Tuesday, November 5, 2013

1x07: Ghost in the Machine

Hello Starbuck. It's Ahab. People would say to me that life is short; shows, they run by so fast and before you know it, it's over. I never noticed. For me, The X-Files went at a proper pace, there were many awesome episodes, until the moment that I knew, I understood, that I would never see them again - my Mulder and Scully. I never knew how much I loved that show until there were no new episodes. At that moment I would have traded every Doggett, every Reyes, every Princess Bride Guy for one more quality season.But we're together again, here, on this blog.

As we go forward with these reviews, I'm going to keep the following themes in mind:

1. The show is as much about Scully's journey toward becoming a believer as it is about the paranormal events she and Mulder encounter.2. Scully is only a skeptic when viewing things from a clinical distance; when the shit hits the fan, she acts on Mulder's crazy beliefs because she knows it will keep her alive.3. Mulder isn't right nearly as often as he thinks.4. The evolution of the Mulder/Scully relationship - not just the romantic involvement that eventually occurs, but their dynamics of trust and distrust, the changing ways they view each other, and the friendship that grows over time.5. Assault on a federal officer never seems to lead to jail time.6. Mulder is kind of a dick.7. Hotels, car rental places, and apartment landlords must be crazy to rent to FBI agents.8. The enormous top-secret government conspiracy actually really sucks at keeping things quiet.9.There are some serious homoerotic undertones in this show.10. The X-files department is super toxic to anyone who comes close to it.11. Mulder and Scully are both terrible at their jobs.12. Local law enforcement is protrayed in an extremely negative light.13. This show is white-washed as fuck. And almost all the non-whites are villains or stereotypes.14. Bathtubs are scary, terrible places that should be avoided at all costs.

I reserve the right to add more items to this list as the series progresses and you can't stop me!

Warning: If you're watching the show for the first time while following along with these recaps, that's awesome, but I've seen this whole series a bunch of times and will probably mention things that happen in the later seasons.Please keep that in mind if you're the kind of person who hates spoilers.

Welcome to 1x07 Ghost in the Machine, where Moose and Squirrel battle an evil building. This episode spawned one of my favorite moments in the Season 1 Gag Reel (which I'll post at the end of S1, though you're free to look it up at any time) but other than that I hardly remember anything about it except that it made me scared of elevators and has a lot of terrible ideas about the capabilities of technology. Let's see what happens, shall we?

Eurisko World HeadquartersCrystal City, Virginia

In some swanky office, two guys - one a suited straight-laced CEO type and the other a scruffy computer nerd type - are arguing. Scruffy's all, "You're killing my company! and Suit's all "It's not your company anymore!" Scruffy storms out yelling, "You're going to regret this!" So clearly, Suit is going to die horribly very soon.

Cut to night, and Suit is transcribing a letter he's recorded on a tape recorder, telling the Board of Directors that Brad Wilczek (Scruff) has left and he plans to "reposition Eurisko as an industry leader," by first shutting down something called the COS project.There's a camera motoring him the whole time - a COS camera, in point of fact, which is clearly unhappy about being shut down. Suit hears water running in the bathroom and walks in to find the sink overflowing, and is unable to turn off the motion-sensor faucet. The bathroom phone rings*, but there's no one on the other end, just a voice giving the time... and suddenly the lights go out and all the doors shut. He tries to get out, putting a key in the manual override lock... and suddenly gets zapped with enough electricity to fling him across the room.

That's seven years bad luck, buddy.

The camera focuses on his dead body, and a computerized voice says, "File deleted."

* Seriously, this guy has a phone in the bathroom? I don't care how successful and important you are, nobody wants to talk to you while you're pooping. It can wait.

Opening credits roll.

FBI HeadquartersWashington, D.C.

Some guy who looks remarkably like Mr. Potato Head walks through a busy office (which is way too beige and well-lit compared to the offices we'll see in later seasons) and finds Mulder snagging a sandwich from the lunch cart. They hug like old buddies, and Mulder introduces him to Scully as Jerry Lamana, someone he worked with in the Violent Crimes Unit - his old partner. Potato Jerry buys them lunch because he wants to pick their brains about Suit's electrocution. He wants M&S to help him out, as he's afraid of "dropping the ball" - Suit was a friend of the Attorney General, and solving this case would be great for his career.

So... Potato Jerry is the Mulder equivalent of Scully's Donal Logue.This is totally going to go well for everyone involved.

This is one potato who is desperate for approval.

Eurisko World Headquarters

As they walk to the building, Scully asks Mulder why he and Potato Jerry split up, and we get his backstory: he wanted to rise to the top, but fucked up a case by misplacing evidence, resulting in a federal judge losing his hands and an eye. Ouch.

They get in an elevator, security camera watching the whole way, and it goes up a few floors because slamming to a stop, knocking Scully off her feet. Mulder helps her up (so adorable) and then starts pushing buttons while she tries the emergency phone.Just as she gets an answer on the other end, the elevator starts up again... but the computer got her name.

