“He loved the work Mr. Mulder. His mistake was in sharing it with an immoral government. I won’t make the same mistake.” – Brad Wilczek
The agents are summoned to help Mulder’s former partner look into a murder at a software company, and soon realize they have a case of killer artificial intelligence on their hands.Radhika: This episode is a bit of a ho-hum, dull early episode for me. It’s not quite “The Jersey Devil” bad, but it’s just not particularly compellingly done. Here, we have a case of artificial intelligence — the central operating system for a software company — gone horribly wrong, killing to protect itself. The company’s founder, Brad Wilczek, is like a sloppy Steve Jobs character — a little scruffy, a fan of eastern philosophies, a guy who founded his company in his parents’ garage and once spent a year following The Grateful Dead.
None of this is particularly original, and minus a few final minutes of tension where Mulder and Scully find themselves facing off with the machine, the episode isn’t particularly suspenseful.
This episode does have some parallels to “Squeeze” with the introduction of Mulder’s former partner, Jerry, who asks the agents for their input on the case. Jerry winds up lifting part of Mulder’s profile and presenting it as his own, but minus a brief confrontation between the two characters, we don’t get to see the relationship play out much further as Jerry ends up getting killed by the machine. It all feels a little half-hearted compared to “Squeeze,” where we got to see Scully’s evolving relationship and eventual break from her former colleague Tom Colton.
On the other hand, at least we do get the return of Deep Throat in this episode. While it’s not a mythology story, it’s nice to have one of Mulder’s informants and the idea of vast government conspiracies looming over the show, even in a subpar Monster-of-the-Week episode.
Max: This episode is the first in several that pop up throughout the series that deal with technology and artificial intelligence. Before I rewatched this episode, I recalled liking it more than I did once I sat down to write about it. It is not a terrible episode though, and it does have a few effective moments (like the climactic confrontation Radhika mentioned above).
At the very least, it is part of an emerging corpus about the explosion in technology that occurred in the early 1990s, and how innovations like the World Wide Web were beginning to enter the everyday lives of people. The magazine Wired had begun being published earlier in the year, and soon the heyday of America Online would help usher in the first era of Internet integration. Anxieties about technology in our culture go back to such works as Metropolis in the 1920s and Desk Set in the 1950s, and works such as “Ghost In The Machine” are made of the same cloth.
This being said, aesthetically there are some choices in this episode that are very novel. A lot of what goes on is experienced through computer screens and television monitors, and the difference in appearance of each kind of footage (notably the kind coming from the security cameras) is an interesting direction in the episode.
In the end though, this entry is mostly a footnote in the history of the series, merely another example of the kinds of government overreach that are a staple of The X-Files.