Damn, technology, you scary! That’s the essential driving message behind tonight’s brand new X-Files episode, a message which is about as subtle as a punch to the face. Everything from apps, online card payments and home security systems are exploited for the sake of thrills and scares here, though it’s fair to say the final result is rather underwhelming.
As episodes go, Rm9sbG93ZXJz is pretty unorthodox. There’s barely any dialogue, and for most of the run time, the only characters on screen are Mulder and Scully. It’s an interesting experiment, and appropriate for an episode that deals with our dependency on technology and our depleting social interaction as a result of said-tech. Co-writers Shannon Hamblin and Kristen Cloke clearly had some fun thinking up the various ways simple modern technology could be weaponized, and the resulting scenes of payment card issues, automatic helpline queues, drone attacks and malfunctioning robot vacuums are amusing, if a tad obvious.
The episode’s main issue is that the story never quite develops beyond the predictable, especially considering that shows like Black Mirror have already told this kind of story in far more interesting ways. Now, that may be an unfair assessment to compare one popular show with another, but this is X-Files, a show renowned for pulling the rug out from underneath the audience and putting a creepy spin on familiar everyday situations. Rm9sbG93ZXJz bottles it in the last ten minutes, wrapping up the techno-terror with little more then a simple flick of a switch. The idea of all technology conspiring together to take down Mulder and Scully for simply not leaving a tip at a restaurant is slightly unnerving, but this conceit feels half-hearted at best, implausibly stupid at worst.
If anything, the episode underwhelms mostly due to the plotting, which simply plays out as one 45-minute chase sequence (not helped by the lack of quippy dialogue that usually plays out between the two leads). Nor does it improve when the technological threats feel so forced, especially in the case of the self-driving taxi and machine operated restaurant, which are at present implausible, even by today’s modern age standards. The X-Files is most effective when it makes the everyday world scary, not when it invents technology just for the sake plot contrivance.
Where the episode does shine is in the performances from Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. With little to work with in terms of dialogue, the two stars instead deliver the full gauntlet of emotions, both funny and terrifying, with their physical performance alone (can we take a moment to appreciate the vibrator gag, which works so well within the wordless context of the episode). This, coupled with some solid, kinetic direction from Glen Morgan, elevates the episode somewhat, and certainly keeps proceedings engrossing even if the end result for the viewer is ultimately frustration.
Rm9sbG93ZXJz is an interesting, if somewhat flawed, experiment in X-Files storytelling. The plot is interesting for the most part, as is the lack of dialogue, but ultimately the resolution fails to shock or scare, whilst the constant running about and chasing begins to bore around the halfway mark. The fact that the episode contains virtually none of the brilliant Mulder/Scully banter we’ve come to love for the sake of a gimmick further highlights the plot’s weaknesses. As X-Files episodes go, it’s a sidestep into wider territory beyond aliens and monsters, but it pales in comparison to other shows that make this type of story their bread and butter.