Why is it actually displaying this stuff on a monitor? Wouldn't anyone walking by wonder why the hell it was looking up her number?

Up in the bathroom where Suit died, Minstead, you would float up to the center of the elevator car as you and it are falling at the same speed - like astronauts in space. You only get slammed to the floor at the very painful end.

At the XF office, Mulder engages in the perfectly ration and healthy behavior of watching his old friend die in an elevator. Scully comes in and says she heard what happened, but Mulder is in no mood for consolation and instead jumps right back into investigator mode, saying he doesn't think Wilczek did it.She turns off the tape and kneels beside him, trying to be gentle on him (#4) as she nudges him to take it easy, but he just turns the tape right back on (#6). She tells him Wilczek's already signed a confession.

After failling to gain access to Wilczek's house due to lack of clearance, Mulder goes to sulk on a park bench and wait for Deep Throat.

DT is all, "We can't keep meeting like this" and other things you might say to your mistress (#9), but nevertheless tells Mulder that the Department of Defense has been itching to get its hands on Wilczek to design them some sweet AI weaponry. After all, Wilczek has already designed the first computer that actually thinks, "a learning machine."

You writers missed a serious chance to quote the Terminator there, I hope you know that.

Federal Detention CenterWashington, D.C.

Mulder is interviewing Wilczek, who is actually bitching about the fact that they make him wear shoes all the time.Yeah, Zen Buddy, I'm sure the whole footwear thing is the worst part about being in federal custody. Mulder knows he's innocent, but Wilczek is unwilling to admit it for fear that his technology be taken from him and be used to turn him into the next Oppenheimer. ...Because once you go to jail, and your stuff all becomes government property, they're not going to do that anyway?Mulder says that if he won't share the machine with the government, and he won't shut it down himself, then the only option is to show Mulder how destroy it.

Outside, Mulder tells Scully that Wilczek is willing to create a virus to destroy the system, but Scully suspects that Wilczek is trying to shift the blame onto the computer when he's the one who's really guilty. ...Because confessing to the murder and going down for it, while having the COS destroyed in secret, is a great way to show everyone you're innocent?

She thinks maybe he's looking for spooky answers because of Rotten Potato, and maybe he should talk to someone. He says, "You're probably right" and he's going "to talk to someone"... and promptly heads back inside to give Wilczek a stunningly awkward 90s laptop to build the virus.

See, here's Scully trying to be all nice and sympathetic and maybe help Mulder sift through his huge fucking mountain of personal issues because she cares about him and doesn't want him to self destruct (#4), and he just blows her off (#6).

Anyway, back at her apartment, Scully is snoozing peacefully when her phone rings; she picks it up to hear that hideous modem sound we all remember from the dial-up days, and runs into her living room to see that her computer is on and sending her files.She calls out on another line and has a trace run on her own number to see who's accessing her computer.

Wait, what? Why didn't the phone ring the last time COS accessed her files? Also, Scully already has two phone lines (she dials for the trace on a second landline) but one of them isn't dedicated to the computer?I am so confused by the way the computers are acting in this episode, you guys. It's almost like they're behaving not in logical ways but instead in ways that fit will with the plot and make for good storytelling...

Outside the Eurisko building, Mulder is preparing for some good old-fashioned breaking and entering when Scully pulls up behind him - the traced line was somewhere inside the building.Mulder puts the Eurisko plates from Wilzcek's sweet ride on his own car (which he stole when and how???); the computer scans them and lets Mulder's car through.But just when Mulder is gloating about his success, the gate comes crashing back down on their car.

How smart could this computer possibly be if it thinks that dinky little thing will kill the mighty Moose and Squirrel?

Luckily it's just a shitty aluminum scrolling gate thing, because they're both fine, except that the car horn is going off for no good reason. Mulder pops the hood to disable the damn thing, and for once these two show some sense of self-preservation and decide to just take the stairs.

Well, okay, that wasn't such a good idea either, because as they huff and puff up to the 29th floor, the lights all go out. Mulder whips out his flashlight (insert joke about Skinner's big flashlight here) and the forge ahead. Scully reaches out for the doorknob to the 29th floor, but Mulder actually slaps her hand away before she can touch it and get electrocuted.Uh, couldn't you have maybe warned her about something like that at, oh I don't know, ANY OTHER POINT on your super long stair hike? "Hey, when we get to the 29th floor, don't go grabbing any doorknobs or other metal surfaces just in case the building wants us done up Cajun style."(#6)

He pulls a screwdriver out of his adorable little backpack and jams it into the lock, spewing sparks everywhere. I guess that turned off the charge or something, because when he touches the doorknob he doesn't get shocked... the but door's still locked.Mulder throws a glove over the security camera that's been watching this whole circus, and they decide to go all Die Hard and use the air vents to get inside. He boosts Scully up and tells her to find a way to drop in and open the door.

