SPOILER WARNING! The X-Files Season 11, Episode 2, "This," discussed at length below!
Longtime The X-Files writer Glen Morgan wrote and directed this week's episode, "This," which brought back (kind of) Lone Gunman Langly and explored the afterlife via tech. In an exclusive sit-down with SYFY WIRE, he explains what he was trying to do with the episode, lessons learned from Season 10, and the personal inspiration for this tale.
After the huge ratings for Season 10, did you assume that would lead to more The X-Files stories?
Glen Morgan: I didn't really think about it. I thought it would be done, so I was as surprised as anybody.
In "This," you were able to bring back Lone Gunman Langly (Dean Haglund) despite being dispatched in "Jump the Shark."
Actually, that was Vince (Gilligan).
So was this a way to correct history?
No, I'm blowing the whistle on Jim Wong like last time. I told him the Lone Gunmen are dead, and he said, "They are?"
Well, creating Langly as an avatar is a brilliant way of bringing him back into the world with the technology that helped define him. Did that come out of the story you wanted to build, or did it have to be him?
I was really trying to do my part to bring The X-Files into the realm of Black Mirror. I was looking at the simulation and thinking if one guy could live, then okay, it was Langly because he has the Ramones shirt.
Speaking of which, the punk sound and aesthetic have always been part of your storytelling. Was it hard to get a Ramones needle drop in this episode?
No, they fought and their estates fight, so it's tricky. I did a show called Intruders, and the teaser for "This" is kind of what the teaser for year two of Intruders would have been. I had the Rivieras' "California Sun," which plays later in the bar, and I had that and then Darin (Morgan) pointed out that on the deluxe version of the Ramones album they have a "California Sun" instrumental. Then I thought people wouldn't know why we're playing it, so I went with the Ramones. Then my friend Tim Armstrong [Trashman in "Home Again"], who is in Rancid, got upset because he always wanted to start something with a Ramones tune, but I beat him to it.
Barbara Hershey's character Erika Price from "My Struggle III" is a much bigger player in your episode. How did she come to be initially?
I thought I was introducing her because of Eric Prince and the privatization that goes through the season. But then [Chris] put her in his, and that's great, because I don't have any ownership or anything [of her].
How did you get Barbara?
Well, you always have a couple of people in mind, because you never know. But every Thanksgiving, I watch Hannah and Her Sisters. Every one. So then I'm directing her and all of a sudden that part of your brain goes, "That's Barbara Hershey!" We texted back and forth [about the part] and she was just wonderful. A lot of her stuff, I was coming back from Seattle from seeing Rancid with my friend, and on my entire drive she was doing notes saying, "I think I should say this," which was great. She helped out a lot.
As a director, was there anything you wanted to accomplish in "This" to push yourself?
Two nights before I started I was in my room thinking I should tell Chris they should get [director] Rob Bowman or something, because with all this action, I had never done that before. But we have a great crew. Craig Wrobleski is our director of photography and made us all look good. You know last [series] I was hurt by some fans asking if we made it look retro because we are a retro show, and that really hurt because we were trying not to. So this time I tried to frame things differently. Craig really helped us achieve a look that is the old show, but new also.
There's a mix of mythology in this episode with Erika Price woven into the story of the weel. Was there a process of handing a baton to the writers this season to help sprinkle the bigger story into individual stories?
All the mythology is Chris'. In Jim's episode, or this one, I don't remember if I had read one before doing Episode 2, but we tell each other the stories. It can change, so they are there, but it's never that advanced that it messes up what he wants to do, which we never know.
How many episodes are your hands on this season?
I wrote "This" and directed two episodes.
Did you create a writers' room for this season?
We never had a writers' room. We would laugh because things would change in production and argue, "No, we did that!" and others saying, "We did?" We just put a panel with index cards for this, this, this, and then Darin and Jim throw rocks at that writer and it gets adjusted, which is how it goes.
Going back to the core idea of this episode of having avatars keeping our consciousness alive in a cloud is fascinating, and not any crazier in conceit than what any religion thinks about the afterlife. Was that idea bouncing around in your head for a while?
A little bit. Our mom passed away nine years ago today, and she played Wii with the kids.
Oh, so her avatar is still there in the game memory?
Yes, all of us are in there walking around. We might move on, but we're never throwing that out. So that was some of it. But you go into an episode thinking you want it to be more intense. But then on the set you see David wants to improvise. And it wasn't until we were on set that it hit me that we split them up in "Home Again," and that was wrong. So I let them monkey around and do jokes and he'd come back and say, "Don't cut them out!" We'd argue about the jokes. So when everyone was writing their stuff, I said put them together. It works.
In the world we're in now, you could say reality has caught up or surpassed the oddities explored in the show. Is it surreal?
Yeah, I said to Chris that even if they were annoyed with us last season, I think we're still a show that people would look at and ask, "What do you have to say about this?" So let's do this and try to comment. It's weird in this episode that the X-Files are sold to a private company that digitized them and the head of the F.B.I. would be Mueller. Whoa!
New episodes of The X-Files air Wednesday nights on Fox.