The X-Files: “This”

The X-Files: “This” January 14, 2018

The second episode of season 11 of the X-Files is simply called “This.” There are lots of criticisms that one could make of it – people involved in a global conspiracy that Mulder previously spent countless years trying to penetrate now seem to leave their locations surprisingly accessible. But perhaps that is a quibble, since the thing that Mulder was looking for on this occasion was something that looked relatively ordinary: a computer server. From the outside, no one would know what it was running, namely a simulated world in which copies of the minds of great thinkers were placed after their deaths, in an effort to get them to do important scientific work.

Richard Langly, one of the Lone Gunmen, was one of those minds, and at the start of the episode he manages to get a message to Mulder from within the simulation, asking him to destroy it. He describes what it is like there, saying it is as though he designed heaven himself: endless hot dogs, consensual sex without blame, the Ramones give regular concerts and never fight, and so on. But he is aware that they are slaves, that their minds are being used to benefit an elite group of people.

One fun moment is when Mulder and Scully try to get back into their offices to look at something in the X-Files, and Skinner tells them that they do not need to go to the office to access the files. They’ve been digitized! The idea that the X-Files “belong to everyone” is striking in the context of this episode, which is about technological democratization and technology being used to maintain power and privilege.

The idea of “heaven” as a simulation where everything is as one wishes it to be is not the only place that religious ideas and imagery come up. Another is the protruding cross on the grave of Deep Throat, Mulder’s longtime contact, whose name is revealed to have been Ronald Pakula. That cross hides a memory medallion which has a picture of the Titanpointe Building – which is, it turns out, where the server is that the simulation runs on.

The most interesting bit of religious imagery is when Mulder offers as the reason why he wants to see the server that it is the closest that he’ll get to seeing God. The idea that God is the platform on which the universe – real or simulated – runs is an ancient one, albeit with a modern spin here. The episode provides a nice set of prompts for conversations about our desire for life eternal and a perfect world, and the possibility that achieving it would not be all its cracked up to be.

The ending of the episode was great, when – after Mulder and Scully had managed to shut down the server, and are finally back at Mulder’s house – a message comes through from Langly on Mulder’s phone once again, this time calling on Mulder to destroy the backup.

Life eternal as a copy of one’s mind in a machine is not limited to one copy or one location.

What did you think of the episode, including but not limited to its exploration of religious ideas? Do you find the idea of living forever in a realm where everything is “perfect” attractive, whether that be a computer simulation, a spiritual realm, or a new earth?

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  • Gary

    “Do you find the idea of living forever in a realm where everything is “perfect” attractive, whether that be a computer simulation…”
    Not if it is a Microsoft Platform. They’ll find some way to really irritate you.

    • Gary

      Although I have a new respect for Apple (even if they may have been forced into it). Everyone with an old iPhone might consider getting a new battery from them for $29, before the end of 2018. I think I might just do that toward the end of the year (but not close to Xmas). My battery is pretty old. Old is not good, for Li ion batteries.

      https://support.apple.com/iphone/repair/battery-power

  • arcseconds

    So Mulder and Scully and the writers think that the right thing to do when a group of people’s lives are being employed to benefit a small elite is to kill them all?

    Wow.

    Well, I suppose that’s one response to slavery and exploitation…

  • arcseconds

    This is another thing to add to the ‘first year philosophy problems brought to life on screen’ file (maybe you need a tag?).

    The thought experiment is called ‘the Experience Machine’ and it appears in Robert Nozick’s (in)famous Anarchy, State and Utopia.

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experience_machine
    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hedonism/
    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/well-being/

  • John MacDonald

    “The episode provides a nice set of prompts for conversations about our desire for life eternal and a perfect world, and the possibility that achieving it would not be all its cracked up to be.”

    This reminds me of the episode of Star Trek Voyager where the ‘Q’ continuum philosopher Quinn wants to commit suicide because the unspeakable boredom of having done and been everything endless, countless times has become unbearable:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIDLl0D9M3o