media and Artificial Intelligence, of the networks that are taking over our lives without us really knowing about it. She feels very passionate about it. “It was easy to come on board and really explore our fears, or thoughts, or ideas, about things that you wouldn’t think about or talk about even over drinks.”
The overarching theme of the episode is Human Responsibility, as Cloke puts it. “It’s the fact that with every piece of technology there’s a piece of human responsibility that goes with it.” But it doesn’t stop just at clunky robots, it is really everywhere “I think that right now with social media, and the foreign influence in social media, and much of it is not even human! I think that every day that passes, it underlines the theme of this episode as the need of human responsibility, human caring, human interaction.”
The reality is that we’ve become very dependent of technology around us. Even the most rudimentary of processes these days will have at some point some kind of interference by technology. The worry is where is it going and what are we allowing it to do. Hamblin notes that it is not like we’re all going to stop using our phones or computers, that we won’t have better cars, or allow for advancement, but that it is more about the nature of what we do with these creations and how we relate to them. Today, people like Elon Musk and organizations like Facebook and its’ “Building 8,” where the creation of hardware oriented to interact with our thoughts and be part of social media is happening at an accelerated rate, are heavy influencers of what the future may bring.
“Technology is here to stay and we have to be responsible about it.” Hamblin says. “Complacency is dangerous. People are involved enough and not paying attention, or deciding what’s healthy or unhealthy in learning how to manage your own life.”
Of the members of The X-Files team, for the writers at least, only Cloke, Brad Follmer and Benjamin Van Allen are active consistently on social media. And that’s an intentional thing. Specially when it comes to being involved in an arena where they’re exposed to the fandom.
Many of us have met our best friends on Twitter, on Tumblr, or Facebook. The older generations can speak of Haven forums and Alt.TV. Sometimes, even just the old pen and paper and USPS. The thing is that comparing the nature of interactions from the moment that socializing through internet began, to where we are today, may lead us to quite troubling findings. They are very different in nature and influenced by many more factors and sides than before. While social media connectedness can bring much benefit, broadening horizons, it can also bring out the worst of humanity.
Between internet trolls, fights over the many social issues and many disagreements, life online is a handful. The over-the-top way that many express themselves without realizing that their words will go beyond just the momentary release, considering the psychological and sociological aspects of the life online, can be pretty daunting. And so, the issue of human responsibility also applies to what we do day-to-day, not only in the “real world” but also in the “alternate world” that we’ve built for ourselves online. If we claim that our life online has as much validity as the one in our neighborhoods, then the rules of civility shouldn’t be much different, should they? We don’t go around our buildings and our city block being flippant to people without fearing a consequence. We don’t plop on our neighbor’s door and bang until we’re heard to tell them how much we hate their blue hair. You know where I’m going with this.
A lot of the time we excuse the crassness and misbehaving online to the adage that “it comes with the territory,” but this is a territory that more and more is becoming the main territory, so… are we building a world for ourselves that is unkind, lacking understanding, and utterly dangerous?
At the end of the day, it is the power of words and actions.
The day of this interview, the internet was buzzing at the fact that Kylie Jenner had sent a tweet complaining about Snapchat. Several analysts claimed that the bad talk about the app by such a consequential influencer could have provoked the deep dive in the value of their stock. Whether those accusations and consequences were accurate, the fact remains that someone with hardly any knowledge of the inner workings of a company, or the actual technology behind the app, without any kind of remarkable formal education to back up a claim that would impact the future of hundreds of employees, still has the power to sway a situation like this one. With just one tweet. I’m sure that plenty of you fear what Donald Trump may say next time he sits with his phone at 3am.
In this day and age, more than ever, an opinion coming from a particular person, can make you or break you… and the problem is that the actual consideration of such actions by the perpetrators is not that deep. Many dismiss problems as non-important because they happen “online” - as if it were just a game - but what happens when our world is gradually becoming more reliant on these arenas?
Companies may go bankrupt. Countries may go on war. Tweets are now policy.
And so what happens when we don’t give enough valuable and thoughtful feedback? Is silence better? Do we assume that no opinion about something is a good thing or a bad one? Who deserves feedback? Should feedback be something that you have to earn? Is feedback and rewards just for humans, or do robots deserve it? Many questioned this premise, claiming that robots would have no use for such gratification, but that’s a simplistic way to interpret the chain of events that lead to the existence of a robot, an app, or our lives online.
At the end of the chain there’s always a human. For now.
At both ends of a Twitter fight there’s a human, either directly, or one that created a bot that’s behaving based on what we teach it. And we’re not even delving in the societal dynamics of fandom, and the intricate rules that apply to its own sense of ownership, agency and rights. We would be here forever.
At any rate, Hamblin and Cloke wanted to explore these themes and more. There’s enough material for several episodes.
On the question of style, to which some have even referenced a similar “Black Mirror” episode, they wanted to have fun with it, including with what perception of the Mulder and Scully world we may have.
“What I like about this episode over the others is that you have this otherworldly quality to it, and doesn’t necessarily- it breaks away a bit of the world that a lot of fans feel comforted by it,” Cloke explains. “I think everything about this episode kind of challenges what you think and feel about a lot of the things that make you feel comfortable.”
“Challenging what you don’t know or what you think you know about a person or a topic, about the world or technology, I think is an interesting piece of the episode.” Cloke continues. “Maybe it should make you feel uneasy and make you think twice about what you assume about certain things.”
And that includes what we think we know about Mulder and Scully.
