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The X-Files

Season 5 Episode 11

Kill Switch

Aired Monday 9:00 PM Feb 15, 1998 on FOX
out of 10
User Rating
273 votes

By TV.com Users

Episode Summary

A super-intelligent virus program is let loose on the Internet and begins to grow and expand by itself, eventually killing its creator when he tries to eradicate it.

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  • Skynet vs the agents

    When I say in this episode that you've got Mulder being tied up by a computer program and a little robot on Mattel plastic wheels riding around.... hmmm do we have a stinker here you might imagine? Well thanks to some neat explosions that look like the entire season's budget, a pretty likable computer hacker and a story with higher stakes this episode ended up kinda enjoyable... and a kung fu Scully of course. The technical joggin of viruses and what not didn't get too much in the way of the story.moreless
  • Kill Switch

    Kill Switch was a perfect episode of The X-Files. I really enjoyed watching because the story was awesome, well written, and played out nicely. It was interesting to see an A.I. with some amazing capabilities. I liked watching Mulder and Scully investigate this case because they each had some different experiences. Esther was a great character and it was a novel idea she and her lover David had dreamed up. I love the endings of the episodes when there is some mystery and question left to be pondered. I certainly look forward to watching the next episode!!!!!!!!!moreless
  • Great special effects

    It was a very cybernetic episode :) I really enjoyed the whole plot, even though I wasn't really interested in it. I have to say that the special effects were very good, specially the explosions. I liked the idea of a woman as a lead in this plot was very nice, considering that many people will think the cyber world could only be handled by men; even the Lone Gunmen were very surprised... and excited.

    Scully kicking butts was good, Mulder in trouble once again and being saved by Scully... I liked their dynamic as always and their discussion of the case.moreless
  • Mulder and Scully face off against a supercomputer... again.

    As far as I know, there's been an X-Files already about a supercomputer that is able to control anything technology related in order to destroy humans or whoever is threatening it. However, that was all the way back in Season 1, when the show was still finding it's footing. Here, in Season 5, we get an episode that is very similar, but with the addition of The Lone Gunmen, a writing duo made up of William Gibson and Tom Maddoz, two brilliant sci-fi authors, and more of a sense of humor, we get one of this season's best episodes.

    The opening sequence sets everything in place. It turns out there's a group of individuals who are working to create artificial intelligence that can function on it's own. As I mentioned before, the show has already somewhat addressed this type of supernatural activity, but not with this much drama and action. There were more explosions in this episode than the entire show combined, and the opening scene where Donald sets up the kill switch for the A.I and the A.I itself draws in dozens of gangsters who all end up blowing each other up is one of the most tense scenes the show has done to date.

    We end up being introduced to a small supporting character, a hacker named Esther (a.k.a Invisigoth) who is responsible for creating it and plans on helping Scully and Mulder stop it. From here, the episode hits its stride and just gives us a ton of great moments, whether it's Esther and The Lone Gunmen interacting or Mulder in the middle of a ridiculous dream that finds him a double amputee and Scully kicking tons of butt.

    The episode definitely benefits from Gibson and Maddox as writers. It's interesting that these two authors would step in as writers when Stephen King just teamed up with Chris Carter an episode ago. However, both King and Carter can learn from Gibson and Maddox about how to put together a great hour of television without it being boring.moreless
  • Overall, this episode puts Gibson’s genre credibility to good use by taking standard concepts of cyberpunk and applying them to the series.

    This episode has one hell of a pedigree, and it’s origins go back to the earliest days of the series. Apparently William Gibson ran into Chris Carter on a flight, and Carter expressed interest in a script from the father of cyberpunk. It took a long time before it ever saw production, but perhaps that’s for the best; the effects and concepts are better suited to the more ambitious and well-funded fifth season than the more lean second or third. The last thing anyone needed was a repeat of “Ghost in the Machine”.

    Of course, there was little fear of that. The real fear was whether or not another high-profile author would find collaboration with Carter to be detrimental to the final work. Thankfully, Carter did a lot less meddling in this story than in Stephen King’s effort, and the final product is much better for it.

    The teaser itself is a thing of beauty. Not only does it completely mask the true nature of the story, but it effectively communicates the power of an artificial intelligence in the modern tech-dependent world. An AI with a desire for self-preservation would have quite a lot at its disposal. Indeed, that’s what makes much of this episode so relevant to the series itself, since the AI is essentially an engineered “alien” lifeform, not unlike Purity itself.

