On the last episode of The X-Files, “The Lost Art Of Forehead Sweat,” I said I no longer wanted to believe. “Ghouli” has me taking that statement back. I do want to believe! I really do! The hope I had lost found its way back with this stunning and emotional episode. It is not without its problems, and I fear it will be ruined by that platonic beast from Hell, Chris Carter; but, for now, I’m going to enjoy liking my favorite show again — for all the same reasons I fell in love with it in the first place.
Emo Family Reunion
It’s been 16 years since we had to watch Scully do the hardest thing she’s ever had to do: give up her miracle baby up for adoption. It is conceivably one of the hardest things for Philes to have gone through, as well. Chris Carter introduced this terrible plot, which went against the very nature of the show and its main character, and never followed through on it. It was dealt with briefly in Season 10, mostly in James Wong’s episode, “Founders Mutation.” I was grateful for what we got in that episode. Like a lot of fans, I wanted to see Mulder and Scully acknowledge that life-changing decision and process the long term effects of it.
A debt of gratitude is once again owed to James Wong, who wrote and directed “Ghouli.” Not only did it finally — appropriately — address this troublesome storyline, but it did it in a way that was satisfying and, in the end, hopeful. It feels as though a giant weight was lifted, and it restored in me a faith that I had thought was long gone.
Mulder and Scully, Parents
Everything about how Mulder and Scully are, together and individually, in this episode is exactly the Mulder and Scully that I got to know over the years of watching The X-Files. The way they handle this impossible situation feels very real and very true to who these characters are. The material Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny had to work with in Season 10 was so sub-standard, stemming from Chris Carter’s uninspired ideas, that it made it difficult for them to find these characters again.
I’m sure it’s a tough feat after so long (14 years from the end of the original run and 8 years since the second film) to step back into Mulder and Scully’s shoes, but it has got to be a hundred times harder when someone hands over clown shoes, trying to pass them off as the ones Duchovny and Anderson wore for a decade of their lives.
With “Ghouli,” I am able to reinvest in these characters that I love in a way that I never got the chance to in The X-Files’ tenth season. It feels like I am getting my own little reunion, too. That feeling, in large part, has to do with David and Gillian’s performances.
Scully finally gets to confront all of her emotions about William. She gets to unload her broken heart; and even though she finds it “so inadequate,” it sets her free, in a way. Unbeknownst to her, William is alive and hears all of it. And Mulder hears it, too, which is important.
This scene, although gutwrenchingly sad, shows tremendous growth and exudes that hope which is imbued in this episode. Gillian’s delivery of Scully’s speech to William is so nuanced. She is saying things that you could see on her face and in her tears when she gave him up all those years ago in 09×16, “William.” This is that same woman putting words to years of grief and guilt. Gillian just absolutely nails this monologue.
Riding the emotion of witnessing this, we then get to see that Mulder has been listening. “Have you been there the whole time?” She is neither embarrassed nor upset that he heard, nor does she indicate that his presence might be intrusive. He waits to see this before going to her, and she gives him that permission with just a softening of her features and a slight relaxing of her body. It is all so subtle, on both their parts, and it shows that unspoken bond between these two characters as well as the undeniable chemistry between these two actors.
Just when I think nothing can top this scene, it ends revealing that William is alive. Knowing he heard every word takes the already high emotions to a whole other level; it adds a certain excitement and optimism.
It’s not like there is just this one poignant scene. Gillian and David give Scully and Mulder such depth in every scene. Mulder’s sadness is restrained, his number one priority being Scully, and his confusing feelings about William coming second. He seems shocked and wholly unprepared to deal with this, whereas Scully has spent years blaming herself.
Mulder: In my heart, I never thought we would have to face this moment. Here we are.
Mulder’s concern for Scully, and her letting him in and accepting his comfort and strength, is beautiful. This is MSR all grown up. Scully is not closing off with “I’m fines.” They are allowing each other to go through this in the different ways that they are, all while being there for each other. These are two parents that love each other grieving, helping one another go through the motions of continuing on after emotional trauma.
