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11X03: Plus One

The X-Files Event Series 2 / Season 11: Introduction | 11X01: My Struggle III | 11X02: This

Chris Carter writes, but probably due to workload lets directing duties to veteran but XF newcomer Kevin Hooks. This is the conventional stand-alone investigation case that has been missing throughout this revival, “our bread and butter” as Mulder says, as if season 11 is rebooting season 10 itself. The directing is perfectly competent, the writing of the dialogue for the guest star(s) and the Mulder-Scully banter is excellent. We get scenes we’ve been waiting to see for a while, like our agents interrogating victims and suspects and testing their theories against each other. Some quips aside, this would be a good episode. But some specific bits dedicated to the Mulder-Scully relationship manage to poison the whole.

The X-File

Doubles are a favorite theme of Carter’s: 3X13: Syzygy, 7X20: Fight Club, 10X5: Babylon, with the latter two found in many “worst of” lists. Doppelgangers specifically were the subject of Fight Club and one could fear repetition, but in Plus One the subject is treated in a non-humorous way and with a truly amazing quadruple performance of female and male parts by Karin Konoval (Madame Zelma in 3X04: Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose and the Peacock mother in 4X03: Home). Konoval is Judy and Chucky (and their evil schizophrenic counterparts), twins that play a kind of telepathic hangman/Death Note game, something that they have been doing since they were children and murdered their parents, and which by now has grown into a massive local phenomenon. Carter explains:

“Recently I was interested in the idea of doubles, doppelgängers, and so I watched some movies about doppelgängers, and then I thought how would I want to approach doppelgängers as it relates to The X-Files, and I started thinking about things about The X-Files that I’ve never explored. One of the things I never explored is a kind of symmetry this show has. The name Mulder has six letters, and the name Scully has six letters, and I started thinking about what the similarities were between those characters, their names, what if they saw their own doubles? The idea kind of took shape as a result of all my thinking about those things.”

Mulder and Scully are on the case. Interestingly, for the sake of the skeptic/believer exchanges, Scully once more says she doesn’t believe in ghosts (how about anything from 1X12: Beyond the Sea to “we believe the same thing” in 9X19/20: The Truth?) nor evil (how about Donnie Pfaster?), while at the same time being open to Mulder’s ideas and ultimately swallowing these (disgusting!) bread pills that work their magic.

One could say there is little they do here apart from receiving news of murder and repeatedly pressuring the twins until they give in (there’s even some foreshadowing with Mulder saying “And that’s the Chucky who’s eventually gonna hang himself“) — but that has been true of several past investigations. Some additional criticism to the case could be that they come across Judy purely by chance, just one random hospital room of many, and that we are given no real motivation as to why the twins do these murders or how they got their powers. Twins doubled by schizophrenia doubled by doppelgangers are more vulnerable to evil?

All these aspects could be corrected with a slightly longer running time than the one available. Carter and his team are accustomed to the episode format of 1990s television, with 45 minutes and four acts, while today’s constraints are 42 minutes and five acts; it doesn’t look like much but it is about 6% less, and forces a more rapid pace more cliffhangers for commercial breaks! The situation is of course much, much better than for My Struggle III, and one could even say Carter is glad to get some time off the exhausting mythology to write a scary story that he likes; if one discounts the experimental 9X14: Improbable and 10X5: Babylon, this is Carter’s first serious stand-alone since 8X04: Patience, which set the tone for what season 8 should look like. This should bode well for the rest of the season. However, the episode had also had to make space for the Mulder-Scully relationship aspect.

These odd Mulder & Scully scenes

The episode appears to show the rekindling of Mulder and Scully’s physical relationship, after their distance during season 10 and their apparent reconciliation in 10X5: Babylon. As 10X1: My Struggle seemed to imply, the breakup was not mutual but rather Scully’s decision in the face of Mulder’s depression. As the very last scene summarizes, Scully took her time to reconsider things and progressively made her mind up, while Mulder was waiting for the relationship to start again all along. All of which is in apparent contradiction with the harmonious way they seemed to be together in 11X02: This, which was obviously the work of a different writer.

The handling of the Mulder-Scully relationship has been one of the most controversial aspects of the series as a whole, and there are as many opinions on it as there are fans, especially after all these years of expectations. While episodes have used investigations to force us and the characters to reflect on their relationship (6X18: Milagro) and while the relationship came to be a central part of the show (7X17: all things), each episode’s central story never suffered from it or was never displaced by it — except in less-than-stellar times (9X08: Trust No 1). Plus One progressively builds towards these Mulder-Scully scenes and ultimately completely does away with the investigation to focus on them, with the connection with the casework only being a comment by evil Judy on Scully’s age.

