Spoiler Alert! The following is a long, obsessively-detailed recap of The X-Files episode 1105, "Ghouli." You have been warned.
A pair of high school girls are lured out to an abandoned ferry, seeking the mysterious Ghouli, a Slenderman-like creepypasta monster. They each see the other girl as Ghouli and stab one another. Scully's dreams of the ferry lead her and Mulder into the case, where they discover that the girls' boyfriend, Jackson Van de Kamp, is actually the child Scully gave up for adoption.
Got to write through the feels. Actually, the feels didn't hit me too bad with this one. It was a wonderfully satisfying episode. We got a happy ending! (And not like the happy ending Mulder got in "Plus One.") Scully sees her boy is alive and safe, and he knows that she loves him. To me, that is a happy ending. The general X-File was so wonderfully developed to include William. It was the perfect X-Files way for Mulder and Scully to "meet" their son.
I find it interesting that, with this episode, the show seems to be pushing the narrative that William was just a test subject; that his "skills" came after he was given up for adoption. We all know that is not the case. William was born with his powers, and there are many different theories as to how he has those powers, but one thing seems fairly certain: He has alien DNA in some amount. Was William a test subject because of his genetics?
I also liked that when Mulder tested William's DNA, he only checked it against Scully's, mainly because I don't want to find out if CSM is really William's biological father - at least not yet. But it is an interesting character moment that Mulder didn't test himself to see if he was the boy's father. It could be as simple as him not wanting to make it about him. After all, he spent all of, like, two minutes with the boy before he was given up. I prefer to think of it that Mulder didn't want or need to have his DNA tested. Doing so would suggest that he has his doubts as to whether or not he is William's biological father, and I don't think Mulder would think that. If Scully says the kid is his, that's enough proof for Mulder. This isn't Jerry Springer.
What was the scrap of paper that Scully took from William's journal? I watched this episode as a rough-cut screener (Ghouli was just a digital outline!) so it is possible it will see its way into the final air version, making this paragraph moot. But she finds a small piece of paper, maybe the size of a business card, in the journal. Scully appears to pocket it, but to what end? Will we see it again in a later episode?
It was good that the 'shipper goodness was completely absent from this episode. Yes, I know there were lots of hugs throughout, but honestly, those all felt like professional friend-hugs, ones that you would give to any close... friend? life partner? who is going through a difficult time. I got nothing romantic out of it.
Here is something that might be taking my obsession to the next level. On the IMDb page for this episode, there is a listing for an actress, Chanelle Peloso, whose character name is Emily Van de Kamp. First off, I don't remember an Emily Van de Kamp in the episode. Maybe it is because I saw a rough cut; maybe she was cut out of the episode all together. Could this somehow be linked to Scully's first child, Emily? I know she died, but her body disappeared. Is anyone ever really dead in The X-Files?
Similar obsessive note: Is Mulder giving his name as "Bob" in the coffee shop a secret shout-out to die-hard X-Philes? You know what I mean...!
The Obsessive Recap (complete with snark!):
Scully is explaining a weird dream to Mulder. It is more than a dream, and different than sleep paralysis. Scully describes it as hypnagogia, a kind of "waking dream." In it, she is frozen on a stranger's bed (mind out of the gutters, folks - this is totally PG) as a dark figure walks behind her. She struggles, finally gets her gun, and follows the figure downstairs. She can't find him, and every time she tries to leave the house, she is back where she started. The figure seemed to be leading her... "There." She points to a photo of a decrepit ferry on Mulder's desk. A snowglobe in her dream matches the ferry.
Mulder explains that the ferry is part of an open X-File. Two high school girls, who seem to have no connection to each other, were recently drawn to the boat. While there, they each thought the other was a mythical monster called Ghouli, and they attacked each other with knives, each thinking they were attacking the monster. So of course, Mulder and Scully head out to investigate.
