Tipping Point: The X-Files S11X7 “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” Review

March 5, 2018 at 10:20 PM | Posted in TV | Leave a comment
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SPOILER WARNING: This review contains major spoilers of The X-Files season 11. Read at your own risk!

 

It’s been a while since The X-Files had an episode centered on the dangers of modern technology. In the legacy seasons of the show, we had episodes like “Ghost in the Machine” and “Kill Switch” that tackled on artificial intelligence, virtual reality and how technology can inevitably be a menace to society.

While the show’s central themes may be about government conspiracies, alien abductions and paranormal investigations, it doesn’t shy away from doing tech-centric episodes such as the recent “Rm9sbG93ZXJz.”  The title of the seventh episode itself is a mouthful but it’s not something gibberish. “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” is actually a Base64 code which means “followers.”

This was the episode previously announced during the Television Critics Association winter press tour in January where the only cast would be Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny and no one else. It’s also the episode where the dialogue would be very minimal, at approximately 250 words.

It’s rather bold and risky for The X-Files to take on this kind of episode but it worked surprisingly well. “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” is sleek, fresh and satirical. It’s The X-Files like we’ve never seen before.

In the episode, Mulder and Scully go on a dinner date at a fancy, ultra-modern sushi restaurant where food is prepared by robots. They order food via a tablet and are served by machines. Mulder doesn’t like the food they served so he decides not to tip the machine. That’s when trouble starts.

Photo credit: recapguide.com

They are locked inside the restaurant but eventually managed to get out. They go home separately, with Scully ordering an Uber-like driverless car service while Mulder drives his GPS-enabled car. Thereafter, it seems that whatever they do and wherever they go, the smart machines are after them. With each of them at their homes, they are constantly being pestered by the smart machines.

Scully constantly gets notifications from her smartphone and smart gadgets to either rate their service, buy more products or friend them on social media. And when she refuses, the machines act up. Meanwhile, Mulder gets locked out of his online bank account, stalk by drones and eventually chase out of his home by mini-drones.

The two agents pair up eventually after Mulder visits Scully at her fancy smart home. The machine-stalking stops when Mulder is forced to tip the machine from the restaurant via his smartphone. The story ends with Mulder and Scully eating breakfast at a simple diner with people around them.

Photo credit: bloody-disgusting.com

This episode felt like it doesn’t want to be taken too seriously. For one, it doesn’t have much of a plot – just a premise of Mulder and Scully being hunted down by devious AI machines. Secondly, it felt like it exists in a different dimension because some of the scenarios in it just didn’t add up to what we know of the characters.

Case in point:

  1. There’s no way Mulder and Scully would spend much of their time together fiddling with their smartphones and not talking to each other. It’s not like them to be so immersed in their smartphones.
  2. Scully living in a smart home is so unlike her. The house looked cold, sterile and so different from the one she had in previous seasons. Granted, she might feel more secure with the security features of a smart home given that she was previously attacked in her home in the legacy seasons of the show but years of handling weird and sinister cases at the FBI would show that not even high-tech gadgets can keep you safe.
  3. As an FBI agent, Scully is trained to be on guard at all times about any suspicious activity. A drone sending her a Roomba with no indication of where it came from is suspicious enough and the normal Scully would never have opened the box much less use the Roomba in her home.
  4. Mulder not having been in Scully’s house is unbelievable.

In itself, it’s still a good and refreshing episode because it went on a bold direction that fans have never seen before. And it’s also worth noting that the episode was written by two women, Kristen Cloke-Morgan and Shannon Hamblin – a rarity in the show. This episode served an important lesson to us in this day and age of smart gadgets: that human touch and verbal communication are still better than having smart machines.

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