Spoiler alert! The following recap contains major spoilers for The X-Files Season 11, Episode 2, "This."
After last week's mythology-heavy "My Struggle III," we are back to a good ol' fashioned monster-of-the-week episode of The X-Files. It was a dense episode, and one that had Mulder and Scully kicking a lot more butt than they used to. It made the episode feel exhausting, but in a good way.
The Lone Gunmen are back -- well, one Lone Gunman, Langly. Mulder and Scully have fallen asleep on the couch, working on X-Files and watching old Ramones concert footage. A static noise wakes up Scully and she discovers a grainy video coming through on Mulder's cell phone. It is Langly. "Mulder, am I dead?" Langly asks in the video. "Because if I am, they know that I know." Scully is confused -- and so is Mulder. They can't focus on that right now because a trio of armed men invade the house. Mulder and Scully jump into action, going hardcore action-hero and taking out two of the three men. The third escapes.
The agents barely have time to catch their breath and call in the incident when a couple government vehicles pull up outside. There is a stand-off, as the men outside insist they don't need to identify themselves. Scully calls Skinner, who suggests they surrender. The stand-off ends when the men, led by a Russian, storm the house and cuff Mulder and Scully together. They toss the place until they find Mulder's cell phone, hidden in the oven. The agents fight back before they can be killed, and escape into the woods like three-legged-race champions.
The pair are stopped by another mysterious car. It is Skinner. He uncuffs them and makes sure to mention he is risking his own ass coming here. Apparently those men were American security contractors with headquarters in Russia and hired by the executive branch. Skinner wants the agents to come with him; unsurprisingly, they don't trust him. He leaves, but looks at Scully like she is nuts when she asks if Langly is really dead.
The pair head to Arlington cemetery where the Lone Gunmen are buried. Langly's headstone is backwards, and it features the wrong death date. Like some advanced escape room, and with the help of Scully's terrifying knowledge of presidential minutiae ("Who needs Google when you've got Scully?" teases Mulder) the clues lead the two to the headstone of Ronald Pakula.
This name might ring more bells with you: Deep Throat. Apparently this season, we are getting the real names of all The X-Files' shadowy characters. Last week was Cigarette Smoking Man; this week it is Deep Throat. I guess next week will be Mr. X.
Anyway, Mulder finds a medallion with a QR code embedded in Deep Throat's headstone (he will always be Deep Throat to me). The guy who escaped from the first group of dudes who tried to kill Mulder and Scully reappears. A fight ensues and ends with the long-haired guy's head crushed against Deep Throat's headstone. Scully and Mulder escape to an internet cafe (they still have those?) and look up the QR code. The scan leads them to an image of the Longlines Building in New York. Mulder opened up an X-File on it in the 1990s, as the site of an NSA project called Titanpointe.
Despite the fact that they can't trust Skinner, they need his help, and surprise him in the parking garage. ('Shipper aside: Scully says to Skinner, "We can't go to our home." Not "we can't go to our HOMES" or even the more generic "we can't go home." As far as I'm concerned, this means that Mulder and Scully are living together again.) They need Skinner to get them into the X-Files. Luckily, all the X-Files were digitized for reference across all government agencies, but control of them reverted back to the FBI when the division was reopened. Mulder is agitated when he learns the private security firm who was sent to kill them was also the one who was hired to digitize the files.
While Skinner takes a phone call, Mulder and Scully dive into the database. All files on Titanpointe are gone, as are the files on Langly. In Frohike's file, they follow breadcrumbs to a photo of mathematics professor Karah Hamby, with a note under her image: "If they scrub me go to her." Skinner wraps his phone call and alerts the agents that the Bureau is not in good standing with the White House, therefore they won't call off the hit squad.
Scully and Mulder find Hamby after class and it doesn't take long before she spills everything. A company (possibly the same group trying to kill Mulder and Scully; I couldn't hear) came to Hamby and Langly with proof that they could live on forever as computer programs. They consented, and spent two weeks doing scans so that their brains could be uploaded to a simulation. Because the real and engineered brains couldn't function at the same time, their simulated selves wouldn't come to life until their bodies died. If Langly is reaching out now, he must have figured out that they lied. Hamby begins writing down instructions for Mulder to hack another cell phone to allow Langly to reach out. Before she can finish, the guy from the graveyard shows up, apparently alive and well. He shoots Hamby dead; Mulder and Scully return the favor. He seems to be dead for real.
Mulder and Scully take up residency in the booth of a crappy bar, where Mulder makes sure to tell Scully she "looked adorbs" curled up asleep on the other side of the table. Anyway, Mulder has phreaked his phone and it doesn't take long for Langly to reach them. He again asks if he is real, and describes the simulation as if he designed Heaven. The Ramones are there, he can eat whatever he wants, and no one gets cancer. Even still, Langly begs Mulder to destroy the simulation. They are digital slaves, where the elite will take what they do in order to leave the planet and colonize space.
Langly believes there is a secret tunnel linking Titanpointe with the New York FBI regional office, so the agents head there, with Scully posing as an agent tasked with transporting a "Hannibal Lecter-level psycho" (Mulder) to Titanpointe. They are let through. Mulder figures the servers are on the top floor, but won't let Scully take the elevator. Of course, they are accosted in the stairwell. Mulder is taken, while Scully escapes and eventually makes it up to the 29th floor.
Mulder is brought before Erika Price. She waxes on about how the simulation is the next step in human evolution, and says that since Langly was the only one to figure out he was in a simulation, and he reached out to Mulder, she is giving him the option to join the digital race. Mulder plays along and offers to kill his father in exchange for he and Scully getting added to the sim. Price plays on every paranoid fear, stating that they are already taking pieces of everyone's brains through their smartphones. Mulder wants to see it, which seems to confuse Price -- it's just a client server, boxes in a room. Nonetheless, she consents.
Up on the 29th floor, the Russian guy has Mulder handcuffed as he logs into the security door. He sees a shadow and, knowing it is Scully, snaps to action, kicking the Russian to the floor. Scully uncuffs him ('Shipper aside: Scully asks Mulder why he operates so well with his hands cuffed behind his back. "As if you didn't know," Mulder responds, and they both smile). She then goes into the server room and unplugs all the machines while Mulder fights the Russian. They both win their struggles, and head back to the FBI to start a case against Price. Because this is The X-Files, by the time they return with an FBI CSI crew, the building has been wiped clean.
The agents return home, ignoring the mess and collapsing onto the couch, exhausted. Mulder's phone goes off again. It is Langly, who now begs Mulder to destroy the backups. Mulder and Scully look at each other with a "you've got to be kidding me" look. It is such a perfectly X-Files ending it almost hurts.