That’s more like it.
“Founder’s Mutation” might not go down in the history books as one of the best episodes of The X-Files, but it was a really solid hour of television that encapsulates the best of the series. Body horror, mystery, and a strong focus on the core of Scully and Mulder’s characters combined to create an engaging story that course corrected after the stumbling premiere.
Episodes like “Founder’s Mutation” showcase the winning X-Files formula. Give us something weird, nasty, or unsettling, make it affect our protagonists on an emotional level, and watch the investigation unfold. This time, we’re introduced to Sanjay, an engineer at a firm that does…something vague with genetics. Of course it’s not very long before we realize the Department of Defense has their hands in this operation, playing with unborn DNA to create horrifying and pitiful alien hybrid children.
Helping the terror along is the show’s reliance on taking something familiar and making it deadly. Tinnitus is a phantom ringing of the ears that affects 10% of the American public, and now thanks to The X-Files, they’ll never quite be sure if it’s the result of a mutated child trying to communicate with them. The show has always backed the creepy crawly stuff with pseudo-scientific fact, which always made the oddities of the show seem slightly plausible. “Founder’s Mutation,” continues this trend, not just in the ringing of the ears, but by introducing the idea that real genetic anomalies are actually the result of secret government tests. This isn’t a new concept, not even for the show, but it’s straightforward and reinforces the ideas introduced in “My Struggle” without overcomplicating the matter.
What makes this episode work is how it fits the mythology into place with a standalone story, while referencing past events. Everything clicked here, from Sanjay’s gay lover telling Mulder “The truth is in there,” to the “flashbacks” of Mulder and Scully’s own child, in an unconventional narrative twist that looked at what could have been. All the pieces of the episode either furthered the immediate story, the larger mythology, or informed us about our characters. The flashbacks in particular were a successful addition to the show, letting us inside each of these characters’ heads deeper than the nine seasons before. I’m not afraid to admit that maybe I got a little emotional when Mulder was watching 2001: A Space Odyssey with William. Of course he would share that with his son.
What’s interesting about “Founder’s Mutation” is how everything just fit back into place, almost like nothing had changed, for better or worse. Scully, Mulder, and Skinner don’t have to jump through any hoops to reopen the X-Files or even come back into the fold of the FBI at all. They pick up right where they left off, and I’m thankful for the show not wasting any time on the matter. Many people are calling for a reinvention of the show for a modern age, and while I admit the idea of The X-Files taking on a long form narrative structure similar to Hannibal would be neat, Chris Carter and company have proved with this episode that their formula works. Why reinvent the wheel?
Besides, the overarching theme of government conspiracy and Scully’s complications with her own child are still present. Working the monster of the week angle in parallel with the mythology like this can be done properly, and “Founder’s Mutation.” proved it. Maybe we’re seeing a kind of Hannibal evolution after all, but only the following weeks will tell.
“Founder’s Mutation” isn’t necessarily a memorable or iconic X-Files episode, but it was leaps and bounds better the premiere. More importantly, it proved that the old formula still works. With a little spit shine and some elbow grease, the remaining episodes could very well pass from “good” to “excellent.”
Odds & Ends
- Speaking of Hannibal, yes, that was Kacey Rohl as Agnes. You might know her as Abigail Hobbs.
- Really, guys, we know the show is taking place in 2016. You don’t need to name drop Edward Snowden anymore.
- Seriously, watching them naturally interact with modern technology is enough. Mulder using the dead guy’s fingerprint to unlock the phone was done well without beating us over the head with WOW SMARTPHONES, HUH?
- Did David Duchovny have a cold while he was filming this or is that just…age?
Steve is a genetic anomaly all to his own. Follow him on Twitter.