The X-Files Season 11, Episode 5
Posted by Kim
Between season 10’s “Founder’s Mutation” and this week’s “Ghouli,” can we all agree that from here on out James Wong is the ONLY person who has permission to write about William? It’s a pipe dream, I know, because there’s no way that Chris Carter will be able to keep his grubby little paws off the William story when it comes to “My Struggle IV: The Voyage Home,” but a girl can dream, can’t she? William’s journey is a MESSY one and while James Wong can’t fix all the massive plot holes that it has accumulated over the years, what he CAN do is hit all the proper emotional beats for Scully and Mulder. And at this point…that’s all we can ask for right? The story will NEVER be tied up with a neat little bow but what an episode like this one can do is give the audience the emotional satisfaction that we so desperately crave and that our heroes most definitely deserve. Honestly, I would be satisfied with never seeing William again, even though we all know that’s not going to be the case.
What works so brilliantly well about “Ghouli” is that it starts like your standard monster of the week episode before it’s like “Nope, Imma punch you in the face with feels.” Two teenage girls skulk around an abandoned freighter (This show and boats, I swear. They are as bad as Larry with their boat imagery.) in the middle of the night in search of a mysterious character named Ghouli. It comes off as some sort of Blair Witch style hunt, as the girls are clearly terrified but they KEEP looking. It’s important to note that the girls are both looking independently, not searching as a team, so they keep scaring each other MORE as they shout at each other, each thinking that the other is Ghouli. One girl falls through a ceiling, landing at the other’s feet. A truly terrifying looking monster that’s like part-Gremlin, part-dragon, and part-fly rears up in between them and the girls attack…only in reality there is no monster between them, they are just attacking themselves, nearly killing each other.
Boom. Opening credits. And yet another special end of credit bumper, this time saying “You see what I want you to see.” (Is that FOUR out of five now? CHILL OUT CHRIS. Remember when you used to do this like once a season?)
Meanwhile, we’re back on the whole “Scully having visions” thing, this time with her following a hooded figure through a house and then to the same boat that we saw in the opening. Her voiceover explains the concept of hypnagogia (or waking dreams) to us, which is Scully’s hard hard scientific way of trying to figure out just what is happening to her. As she tells Mulder about her new visions, she (oh so conveniently) spots the boat from her dream in an open X-File on Mulder’s desk. Time to go Ghouli hunting!
What I have loved thus far about Season 11 is that we’ve seen the quieter moments of Mulder and Scully investigating. It’s probably a nod to how technology has changed considering how much can be done online now as opposed to the late 90’s, but I also like to think that the writers take these moments to give us wonderful character tidbits, from Mulder’s “Bob” trick at Starbucks to the wonderfully meta moment of Scully stumbling across a trove of Ghouli fanfic on ghouli.net, which I choose to view as a shout-out to the beloved Gossamer archive. They discover that most of the Ghouli material is created by one user before they get the call that the two girls have regained consciousness. Mulder and Scully interview them individually and their stories are strangely the same. They both swear that they saw the Ghouli and it attacked them and they both implicate their boyfriend in regards to the very reason they were on the boat searching for Ghouli in the first place. This is where the rug gets pulled out under from us because the boyfriend’s name? Jackson Van de Kamp.
VAN DE KAMP.
Thank you oh so much, Spender (you weasel), for dropping William’s adoptive family’s name in “My Struggle III: The Wrath of CSM,” because now we know that this is no ordinary X-File and Mulder and Scully are closer to their son than they have been in sixteen years. “I feel like I’m going to fall off a cliff,” Scully says. GURL SAME.
Listen, I could write a NOVEL about Fox Mulder in this episode. Just LOOK AT HIM in that gif set. He is so soft and so gentle with her the entire time; he’s always reminding her that he is there for her, but he also knows when to step back and give her space so she can fully process her feelings. Gillian Anderson gets to do the emotional heavy-lifting in this episode (AS SHE SHOULD) but let’s not gloss over how beautifully subtle David Duchovny’s work is too. This situation isn’t easy for Mulder either and he’s got to be as much of a mess as Scully is at the prospect of meeting his son after all this time. There are moments where Mulder’s pain comes through, especially in his scene with Skinner later in the episode, but for the most part, Mulder is a ROCK for Scully the entire time. (One might say he is her touchstone. I’ll show myself out.)