Some bed conversations follow, reminiscent of 7X22: Requiem and I Want To Believe, but here they are extremely awkwardly written. What is striking is the disconnect between the acknowledgement of the passage of time, with Scully’s worries, and everything else about these scenes, which act as if Scully and Mulder are still in their thirties and discovering each other for the first time. Why would Scully express her desire for a second child 17 years after having her first? Why wouldn’t they have had a discussion about that during the approximately 10-14 years they were together? Why on Earth would Scully fear Mulder would find somebody younger than her and right after complain she doesn’t have anyone to have a child with, right in Mulder’s arms? Why would Mulder suggest another child when he knows her history of fertility issues? Why would Scully feel at all insecure because of Judy’s comments, when she already is a mother and knows she is otherwise barren for the last 22 years? Why do they behave like “friends with benefits” as if they didn’t have a long history together before? Why would they care about this when their son might be the key to the global viral apocalypse? Why would Scully feel so insecure for that but then be so self-assured when fighting off her doppelganger, while Mulder panics? “End of that journey“: and can’t Carter conceive of a woman outside of her ability to have children? When character motivations are so obscure, it is difficult to empathize with what the show is attempting to do. By comparison, 7X22: Requiem was much more subtle: Mulder watching Scully playing with a child was enough for us to understand.

The whole discussion is mind-boggingly misplaced and does not do this long-standing relationship justice. Season 11 pretends we are once more in 1998 and we can watch up close these characters getting back together again, complete with gratuitous nudity — only that the characters are now in their fifties and should act like it, something that 11X02: This pulled off without drawing attention to it. The centerpiece of the episode, in the way both writing and directing point to it, is the double intimation of sex, which is also uncharacteristically explicit for this chaste of a show — while the fact that they had sex should absolutely be no revelation to anyone that watched seasons 7-9 and I Want To Believe! It is almost as if Carter took all the cues from fanfic and is over-compensating for the conscientious lack of Mulder-Scully physicality all these years, season 10 in particular. This is more fan-servicey and more soap-operatic than whatever the show has previously done — all of which, to the eyes of this viewer, does nothing but cheapen The X-Files.

Mythology elements

No mythology at all in this episode. Unless…

The callback to the motel scene in 7X22: Requiem, right before Scully got pregnant, might not be fortuitous. Carter is known to use historical and religious/mythological references relevant to the story in places names (e.g. Dominic Savio hospital in 7X11: Closure). In Plus One, the motel is named “Saint Rachel”. In the Old Testament, Jacob fell in love with Rachel and had to work for her father for seven years in order to win her hand in marriage; Rachel was unable to conceive, while Jacob had children with Rachel’s older sister Leah; eventually Rachel miraculously gave birth to Joseph, destined to be the leader of Israel’s twelve tribes; later Rachel died in childbirth of her second son, Benjamin.

The obvious similarities with Scully’s history and William are striking. Is Scully headed to being a mother for a second time? (Emily excluded!) The pillow talk in this episode would have more significance if it is foreshadowing of a second pregnancy later in the season. Not to mention that the sex scenes would then be in keeping with Carter’s apparent conception of sex as only for reproductive reasons. The decision to have a fiftysomething year old character pregnant out of perhaps love just because her first child is revealed to have been a deception is of course as crazy as just described, but Carter might just go there.

Miscellaneous

  • The tagline is changed once more, it is doubled, reminiscent of the mirrored tagline in 9X05: 4-D. This is the fourth episode in a row, too much of a habit!
  • Mark Snow’s music continues to be odd, with a lot of music from 10X1: My Struggle recycled here (even an entire cue repeated when Mulder and Scully first meet Judy), and with far too frequent uses of The X-Files theme.
  • At one point Judy is watching on her television The Patty Duke Show (1963-1966), which also deal with doubles: two cousins identical in appearance but completely different in character!
  • Doppelgangers are also a staple of The X-Files‘ twin show, Twin Peaks (1990-1991; 2017). What’s more surprising is that the revivals of both shows share a character or entity named Judy that generates these evil doppelgangers!
  • Episode names spotted in Judy and Chucky’s hangman games: Firewalker, Closure!
  • Fit tanks and unbuttoned shirts: some wardrobe choices felt out of place for this show, which prided itself on the fact that its stars and guest stars are purposefully not the paragon of Hollywood beauty and rather used everyday faces to reinforce a sense of realism.
  • You’re a woman of science“, again: it sounds “science” has become an all-purpose magic word that can easily solve anything from infertility to alien apocalypses.
  • Interesting connection: Karin Konoval’s Peacock mother to Scully in 4X03: Home: “I can tell you don’t have no children. Maybe one day you’ll learn the pride, the love, when you know your boy will do anything for his mother.
  • Another “This Man” sighting, this time on the drum in the beginning of the episode. Along with the changed opening credits and the visions theme and the changed dialogue from En Ami in My Struggle III, and the virtual reality theme of This, this was enough to continue feeding theories that this is all an alternate reality. Perhaps, but it would really be odd to “waste” that many episodes on something that would prove unreal, and it would be unfairly lenient to assign anything we find odd in this revival to this being an alternate reality. Let’s see how this unfolds next week.

