Even without having sensitive hearing, the screeching sounds in the opening teaser would make me want to plunge a knife in my head. It’s certainly set up like a stand-alone. Once the brilliant theme tune and opening credits roll on, Mulder and Scully come in to investigate. From the off, it’s clear that Duchovny and Anderson are much more comfortable in their roles, having lost none of their appeal as they question all aspects of the case with precision and a rigorous determination to uncover the truth. And along with seeing them go from one witness to another and Scully performing an autopsy, now it feels The X-Files is truly back!
What’s remarkable is that as the episode progresses, the case links to the wider conspiracy, involving alien DNA and experiments on children who are born with supernatural powers. Dare I say it, Founder’s Mutation is actually a mythology episode. But thankfully it avoids all pretension with James Wong manning the ship for a thrilling outing. He was one of the few writers from the original series who wrote mythology episodes and this is an example of how he’s a much more competent writer than Carter. The episode begins with a threat, we’re sucked in, and we want to know more. That’s how to begin a drama, not with wordy voice-overs. Take note Carter.
But the main highlight of this episode is how the investigation bring out the emotions both Mulder and Scully still feel for their son William. One of Season 9’s biggest disasters was Scully giving him up for adoption. It was completely out of character and unfortunately, was one plot point the writer’s couldn’t easily overlook. So to be fair, Wong deserves credit for facing the issue head on and gives the actors some emotional material to play with. The sequences of Mulder and Scully imagining what their lives with William might have been like is a wonderful entry into their respective psyche, especially for Scully and how she has come to regrets the decision the writers made.
The decision Scully would have never made. Mini-rant over.
Anderson in particular takes on this material with a heart-breaking truth and sincerity that makes you believe in Scully’s continuing pain. And what’s particularly pleasing is to see Mulder’s equal suffering, despite his initial claim of having to “put it behind” him, there was never any indication of love towards his ‘son’ in Season 9. Not that he appeared in any episode other than the finale, but even then he showed no interest.
What makes the inclusion of the William arc work, is that it does in some ways provide answers to his character. By the end of the original series, we knew little about how he developed his powers or what he was in general. Human? Alien? Experiment? But this episode, I will say it now, provides the answer. At its worst, The X-Files would rarely answer questions. However, when it did, it was one of the best shows to never spoon-feed its audience and this episode is an example where the answers are provided in theories and it’s all down to the audience’s perception and making your own conclusions. To me it’s obvious. When Scully asks Mulder, “Do you believe this is what happened to me fifteen years ago,” the answer is a resounding Yes! Think about it. Scully was experimented on when she was pregnant and that’s why William had powers. Problem solved.
With a tight script, Wong also makes some great directing choices with an emphasis on emotions and sounds, that’s makes for an uncomfortable watch at times. Body horror has been done before on The X-Files and Founder’s Mutation contains some stomach churning such as the flashback to Jackie performing a C-section on herself and the eye popping death of Dr Goldman.
The scripts only major flaw are the occasional on the nose lines that knowingly reaffirms that the series exists in 2016. Examples such as Mulder making it clear he’s “heard of Edward Snowden,” or Scully referring to herself as “old school, pre-Google,” feel forced and unnecessary considering Wong demonstrates how Mulder and Scully have returned to a technologically advanced world, by casually showing them use smartphones and wireless keyboards. Plus, portraying them as out of touch goes against their techno savvy characterisations.
Founder’s Mutation was originally filmed as the fifth episode, before Carter changed the around the order in post-production, claiming the narrative would flow better. God, imagine if he wrote The Walking Dead.
That does explain Duchovny and Anderson’s more confident performances and in hindsight, this change does feel logical as it links to the conspiracy discussed in Episode 1 and brings the William arc back into the story, setting it up for his inevitable appearance in the final episode.
Ha, I made a funny.
At this point, it doesn’t matter. Founder’s Mutation is a brilliant return to form, with a gripping script, mesmerising set pieces and a story that provides answers to dangling threads. Finally, some justification to its return!