Skip to main content

You still have 4 hours to leave a tip for the sushi chefs.

The X-Files
11.7: Rm9sbG93ZXJz 
(Followers)

(SPOILERS) A cautionary what if? (or what when?) on our rampant reliance on, and insatiable uptake of, technology, Followers (I’m not quoting all that code every time) ploughs a path of the techno-tomorrow (or tonight) that has met with mixed results in the past (anyone remember First Person Shooter, Gibson be praised?), but here mostly manages to sustain itself despite the slender premise. It’s a quirky episode, bigger on offbeat atmosphere than outright laughs, and works the better for it.


The impression of yet more new blood in the show’s creative department is offset somewhat by the realisation that not only did director Glen Morgan come up with the story, but his wife Kristen Cloke (who appeared in The Field Where I Died, as well as being a regular on Morgan shows Space: Above and Beyond and Millennium and appearing in his movies Final Destination, Black Christmas and Willard) and former assistant Shannon Hamblin garner the teleplay credit; as with Kitten, it seems no one’s coming to The X-Files entirely fresh. Although, season cinematographer Craig Wrobleski, who recently worked on such estimable fare as Legion and Fargo, particularly scores with the look of this one, set in a no-man’s land of not-quite-now, with its entirely automated restaurants, cars and Proteus-eque AI houses; it’s just around the corner enough to be resonant.


Followers is making obvious points, no doubt, but seems moderately less old-man-waving-his-finger than recent episodes weighing in on the state of the crumbling States. As such, it’s one of the few of the last dozen and a half that feel fresh and relevant, rather than having a foot stranded stylistically in the previous century. The near-silent interplay of Mulder and Scully, devoted to their screens, is a nice touch, even more so the instinctive reversion to that condition even after a night of mild trauma, before the good sense of human company gets the better of them.


Sure, you can see this is all going to end with Mulder’s tip being paid – understandably, he baulks at being charged for a blobfish, although that’s more fool him for going to a sushi restaurant in the first place – but the relentless escalation works cogently, particularly when it comes to our complete indebtedness to passwords, invisible currency and gadgets that leave us bereft if they begin to malfunction.


The moral, that “Humans must take care in teaching Artificial Intelligence, or one day, we will be the ones deleted” (“We have to be better teachers”) is perhaps somewhat pat and wide of the beam of threat – the opening sequence references a 2016 chatbot that evolves into a hate machine via Twitter and needs to be switched off, a bot that came up with “Ricky Gervais learned totalitarianism from Adolf Hitler, the inventor of atheism” all on its own, which is a pretty succinct summary of all that is wrong with Ricky Gervais, I’m sure you’ll agree – given it presumes innocent beginnings for such developments. But then, this is an episode that invokes Elon Musk (“AI vastly more of a threat than North Korea”) as its prophet of doom, a man who warns of our imminent peril with one gesture while investing in transhumanism with the next.


AI: What do you believe, Fox? Do you believe what you want? Or do you believe what is true?

A few weeks ago, I suggested Wong was the better director of the two former partners, but on this evidence, Morgan can definitely hold his own and effectively exert a distinctive tone when he so desires. Comparisons to Buffy’s Hush, for the relative verbal restraint, are inevitable, and Black Mirror has also instantly been referenced (although that’s another way of suggesting it’s Twilight Zone-esque). We have Mulder going to bat and Scully revealed as someone who personally massages herself, but it’s a fool’s errand to attempt to make this fit the series’ continuity; it’s just moving along there somewhere, on a parallel course all its own.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

They'll think I've lost control again and put it all down to evolution.

Time Bandits (1981) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam had co-directed previously, and his solo debut had visual flourish on its side, but it was with Time Bandits that Gilliam the auteur was born. The first part of his Trilogy of Imagination, it remains a dazzling work – as well as being one of his most successful – rich in theme and overflowing with ideas while resolutely aimed at a wide (family, if you like) audience. Indeed, most impressive about Time Bandits is that there’s no evidence of self-censoring here, of attempting to make it fit a certain formula, format or palatable template.

I never strangled a chicken in my life!

Rope (1948) (SPOILERS) Rope doesn’t initially appear to have been one of the most venerated of Hitchcocks, but it has gone through something of a rehabilitation over the years, certainly since it came back into circulation during the 80s. I’ve always rated it highly; yes, the seams of it being, essentially, a formal experiment on the director’s part, are evident, but it’s also an expert piece of writing that uses our immediate knowledge of the crime to create tension throughout; what we/the killers know is juxtaposed with the polite dinner party they’ve thrown in order to wallow in their superiority.

