WARNING: This review contains major spoilers!
Misdirection is the name of the game in this week’s X-Files, both literally and figuratively, as Mulder and Scully investigate a monster sighting that reveals surprising clues in the search for their long lost son, William. Suffice to say, Ghouli is an unorthodox yet highly enjoyable episode that goes way beyond expectations.
Beginning in true X-Files fashion on a creepy derelict boat, two teenage girls brutally attack one another, believing the other to be a hideous monster called Ghouli. Mulder and Scully investigate, finding a link between the monster and an internet urban legend, which may have something to do with the girl’s cheating boyfriend Jackson (Miles Robbins). So far, so Monster of the Week. Except, as events unfold, it soon transpires that Ghouli is actually a Mythology episode. And a pretty solid one at that.
Anything else from here on in is major spoiler territory, so should you wish to avoid them, look away now.
Jackson is William! Of course, it’s clear very early on that this is the case, what with the renewed focus on Scully’s visions, but nonetheless, the sudden dovetail from Monster to Mythology is skillfully done. Unlike previous Mythology episodes, Ghouli doesn’t feel rushed or overstuffed – instead it effortlessly spins a slick and engrossing story complete with interesting beats and a satisfying conclusion, as opposed to the confusing puzzle pieces that were the My Struggle episodes.
Writer/Director James Wong peppers the script with everything that makes for a great X-File – horror, humour, high stakes and human drama. The return and subsequent death of William is a real punch-in-the-gut that puts Scully firmly through the wringer, and whilst there’s more going on then initially meets the eye, there’s still plenty of heartbreaking moments for the character. Suffice to say, Gillian Anderson gives a tour de force performance here, one that easily stands out as one of her best from across the show’s entire 25 year run!
Unlike previous episodes, Ghouli provides genuine moments of revelation and offers further tantalizing teasers as to where this is all heading. The way William’s powers are explored provides the episode with both its titular monster and a few decent chills, whilst elsewhere we are treated to further evidence of the larger conspiracy at work, though granted we don’t learn much in the way of new information. Despite this though, the episode delivers on what it promises – who William is and what he can do.
Wong‘s direction is superb throughout (as you’d expect from a man with credits such as Final Destination, American Horror Story and dozens of classic X-Files episodes on his CV). The pre-titles scene aboard the abandoned ship, the moments depicting Scully’s sleep paralysis and the haunting morgue sequence in particular deliver some unnerving visuals, whilst the sadder beats are treated with the right amount of emotional restraint. As for the episode’s final twist, it’s further testament to the solid writing and direction that we didn’t see it coming, despite the massive clues hidden in plain sight throughout.
An episode that fires on all cylinders, Ghouli proves to be one of The X-Files‘ best modern mythology episodes, thanks to a smart script that misleads and diverts just as much as it’s central antagonist. Excellent performances from the series regulars and guest stars, as well as a creepy conceit turned on its head, results in one of this Season’s best episodes yet.