On the ferry, the local cops fill in the agents. The girls both lost a lot of blood and are unconscious but are expected to pull through. An anonymous male placed the 911 call. After viewing the crime scene, Scully thinks the girls had to know one another - the fight was too intense and it looked like they would have killed each other if they hadn't passed out. Mulder suggests that this might have been a "lizard brain thing," an extreme emotional response to fear. Whatever happened, it wasn't a coincidence. Before they leave, Scully notices an older man watching from the distance. When she looks back, he is gone.
Mulder and Scully head to a coffee shop to do some research on Ghouli. (I guess after "Plus One," the producers are keeping the agents out of motels, lest our brains explode.) They find a website, ghouli.net, that has only been active a few months. Mulder laments the state of modern monsters, that there is no time for an "emotional investment" in monsters nowadays. Scully suggests that the girls were manipulated into believing the Ghouli story in order to boost traffic. Mulder gets a text - the girls are both awake. Before they leave, the barista calls out a coffee for "Bob." "Like I wanted to explain Fox for the millionth time," Mulder grumbles to Scully before he collects his caffeine.
In the hospital, the agents split up. Scully takes Brianna; Mulder takes Sarah. Both have the same story, and describe actually seeing Ghouli, with multiple rows of sharp teeth and dripping goo. Sarah recalls Ghouli's breath smelled like cinnamon - we later see Brianna eating a cinnamon mint. The girls were both drawn to the ferry because of a dream they had - one that is startlingly similar to Scully's dream. Then they both name their boyfriend: Jackson Van de Kamp.
This name gives both Mulder and Scully, in their separate rooms, pause. (In case you don't remember, Van de Kamp is the name of the family that adopted William.)
When they meet up in the hall to compare stories, Scully insists that the name is a coincidence. Mulder doesn't think it is. He believes Scully was sent here. They go visit the Van de Kamp home, where Scully feels like she's "going to fall off a cliff." The anxiety gives way to adrenaline when they hear gunshots from inside the house. Scully recognizes it immediately as the same house from her dream. In the kitchen, the agents find a middle-aged couple dead from gunshot wounds. A third gunshot brings them upstairs. Scully finds a teenager - Jackson Van de Kamp - DOA.
The cops arrive to process the scene. They say it was a simple murder/suicide. Mulder finds that explanation "convenient." Upstairs, Mulder finds the coroner bagging Jackson. He then finds Scully, alone, in Jackson's room, looking through his desk. Mulder does his best to keep everything professional, especially because Scully is just barely holding it together. This is the room from her dream; "He wanted me to be here." Mulder finds a full can of soda on Jackson's desk, still cold; an odd thing to do if you are about to kill your parents. He checks out a book called The Pickup Artist, which is only important because the picture of the author on the back of the book is the same man who was watching Scully at the ferry.
Scully finds prescription bottles of Klonopin and diazepam, which suggests Jackson may have been schizophrenic. He was off his medication - both bottles are full. Mulder knows where she is going with this, and has "grave doubts" about what appears to have happened. He notices a poster on the ceiling over the bed. Not of a bikini babe, but of Malcolm X. Scully wonders if that is his hero. "You don't know that that body is William," Mulder says, finally putting words to the worry that Scully has been afraid to vocalize. She squeezes back the tears, worrying that he "felt adrift," and that was why he killed his parents. "Why would he call you here?" Mulder asks, for once the voice of reason. She needs proof. Mulder nods, then notices a couple of government agents pulling up in front of the house. The two were also following them as they arrived in town. Mulder goes downstairs to intercede while Scully takes a minute. Before she leaves Jackson's room, she notices a shelf of snowglobes. She pockets one with a windmill that says, "We're not in Kansas anymore."
Mulder confronts the government agents outside. They claim they are just "curious onlookers," and play it cool, even as Mulder correctly identifies them as Department of Defense agents. "Keep cracking wise. You have no idea my state of mind," he fumes through grit teeth. For the first time, Mulder's stoic facade is starting to weaken.