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8 Responses to “11X03: Plus One”

  1. Marlene says:

    I have a few things to mention. First, I totally agree hat the bed scene, more specifically making the audience know that Mulder and Scully had sex, cheapened the show. I have always thought that Mulder and Scully’s relationship was closer and more powerful by not being sexual, because the aspect left out puts emphasis back on the intimacy that is there in other ways. But M and S as an unusual couple has worked at times, and I thought it worked really well in “This,” because it was them at a personal level of contentment and comfort focused on something outside of themselves. That part of the bed conversation, how they would be together if they’re not working on cases, made a lot of sense to me because their relationship exists in a context, and that context is a mission of some sort, be that a case, preventing a viral apocalypse, or whatever else they find in their future years. The rest of it detracted from the case and from them as well, in my opinion.

    There has been some conflation between schizophrenia and multiple personalities (Dissociative Identity Disorder). Multiple personalities are not a symptom of schizophrenia but of DID. A person could possibly be comlrbid and have both, with both personalities divorced from reality (the “split” in schizophrenia), and that’s what I went with for Judy, although the episode was not clear on this. I think more rewatches will clarify some of the twin/doppelgänger/multiples stuff.

    I noticed that Nice Chucky said to Mulder, “I am not my beother’s keeper,” a reference to the biblical story of Cain and Abel, the twins, and another contrast of good and evil. I loved that.

    • orodromeus says:

      About the bed conversations: the bit where they talk about their continuing their relationship into old age did make sense, and it acknowledges the passage of time. But right after that you have all this childbearing conversation shoehorned in, which ruins it.

      Schizophrenia vs Dissociative Identity Disorder: I didn’t realize the difference, but the episode does not seem to make the distinction. Judy is diagnosed with “a non-conforming type of schizophrenia”. Also, nice mention of the Gastaut-Geschwind syndrome which is linked to a strong sense of religious experiences!

      Good point about Cain and Abel.

  2. Jason Thompson says:

    I did not mind the personal M&S scenes but I failed to see how it was related to the case other than the comment Demon Judy made to Scully. And that comment seemed unrelated to the investigation unless she was jealous of her over Mulder, and that interpretation actually makes matters worse. So it wouldn’t have felt as forced if there had been something more personal about the case. Carter is afraid to commit to that kind of thing in a non-mythology episode. Carter has said he basically started the mythology as a way to get more personal with the characters because he wanted those personal scenes to be related to their investigations.
    As for the “this man,” I agree with the theory you laid out in your MS3 review, that MS2 happened, more or less. Most theories seem to say that it was a vision of the future. But maybe S11 is a vision that Scully has over the course of MS2 that gives her some insight into how to react to the events of that cliffhanger. Like you, I’m basing most of this on Anne Simon’s comment that she read the last 10 or so pages of MS2 script and knows what or who is on the UFO. It’s an interesting story-telling device either way, but it’s a lot to pack into these shortened seasons. That said, Carter can cover a lot of ground when he needs to (See, Redux 2, Patient X, Red and the Black and The End).

    • orodromeus says:

      M&S relationship scenes were very loosely connected to the case also in the IWTB movie, but the movie format and longer running time allowed that. Here the connection with the case is that Scully feels insecure about herself and the future. This mix of characterization as if they are in their fifties and at the same time in their thirties is odd, but Carter wants to cover everything and mixes things, once again.
      This Man: S11 would be a vision and things inevitably loop back to MS2? So if a S12 or more happen we are eternally and inescapably going to loop back to MS2? It could be, but that’s very restraining, narratively, much more than the looming date of Dec-22-2012. I do think MS4 will mirror MS4, but as a prophecy that is being fulfilled, not as something out of a vision or alternative universe.

      • Jason Thompson says:

        No, I was suggesting maybe S11, at least through ep9, is a vision. And the beginning of MS4 will be a return to the world last seen in MS2, allowing the finale to play out.

        That is still restraining, though. It also seems to serve little narrative purpose unless M&S learn something over the course of the first 9 episodes that allows them to change the events of MS2 in some way. It’s all probably a red herring because there’s really not a satisfying explanation for throwing yet another vision/prophecy/alternate reality twist on top of things. I think the current state of things, MS2 being the vision/prophecy, is enough, and it could be satisfying enough to see that play out again in MS4.

        • orodromeus says:

          “This Man” sightings continue past Darin Morgan’s episodes according to ghouli.net and trailers. So whatever its meaning, if they will address it, it might extend all the way to MS4.

  3. E. says:

    Very nice review!

    I just realized something about ‘Plus One’… the scene with Mulder looking into the mirror is a direct mirror to the one with Scully in ‘All Things’.

    Scully left unsure in All Things. Mulder didn’t. It’s the mirror to it.

    Scully was a bit unsure here… but Mulder stayed to comfort her. And then she was confident. And went for the second round.

    These are two adults who know what they want in the end.

    CC be damned.

    Now the non physicality makes some sense.

    ‘All Things’ was VERY implied in that regard. Didn’t have any real physicality either.

    Looking at it this way, makes it feel less cheap. I think that it’s what they were trying to do. Even if it didn’t turn out the way they wanted it to entirely.

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