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.
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.
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?
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.
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.