'The X-Files' postmortem: Inside son William's return

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the “Ghouli” episode of The X-Files.

The DNA doesn’t lie, X-Files fans. After years apart, Dana Scully and Fox Mulder have finally met their teenage son, William, currently going under the name Jackson Van De Kamp (played by Miles Robbins, son of Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins). “It’s William,” confirms James Wong, the longtime X-Files executive producer who wrote and directed this week’s episode, “Ghouli.” “What happens to him next is still a mystery, but this is William.”

You’ll forgive us for being a little skeptical; after all, William sightings have been few and far between since his birth back in the show’s eighth season, particularly after his mother gave him up for adoption out of fear for his safety. As it turns out, those fears were well-founded: A product of alien and human DNA, Jackson belongs to a group of terrestrial/extraterrestrial hybrids that a faction of the U.S. government is eager to stamp out. In the process of investigating a monster sighting — a spider-monster named Ghouli that Jackson created using his psychological powers as a means to play an ill-advised prank on his two girlfriends — Mulder and Scully inadvertently lead a pair of assassins right to his door, where the killers proceed to execute Mr. and Mrs. Van De Kamp, while the 17-year-old takes his own life.

Or does he? Playing dead through an emotional monologue delivered by a grieving Scully, Jackson then rises again with the intention of getting the heck out of Dodge. But before he can go on the lam, he’s got to survive one last attempt on his life, which he just barely escapes with the aid of his biological parents and his own abilities. In the interim, Mulder confirms that “Jackson = William” via a DNA test that he shares with Skinner, though pointedly not Scully.

Fortunately, William takes it upon himself to check in with Mom, paying her one last visit — albeit in the guise of a different identity — at a gas station on his way to parts unknown. But William won’t be gone for long! Chris Carter told us at the beginning of the season that the teen will be front and center in the finale. “It’s funny, as the product of Mulder and Scully, you think of William as a kind of golden child who needs to be protected,” Carter said. “But I always saw him as a much more troubled and complicated kid.”

We spoke with Wong about what makes William so complicated and how he is — and isn’t — like his parents.

The X-Files often alternates between “myth arc” episodes and monster-of-the-week outings. With “Ghouli” you got to do a little of both.
Yeah, I was really excited about that. I’m really into monsters, and I liked the opportunity to create one.

The Ghouli definitely has elements of a Slender Man-like internet demon. Was that your inspiration?
Absolutely. We actually have a website called Ghouli.net that we just launched and has the same vibe as the Slender Man with stories and pictures and sightings. People can submit their own Ghouli stories. We’ll see if it flies, but I’m really excited about it. We had a great person who was part of The X-Files from way back, Julie Ng, and she worked on embedding clues and Easter egg stuff in the site.

You mentioned that you’re a monster fan; how did you create the Ghouli’s look?
I worked very closely with our creature creator in Vancouver. I loved the idea of the Ghouli having these multiple limbs; he had eight limbs and they move around in crazy ways all over the place, so he’s kind of like an arachnid. I definitely didn’t want it to feel like a guy in a suit.

The episode also deals with sleep paralysis, which has become increasingly popularized in movies and news reports. Have you experienced it yourself?
Yeah. I was shooting a movie in Mexico, and it happened to me! I thought it was a ghost thing. I was in bed and had this sense that someone was in the room, and then this heavy feeling of someone pressing against my body so I couldn’t move. Then I had this hourlong experience where I was being chased and ended up back in bed, which is what happens to Scully in this episode. I was interested in using it as a launching point, because it had happened to me and it was terrifying.

Anderson and David Duchovny in <em>The X-Files</em>. (Photo: Shane Harvey/Fox)
Anderson and David Duchovny in The X-Files. (Photo: Shane Harvey/Fox)

Did Gillian Anderson have a sleep paralysis experience to draw on as well?
I don’t think she had, because I had to explain to her what was happening. [Laughs] She’s kind of a skeptic in real life, I think.

The scene where Scully is alone with William’s corpse and apologizes to him for giving him up for adoption is one of the most emotional speeches Gillian has had in the history of the show. How long did that take to write?
It wasn’t that many drafts, to be honest with you. I’d been thinking about it for a long time, what a parent would say to a dead child. Maybe I’m morbid, but it came to me naturally! The thing that Gillian wanted to bring out is that she’s not sure this is William, but she can’t help revealing what she really feels as she talks to the corpse, and the weight of the failure that still lies on her when push came to shove. The other thing that’s interesting is that when William’s body disappears, Gillian wanted to emphasize that Scully and Mulder have different reactions. For Scully, it’s a moment of optimism, and for Mulder it’s just another confirmation of the conspiracy he sees happening is still going on.

How many takes did you do of the monologue?
I wanted to do it as quickly as we could, so I got extra cameras for different angles so we wouldn’t have to do it over and over again. We stacked the cameras up and did it in three takes. Gillian had a distinct idea of how she wanted to do it, so it was just a case of modulation. There were takes that were very emotional and ones that were a bit less. We wanted to have choices in the editing room.

It must have been exciting for you to write the first episode where William is a speaking character.
I’ve been interested in the whole William story for a long time. Even in my Season 10 episode, “Founder’s Mutation,” I dealt with the idea of raising a kid, and this episode is the next step to that. To me, William is the most important thing about The X-Files in terms of Mulder and Scully’s personal relationship. It’s the emotional crux of the show, and I’m really into dealing with it.

How did you choose Miles Robbins for such a pivotal role?
We read a lot of people, and he was in New York and went on tape. He has a quality to him that embodies both Mulder and Scully. He has a coolness that comes from Mulder, and you’ll see the gamut of his emotionality when he returns at the end of the season.

It’s interesting that he’s a bit of a lothario in this episode; how did you want him to be both like, and unlike, his parents?
The thing that’s interesting with William is that he’s a person with powers. So how does he deal with that? What does he use them for? Even though he made a mistake with the prank he pulls on his girlfriends, I think it shows that he’s not a cowering type. He’s willing to risk his own life by going to the hospital to say goodbye to his girlfriends, and then never gives up and says “I’m outmatched” when the agents come after him. I think those qualities come from both Mulder and Scully. And then you have the added thing of him having superpowers! I think it’s going to be pretty interesting to see where he goes next.

Duchovny in the <em>Terminator 2</em> inspired action sequence in<em> The X-Files</em>. (Photo: Shane Harve/Fox)
Duchovny in the Terminator 2 inspired action sequence in The X-Files. (Photo: Shane Harve/Fox)

The sequence in the hospital where William is pursued by those agents hunting him reminded me a lot of the psychiatric ward scene from Terminator 2. Is it intended as an homage?
Absolutely! I have a friend who was one of the stunt guys in that [T2] sequence, so I’ve always admired that, and took a little license there.

Gillian Anderson has said she’s done with the series after this season. Are you also looking at this as a farewell year?
The X-Files is a very important show for me personally; it helped define my career, and David and Gillian are such an iconic part of TV history, really. So it’s hard to imagine something without both of them in it, but I don’t know! All I can say is that I’m grateful and happy to have been given the opportunity to do this season. There’s another episode I directed, “Nothing Lasts Forever,” that’s going to air eighth or ninth. I really love it, and it has a very different vibe.

What can you tease about that episode?
I’ve been working on American Horror Story, and it pays homage to that show, while also connecting with Mulder and Scully’s personal story. It’s a really creepy, weird episode, and I’m really happy with it. I can’t wait for people to see it.

The X-Files airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on Fox.

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