The X-Files have been reopened. Join special agents Susan Stover and Peter Counter for the next five weeks as they pick apart the adventures of Mulder and Scully, episode by episode, desperately trying to believe while trusting no one.
The potential of a human life is great and unknown. The sum of an incredible number of factors, both environmental and genetic, there’s no telling what one person might add up to in the great big equation that is the human world. You could be compelled to commit horrible self mutilation with office supplies, you could be wrongly accused of infanticide, your teeth could fall out because of your alien DNA, you could be abducted just like your Aunt Samantha was when your dad was a kid. Who knows — you could maybe even have something good happen to you. The world is filled with what ifs, each as uncharted as the last.
In “Founder’s Mutation” — the second episode of The X-Files revival — Mulder and Scully are put on a monster-of-the-week case that brings them face to face with the horrors of their deepest fantasies that begin with what if. The spooky special agents want a normal life, one that they sacrificed out of necessity when they gave baby William up for adoption. Throughout the hour, as the two of them chase down a mutated, possibly half-alien teenager who caused a scientist to scramble his own brains with a letter opener, we get a window into the horrors of what could have been.
Maybe it’s all about the common horrors of being a parent, we don’t know, neither of us have kids. What we do know is that “Founder’s Mutation” is realizing the potential of its own legacy, finally developing all the good traits hidden in the classic X-Files genetic code.
The Mythical Monster of the Week
Peter: If “My Struggle,” the series premiere, built the case for why we need The X-Files in 2016, then “Founder’s Mutation” is a demonstration of how it can work. The episode is structured as a procedural Monster-of-the-Week entry, but also touches on the newly established Conspiracy of Men mythology while exploring Mulder and Scully’s relationship. And while that might seem like a lot to pack into a network TV hour, it works about as well as it ever did.
Susan: The opening sequence with the scanning of a blood filled eye had me guessing right from the start who the monster might be: Some virus infecting the brains of scientist and agents alike? Are the gathering crows causing some kind of mania? No. Sticking the thesis set out by “My Struggle” the true monsters are merely men. Specifically, one Augustus Goldman, or otherwise referred to as “The Founder” of the company where “data” is important, apparent, is one of the cogs in the great let’s-mix-aliens-and-humans-as-babies machine.
Peter: It’s a classic X-Files switcheroo. The agents begin by investigating Sanjay’s death by killing-sound and are led to a young, possibly half-alien janitor named Kyle Gilligan who uses said murder-noise to communicate. As the conclusion nears though, the agents eventually decide the true villain was a middle aged white man and the “monster” is actually just a kid who grew up being told he was special and found himself under qualified in an unforgiving job market. A tale as old as time.
One of the coolest parts of “Founder’s” is how it takes the classic structure and uses it to continue to paint a picture of life lived under the new uber-violent fascist weather war conspiracy. We are shown, via a debriefing from Skinner that the Department of Defense has its hands in the case, which lends itself back to the Roswell hybridization conspiracy suggested in episode one. Later, when investigating Goldman, Scully brings the line of questioning down the spooky path of using extraterrestrial DNA for gene therapy.
As a result, what would normally be a standalone episode loses its independence as an hour of TV. But that’s okay. Even if “Founder’s” is not the episode you want to start someone off with when introducing them, it perfectly captures the classic X-Files tone while deepening the new mythology.
Blood and Guts
Susan: I never used to watch The X-Files when I was a kid. It was too scary. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a sensitive child in that regard, I loved ghost stories and Tales from The Crypt and other paranormal television shows. However, there was something about The X-Files that just felt, too real. I honestly thought the cold open to season five’s “Drive” with its faux news coverage was actually a news flash and then when that lady’s head explodes I basically LOST MY SHIT.
“Founder’s Mutation” is no exception in its deliverance of shit losing moments. This revival of The X-Files is set to traumatize a whole new generation of children with its 8pm Eastern time slot.
Peter: Run away to bed little children! “Founder’s Mutation” is deliciously gory. From the opening moments of Dr. Sanjay stabbing a letter opener into his ear to stop the telepathic voice of high school dropout Kyle Gilligan, to the kid’s mother slicing open her pregnant belly to allow the infant child to take a walk, the episode gets away with a lot for prime time Monday night television. Even the psychic murder of Augustus Goldman, which had us watch the man’s viscera rupture and bleed out his facial orifices was something, as Mulder put it to Skinner, you can’t unsee.
Susan: Seriously, that baby bloody baby fist is the creepiest thing I’ve seen on television in a while. Not to mention Goldman’s eyes fucking popping out of his head. Side note: if Mulder and Scully weren’t worried enough about the perils of parenthood, they have to watch a good old fashioned patricide.
Peter: It’s true, Mulder saw first hand what might happen if William ever asks his stepmom, “Who are my real parents?”
The brutal imagery in “Founder’s” feels like it’s been a long time coming for The X-Files. In the 13 years it’s been off the air there have been a lot of advances in what kind of violence network censors will allow on TV. The original series always pushed the envelope in televised horror, and now that the show’s back, Chris Carter and crew are taking the kind of thing you normally only see on HBO after 10 PM and putting on Fox before bedtime.
