The X-Files: Founder’s Mutation Review
This time, The X-Files are really back. James Wong delivers a strong second entry to the revival with "Founder's Mutation."
Editor’s note: This X-Files review contains spoilers.
The X-Files Season 10 Episode 2
I imagine every television writer has a few jittery moments at the start of a gig when the pencil touches the notepad too hard, and too fast, only for it to shatter into tiny shards of graphite. The weight of creating new arcs, and new, compelling characters that don’t feel trite, is tolerable to shoulder when you’re developing a new property. When it comes to reviving the slow beating heart of an old franchise, the scrutiny that comes with it turns into a warm spotlight and the voices of influence can be piercing if a writer allows them into his or her head.
By bringing in James Wong, whose writing credits on The X-Files read like the back cover of a Greatest Hits CD, to write and direct a standalone episode, Chris Carter put his faith in someone who was there for the magic, and was far enough removed to see the errors that plagued the series at the end of its run. After opening with the hit or miss slog of the premiere, which thankfully wasn’t a bad first half to a feature film, The X-Files rebounds mightily under the steadier hands of Wong with an episode that should be enough to convince longtime fans that Fox was justified in getting back in Monster of the Week business.
Jumping right into a cold open with the kind of camera work that would make the late, legendary X-Files director Kim Manners proud, we see the chilling last moments of a scientist who succumbs to the deafening screeches inside his head. The first shock of the season comes in the form of a letter opener through the ear and into the brain — both a terrifying and joyous sight, to see the X-Files finally come back to life. The death of Dr. Sanjay leads to the unexplained, assumed opening (and re-hiring?) of Mulder and Scully’s X-Files.
The title of the episode comes from a population genetics term, the founder effect, which occurs when a small group of genetically abnormal migrants establish in a new area. As it relates to the episode, Mulder and Scully investigate the controversial medical practices of Dr. Goldman, who performs tests on disfigured and genetically abnormal children. It’s a layered Monster of the Week that weighs the outward versus inward appearances of just about every character that comes into frame, and does so to varying levels of success.
An important quote early in the episode that stuck with me was from the lover of the troubled Dr. Sanjay, who tells Mulder that the deceased “lived two lives, in two separate places.” While Mulder and Scully chew on that info for their investigation, we see them quite literally live two lives in the episode. Mulder and Scully have to live in the reality of dealing with manipulated children, something that recalls a painful past.
The escape from that is an alternate life where Mulder and Scully, albeit separately, are parents to a growing William. Where the Romo-relationship and William callbacks felt forced in the opener, here Wong is careful to not over do it. Amongst an average to slightly above-average standalone episode is two finely crafted visions of a reality Mulder and Scully may never have. It’s as beautiful as it is heartbreaking. And for the first time since “William,” we got a least a taste of everything we love about The X-Files.
– The last scene. Mulder and William. I got a little choked up. Duchovny looks comfortable playing someone he never got to be on Californication: a competent father. And the little guy playing William tugs on all the heartstrings when he says “he’s going to go up there someday.”
Bravo to James Wong.
– It’s become increasingly apparent that Mitch Pileggi sat behind a desk Monday through Friday, 9 to 5, from 2002 to 2016, reprimanding life-sized dolls of Mulder and Scully. He put in hard work to stay fresh in the event he was called to reprise his role as Walter Skinner. It paid off immensely. My god, that man did not waste any time getting back into character.
– A return to old X-Files pacing. Up a good tick from the snails pace of “My Struggle.”
– The same complex and inefficient FBI allows the investigation to continue.
– A man’s eyes popped out of his head. Teens moved people with their brains. Cool stuff!
– A point of contention in Star Wars: The Force Awakens was all the nostalgia plays shoehorned into the script. The opposite effect is going on here, with the need to point out what the ‘90s missed out on: “Google,” “Lifestyle Choices in 2016,” “Smart phones,” and “Snowden.”
For more on The X-Files, we’re putting together an easter eggs and references guide for season 10.