In the hospital morgue, Scully is all business. She takes an oral swab from herself, then unzips the body bag. Jackson's corpse is tucked inside. She clips some of his hair into an evidence bottle, then sits. "I don't know if you are who I think you might be, but if you are, this is what I'd say," she says to the corpse, the last bit of self-control she has before launching into a teary apology for giving him up, for not allowing him to know her, or his father. She gave him up because she was trying to keep him safe, but now wonders if she "should have stood by you," and that she thought giving him up was the hardest thing she would ever do. "Turns out this is the hardest part, to see the outcome, how I failed you. I need you to know I never forgot you." She cries a little more, then apologizes again. "This is so inadequate."
Scully realizes Mulder has been standing in the doorway. He heard enough, and assures her she has nothing to apologize for. He gives her a big hug, then takes her samples from her. They will use the lab here, and have the results in a couple hours. Mulder keeps his arm around Scully as they walk out.
After they leave the room, hands come out from the body bag, unzipping it. The body inside, Jackson, sits up. He is alive.
While waiting for the results from the DNA test, Scully falls asleep in the hospital lobby. She has another hypnagogic dream. She follows a dark figure into a hospital room, where she finds the snowglobe she took from Jackson's room. She speaks to the unseen figure, unsure if she is sending a message to him, or he to her. She flashes back, momentarily, to the final shots of the Season 10 finale, before she is woken by the coroner. He wants to know where she put the body.
The coroner and Scully go into the morgue, where the body bag sits there, empty. There was no sign anyone was in it. Mulder comes in and needs to talk to her. "It's not good news." Scully knows: "It's William." She is encouraged by the empty body bag, and the fact that the window is open. Mulder is worried about Scully, as she is clearly in denial. "I want him to be alive as much as you do," he insists. "I am the one to jump at extreme possibilities, but this is not that." Scully admits she had another vision, and insists he wants them to find him. In an attempt to mollify her, he promises to check surveillance tapes, but warns her that this doesn't change anything.
Outside the hospital, Scully bumps into the man she saw from the ferry, dropping her snowglobe in the process. He apologizes, then asks if she likes windmills. "I like this one," she says with a smile. She asks him who he is. He responds: "Don't give up on the bigger picture."
Back into investigative mode, Scully and Mulder are back in Jackson/William's room. Scully pockets a small scrap of paper from his journal, but we never see it again. Perhaps this will pop up in a later episode? Mulder is checking the kid's computer, but the whole thing has been wiped clean. Cleaner than clean. He thinks there is a second computer, which Scully finds beneath the mattress. "Teenage girls have secrets, too." The DOD goons have arrived, so Scully goes out to stall while Mulder gets what he can off the computer. She only buys Mulder a few minutes before the goons march in, but it is enough time for Mulder to find a file called Project Crossroads. Before surrendering the computer to the DOD goons, he knocks over the can of soda that is still sitting there, rendering the computer inoperable.
The next day, Mulder is back at the coffee shop when Skinner calls, annoyed that the only updates he gets from Mulder are complaints filed by other agencies. Mulder doesn't want to speak on the phone and blames a "bad connection" before hanging up. He is right to do so: CSM is in Skinner's office. "Mulder is close," he muses over his cigarette. "I suspect he'll be interested in Project Crossroads. We'll be able to find what we are looking for."
Skinner meets Mulder on the ferry, clearly intending on trading info on Project Crossroads for whatever info CSM wants (which is obviously info on where William is). Skinner explains that, decades ago, the government combined alien and human DNA to create hybrids - Project Crossroads. After the crash at Roswell, the government's interest was piqued, but it wasn't until the 1970s that the science caught up with their ambition. Mulder admits he read the report, and knows that it failed because the government couldn't predetermine which alien "skills" the hybrid babies would get. Skinner continues with his story, that the project ended 15 years ago (when William would have been two years old) and the doctor in charge, Matsumoto, burned everything to protect the test subjects before he disappeared. The DOD has been trying to track him down ever since. The least-shocking revelation from the episode: Jackson is one of the test subjects. Mulder comes back with his own revelation: Jackson Van de Kamp was their son. He checked Jackson's DNA against Scully's. Skinner is shocked; he genuinely seems surprised by this.
