Ghost in the Machine

GhostInTheMachine134

Despite the memorable blooper gags from the elevator scene, I remembered this as a rather plodding episode, with kitsch, but little content, but I was wrong.  It’s not mesmerizing, but it’s not a Space dud either.  I’d heard of Apple when I first saw this show, but the similarity between Brad Wilczek, who started the company in his parents’ garage, and Steve Jobs completely eluded me then.  I probably didn’t even know who Jobs was, much less grasp the similarity between the surnames Wilczek and Wozniak.

We see computer developer Brad fired by the head of the company at the start of the show.  The company has installed a “Smart Home” (did they exist back in 1993? Wow!) system in the building, the same type that Brad has at his home.  It controls the building’s lights, elevators, temperature and so much more.  It is recording the argument between Brad and the owner.  When Brad leaves, the owner goes into the bathroom to check on an overflowing sink.  He’s locked in and when he tries to open the door with his key he’s electrocuted and killed.

I merged this show with some other one in my head.  I remembered that Mulder’s partner was in this one, but thought his former partner was Reggie, not Jerry.  I also thought this was the episode where we’d flashback and see Mulder using the giant cell phone from years past.  It’s not.  Jerry worked with Mulder in the past, Mulder explains (but Jerry reminds us they were partners, not just colleague) and was overshadowed by Mulder’s brilliance.

Jerry needs Mulder’s help to help him crack the Erisko computer case.  He’s being reviewed by a supervisor that Scully remembers agents used to call, “The Iron Maiden” and he wants to make an impression.  Scully wonders why Mulder and Jerry parted.  Mulder says it’s because he was a pain the ass.  No, really Scully probes.  “I’m not a pain in the ass?”  I do remember that line from Mulder!  Mulder says that Jerry had aspirations of working on the 5th floor, as an FBI head.  And what did Mulder want, Scully asks?  Oh, he was always aiming for a beautiful basement office, with no heat.

Of course, this episode just furthers the image we’ve already gotten of Mulder, hugely talented, envied for his prowess, but “wasting it all” to chase weird cases, rather than the ones that will make his career.  Scully knows this about Mulder already, so instead of asking what his aspirations were, I wonder what hers are.  There are things more important to her than promotions and prestige.  She wants respect, which is something she doesn’t get as Mulder’s partner.  She doesn’t want to be ridiculed by her peers, but doesn’t want their admiration at the expense of ethics.  She has integrity, loyalty and she can appreciate Mulder’s brilliance for it’s own sake — almost as a science — rather than for all the goals it failed to achieve.

It’s funny how even though Mulder never challenged them for the positions they were striving for when he wasn’t, he’s still resented by all of his peers, due to the leaps his mind can make, while theirs are just going through the motions.

Mulder meets Brad who asks him if he knows what Erisko means.  It’s greek, Mulder says.  “I learn.”  Not quite, it means, “I discover.” At Erisko headquarters Mulder wonders who could control the Smart Home computer system.  Brad could, who else.  He never gets a direct answer.  People just keep telling him that very few could access the computer.  The building manager tells Mulder that he’s just a glorified superintendent.  Yes, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how to access the computer.  To me, he didn’t answer the question directly.

As they rode up in the building elevator, it jolted.  Scully falls to the floor and Mulder reaches over to catch her.  His “are you ok?” sounds so tender to my shipping ears.  As the elevator continues to ascend, he reaches out to pat her arm.

Watching these early shows, it’s easy to spy the little ticks that convinced the world that these two people have chemistry.  For one thing, I don’t know how Gillian speaks at home when she yells at her kids, but for acting she modulates her voice in a certain way, so that she often sounds pretty sexy even when she’s just discussing the weather.  She also breathes quite audibly.  She keeps this habit in check on TXF more than in other roles (i.e. House of Mirth) but in this episode, there’s lots of exhaling, which is vaguely sensual.  Additionally, For this season Gillian has a haircut where the front curls are always brushing her forehead and eyes.  One can imagine a constant urge to just reach over and pull it back — which Mulder does do in later years, when she faints, falls asleep and whatnot.  I can just see how he probably always wanted to do that, but held back for so long.  I recall Diana Spencer first emerging on the scene and the public called her “Shy Di” because she was always hiding behind her hair or looking up from under it.  Scully doesn’t play such coy, feminine games.  She never flips her head to knock the hair back, but when she looks through it and purses her lips, there’s a sexiness about it, even when she’s in a boxy business suit (designed to hide Gillian’s pregnancy).

Those pursed lips are another thing.  David said that he figured Scully wanted Mulder, because she always had her mouth open.  She doesn’t actually.  More often she presses her lips together, in consternation and in suppressed humor.  She might not smile widely at Mulder a lot, but her eyes smile (as Tyra Banks has taught her) when her mouth doesn’t.  Or her lips do, when her words don’t.  At any rate, she smiles enough at Mulder in these early months that I don’t know how he could not divine she has a thing for him, profiler that he is.

Mulder profiles the case and finds his papers missing.  Scully chides him for never cleaning his desk, making it impossible to find anything.  She also tells him that they’re late for a meeting and hands him his jacket (far from the last time he will do so).  She is already playing a rather domestic role with him.  I like the way they were in a lunch line when Jerry first approached them and she was carrying and buying lunch for both of them ($8.50) when Jerry insisted that he would pay.  Scully and Mulder already have quite a routine.