As I just said to Sage on gChat, for someone so emotionally stunted, Mulder is amazing when it comes to reading situations and anticipating emotional needs. It’s what makes him an amazing profiler. And, as Sage pointed out, he showed the same kind of emotional strength when Margaret Scully passed away in “Home Again.” He’s just so good, you guys. And he’s so good to SCULLY. It’s a lot to process.
ANYWAY, before we can get our happy family reunion, shots ring out in the Van de Kamp home. Mulder and Scully sprint inside only to find Jackson/William’s adoptive parents murdered on the floor. Another shot rings out, upstairs this time. They sprint up the stairs only to find Jackson on the floor, dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot to the head. All I wrote in my notes was y-i-k-e-s.
Which brings us to quite possibly one of the greatest scenes in all eleven seasons of The X-Files. Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t ever recall a scene as QUIET as this one, one that just lets a character pour her heart out and simply just revel in the emotion of the moment. After she takes a lock of his hair so she can run a DNA test, Scully sits by her son’s body and just lets sixteen years of heartache and pain OUT. And it’s beautiful.
Scully: I don’t know if you are who I think you might be. But if you are William this is what I’d say: I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that I didn’t get a chance to know you, or you get a chance to know me or your father. I gave you up for adoption not because I didn’t want you or because you were any less loved. I was trying to keep you safe. I hope you know that. And maybe, maybe I should’ve had the courage to stand by you, but I thought I was being strong ‘cause it was the hardest thing I’d ever done. I mean…to let go…and to know that I was gonna miss your whole life. But it turns out that this is the hardest thing. To see the outcome. And how I found you. I need you to know that I never forgot you and I thought; I felt that, even recently, that we were gonna somehow be reunited. I wish I could’ve been there to ease your pain.
Gillian Anderson though. I can imagine that this was an incredibly daunting scene to film and she made it look fucking easy. In the hands of a lesser actress, this monologue would have come off as maudlin or too self-pitying. With Gillian, it just felt like she was talking, you know? At the end of her speech, Scully chokes out that her words are inadequate. I heartily disagree. They were honest, and while she expresses regret at her choices, what she never does is apologize for them. She apologizes to William for not being there, but she NEVER says she’s sorry for giving him up. She’s not sorry that she tried to protect him, that she tried to put him first, that she gave up the joy of seeing her child grow up because she did it all in the name of trying to give him the best life possible. She did the right thing, and it’s so important that it’s clear that she KNOWS that. And that makes all the difference.
And AGAIN, Mulder is there for her, offering his silent support and his physical presence. He doesn’t push her to talk more and he doesn’t question the things he overheard (because it was for Scully and her SON and Mulder knew that and I am just super emo about Fox Mulder right now). He just HUGS her and leads her out of the room.
And then, once Scully and Mulder leave the morgue, William’s body bag unzips from the inside. Apparently this moment had been in the promos, but since I avoid those like the plague, I had no idea this moment was coming, so I SCREAMED. Well played, show.
I have to admit that I’ve watched “Ghouli” twice now and both times I’ve been reeling so much from the morgue scene that it’s SO HARD to focus on what happens next, because what happens next is a whole lot of exposition and cramming a lot of plot into about ten minutes. Scully has another vision/waking dream. The coroner confronts Scully about William’s body being gone, which leads Mulder and Scully flipping roles, with Scully instantly believing William is still alive, while Mulder tries to temper her expectations. (Not because he doesn’t want to believe, but because I think he doesn’t want to see Scully hurt again if they are wrong.) Scully and Mulder return to the Van de Kamp house, and the show REALLY doesn’t want me to focus on the plot anymore, because instead all I can do is cry as Scully goes through William’s things and sees the life that her son has lived in her absence.
Mulder and Scully learn that William, aside from owning a cheesy dating book about being a pick-up artist, idolizing Malcolm X, and having an impressive snow globe collection, that William had been on all sorts of meds related to seizures and depression. They also learn that their son hacked the Department of Defense for some unknown reason. (Like father, like son.) The DOD agents show up and kick them out, but not before Mulder conveniently spills a soda all over William’s computer. We get a flash of CSM in Skinner’s office and we hear a lot of talk about a Project Crossroads. Scully speaks to William’s therapist, and gets information about his condition after Scully manages to say what William’s visions have been, word for word. Because they are her visions too, the visions that we thought had been the reality of “My Struggle II: The Search for William”. Skinner tells Mulder all about Project Crossroads, which involves experimenting with human and alien DNA and making hybrids. Mulder is like “Thanks for the warning, bro, but Jackson Van de Kamp was William and your warning is too little too late.” Scully has a chance encounter with Dr. Pierre Chang of the Dharma Initiative outside of the hospital, where he accidentally breaks the Windmill snow globe that she pilfered from William’s room. They have a really sweet moment where they bond over the windmill in the snow globe. He tells her she needs to keep her eye on the big picture. Like I said, a lot happens really fast and it’s mildly hard to keep up when you’re still pondering how lucky you are to exist in a time where you can witness Gillian Anderson’s talent.
