Chris Carter returns to pen this week’s episode, “Plus One,” an hour that works mostly as a stand-alone thriller but is far more effective for anyone who has a history with Dana Scully and Fox Mulder. In a sense, this is the most old-fashioned X-Files episode since the reboot as it featured the two leads in their most common roles — Mulder the believer versus Scully the skeptic — and it plays off their still-palpable romantic chemistry. It also brings back a character actor from the heyday of the show, a performer who starred in two of the most beloved episodes ever: “Home” and “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.” And then Carter went a step further by giving her multiple roles.
The actress in question is Karin Konoval, who appears here as both Judy and Chucky Poundstone, telepathically connected twins who play a deadly game of Hangman. First, we meet one of our poor victims of the week: Arkie Seavers, a young man just having a good time at a concert when he sees his doppelgänger. He flees the concert, only to have his “other” grab the wheel and drive him into a tree. Bring on the X-Files!
Fox Mulder gets the Seavers case and discovers that a number of people have tried to kill themselves after claiming they saw someone who looked exactly like them. Is it the rare (and true) phenomenon known as a “suicide cluster,” or is it something more supernaturally sinister? Of course, Scully thinks Arkie is lying, but Mulder is more inclined to believe. And anyone who’s ever seen an X-Files knows that Arkie is doomed.
Before the young man dies, Mulder and Scully meet a patient with split personality disorder named Judy Poundstone. Her room is filled with games of hangman, which she claims she plays with her brother, Chucky, who lives across town. Mulder charms Judy a bit, and that charm may very well be the reason he survives the episode.
Mulder and Scully check into the St. Rachel Motel in a suite, but Mulder takes the couch. He comes to her in the middle of the night to reveal Arkie’s death, and the investigation sends him off to find the irascible Chucky. Unfortunately, the scenes between Mulder and Chucky are the ones that don’t quite work. They’re a bit too laden with Carter’s clunky dialogue and Konoval isn’t quite as believable in the second part of the dual role. There’s a goofiness that doesn’t quite click, even though both actors are clearly having a good time.
Better are the scenes between Judy and Scully, including the first one in which we meet “Demon Judy,” one of her evil alter egos who literally “flings dookie” at Scully. In what first seems like a throwaway line from the nurses, we learn that both of the Poundstone parents hung themselves — later we’ll see hangman drawings of “Mom” and “Dad,” implying that their kids did them in à la Arkie Seavers. Scully tries to get more information out of Judy, but is tormented by this new nemesis, and she takes that torment with her when Judy suggests that she’s over the hill and “all dried up.” As Judy says, “Nothing hurts like the truth.”
Back at the motel, Scully drops a pretty cool meta-reference to the role that you probably know Konoval best for, even if you didn’t realize it. Scully mentions that having “dookie” thrown at you makes you want to “gather the other apes and make war against your enemy.” Konoval played Maurice the Orangutan in all three of the recent Planet of the Apes films, including last year’s excellent War for the Planet of the Apes. This scene also includes a bit of thematic development when Scully and Mulder discuss the truth behind ghosts: Are they scientifically explainable phenomenon or visitors from the other side? We know on which side these characters fall, but it’s wonderful to see them slip back into a pattern of supernatural debate. Scully also expresses vulnerability by asking Mulder if she’s old. Of course not, he says. She’s still got some “scoot in her boot.” And Mulder tells her to “knock three times” if she needs him.
After a couple of scenes with Chucky and Judy, it’s time to kill the wonderfully named Dean Cavalier, the attorney for the now-deceased Arkie Seavers. First, Dean sees his double and goes to tell our heroes. That leads to another conversation about evil and the devil as concepts instead of realities. There’s a thread in this episode about how much we believe in things that we know aren’t really true — like ghosts, the devil, or the magic pills that the nurses at Judy’s clinic take just in case they work. Scully herself still sleeps with her back to the door in case the devil comes in the night. We all have superstitions, even the most skeptical among us.
Dean winds up cutting off his own head, which is quite a feat, and any fan of The X-Files knows that the threat will eventually get to Mulder and Scully in the final act, but not before an excellent scene between Anderson and Duchovny in their hotel bed. Scully reveals that the case is getting under her skin, and she asks Mulder what will happen to them when they’re older. These two actors have such wonderful chemistry and an easy rapport, this scene feels like it easily could have come from the original series. It’s one of the best of the new season so far. There’s even a bit of that Chris Carter mouthpiece dialogue — about the president bringing down the FBI in a world that’s going to hell — buried in their emotionally driven exchange. When people speak of the best TV duos in history, Mulder and Scully often make the list, and this scene once again shows us why.
And then, the action. Mulder sees his double in the bathroom and freaks out in an appropriate manner. (Although I’m not sure telling Scully to “put a dimmer on that afterglow” is quite appropriate.) As Mulder races to confront Chucky and Scully goes to stop Judy, we discover that the twins are fighting each other. They can’t decide which agent to hang, which makes for a weird twist if you really think about it. What if Mulder and Scully were just a little less sexy? Or perhaps this is Carter’s way of revealing how much he thinks of his leads and characters: Don’t worry Scully, you still got it, at least enough to interest a homicidal, telepathic twin.
In their disagreement, the twins basically “hang” each other, making for something of a lackluster ending to an episode that wrote itself into a corner. However, the epilogue is strong as Scully plays cool like she doesn’t need Mulder and then changes her mind, only to find him in the doorway already. He’s always the believer.
• “Plus One” is tightly packed in terms of narrative and locations, which is a credit to director Kevin Hooks for moving it along so smoothly. He’s a veteran of quality TV with credits that include everything from St. Elsewhere to Lost.
• Karin Konoval played Madame Zelma in “Clyde Bruckman” and Mrs. Peacock in “Home.” She also appeared in two episodes of Millennium (“Weeds” and “Through a Glass Darkly”). It’s great to see her back in the fold for the revival.
• A note about last week’s recap. A reader pointed out that the Lone Gunmen died in “Jump the Shark” and not “The Truth,” to which the answer is only … of course they did! I was so focused on figuring out the tombstone Easter eggs that I must have confused their last appearance (they appear as ghosts in “The Truth”) with their demise. Sincere apologies to Langly.
• In season 11, The X-Files seems to be recognizing its own shelf life and mortality more than ever. All three episodes so far have played with the show’s own past, either through direct reference or even meta-casting, and it’s starting to feel like Carter knows this is really the final lap. (Anderson swears she won’t return for another season, and Carter said he won’t do it without her.) Let’s see if that keeps up and if he truly brings the saga of Mulder and Scully to a satisfying conclusion.