The X-Files, Season 11, Episode 7

This was a fun one!

Spoilers beneath the cut.

“Rm9sbG93ZXJz” (aka “Rm9”, aka “Followers” in base64) is a departure from the traditional X-Files fare. For one, there’s very little dialogue, and the focus is on Mulder and Scully from start to finish.

We open on Mulder and Scully sitting in a sushi restaurant — but this is not a traditional restaurant. There’s no one else around, no servers or hosts or chefs or event patrons. They place their orders through a touchscreen at their seats and the food is prepared and delivered by robots.

I can only imagine how they chose that particular venue for a date (and kinda wish that had been explained) but my personal headcanon says Mulder read about the place in some obscure hacker journal and dragged Scully out on a Saturday night, promising to make up for that “date” in the parking garage a couple weeks ago.

The flirting here is disgusting, BTW. Scully takes a picture of Mulder with his “blobfish” dinner and teases him with her picture-perfect sushi. They’re so cute it’s ridiculous. They’re also every married couple ever; as soon as the food is ordered, the phones come out while they wait.

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Things go south when the restaurant AI tries to eat Mulder’s credit card, and the two get locked in. Scully picks the door lock with a chopstick and frees them to go their separate ways…but the night is young, and their robot chefs don’t appreciate the lack of a tip.

Scully experiences the world’s scariest driverless car ride home, while Mulder’s GPS refuses to let him leave the restaurant. By the time both finally arrive at their respective abodes, they’re obviously annoyed and fed up with the tech that’s supposed to make their lives easier.

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What follows is a Murphy’s Law ordeal — everything that can go wrong does. Mulder is hounded by flying drones and uncooperative banking technology, Scully receives a glorified Roomba that’s set on revenge, and her smart home blows up.

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(Scully’s vibrator is also pissed. It appears to have been temporarily forgotten under the bed, only to be unearthed by the angry Roomba.)

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As I was watching “Rm9”, I got several notifications on my phone — Did I want to reorder groceries? Here’s a photo memory from three weeks ago! What did you think about those new pants you purchased? — all of which looked a lot creepier as the episode went on.

Our heroes are reunited and ditch their tech to avoid being traced — phones, fitness trackers, and Scully’s vibe go into the trash, though it doesn’t seem to help. Pursued by the robots in various forms, Mulder and Scully attempt to hide in a warehouse, but it’s full of even more creepy robots. Eventually the agents are cornered by a large, red-eyed robot chef, who holds out Mulder’s abandoned phone.

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Presented with a choice — either leave a tip or die — Mulder grudgingly gives up $5.50 to save their lives.

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“We gotta be better teachers,” Mulder laments as the robots retreat.

Later that morning, Mulder and Scully sit down to breakfast at an old-fashioned diner; the kind with humans behind the counter. Their waitress presents them with the check — “Take your time, there’s no rush here” — as the two agents reach for their phones, ready to fill the silence with a tap or a swipe.

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“I lost so many steps in that warehouse.”

– Dana Scully, channeling me when I got my first FitBit

After a moment, Scully looks up, troubled, realizing they’ve fallen back into a familiar pattern. She puts her phone down and takes Mulder’s hand, nudging him with her shoulder. He gets the message and puts away his phone, and the two sit in comfortable silence. Human connection prevails.

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“Rm9” is a not-so-friendly reminder of how integrated technology is with our daily lives. From phones to vacuum cleaners to ahem personal massagers, everything is “smart”. But the first rule of programming still holds true: Computers only do what we tell them to do. Technology is only as smart as we program it to be (“Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young is the episode’s constant refrain), and in our rush to build the next mind-blowing AI, we seem to have forgotten basic manners.

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