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Ghost in the Machine

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Series: The X-Files
Original Airdate: October 29, 1993
Production Number: 1x06
Date(s): October 24, 1993
Written by: Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon
Directed by: Jerrold Freedman
Episode chronology

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"Ghost in the Machine" is the seventh episode of the first season of The X-Files.

SynopsisEdit

The agents must survive in a building that is controlled by a murderous computer.

SummaryEdit

Ghost in the Machine Opening

Benjamin Drake appears dead on the C.O.S. monitor.

In the Virginia headquarters of the software company Eurisko, an argument between company founder Brad Wilczek and CEO Benjamin Drake ensues. Wilczek tells Drake that his recent decisions are "killing my company" and angrily leaves. Later on, Drake writes a memo in which he proposes to end the "C.O.S. project," citing a "disastrous performance" and projected quarterly losses. Seeing this through a security camera, the C.O.S. (Central Operating System), a computer that runs the entire building, sets up an elaborate booby trap, luring Drake into a bathroom with an overflowing faucet. While distracting Drake with a 9-1-1 phone call, the door to the bathroom shuts. Seeing that the door can't be opened either by hand or with a key card, Drake resorts to using an electronic key. However, when he puts the key into the keyhole, a massive electric current sends him flying across the room, killing him. The C.O.S. machine's lights are still running after the horrific event and eventually shut down.

Mulder's former partner in the Violent Crimes Section, Jerry Lamana, recruits both him and Scully to investigate. Lamana hopes to boost his stalled career with a closed case, due to Drake's connections with the Attorney General. On their way to the Eurisko building, Mulder explains to Scully that Lamana's need for recognition stems from a case he bungled in Atlanta, which resulted in the near-death of a federal judge.

Mulder Scully Elevator Ghost in the Machine

Mulder and Scully in an elevator inside the Eurisko building.

Mulder and Scully enter the Eurisko building under the studious eyes of the security cameras, operated by the C.O.S. As they ride the elevator up to Drake's office, the elevator suddenly stalls, causing Scully to call the front desk for help. As she does so, the elevator starts again. It turns out that the C.O.S. made the machine stall, and then downloaded Scully's contact information when she identified herself. The agents meet Claude Peterson, head of building security, who discovered the body.

Lamana steals Mulder's notes on the profile of the killer and presents them under his own name. An outraged Mulder confronts him about this. The agents later meet and question Wilczek. Scully initially doubts Wilczek's involvement in Drake's death, but when his voice is matched to that of the 9-1-1 caller, Lamana heads out to arrest him. At his home, Wilczek tries to access the C.O.S. from his personal computer, but all of his attempts are denied.

Ghost in the Machine Death Scene

Jerry Lamana dies in the main elevator as the C.O.S. system displays his death on the monitor.

Worried and frustrated, Wilczek gets in his car and begins driving to the Eurisko building, tailed by Lamana. Wilczek makes his way to the C.O.S.'s control room, where his efforts to gain access are still denied. To his surprise, the C.O.S. talks to him, despite never being given a voice synthesizer. Lamana makes it to the building and gets on the elevator to arrest Wilczek. The C.O.S. stalls the elevator, then causes it to crash, killing Lamana.

Mulder meets with "Deep Throat", who tells him that Wilczek developed a full-fledged artificial intelligence capable of adaptive learning and that the Defense Department is conducting its own investigation.

Mulder meets with the jailed Wilczek, who has confessed to murdering Lamana and Drake. Wilczek believes it would be better to allow his creation to run rampant than to hand over the technology to the government, who he is convinced will use it for ill intentions. He draws a parallel to the scientific research that ultimately lead to the atomic bomb being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and believes his creation could be abused to a similar magnitude. Mulder convinces Wilczek to develop a virus that can destroy the C.O.S., which Mulder then takes to Eurisko to insert into the system.

When Scully discovers her home computer being remotely accessed, she traces the intrusion to the Eurisko building, where she joins Mulder. While walking up the stairs, the C.O.S. turns the lights off. Scully then attempts to open the door, but is stopped by Mulder. He explains that he doesn't want what happened to Drake to happen to them. To prove his point, Mulder puts a metal object into the door, which causes a massive surge of electricity similar to what killed Drake. Afterwards, the two agents discover that the door has sealed itself shut.

