My favorite thing about this reboot so far is how unceremoniously the show has dumped Mulder and Scully right back into the same kinds of stuff they’ve always done. It was announced at the end of “My Struggle” that the X-Files were being reopened, and this episode finds our agents back in the field investigating the suicide of a scientist who killed himself under strange circumstances. “Founder’s Mutation” is a genuinely twisty episode, though, and things quickly turn out to be much bigger than the bizarre suicide that it begins with.
Scully and Mulder barely even seem like the same characters they were in the new season’s first episode. Mulder in particular is transformed into an official silver Fox, benefiting from a good shave and a suit, but Scully too seems invigorated by her return to the Bureau. Gillian Anderson is always a perfect angel, but she turns in a much livelier performance in this episode, full of arch looks and wry comments. She’s complemented by a David Duchovny who seems much more comfortable in his Mulder skin than in the previous episode, and the show’s decision to essentially just hand wave the whole process of how and why the X-Files were reopened works to everyone’s advantage. The X-Files’ premise has been dodgy from the very beginning; there’s no sense in trying to adequately explain anything now.
“Founder’s Mutation” is in many ways a classic monster of the week episode, which is an area where the show has always shined. It stands alone well, and the mixed resolution—part satisfying punishment for the bad guy and part ambiguous conclusion for everyone else—is classic X-Files. Even the themes and motifs of the episode are well within the continuity of the original series. Children with weird medical conditions and seemingly supernatural abilities, unusual pregnancies, the exploitation of the young and innocent (especially young mothers), sinister doctors performing mad science, and the relationships between estranged family are all things that should be familiar to longtime fans of the show. In that sense, there’s very little new here, and the mystery unfolds in an interesting but largely predictable fashion.
Where this episode departs from the more traditional monster of the week format is in tying it, pretty explicitly, to the overarching plot of season ten’s six-episode arc. This is particularly notable regarding Mulder and Scully’s emotional journey, and “Founder’s Mutation” even included a couple of rather extended daydream sequences as Scully and Mulder each imagined what their lives might have been like if they had kept their son, William. It’s only moderately interesting, and not terribly entertaining, to get to see each of their hopes and fears for their son played out this way, but I suppose it beats some kind of long, awkward conversation about it. Presenting it like this also shows that Mulder and Scully’s thoughts on the matter only partially overlap and highlights how they’ve chosen to mostly process their grief and guilt separately from each other. In this way, it provides deeper context and a broader understanding of the current state of their relationship. Basically, without the X-Files to tie them together, they each retreated into more solitary pursuits as a way of managing their disappointments. I’m not totally in love with these dream sequences, but I have to admit that they are effective.
Overall, this is a strong entry to the show’s canon. If “My Struggle” proved that The X-Files has retained its unique identity, “Founder’s Mutation” goes on to prove that The X-Files is still good. I wouldn’t say this is the show at its best, but it’s certainly an improvement over the uneven first episode of season ten. I’m glad to see the show trying some new things, and so far it’s being largely successful at doing so, smartly and without trying to reinvent the wheel.
- Hello, Aaron Douglas from Battlestar Galactica!
- Mulder’s encounter with Gupta was just…weird.
- The open head on the autopsy table was a nice bit of blink and you’d miss it gore.
- Good to see that Mulder and Scully still can’t find the light switch in anywhere, ever. Some things should never change.
- The birds looked cool, but felt unnecessary.
- “I blacked out after Goldman’s eyes popped out of their sockets. Believe me, you can’t unsee that.” Hands down the best line of the episode.