I may have been a little bit premature in saying THE X-FILES was back following the season 10 premiere because honestly, what’s more THE X-FILES: A new conspiracy or a monster-of-the-week episode that isn’t actually as standalone as viewers have been led to believe, Special Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) sharing theories, flashlights in the dark, talk of alien babies, and a heavy dose of heartbreak? I think I’m going with the latter, which is the essence of “Founder’s Mutation.”
Opening a New X-File. There’s nothing quite like a terrifying opening involving a bizarre death that says, “hey, this is THE X-FILES. Exit now if you want to keep your sanity.” Enter Dr. Sonny Sanjay, experiencing what I initially thought was just a really rabid case of pinkeye that soon turned far more sinister. Because, again, this is THE X-FILES.
Dr. Sanjay’s symptoms were pretty bad. In the middle of a meeting, he started having what the ever-rational Dana Scully would later label a psychotic breakdown. Everything in the room morphed into slow motion, he was hearing some sort of high-pitched noise, and he started hearing voices. Voices saying things that sounded like, “Dana is the key.”
Dr. Sanjay’s response to his inexplicable symptoms was to go to the most secure room in the building, frantically search for some sort of information, write on his own hand, and stab himself through the ear with a letter opener in order to eventually end it. Cut to those iconic opening credits.
As the case progressed, Mulder and Scully were met with plenty of obstacles — just like the good ol’ days. Nobody would tell Mulder what Dr. Sanjay might have been looking for or share classified information from inside the secure room, so he went “old school” and stole a mobile phone despite Supreme Court rulings saying a warrant was needed for that sort of thing. Scully, being “old school. Pre-Google” herself, knew what the frequently-called “Gupta” in Sanjay’s phone meant: Secret. (Side note to Dearest Dana: Pre-Google? Really? I believe you Googled brain surgery about eight years ago, Doctor.)
Despite providing Mulder with an awkward moment where Sanjay’s secret lover thought he was looking for sexual favors, the Gupta hint didn’t do much to progress the case. Luckily, though, your classic Scully autopsy led to some theory-building over x-rays, as well as the discovery of the words “Founder’s Mutation” scrawled on the victim’s hand.
Mulder and Scully’s next move was to go to Sanjay’s apartment, where two important things happened. First, they discovered photos and medical files of children with “grave medical abnormalities.” Second, Mulder got a taste of pain in the form of the same high-pitched noise, slow motion, and hearing of voices that Dr. Sanjay had experienced before killing himself. Mulder’s message? “Find her. Find her.”
What a great, if absolutely crushing, scene it was to watch. That close-up of Duchovny, complete with clawing at the desk and the single bead of sweat dripping to the ground was about as beautiful as something so horrifying can possibly get.
Luckily, Mulder’s been through plenty of pain in his lifetime, like that time in “Biogenesis” when he started hearing voices and totally lost his mind, so he didn’t kill himself. That would have made for a rather joyless revival of THE X-FILES, if I do say so myself.
After some assistance from Skinner in the form of unofficially-not-at-all-officially allowing them to continue their investigation after higher powers requested it be closed, Scully and Mulder interviewed a Dr. Arthur Goldman. (Shoutout to Doug Savant, who I sorely miss as Dr. Matt Fielding from MELROSE PLACE.)
The Plot Thickens. And this is where things really started to look like THE X-FILES. We’re talking Mulder even made a reference to the Syndicate’s experiments involving alien-human hybrids.
The partners met a pregnant woman named Agnes, who was convinced her baby wasn’t normal and was later killed — with no trace of the baby’s existence left behind. (Remember “Per Manum?”) They met a child named Adam, who had a bad case of Crouzon Syndrome and was inexplicably being quarantined for it, when Dr. Goldman was supposed to be looking for a cure to abnormalities such as his. Scully flat-out asked Goldman if any of the mutations he was supposedly treating had anything to do with alien DNA, thus being the reasoning behind his funding from the Department of Defense. Of course, Goldman was basically like, “hey, you’re crazy, lady. I thought you were the skeptic.” Oh, if only he knew.
The next stop was to visit Goldman’s wife, who I think we were supposed to feel bad for because he had her locked away in some institution and had (apparently) implanted her with alien babies, but she threw an apple at a cat so I was a touch bit put off.
The important part of Goldman’s wife’s story, though, was the knowledge that her own daughter was able to breathe underwater for over ten minutes (and smile like only a creepy child on THE X-FILES could about it), and she had lost another child when she’d hit some animal while driving. (Seriously, lady, why do you hate animals?)
