A Dilapidated Boat!
Warning: Full spoilers for the episode below.
“Ghouli,” written and directed by X-Files vet James Wong, was quite the journey of discovery. One storyline hiccup aside, this was a solid, unexpectedly emotional adventure that constantly morphed, like William himself, throughout its duration.
“Ghouli” opened like it was a monster/case-of-the-week installment, but then quickly transformed into a story that was more tethered to the main mythology arc by bringing in Scully’s presumed psychic connection to her long lost son. From there, it appeared as though we’d be watching a story that didn’t sync up with the show’s spine completely, but yet contained enough shared elements so as to conjure up some pretty heavy feelings in our heroes – particularly Dana.
Then, shifting things even further, we learned that the entire case was, in fact, about William. He was behind the strange “girls stabbing each other on the dilapidated boat.” He was the mystery teen Scully bared her soul to on that morgue slab. Yes, Mulder and Scully managed to stumble into their son’s path (well, HER son’s, at least) in a sort of “stealth mythology” chapter that worked really well. Or, looking at it another way, William pulled them both into his orbit by mentally contacting Scully the way he roped his girlfriends into the Ghouli game.
Yes, the villain(s) of the piece turned out not to be the sinister mastermind of the game (more on that in a sec) but a handful of D.O.D. stooges trying to cover up an old project involving alien DNA test subjects. So in that regard, this chapter felt a little similar to this season’s second episode, “This.” But unlike “This,” this one wasn’t a tongue-in-cheek shoot ’em up/goose chase – though there were humorous bits (particularly Mulder going by “Bob” when giving his name to baristas).
No, “Ghouli” constantly changed its spots and, tonally, it worked out for the better. It built up to something meaningful. This could easily have been about a case that simply reminded Fox and Dana about their son, but it was so much more effective to have it actually be their boy, and to have Dana (thanks to a superb and wrenching performance by Anderson here) sob over a body without truly knowing the identity at the time. It paid off nicely when we discovered that one of Willaim’s cover illusions was (we assume) Dr. Matsumoto (François Chau) – the nefarious scientist who experimented on him for years. It made for a cool final trick when Scully realized that not only had she been interacting with her son, but that he’d heard her tearful apology. And I didn’t figure it out ahead of time because I assumed he was a looming Matsumoto.
Also, sentiment aside, William (as Matsumoto) offered up “keep your eyes on the alien pandemic prize” warnings that helped keep the “My Struggle” mythos locked in.
My one hang-up here involves the game Jackson/William (Miles Robbins) was having his two girlfriends participate in. That weird urban myth stabbing game that he thought would be “fun.” It was an intense way to open the episode, sure, but in hindsight it made William seem like a bit of a doofus. Even if his two girlfriends didn’t somehow wind up hurting each other, or worse, on that rotten, rickety ferry while carrying knives, they’d still – you know – meet each other. And find out they were dating the same guy. On a pretty strong episode, this felt like a weird thing to write off as a “my bad.”
That being said, William’s particular power – you know, when he’s not being tortured with visions of the future – made for a pretty wild endgame in that hospital when he was having the evil agents shoot each other. I very much enjoyed the shot of Mulder and Scully seeing that one nurse scurry away, not knowing it was William in disguise.