“The X-Files” puts murderous doppelgangers on its radar and delivers the first really satisfying episode of the season
“The dude looked just like me…”
One of the greatest assets to a show like The X-Files is its ability to turn out episodic installments of one-off terror. The beauty of monster of the week episodes is that they allow a greater degree of variety and freedom for the show. These endeavors often result in some of the show’s most creative, memorable episodes. At the end of the day, it’s entries like “The Post-Modern Prometheus”, “Bad Blood”, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”, “X-COPS”, and “Improbable” (how dare you deny this episode’s brilliance) that are the installments that fill up “Top Ten” lists and are viewers’ favorite installments. The first two episodes of this season have been very much caught up in the series’ ornate history and the relationships of its characters, but “Plus One” gets down to brass tacks, (mostly) sheds its baggage, and delivers a scary, inventive monster of the week episode that finally feels like vintage X-Files. This would also, without a doubt, be Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s favorite episode of The X-Files. So it’s also got that going for it.
Right from the cold open of “Plus One,” this episode works hard to get the audience’s attention. This introduction is set at a rave where a guy goes insane after he sees a doppelganger of himself amongst the crowd. This is a simple, yet effective way to begin the episode and it feels like the first real cold open of the season. People forget that The X-Files was known for its surprising, addictive introductory scenes and it’s easy to lose sight of small things like that after a show gets so big. “Plus One” re-captures that mysterious energy and it’s written by Chris “Alien DNA” Carter, no less. This follows that classic setup where there are random people and something scary happens to them. This is also proof that Carter should stick to the monster of the week stuff because he gets it here.
The X-Files sometimes works too hard to come up with an idea that’s overly complicated. Something as “basic” as mirror versions of people killing their doubles is brilliant, frightening stuff that doesn’t try to re-invent the wheel. Something of this nature is also exactly the sort of thing that should have been the season’s second episode. This entry is so much stronger than “This” and allowing some space between the season’s premiere and the somewhat mythology connected “This” would have been a smart decision.
The episode’s opening credits phrase doubles up “The Truth Is Out There” in a cute little nod, but more than anything this feels like proof that every episode this season will try to have fun and subvert the credits phrase in some way. I think this ultimately cheapens the significance of when the phrase is different, but this is a minor complaint. So far it hasn’t wrecked the premise, but let’s see where this goes.
The whole doppelganger homicide situation turns out to be a mass phenomenon that’s going on all over the world. The specifics of all of this point to a particular form of schizophrenia where the subjects suffer from seeing a double of themselves. Scully even ventures that this could be some sort of mass hysteria. However, the individual from the cold open is the only case where the victim hasn’t died in their doppelganger altercation. Mulder and Scully “get back to their bread and butter” and hit the case.
Mulder and Scully’s journey leads them to Judy, a peculiar schizophrenia case that they’re especially interested in. Judy turns into a helpful key to figure all of this out, but then Scully meets her other half, Demon Judy. Enough said. When the suspect dies from what appears to be strangulation when he was alone in his cell, Mulder and Scully get increasingly suspicious of Judy and her possibly prophetic abilities.
“Plus One” gleefully plays into the horror aspect of all of this and gets away with it for the most part. The sequence where the victim’s double appears to him in his jail cell and he’s unable to escape is absolutely chilling. Furthermore, Scully and Mulder’s doubles also stand out in unsettling ways. Carter and director Kevin Hooks do a great job at mining the horror from this psychological concept whereas the previous two entries never quite get there. Part of the fun of The X-Files is that sometimes the show is flat out terrifying and it’s nice to see “Plus One” get back to that place.
The Demon Judy material is also disturbing stuff and the episode isn’t afraid to highlight this. Director Kevin Hooks gets to briefly shift into a mild Exorcist impression and it’s a nice scene where Scully gets to play off of a psycho. On that note, this episode’s portrayal of Scully isn’t just better than what goes down in the season’s first two episodes, it’s actually good. She’s in charge and pushes the story forward and is just as important to Mulder this time, if not more so. Maybe Carter doesn’t hate Anderson after all.
As Scully deals with Judy and her alter ego in her attempt to crack the psychological angle of the case, Mulder deals with Chuck Poundstone and his alter ego for these killings. It turns out that Poundstone and Judy are actually playing some sort of mental hangman game with each other and have been in communication the whole time. Both of their performances are so over the top and exaggerated, but it does help sell these absurd characters. Carter has a flair for his one-off characters to sometimes be heightened weirdoes and this is one of those circumstances.
“Plus One” also curiously circles back to Mulder and Scully’s romantic situation and their likelihood—or rather the lack thereof—of the two of them having more children. This episode also seems to confirm that they are no longer an item, which feels like a misstep, especially when this season is centered around finding their child. This meditation on the future doesn’t exactly connect to the rest of the material, but it’s satisfying to see this worthwhile, methodical discussion be had between the two of them. It’s at least better than making their relationship completely void of any romantic connection, which has been the case in the past.
“Plus One” is ultimately a bit of a more encouraging installment that plays with some interesting ideas, refocuses on Mulder and Scully’s relationship in a crucial way, and almost re-empowers Scully. It also points out how similar Mulder and Scully’s names are when playing a game of hangman. It seems like the current iteration of the show works best when it plays into extremes, like deep horror in this case, or exaggerated comedy elsewhere. Middling efforts that fall in between or nondescript sci-fi and conspiracy offerings just won’t hold up in the end, but more episodes like this one will always deliver. Once more it’s baffling that the writer of this episode can be the same person behind the “My Struggle” trilogy. Carter knows how to tell a story, but it’s just better when it’s an inconsequential one rather than the story.