Kill Switch 5×11: He invented the internet.


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As a general rule of thumb, when The X-Files wanted to blow up things they called in director Rob Bowman. Even without remembering to check the credits, I could feel him all over this episode and that’s a good thing. Bowman tends to specialize in adventures, which is no doubt why Fight the Future will eventually be entrusted to him, and “Kill Switch” is accordingly a romp of a tale, barely stopping for breath in between story beats, and may I just say that’s a very good thing.

In more ways than one, this is an evolutionary upgrade from Season 1’s “Ghost in the Machine” (1×6), the only other X-File to feature a plot based around Artificial Intelligence. (Both fitting episodes to watch while the world is still mourning the loss of Steve Jobs.) The main difference being, well, besides a better story, better acting, better cinematography, better technology, a better wardrobe, etc., is that the government is in no way involved this time. Unlike the typical X-File involving futuristic technology, this isn’t a matter of a super secret science being hunted down or captured for the selfish purposes of a few, here the technology is doing the hunting and has become the predator. It’s a late 21st Century illustration of survival of the fittest, Silicon Valley style.

There’s another factor that both takes me nostalgically back to Season 1 but then again reminds me of how far the show has come since then: Scully. This has to be one of my favorite Scully episodes. True, the fact that she dismisses Esther’s story so easily in spite of the evidence is a little irritating, but I’m so happy to have her sarcasm back in full form that I’m willing to let that slide. It’s almost like her character flashed back to Season 1, cracking one-liners with her trademark smug smirk. Except that now she’s even more of a force to be reckoned with, spitting out phrases such as “screwing around” and tossing roundhouse kicks like this is a Kung Fu movie.

Speaking of whose Kung Fu is the best, I’m sure many would think less of me if I explained just how satisfying it is to watch the climax to the virtual reality scenes knowing that the A.I. has picked up on the fact that in Mulder’s subconscious, Scully arriving to save the day and eviscerate his porn star fantasy makes perfect sense.

On a related note, they strike me as similar somehow, Esther and Scully. They are more than a match for each other in this episode, which I think explains some of Scully’s initial resistance to Esther, as Scully is usually the smartest and most impressive woman in the room. Maybe if they shared more similarities on the surface Scully wouldn’t have been so annoyed by her or if Esther were just an idiot Scully could have ignored her, but dealing with someone who grates on you instantly but who you can’t quite one-up, it’s a recipe for a bad attitude.

Whatever the cause of the clash, they’re both highly intelligent, willful, sarcastic, and they are both inordinately attached to one man, Esther in a romantic way and Scully… well… it’s complicated. In fact, it’s not until Esther cries over her lost David that Scully’s compassion melts her animosity and the two women finally come to a truce. But watching them both enter the A.I.’s trailer in the end, Scully to rescue her man and Esther finding hers dead and gone, Scully’s face the picture of concern and Esther’s of shocked sadness, it drives the parallel home. What are we supposed to draw from that? Probably nothing at all. But I like getting more insight into Scully out of her interaction with another character. Mulder doesn’t typically bring this side out of her.

Verdict:

This is one of those episodes that I’m not sure how other people feel about because I don’t hear it discussed much, a fact that leads me to think it may be underrated. Speaking for myself, I love “Kill Swith”, just love it. It’s exactly the type of adventure fantasy that I eat up with just a hint of MSR thrown in. It even has the Lone Gunmen for comic relief! How am I supposed to dislike it? I may even enjoy it more than it actually warrants, but I make no apologies. There’s no accounting for taste.

It’s interesting that like the previous episode written by guest writer Stephen King, “Chinga” (5×10), this one is also penned by a well-known author, or rather, two authors: William Gibson and Tom Maddox, both a part of the cyberpunk movement. Consequently, back-to-back we’ve had episodes that are somewhat of a departure for the show in theme, distinctly leaning almost point-by-point to the specialties and trademarks of these authors. I consider both episodes successful experiments, which is somewhat surprising considering one-off writers on The X-Files usually miss the mark dramatically, ex. “Schizogeny” (5×9). Maybe it’s the caliber of the writers here or the level of collaboration between them and the staff writers, I couldn’t say. Maybe like Vince Gilligan before them they were actually fans of the show before coming aboard and understood what they were getting into before they signed up for the project, which I suspect is the strongest contributing factor.

