Getting Back Together with the X: Reactions to the X-Files Miniseries – Episode 2, “Founder’s Mutation”

thexfilesAlmost 14 years after it ended its original run, The X-Files is returning to the small screen with a six-episode miniseries this winter. To welcome it back, Jeff (of Slazenger1) and I will be writing responses to each episode. Here’s the hook: Jeff is a pretty hardcore X-Files fan and I haven’t seen a single episode of the show. How we’ll respond is anyone’s guess, but as always: The Truth is Out There.

This post covers the second episode of the miniseries, “Founder’s Mutation.” It contains spoilers for this episode as well as the entire original run of The X-Files.

Patches
Oh god… I go first this week? This is more terrifying than shoving a letter opener into my own skull or having my brain telekenisised out of every facial orifice.

“Founder’s Mutation” begins with Mulder and Scully back on the case. The show doesn’t mention how much time has passed since the X-Files were reopened at the end of “My Struggle,” but it doesn’t seem like enough time for a government agency, specifically one Skinner called ponderous, to fire up and start accepting cases. I think that can be easily forgiven, however. With only six episodes the whole season, you don’t want epiosde two to be “My Bureaucratic Struggle ” where Mulder fights the violent, uber-fascist fascistocracy to requisition a rolly chair for the office. Jumping directly into the action was a good idea.

Also a good decision was the transition from what seemed to be a very serialized opener to a more episodic format. Given that this season’s finale is entitled “My Struggle II,” I’m guessing that one will try to close up shop. “Founder’s Mutation” hit the sweet spot that shows like Deep Space Nine were so good at, using standalones to contribute to the larger arcs. If I interpreted things correctly, those terrifying laboratories were Department of Defense facilities, likely housing and experimenting on children infused with alien DNA. That adds to the government conspiracy/nonspiracy mytharc, except through a story instead of through exposition. Good stuff.

vlcsnap-2016-02-04-21h02m25s208“Founder’s Mutation” got to be creepy (THOSE BIRDS, THOUGH), violent (you heard that scientist’s skull crack too, right?), and told an interesting story. It also attempted a tug or two at the ‘ole heartstrings. The X-Files deserves a lot of credit for those  flashback/imagination scenes with Scully and Mulder and William. They might have run a bit long, but Duchovny and Anderson sold the hell out of them. Between the actors (the adult ones, at least) and the episode’s score, “Founder’s Mutation” did a great job expressing Mulder and Scully’s loss and isolation. I don’t know all the things that drove the two of them apart, but that they both experienced their robbed memories alone demonstrated that they lost more than just their son. It’s a real accomplishment for a show to get all that across to newbies like myself after all of 90 minutes with those characters.

If I had any issues with “Founder’s Mutation,” it was still with the general clunkiness of the dialogue and exposition. The script did neither flashback/lost memories scene any favors and what on earth was the thing with the dead scientist’s gay lover and Duchovny? The political stuff was improved from last week, but the cumbersome (but accurate!) explanation of Riley v. California, as well as name dropping Obamacare and Edward Snowden, demonstrated that Chris Carter doesn’t make a lot of room for nuance.

“Founder’s Mutation” was a pretty good episode of television. It did a great job transitioning from the “mytharc” revelations of the opener, set up a new episodic format, and still added to what seems to be the overall season arc.

Are my instincts correct, Jeff? Was “Founder’s Mutation” a solid example of a standalone X-Files episode? And more importantly, what did you think of it? Does it hold up to similar episodes from the original run?

Jeff
Good job opening our discussion! It can’t be nearly as scary as you make it out to be, unless you’ve been hearing high-pitched alien/human hybrid baby communications in your head.

As of this writing, I’ve sat with “Founder’s Mutation for about three weeks. My initial thoughts were that it was not as good as “My Struggle”. I found to be clunky and obvious in places, and the story didn’t really draw me in. I admit that the latter is more a personal issue than anything, and honestly, I find that I’m coming around on this one a little bit.

I wouldn’t say it’s a classic standalone/monster-of-the-week episode, as the show tended to keep its serialized elements separated from its procedural ones. Instead, this is one that blurs the lines between the case of the week elements and long-running character and story arcs. It is a bit more lightweight in that it doesn’t feature the mainline mytharc like “My Struggle,” but it doubles down on the loss of William, who was far from a one-off presence late in the series, even if he wasn’t much of a character himself. My current opinion on “Founder’s Mutation” is that while it suffers from convoluted storytelling and the oddly intrusive  “flashbacks” you mentioned, I’ll slip it one notch above “My Struggle” because it doesn’t play with my memories of the original series and dismiss the “truth” revealed within it in such a casual way.

The “guy flipping out at work” opener was classic X-Files (a la “Blood” or “Sanguinarium”) and shady doctors doing shady things were all over the original series. “Founder’s Mutation” puts this in context of the larger story by following up on the “men experimenting with alien DNA” thread from “My Struggle”. It also follows up on the Nazi symbolism by calling the company “Newgenics.” Subtle. Regardless, poor, mutated kids are adequately creepy. The paranormal angle with the doctor’s children is vintage X-Files, and Mulder and Scully doing some actual investigating is a welcome sight, even if it means Mulder almost getting a BJ from the lead vocalist of Jeffster. It’s an average, but mostly entertaining case, and to answer your question, I’d say it holds up fairly well against average standalone episodes from the original run. Of course, we all knew the janitor did it from the first ominous shot of him, right?

vlcsnap-2016-02-04-20h05m26s862One place where the episode shines, but falls short are the “flashbacks.” They’re not really flashbacks, but maybe fantasies, since Mulder and Scully never really raised William or saw him grow up. They succeed because they illuminate the loss that both agents feel and the love they never stopped having for the son they decided to give up. Mulder sitting alone at the end of the episode achieves some of the power it’s striving for.