OMG look at her tiny feet! I have tiny feet, too, Scully! FOOT SISTERS!

She goes crawling around for a bit, and then Mulder hears the door rattle and then open... only it's Peterson, the building engineer, not Scully, who has somehow found herself in a windy deathtrap, about to be sucked in to a giant fan.

Completely oblivious to the impending death of his partner, and not even seeming to care that she hasn't shown up yet (#6), Mulder heads to the COS control room with Peterson, where they start trying to access the ... whatever thing will let him put the virus in. Hard drive? Operating system? Motherboard? They never say. They just crack the console open, plug stuff in, and the screen says "Access Denied."

Meanwhile, Scully is fighting for her life up in the ceiling, using her gun to try and shoot out the fan controls, which are on the wrong side of the spinning blade. This is the first time she actually fires her weapon, in case you were wondering.

Mulder continues his far less dramatic confrontation with the computer, gains access to the CPU, and is about to upload the virus, when suddenly DRAMA ALL UP IN THIS BITCH when Peterson whips out a gun. Turns out he's from some seedy government agency (not the Department of Defense; he says "our paychecks are signed from the same person). See what I mean about minorities never getting to be the good guy? #13. Mulder meekly hands over his gun clip and the diskette containing the virus.

Don't worry though, because Scully shows up to save the day!

Despite being totally windblown and disheveled, and having just made an incredible shot to take out a fan blade with what looks like a .22, does she call it quits and let Mulder handle the rest of the night? No. She's basically a one-woman show of awesome, gettin' shit done. Kickin' ass and takin' names. Who's the ginger FBI chick who's a sex machine with all the... absolutely no one? SCULLAY! Can you dig it?

And here we have the sort of crisis-of-loyalty moment that Scully gets so often in the first few seasons. On the one hand, we have Peterson, who tells her the machine is of enormous scientific interest and she is compromising her sworn duty if she doesn't side with him. On the other hand, we have Mulder, who urges her to do the right thing and let him destroy a machine that's already killed two people.

And Scully forsakes not only her duty to the US government BUT TO SCIENCE ITSELF and tells Mulder to put in the virus disc.

He doesn't even have to push any buttons or anything; the computer just goes full on Hal at the end of 2001. "What are you doing, Brad? The lights flicker and all the cameras and elevators start twitching, as the computer voice descends into gibberish in its death throes. As the voice slows and fades, it asks, "Brad, why?" and everything shuts down.

Out in some park somewhere, Mulder tells Deep Throat that Wilczek has disappeared, and Deep Throat tells him that They can do anything they want - loss of freedom does funny things to a man, and there's no more physical evidence to exonerate him of the two murders he confessed to. Mulder asks if the Department of Defense has found anything, but DT tells him that Wilczek's virus completely destroyed the artificial intelligence.

At the DoD lab, Peterson and a bunch of techies are sifting through bits and pieces of the COS, using words like "pulscode modulations" and "parsing subroutine" that I don't know enough about computers to call bullshit on. He says they have 6 hours before they're supposed to chuck this thin in the metal shredder... which seems like a dumb idea, considering that the DoD has been salivating over this machine for years. Now that it's in their hands, they're not willing to wait a few more days or assign more people to it to figure the thing out? Really?

Unseen, a light comes on and a camera turns to look at Peterson. We watch from its point of view as Peterson says, "I'm going to figure this thing out if it kills me."

End credits.

This is another of those episodes I'm not too sure about. The whole "fear of advancing technology" trope has been done a thousand times, starting from the minute one cave man told all the little cave kids to be careful around the fire.The fear of AI is a bit newer, but it's still so worn as to no longer really be scary.I also greatly dislike the trend in the early episodes wherein every good Monster of the Week episode has to have some shady government conspiracy surrounding it; it's like they were afraid to just let the monsters be monsters and instead felt they had to shoehorn in the "trust no one" theme at every opportunity. Like, Shadows couldn't be just a ghost story, they had to make it about some weapons tech investigation; GitM couldn't just be about a killer computer, it had to be about the DoD wanting a superweapon. They'll do it again in Young at Heart, Roland, and a few others I can't recall because it's getting very late and this post has to be done by morning.

Anyway, when it comes to "evil computer" episodes, this one pales in comparison to Kill Switch (5x11) and the "demon possesses the internet when its book prison gets scanned" episode of Buffy ("I, Robot... You, Jane," 1x08).All these episodes imbue computers with abilities they couldn't possibly have, but at least those two do it in a more believable, less glaring way.

Next week, though, we get to watch Ice, which is one of my favorite episodes in S1. For some reason I just love it when Moose and Squirrel find themselves cut off from civilization and relying on one another for their survival against impossible odds. Plus it's got one of those scenes that's weirdly sexually tense. So yay.

Firsts: someone from Mulder's past we've never heard of before and will never see again, Scully fires her gun
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