"Ghost in the Machine"
Written by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa
Directed by Jerrold Freedman
In which Mulder and Scully encounter a terrifying artificial intelligence…and unfortunately, it’s the writers…
Synopsis - Analysis - Memorable Quotes - Observations
"Ask her what she's wearing..."
The episode begins as two men argue in a high-rise office. Brad Wilczek is arguing with Benjamin Drake about his decision to cut the research and development budget in half. Drake argues that Eurisko needs to head in a new direction, and that the company is no longer Brad’s to manage. Brad storms out, and Drake resumes writing his report to the stockholders. His main suggestion for the company reorganization is the elimination of the COS project, Brad’s automated building operating system.
Unfortunately, the COS intercepts the report. When Drake goes into his private bathroom, he finds the floor covered in water. The phone in the bathroom rings, and when Drake picks up, the voice gives the time. As soon as Drake hears the message, the lights go out and the door slams shut. When his keycard doesn’t work, Drake tries the manual release. He is tossed across the room by an enormous electrical discharge, which kills him.
The next day, Mulder and Scully are greeted by another agent named Jerry Lamana as they are buying sandwiches from the lunch cart. Jerry turns out to be Mulder’s partner at one point during his time on the VCU. In the basement office, Lamana tells Mulder and Scully about the Drake’s death. He mentions that he’s floated Mulder’s name past the woman running the investigation, but Mulder balks, explaining that they are no longer on general assignment. But Lamana insists on Mulder’s help, claiming that it might help him regain some credibility.
At Eurisko HQ, Mulder explains to Scully that Lamana had been his partner, but moved on, looking for advancement opportunities. Unfortunately, Lamana’s career just about ended when he botched a hate crimes case, and a federal judge was crippled. As they begin the elevator ride up to the scene of the crime, the elevator begins having trouble and stops abruptly. Scully uses the emergency phone to report the incident, but as soon as she gives her name, the elevator resumes. Little does she know, but the COS has looked up her listed phone number using her name.
At the scene of the crime, it’s been determined that a servo switch in the nearby wall panel, which allows live current to run through the manual release (don’t ask), has been tripped. The building engineer, Claude Peterson, explains that only someone who knew how to override the COS could have tripped the servo. Mulder asks for a list of the people who would know how to access the COS. At the same time, Mulder asks whether or not the COS monitors all phone lines, noting that the phone is off the hook.
Back at the office, Mulder tries to find his notes for the criminal profile he’s been working on to help Lamana. When he attends the investigation squad meeting, he soon finds out. Lamana passes off Mulder’s profile as his own work. After the meeting, Mulder confronts Lamana, who is less than contrite. Apparently Lamana is feeling a great deal of pressure to “make good”. As Lamana walks off, Scully gives Mulder the list of people who could access the COS. It has one name on it: Brad Wilczek.
They drive to Wilczek’s house, which is a huge, sprawling estate. Wilczek is waiting for them, having expected that he would be the logical suspect. Wilczek explains that he developed Eurisko out of his parents’ garage, only to see it taken away by corporate minds like Drake. He also shows them a private version of the COS, which runs his home. Wilczek admits that he could have committed the crime, but he wants to figure out what happened as much as anyone.
That night, Scully types out her preliminary report on her home computer. Turning off the computer, she starts getting ready for bed. In the other room, the computer turns itself on and her report begins to appear on the screen. The COS is apparently downloading Scully’s case report for inspection.
The next morning, Lamana goes to Mulder to apologize. Lamana feels as though he was just resting on Mulder’s stunning work on the VCU, and that his own skills as an agent are meager in comparison. Scully interrupts the conversation with news that the recording which gave the time over the bathroom phone matches the voice identification for Brad Wilczek. Lamana decides to bring in Wilczek himself, so he can play the hero. Mulder lets him go.