It’s interesting  to note that Scully fears terrible things happening to William while Mulder enjoys watching 2001 and launching rockets with him. I half expected to see them playing Stratego. Also, as you pointed out in our offline conversation, Mulder must have custody on weekends, meaning he and Scully are not together in either fantasy. Maybe it’s all saying something about their different parenting styles.

As effective as these moments are emotionally, they are hindered by a few things as well. First, the transition to them in the episode, particularly  to Scully’s school montage, is very clunky. It’s hard to know how to read it. Second, the writing in Mulder’s fantasy isn’t great, which might be what we should expect of something Mulder is coming up with in his head. Lastly, we don’t really know William at all. Obviously, Mulder and Scully don’t either, so it’s fair for them to have these fantasies of what life might have been like with him. Still, even though William was around for all of Season 9, Duchovny wasn’t. There was never a family dynamic and William was sent away with only 4 hours of the original series left, none of which spent much time with the loss of William (but one which did a nice job with the loss of John Doggett’s son, Luke).

As usual, I’m being kind of nitpicky at this point, and really, I like that this new season has a sense of the past and wants to deal with the baggage that Mulder and Scully are still carrying over a decade later. I think this reflective quality is a great decision on the part of the creative team, and I hope it’s something that continues with the remaining two-thirds of the season.

I’m glad you enjoyed “Founder’s Mutation,” Patches, and I hope there are even better things to come. I don’t want to jinx anything, but the next episode  is written (and directed) by one of the most beloved X-Files writers of the original series, Darin Morgan. I can’t wait to see what he’s come up with and to read what you think of it.

vlcsnap-2016-02-04-19h57m30s322Quick Hits
Patches: Chief Tyrol and Charlie Connor this this week. What is the Battlestar Galactica crossover/guest star you want to see most?
Jeff: So many obvious choices! Hot Dog . Billy. Simon. Kai Opaka. Duck. President Adar. The lesser members  of the Caprica Buccaneers pyramid team. Since Lucy Lawless has already been there, I’ll go with either Dean Stockwell as Cigarette Smoking man’s half-brother, Cigar Smoking Man, or James Callis, because I like Baltar.

Jeff: While I have to admit I didn’t really notice the vehicular product placement until my wife pointed it out, how much more blatant could they have made the “promotional consideration provided by Ford?”
Patches: Apparently, it could have gotten more blatant because I didn’t notice. I might be immune to product placement since the premiere of Angie Tribeca spoofed it so hard.

Patches: Mulder hilariously tried to explain college-level concepts to his elementary school son. What do you think they talked about after the movie?
Jeff: They probably slept through the last 45 minutes and decided they’d just watch a Knicks game next time.

Jeff: What clearly-not-age-appropriate actor needs to guest star as present-day William by the end of the miniseries?
Patches: Tony Amendola as a mid-twenties William.

Patches: Can you rewrite Mulder’s flashback so no one needs to say “ma-ma-mith” or “space is hard?”
Jeff: This.
Patches: Unprecedented Third Reply.

Jeff: Are you at all disappointed that this episode didn’t really follow up on much from “My Struggle”?
Patches: For all the reasons we discussed above, it felt a lot like a continuation to me. Honestly, I thought “Founder’s Mutation” did more to advance the mytharc than all the exposition of “My Struggle.” I thought this week was a step up from the premiere.

vlcsnap-2016-02-04-20h56m13s026Xuestions and Xnswers
(Where Patches asks why things are the way they are and Jeff pretends he knows a lot)

Patches: Self-propelled letter opener to the brain, complete with crunching sound effects? I have no problems with violence making me cringe. In fact, it’s probably better that way instead of making it not a big deal. Was the old X-Files this graphic?
Jeff: Yes, it was this graphic, and probably more so for the time (though some of the effects have aged rather poorly). Given that violent suicide, it’s incredibly appropriate that this episode would guest star Hannibal’s own Abigail Hobbs (Kacey Rohl). Still, I suspect Glen Morgan’s episode is going to be even more graphic, given his reputation on the show (plus he worked on the Final Destination series of films).

Patches: William? Experimentation? Incubators? What do we actually know about Mulder and Scully’s kid?
Jeff: This is a bit of a quagmire, not unlike all of the show’s mythology. William may have been miraculously conceived, as Scully thought she was infertile. He has alien DNA and telekinetic powers. I think he’s supposed to be something of a successful, natural-born alien/human hybrid, which is part of a key for the colonization plan that the aliens had when conspiring with the syndicate. Jeffrey Spender, the other son of Cigarette-Smoking Man (and Mulder’s half-brother) injected William with something that “normalized his biology” and effectively took him away from the aliens. I guess. Read here for more that will probably be even more difficult for you to understand than it was for me.

Patches: There were a bunch of flashbacky scenes with Mulder and Scully and William. Did the show ever portray any of that on Seasons 1-9 or was he sort of forgotten about to focus on the X-Files? Did they even happen? I thought they mentioned William was abducted before he would have been old enough for those memories?
Jeff: The flashbacky scenes in “Founder’s Mutation” did not actually happen. William was conceived sometime in Season 7, born at the end of Season 8 and given away at the end of Season 9. Pregnant Scully in danger happened several times in Season 8 and baby William in danger happened several times in Season 9, but not with enough frequency that we couldn’t step back and have a normal X-File investigation. William was kidnapped at least once, but never abducted. He was given up for adoption to a couple in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming. It is never explicitly mentioned, so we have no choice but to assume he encountered Starbuck there.

vlcsnap-2016-02-04-21h11m51s594

 

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