At the meeting, Jerry presents Mulder’s profile as his own.  Scully recognizes it, but Mulder tells her it doesn’t matter and urges her to keep quiet.  Afterwards, Mulder asks Jerry what he thought he was doing and even shoves him a little.  Jerry gives him one of those, “it’s always so easy for you” speeches and Mulder says, “You could have just asked.”  That’s true and that’s what gets me angry with Jerry.  Mulder has so little ego when it comes to earning brownie points and everyone knows that about him, so I don’t know why Jerry had to steal the profile and then give Mulder the “what are you complaining about” spiel when he’s caught — as he knew he would be.  It makes me mad enough that I wish Scully had told Jerry off and Mulder too, for letting it happen.  Once someone crosses you, stop trying to help them.

Mulder and Scully do voice analysis and conclude that the robotic voice that called the Erisko CEO just before he died was Brad’s.  Jerry immediately wants to go and arrest him. Mulder offers to accompany him, but Jerry says he needs this and wants to go alone.  He is killed when the building’s elevator crashes to the ground and I’m pretty happy about it, although not as happy as when Amanda Peet falls to her death in I Want To Believe.

Brad was in the building at the time, on camera and Mulder doesn’t think he would have let himself be filmed, if he was the killer.  Scully tells him that he’s taking Jerry’s death harder than he might realize and maybe he should talk to someone.  She pulls him aside to say this by pushing lightly at his arm. He responds quickly by walking backwards so she gets him to move without  really having to apply any force.  He yields.  She’s telling him that she thinks he’s bonkers, really and it reminds me of X-Cops when she pulls at him, as the reality cameras roll, and he says that he knows she’s concerned he’ll look crazy and she counters that she’s concerned that she’ll look crazy.  But it’s an echo of their exchange here.  Mulder knows early on that Scully is concerned for him and his reputation even when he isn’t.  She cares about his physical, mental and social well-being, when he doesn’t.  From the start, she gives him the only reason he has to take care of himself.

She tells him he should see someone.  He doesn’t deny being crazy or argue with her.  He just nods — so many times the only answer he’ll provide — and heads off.  Where are you going, she wants to know, as always:  “to see someone.”  People make Christ-like comparisons to Mulder (as Chris Carter intends in the later years) and one of the ways he’s like Jesus is that he can never be bothered to give direct answers to anything.  Jesus was kind of sarcastic.  I wonder what Scully was thinking when Mulder walked off.  I’m sure she knew he wasn’t headed to make an appointment to see a psychiatrist.

That night she’s awakened by her computer modem going off (oh, remember those?) and she realizes that someone is accessing her system.  She has the FBI do a trace.  It leads her to Erisko and she heads off there, which just happens to be where Mulder is.  He’s talked to Brad who plead guilty to Jerry’s murder even though he wasn’t.  Brad doesn’t want to work for the government.  He doesn’t want his invention to destroy the world like Oppenheimer’s did (Hiroshima).  Mulder convinces him that it’s better to destroy the invention, rather than just burying his head in the sand.  Brad was the one who designed the famous chess playing computer that learned to think on its own.  The government wants him to keep developing such technology for it, no matter what destruction it might cause.  Mulder tells him there’s only one way to stop this.  Brad gives Mulder a virus to use to disable the computer.

Mulder wants to know what Scully is doing there.  I do too.  She didn’t know where Mulder was.  Why would she go there without backup?  I’m glad she had a reason to be there other than just following him though.  She’d written her case notes on her home computer and the Erisko system had been reading and erasing them.  I don’t know why because she wasn’t close to the truth about the Erisko system being self-aware and plotting to take over the world, so she wasn’t really a threat to it.

In the parking lot, the parking gate falls on their car.  “Mulder!”  She screams. They can’t use the deadly elevator system, so they climb up 29 flights of stairs to access the computer. The lights in the stairwell go off, “Mulder,” she says. Just Mulder.  It’s not an expression of fear.  If it’s a question, he doesn’t ever bother answering her.  So, I’m not quite sure what it is.  They bring out their trusty flashlights.  They are at the door to the 29th floor, but Mulder stops Scully from touching it.  She could have gotten electrocuted like the Erisko head had.  The door is wired, just as Mulder thought.  He thinks she might be able to drop down and open the door from the other side, if he hoists her into the elevator shaft.  She gets in, but as she gets close to an exit, a vacuum fan knocks her down the shaft.  She is about to fall down to her death, if she can’t stop the force of the fan.  She shoots at the blades and disables it.

Meanwhile, the door to the 29th floor is opened for Mulder, but not by Scully, by the building superintendent.  The guy gives him access to the computer, but just when Mulder unlocks it and is about to insert the virus, the superintendent pulls a gun on him.  He works for the higher ups in government and they want self-aware computers that will help them destroy the world.  So, he is not going to let Mulder disable it.  I am a little miffed that Mulder hasn’t given a second thought to Scully.  Where’d he think she went.  Wasn’t he concerned that she was stuck in the elevator shaft so long?  Apparently not.  So, he doesn’t deserve it when she busts in, aims at the superintendent and tells him to put down his gun.  The guy urges her that she’s helping her government by saving the computer and that she’ll hurt her own career if she lets Mulder infect it.  She is bruised and panting and she looks like she is wavering and uncertain, but she tells Mulder to put in the computer disc and it looks like the virus is working, as it erases everything.

Mulder and Scully look at each other.  It’s not relief that they exchange, exactly.  Not triumph.  Certainly not fear that they did the wrong thing.  Just a glance that says, “It’s done.”  But of course it’s not.  Even when they dismantle the computer, we still see a blinking light that indicates it’s not quite dead yet.

Meanwhile, the government is still holding Brad hostage.  Mulder doesn’t think Brad will do their bidding and program for them, but Deep Throat says the loss of his freedom will do strange things to a man.  The government might break Brad’s will after all.

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