Ghost in the Machine Scully and Fan

Scully holding on for her life, as the air vent fan tries to pull her towards the fan blades.

With the power out and access to the C.O.S. prohibited, Mulder comes up with a plan to have Scully crawl through the ventilation shafts in order to open the door from the other side. He then boosts Scully into the air vent and she manages to climb in. She begins to crawl on her hands and knees through the tunnel, until she comes to the main tunnel and looks both ways with her flashlight before going left, down the main tunnel. Scully shines a flashlight down the side-tunnels to try and find a way out, but has no luck. Soon, the C.O.S. discovers her presence in the air vent and turns on the fan in the ventilation shaft. While it does this, Scully continues searching down the tunnels.  After looking down a tunnel, Scully hears a faint roaring noise and looks forward. She is then hit by a soft breeze that gently ruffles Scully's hair. Scully is briefly stunned, but then continues to try and move forward despite the increasing wind. However, the fan's suction becomes more and more powerful until the winds become gale force. Scully is buffeted by the wind and blowing debris, and struggles to maintain her grip and keep moving. She begins to cough violently and, as a result, she nearly loses her grip, but manages to grab onto an opening and keep from being blown back. She then begins to move forward again, but moans as she realizes what is about to happen to her. Scully moves forward one last time, her fingers lose their grip and her legs are blown back, and she begins to be blown backwards. Scully screams in terror, as she is rapidly sucked backwards down the shaft. She is helplessly dragged down the shaft, screaming at the top of her lungs, as she desperately flails in an attempt to stop herself. Despite that, she is unable to get a grip, and is violently tossed all over the shaft and rolls over constantly. Eventually, Scully manages to grip a side tunnel with just the tips of her fingers, and her hair is pulled back completely. Scully tries to pull herself in, while screaming desperately in an attempt to get attention, but her efforts are repulsed by the winds. Soon, her fingers are ripped from the tunnel by the wind, and Scully screams in horror as she is once again pushed by the winds at an increasing pace. Scully continues her efforts to stop herself, but quickly sees what she is being blown towards. At the end of the tunnel is a powerful fan that is sucking in debris. Realizing she is about to be sucked in and killed, Scully's screams become increasingly wild as she desperately thrashes in an attempt to save herself, but she finds herself drawn closer and closer to the deadly fan. At the last moment, Scully manages to grip another tunnel entrance, and holds on to it. Scully attempts to drag herself in, but is unable to, and she quickly has one hand torn from the tunnel and loses her flashlight to the fan. Scully moans in horror as the fan is torn apart, realizing she is about to suffer the same fate. Before long, Scully's grip begins to slip, and she stares at the fan in terror. Desperate, Scully removes her gun, and aims at the fan. She begins to fire at the fan in an attempt to save herself, flinching at each shot. Eventually, she manages to disable the fan.

Ghost in the Machine Scully Saves Mulder

Scully saves Mulder from Claude Peterson.

Meanwhile, Mulder is permitted access to the C.O.S. by Peterson. However, once Mulder successfully bypasses the C.O.S. lockouts using a device provided by Wilczek, Peterson pulls a gun on Mulder and stops him from inserting Wilczek's virus into the C.O.S. He reveals himself to be working for the Defense Department, just as Deep Throat warned. With free access finally available thanks to Mulder's efforts, Peterson intends to seize the technology for whichever government branch he works for.

A wind-battered, bruised, and disheveled Scully, who is badly shaken by her ordeal, arrives and holds Peterson at gunpoint, forcing him to drop his weapon. Both Peterson and Mulder make pleas to Scully. Scully ultimately sides with Mulder, leaving Peterson no choice but to allow Mulder to use the virus and destroy the C.O.S.

During a second meeting with Deep Throat, Mulder recounts that Wilczek is being detained by the government, with no information available as to where they are holding him. When Mulder asks Deep Throat if there is any chance the C.O.S. survived, Deep Throat assures him that Wilczek's virus was thorough and that no trace of the C.O.S.'s artificial intelligence was left. Deep Throat also tells Mulder that scientists with the Defense Department have been examining the machine for any signs of "life" for the last five days, with no success. He believes the machine to be dead.

