The X-Files Season 10, Episode 2
Posted by Sage
The critical buzz on The X-Files revival was mostly of the opinion that the quality jumped up several notches after the premiere. Not wanting to spoil the chance to watch brand new episodes live with friends and fandom, I ignored screener access to wait for broadcast, and put my faith in reviewers I trust. Kim’s reflections on “My Struggle” are almost identical to my own opinion, so I won’t bother reiterating them much beyond this: what a hot damn mess. But Fox scheduling did the revival a massive favor by putting the first two episodes on back-to-back nights. Best that the majority of the viewing public didn’t have a week to marinate on the shortfalls of the pilot, but were thrown right into a honest-to-god X-File. “Founder’s Mutation” turned me into a hyped-up NBA commentator, basically. “THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT,” I believe I yelled at one point.
“Founder’s Mutation” skipped past the paperwork and basement office renovations and caught up with a fully re-installed FBI Special Agents Mulder and Scully. But first, the cold open – a device that The X-Files was among the first network dramas to use efficiently and creatively. A Dr. Sanjay walks through the security check-point in the lobby of his workplace, Nugenics Technology. Things are not okay. There’s a piercing, dog-whistle sound in his ears and his eyes are bloodshot. He sits at the head of a boardroom table while a bland but reproachful middle-manager reams out Sanjay and the rest of his colleagues. “He sent a message this morning: do-over,” the man says. The message comes from a man usually referred to as “the founder” – a little theatrical for someone who claims to want his anonymity, but that’s just me. Sanjay looks over his shoulder out into the lawn outside the office park and sees that it’s nearly covered by gathering crows. (A murder of crows, if you will.) He stumbles abruptly out of the meeting and into a room lined with servers. Sanjay initiates a data transfer behind a locked door, but he never finishes it. While his colleagues bang on the glass separating him and them and the piercing noise still envelopes him, he falls to the ground, picks up a letter opener, and shoves it into his own brain. HIT IT, MARK SNOW.
Dr. Sanjay’s death is one of those cases that Mulder and Scully are assigned to by pure happy accident. No immediate X-File in the instance of the reclusive man with the high-stress job who had a breakdown and then killed himself. The FBI are investigating instead of the police because they have the security clearance, and Nugenics is in bed with the Department Of Defense. That clearance doesn’t get them permission to bag Sanjay’s hard drive and take it as evidence, nor are they afforded the chance to speak to Dr. Augustus Goldman aka the Founder aka Dr. Moreau. (That last one is mine.) But the good cop/kindergarten cop routine is still in Mulder and Scully’s repertoire, and watching Mulder slyly pocket Sanjay’s smartphone makes it feel like old times. Well, old times plus Siri.
A quick scan of Sanjay’s call history introduces a contact saved as Gupta; leading up to his breakdown, Sanjay was calling him nightly. Mulder arranges a meeting with the mystery man in a wood-paneled DC bar. It’s Vik Sahay from Chuck. (Rock on, Jeffster.) What follows is a Mulder snafu I’d be more apt to expect from Darin Morgan, a writer who (hopefully still) loves to poke fun at Fox’s outsider status. Informant-speak is vague and suggestive; it’s actually shocking that Mulder’s intent hasn’t been misconstrued before. The X-Files hasn’t always been the most sensitive or progressive show, but the joke is absolutely on Mulder here. Even when Gupta realizes that Mulder isn’t actually cruising him, he’s not embarrassed. (“When it comes down to it, you’re all repressed.” Ain’t it the truth, Gupta?)
Gupta and Sanjay had had an ongoing sexual relationship that mellowed into a friendship. Basically, because Sanjay was living a closeted life in more ways than one, Gupta was the only witness to Sanjay’s downward spiral. He fielded phone calls from Sanjay where he fretted about “his kids,” an intriguing choice of words since the deceased was single and childless. Let’s take a moment to appreciate Gupta as a friend, though. He doesn’t make a star witness because he didn’t press Sanjay for information, just tried to listen. This brief look into the relationship between two people brings some much-needed humanity into this episode. So put that in your pocket, because it gets even rougher from here on out.
Meanwhile, Scully is back at home with her stiffs, doing an autopsy on Sanjay. She notices that there are words written on the corpse’s palm. She tells Mulder later that she had to break his fingers to be able to read them. And we get a nice visual of it, because these are the details that make The X-Files the nauseating horror-show that we love. The reminder or message is “Founder’s Mutation,” and that’s not the only strange piece of evidence Scully gathers from the body. An x-ray of Sanjay’s skull shows that the letter opener almost changed trajectory inside of his brain, plunging upwards and into his auditory cortex. About that ringing, then.
