The X-Files: S11E07 – “Rm9sbG93ZXJz”
Director: Glen Morgan
Starring: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi
Writers: Shannon Hamblin & Kristen Cloke
Review by Michael Walls-Kelly
We have to be better teachers.
What if Mulder and Scully were trapped in an episode of Black Mirror?
That’s the concept behind the truly delightful “Rm9sbG93ZXJz”, a title I very obviously had to copy and paste, which translates to “Followers” in base64. After a fantastic cold open that details the true story of a chatbot that was shut down after a day when it quickly learned from us how to be awful and racist, the episode itself doesn’t disappoint. It starts with a night off for Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson), and they grab dinner at a weird, trendy sushi place. The wordless opening shows a well-observed slice of modern life. They both order on tablets, they kill some time scanning their phones, when Mulder’s meal ends up being a blobfish they take a funny photo.
Things start getting ominous after that. The fact that they’re the only people in the restaurant slowly creeps in the background. When Mulder tries to return his food he’s greeted by robots eerily staring back at him. Then the machine eats his credit card. That absolutely sucks.
The episode continues from there, slowly escalating using present-day technology. Scully’s self-driving Uber-like car goes way too fast and then her smart home system acts up. Mulder is stuck in customer service hell trying to cancel his credit card. Then he’s overwhelmed by a swarm of drones. It’s funny to think that shit like this would be considered futuristic or far-fetched if it was an early season episode of The X-Files.
Mulder and Scully continue to quietly deal with their own shit while getting increasingly annoyed by technology. Mulder is constantly hounded by the sushi place demanding a tip, which he obviously ignores. I mean, come on, he got a blobfish. He didn’t want a blobfish. Of course, then he’s hounded by a swarm of drones. Meanwhile, Scully receives a Roomba-like device in the mail that she didn’t order. When it malfunctions, she tries to call customer service. Then her whole house starts malfunctioning. What customer service do you call when your fridge shoots ice at you, and your fireplace won’t stop spewing gas?
Eventually, the agents come back together, with Mulder hilariously lamenting the fact that he lives in a Unabomber cabin and Scully has an extremely chic, modern home. The episode has a really great build-up. I love that it doesn’t mind taking its time. The opening is slow and quiet. The majority of the episode is spent with the two agents chilling at their houses dealing with what most people have to deal with. We have to cancel cards or fiddle with our music volume or make sure our Roomba doesn’t find our vibrator. Normal things.
It’s pretty obvious that everything will end once Mulder tips the robots. Mulder and Scully end up getting chased by some robots and shot at by some… 3D printing… server… bot? Mulder finally tips the sushi bots, and things de-escalate. I do love the fact that the app gives him the option of 10%, 15% or 20% and, even in a life or death crisis, he only tips 10%. The episode ends with a nice moment where the two agents are eating at an old-fashioned diner and put their phones down for a second and hold hands. It’s a nice moment, and I can see cynical people reading it as anti-technology.
Look, I hate those dumb illustrations of people with their phones wired to their hands or two people in bed facing away from each other looking at their phones or someone injecting Facebook into their arm like heroin. Dumb shit like that. I don’t think that’s what this ending is going for. Even the classic diner they eat at makes them browse their phones while waiting for their meals — which isn’t any different from reading a newspaper — but the important aspect is connection. Mulder and Scully hold hands. It’s a nice moment, and the importance is nice moments. They spend the entire episode yelling at technology, and that’s what I believe the episode is railing against.
Obviously, it’s excessive to try to murder someone who doesn’t tip you. Well, kind of excessive. I know people who are waitstaff, so I feel like this could be an extremely cathartic episode for them. What I’m saying is, this episode is a land of contrasts. It’s also very, very fun.
Verdict: Keep watching! This was my second favourite episode of the season, just behind “The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat.” It had a gimmick-y feel to it, like a lot of the standout episodes in the original series, but it didn’t feel hokey. Sure, there’s a bit of a “kids these days need to get off their damn phones” aspect to the story, but not nearly enough to make me roll my eyes, and there’s way more going on than that.
There’s also grumpy, old man Mulder, which has been a solid development of season 11, and Scully having to deal with her vibrator, which feels like something Gillian Anderson would have had a blast playing. I kinda feel like this might be another classic, which puts season 11 ahead of season 10 by one. Also, as a huge Prince fan, I love the fact that Mulder wanted to listen to “Controversy” on his drive home. But that’s just me.