The X Files Revisited: 10.02 Founder's Mutation

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The X Files ran for nine seasons between 1993 and 2002, spanned two movies and then came back from the dead in 2016 for a revival series of 6 episodes. In many ways, the show is as much a cultural phenomenon as it ever was and The Digital Fix has been looking back at key episodes across the show’s run starting with the pilot episode, reviewing numerous classic stories and the first movie The X Files: Fight The Future. Now we're in the final stretch of our revisited as we cover the last season of the original run, the second movie and look back at 'season 10' a year on. Continuing our review of the final season (currently), is episode two, Founders Mutation...

After a rather convoluted reintroduction in My Struggle, Founder's Mutation is allowed to get straight into the show's classic format; Mulder and Scully investigating an unusual case that could not be solved by conventional means. In this instance, it's the mysterious death of a scientist in a lab, stabbing himself through the ear with a letter opener after being driven made by a high pitched ringing in his ear. With the scientist's connection to the Department of Defense, Mulder's interest is peaked and soon he and Scully are looking for signs of secret cover up and government experimentation with possible alien DNA.

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Founder's Mutation feel like a much more classic episode than its predecessor but as I noted in my original review in 2016, it proves how the show can work in the modern era. Super powered teenagers, the subject of secret government experimentation? That could be the plot of several recent superhero shows and films. Mulder and Scully adapt to this new era with ease and in many ways it feels as if they were never away.

The hallmarks of classic The X Files themes are at play too, thanks to returning writer (an director) James Wong. The department of Defense stalling the FBI's investigation, Skinner under the watchful eye of a shadowy informant in his office, secret experimentation with human / alien DNA, Mulder and Scully exploring an empty apartment under torchlight, Scully completing an autopsy of the victim and finding something unusual and Mulder's crackpot theories...it's the classic formula redone for the modern age and it totally works. While Founder's Mutation was originally produced to be episode five, it's placement as a follow up to My Struggle works terrifically. Audiences needed an old school episode of The X Files and Wong delivers. The alien DNA experimentation thread also follows on from Scully's discovery in the season opener.

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In fact, looking back at my earlier review and the context of having watched the less than stellar ninth season, I would go as far as to say Founder's Mutation improves on second viewing, making it a strong entry in the revival. Yet again, a lot of this is down to David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson's chemistry as Mulder and Scully. But it also has a good mystery with some moments of gruesome horror to match. While the children with the crippling deformities Mulder and Scully observe at Augustus Goldman's foundation are harrowing to watch, it is the scene where his wife's super-powered baby starts to claw his way out of his mother's stomach that really shows The X Files has the ability to still shock and revile when it wants to. Not to mention the rather nasty death of the episode's chief antagonist at the episode's climax.

It's interesting too just how reckless Mulder and Scully seem in their return to the FBI. Scully goes head to head with the shadowy Department of Defense suit at the crime scene, while Mulder steals evidence - a vial of blood - to find the answers he needs. And upon finding Goldman's son with his ability to manipulate frequencies, their decision to take Kyle to his father, knowing that his sister is likely a prisoner seems rash; it's almost as if they want to punish Goldman for his secret experimentation on children by unleashing an unstable element into his lab.

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Kyle searching for his sister and breaking her free is a pure superhero movie moment, Mulder and Scully flung across the hall while their father meets a grizzly fate, his brain exploding as he bleeds out through his ears and eyes. It's a great action packed finale that really lets loose with the superhuman abilities these two siblings have. And in the end, neither Mulder or Scully seem too upset over what happened, perhaps realising that they have got one up on the sinister organisation behind everything.

On an interesting side note Mulder referring to colonisation, dismissed as a hoax last episode, suggests that the new mythology does not sit well with all the writers; The X Files is already at odds with what was real and what was not.

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The biggest surprise though is the use of dream like sequences to tell the story of Mulder and Scully's lost child William, who was given up for adoption in a ridiculous season nine plotline. Removing their child was supposed to clear the way for more adventures with Mulder and Scully without a small child getting in the way. And yet the spectre of William hangs over the second movie and season ten. Along with Home Again and My Struggle II, William's fate is a key part of Founder's Mutation as we see both parents imagine what life would have been like with their child in tow. It's a happier Scully, happier than she has been in years, and her fears of William becoming part alien were a big part of her season nine neurosis. For Mulder, the dream of building a rocket with his son and watching classic sci-fi movies is marred by the nightmare that William might be abducted by Samantha. While these two sequences could have been incredibly mawkish, they add depth to Mulder and Scully as they are now and provide an interesting mirror to their desires to help Kyle in this episode. I can only assume that Chris Carter still has plans for William, should a season 11 materialize.

Founder's Mutation is a surprisingly strong episode of The X Files that improves on repeated viewing. It follows a very classic series formula and makes it relevant in the modern era. It's episodes like this and the following two entries that make me glad we got more episodes of The X Files, no matter how questionable the new mythology had become...

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