In This Borderland: The X-Files, ‘Ghouli'
This week brought another X-Files episode jam-packed with narrative.
“Ghouli” opens on an abandoned tugboat called the Chimera. It’s dark outside and two young women are separately searching through the cavernous bowels of the boat, each armed with flashlights and big knives, each accusing the other of being the episode’s titular character. They come face to face with one another, but in a bit of skillful editing, each woman appears to be Ghouli---a massive, slimy creature with huge claws and a mouth full of sharp teeth---to the other. Terrified, they stab each other until they are both lying wounded and bleeding on the ship. YOU SEE WHAT I WANT YOU TO SEE flashes after the opening credits.
Yet, this isn’t an episode meant to warn teenagers of the dangers of Creepypasta internet memes. It does delve into the phenomenon known as “night terrors,” and it is Scully who suffers from this hypnogogic state, having a strange dream that she’s in a strange bed. First, she can’t move, then, sensing a shadowy figure behind her, she grabs her gun and chases the figure through an unfamiliar house.
When telling Mulder about what she experienced, she spots a photo on Mulder’s desk and flashes back to her vision in which she took a snowglobe from a shelf. The snowglobe featured a small scale model of a ship called the Chimera. As it turns out, it’s also an open X-File in Norfolk, Virginia, where the two young women from the opening are currently hospitalized.
These young women are connected to each other by a young man named Jackson Van de Kamp, who Mulder and Scully track down, only to find him and both of his parents shot dead in their home. But it doesn’t appear to be a murder suicide. It does, however, appear to Scully that not only is she having the same visions as those two young women, but also that this kid might be her and Mulder’s son William. (The Van de Kamps adopted William in a Season 9 episode called “William.”)
Scully is devastated by Jackson’s death and reveals the depths of her sorrow and regret in the medical examiner’s room in Norfolk. It’s a scene that not only shows Gillian Anderson’s marvelous acting skills, but also proves that for all of its fantastic trappings, the core of The X-Files is in how it depicts relationships. Any parent who has relinquished their child for adoption can relate to the struggle of feeling guilty in some way.
Yet Jackson is not dead. He only wants people to think that. He has a skill, attributed to his human/alien hybrid DNA, that allows him to impact what people see when they look at him (not totally unlike Robert Patrick Modell in Season 3’s “Pusher”). The search for Jackson dovetails with the fact that the DOJ and the DOD are also trying to find Jackson/William and thwart Mulder and Scully’s investigation, even if that means murdering them.
Skinner calls Mulder, furious that he’s interfering with the DOD/DOJ investigation, and demands he go back to FBI headquarters. And wouldn’t you know, the Cigarette Smoking Man is sitting in Skinner’s office, talking about “Project Crossroads.” Mulder insists that Skinner be the one to come to Norfolk. What Skinner doesn’t know is that Jackson is William, and the shock of this news prompts Skinner to apologize. Mulder walks away saying, “Thank you for your warning. It just came too late.”
The ending of the episode shows Scully talking to a man outside of a gas station. It’s the same man she spoke to outside of the hospital where the two young women were being treated. She thinks it’s Dr. Matsumoto, the man whose discoveries helped make Project Crossroads a reality, only to burn down his research to protect the test subjects. However, viewing the gas station’s security footage proves it’s Jackson, making Scully see what she wants him to see. “You seem like a nice person,” he says to Scully. “I wish I could know you better.” It’s a bittersweet ending to an episode that raises almost as many questions as it answers.
Despite the serious topic, the “Ghouli” isn’t without some levity: Mulder pretends that his phone isn’t working so he doesn’t have to talk to Skinner, asks that the barista at the coffee shop call him “Bob,” and complains that modern day monsters don’t allow for “emotional investment.” It’s also amusing that Jackson is wooing two women at once (hence the copy of a book on pick-up artists Mulder finds in his room) and has a straight-up Bobby Briggs circa 1989 haircut.
On the way to the crime scene, Mulder notes that Scully is receiving visions through her seizures, which makes it seem like the episodes of Season 11 are in the same timeline. It still doesn’t explain what happened at the end of Season 10 and where that fits into everything ("you see what I want you to see"). There are only five episodes left in this season and because this is The X-Files, it’s doubtful that everything will be wrapped up in a nice tidy package. I do hope, however, that Scully is allowed some small measure of happiness where William is concerned.