The Special Agents drive their shiny new Ford (RIP Taurus) over to Sanjay’s secret residence, a spot that only Gupta knew about. Unlike his “antiseptic” public apartment, this one is a scrapbook of Sanjay’s project and secret obsession. One wall is wallpapered with photos of children with extreme physical abnormalities: his “kids.” Before Mulder and Scully can dig much deeper, the police arrive. Scully endeavors to prove the legitimacy of their presence to the responding officer, but Mulder is incapacitated. The same ringing that Sanjay heard sends him crumpling to the floor. He watches Scully and the officer talk, but the words he hears aren’t theirs. “Find her,” someone says. “Help me,” someone else answers.
When Mitch Pileggi announced his involvement in the revival on Twitter, he expressed his excitement at Skinner being back in the lives of “his two wayward kids.” If that isn’t the dynamic, though. So little has changed. The Assistant Director can still aim a withering glare across his desk to his two most troublesome reports. Mulder and Scully, both in their 50s, can look just as sheepish and defiant as they ever have. And there’s even a new shadowy figure serving as an unwelcome audience. The unnamed man – a minion of the DOD – snidely delivers the news that the Eugenics files that the agents took from Sanjay’s apartment are classified and cannot be used as evidence. Skinner backs him up; the case is officially closed….until the snooty DOD man leaves the room. (Hasn’t word gotten around Washington yet that Skinner is always, always on his favorite agents’ side? I guess that page got lost on the Hill.) “I assume you made copies,” Skinner offers. Of course they did. Scully isn’t convinced yet that Sanjay’s death was anything but a suicide, but these sinister genetic experiments must be scrutinized. Skin Man’s got their back. “The bureaucracy of the FBI has become increasingly complex and inefficient,” he explains, needlessly. “It might take days for your incident report in order to close the investigation to make it through the proper channels. Welcome back, you two.” #OT3Goals, as always.
The only lead left to follow lies with the elusive Augustus Goldman. Scully tells Mulder that she might have a way to get to the Founder, an understatement since he funds research at the same hospital where she worked for the past six years. A. Why is this just coming up now? B. Catholics are shady. The agents walk the halls of Our Lady Of Sorrows with a sketchy nun (Scully is deferential, Mulder is unimpressed), who talks about Goldman as if he’s the second coming of Christ himself. “A true champion of the unborn,” Sister Whatever The Fuck calls him, a descriptor usually aimed at 900-year-old Southern senators who think of birth control as Satan’s candy. The public facing side of Goldman’s research has him providing prenatal care to women whose fetuses have or will develop a deformity. Curiously, all of these women are alone; no baby daddies or family around to provide support. No population is more at risk in the world of The X-Files than mothers-to-be, and this ward stinks to high heaven of exploitation. Sketchy Nun buys Scully’s story about wanting to give Goldman a warning about being the target of an upcoming federal investigation (Mulder: “Obamacare.”), and goes to retrieve his contact information. Agnes, a wild-eyed waif of a pregnant girl (Abigail from Hannibal, always in danger), takes the opportunity to get the agents attention and begs for them to get her out. They ask if there’s something wrong with her baby, and she looks confused. “My baby?” She regrets her decision, she says, and Dr. Goldman is not “right.” A harsh look from returned Sketchy Nun silences her, but Mulder slips Agnes her card. “Men and their lies…no offense,” Sketchy Nun glances at Mulder. “Desire is the devil’s pitchfork.” Now is that a sensational name for a fic archive, or what?
In the parking lot of the hospital, Mulder and Scully reflect on what they’ve just seen. In typical bulldozing Mulder fashion, he begins to go off on the violation these women are experiencing, too keyed up to consider the feelings of the person in front of him.
Mulder:“The women are the incubators.”
Scully: “Is this what you believe happened to me 15 years ago? When I got pregnant? When I had my baby? Was I just an incubator?”
If this series is going to end with Mulder and Scully back together as a couple – and I believe it will – it will happen by way of them dealing with their baggage, together. William would be 15 years old now, Scully reminds Mulder, and you know that she tracks every single birthday he’s celebrating without her. (“A mother never forgets.”) She asks Mulder if he ever thinks about their son, and I had to sit with his answer for a while to make sense of it. “Yes, of course I do,” he says, “but I feel like I’ve had to put that behind me.” Well what a fucking LUXURY, Fox Mulder. Must be nice to compartmentalize your life like that. Fortunately for him, this BTS interview with writer James Wong came along right in time to save Mulder (at least a little) from my wrath.
Wong says that David actually added the “of course I do” to the line, to soften that dismissal. And the rest of his response? It’s self-preservation. Mulder knows where Scully is headed in her mind, and it’s straight to questioning herself and her love for her child. (Imagine how many times they had this same conversation in their little house.) The last few seasons of the original series had so much value that’s been overlooked over the years. The way that Mulder reacts to Scully’s decision to give William up is as moving as anything that’s ever happened on the show. Mulder loves his son as desperately as Scully does (let those fantasy sequences be proof for the doubters), but there was never any danger of him resenting her for what she did. He doesn’t even need to know the details that led to that choice. He trusts Scully always; he especially trusts his heart with her, and that’s what William is. Selfless as ever, Scully put their child before herself. She’s the one left with the most pain, and Mulder doesn’t want to see her adding incertitude to the constant agony of just missing him. It’s not fair.
