The X-Files was a beloved cult show. For the new mini-season, we received so many requests from writers wanting to recap the iconic Fox series that we decided to hand off each episode to a different Lone Ranger/X-Files enthusiast. This week, Maggie Serota on “Founder’s Mutation.”
That premiere was a bit of a slog, right? “My Struggle”? And how! Between the endless exposition and the new central conspiracy that seems to negate the nine seasons worth of, granted often convoluted, alien colonization mythology mapped out in The X-Files’ original run, that whole show was basically a 45 minute headache. And let’s not even get started on Chris Carter’s overwrought dialogue. Gillian Anderson deserves an Emmy just for having to sell the line “It’s fear-mongering clap-trap isolationist techno-paranoia so bogus and dangerous and stupid, it borders on treason.”
Sure, the old Mulder/Scully chemistry is intact but, like with many reboots, nostalgia couldn’t compensate for the conspicuous flaws in story and pacing. That being said, we did get to see a naked alien’s ass. Silver linings.
The reboot premiere was written and directed by series creator Chris Carter, and longtime fans of the original run know that the best episodes are the result of Carter handing the reins over over to writers like James Wong, the brothers Glen and Darin Morgan, and Vince Gilligan. After that overly ambitious lead balloon of a premiere, Carter would do well to let another writer in the driver’s seat.
You know what else would ease the residual fatigue of “My Struggle”? A nice, stand alone Monster of the Week episode. And what do you know, “The Founder’s Mutation” was written and directed by James Wong, the guy who penned such fan favorite episodes as “Home”, “Squeeze”, and “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man”. We’re in good hands. Also, perhaps something that injects an uncomplicated dose of dark horror into the series and maybe wins over some new viewers that weren’t quite sold on the series’ re-introduction. How about starting off with a cold open where a guy shoves a letter opener through his ear to permanently silence an imaginary Emergency Broadcast-style alarm that also summoned an unkindness of ravens to the yard? How’s that for an acceptable baseline of dread?
The X-Files are up and running again which means that Mulder ditched his greying stubble and army surplus jacket nicked off of Lt. Dan in favor of his standard suit and respectable haircut. I can’t say I’m not a little disappointed that Mulder didn’t go straight up feral once he was let off his leash after the second movie and set up shop in a backwoods shack donning a tinfoil hat and a full Unabomber beard and living entirely off of mushrooms and berries he foraged, but I’ll take what I can get.
Scully ditched the doctor’s scrubs and is now back in her improbable heels and tailored navy blue suits. Given Gillian Anderson’s obvious wig situation, I do kind of miss the old sleek, blown out hair helmet from the mid-90s. Nothing gold can stay. Still, the band is now back together and they are being directed by their gruff, but loving hard-ass dad, Assistant Director Walter Skinner, who is rocking a grey beard. And now that the X-Files is operational, they can figure out what the hell drove Dr. Sanjay to impale his own head with a projectile at his place of employment, a biochemical engineering firm ominously named Nugenics, headed up by a shadowy doctor known as The Founder. The only real clue Mulder and Scully initially have to go on is the phrase “Founder’s Mutation” scrawled into his palm. Scully had to break Sanjay’s fingers into a gnarled monkey’s paw formation to even uncover the clue. Over the years, we’ve seen Scully manhandle stomachs, spleens, and intestines over countless autopsy scenes, but something about the imaginary snap of her breaking fingers offscreen makes the blood run cold.
This is, by all accounts, a dark episode. But one of the much needed moments of levity occurs when Mulder steals the deceased doctor’s phone and unwittingly meets up with one of Sanjay’s frequent contacts in a gay bar. Ever the paranoid, Mulder thinks that the men in suits at an adjacent table are Department of Defense goons clocking him instead of a couple of dudes admiring how well ol’ Spooky cleans up while they take advantage of the happy hour specials. Mulder realizes his mistake when Gupta beelines straight for his belt buckle after asking to discuss Sanjay in private.
“The truth is in here,” Gupta says, while motioning to Mulder’s heart after reading him for filth on the assumption that our favorite porn addict agent is closeted. Perhaps Gupta has gotten a whiff of all the slash fan fiction people have written about Mulder and Krycek (RIP) over the years. Or Mulder and Skinner, for that matter. There’s a reason Carter and company used to find excuses for Skinner to take his shirt off, Mitch Pileggi was seriously jacked. Hell, he very well could still be at 63.