Ghost in the Machine End

The C.O.S. power lights turn back on.

At the Eurisko building, Peterson directs a team trying to recover the C.O.S. technology, having been told over the phone by his superiors that the machine will be reduced to the scrap heap if results are not found in six hours. Unbeknownst to Peterson and his staff, the C.O.S. powers back on, shortly after Peterson announces their six-hour time limit. From the point-of-view of the C.O.S., Peterson mutters to himself about wanting to figure the technology out, "even if it kills me."

Background InformationEdit

Story and ScriptEdit

  • Because neither Howard Gordon nor Alex Gansa were very computer literate at the time of writing this episode, they did some fact-finding to help them write the installment. "The research on that alone took a couple of weeks," remembered Gordon. (Cinefantastique, Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 26)
  • A major influence on this episode was 2001: A Space Odyssey. In fact, the writers slightly feared that, in their writing of the C.O.S., they might veer too far from the depiction of HAL in that film. (X-Files Confidential, p. 47)
  • This episode's script went through nine drafts. Single drafts were submitted on 1st, 10th, 14th, 15th and 16th September 1993, with another two drafts submitted on both the 17th and 21st of the same month.

Filming LocationsEdit

  • Eurisko World Headquarters was depicted using the Metrotower Complex, the second complex at 4720 Kingsway in Burnabay. Both exterior and interior footage was captured here, with the outside of the Eurisko building actually being shot from a plaza outside the Metrotower Complex and a lobby inside that building becoming the interior of Eurisko World Headquarters. This episode also made use of Burnaby's Central Park as well as exterior and interior views of Burnaby Public Library. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), pp. 36 & 38)

Cast and CharactersEdit

  • Brad Wilczek actor Rob LaBelle highly valued the fact this episode gave him opportunities to work with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. "I found [...] [David] and Gillian to be very kind," he related. (TV Zone Yearbook 1996, Special #23, p. 15)
  • This episode's production was enjoyable for Rob LaBelle, in general. "There was a great feeling on the set while we were filming the episode," he remarked. "The sense of camaraderie and excitement about what was going on [...] was wonderful. I also enjoyed being in Vancouver [....] People had such a good feeling about the series even though it hadn't as yet been established [....] So it was very exciting to be a part of that." (TV Zone Yearbook 1996, Special #23, pp. 14 & 15)

ProductionEdit

  • This episode was filmed in "nine or ten days," estimated Director Jerrold Freedman. (TV Zone, issue 81, p. 38)
  • Chris Carter was present while this episode was being filmed. He left the outing's production process, however, in Jerrold Freedman's auspices. Explained Rob LaBelle, "He [...] thought The X-Files would be a fun project. Jerrold seemed to have a lot of respect for the crew and worked well with the actors [....] He had a good sense of the way to work with you and would take some time with you if you knew what you wanted and I appreciate that." (TV Zone Yearbook 1996, Special #23, p. 14)
  • As the C.O.S. didn't move, Jerrold Freedman instead focused on the effects of its calculations, in an effort to overcome the challenge of making the computer system seem credible. As an example, Freedman cited the scene in which Agent Lamana is killed in an elevator and "the way that was set up – the different cuts of his getting on the elevator, the clicking of the machine, the lights, all that." (TV Zone, issue 81, pp. 36-37)
  • One day, production at the Metrotower Complex started on the plaza outside the towers. Filming took longer than expected, so – by the time the production crew began filming inside the building's lobby – it was about 6 p.m. and most of the building had been vacated. "I was struck with relief when I saw the set-up in the lobby," remembered Location Manager Louisa Gradnitzer. The room was a busy, mobbed area. Background performers were positioned behind the security counter while lighting equipment took up much of the space. The elevator was being pre-rigged with lights and carts of equipment lined the corridor outside the elevator. Barely enough room was left for the actors. It would have been virtually impossible for anything else to take place in the lobby. Later the same evening, the crew returned to shooting the exterior of the Metrotower Complex, capturing the shot – near the end of this episode – when the Eurisko building's lights come back to life on each floor. For that shot, the Tower's engineer sent a surge of power to each floor of the high rise. The engineer used his cellular phone to program the sequential lighting of each floor. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), p. 36)
  • The production crew filmed at Burnaby's Central Park on a Friday morning. The crew then moved to film inside the Burnaby Public Library parkade, before relocating to shoot interior footage inside the Library administration area. The exterior sidewalk/plaza of the Library was chosen as the venue where the crew could view that evening's 9 p.m. broadcast of The X-Files. Approximately forty chairs were placed in front of a forty-inch television as the crew watched, while nearby traffic slowed at the sight of the crew watching the television outside a library. (X Marks the Spot (On Location with The X-Files), p. 38)
  • The ventilation shafts which Scully crawls through were built, as a single crawlspace, especially for this episode. "It was very large with a whole lot of cutout sections which allowed us to get inside to shoot," Jerrold Freedman reflected. "Once the thing was built it just became a question of getting in there and doing it shot-by-shot, which ended up being a very slow and cumbersome project. Even though the set was big it had several twists and turns that we had to manoeuver around to do our work, so, it was not an easy situation," Freedman laughed. "A lot of time and money were put into this fairly short section of film and we took a long time to shoot it." (TV Zone, issue 81, p. 36)
  • Another problem with this episode's production was the amount of footage which needed filmed, since there are multiple shots that were intended to be from the point-of-view of the C.O.S. In many of the scenes herein, two or three monitors each showed a different perspective. For the various views, a long time had to be taken over pre-filming a scene, transferring it to video, and playing it back on the relevant monitor. Explained R.W. Goodwin, "It's almost like we were shooting two different shows [....] It was a very complex show." Goodwin also reckoned that, if it hadn't been for the directing expertise of Jerry Freedman, the episode "could have easily been brought to its knees." (X-Files Confidential, p. 48) The director himself concluded, "I found the whole thing to be a good and positive experience." (TV Zone, issue 81, p. 36)

