[Warning: there are spoilers below for the entire The X-Files episode "Founder's Mutation."]
What did we think of the second night of the two-night premiere of the new X-Files by executive producer Chris Carter? Editor At Large Aaron Sagers and Contributing Editor Tara Bennett sound off below with thoughts on whether the standalone/mythology mix still works.
Aaron: The creepy pre-credits scene, culminating in a cringeworthy shot of a letter opener through the ear, was a nice bit of horror in the episode. The story continued to be unsettling, with images of children with mutations, whom we later saw being held in glass cages. It all felt like a good dose of freaky sci-fi for the revived series. I also enjoyed the re-introduction of Mulder and Scully’s son, William. Instead of bringing him back in the primary storyline, his presence is felt through fantasy “what if?” sequences. Viewing a movie together, being dropped off at school -- being abducted by aliens -- the daydreams play out in the main characters’ minds (though notably never featuring the other agent) as they think about the times they missed out on, and the scenarios they feared with their lost son. This was a nice parallel to the main plotline involving eugenics experiments by “The Founder,” Augustus Goldman (Doug Savant).
Tara: I was thrilled that William was reintroduced at all, much less so quickly in this miniseries, but that the dark repercussions of Mulder and Scully putting him up for adoption would prove to have an inconsolable effect on them as people and partners was even better. Like most baby storylines on TV, they rarely work, and writers either have them grow up offscreen or disappear. William was put up for adoption never to be featured again in the flesh, but the miracle baby of Mulder and Scully is way too important to these two characters to treat with writer's amnesia. So having Wong parallel the eugenics story with the resonant regret and sorrow that's still palpable for Mulder and Scully regarding their son adds more resonance to the case of the week and amps up the stakes that become a lot more personal for the pair. When we were promised mythology only in Episodes 1 and 6, I was worried this episode would be a shallow exploration. Instead, it felt like an unexpected gift to get more character-centric moments that let us feel what William's loss has done to them
Aaron: I also want to praise this episode for all its geek credentials. We were treated to doses of familiar faces like Aaron Douglas (Battlestar Galactica), Christine Willes (Dead Like Me) and Ryan Robbins (everyman actor from Falling Skies, Arrow, Continuum, Sanctuary, etc). Beyond that, there was a reference to infrasound, often referenced in relation to paranormal sightings. Additionally, there was a lot of monkey business in this ep. When, in the hospital run by nuns, Escape From the Planet of the Apes played in the background. The third film in the Apes franchise dealt with experimentation on patients and featured a hidden birth. 2001: A Space Odyssey is the movie Mulder and William watch together in the former’s fantasy sequence – specifically the scene with the apes and the monolith. As a side note, The X-Files doesn’t have much of a track record dealing with gay characters, and it was able to do so in this story without falling into stereotypical traps.
Tara: The beginning of this episode felt really abrupt to me. Yes, CSM stated the X-Files were up and running again at the end of the last episode, but to just see Mulder and Scully back in the saddle didn't gel. Maybe I was expecting some hard-ass to "welcome" them back into their little corner of the Bureau, or for Mulder & Scully to come off rusty in the field, or even for Skinner to lay out the new mission, but the pair was just back on the job and that was jarring for me. In fact overall, this wasn't the best flowing episode executed on The X-Files.
Aaron: I actually enjoyed being dropped into the action of these two as agents once more. Perhaps, if we had more episodes and time, I would want more explanation. As it stands, I was OK with this. Likewise, I like watching Skinner help Scully and Mulder navigate the new world of the FBI, and its bureaucracy. Howevever, flashbacks and dream sequences easily turn me off. The William “what ifs” were oddly set up (and the transition out of them awkward). But the Jackie Goldman flashbacks felt even more out of place. They were overly dramatic and soapy, even though her roadside operation to release her telepathic baby was a good gross-out scene.
Tara: My other pet peeve in this was staging of Mulder and Scully's daydreams. The way they were executed and blocked was strange, so initially I couldn't quite sort out if these were personal "what if's" fantasies about their life with William, or visions (weirder things have happened on this show), or some kind of telekinetic suggestions. I think in general they could have been more artfully handled and woven into the narrative so they didn't seem so out of sorts with how the rest of the stories played out this episode.
Best Fan Service
Aaron: I don’t know if this is really fan service, but there is something enjoyable to watching Mulder reference Obamacare, Edward Snowden, and his “old-school” ways. Certainly this can feel too forced (Mulder plays with an Oculus Rift! Mulder snapchats!). I nevertheless like seeing these characters in 2016. The pre-credits shocker scene also reminded us of how an X-Files episode should flow. Finally, it's nice to see X-vet James Wong as the co-writer and director of this episode. That's a return to form right there.
Tara: Mulder's daydream of William was an interesting spin on a sequence in Season 8 where he dreams he's on the beach with his son making sand castles. Perhaps more telling, and in keeping with the series, it was sadly appropriate that both Mulder and Scully imagined lives with their son without the other person in it, which speaks to their seemingly long-term estrangement, and that something terrible would have eventually happened to William despite their vigilance. There's a world-weariness that feels earned that these two wouldn't just have happy, shiny thoughts about how the physical parenthood of William would have unfolded.
Tara: I liked the ambition to tell a personal story in the second hour of this mini arc, but I feel like the kids being tinkered with storyline wasn't as interesting as when Mulder and Scully had moments to expose their emotional issues with one another (or even in their dreams). The result was a little muddy and perhaps worked better as two halves but less as one coherent story.
Aaron: I enjoyed this episode mainly for some gory elements and its sci-fi pedigree. It would be a better installment in the scheme of things if we weren’t counting down our limited six-episode return of The X-Files. Overall, it stands as good, but not outstanding.
What were your thoughts on "Founder Mutation"? Let us know in the comments below!