X-Files Flashback: ‘Kill Switch’

Kill Switch

Season 5, Episode 11
Director: Rob Bowman
Writer: William Gibson, Tom Maddox

Following an episode penned by a horror writer (Stephen King), “Kill Switch” features similarly famous authorship – popularly proclaimed cyberpunk pioneers William Gibson (Neuromancer) and Tom Maddox (Halo). As a result of Chris Carter’s heavy-handed influence, the episodes are able to remain faithful to the overall characters and standard storylines while providing a spin unique to the authors’ sensibilities. Would I call “Kill Switch” a more successful outing than “Chinga?” Not necessarily. “Kill Switch” is cleaner and more efficient, yet it misses something in the end since it lacks a central villain. Sure, “Chinga” lacked a flesh-and-blood villain as well, but the creepy doll is a far better villain than a faceless computer entity.

The episode begins with an elaborate sequence in which a man huddles over a laptop in a deserted diner. In subsequent vignettes, a series of criminals and U.S. Marshals are called and informed that someone – all of them different names – is waiting in the same diner. When the disparate groups come together, a shoot-out ensues, and the man (Donald Gelman, a pre-Bill Gates visionary) with the computer is murdered. Mulder and Scully arrive and take the man’s laptop which contains a mysterious CD. They take the information to the Lone Gunmen, but they are unable to determine what the CD actually does thanks to advanced computing algorithms that they cannot crack. When they search Donald’s email, they uncover the identity of an associate – Invisigoth.

Invisigoth (Kristin Lehman) is tracked to a shipping container, and she attacks Mulder and Scully when they attempt to question her. They apprehend her just before a beam of light shoots from the sky and blows up the container. Invisigoth claims this is Donald’s artificial intelligence creation that he uploaded into the Internet to learn and grow – kind of an evil variation of Her. The rest of the episode involves Invisigoth, Mulder, and Scully trying to find Invisigoth’s former partner and the central location of the artificial intelligence which apparently needed to build itself a central hub to thrive. All roads lead to a seemingly abandoned trailer that just happens to have a T3 connection leading into it. As one does… Inside the trailer, the computer reigns supreme and is able to capture Mulder in a convenient human-trapping device. Thus begins an intriguing sequence in which, as we later discover, the computer simulates a realistic environment for Mulder, convincing him he’d lost both arms and was being cared for by slutty nurses. In the end, Scully and Invisigoth find Mulder and rescue him with Invisigoth managing to upload her thoughts and consciousness into the Internet.

“Kill Switch” is a fine exercise in technological suspense. It feels authentic and within the realm of possibility thanks to Gibson and Maddox’s contributions. But, outside of Mulder’s amusing and intriguing virtual reality sequence, there really isn’t anything that drives suspense in the traditional way. The down side to having realistic computer circumstances is that the audience somewhat gets trapped in all the computer jargon, and the human interactions necessary for suspense simply aren’t there. Plus, with a faceless computer entity who can track you at any given moment as your enemy, what’s the point? To some, this may be scary, but to me, it’s an exercise in futility. I’m not saying a technological entity couldn’t be threatening, but, with all due respect, Gibson and Maddox haven’t really created a foe that threatens. Maybe in their world, it does. But in the flesh and blood world of The X-Files, the drama needs something to focus on, an entity to drive our fears. Chips and lines of code won’t scare us. Not today anyway.

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