Reception and AftermathEdit

  • Howard Gordon once called this episode "one of my biggest disappointments," thinking the artificial intelligence was less well-defined an antagonist compared to its predecessors in 2001: A Space Odyssey and Demon Seed. According to Gordon, "Fox felt it was a bit too pedestrian to be an X-File, and it was one of those instances where I'd have to agree with them." (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 115) In fact, both he and Alex Gansa felt this was the worst episode from the entire first season of The X-Files. "This is easily and clearly our worst," Gordon criticized. "It's basically uninteresting. Some of the concepts may have been interesting, maybe the idea of artificial intelligence. It's an old idea. There may have been a more interesting way of doing it and we unfortunately don't feel that we licked the problem. We didn't write our material very well [....] It was a completely unsuccessful episode. Well, it pretty much sucked." Gordon also expressed embarrassment with the fact he and Gansa had, at the time, very little understanding of how computers worked. (Cinefantastique (Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 26) On the other hand, Gordon thought the sequence with the rotating fan blades "looked good." (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 115)
  • Glen Morgan had a more balanced view of this outing. "I think parts of the episode worked," he commented. "What maybe fell a little flat is that we were a little too afraid of [not] doing HAL [from 2001] and, in a sense, I think that's what the building needed: to have a scary personality. I think we could have given the building a little bit more of a mean-spirited personality to get it away from HAL." (X-Files Confidential, p. 47)
  • James Wong also had a varied opinion of this episode. "It had some neat stuff at the end," he admired, "although I think the ending was a little unsatisfying to me visually, as well as in terms of how Mulder comes to dismember the machine. It was either a little too easy or maybe we could have thought of something more fun to do with the machine. Actually the script was a lot more fun [...] and it [the final version of the episode's action sequences involving the elevator] was just a lot more complicated [than how it had originally been scripted]. Overall a fun episode." (X-Files Confidential, pp. 47-48)
  • Chris Carter once spoke as a strong supporter of this installment, expressing that he thought the script effectively addressed the question of exactly what was appropriate subject matter for an episode of The X-Files. "I think the action scenes and the abduction of Scully were great," he enthused. "A very successful episode on many levels. Some people didn't think so, but I did. There are some computer buffs who question a few things we had done. Maybe they have some valid arguments, but I think as a dramatic piece it was strong and good." (X-Files Confidential, p. 47) Carter later complained about the installment, saying, "I don't know what happened with that episode. It was a perfectly good story, but it's hard turning a building into a villain. I don't know how cinematic that ever is." (The Complete X-Files: Behind the Series, the Myths and the Movies, p. 40)
  • This episode achieved a Nielsen household rating of 5.9, with an audience share of 11. This means that roughly 5.9 percent of all television-equipped households, and 11 percent of households watching television, were tuned in to the episode. It was viewed by 5.6 million households. These viewing figures match those of the preceding episode, "Shadows". Together, they were the joint second lowest audience numbers in the first season, higher than only "Fallen Angel". (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 248)
