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The X-Files 11.7 Review – ‘Rm9sbG93ZXJz’

February 28, 2018 | Posted by Wednesday Lee Friday
The X-Files - Rm9sbG93ZXJz
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The X-Files 11.7 Review – ‘Rm9sbG93ZXJz’  

It’s not unusual for The X-Files, or any sci-fi show, to have a title we won’t understand until we’ve seen the episode. This week though, having seen the whole thing, I still have no idea what the title means. Is it a general statement about passwords and how absurdly difficult to remember they are—and how that keeps them effective? Is it commentary about how nonsensical computer languages seem? Is it code that laymen couldn’t be expected to recognize? I don’t think it matters in the end. Spoilers for “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” follow.

Season eleven, episode seven begins with a recount of the AI bot that was loosed on Twitter in 2016. This is a real thing that happened, and they really did remove the bot account when it became racist and hateful in its posts. The lesson is that AI learns from us, and we may not be the best teachers. It seems that when artificial intelligence copies our behaviors and statements, it isn’t able to compensate for things like sarcasm or moodiness. Because duh, it isn’t human. If you enjoy shows like Humans, Extant, or Black Mirror, or movies like Maximum Overdrive–tonight’s episode should be to your liking as well. If you like Roombas, or are fans of quadcopters in a variety of sizes and swarms, you might find this a little spooky.

We begin in a sushi restaurant in the DC area. Mulder and Scully order, are served, and pay without any human interaction. When Fox receives one of those sad old-man fish, he seeks out a human to hear his complaint. When humans are angry or upset, it’s important that someone understand that. Computers don’t get that—at least we don’t think they do. Note: I’d very much like a copy of the funny pic Scully takes of Mulder and the fish. What he received was clearly not what he ordered, but that doesn’t seem to be part of the overall statement of the episode. Humans generally don’t expect to be tipped after they screw up.

Our fave fictional FBI agents are almost trapped in the restaurant but manage to narrowly escape. It’s around the ten-minute mark of the episode that we hear our first human dialogue as Scully says a single word, “Mulder” as she gets into a parody of a driverless Uber. Meanwhile, Mulder gets into his own car and relies on a TomTom parody to direct him home. One might argue that tonight’s plot is little more than a flurry of sociopolitical statements strung together with references to other movies, books, or shows that have covered this same topic. I say that X-Files is perfectly suited to comment on issues of AI, overreliance on tech, and the question of who gets to see our information.

The argument over whether tech brings people together or increases isolation is much like the debate over whether TV is educational and wonderful, or time-wasting junk. In both cases, the answer is the same: It depends on how you use it. A day spent watching Planet Earth may be a better use of time than a day watching porn. Just like taking a class online might be more productive than arguing with strangers on Facebook. That said, there were plenty of things worth noticing in tonight’s ep:

* Scully’s password to get into her home is Queequeg. Because of course it is. We’re all reminded of her dog, who I think was eaten by a crocodile.
* Mulder uses “Bigly Credit,” which is an obvious reference to our Bigly POTUS.
* The operator at the all-knowing retailer had an Indian accent. A clear reference to Amazon and their outsourcing of CS reps from India.
* Parody of the Nighthawks painting with all robots in the diner.
* Elon Musk’s statement that AI is more dangerous than a nuclear threat.
* Mulder watching ‘Six Million Dollar Man’ on TV. Somehow a show from the 70s appeared to be letterboxed. Nope.
* The drones showed up during a full moon, either implying or debunking the idea that a full moon inspires mayhem.
* Mulder has that ‘I want to believe’ poster everywhere he works. He must have a bunch of them.
* When Mulder clobbered a drone with a bat, larger drones came to pick that one up and cart it away. Also, drones are awesome.

Mulder doesn’t have much of a bank balance. He also asked why Scully’s house was so much nicer than his. The automated phone call he gets later reminds us that Mulder loooves phonesex. And even if you get a discount as a regular client, that sort of thing isn’t cheap. That wasn’t the only sex joke in the episode though. Scully’s expensive taste also applies to sex toys, as Wi-Fi-enabled vibes aren’t that cheap either. Um, I’ve heard.

All in all, “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” began with silly statements about how funny it is when technology screws up. But as the dearth of other humans becomes more apparent, and the screw-ups become serious and dangerous, “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” winds up with a pretty scary vibe. Computer voices are creepy. Having ice cubes thrown at you can hurt. Drones and parody-Roombas can break your stuff or hurt you physically. Yes, you can 3-D print bullets—but even in Westworld I think you can’t print them with the explosive components already inside. So, minor shenanigans on that. As much as I adore drones, I also don’t think you can fly a swarm of them like the ones inside Mulder’s house—the signals would get jumbled. Maybe that would be different though, if one source was controlling all the drones. Turning the gas on though? Totally possible in that context.

If you’ve ever been put in Facebook jail for a day, you already know the feeling of your tech not working for you. Suddenly you can’t post, comment, see what people are up to, or send & answer messages. I was in FB jail last Boxing Day, and missed an important visit with an out of town friend…all because I was unable to get on Messenger. That’s nothing compared to “Rm9sbG93ZXJz”, but I remember how frustrating and annoying it felt at the time.

I loved the videogame, first-person-shooter perspective during the quadcopter chase. I also kinda wish this had been the episode where one of more Lone Gunmen showed up. Thematically, this episode is a more physical discussion of the themes covered in “This” (S11E2). I did sorta keep waiting for there to be a cause for this that ties together the action. Use of the CSN song “Teach Your Children” made me wonder if this had something to do with William. But no. In the end, the robots were chasing, invading, destroying, and terrifying because they wanted service tips, good ratings, and to make further sales. Anti-climactic, and sort of amusing. In the end, the conclusion is repeated: If we want AI that learns things, we need to be better teachers.

I thought “Rm9sbG93ZXJz” was a solidly written ep. The slow burn that went from amusing, to curious, then on to eerie, and finally to downright scary was a fun progression to watch. Green actors tend to want as much dialogue as possible when they’re starting out. But seasoned performers like Anderson and Duchovny probably appreciated the challenge of doing a lot with very few lines. Mulder tough-talking a drone was chuckleworthy, even though I anthropomorphize my own drones in a major way. I haven’t named them though, so good on me.

Three episodes remain in what many think will be the final season of X-Files. What will we learn about William in that time? Will Mulder find out that he’s not William’s father? How will that go? Can someone finally take out The Cig Smoking Man once and for all? Will Miller and Einstein take over and get a spinoff? Time will tell.

See you’s next week!

The final score: review Very Good
The 411
This week offered some of the best writing in a stand-alone episode yet. Very little dialogue highlighted themes of technology gone awry, stunted human interaction, and how much of your personal information is out there waiting for someone to need it? If you needed another motivation to leave a decent tip, "Rm9sbG93ZXJz" is it.