Seeing Mulder and Scully like this — exactly how they should be — makes that conversation in the bed on “Plus One” even more ludicrous. In that (pre-coitus) bed scene, I had to sift through a lot of bullshit to find that MSR love that I know has always been there. In the entirety of “Ghouli,” I felt it. I felt it in looks and in words. Mulder and Scully are the reason that shipping is even a thing, and in “Ghouli” they remind us why — and that they still got it.
It Has A Monster In It
The crux of this episode of The X-Files is Mulder and Scully’s reunion with William, but there are a lot of other great things about “Ghouli.” Aside from the phenomenal acting from David and Gillian, the supporting cast really delivers, my favorite being Francois Chau. Just the fact that he was the Dharma Initiative dude from Lost makes his presence mysterious. But, he also just gives a really lovely performance. His exchanges with Scully are captivating.
This episode looks and feels larger than life, much like the reunion is itself. It is cinematic and engaging. The first scene with the Ghouli girl-fight is intense, and ranks up there with some of the best cold opens. Scully’s dreams are shot and edited dynamically. Mark Snow out-does himself with his haunting, lullaby-like score. The snow globe and its importance to the story makes for a magical prop.
Jackson: There’s no such thing as Ghouli.
In my opinion, Ghouli isn’t the monster of this week — Chris Carter is. This wonderful story that reunites Mulder and Scully with William is infected with Carter’s poisonous mythology. It’s there when Scully describes Jackson’s vision to his doctor, a little retelling of the dumb plot of “My Struggle II.” It’s there in the tired as fuck reveal of CSM in Skinner’s office. It’s there when Skinner tries to give Fox freaking Mulder a history lesson starting with Roswell. These moments feel like Wong is just trying to fill some myth-arc quota that Carter imposed on him.
There’s a scene in the coffee shop where Mulder tells Scully about Project Crossroads. She doesn’t really react to Mulder’s speculation that she and William were a part of it. At first, I was a bit baffled; but then I read it as Gillian saying, ‘we’ll deal with this bullshit when we have to in Carter’s episode.” Luckily, Wong gives the important stuff time to breathe — the time it deserves — and tucks these Carter bombs in neatly and concisely where they can’t do too much damage.
Maybe There’s Hope
The look of hope on Scully’s face when she sees that it was William she spoke to is incredible. I feel like I can take that spark that radiated out of her, bottle it, and use it to defeat the Boss in the final level of this epic X-File game. As we enter the second half of this season and get closer to the Carter finale, it really does feel like going into battle. I’m glad I have “Ghouli” with which to arm myself. It could very well be like the end of Season 8’s “Existence,” where we hang onto their five minutes of happiness for dear life.
Whatever horrors await us, we will always “Ghouli.”
- Next week on The X-Files: A Skinner origin story that literally nobody asked for.
- Why couldn’t Scully tell Mulder about her dream when she woke up next to him in bed? All right, I get it, they had to connect it to the open X-File. I’ll let it slide…this time.
- “Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions” is so similar to Mulder’s “A dream is an answer to a question we haven’t learned how to ask.” It is also relevant to the detective telling Mulder, “You’re trying to find answers to questions nobody else is asking.” These connections are super cool.
- And this episode’s reference to fan fiction is Scully actually saying “fan fiction.”
- Ghouli.net is excellent, and whoever put it together deserves a pat on the back.
- “I feel like I’m gonna fall off a cliff.”
- “Why would he call you here just to see him die?” Because your child is the most emo ever.
- “Oh my God, this is so inadequate.”
- “What if I didn’t get a glimpse of the future? What if I was just a receptacle for his message to me?” Oh, please have it be the latter.
- I really do not like that Jackson was two-timing these girls. All of this — this elaborate plan to reunite him with his parents — could’ve happened without that detail.
- At first, when William as Peter Wong said, “I doubt you’ll be seeing me again,” I worried that it meant this was it for Scully and William. Now, I see it as next time he won’t hide behind one of his projections because next time he will have the courage to face her as her son.
- “You seem like a nice person. I wish I could know you better.” Excuse me while I go cry until the end of time.
The X-Files airs Wednesdays at 8/7c on FOX.