Perhaps great partnerships should never break up. Together, Glen Morgan and James Wong wrote some of the best episodes of the original run, but their solo efforts for the return have been entirely adequate, entirely unremarkable. Wong’s the better director of the two, as his feature work on a couple of Final Destinations evidenced, but this isn’t enough to make Ghouli seem either necessary or earned, particularly as it returns to the barren well of not-so-wee William.
The most curious aspect of the episode is that it feels as if Wong decided he had to shotgun wedding two diverse concepts, such that the seams show unforgivingly. As a consequence, I was initially waiting for a reveal that Scully had fooled herself into thinking Jackson Van De Kamp (Miles Robbins) was William, and she was being duped by a creepy kid. After all, why would said creepy kid be engineering a Slenderman-inspired encounter between his two girlfriends Brianna (Sarah Jeffery) and Sarah (Madeleine Arthur), in which they attack each other imagining the other is a monster… unless he was a bit of a loon? That we’re supposed to sympathise with what he did, because he was apologetically unable to control his id, doesn’t really wash, and evidences awkward attempts to finesse the material.
Mulder: This is my problem with modern day monsters, Scully. There’s no chance for emotional investment.
As a result, the Ghouli/Slenderman side is given short shrift, aside from the effective opening teaser featuring derelict ship the Chimera; on one level, this might be for the best, since we only just had a psychically projected adversary in Plus One. On another, it’s a flagrant waste of a modern urban legend that has had actual rather nasty consequences. The opening scenes also take in Mulder quoting Edgar Cayce (“Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions”), a first for the series I think, so probably overdue, and also an effectively staged dream paralysis encounter between Scully and her son.
The conspiracy side of Ghouli is typically muddled and murky, hastened along by an unwieldy burst of exposition from Skinner attempting to marry alien-human hybrid experimentation with Mulder and Scully’s – or CSM’s and Scully’s – son. There’s some effective old-style law-enforcement friction as Mulder encounters Detective Costa (Louis Ferreira), who’d rather just put the case to bed, and DoD guys hot on the trail of Jackson/William.
Scully, meanwhile, receives pep talks from who she thinks may be the architect of the hybrid programme (Peter Wong of Lost fame) but turns out to be Jackson pulling some psychic shapeshifting. I’m still not really going for Scully’s emotional burden over having lost William, but that’s possibly because I was completely uninvested in the plotline in the first place.
Having Skinner reluctantly working with CSM again is plain annoying, especially as it involves actually helping Mulder and in so doing duping him. We learn that a Dr Matsumoto developed eugenics programme Project Crossroads, eventually forsaken due to the unpredictable attributes manifesting in test subjects, and that it was defunded fifteen years ago (as if something like that would ever really be knocked on the head), with the doctor going on the run and the DoD trying to track down his test subjects.
Not only is the unwanted William manifesting big time (but joy, he connects with mom), but we’re also back at the unholy mess that was the Season Ten finale, as it’s still very much in line of sight – William is dreaming of the apocalypse, just like Sculls.
Wong keeps the episode watchable, incorporating several effective set pieces such as the hospital altercation in which William causes DoD guys to see each other as first Ghouli and then Scully, but so far this season has very much kept in step with the previous (as such the media response of a return to form feels like wishful thinking): crap Carter mythology, merely acceptable Morgan & Wongs, and only Darin to remind you just how good the show can be.