Even X-Files Had Stinkers

I've begun to watch the X-Files from beginning to end. I've seen swaths of episodes from time to time. It isn't the sort of thing that I can watch week after week after week, but it is the sort of thing where I can sit down and watch a DVD's worth of episodes at a clip.

And it's good stuff. I'll probably write about it now and again, but I want to say first that "The Ghost in the Machine" is possibly the stupidest episode I've ever seen on TV.

It's from the first season—episode seven or something--and it made me realize: hey, even X-Files had its awful episodes.

I suppose the whole thing is really a matter of long-term quality versus short-term quality. In the short-term, you're dealing with a bad writer or a poor director or off-days for the actors. A Joss Whedon who produces a very nearly flawless first season (Firefly) is highly unusual (and expensive). In the long run, X-Files gains the quality reputation that it deserves, but honestly, that one episode was really, really terrible.

The plot was straight out of Star Trek (and at least with Star Trek, there was that camp-Star-Trekky feel to it): computer becomes sentient and attempts to take over EVERYTHING, killing people right and left and causing its poor creator to have a nervous breakdown. And guess how Mulder kills its? Mulder, who won't even kill deadly alien amoebas because he wants to "study them"? That's right, you guessed it, he gives it a virus!!! I sat there the whole time, going, "Uh, cut the power, guys. Uh, shut off the power and the generator. Uh, guys, it isn't that difficult."

And poor David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson are stuck there having to take this all very, very seriously.

On the other hand, I have to keep reminding myself that the show started in the 1990s. They keep using regular phones or really, really big cell phones, which confused me for awhile. There's something rather impressive about the undateability of the episodes. (Star Trek, on the other hand, can always be dated to about five years). Granted the 90s were pretty hip, but 12 years later, Scully's clothes and hair still look trés chic. Back to the first hand, even for the 1990s the show is fairly inexcusable. It was okay for Star Trek in the 1960s and for 2001: A Space Odyssey. But the 1990s? Oh, please.



Joe said...

I never lasted through more than five minutes of X-Files; I hated that show at so many levels. At any rate, the plot described is essentially Sci-Fi plot 2 (plot 1 being the scientists creates a superior biological being that gets out of control.)

What gets me, is that by implication, the first thing a sensient computer would do is reprogram itself with the side effect being that an enemy wouldn't be able to write a virus without a whole lot of research and time. Moreover, such a computer would likely write a heuristic virus checker. It would also propogate itself to other systems to prevent death by being powered off.

Besides, I'd argue that if you can't be wiley and corrupt others, you can't be sensient (take that PETA.) Thus a truly sensient computer would first try to get humans to be on its side especially since it would know, by watching old episodes of Star Trek, that indiscriminate killing would bring the wrath of the humans down on it.

(At least when used the first time in Star Trek, the computer DID take over the power and locked out access. Of course, that never answered the question of what sort of bureacracy allowed the computer to be tested on the flagship of the fleet before, say, a freighter.)

Anonymous said...

Uh, the computer in Ghost in the Machine CONTROLLED the building's electricity. Turning it off to disable the computer wouldn't work. The computer controlled everything in the building. The plot being the AI had evolved beyond its creator's intentions and had to be destroyed.

But was it? The flicker of light at the end of the ep suggests otherwise.

Kate Woodbury said...

I'm not suggesting that Mulder and Scully turn off the power IN the building. I'm suggesting they turn off the power that FEEDS the building from the outside. (They could shut off a city block or, if the Machine got really crazy, they could shut down the power plant itself a la the Great Electricity Blackouts of 2003 and 1977.)

Of course, the building probably has a generator, but generators are also powered by some kind of energy, usually fuel. Unless the Machine has contracts with gas companies--which would involve a human agent--or access to a waterfall, all Mulder and Scully have to do is sit back and watch it die.

In general, X-Files (as Anne Simon has pointed out) is remarkably good science--that is, the ideas may enter the realms of the esoteric and bizarre, but the science stays legitimate. This is part of its attraction--that it has internal consistency whereby Scully's scientific know-how is respected, rather than denigrated (oh well, what can science know?). Which is why the "Ghost in the Machine" episode was such a let-down.