Susan: We learn from a good friend of Dr. Sanjay’s (after a little confusion about how “talking” can be a euphemism for “blow job”) that Sanjay was concerned about his “kids” and that they were “dying.” These children weren’t his kin, but rather a collection of “unwanted” children with rare genetic diseases Goldman keeps in a kind of prison menagerie where they are hermetically sealed off.
This is all too triggering for Scully, after having a daydream/nightmare about her and Mulder’s son wherein young boy (who is about 8 years old) turns into an alien like creature. Her fears about her child are rooted in her abduction, in the confirmation that she has alien DNA. She and Mulder gave William away for his own protection — but can he be protected from the chromosomes she passed down to him?
Mulder has similar fantasies about raising the young boy, explaining 2001: A Space Odyssey’s central premise that alien technology was a reason for humanity’s ingenuity. Combined with the shot of the pregnant women at Our Lady of Sorrows where Escape From the Planet of the Apes played in the background, there’s a strong undercurrent about the a nature of evolution and perhaps it’s not as innocent as Darwin’s Galapagos findings. Something more complex and insidious is taking place, and Agnes (Hannibal‘s Kacey Rohl), the pregnant woman who tries to get Scully and Mulder to help her with her escape from her so called captivity with her child who “isn’t right” might just be the key.
However, after Agnes tries to run, she’s plowed down by a car (maybe it’s one of those fancy Ford Explorers with the rear view camera and rain sensing wipers that Scully and Mulder are driving around in. It would be SO cool to drive a Ford after they did!). Agnes’ unborn fetus was surgically removed, possibly surviving the impact if it was in fact some kind of hybrid (which unfortunately the Ford Explorer is not).
The episode ends with Mulder’s dad fantasy turning sour, as he sees William hovering above his bed in an alien abduction all too similar to what happened to his sister Samantha. Again we see parental fears rooted in the threat of alien invasion.
Peter: In the end, all the alien children are missing and the parents aren’t very well off. The big question, illustrated by the daymares and conversations between agents mommy and daddy, is less about what if they didn’t give him away, but more about whether or not he’s safe now. In both of the fantasy scenarios — William’s abduction and his celestial puberty — these terrible events just happen to him. If I were Mulder and Scully’s FBI appointed trauma therapist I would point out that neither scenario could have been prevented, regardless of where William was living.
At some point, every parent has to deal with losing their kids. “Founder’s Mutation” is what it looks like when those kids might be part alien.
-Under the Tin Foil Hat-
Peter: There was a lot of Canadian talent in this episode, which helped give it the classic, shot-in-British Columbia vibe. Christine Willes (Dead Like Me), Omari Newton (Continuum), Kacey Rohl (Hannibal), Ryan Robbins (Sanctuary) and Aaron Douglas (Battlestar Galactica) actually had Susan and I screaming names at the television set and pointing. “They’re from here!”
Susan: It’s a thrill to see all the Canadian talent for sure. It’s also nice to see that The X-Files have stuck with their original shooting location in Vancouver!
Susan: We definitely needed the rolling premiere of two nights to introduce us to this mini-series, reboot, revival… whatever you want to call it. There were plenty of folks disappointed with “My Struggle” but when these first two episodes are seen in conjunction with one another (which they probably just should have done) it makes for a fuller, better re-introduction.
Peter: I agree. In fact, after episode two, I started to wonder if maybe this is one of the rare cases where a binge-watching model would work best. Normally I think the weekly release model still works best for TV, since it encourages critical discussion and brings communities together, but maybe having all six episodes of the new X-Files would better contextualize the whole thing for us.
Keeping up with the Joneses
Susan: I feel like the show’s producers are trying really hard to make sure there are contemporary references in this reboot. But I have to say the writing is a little sloppy with Mulder sounding like some kind of 2016 buzz work generator, “I’m familiar with Edward Snowden” … “Obamacare!”
Peter: This is Fox. Fox reads the news and stays up to date on contemporary issues. Fox is worried his strange political views will alienate him from the few people he’s actually connected to. Fox uses buzzwords. Be like Fox.
But seriously I hope he says “Bazinga!” before the season finale.
Susan: I’m hoping for the word “twerk.”
On Cinema, At the Hospital
Peter: So, the film references in the episode were very appropriate in terms of their parallels with the plot this week. The Space Odyssey one highlights the new alternate history that this series revival is positing, wherein aliens help guide human ingenuity. Escape From The Planet of the Apes is a more obscure film, but it deals with a pregnant, super intelligent ape named Zira. The baby ape is shown being murdered at the end of the film, but there’s a twist: Zira switched it with a normal ape(!), so the special one is actually still alive. All of that is to say, Agnes’ baby is probably not dead.
Susan: I have to say that I am a sucker for the Scully/Mulder love story. One of the most tender moments in the show is when Scully calls out Mulder for not telling her the whole story about his women-as-alien-incubators theory. After sharing her concerns that this might have happened to her and that she might have been “just an incubator” Mulder says, without pause, “You’re never ‘just’ anything to me.” Awwww.
However, one thing of note is the parental fantasies both agents have. What’s interesting about this is that they are never seen raising the child together. I wonder if they know deep down–circumstances aside–they could never really be a family. Sigh.