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THE X-FILES “Ghouli” Review

By on February 1, 2018

THE X-FILES: L-R: Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny in the “Ghouli” episode of THE X-FILES. Co. Cr: Robert Falconer/FOX






Aboard the rusty Chimera wanders two young women, each staunch in their belief that the other is Ghouli.  When they meet, the other appears to turn into a hideous beast, but once they’ve sliced each other to ribbons with sharp knives and fall to the deck, each is merely a bleeding, fading human.

Hypnagogia is a third state of consciousness between sleeping and waking, characterized by “dreamlike visions and strange sensory perceptions.”  Scully is there, on a stranger’s bed, “compelled to follow the dark figure” which darts from the room.  It leads her to a small snow globe, inside of which is a tiny version of the Chimera.

The two incidents converge when Scully describes her experience to Mulder; he indicates that the ship is at the center of an open x-file.

“Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions,” according to Edgar Cayce, the so-called “sleeping prophet” who, like Scully, had received visions in a hypnagogic state.  Mulder suggests that Scully’s recent experience is an evolution to this from her previous visions that had accompanied seizures.

The two mutilated girls did not know each other previously, so their extreme response suggests to our agents that either they’d covered their connection or that the fear they’d exhibited was a “lizard brain thing” of primal survival.  They’re given the one commonality noted by the EMT who’d found them:  each wanted to know if he’d found “Ghouli.”

Mulder and Scully again manage to find one of the five internet cafes still present on the planet to investigate the Ghouli website, replete with a boring and stereotypical barrage of creatures with “teeth, mucus, probably feed[ing] on human flesh—yawn.”   They notice that most of the fan fiction on the site is written by one person under a pseudonym. 

The girls relay the same experience of how they ended up at the abandoned boat.  Each had experienced the same kind of hypnagogia that Scully has struggled with, down to the sleep paralysis, the stranger’s bed, the inescapable house, and the globe-encased boat.

Both girls share the same boyfriend, too:  Jackson Van de Kamp.

When they arrive at the Van de Kamp home, they hear gunshots and burst inside.  The whole family is dead, and their house is the one that Scully had seen in her visions.  She believes that “he” had called her there, and since we learned in “My Struggle III” that this surname is related to William’s adoption, it is clear that the agents fear that the boy being zipped into the body bag is their son.

THE X-FILES: L-R: Gillian Anderson and guest star Miles Robbins in the “Ghouli” episode of THE X-FILES. Co. Cr: Robert Falconer/FOX

The detective in charge theorizes a murder-suicide with Jackson as the perpetrator of all, but Mulder finds this a bit too “convenient,” apart from the fact that the kid had made the “odd choice” to open a can new of soda before going to kill his parents.  Jackson had been a troubled young man, however, seeing a psychiatrist for schizophrenia or other disorder.  Scully finds medications prescribed to Jackson two months prior, serious anti-psychotics that he’d not been taking.

Scully goes to visit Jackson’s doctor, who denies that her patient would have wanted harm to come to his parents or to himself.  She did affirm that he had experienced visions, but she was reluctant to elaborate.  But she needn’t bother, for his visions were exactly what Scully had shown us—basically all of season ten:  a mass contagion spreading across the country, requiring a vaccine via the combination of alien and human DNA, the key to which was Jackson himself, culminating in a UFO hovering over the 14th Street bridge.

At the hospital, Scully is awakened by the coroner looking for Jackson’s body.  It’s disappeared, apparently through a window in the morgue.  She wants to believe that he is alive, but Mulder advises caution—hope can be a dangerous weapon. 

They return to Jackson’s room and, before their investigation is derailed by the DOJ, find his secret computer that contains hundreds of posts to the Ghouli website and backdoor entry to DOD files, one of which is for the top-secret Project Crossroads.

When Skinner calls him to demand updates, Mulder assures Walter that the DOJ charges that have been filed against them will come to nothing since the DOD is involved in a conspiracy that they themselves are trying to cover up.  In Skinner’s office is our dear old friend, the Cigarette-Smoking Man, Carl Bush himself.  Unfazed, Carl announces that Mulder will no doubt seek information on Project Crossroads and “he will be able to find what we’ve been looking for.”

THE X-FILES: Gillian Anderson in the “Ghouli” episode of THE X-FILES. Co. Cr: Shane Harvey/FOX

Mulder tells Scully that the blood spatter at the crime scene indicates that the Van De Kamps were killed by two shooters, likely the DOD agents who had been following them.  Then, working off his information from Skinner, he tells her that she was an unwitting part of Project Crossroads and that their son was one of the test subjects who knew he was being hunted, so he “created an alternate reality” and played dead, making sure that they heard the gunshot and found him upstairs with a fake hole in his head.

