The X-Files #297: Rm9sbG93ZXJz

"We learn from you."
ACTUAL DOCUMENTED ACCOUNT: Mulder and Scully have a bad night when technology rebels against them.

REVIEW: I can't decide if the teaser opening about the Twitter-bot who becomes sentient and starts spewing hate online is necessary or not. With it, the episode makes its point twice, but perhaps we needed to be prepped for what's about to happen. And despite the warning, so to speak, the lesson doesn't actually register the first time. At first, the opener left me with a grumble that bots were responsible for the terrible state of affairs on social media, not us, but it's actually that we taught it hate. We're the source. What proceeds is an unusual episode of The X-Files, one with very little dialog and no investigation per se, on a topic the show couldn't have done in the original run. It's a Black Mirror episode, essentially, and there's nothing wrong with that.

So the idea is that Mulder and Scully go to a Japanese sushi place that's fully automated. Not only do they tangle with the restaurant itself, but their smart phones, Scully's automated taxi, her smart house, delivery drones, CCTV, all the modern accouterments. Their "date" is visually sterile (if amusing), and they never speak a word. And while there's overtly strange about that - these two know each other inside out and may well feel comfortable enjoying each other's company in silence, expressing everything through gesture - but the subtext is that they interact more with their phones and other machines than each other. It makes us question how often we interact with "bots", knowingly and unknowingly. I know I receive my share of robot calls every day, my fair share of automated emails asking about customer satisfaction. It becomes obvious soon enough, to all but Mulder, that his (understandable) refusal to leave a tip is what made the machines angry. And the more impatient and impolite the characters get, the more things escalate. The ticking clock is literally Mulder's second chance alerts about the tip. The lesson we re-learn then is that these machines are learning from us, and from us they got entitlement, reactionary anger, and revenge. "We need to be better teachers," says Mulder, and that easily carries over to non-bots, and how we feed the cycle of hatred and violence.

Now of course, this plays out as a crazy comedy, perhaps poking fun at the X-Files generation's increasing technophobia, to the point where it's almost in a side-universe. It's really the only time we see our agents asking Siri (or equivalent) for things, Scully's house is so new Mulder has to wonder where it came from, and it ends with drone swarms and a goofy 50s sci-fi robot. None of this seems to be going into an X-file. It's just a crazy night trying a new restaurant. And yet, it's sweet. Mulder and Scully end up in a vibrant, very human diner the next day, and after a moment, put down their phones and connect, in person. It's a bit obvious, but it's cute, and a nice ending to an episode where machine voices and noises (my cat did NOT appreciate) dominated.

REWATCHABILITY: High - A fun and yet metaphorically sound change of pace.

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