During the 10th season and most of the 11th, we’ve had plenty of opportunities to see Mulder’s world, his perspective, his home, his pursuits… as much as Scully claims them as hers, they still come from a place where Mulder dictates the pace. For the writers of this episode though, it was important to establish them as equals, with independent routines and independent lives away from each other but still intertwined, of equal but different value.
The subject of equality of power was an important one. While Scully’s life is in peril, she’s not one to be rescued, she breaks out of her home… it is not Mulder who rescues her. There’s intended ownership of her life. And that came in more than one territory.
During the episode, a happy accident provided Mulder’s question of why Scully’s home was so much nicer than his. This is actually an Ad Lib by David Duchovny. The writers knew it would open the door to much criticism as the comment may imply that he’d never been at this place. And as jarring as this concept may seem at times, and in no means to justify something that wasn’t part of a planned plot point, it actually makes a bit of sense. Mulder has always been very self centered and too engrossed in his pursuits to entertain shifting focus. So is it a bit unnatural that he wouldn’t have made a visit or two to Scully? Yeah. Could nutty Mulder perhaps prefer that they only have sex in his bed where he can control everything, surrounded by his files and all the manias collected over the years? Also yes.
And how do we know it wasn’t Scully that never invited him? I shrug.
“Mulder is the type of fringe character, isolated.” Hamblin explains when asked about the way they’ve portrayed Scully’s home and life in this episode. “She would probably have more technology in her life; she was a doctor at a nice hospital, so she would be more open to technology and society, and things like that Mulder wouldn’t.” They admit to having toyed with the idea of having her have an instagram with a decent amount of friends, and Mulder would have one account too, but Scully would be the only one he’d follow.
“We benefited from the fact that her life wasn’t thoroughly established.” Cloke reasons as well. “It became a gift for us. We kind of relished on the fact that her life is much more updated and lush than Mulder’s.” Shannon also adds that Chris Carter agreed that she would live in this house, and it served as an opportunity to show how their lives had gone in different directions and where that would put them.
In what I like to claim as one of the boldest statements of the independence of Dana Scully, this episode delivers almost a celebration against all those moments where this character has had no say in what’s been done to her through the years. The presence of a vibrator - or personal massager as one demurely calls these things - speaks volumes without even elaborating on it. It is a symbol of the change of times, a symbol of ownership over sacred realms, a symbol of unabashed honesty. Many criticized it, some maybe even immaturely, some took it for what it should be. Dana Scully doesn’t need to rely on others for her own condition of existence. She owns this part of her life and many others even if some may try and sometimes win. Even if considering that the device laid discarded under the bed, and it may mean that she’s not using it much these days, it gives plenty of layers to a side of her life that’s often romanticized and unrealistic, compared to the normalcy of being a woman.
It allowed for cheeky ribbing, one that didn’t come as mockery nor a pornographic visual, but it almost established an instant of curiosity and gave argument to the subtext of where the relationship between Scully and Mulder stands. And there’s no insecurity about it, everyone is mature enough to put up with it.
“This episode is so different that we found ourselves asking: ‘Well, is this really happening?’ This is like the X-File is happening to them.” Shannon comments with a laugh. “We were okay with making it not so real, to experiment where we could go with where technology is going. We wanted to push it more to make it not real.” She recalls that Chris Carter referred to the episode as “The Nightmare on Scully’s Street.”
And then there was what was left unsaid.
“Glen wanted to do an episode like this, he wanted to do something with drones a few years ago,” Kristen explains. “When he handed us the episode there were certain challenges and topics that he was interested in tackling. He gave us five things that he wanted to have in the episode, and one of them was no dialogue.”
This was one of the selling points of this episode since it was announced. To many within the team, it represented a challenge to make such a style fit in a show that relies so much on dialogue at times. David Duchovny expressed at the TCA sessions back in January 2018, that he was cautious about approaching the episode, as no one wanted to make it feel like a mime sketch or silly. But the style proved to be more of a blessing than an obstacle.
“I’m generally a very “Dialogue-Heavy” writer, so it was a really great challenge.” Cloke confesses. “It actually helped me in my writing and opened up the possibility for so much collaboration.”
She tells us that - for instance - how it would be the usual that the 1st Assistant Director populated the restaurant with background actors, or that they would allow for David and Gillian to do more improvisation to fill those moments of silence, but that would have gone against their concept, and so they stuck to their guns. They challenged the crew to think outside the box in every way, in every department: from the production design and VFX, to support the story via the graphics on their devices, to the special effects team that handled all the drones and robots, to the editor that kept the integrity of the pace and visuals to match their ideas.
“When you’re telling such a visual story, it really ups the game for everybody, and it challenges them too to do something different.” Cloke adds.
I personally welcome the fact that we’re breaking away. When it was announced that female writers would join the team, we were really excited at the prospects, and even when the ideas come from strongly guided and careful collaboration, the difference is obvious when it comes to point of view. There’s just a vision of the world that is particular to women, and I’m here for this.
If there’s anything important about The X-Files, and we have talked about this in the past, it is the thought provoking content that it produces. How it has transformed the landscape, and this episode is right up there. Commentary aside about preferences and fandom policing, or even superfluous questions like why Scully cut her hair, this episode talks about Legacy.
What are we leaving behind as a product of our stay on this planet, as an inheritance to society, to leave our stamp in history? So we want to be remembered as the ones that created in legitimate joy or destroyed in unjustified and banal hatred?
In a simple statement: I find this episode one of the most thought provoking episodes of the show, one that is most timely, and one that we should really not take for granted.
Cloke and Hamblin plan to continue writing, separately or together as their many projects come about. We hope we can enjoy much of their talents soon.
Remember to tune in next week for “Familiar,” written by Benjamin Van Allen and directed by Holly Dale.