  • Cinefantastique (Vol. 26/27, No. 6/1, p. 26) rates this episode 1 and a half out of 4 stars. The magazine also characterizes it as a "predictable" installment with a "hoary plot," in which "stock elements abound." Cinefantastique goes on to observe, "There is some tension achieved in the debate over the cost to humanity by creating new technology that we barely understand, let alone control, but 'Ghost in the Machine' is not a particularly compelling dramatization of this theme." Aspects of the episode which the magazine considers highlights include Scully's near-fatal passage through an air duct (which Cinefantastique describes as "the best scene"), the few titbits of information about Mulder's past assignments and Rob LaBelle's portrayal of Brad Wilczek.
  • The X-Files Magazine (The X-Files Magazine Volume 1, Issue 7,  p. 31) calls this "neither the best nor the worst episode of the first season" and cites the episode's most interesting character as being "by far" Brad Wilczek. The magazine adds this is "particularly in the light of his Oppenheimer speech."
  • In his reference book Wanting to Believe: A Critical Guide to The X-Files, Millennium and The Lone Gunmen, writer Robert Shearman scored this episode 2 and a half out of 5 stars. He critiqued, "Here's an episode that has been given a good kicking by fans over the years, and you can see why. It's rather silly and contrived, it shamelessly steals from 2001: A Space Odyssey to no great effect... and it's [...] [an] episode which feels like it's groping around blindly to find out what the show’s tone might be [...] but although 'Ghost in the Machine' may be throwaway tosh, it's terribly likeable throwaway tosh [....] Watching it now [...] the episode feels rather charming, as all the talk of artificial intelligence and advanced technology is conducted to the background whirr of DOS programs and floppy discs. If it's an unintentional charm then it's no less engaging for it; this may be the most dated of X-Files, but the story still works. Sequences which involve our watching victims from the computer's point of view are surprisingly tense [....] And when Mulder and Scully get access to the building, with all electrical systems turned against them, there's a palpable sense of danger the series hasn't offered in weeks. It's not clever and it's not subtle [....] [Wayne Duvall and Rob LaBelle are] both fun to watch, in a cartoon like way, and their performances fit an episode which may never flatter the audience's intelligence, but never insults them by being dull either."

TriviaEdit

  • This is the second episode in which Jerry Hardin appears as Deep Throat. The character had originally been intended as a one-off in the episode "Deep Throat", but reaction to his appearance was so favorable, among both audiences and crew members, that he made several appearances throughout season one.
  • In a successful attempt to stop the spinning fan blades in this episode, Scully uses her gun for the first time in the series.
  • In this installment, Scully's phone number is given as (202) 555-6431. 555 is the standard prefix used in movies and television series, as it is not used by the phone company and therefore helps to prevent people from receiving hoax calls (although certain films have purchased actual phone numbers, which often lead to pre-recorded messages). (The Truth Is Out There: The Official Guide to The X-Files, p. 116)
  • The film crew can be seen, quite clearly, in the reflection of Brad Wilczek's computer screen before he turns it on to demonstrate something to Mulder and Scully.
  • When Mulder and Scully introduce themselves as FBI agents to Brad Wilczek, he responds "What took you guys so long?" A reference to the first words serial killer David Berkowitz told the NYPD, after finally caught and arrested. The actual quote was: "You got me. What took you so long?"

CastEdit

Main Cast

Guest Starring

Featuring

ReferencesEdit

SEMICOLON-SEPARATED LIST OF ITEMS/LOCATIONS REFERENCED IN EPISODE (BUT NOT LINKED TO IF ALREADY LINKED IN SUMMARY OR GUEST STARS SECTIONS)

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