The most important discovery of the rapid fire investigation is that not all was as it seemed at the Van de Kamp house. After analyzing the blood splatter pattern, Mulder deduces that there were actually two shooters in the house and neither of them were William. It was actually the shady DOD agents coming after William. He also figures out (HOW I DON’T REALLY KNOW) that William’s special alien DNA powers allow him to manipulate scenarios and create visions that aren’t real. So Jackson/William DIDN’T kill himself, he just made it LOOK like he was dead in order to protect himself from the DOD agents. (Again, like father, like son when it comes to faking his own death.)
This boy has a monster blog, hacks the DOD, and fakes death to get out of trouble and CSM expects me to believe he isn't Mulder's son #TheXFiles
— Kelly Connolly (@_kellyQ) February 1, 2018
At the hospital, William/Jackson checks in on his two girlfriends. (I know, I could have done without that bit too, but teenage boys, I guess?) He confesses to one of them about his ability to bend reality and force visions on people. His Amanda Seyfried lookalike girlfriend gets jealous of the other girlfriend, so to hurt Jackson, she calls the cops on him. (Lesson of the week: DON’T HAVE MULTIPLE GIRLFRIENDS, OKAY?) Both the shady DOD agents and Mulder and Scully are alerted to William’s presence in the hospital, which leads to a tense showdown. William uses his Ghouli powers and tricks the DOD agents into thinking one of them is in a shoot-out with Scully while busting out the actual Ghouli on the other, so they both end up killing each other. Our heroes get PAINFULLY close to their son as he hides under a desk from the bad guys (Me: OMG they are in the same room, this HURTS. The way Scully tried to coax him out HURT ME.) but he uses his magic powers to transfigure into a nurse, running right by them.
As they head home the next morning, Scully spots a gas station with the same windmill that was in William’s snow globe, so she tells Mulder to pull over. While Mulder is inside getting road trip snacks, Scully fills up the car. She once again encounters Dr. Chang from the Dharma Initiative (yeah, yeah, I know he’s really supposed to be the author of William’s fave book The Pick-up Artist, but HE’S FROM LOST okay?) and they joke about following each other. She asks if he’s the Doctor that ran Project Crossroads and Dr. Chang laughs. He never finished high school. “You seem like a nice person,” he tells Scully. “I wish I could know you better.” He tells Scully he’s off to see the world, because things are about to change. (I’m going to ignore that bit because in MY MIND William’s story ends here and NOT in the series finale.) He leaves her with a piece of advice before he drives off into the sunset. “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” Mulder later recognizes this as a Malcolm X quote and he and Scully have their OH SHIT moment, and run out into the road, only to find William long gone. But being an FBI agent has its perks. One of them being that they can demand to see surveillance footage at any time. Thus, with Mulder by her side, Scully gets to see the first ever interaction she’s had with her teenage son. And Gillian Anderson’s face says it all, so I’m just going to close this section with that.
- Okay I know it’s a Malcolm X quote but SURELY I can’t be the only one who started singing “If you stand for nothing Burr, what’ll you fall for?” when William busted out with that piece of advice, can I?
- BIG QUESTION TIME: Did they only run William’s DNA for a match against Scully’s? I need to know because if CSM is indeed telling the truth (HE IS NOT) and Mulder knows that William is not actually his son and he HASN’T told Scully yet, I will be cracking some skulls.
- Husbands gotta husband.
- There are a lot of parallels to the futures that Mulder and Scully dreamed about for William in “Founder’s Mutation,” from the model rockets to the stars and planets in his room. His birth parents were a part of him, even if he didn’t fully realize it.
- I’m just going to repeat that having more than one girlfriend at a time never ends well.
- WHY did William think it was a good idea to scare both of his girlfriends with the Ghouli? Use your head, son.
- SKINNER BACK STORY IS NEXT MY BODY IS READY.
Like I said, as far as I am concerned, this is the end of William’s story because I’ve already steeled myself to be unhappy with “My Struggle IV.” If this was the end, would you be satisfied? Let us know in the comments!