I will admit it: I have been sitting on tonight's episode of The X-Files for a week, dying to talk about it with someone. So when I got the chance to interview Kristen Cloke and Shannon Hamblin, the writers of this week's amazing "Rm9sbG93ZXJz," I got a little excited.
"Rm9sbG93ZXJz," which translates to "Followers" in Base64 code, is one of the more unique episodes of The X-Files. When Mulder (David Duchovny) doesn't tip the robot staff after a sushi dinner date with Scully (Gillian Anderson), the machines rise against them. The episode, brilliantly directed by Glen Morgan (who is also Kristen's husband), has virtually no dialogue. What it does have is a lot of humor, a lot of stuff for 'shippers, and a lot of Easter eggs for fans.
Kristen and Shannon put up with my occasionally fan-girl-ish questions in order to discuss working without dialogue, technology, personal massagers, and dogs.
This was probably my favorite episode of the season, and one of my favorite episodes of The X-Files.
Kristen Cloke: Wait 'til I tell Darin [Morgan]! He's always everyone's favorite.
Well, it's kind of tied with Darin's episode, "The Lost Art of Forehead Sweat," I will admit that.
KC: Yeah, that was a good episode.
"Rm9sbG93ZXJz" is such a unique episode with virtually no dialogue. Was that always the plan, to write something without dialogue? Or did you start with the story idea and it felt organic to not have any dialogue?
Shannon Hamblin: It was always no dialogue. Conceptually, I think that's what Glen was looking to do: tell the story without it.
KC: When we did Space: Above and Beyond, they had done an episode that had virtually no dialogue. It was one of the first shows to do it. [Glen] always wanted to do it again. He was excited, as a director, to tell a story visually. I think it created a great show, especially for me. I'm kind of a wordy person, so it was a good challenge.
How did David and Gillian react to an episode with virtually no dialogue?
KC: They were happy about it -- they didn't have to memorize any lines!
KC: I think it was challenging for everybody. The restaurant was [empty], your mouth is empty of dialogue, everybody wants to fill the proverbial space. Everybody had to fight against their instincts to do that, which was kind of interesting.
SH: And how that moved into no music in certain spots, and no sound. Except for the song, "Teach Your Children." I think it also adds to that isolated feeling that the obsession with technology and your cell phone and all that stuff [gives you]. You feel like you are engaged all the time, but maybe you're even more alienated by not really engaging.
KC: I think that's a good point. A lot of being on your technology is spent there, filling space. We all want to fill the space, and that's why phones have taken over our lives. They are really great space-fillers.
SH: If you are sitting at a restaurant alone, you can just look at your phone: "Oh, look how busy and cool you are!"
KC: I don't think anybody would mistake me for cool! Busy, maybe. [Laughs]
There has been a lot of talk -- especially recently -- about the lack of women writers and directors on The X-Files, both in the legacy episodes and the new episodes. Did the fact that you are two of the few women to ever write an episode ever enter your mind? Was it something you were hyper-aware of?
SH: It certainly entered into our minds. But a lot of people who are writing on The X-Files and who are part of that team have been doing it together, as a team, for so long. It didn't seem extremely odd that if there are only ten episodes, or six in the last season, that they would stick with the tried and true. It's cool to be a part of it and to be a woman. I like being a woman!
KC: I think the thing about the last season was that there were only six [episodes]. When they were getting together, Chris [Carter], Darin, Jim [Wong], Glen, and Gabe [Rotter] would come to my house and sit in my backyard and work. They talked about the first six they were going to do last season. It was like the band was back together. They were the band; they had been there from the beginning. I think, for them, it wasn't an attempt to be excluding; it was an attempt to include the people who had put the show on the map. Glen and I have been partners in all different ways for over 20 years. I worked on The X-Files 20 years ago. It seems like we were an off-shoot of "the band." I don't think Shannon and I ever felt like we were an answer to a certain idea of excluding women. I always felt included.
SH: I was the writer's assistant this season, so I was already included initially, because I had been working with Glen. It didn't feel crazy that we were going to be writing an episode as well.
One of my favorite parts of this episode is when the robot vacuum finds Scully's vibrator under the bed, and then how that carries throughout the show. Did you have any trouble getting the vibrator storyline past Chris Carter or standards and practices?
KC: When we were in preproduction and were working on props, we had certain vibrators that were "cleared." Prime-time vibrators, I guess! And we do call it the "personal massager" in the script. High-level stuff. But that was motivated by an article that said something about the fact that the personal massagers at, I think it was Brookstone, were collecting your personal data. So all the technology talks to each other, and it is all technology that has been reported, at one time or another, to be collecting your personal data. It all knows about you. So you've got spies in your bedroom, spies in your cleaning closet...
SH: Spies in your vagina. Literally! [Laughs]
Plus, it will be a huge plus for all the 'shippers out there.
KC: Good! Because if you are upsetting the 'shippers, it's bad. Believe me; I've been there! It's not good.
Which brings me to a slightly fannish question: Who is Scott? His name appeared on Scully's smart fridge, saying she had a dinner date with him, and I know that 'shippers online were freaking out.
KC: Scott is the guy who programmed the display on the refrigerator! He is a really, really talented guy. All of the visual props you see, like in the Whipz car and on the refrigerator, were all programmed by him and the incredible props team they have. All those guys did such a great job, so they should get dinner with Scully! He made all of us look good.
This isn't the first time The X-Files has featured machines with a mind of their own. Did you go back and watch any of the other episodes? Did you keep in mind how technology has changed in the last 25 years?
SH: I didn't go back and check the episodes. I think technology has changed so much over the past... even five years. Just thinking about people who don't know what an answering machine is. Even with the car being automated... I'm working on something right now and GM is talking about their cars being automated. Everything is happening and is so different in technology that I didn't think it was touching on anything that had been explored before in previous episodes. Did you go back and watch?
KC: No, I didn't. I was on The X-Files 20 years ago, so I remember. When [the fans] had something to say about you, they had to say it on a message board. So the technology has changed a lot. I think it was completely appropriate to do an episode that deals with technology, and I think one of the interesting things, whenever I see clips of the show, if they are talking on a phone, they are usually talking on a landline. They weren't even really using cell phones when the show first started. That alone is just so different. It would be appropriate that Mulder and Scully could get into what is now, appropriately, called the Black Mirror, I guess.
I love that Scully's alarm password is Queequeg, but what ever happened to Dagoo?
KC: Didn't Dagoo run away?
SH: I thought he went back, right?
KC: [Guy Mann] escapes into the forest, and doesn't Dagoo go with him? I guess we don't know! I'll have to ask Darin.
At the end of "Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster," Scully takes the dog home, but we haven't seen him.
KC: I don't know what happened to Dagoo; I assumed he went with creature into the forest. I'll ask Darin and get back to you! Darin is a big dog lover, so whatever it is, it was totally...
KC: Totally dog-sensitive. Chris and Darin are in the battle of dog lovers. It's all dogs, all the time. It's a big dog-fest at The X-Files.