Synopsis of Part 2 of 6: A mysterious suicide leads Mulder and Scully to investigate a host of genetic deformities in children and the experiments that may have lead to them receiving mysterious powers.
A not-insignificant number of episodes of The X-Files open with a sequence of unexpected events happening to an everyman as they’re consumed by forces out of their control. They’re killed, broken, or changed, transformed by powers outside of their control. They’re murdered or gain superpowers, transform into monsters or witness transformations themselves, they unleash something horrible or watch as their secrets are made manifest. By the end of the series, it often felt a bit rote but it’s an always effective opening, one that was immediately influential to shows such as CSI and Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
In many ways, that makes “Founder’s Mutation” feel like a classic episode of The X-Files. A young programmer named Sanjay is hearing a tinny, electronic vibration in his head, one that ultimately drives him to insanity and suicide. His plight is at least partially tied into a host of secrets he keeps, primarily involving both his work and his sexuality. This quickly leads down a rabbit hole of government conspiracies involving abandoned children, psychics, and the ever-present threat of government experiments on the populace.
Sanjay’s plight is going to feel familiar to longtime X-Files fans. The opening is an almost shot-for-shot homage to “Blood,” a particularly troubling, extremely violent episode from the show’s early run, but the thematic focus on morality in a corrupt, dehumanizing work place is straight out of “Foile a Deux,” an iconic episode about an office drone driven to homicidal violence perhaps by a supernatural force.
“Founder’s Mutation” isn’t as thematically focused as that episode for a couple of reasons though. It’s equally split between serving a number of masters. While the episode ostensibly is about the destructive nature of sex and desire, it’s primarily attempting to follow up on the premier’s focus on a government experimenting on its populace but it’s also blending that new mythology with the original run’s mythology around Mulder and Scully’s child, William.
William’s plot is arguably, one of the most bizarre aspects of the original mythology, loaded with references to Scully’s abduction, sterilization, and cancer diagnosis from the show’s earliest days while using later episodes’ focus on human-alien hybrids and genetic-super-soldiers to suggest William was a sort of genetic key to the future.
It was, at best, an extremely muddled subplot, one that had some good ideas about the way Scully and Mulder’s relationship changed but it was disastrous to the mythology. William is an important plot device to understanding how Scully operates as a character in the last three seasons of The X-Files but plots focused on him rarely were compelling or the series’ strongest moments.
Still it’s compelling to see the episode pay homage to what William meant to both Mulder and Scully, as we see both of them imagine a life with their son, as well as their fears of what could have happened to him. At best, William’s appearances served as one of the show’s least compelling plot devices in the original run, but here, he has a chance to be a real, physical manifestation of Mulder and Scully’s hopes, dreams and fears of the future.
In all honesty, I’d have been the first person to tell you that William is one of the worst parts of The X-Files endgame, but this is a smart, compelling way to pay reference to the character and the role he played in the protagonists’ relationship and lives.
When “Founder’s Mutation” focuses on the themes of the sins of the father haunting future generations, It’s incredibly compelling and wonderfully creepy. Visuals like a child reaching out to her mother underwater or a mother performing her own c-section or a massive flock of crows deciding on a home are haunting and as memorable as some of the show’s best horrific moments.
The show’s also beginning to find a way to make the series’ often dubious mythology work for it by focusing not on plot, but on character. Still, the focus on government conspiracy isn’t ideal and I’d prefer to see more of a focus on the characters themselves than the mystery they’ve somewhat unwillingly become a part of.