Later that evening, Lamana is running surveillance on Wilczek when he sees the man frantically run to his car. The COS is not letting him access the system remotely. Wilczek goes back to the Eurisko building, and Lamana follows him. Wilczek goes up to the main control room for the COS and finds that he now has access. The computer shows him when Lamana enters the elevator, and then makes Wilczek watch as the elevator suddenly drops 16 floors, killing Lamana.
The next day, Scully finds Mulder reviewing the video recording of the “accident”. Mulder tells Scully that he’s not sure that Wilczek is the killer, based on the man’s frantic behavior in the control room. But Wilczek has just signed a confession. Mulder is stunned, but when he goes to meet with Wilczek, he finds that the Department of Defense has blocked his access.
Mulder finds a way to meet with Deep Throat, his informant. Mulder wants to why the DOD wants Wilczek. Deep Throat explains that the DOD wants to acquire artificial intelligence, and that Wilczek is considered to be their best chance at achieving that goal.
Mulder meets with Wilczek, having figured out that the COS was responsible for Drake’s murder. Wilczek tells Mulder that he would rather go to prison than be forced to create a machine that would be used to harm others. Mulder gives him another option: to destroy the COS and clear his own name. Scully doesn’t buy it, thinking that Mulder is only doing this because of Lamana’s death. But Mulder doesn’t listen, and he delivers a laptop to Wilczek so the man can develop a virus program.
That night, Scully is awakened when her phone rings. All she hears is the sound of a modem downloading data over the phone line. She notices that her computer is being accessed, and calls for a trace on the number. She finds Mulder outside the Eurisko building, and tells him that something has been scanning her computer files. Scully apparently now accepts Mulder’s version of the truth.
They attempt to just drive into the parking lot, but the COS promptly drops the security gate on the hood of the car. They run into a stairwell, but the COS tracks them there as well. Scully is about to open the door to the floor for the control room when Mulder stops her. Sure enough, it’s been reconfigured to kill as well. Mulder blocks the security camera, and then sends Scully into the ventilation shaft to find a way into the next room. From there, she can open the door safely.
As Scully crawls around aimlessly from duct to duct, the door opens. It’s Peterson, the building engineer. As Scully finds herself getting pulled towards an overachieving booster fan, Peterson takes Mulder to the COS control room. As Scully fights for her life, Mulder uses a small device to gain access to the COS. As soon as he is about to pop in the disk with the virus program, Peterson pulls a gun on him.
Peterson is apparently working for the DOD, and has been looking for a way to access the COS for two years. Mulder has now provided him with that access. Just as Mulder is about to be defeated, Scully walks into the room, looking a bit disheveled from her experience in the ventilation ducts. With Scully covering him, Mulder downloads the virus, and the COS is apparently rendered harmless.
A few days later, Mulder meets with Deep Throat again. Mulder’s been calling on favors with his benefactors in the Congress and elsewhere, but there’s no sign of Wilczek. Deep Throat tells him that Wilczek has been locked away by the DOD, until they can convince him to work with them to develop the artificial intelligence. However, for now, Mulder’s plan worked. Peterson’s team hasn’t found anything. But in the Eurisko control room, as Peterson reports on his repeated failures, hidden lights begin to flicker. The COS may have survived after all…
Any analysis of this episode is much like finding the silver lining in a tornado. There’s simply not much to find, and what is there is fleeting at best, while the rest just runs rampant over whatever might be termed “enjoyable”. The fact is, the premise and overall illogic of this episode is so overwhelmingly bad that it’s difficult to find a reason to watch it more than once…and then, only to wonder what possessed the writers to even consider some of the choices they made!
As much as I despise the character of Jerry Lamana, he does introduce an interesting side to Mulder’s predicament. Here is an agent that has lost so much personal clout that he needs to latch onto the pariah of the VCU to gain back some credibility. And we see here that Mulder is still considered to be a skilled profiler, even though he has been shunned by the unit in general.
