Need to catch up? Check out the previous X-Files recap here.
Is Richard “Ringo” Langly, one of The X-Files‘ quirky and capable Lone Gunmen hackers, actually dead? Depends on what your definition of “reality” is.
Per this week’s episode, and (hey, look at that!) consistent with series canon, the Ramones-loving genius is no longer a living, breathing, firewall-subverting member of society. After all, he — along with fellow Gunmen Melvin Frohike and John Fitzgerald Byers — were exposed to a lethal virus in Season 9’s “Jump the Shark” and buried in Arlington National Cemetery soon after. But his consciousness has been uploaded into a server somewhere… and it’s starting to realize that something is really, really wrong.
Read on for the highlights of “This.”
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A QUIET NIGHT AT HOME | We open on a car zooming down a dark road, the Ramones’ cover of “California Sun” blaring while three armed men prepare for… something. It’s a very different scene inside Mulder’s house, where he and Scully are snoozing on the couch, apparently having fallen asleep while checking out a Ramones documentary (?) which plays, muted, on the TV. A static-y, electronic sound begins to issue from Mulder’s phone, and when the pair wake, Scully is stymied to realize it seems like Langly is trying to contact Mulder.
“Lone Gunmen Langly?” Mulder asks, and indeed, a pixelated version of the friendly hacker blinks on and off on the screen as the message repeats. “Mulder, I need to know,” Langly pleads. “Am I dead? If I am, they know that I know.” Before the agents can figure out what’s up, the door opens a crack, and the men from the car bust into the house and start shooting it up. In a truly awesome move, Scully slides under the kitchen table, flips it on its side and starts using it as a shield while she fires at the intruders. Mulder, meanwhile, scrambles upstairs to get a better vantagepoint. When they’re done, they’ve killed two of the would-be assassins; the third, a scary-looking guy with long, curly hair, gets away.
After they’ve ascertained that they’re not hurt, Scully calls the incident into the FBI while Mulder looks for a good place to hide the phone: He doesn’t want it taken into evidence for fear that it’ll sit in a locker somewhere for years, and he’ll lose his link to Langly (or whatever that is). So he tosses it in the oven, and while he’s grilling Scully for details about The Lone Gunmen’s deaths — remember, Mulder was gone then — two military-style Humvees drive up and idle menacingly in the front yard.
NO PHONE, WHO ‘DIS? | The men in the vehicles won’t identify themselves, though one speaks with a heavy Russian accent. Mulder and Scully draw their guns and refuse to come out of the house, but when Scully calls Skinner for guidance, she doesn’t even have to explain what’s going on before he says, “Listen to me, Scully: Surrender.” Pretty soon, the standoff ends when the men outside — who are armed and wearing fatigues — enter the premises and have Mulder and Scully handcuffed and on the floor in about a minute flat.
In Russian, the leader mentions to another operative how Price won’t like the fact that Scully and Mulder took out two of their best men, and that as soon as Mulder’s phone is located, Fox and Dana are toast. The guys find the device in the stove, thanks to another noisy Langly broadcast, but Mulder uses the distraction to get the jump on the dude in front of him. And even though Mulder is literally linked to Scully and his hands are tied, he somehow manages to escape with his partner.
They run into the woods near the house, and that’s where Skinner finds them. He unlocks their cuffs and clues the agents in: The military thugs were from a private security contractor based in Moscow and hired by the American government, and they’re not supposed to kill intelligence agents, but it seems like they have little trouble bending the rules. Scully is super wary of her boss, and when she and Mulder decline his invitation to come with him, Skinner hands them all the money in his pocket and subtly deflects their questions about Langly by mentioning that the man is buried in Arlington. (Side note: This is so not important here, but it’s worth a mention: Scully’s leisure wear has gotten a serious upgrade — in fit, if nothing else — since back in the day. Good riddance to all of those giant sweaters and shirts. Girlfriend’s body be bangin’!)
A GRAVE SITUATION | At the cemetery, Langly’s headstone has the wrong birthdate on it, and it’s facing a different direction than Byers’ and Frohike’s are. Thanks to Scully’s encyclopedic knowledge of presidential death dates (“Who needs Google when you’ve got Scully?” Mulder says admiringly), and a good guess, they wind up at the final resting place of Deep Throat, Mulder’s early-series informant. “I didn’t know his real name until right now,” Mulder says, staring down at a stone that reads Ronald Pakula.
“How and why would Langly leave breadcrumbs at a grave in a graveyard he didn’t even know he was going to be buried in?” Scully wonders, but nevertheless, they find a QR coded memory medallion hidden on the stone, and they take it. Just then, the long-haired attacker from before at the house advances on them, shooting. When Mulder eventually takes him down, the gunman’s head cracks nastily on the edge of Deep Throat’s stone. As the partners run away, it looks like the bloody baddie is dead.
