Chris Carter can be a hit or miss when it comes to writing… but that is a quality I fully expect from a creator and showrunner. They tend to be experimental, pushing the show in directions where the journey might be unexpected, questionable even but it certainly adds to the creative debate. With Carter specifically, it’s like Forrest Gump’s iconic quote about a box of chocolates. You’re not sure if you’re getting the ‘Duane Barry’, ‘The List’ or ‘Patience’ Carter or ‘Fight Club’ or ‘Babylon’ Carter. One thing is for sure, he keeps the audience on their toes and ‘Plus One’ marks an impressive return to form. In fact, this is Chris Carter’s strongest work in years.
It makes a huge difference when Carter has the time, focus and patience to piece together a story so wonderfully crafted. There’s even an argument to be made that he prefers the simple investigative tales (or bread and butter case as Mulder calls it) where the reconstructed mythology is not constantly open to endless scrutiny. But in ‘Plus One’, there is a confidence in Carter’s writing. It marks a dramatic tonal shift from the highly kinetic ‘This’ to a mystery that evolves organically. The Mulder and Scully dynamic is like a blast from the past with the casual sprinkle of flirtatious banter. By combining the effort with director Kevin Hooks, ‘Plus One’ is very much an old school X-Files episode that wouldn’t look out-of-place if it featured in season three for example.
Three episodes into the new season and already the thematic connections are seeping through. The X-Files has always prided itself on monsters, the Eugene Victor Tooms of this world. But the skill that Carter constantly demonstrates is to remind the audience that humanity can have evil qualities and that’s far scarier. It’s an aspect he explored in Millennium, Erika Price took on that responsibility in ‘This’ and despite the divisiveness, the Cigarette Smoking Man has become the ultimate face of that evil after the revelations in ‘My Struggle III’. In ‘Plus One’, that humanistic evil is explored in a brother and sister team playing a deadly game of hangman (a game I can never look at in the same way again).
Karin Konoval’s brilliant performance is very reminiscent of James McAvoy’s performance in Split, playing four unique and unpredictable characters with their own sense of personality and psychological control. The joy in watching that performance is that seamless transformation between them all which Carter revels in and Karin excels. Just like with Split, the issue of mental health and its treatments are brought to the forefront. In an ideal situation, the episode could have benefited from a longer run time.
The siblings’ telepathic behaviour and their use of hangman as a severe and murderous coping mechanism begged for a deeper exploration. But in true classic X-Files fashion, Carter enjoys the ambiguity of the mystery. With the added inclusion of doppelgänger, it deliberately messes with the senses, questioning whether it is a figment of the imagined mind or a real physical manifestation. It’s a similar trait used in The X-Files feature film I Want to Believe where you’re constantly second guessing the morals and contrition of Father Joe. Mulder and Scully’s experience of the phenomenon in ‘Plus One’ provides both sides of that argument which may make you re-evaluate the third act as they encounter their own doppelgänger.
It has taken twenty-five years for Mulder and Scully to have a moment and when it happens, it’s beautifully done. Carter doesn’t necessarily give you want you expected but it has the class and subtlety that is both fitting of the characters and the nature of the show. It’s an honest reflective moment filled with sadness, lamentation, fear, lack of success and opportunities missed. There’s no doubt it’s driven by Scully’s encounter with Judy but also by how much the world has changed and Mulder and Scully’s undefined estrangement.
While there are aspects of their dialogue which to a keen X-Files observer would point out as questionable, there is no doubt that Mulder and Scully have grown closer during season eleven to a hopeful point of reconciliation and closure. They only have each other, becoming more than FBI colleagues but life partners as well. It can be a rarity to see so much history between two people, but the moment also reminds you why you deeply love these characters in the first place.
‘Plus One’ continues that upward trend for season eleven as the entertaining momentum between episodes keeps building. But overall the real winner out of this episode is Chris Carter – kudos to him.