Don’t worry about my feelings or anything, X-Files. Show me Fox and Dana, suffering alone in their individual – if completely parallel – hells. Their fears are so close, but so informed by they personal way they’ve experienced even shared events. Mulder fears William being taken from him like Samantha and Scully both were. In all the years he’s dedicated to his sister’s memory, he hasn’t been able to find a way to prevent the abduction of someone he loves. For Scully, the terror is in William being transformed – altered the way she was. From what I’ve read about parents who lose young children, the silence and internalized grief is often what causes the couple to fall apart completely. TALK to each other, my darlings. For real this time.
The emotional beating of the maternal continues when Mulder and Scully arrive for their audience with Dr. Goldman. He gives them a tour of his facilities. Children are kept individually in locked cells that only resemble ordinary bedrooms. (All to limit the environmental factors that can have an effect on their treatments, he says.) These are the kids on Sanjay’s wall. He rattles off a list of maladies as the they walk past their windows, all genetic abnormalities. It’s heartbreaking. Most people would avert their eyes if they saw one of these patients on the street, but all Scully can see are children: sleeping, coloring, waving at her shyly from behind shatter-proof glass. She asks one boy where his parents are; he insists that he doesn’t have any. Again, I can’t help thinking that Goldman hides his work in plain sight because his subjects are people he counts on society at large ignoring. His only obstacle? Their mothers, who he deceives without remorse. These women would put themselves through hell to protect their children – and that’s what they thought they were doing. It’s not this specific outcome but the women’s ignorance of it that’s Scully’s greatest fear.
Unlike in “My Struggle,” there are a lot of interesting themes at work in “Founder’s Mutation.” The explosive conclusion of Molly and Kyle’s story comes fast, furiously and with many references to The Shining, but it’s also a statement on adolescence and on how unprepared the conspiracy still is to tether down elements it can’t control. Adolescence is when those characteristics you encouraged and enjoyed in your young kids (“He’s such a firecracker!” “She’s so thoughtful and serious.”) are thrown under the magnifying lens of puberty and can manifest in mysterious and destructive ways. (“She threw a glass at my head!” “He hasn’t come out of his room in three days.”) Dr. Goldman is nurturing otherworldly skills in children with which they can easily overpower him as they move into adulthood. It’s all well and good when young Molly uses her ESP to do some hands-free Lego organizing. Not so much when she uses it to throw a full-grown adult man against a wall with significant force. There’s also the phantom connection between the two siblings and with it, a desperation that’s enhancing their individual powers. Back to the drawing board on those hybrids then, boys?
When Mulder and Scully talk about William in front of the hospital, Scully’s feelings of helplessness overwhelm her. Mulder’s strategy? To keep pulling the thread. The agents’ ability to move forward and keep asking questions in the wake of tragedy is where the hope lives in this show about manipulation, lies, and forces beyond our control. Molly and Kyle have vanished at the end of “Founder’s Mutation” and the DOD brought out their big guns (and tanks!) to sweep the crime scene. But Mulder pockets the vial of Kyle’s blood drawn by Augustus and gives it to Scully like a present. The thread gives a little more.
The episode ends with another William dream sequence. Mulder sits with his son and watches the end of 2001, a notoriously ambiguous conclusion. William wants to know what the monolith means. Kubrick himself never explained its significance, preferring that audiences exercise a little critical and creative thinking. Mulder is the same. He offers a few options, but doesn’t choose for his son. “I think one day you’ll probably have your own ideas about it,” he says. Certainty is never guaranteed. Truth doesn’t always out. But Fox Mulder planned to instill in his son a respect for the looking. As frustrating as it’s been for him, as much as it damaged his career prospects and broken his heart, the questions will be there even when the answers are not.
- I want this intro voiceover to go full Firefly. “You got an X-Files? We’ll investigate it. Don’t care much what it is.” Also, how did no one think to cast Fillion as a bumbling local police officer this season?
- “Is that guy bothering you?” “Not yet.”
- Scully looks better in scrubs than I will in my own wedding dress.
- “I’m familiar with Edward Snowden.” Everybody cool it with the references, we know what year this is.
- “Mulder. this is dangerous.” “When has that ever stopped us before?” Cut line: “Half of our families are dead??”
- The “you’re fired” award goes to the responding officer who didn’t realize that the dead woman with the carved up abdomen could have been pregnant.
- MULDER’S JFK IMPRESSION
- The guest actress playing Jackie Goldman nailed Gillian right in the tit with the apple during one take. Gillian thought it was “fucking hilarious” and put the outtake on her own Facebook page. What a diva.
What did you think of “Founder’s Mutation,” guys? Is The X-Files well and truly back? Let us know in the comments!