PAPER FILES ARE SO 1990 | Scully and Mulder scan the QR code at an internet café in Annandale, grabbing a little breakfast as they do so. Their banter is so silly yet so lovingly and comfortably delivered, and it’s moments like these (HIM: “I’m going to open an X-file on this bran muffin. I’ve gotta get to the bottom of why it’s so freaking good.” HER: “I don’t care if it came out of an alien’s butt. I’m going to eat the whole thing.”) that make me happy we have more X-Files in our lives. The medallion turns out to contain images of a building in New York known as Titanpointe, and it’s connected to an NSA project known as Blarney. Mulder remembers opening an X-file on the building and project in the 1990s, but Scully points out that they can’t access the files because they’re dead if they set foot in the FBI. Time for a trip to Skinner’s!
When M&S ambush him in his parking garage, Skinner maintains he’s not working with the people trying to kill them. Scully is irate. “We can’t go to our home. They’ll be waiting for us at our office,” she says, but Skinner has a solution. (Side note: Please tell me that at least one of you out there honed in on the fact that she said “Our home” and not “our homes.” For ‘shippers, it’s like the original run, combing each line of dialogue/visual/inflection for proof of boning. Except now, there’s ACTUALLY proof there!)
Skinner’s answer to their problems: The X-Files have been digitized… thanks to the Russian contractors hired by the American government. “So the Russians who tried to kill us have had access to all of our work,” Scully says. Skinner’s like, you two were gone, you left me alone, the files are for everyone and LAY OFF ME. When Mulder starts digging, it looks like the files have been altered — the Titanpointe, Langly and Project Blarney entries are blank, for instance — but the Melvin Frohike folder includes a subfolder labeled “Spank Bank” and featuring a photo of late ’90s Scully. (Ha!) But it’s a decoy that eventually leads to a photo of a Prof. Karah Hamby, with the note, ostensibly from Langly, “If they scrub me, go to her.”
SCHOOL’S OUT FOREVER | Prof. Hamby’s not happy to see them, because she knows what their visit means. Here’s the gist: The company that’s after Mulder and Scully came to Langly and her 15 years before “with the science and the math to prove we could live forever.” Basically, they signed a contract, had their brains scanned and had their virtual minds uploaded into a server that would only be activated after their natural deaths. But Langly built a backup that would help him in case the simulation turned out to be different from what the contractors offered. If he’s reaching out, Karah theorizes, “they must have lied.” She’s in the middle of showing Mulder how to alter her cell phone in order to contact Langly again when the scraggly-haired assassin (!) enters the classroom and shoots her dead. Then Scully does the same to him.
They decamp to a bar, where Scully naps (and looks “adorbs,” Mulder notes when she startles awake) while he tries to rig up Hamby’s phone. And it works! Langly breaks through and has a conversation with both of them, sadly realizing “I’m not real though? That right? You are real, and I’m not?” When they say he’s in a simulation, he describes it as “like I designed Heaven. I eat hot dogs and donuts all day long… And the Ramones are here! And they don’t fight!” That said, he begs them to destroy it, calling it a “work camp” where the greatest minds of our time are being forced to work on theoretical space colonization. (Hmm, sound familiar?) Anyway, he points the agents toward Titanpointe. “Please, for all of us, shut this down.”
CONCRETE JUNGLE WHERE MINDS ARE UPLOADED | So Scully pretends that Mulder’s a dangerous suspect she’s just nabbed, then talks a big game to get him into the New York City FBI building, which conveniently connects to Titanpointe via tunnel. She sweet-talks the young agent working the door, telling him that Mulder is “like, Hannibal Lecter-level psycho” (which may or may not be a Hannibal shout-out, but I miss that show, so I’m considering it one).
They’re not inside the NSA building long before Russian guy from the beginning of the episode and his thugs intercept, but Scully manages to get away and find the servers holding Langly and the rest. Meanwhile, Mulder is dragged before Erika Price — the woman Mulder met at the South Carolina house in last week’s episode — who informs him that “life on this Earth… is about to be crushed. Burned to the ground” and that the simulation is necessary for the species to continue. (Yeah, I don’t really get it either, but given that it’s tied into the show’s current mythology, I’d venture a guess that the writers’ room doesn’t even have all that strong a grip on it. And I’ve made my peace with that. Honestly, is the mythology what we’re even here for anymore?) She brings up Mulder’s refusal to kill Cigarette Smoking Man, casually drops that they can secretly upload pieces of people’s minds anytime someone makes a call via cell phone, then agrees to Mulder’s request to see the servers in person.
He’s handcuffed and accompanied by the Russian guy, whom Mulder promptly gets the jump on the moment they’re up on the server level. “Why do you operate so well with your hands cuffed behind your back?” Scully says as she joins him. “As if you didn’t know,” he replies. SAUCY! She unlocks his cuffs just in time for him to fight off the Russian while she slips away to deactivate the servers. Pretty soon, both the simulation and the Russian are offline.
But when Mulder and Scully return with an FBI team, all traces of Price and her operation are gone. And the next and last time that Langly appears to Mulder, it seems like operation shut-down wasn’t as tidy as it seemed. “They know that we know!” the blonde one cries. “Destroy the backup!” But then he’s pulled out of frame and replaced… by the long-haired assassin.
Now it’s your turn. What did you think of the episode? Sound off in the comments!