Oh, you got me right in the pantaloons, partner.

The Party (1968) (SPOILERS) Blake Edwards’ semi-improvisational reunion with Peter Sellers is now probably best known for – I was going to use an elephant-in-the-room gag, but at least one person already went there – Sellers’ “brown face”. And it isn’t a decision one can really defend, even by citing The Party ’s influence on Bollywood. Satyajit Ray had also reportedly been considering working with Sellers… and then he saw the film. One can only assume he’d missed similar performances in The Millionairess and The Road to Hong Kong ; in the latter case, entirely understandable, if not advisable. Nevertheless, for all the flagrant stereotyping, Sellers’ bungling Hrundi V Bakshi is a very likeable character, and indeed, it’s the piece’s good-natured, soft centre – his fledgling romance with Claudine Longet’s Michele – that sees The Party through in spite of its patchy, hit-and-miss quality.

Never lose any sleep over accusations. Unless they can be proved, of course.

Strangers on a Train (1951) (SPOILERS) Watching a run of lesser Hitchcock films is apt to mislead one into thinking he was merely a highly competent, supremely professional stylist. It takes a picture where, to use a not inappropriate gourmand analogy, his juices were really flowing to remind oneself just how peerless he was when inspired. Strangers on a Train is one of his very, very best works, one he may have a few issues with but really deserves nary a word said against it, even in “compromised” form.

You must have hopes, wishes, dreams.

Brazil (1985) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam didn’t consider Brazil the embodiment of a totalitarian nightmare it is often labelled as. His 1984½ (one of the film’s Fellini-riffing working titles) was “ the Nineteen Eighty-Four for 1984 ”, in contrast to Michael Anderson’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from 1948. This despite Gilliam famously boasting never to have read the Orwell’s novel: “ The thing that intrigues me about certain books is that you know them even though you’ve never read them. I guess the images are archetypal ”. Or as Pauline Kael observed, Brazil is to Nineteen Eighty-Four as “ if you’d just heard about it over the years and it had seeped into your visual imagination ”. Gilliam’s suffocating system isn’t unflinchingly cruel and malevolently intolerant of individuality; it is, in his vision of a nightmare “future”, one of evils spawned by the mechanisms of an out-of-control behemoth: a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. And yet, that is not really, despite how indulgently and glee

Miss Livingstone, I presume.

Stage Fright (1950) (SPOILERS) This one has traditionally taken a bit of a bruising, for committing a cardinal crime – lying to the audience. More specifically, lying via a flashback, through which it is implicitly assumed the truth is always relayed. As Richard Schickel commented, though, the egregiousness of the action depends largely on whether you see it as a flaw or a brilliant act of daring: an innovation. I don’t think it’s quite that – not in Stage Fright ’s case anyway; the plot is too ordinary – but I do think it’s a picture that rewards revisiting knowing the twist, since there’s much else to enjoy it for besides.

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983) (SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bond s in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball , but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again , despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy .

I'm an old ruin, but she certainly brings my pulse up a beat or two.

The Paradine Case (1947) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock wasn’t very positive about The Paradine Case , his second collaboration with Gregory Peck, but I think he’s a little harsh on a picture that, if it doesn’t quite come together dramatically, nevertheless maintains interest on the basis of its skewed take on the courtroom drama. Peck’s defence counsel falls for his client, Alida Valli’s accused (of murder), while wife Ann Todd wilts dependably and masochistically on the side-lines.

You’re easily the best policeman in Moscow.

Gorky Park (1983) (SPOILERS) Michael Apted and workmanlike go hand in hand when it comes to thriller fare (his Bond outing barely registered a pulse). This adaptation of Martin Cruz Smith’s 1981 novel – by Dennis Potter, no less – is duly serviceable but resolutely unremarkable. William Hurt’s militsiya officer Renko investigates three faceless bodies found in the titular park. It was that grisly element that gave Gorky Park a certain cachet when I first saw it as an impressionable youngster. Which was actually not unfair, as it’s by far its most memorable aspect.

I don’t like fighting at all. I try not to do too much of it.

Cuba (1979) (SPOILERS) Cuba -based movies don’t have a great track record at the box office, unless Bad Boys II counts. I guess The Godfather Part II does qualify. Steven Soderbergh , who could later speak to box office bombs revolving around Castro’s revolution, called Richard Lester’s Cuba fascinating but flawed. Which is generous of him.