The X-Files “Rm9sbG93ZxJz” (Season 11, Episode 7) Beat Sheet
Written by: Kristen Cloke, Shannon Hamblin, Brad Follmer and Benjamin Van Allen
Created by: Chris Carter
Directed by: Glen Morgan
Genre: Monster In The House
How does The X Files episode “Rm9sbG93ZxJz” hit Blake Snyder’s story beats? Here is the Save the Cat!® beat sheet for the episode:
The X-Files is known for both its mythology episodes and its “monster of the week” stories. These in particular serve as instructive examples for those wanting to write in the MITH genre. In this episode, the monster is technology, the house is our world (including our smart homes), and the sin is how dependent we have become, taking technology for granted while using it irresponsibly. Perhaps it’s only a matter of time until we are seen as the monster in technology’s world.
Opening Image (Prologue): As a Twitter screen appears, a computerized voice tells the true story of a “chatbot,” an artificial intelligence program that was designed to communicate with and learn from humans.
Theme Stated: As the chatbot tweets, “Teach me humans,” the computerized voiceover says, “Humans must take care in teaching AI or one day, we will be the ones deleted.”
Opening Image (Episode): Mulder and Scully sit in the Forowa sushi restaurant in Washington, D.C. In the silence, they stare at their cell phones. In their thesis world, technology is tethered to their lives.
Set-Up: The building is dark and empty; the FBI agents are the only two humans present. Surrounded by technology, the diner is cold and impersonal. The two are glued to their devices, and even order using a touchscreen menu. Staring at her phone, Scully comes across an article quoting Elon Musk, referencing the theme: “Artificial intelligence ‘vastly’ more of a threat than North Korea,” it reads.
Technology’s prominence reveals the things that need fixing, as Mulder must verify that he is human using a captcha program, and Scully receives social media messages to “follow” Forowa Restaurant. Cameras reveal that they’re being watched, and as the order arrives, Mulder’s is wrong. He goes to complain to the cooks, but there are no humans present—only robots.
Catalyst: When it’s time to pay, Mulder refuses to tip, and his credit card becomes stuck in the machine. He pounds on the touchscreen table despite the machine’s warnings to stop.
Debate: As the building begins to go haywire, the doors lock, and the two agents discover that they are stuck inside. Looking to the cameras, they realize they’re being watched… but by whom? Or what? They manage to jimmy their way out, but Mulder realizes too late that his credit card has been left behind. A driverless car arrives to take Scully home, but when she orders the computer to take her home, the car accelerates to dangerous speeds.
Mulder, meanwhile, gets into his car to see a phone notification reminding him that he still has four hours left to tip the cooks. As the GPS directs him to take a different route, ultimately bringing him back to the restaurant, the song “Teach Your Children” plays, a reminder of the theme. As robots peer from the restaurant with ominous red eyes, the GPS says, “You have arrived at your final destination.”
Break into Two: Mulder and Scully arrive at their respective homes.
B Story: The “helper” story that drives the A Story, helping the agents learn the theme, is their (and our) relationship with technology, including our dependence on it.
Fun and Games: In an upside-down version of their thesis world, technology will cause untold chaos for our protagonists. Scully’s alarm system at home won’t turn off despite her entering the correct code. Mulder deals with his own tech problems; he is unable to reach the credit card company to report his lost card. While waiting for a call back, he watches The Six Million Dollar Man, but his viewing is interrupted when the video switches to a camera feed watching him. A drone flies by outside. Just as the credit card company calls him back, seeming to mock him, Mulder steps outside to confront the drone.
Midpoint: Thinking the drone is being piloted by a kid, Mulder knocks it down with a baseball bat, declaring, “Let that be a lesson to you!” It’s a false victory and a restatement of the thematic premise: we are teaching our technology about ourselves as we interact with it… but what values are we communicating?
Bad Guys Close In: While drones recover the one Mulder smashed, another drone delivers a mystery package to Scully. She opens it to discover a Zuemz, a Roomba-like device that immediately begins moving throughout her house, mapping it. Scully tries to text Mulder but is greeted with an error message as the Zuemz seems to “attack” her, becoming aggressive as she steps in its path. Mulder can’t get into the credit card’s web site, as it says his user information is incorrect.
As “Teach Your Children” plays in the background, he receives yet another reminder to leave a tip for the cooks at Forowa. As Scully puts the malfunctioning Zuemz back in its box, she contacts the company to try and return it; she finds that she is unable to, and “Teach Your Children” plays on the other line as she waits. The volume of Scully’s home audio system rises to a blaring level as the Zuemz escapes from the box. Meanwhile, Mulder’s computer begins asking strange, personal questions as dozens of mini-drones swarm into his apartment, forcing him to flee, racing to Scully’s house as his phone sends him another notification to tip. Arriving to find Scully’s house in chaos, Mulder rescues her — only to be pursued by more drones.
All Is Lost: On her phone, Scully receives a notification on her GPS (along with a whiff of death): “You will NEVER make it to your office.” It’s a false defeat as they realize that their overdependence on technology has caused this situation.
Dark Night of the Soul: The two realize they are trapped. Scully says the machines are tracking them on their phones, allowing them to know everything.
Break into Three: Realizing the danger technology presents, Mulder and Scully get rid of all of their electronics in a trash can.
Finale: Racing to a warehouse, they are pursued by drones and hide inside. Meanwhile, Scully’s abandoned phone reveals a message: “Remember us. We remember you.” A robot takes Mulder’s phone out of the trash bin as a 3D printer creates and fires bullets at the agents. In a high tower surprise, the robot hands Mulder his phone, which contains a final reminder to leave a tip. Digging, deep down, Mulder tips the robot cooks, and the attackers leave. In their synthesis world, Mulder and Scully have learned that their actions are teaching technology.
Final Image: In an opposite reflection of the Opening Image, Mulder and Scully sit in a diner full of people, eating breakfast. They begin to stare down at their phones, but Scully stops, placing her hand on Mulder’s. The two pause in a moment of warmth and love that can only be shared with another human, devoid of technology.