WARNING: This review contains spoilers!
Performing a U-Turn of almost epic proportions after a rather unsatisfying and downright stomach turning premiere, the second installment of The X-Files‘ eleventh season marks a huge upturn in terms of quality.
Promoted as more of a stand-alone episode, This has elements of both Mythology and Monster of the Week episodes in its DNA, yet stands remarkably separate from both, despite the references to the Syndicate’s sinister agenda and the reappearance of Erika Price (Barbara Hershey). Instead, acclaimed writer and director Glen Morgan delivers a tense, tightened thriller that offers action, intrigue and mystery – hallmarks of any decent X-Files episode.
This sees Mulder and Scully on the run from a group of Russian mercenaries after they receive a mysterious video message from Mulder’s deceased friend (and former fan-favourite) Langly (Dean Haglund). On the run with very little to go on, the two FBI agents uncover a conspiracy revolving around computer simulations of the deceased being used as virtual slaves.
The real highlight of the episode is, of course, the return of Langly of the Lone Gunmen. Unnecessarily killed off in the show’s original final season, the Lone Gunmen have been notable by their absence in these new X-Files episodes, so its a genuine thrill to see even just one of them back in a key role. Trapped in a virtual world where everything is so perfect that it’s actually terrifying, Langly’s appearence is both blessing (for us) and a curse (for him). Its a testament to the writing and the performance that our concern for Langly’s fate here is genuine, despite him already being dead.
Dean Haglund is particularly brilliant throughout the episode, despite spending all of his screen time on a tiny phone screen, whilst the central conceit behind his return is interesting, even if shows like Black Mirror have been there and done that already. The episode doesn’t go so far as to rewrite established events and bring back the Lone Gunmen properly (unfortunately), but it does at least remind us why the fans loved (and still love) Langly, Byers and Frohike so much.
From the off, Glen Morgan ensures the breakneck pace never lets up, opening with a rapid living room shoot-out and continuing in similar fashion from there. However, unlike last week, there’s still time for our two lead characters to actually stop and talk. Some of the episode’s best moments are where the show pauses for breath, allowing Mulder and Scully some much needed screen time together. The pace and tone feels more like classic X-Files as opposed to the rushed, off-kilter opener we saw last week.
Most importantly, Morgan‘s script delivers plenty of funny lines and banter between the two agents. something that was again missing last time we were with them. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are spot-on throughout, but these sweet little scenes between them are the true highlight of the episode.
Of course, this lightness of touch is minor, with the ongoing question mark over Skinner’s loyalties and the ongoing Syndicate arc reminding us that the high stakes haven’t just upped and gone away. Add in the final chilling moments of the episode and This has all the makings of a proper, unsettling X-Files episode. Yes, there’s a sense of ambiguity to proceedings and some dangling plot threads, but as ever, The X-Files uses this lack of closure to its advantage!
A much-needed shot in the arm for the show after a rocky start, This proves that there’s still plenty of life in the old dog yet. Packed full of action, character and even a few unsettling moments (as well as the much appreciated return of one the show’s best characters), This is so good, it could be one of Langly’s simulated computer dreams!