So, back to my Mulder is Scully-Crushing Theory: I rest my case.

A+

Nitpicks:

I love the teaser and I think it’s deliciously clever, but the question must be asked: Why didn’t the fool just push the button?

That scene when Scully pulls into the rest stop out of sheer frustration… how exactly does a handcuffed Esther get herself out of the car?

Leftovers:

So, did David get a chance to upload himself into the system before he died or was he being held as a virtual reality prisoner the same way that Mulder was? I lean toward the latter only because if he was a part of the A.I., I don’t see why he would have killed Gelman and why he would have attempted to kill Esther. More likely he would have tried to contact her and tell her what he had done so she could join him in a code based Happily Ever After.

The actress who plays Esther Nairn, Kristin Lehman, was on Rob Bowman’s show Castle this week. Coincidence?? I’m sure the look on my face as I studied her intently and understanding slowly dawned was comical. Who knew how hard it is to recognize someone without raccoon eyes?

This is yet another episode where Scully rescues Mulder instead of vice versa, for anyone keeping score.

Considering this is one of the rare times that The X-Files used source music in an episode’s soundtrack I will only say that the opportunity isn’t wasted. The use of Twilight Time is charming.

Best Quotes:

Byers: Jobs and Wozniak at Apple, Gates and Allan writing Basic, the Home Brew computer club’s first meetings… Gelman was there.
Frohike: Now they’re power brokers and billionaires. Back then they were just… inspired nerds.

——————-

Frohike: This is a one-off. I’ve never seen anything like it. Gelman built this?
Mulder: That may be what got him killed.
[The Lone Gunmen exchange shocked looks.]
Langly: Heavy casualty.
Frohike: A brother goes down.

——————-

Scully: No more screwing around. We need a name. Your real name.
Esther Nairn: Invisigoth. You want my address? It’s T-O-A-S-T.

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27 responses to “Kill Switch 5×11: He invented the internet.

  1. Ok, I loved this too – you’re totally not alone! I always loved the bitchiness Scully threw Esther’s way – one of the main reasons, which you picked up on, too – is that it wasn’t out of petty jealousy. It wasn’t because she thought Esther was out for Mulder, it was just that Esther was an equal in the reasons you listed above. I love that, because I get a little annoyed when women are portrayed as petty jealous wenches on TV. “If she’s mad at another woman, it’s clearly jealousy.” We do have other emotions! 🙂

    About your Mulder-crushing-on-Scully theory, which I love by the way, I want to hear more! 🙂 I love this theory and your insights – they warm my little shipper heart. To see their relationship in another perspective is wonderful, so do tell! 🙂

    • Thank you!!! And when Scully doesn’t get along well with another woman it’s not always bound up in Mulder, TYVM.

      Give me time on the theory because I have to pace it out. We still have Folie a Deux and all of Season 6 to contend with.

      • Oh I can’t wait! 🙂 I do love that you picked up on the whole Scully-as-savior in Mulders subconscious! Juicy stuff…

  2. I saw that episode of Castle but didn’t pick up on it being Esther until somebody pointed it out to me. Nice to see a link between two of my favorite shows.

    I like this episode all right, but since I saw it many years after its air date, I was always pulled out of the action by the fact that some of the technology felt a bit outdated (although that’s no fault of the episode’s). Your glowing review, however, makes me want to give it another try. Certainly it’s a fun episode, with a great opening, and I do love fake!Scully busting into Mulder’s subconscious.

    I’ve always assumed that David successfully uploaded himself into the system, and that’s why Esther decided to go for it in the end, but that he was essentially a guest in the AI’s playground and that’s why he couldn’t stop it from trying to kill everybody. But you’re right, why wouldn’t he have contacted her? So now I’m not so sure.

    • About the only thing that peaks my Castle interest is watching the parade of X-Files alumns come through. It’s like a reunion sometimes.

      Yeah, the David/A.I. thing is vague. I used to think he uploaded, but now I have no clue. It could be interpreted either way.

  3. Scully is sooo bitchy in this episode. Plus we get to see some Scully-Fu. What is not to like? I would give this one an A.