While Mulder meets with Skinner, Scully is meeting with Jackson's psychiatrist, who admits that he had symptoms that suggested "extreme electrical activity in the brain" (like what Scully experienced, I assume) but won't say more than that. Scully fills in the gaps by explaining the "visions" she has had, basically the last ten minutes or so of "My Struggle II." The doctor is startled that she knows what Jackson was seeing.
The agents regroup at the coffee shop. Scully seems to think that the shared vision of Mulder near death on the bridge, and the UFO hovering over them, means it is more likely to come true. Mulder suggests that there is a false reality going on. After examining the forensics at the Van de Kamp house, he thinks there were two shooters, with Mrs. Van de Kamp's body moved after to make it look like one shooter. He then tells Scully he believes that, "through the Smoking Man, you unwittingly took part in a eugenics project," and that William was one of the test subjects. Jackson/William knew he was being hunted, so he hid the only way he knew how - by playing dead. Hope returns to Scully!
Jackson is a stupid teenager. He goes back to the hospital to see his girlfriends. In Brianna's room, he apologizes and admits he played the "prank" on her and Sarah, by projecting an image of Ghouli into their heads. He is still learning how to control his power, and couldn't stop it in time. He rambles for a moment about how this "power" started when he started having his seizures, he would see "terrifying things like UFOs," it would hurt like hell, but when he was in pain he could share it with "this woman, maybe my birth mother." He quickly changes gears and says he came back to say goodbye. Outside, the police roll up.
Mulder and Scully arrive after the police and other agencies are already there. Scully asks the police to hold back, let them be the first ones inside, but the DOD goons already went in. The cops were tipped off by a photo sent from Sarah, showing Jackson and Brianna. Sarah was mad and wanted to hurt him. Ah, teenagers.
So William/Jackson is trying to hide from the DOD goons. At one point he uses his power to make one of the goons look like Ghouli, causing the other goon to shoot him. Mulder and Scully hear the gunshots and evacuate the floor. William/Jackson makes the goons see other agents, which causes them to shoot each other dead - that is the scene in the trailer where you see Scully shot. It wasn't really her. With all the enemy agents dead, Mulder and Scully call for Jackson, promising he is safe and they just want to talk. Jackson is wise enough not to trust this and disguises himself as a nurse, which allows him to escape.
Outside, in the throngs of people, the search for William/Jackson is fruitless. He has disappeared. Mulder pulls Scully close.
The next day, as they are driving back home, Scully sees a gas station with a windmill outside, just like the one from her snowglobe. They pull in for a pit stop. While Scully is filling the car, the man from the hospital and the ferry shows up. They talk pleasantly for a few minutes, and he tells her he is driving across the country. "Things are about to change," he tells her. This weird prophecy makes Scully ask if he is Dr. Matsumoto. He laughs and says he never even finished high school. "You seem like a nice person I wish I could know you better," he tells Scully. (Hello, no one said you couldn't!) Scully wishes him safe travels, but before he gets into his car, he tells her one more thing: "If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything."
Mulder comes out and asks who she was talking to. "Just a friendly old guy... who seemed so familiar," Scully ponders. She realizes he is the author of the pickup artist book in Jackson's room. She repeats the quote he told her, which Mulder identifies immediately: "That's a Malcolm X quote." They run to the road, but the car is gone. They race inside and flash their badges to get the clerk to show them the surveillance footage.
In the footage, they see it was William that Scully was talking to, not the older man. Mulder puts his hands on Scully's shoulders, and she squeezes his hand. A smile slips across her face.