    The difference is that the AI doesn’t need anyone to see to its development anymore. It’s quite good at evolving on its own. Self-preservation sets in, and that’s where the story picks up. One must accept that even the conspiracy hasn’t noted the emergence of an AI that can take possession of its technology without warning, and that the apparent advances in “Ghost in the Machine” were in isolation from the real “experts” seen in this episode. The only other alternative is to assume that this episode is another “non-continuity” installment, and that’s just not very satisfying.

    There’s no attempt to explain how Mulder became aware of the case; he simply is, and like Scully, the audience is left to figure out why this is so important to him. The death of a legendary programmer under unusual circumstances is certainly worthy of discussion with the Lone Gunmen, but still not much of a reason for pursuing a case.

    Soon enough, the agents track down Esther Nairn, otherwise known as Invisigoth. Oddly enough, Gibson and Maddox originally conceived of this character as somewhat less abrasive. One is left to wonder if that might have worked better. Carter pushed for the character to be more confrontational, and while it works in some scenes, it’s over the top in others. A more conflicted, deeply wounded characterization might have fit the goth look a bit better.

    The attempt on Esther’s life, however, brings up a rather interesting issue. If the conspiracy has managed to place weapon platforms in orbit, capable of what this episode claims, why is this never used again? What was the purpose? The answer may be a lot more simple than it seems, given the direction taken by the series in later seasons. If the DOD was secretly placing these weapons in space for future use, then it might be related to the slow but steady takeover of DOD assets and personnel by the conspiracy elements controlled by the nanotech-engineered “super soldiers”.

    The most effective use of such weapons would be later in the Project, not during the delicate and subversive “Phase II”, where secrecy was key. Since the entire series is dedicated to the end stages of “Phase II”, where the reproductive experiments were in high gear, there’s little reason for the conspiracy to use the weapons. In fact, most of the warfare in the world between 1950 and 2012 would be engineered to allow for military experimentation related to “Phase I” (nanotech super-solider technology). The use of the space weapons would be more likely at the very end, when isolated populations would need to be wiped out.

    Because Mulder is cast as the instant and complete believer in this episode, the writers seem to think that Scully should be rather vocal in her disbelief. It wouldn’t be hard to believe that Carter requested that change as well. Even so, it’s a bit overdone. Scully knows enough about science and the extent of the conspiracy to know that much of what she has heard is possible. More to the point, her attitude keeps her from asking all the most pertinent questions.

    The real questions should have been related to the intentions of the three people trying to wipe out the AI. It’s not entirely clear why they would be so worried. Gelman wanted to create an evolving program. Wouldn’t “intention” come with the territory? Perhaps the real problem is that the program started acting in ways contrary to the desires of its “controllers”. It’s something that Gelman, Esther, and David ought to have considered before sending the virus into the ether.

    It also sounds like Esther and David may have made the situation worse by trying to work out a means of “uploading” one’s consciousness into the internet. To even believe that such a thing could be possible, they would have to test the ability of the network (speaking globally) to handle and allow for the storage of a free consciousness. The AI was the only such animal to work with, and that would have meant developing the AI into a more and more sophisticated awareness. Thus their own personal desires led to the very thing they seek to destroy.

    The idea of an “uploaded consciousness” is not all that far removed from one of the key components of the series mythology: the distinction between the physical body and the non-corporeal intelligence or soul. The underlying spiritual concepts were very important in “Christmas Carol”, for instance, and go a long way towards explaining much of the psychic phenomena in the series. What Esther and David apparently figure out is a means of maintaining a degree of cohesion through technology, something that the series already noted as being possible anyway.

    This metaphor is reflective of the spiritual nature of the series itself. Upon death, the non-corporeal intelligence of the human consciousness returns to the “matrix” formed by the totality of all living intelligences. Similarly, the AI represents an artificially constructed version of this afterlife, perhaps out of some shared lack of belief in a spiritual afterlife.

    Had a sufficient connection been made between the development and “nurturing” of the AI and Esther and David’s plan to “upload” their consciousnesses, then the episode would have been a bit stronger. It was certainly an interesting episode to watch and ponder, but elements of the story didn’t quite come together as a seamless whole. For one thing, it’s interesting that the AI had the technology and equipment necessary to upload consciousness sitting right there in the node; why would it build such a device, unless it had every expectation of helping its “parents” join it?