Where is their quarry now?  At the hospital visiting his girlfriends to apologize.  He confesses to making up everything on the Ghouli website and for misusing his “power” to project images in to other people’s heads.  He’d not been able to control it, and the seizures he’d experienced had been painful, but he’d been able “to share it” with “this woman…maybe [his] birth mother.”

The DOD agents arrive in the hospital to apprehend him, but he is able to elude them when he conjures up the Ghouli monster to make one shoot the other.  Soon the floor is crawling with agents, and Jackson is able to escape for good by making Mulder and Scully see him as a blonde nurse, and he scurries away undetected.

Our Little Monsters

The ship is the key to this episode’s relevance—not its crumbling hull, but its name.  A chimera is conglomeration, a mythical creature pieced together with parts from other animals, like the head of a lion and the body of a goat.

It is a monster.

But true monsters aren’t Ghoulis.  A monster is simply an unnatural figure, one who owes its existence to some kind of aberration from Nature’s traditional path.  It is not bent upon inciting hysteria, only inspiring terror because of humanity’s depressing penchant for fearing that which is different.  Often, it is an undeserving vessel for ugly realities we cannot accept about ourselves.

Mulder longs for a time when creatures of tales could not only inspire a degree of fear, but also allowed for some “emotional investment,” a bit of pathos with which an audience can relate.  Poor Frankenstein, for instance, is “afraid of fire and all he wanted was a friend.”  What’s not to love about that?

It is no surprise, really, for what becomes clear is that Mulder and Scully are both monsters in their own right.   Mulder has been an outsider for nearly his whole career, devoted to theories that have earned him nothing but derision from the FBI mainstream; the only person who could stand him is a woman who was kidnapped, tested upon, rendered barren, then impregnated unexpectedly as part of a secret government program to save the world from a devastating apocalypse.

And Jackson?  He is taken away from his natural parents, thus not afforded a traditional upbringing in that sense—oh, and he has the power to force-project images into the minds of others.

THE X-FILES: Guest star Miles Robbins in the “Ghouli” episode of THE X-FILES. Co. Cr: Shane Harvey/FOX

Above the boy’s bed is a poster of Malcom X, a man who rejected the oppression of white mainstream traditions and refused his family surname to not dignify the slave label given to his ancestors.  It sports the quote, “The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.”  Scully wonders if Jackson had related to the disconnectedness of the civil rights hero as he himself did not feel linked to his adopted family, driving him to allegedly kill his parents and then himself.

Scully takes a snip of Jackson’s hair for DNA testing, then sits down to tell this kid, whether it is hers or not, what she needs to say:  “I’m sorry.  I’m so sorry that I didn’t get a chance to know you, or you get a chance to know me or your father.  I gave you up for adoption not because I didn’t want you or because you were any less loved; I was trying to keep you safe…Maybe I should’ve had the courage to stand by you, but I thought I was being strong because it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, to let go and to know that I was going to miss your whole life.  But, it turns out, this is the hardest thing—to see the outcome and how I’ve failed you…”

Mulder arrives to console her and take her away.  Just in time for Jackson to push his way out of his body bag and crack his neck.

Skinner goes to the Chimera to meet Mulder, warning him to drop the investigation. It seems the crime didn’t start on that boat, but decades ago when the decision was made to make alien-human hybrids.   This program, Project Crossroads, was deemed a failure when the scientists were unable to predict what attributes would be exhibited by their test subjects.  One of these subjects was Jackson Van de Kamp, which DNA testing has now proven is William Mulder.

THE X-FILES: L-R: Gillian Anderson and guest star Miles Robbins in the “Ghouli” episode of THE X-FILES. Co. Cr: Shane Harvey/FOX

Each painful twist helps to explain why we are still rooting for these characters as we stumble with them through their bizarre and encumbered lives.  What do they want?  To find each other, to be forgiven, to have love.  The Mulders are disconnected from their society but strongly linked to one another, tortured by the paradox that has been thrust upon them by powers beyond their control.  At the very least, this should engender sympathy, if not empathy, for the dark periphery they’ve been forced to inhabit.

As the agents hit the road again, they stop for gas, and Scully sees the same man she’d spoken to outside the hospital once before.  After he leaves, she pegs him as the author of The Pick-up Artist, the book they’d found in Jackson’s room.  Then, Mulder realizes that the man’s parting words of advice, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything,” is a quote from Malcolm X.

They rush to take a look at the station’s surveillance video, which plainly shows Scully talking to her son.  The grateful look on both parents’ faces for this small gift is enough pathos to warm any monster’s heart.

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