The other interesting aspect to this episode is the ongoing idea that the DOD and other agencies are actively working on some conspiracy or perhaps even several. We know from later seasons that it’s all supposed to be a part of the same project, and this has already been suggested by the connection between the “alien” technology and the Pentagon.
Developing an artificial intelligence could be more important to the overall mythology than appears at first glance. If the DOD has been trying to reverse-engineer apparent alien technology to provide some means of defense against a specific threat, then they would also want to emulate the automated command structures of those recovered craft. We already know that the UFOs related to the Colonists and Rebels have some kind of self-repair capability, and that would involve a kind of artificial intelligence in and of itself.
It’s probable that at this point, even with the recent “success” of the secret super-soldier project (which would have been in existence for 3 years or so by this episode), that there would be continued research into developing weapons and defenses that could be deployed unmanned.
Another possible use of artificial intelligence could be the so-called “vaccine”, which is supposed to counteract the “black oil” virus in later seasons. Keeping in mind that the black oil virus is apparently intelligent and self-adaptive, any counter-agent would have to have the exact same qualities. An artificial intelligence could provide the necessary technology (along with the nanotechnology of later seasons) to effectively fight a virus that can simply change itself to defeat a normal vaccine.
But all of this is speculation based on a general topic, not the specific events of this episode. After all, the artificial intelligence presented here does some amazing things. Most of them are completely impossible or simply silly. Defeating it should have been easy, since it’s reach was mostly confined to the building. Also, Mulder and Scully make some truly stupid choices in this episode, the kinds of choices that don’t make sense.
Add to that the terrible acting by the supporting cast, and it amounts to an episode that is best left forgotten.
SCULLY: “How come you two went your separate ways?”
MULDER: “I’m a pain in the ass to work with.”
MULDER: “I’m not a pain in the ass?”
MULDER: “I’m just looking for my profile notes.”
SCULLY: “Maybe if you cleaned your desk more than once a year…”
(I know, but there’s only so much one can do with this ep…)
- As if a harbinger of the misery to come, the acting in the teaser is absolutely horrible!
- I realize this is supposed to be a prototype of a fully-automated building, but what idiot connects the emergency exit lock to the electrical system in the first place?
- This is the first episode to have a wealth of visual clues that tell us when the episode occurs: late October, or roughly six months since Scully first began work on the X-Files.
- Once again, the pictures hanging on the wall are far more interesting than the actual case…including the continued presence of the mysterious tire tread…
- I think I understand Mulder better now. Working with Jerry Lamana would have made me a paranoid nutcase, too!
- Damn, that elevator was annoying…could you imagine having to deal with that voice calling out every single floor, day after day after day…
- Why does it look like Mulder and Jerry are arguing in the middle of a public library?
- How could the evil computer physical turn on a computer remotely?
- Hmm, I guess that Jerry’s blue car was an effective tail, even though it was the only other car on the road…
- Why didn’t anyone think of cutting power to the building?
- When the elevator was plummeting, Jerry’s body should have been rising, not falling. It’s a little thing called inertia…
- Scully’s reading material: “Obstacle Course”
- If Scully has only the one phone line, how did she call for a trace while the evil computer was downloading her files? And if not, why would she put her computer on the same line as her main
- I swear, somehow, Mulder and Scully survive through sheer luck…
- Exactly how far apart are the vents in this building, anyway? I mean, damn, Scully’s crawling around looking for a way out for the longest time, and doesn’t find anything!
- And how did all that paper get into the ventilation system, anyway? It’s not the fan, because it’s not moving fast enough to produce that kind of air flow. Must be a “paranormal” air duct!
- Good job, Mulder, mention the secret virus right in front of the evil computer…
Overall, it’s hard to believe that this episode was actually produced. The writing is poor and often illogical, and even worse, the concept is poorly realized. This is definitely one of the early low points of the series. At least the actors are trying!
I give it a 3/10.
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