    • I really, really, really wish Scully had gotten a couple more fight scenes over the years. Nothing to make her too unrealistic or turn the show into 24, but it could’ve been fun.

  4. I also saw her in AMC’s The Killing. I really love that show too. I always thought this episode was so cool. Especially with the William Gibson tie-in, because of that I got to do a presentation on this episode.

  5. My favorite scene from this episode is when Esther tells Scully she wouldn’t understand and she mouths “Jesus” and hastily pulls over and gets out of the car. When Mulder gets out, his amused look is PRICELESS. Also, all of Scully’s incredulous looks are basically epic. LOL.

  6. This is such a terrible episode. Worst of the series so far, I think. Being a computer tech by trade, this is just downright silly and impossible for me to suspend my disbelief. I hate computer tech episodes because they’re all over the top ridiculous. I did like the coordinated shootout scene in the beginning tho, but that’s about it.

  7. Yeah, I’m not a huge fan of this one, either. I think that some (most) of the plot points come off as very contrived and the character interactions/dialogue even more so. Conversations in The X-Files sometimes sound like readings of a script rather than organic speech, and I think Kill Switch suffers heavily from that syndrome.

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  9. Did you notice Nurse Nancy is wearing Scully’s gold cross? Great touch. I really like this episode, too.

    • I did! I’m glad you agree. This episode deserves more attention.

    • I did! I’m glad you agree. This episode deserves more attention.

      • This episode is also interesting when you consider Mulder’s confession about having a disability (specifically involving a missing limb) from the Conversation on the Rock in Quagmire. And although I find some of how Mulder feels about phyical disabilities problematic, I think the fact that his anxieties are problematic makes his character so much more real and interesting. Someone I want to argue with vs. someone I would rather avoid arguing with.

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  12. Great review as usual. I too loved this episode and Scully’s fight scene alone is “worth the price of admission.”

    Agree with your take on the Scully/Ester dynamic, but are you sure there wasn’t an element of jealousy when Frohike was fawning over Ester instead of his usual objet de l’amour? 🙂

    The tech/internet features of the story are horribly dated but were in line with some of the paranoia during the late 90’s over the perceived/imagined future of the internet. Keeping this in mind, one can enjoy the episode despite how silly it may seem now (looking at you Farfolomew) and there’s so much to love about this episode.

    • Could be? I think Scully’s irritated that everyone likes this girl she can’t stand. Maybe that’s a form of jealousy, but at worst I still don’t think she’s jealous of Frohike’s affections. Either way, like you said, soooo much fun to be had here.

  13. Thanks for your review Salome, I like your take on this.
    Another reason I love to watch X Files is the crossover with actors from my other big time fave series, Stargate SG1 . All these top sci fi series filmed in Vancouve!. Did anyone else spot Apophis (Peter Williams) as one of the low life drug dealers at the beginning? (with the beret and dodgy goatee) LOL. And of course Scully’s dad is general Hammond and the doctor Janet is the care worker raped by the ghost last season. Not to mention Pusher himself is a slimy Army brass guy in SG1.

    I also love Mark Snows ” voice of the computer” music in the background from the beginning, ultra-creepy!

    “Mulder thats evidence!”
    “Gee, I hope so!”

    I love the little bits of detail in this; Scully sitting in red light reading a piece in the Lone Gunman with the heading “Infra-red technology” Plus the Lone Gunmen, surprisingly including Byers, with their tongues hanging out over Esther. Hilarious!

    By the way, as an ex-Goth, although everyone of course is different, that music sounded more like heavy metal, and the eye makeup is a bit overkill..

    Love that whereas Mulder ids himself and presses the doorbell, Scully shoots out the siren and the camera and totals the robot. Go girl!!

    • I too am a huge fan of Stargate SG-1, though I hadn’t noticed Peter Williams in this until you pointed it out 😛 There really are so many crossover actors between the two shows! Amanda Tapping was in an episode of the X-Files too. And the guy who plays Kawalsky.

      I had really missed Scully’s sass. “What was your role, the bass player?” XD

  14. Fun fact! Kristin Lehman was also on Forever Knight, another shipping haven/supernatural drama.

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