“This is dangerous.” — Dana Scully
“When has that ever stopped us before.” — Fox Mulder
Our heroes’ first case back on the job involves an apparent suicide at a biotechnology firm. But as always there may be more here than meets the eye.
Max: It has hit me over the last 24 hours or so just how much television viewing has changed in the past 15 years, a result of technological developments as well as a culture that The X-Files help to bring about. When the program was in its heyday, total strangers came together on an obscure but rising telecommunications platform known as the Internet to discuss and nitpick and ship. Now, that platform is ubiquitous and inside so many devices and appliances. The community of cultural discussion is now mainstream, with gigantic corporations providing the forums with which we gab about these things. Tonight, social media will be talking about “Founder’s Mutation,” an excellent MotW entry that couples Mulder and Scully’s shared history with a pretty freaky case of messing with the laws of nature.
We begin when Dr. Sanjay — an employee of Nugenics Technology — kills himself in a particularly gruesome manner after being the only one to hear a high-pitched sound that seemingly wouldn’t stop. Upon an autopsy of the body (love Scully snapping on the latex), she discovers the words “founder’s mutation” written on his palm. The dynamic duo searches his apartment for clues, which include clinical reports of children with severe genetic deformities. Mulder also begins to exhibit the same symptoms as Dr. Sanjay. What they don’t know (but soon find out) is that this research is highly classified, as relayed to them in Skinner’s office by a rather no-nonsense man from the Department of Defense.
After getting a face-to-face with Dr. Augustus Goldman, the founder of Nugenics Technology, they discuss his work and meet several of the kids he performs his research on. This is after Mulder and Scully meet a pregnant woman named Agnes, who is scared for her life in a hospital wing operated with funds provided by Dr. Goldman. Their experiences looking into Goldman’s work — including talking to his estranged wife who is locked up in a mental ward for killing their child — lead them to believe that something more nefarious is afoot. This is confirmed when they track down the Goldmans’ not dead teenaged son and bring him to the hospital after they realize that he is the one causing all the sonic disturbances. Confronting his father, the boy demands to know where his sister is. When the siblings meet, the psychic pyrotechnics fly fast and furious, incapacitating our agents and killing Dr. Goldman. The siblings escape while the man from the DoD initiates a classified lockdown of the facility.
There is a lot to unpack in this episode, and as usual, The X-Files burns through an awful lot of plot in the span of an hour. I must say I loved the hell out of this episode. It had all the right elements in place, and David and Gillian seemed to be more at ease in their roles then they were in the premiere, as I’m sure it took them a bit of time to get back into the rhythm of things. The episode definitely had a lot of the usual touchstones of a classic MotW: the autopsy, the meddling corporate/government officials, the rabbit holes, and a bunch of paranormal activity. It is a marked improvement over what we saw Sunday night, and a hopeful bellwether for how the remaining episodes will play out. The final confrontation was filled with a nice tension, a culmination of the various bits of freaky imagery we got throughout the episode. I also liked the references to classic sci-fi in the form of the films 2001: A Space Odyssey and Escape from the Planet of the Apes.
What I can’t abide though is the fact that still — in 2016 — Scully does not have her name on the basement office’s door or, more importantly, her own desk. This is a bit telling, especially when we recently learned that Gillian Anderson was initially offered half the salary that David Duchovny was offered for these episodes. I’m pretty sure Chris Carter and company had nothing to do with that, but noticing these details reminded me of this outrageous incident that signaled that we as a society still have a ways to go in regards to gender equality.
Still, I try not to let this damper my enthusiasm for this episode, as good a MotW as any other from the original run of the series. With next week being the Darin Morgan penned outing, things are looking bright indeed.
Radhika: And we’re back, baby! I really enjoyed the rhythm of this episode, the first Monster of the Week in this miniseries, which had all the pieces of original-flavor X-Files in it: Guy killing himself in gruesome manner after hearing freakish sounds, autopsies, paranormal activity, suits, flashlights, cover-ups… the works. There are some fuzzily written parts of this episode and unanswered questions that I may well decide are plot holes once I rewatch this or think about it further, but this episode worked for me. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised being that James Wong, who helped establish the tone of some of those classic X-Files episodes, penned it.
On a shallow note: Gillian Anderson’s wig, a little redder this time, annoyed me a lot less than it did in “My Struggle,” though I preferred the ones in the fantasy sequences I’ll be talking about in a moment. I was also wondering why Scully in particular sounded so hoarse, but I was happiest to see the Mulder and Scully dynamic back on track here. The two are best in investigative mode (though I am a little curious to know exactly how getting reinstated in the FBI worked).
Yes, there are moments where our dynamic duo seems a bit weary around each other, especially when Scully brings up their given-up-for-adoption son, William, and implies Mulder doesn’t think about him the way she does. But the humor and an old comfort level is also there. (Like Max, I am also annoyed by Scully’s lack of a desk, though I’m trying to tell myself this is more of an inside joke between fans and show runners. Yeah.)
While I wasn’t completely convinced when references to William began popping up in the episode, it ultimately made sense. There’s no way the hint that there might be something alien involved in Dr. Goldman’s experiments, along with the fact that Mulder and Scully wound up encountering a number of kids with various abilities and genetic mutations, wouldn’t get our favorite agents thinking about the child they gave up. The fantasy sequences depicting Mulder and Scully’s individual fantasies about raising William through the years they missed with him were poignant — and ultimately rather in character, considering Mulder’s fantasy involved playing with rockets. And their fears — Scully picturing her son morphing into an alien-like creature and Mulder picturing him abducted in a manner similar to that of his sister Samantha — were also very much in character.
Some final thoughts that don’t really have anything to do with Mulder and Scully: On some level, I feel like I’m reliving the ‘90s again watching this miniseries. But it’s also fun to see bits of 2016, Edward Snowden references aside, enter The X-Files universe. The character who triggers the investigation is a gay South Asian guy and Mulder nearly ends up in a compromising position with the man’s lover — slash fiction aside, I’m not sure we would have seen this play out so blatantly on an earlier episode of The X-Files. And it’s nice to see some minorities included (as was also done in the season opener) without making them part of some mystical cult. (We do get the whole “Gupta means secret” explanation from Scully regarding the lover’s name, but side note from an Indian person – it’s really a very common name, usually a last name. Additionally, Sanjay is pretty much always a first name, but I’ll give The X-Files a pass on this). The TV and movie landscape isn’t perfect, as some recent criticisms of the Oscars and other institutions show, but it’s nice to see The X-Files change with the times at least a little bit.
YES, IT’S THOSE GUYS
Doug Savant – Playing Dr. Augustus Goldman, Doug Savant is most well known for being in the shows Melrose Place and Desperate Housewives. He was also in the programs Knots Landing, Firefly, 24, and the Michael J. Fox film Teen Wolf.
Kacey Rohl – The tragically doomed Agnes, Rohl’s star has been on the rise since her recurring role on Hannibal. She has also been on The Killing, Caprica, Fringe, and Once Upon a Time.
Aaron Douglas – This alum from Battlestar Galactica played a Nugenics Technology employee. His credits include Stargate SG-1, The Killing, Hemlock Grove, and Dark Angel.
Omari Newton – A Nugenics colleague of Dr. Sanjay, Omari Newton is most well known for being on the show Continuum with X-Files alums Nicolas Lea and Roger Cross.