This was the knowledge that Scully and Mulder needed to help them know what to look for on the security tapes (legally) taken from the scene of Dr. Sanjay’s suicide, and it sent them off in search of Kyle Gilligan, whose mother really wasn’t his mother but someone who had found him after the accident. Mama Gilligan was far from happy when Mulder started asking her questions about her son’s abnormalities, and neither was Kyle himself. Poor Mulder went toppling down the stairs, after once again being afflicted with whatever had started this whole case with Sanjay to begin with, leaving Scully to run to his side out of worry for the second time in one episode before hunting Kyle down on her own.
Back at the hospital, Kyle demanded to find his sister Molly, only to be introduced to some girl who was a fake. I’m pretty sure Mulder knows what that’s like. Unlike Mulder, Kyle had the power to find his actual sister. In his effort to free Molly, he murdered Dr. Goldman with his brain in yet another gruesome kill scene (I always love seeing blood pouring out of Doug Savant’s eyeballs in the evening), and left both Mulder and Scully a bit worse for wear themselves.
Bring on the Pain. As fascinating and classic X-FILES as the case of the week was, it was the reference to Mulder and Scully’s own son, William, that made this episode simultaneously one of the best things on television in a long time and one of the most horrible to experience. Right at the beginning, with a “previously on” once again narrated by Mulder, William was mentioned: “In 2001, we had a child together.” That you did, and it seems like the two of you have never dealt with what happened to him in all of these years, Agent Mulder.
William was basically the spectre haunting this entire investigation. Even when he wasn’t mentioned, his unexplained origins and Scully’s loss as a mother was ever-present. When he was mentioned in shining moments of continuity and much-needed confrontation, his presence was simply that much more pronounced.
With all the talk of government experiments to impregnate women, especially with babies that were possibly alien in nature, Scully couldn’t help but think of her own pregnancy with William — again, I referenced “Per Manum” above for a reason. It was obvious that Scully was having a difficult time with the memories, especially during her big talk with Mulder.
Mulder, probably without really thinking who he was talking to because I can’t help but think he would have chosen his words carefully if he’d made the connection, said that the women were nothing more than incubators, leading to a big emotional moment between he and Scully. Scully decided to rip some hearts out with her question, “Is that what you believe happened to me fifteen years ago when I got pregnant? When I had my baby? That I was just an incubator?” Be still my heart, but it got worse: “You were never just anything to me, Scully.” Ouch.
Neither Mulder nor Scully was sure whether or not William had been nothing more than just one of the Syndicate’s many awful experiments to create hybrids, or if he’d been the miracle they’d hoped for all along. Seemingly, they also hadn’t had a discussion about any of this, or any kind of closure, in fifteen years. Mulder claimed to have moved on and made peace, but Scully was far from settled on the subject herself.
For his part, Mulder did his best to try to convince Scully that she’d done the best thing she could for William, even when she said she hated herself for not standing by him, but I don’t think any of the heartbreak she’d gone through during that time in her life is the type that can ever really be healed, much less rationalized away. As Scully would mention later when investigating the case, “a mother never forgets.”
All of that would have been worthy of my nickname for THE X-FILES (The Pain Files), but writer and director James Wong decided to take things even further. Scully had a dream of having a normal life with William — taking him to his first day of school, seeing him off to play with friends but demanding that he be home in time for dinner, all the things she missed out on by having to give him up for adoption to protect him — which quickly turned to a nightmare about him developing one of the many mutations she’d witnessed. Back at her solitary home in the present day, Scully had every ounce of pain written on her face that I was feeling by watching this and then some, and her expression turned even more solemn when she reached inside a desk drawer to pull out a picture of baby William.
At the end of the episode, Mulder had his own “what if” dream about William. Nothing like father-son bonding over monoliths, alien theories, and setting a model spaceship off into orbit…that also becomes a nightmare. Where Scully had feared William would turn out to be abnormal, in line with her own study of mutated children and her fears about his origins, Mulder’s worst-case scenario was of William’s abduction, just like his sister Samantha’s. Mulder’s reaction to his dream was exactly the same as Scully’s, though, right down to the identical picture of their son.
If only they had, at any point, been able to work through this together. With the parallels so gut-wrenchingly obvious and the obvious lack of communication, “Founder’s Mutation” seemed to be saying that perhaps one of the greatest failings of the Mulder-Scully relationship was their inability to deal with this very hurtful part of their shared past. As it turns out probable years of “I’m fine, Mulder” could be a major part of why this relationship is anything but fine.
So am I after watching all of this, to be honest…but such is THE X-FILES, and such is what happens to someone who becomes invested in the forever tortured Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. To quote Skinner: “Welcome back, you two.”
Don’t miss the next new episode of THE X-FILES on February 1 at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT on Fox.