    That brings up another oddity. Who managed to get all that hardware to the trailers? Where were all the high-power lines needed to run so much tech? Why would the AI need to have a row of monitors available, when it would have little need for such an interface? Again, it all points to someone like David secretly fostering the AI’s development…yet Esther seems to have been completely unaware of where the node with all this human-friendly technology might be.

    One of the episode’s subplots reveals another facet of this connection. The AI has all kinds of mind-altering drugs available and ready. Why would it need that, if it doesn’t expect to need to deal with humans? The AI also manages to invade, to a certain extent, Mulder’s sensory input, as if it were directly altering Mulder’s consciousness. That further suggests that the node was created to blend the human consciousness into the “virtual world” of the network.

    That said, Mulder’s “nightmare” is rather revealing. It’s no shocker that Mulder is concerned about “loss of limb” while being surrounded by a bunch of extras from “Naughty Nurses 48”. What is interesting is that the lead nurse seems to be a twisted version of Scully, right down to the cross around her neck. Of course, when that version doesn’t get anything out of Mulder, the “real” Scully is trotted out, in extreme Action!Scully fashion, as if the AI knows that some version of Scully is likely to get past Mulder’s defenses, if he’s excited enough by her.

    A few interesting tidbits are contained in the file on Mulder accessed by the AI. For one thing, all those questions about Mulder’s marital status are quickly answered right here, since it lists him as “unmarried”, not “divorced”. Another story surrounds the wedding ring on Mulder’s finger in “Unusual Suspects”. It also gives the date of 1990 for the inception of his work on the X-Files, which matches up with that earlier episode and opens up the door for his brief work with Diana Fowley. There’s a bit of an oddity with the dates given for his honors at university and Quantico, but the basic timeline and information holds.

    While the episode didn’t handle all of the issues as well as it might have, it’s still a solid episode with plenty of interesting aspects to it. Underneath it all is a metaphor about the afterlife and paths to “a better place”, reflected in the dreams and desires of those who find little comfort in their fellow man. It’s more unfortunate that the AI never makes a return appearance, especially since it could have come in handy later in the series.

Kristin Lehman

Kristin Lehman

Esther Nairn

Guest Star

Kate Luyben

Kate Luyben

Nurse Nancy

Guest Star

Patrick Keating

Patrick Keating

Donald Gelman

Guest Star

Tom Braidwood

Tom Braidwood


Recurring Role

Bruce Harwood

Bruce Harwood


Recurring Role

Dean Haglund

Dean Haglund


Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (1)

    • In the scene where they bring Invisigoth back to see the Lone Gunmen, she says "Are you going to take these cuffs or do I have to do this with my tongue?". When it cuts away to her at another angle, you can see her mouth the words "with my tongue" again. They must have used a clip from another take and just muted her voice in order to use the angle.

  • QUOTES (6)

    • (about the Artificial Intelligence)
      Scully: It can interfere with my phone?
      Esther: Give it enough information it'll sue you for palimony.

    • Mulder: (on mobile phone) Scully?
      Scully: Yep.
      Mulder: Yeah, I found something down in Fairfax County. A derelict chicken farm with a T3 connection.

    • (Mulder is searching the car and finds a CD)
      Scully: Mulder, that's evidence!
      Mulder: Gee, I hope so.

    • Scully: Why don't you just call? (Everyone looks at her) Oh, right, death from above.

    • Scully: Earth slime in silicon?
      Esther: The primordial slime. The ooze out of which all life evolved. Only this time it's artificial slime. Artificial life. One man alone achieving the equivalent of Copernicus, Magellan, and Darwin.
      Scully: What was your role in all this - were you the bass player?

    • Frohike: She is SO hot!
      Esther: Are you gonna take off these cuffs or do I have to do this with my tongue?
      Mulder: You don't want to take a vote.

  • NOTES (4)

    • The tasks of creating a 3D cybernetic image of Scully was commissioned to a freelance computer artist. Although the producers had some kind of wire-frame model in mind, the artist churned out a 3D model of Scully naked.

    • In early drafts of the script included a scene in which Scully sees a piece of hardware lying in the Lone Gunmen's pile of spare parts, picks it up and models it for herself in the mirror. She holds it up to the side of her nose until someone interrupts her and she guiltily tosses it back into the pile.

    • Editor Heather MacDougall won an Emmy Award for her work on this episode.

    • Guest writer William Gibson is best known for his many "Cyberpunk" sci-fi novels and is also the writer of 1995's Johnny Mnemonic starring Keanu Reeves. He and long-time writer friend Tom Maddox will return in season 7 as the writers of 'First Person Shooter'.