Season 1, Episode 7: “Ghost in the Machine”
The “Monster-of-the-week” episodes usually fall into three categories: a human with a genetic mutation (like Eugene Victor Tooms), some sort of creature of the night, usually from the paranormal or from folk legend, or technology/science gone haywire. “Ghost in the Machine” falls into the latter category.
As an X-Files episode, “Ghost in the Machine” is okay. As an Artificial Intelligence episode, it’s not particularly special or different. The X-Files is often lumped into the science fiction genre, and although doing so isn’t necessarily inaccurate, The X-Files is still rooted in the modern day world (or the modern day world of the 1990’s). It also is in many respects a fantasy show, since the paranormal, by definition, involves things that can’t be explained by science. And of course, it is very much a drama show, with Mulder and Scully at the center.
That is why “Ghost in the Machine” isn’t that exciting an episode, especially if you’re someone who’s familiar with the science fiction genre. There have been many other Artificial Intelligence stories that are simply more interesting and told better. Star Trek, for example, has dozens of episodes about technology gone haywire, and I feel that it’s just a storyline that fits in better with that sort of setting. The machine in “Ghost in the Machine” is not particularly frightening, and it very much feels like a rip-off of HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, albeit a very watered-down version of HAL.
The substory in this episode is Mulder working with his former partner, a sorry agent named Jerry Lamana. Jerry is a rather unrealistic character, as he is a careless and not really very bright. He’s kind of in trouble for having misplaced evidence that ended up hurting a federal judge. Now he’s trying to prove himself a worthy agent again – by stealing Mulder’s behavioral profile of the killer in the Eurisko case. That’s not smart. Mulder could report his ass to the FBI and quick as a flash Jerry would be out of a job. Or hell, even if Mulder didn’t have the guts to do it, Scully would – although admittedly she doesn’t appear too concerned about it, which seems out of character. Now, before we go on, let me make one thing clear. The odds of becoming an FBI agent aren’t exactly in most people’s favor. You can’t just waltz into the FBI Academy and expect to be handed a badge and a gun. They don’t let stupid people into the FBI, and they take a lot of care in making sure they don’t. That doesn’t mean FBI agents never make mistakes or stupid decisions, but Jerry Lamana seems below average even in the context of normal FBI imperfection. In the real world, Jerry would probably have been fired for misplacing evidence. There would have been no second chance for him. I don’t know what he was thinking when he took Mulder’s profile – unless it was that Mulder is a wuss, which, disappointingly, he ends up being.
This continues the first season theme of Mulder being stepped on by jealous males in law enforcement – men who are envious of Mulder’s brilliance and good looks. The whole problem with this is that 1) it really feels like the show is trying to drill into our brains that Mulder is brilliant, something they never do for Scully; 2) However brilliant Mulder might be, for some reason he’s never willing to stand up for himself; and 3) Mulder has no ambition. He’s already in the basement. These jealous FBI agents are letting themselves get twisted up in a knot about a guy who’s literally removed himself from the FBI mainstream, eliminated any chance of rising in FBI rank, and involved himself in cases most people wouldn’t waste a spare second of time on. Mulder is out of the way, folks. He is in the basement – and he’s happy to be there.
And the worst part of all of this is, it never goes anywhere. After Jerry is killed by the machine, they barely mention him – or the problems he brought to Mulder – ever again. It might be a more interesting or appropriate conflict if the show ever did something with it, but they simply bring these sort of situations involving Mulder up to explain how brilliant Mulder is, and then they forget about them. It’s irritating, especially sense they never do that for Scully, and we’ve well established that she’s got just as big a brain as Mulder.
Some positive things: I really enjoyed the character Brad Wilczek, as you might have guessed from by quote-in-the-box. He was just the sort of nerdy, slightly despicable computer genius that I like, like a Lone Gunmen member gone slightly wrong. I also like the scene where Scully crawls through the vent and shoots the fan. There is a super great DFWS (please see the “Deep Throat” review if you’re not sure what this is).
All in all, “Ghost in the Machine” is not particularly remarkable, either for its science fiction or its substory. It’s just a watered down artificial intelligence story.
Final score for “Ghost in the Machine” is 3/10 stars. Not a very creative or impressive episode.
- Ugh. There aren’t many. The DFWS moment is admittedly pretty awesome. And we do have the first time Mulder wears sunglasses (which I love). Other than that, I got nothin’.