Although Mulder passes on the blowjob, he does find out that Sanjay was distraught over “his kids,” aka The Founder’s child subjects suffering from horrible genetic deformities. The investigating leads Mulder and Scully back to the latter’s former employer, Our Lady of Sorrows hospital, where we previously saw Scully doing important work helping children whose ears were tragically Photoshopped off their heads. It’s here that they stumble on Agnes (Kacey Rohl, aka Abigail Hobbes from Hannibal!!!), a distraught pregnant teen cloistered away in a ward with other pregnant women who have agreed to hand their babies over to a lab run by The Founder aka Dr. Augustin Goldman. She knows something insidious is up and wants to GTFO. Or at the very least, she has no interest in watching Planet of the Apes playing on the TV behind her.
Mulder starts making connections between the supply of pregnant woman and the fact that the lab Goldman runs specializes in eugenics and has ties to the Department of Defense. This triggers Scully to wonder if their own maybe alien hybrid baby William was the result of her womb getting hijacked for some insidious incubation experiment. It wouldn’t be the first time. Back in season 5, Scully is tipped off to a little girl named Emily who bears her same DNA and was likely conceived when her ova were extracted when Scully was abducted in season 2.
Anyway, the mention of their now 15-year-old son sends Mulder and Scully on a melancholy walk down memory lane back to when Scully had to give William up for adoption. The dialogue is bogged down in clunky exposition, but the parents’ regret is best served when both parents flashback to the formative experiences they missed. Scully is clearly the one who grounds young William by taking him to school and Mulder nurtures a little Spooky Jr. by building model rockets with him and watching 2001: A Space Odyssey together. In case you’re counting, that’s the second time a movie featuring anthropomorphized apes has figured into the episode. Anyway, these bittersweet scenarios turn dark once Scully entertains the possible mutations her son suffered, and they are not the fun and useful kind found among residents at Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. In Mulder’s case, his day dream spoils when he envisions William getting abducted like his sister Samantha.
Melrose Place fans will be stoked to find that Dr. Goldman is played by Doug Savant, outfitted with grey streaks sprayed onto his hair. He leads Mulder and Scully through his facility complete with children locked away in glass cages, all suffering from disfigurements brought on by Proteus Syndrome, Crouzon Syndrome, and overgrown tumors. Seriously, don’t google any of those syndromes. After entertaining the agents and letting them talk to a patient, Goldman shuts the whole sideshow down when a teen resident starts throwing a crazy tantrum that involves moving things with her mind Carrie-style. That might qualify as the most disturbing thing Mulder and Scully would see that day if they didn’t walk out into traffic and find a dead Agnes lying in the street with her baby cut right out of her. Guess who also had her baby ripped right out of her? Dr. Goldman’s wife, Jackie! She was stuck in a facility for the criminally insane 17 years ago after being convicted of killing her unborn fetus despite the fact that no body was ever found.
In the hospital, a near catatonic Mrs. Goldman tells Mulder and Scully of the time she discovered that her husband basically genetically engineered their daughter to be Aquaman. She was so freaked out, she attempted to flee, but was tripped up by a car accident and when she pulled herself out of the wreck, she was compelled to cut her son out of her belly by the same Emergency Broadcast System alarm that compelled Dr. Sanjay to slice through his brain and paralyzed Mulder at the crime scene. At the thought of her missing son, Jackie expresses a grief that trigger’s Scully’s longing for William.
On the way out, Mulder is able to connect the cleaning service the hospital outsourced back to the initial crime scene where Dr. Sanjay killed himself. From there, they were able to trace the source of the ringing sound to a slow high school dropout named Kyle Gilligan (nice nod to Vince), aka the baby Jackie cut out of her womb.
Kyle is on a quest to find the sister he’s been estranged from all his life, which is something Mulder should empathize with since it was basically his entire motivation for most of the original series. Back at his lab, Dr. Goldman tries to pass off another child inmate as Kyle’s sister, but he sees right through that ruse and is immediately drawn to Molly, the girl who was having the telekinetic tantrum earlier in the episode. It’s pretty easy to see why Goldman was actively keeping these kids apart. The moment they lock hands, all the glass in the room shatters, and unseen force throws Scully against a wall, knocking her out, and the Emergency Broadcast siren causes Dr. Goldman’s eyes to pop like grapes and every orifice in his face to bleed out. I’m not sure if this was intentional, but the imagery of the blood oozing out of Goldman’s eye sockets does seem like a nice callback to what it looked like when the black oil was vacating Krycek’s face in that missile silo back in season three. God, I miss Krycek. I know he’s dead, but can’t we get a flashback of him looking all roughed up and sexy in the shower after Marita Covarrubias grudgingly pulled him out of that Tunisian penal colony?
As for Mulder and Scully, they’re both grieving privately, and separately, over the loss of their son. It’s never overtly stated, but this is probably what ultimately drove them apart after the second movie. Perhaps they will make peace with that separation as the series goes on.