After a fourteen-year hiatus, “The X-Files” have been reopened for a special six-episode event on Fox, kicking off with a two-night special premier. Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) are back investigating paranormal phenomena for the FBI, only this time their cases are more clandestine than before—the Files themselves are missing, and their assignments are secretly initiated by the FBI Assistant Director, Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi). Fans are brought to familiar territory, but a whole lot has changed in both the real world and in the X-Files mythology since 2002.
The pilot episode begins in 90s’ fashion: Mulder catches viewers up to speed, Mark Snow’s moody soundtrack is back in force, and the classic intro once again parades across the screen (though shortened and with the addition of Skinner’s badge to the montage). When the story begins, Scully is preparing to perform surgery when she receives an urgent message from Skinner prompting her to contact Mulder. She calls Mulder and tells him that Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale), the radical news host of an online media outlet called “The Truth Squad,” wants to meet Mulder and enlist his help in exposing an evil conspiracy. Mulder, now a recluse watching videos on the Internet, decides to meet O’Malley but tells Scully, “Don’t pretend I’m going alone.”
Mulder and Scully meet in downtown Washington, DC. “I’m always happy to see you,” Scully says. “And I’m always happy to find a reason,” Mulder replies.
O’Malley introduces the former agents to an abductee named Sveta, who, like Scully, had been impregnated during the tests during her abduction and had been robbed of her children. The twist? Men, not aliens, took her. After hearing her testimony and examining an Alien Replica Vehicle (ARV), Mulder contrives a theory that’s bizarre even by Mulder standards: that the aliens were trying to prevent humanity from destroying itself with nuclear weapons and that stolen alien technology, climate change, militarized police, FEMA prison camps, surveillance, fast food, and consumerism are all tools in a conspiracy of global conquest led by multinational elites. Mulder runs the theory by a contact—a doctor that operated on an alien corpse at Roswell in 1947. This new Deep Throat character tells him “you’re close” and confirms that the alien war described in the previous nine seasons was a hoax. Scully is predictably incredulous and warns that the theory “borders on treason.” Tests run on Sveta’s blood as well as her own challenge her skepticism and leave chilling implications for herself and her son, William, who Mulder and Scully had previously put up for adoption in order to protect him.
Overall, this episode doesn’t feel like classic X-Files. The cinematography lacked the cold, shadowy neo-noire feel of the originals and instead looked and felt like they could have been shot for any other show currently on television. Flashback scenes set in 1940s Roswell are the exception with their faded color palette lending a vintage atmosphere. It is good to see Mulder and Scully working together again, and this episode gave the two agents some great moments highlighting some of their more endearing features: their playful banter before meeting O’Malley, and Mulder’s smile—full of both nerdy delight and childish wonder—as he watches an ARV in action. There are moments, though, when the agents don’t feel like the same characters. People do change as they get older, but here they aren’t always convincing. For example, when Mulder tells Scully, “They’re very good, these guys,” the line is delivered in a way that doesn’t ring as genuine.
The episode moves quickly for a story where little actually happens. A lot of dizzying information is dumped a short amount of time, but it is easier to process on a second viewing. Information is the point of the episode, to completely revise in one episode nine seasons’ worth of mythology and to give Mulder a new reason to believe. It is Scully’s personal journey that moves the story forward. As a skeptic that wants to practice medicine in peace, she is only persuaded to resume her career in the FBI when the evidence gets personal.
As an information-heavy episode, there isn’t much action. The viewer never gets the chance to worry about Mulder or Scully’s safety—the only people in any real danger are secondary characters. This is in sharp contrast to the fast-paced episodes of the original series when the two FBI agents were frequently in heaps of trouble.
The theories raised by O’Mally and Mulder are controversial, but none more so than a claim made in a clip of O’Mally’s show: “9/11 was a false flag operation. It was a warm-up to World War III. . . .It’s all part of a conspiracy dating back to the UFO crash at Roswell.” When James Hibberd of Entertainment Weekly asked series creator Chris Carter about the statement, he replied,
“So here’s the thing, Chris Carter doesn’t believe that. Chris Carter is very open minded about these things. But the character O’Malley believes it. And he convinces Mulder to – not necessarily believe that – but to believe many other things he’s exposing. I don’t think Mulder and Scully adopt any political position so much as a new approach in their search for the truth. While I think their politics are balanced, I think the turn they take is toward a more heretical political position.”
Hibberd wrote of the response, “It will be interesting to see how fans respond to their heroes exploring a conspiracy framework that touches on issues more sensitive than the ones when the show first aired.”
The second episode to the show’s revival feels much more like an X-File. Before the intro, viewers are shown the final moments of a eugenics researcher on a bad day at work. Suffering from an agonizingly high-pitched sound only he can hear and hearing messages formed from words isolated from the conversations of his colleagues, Sonjay can stand it no longer. He locks himself in the secure server room and downloads classified Defense Department data at the request of the voices before ending his own life to silence the noise.
Mulder and Scully are suddenly introduced at the crime scene in their roles in the FBI without the typical briefing scenes in their basement office (does Scully have her own desk yet?). The case brings them face-to-face with a government-funded eugenics program designed manipulate human DNA in an effort to create superhumans with natural defense capabilities (such as the ability kill with soundwaves or mentally move objects or people). Mulder suspects that that the program is a continuation of a plan from the Syndicate in previous episodes where they experimented with human genetics.
In the old series, episodes were divided into stand-alone “monster of the week” episodes and “myth arc” episodes that developed the greater story. “Founder’s Mutation” brings elements of both of these together; the story plays out like a typical monster of the week but the alien DNA concept explored in the pilot is here further developed, making it part of the myth arc. The ongoing genetic theme deepens the concerns of Mulder Scully regarding their son, William, who in previous episodes demonstrated superhuman abilities as an infant. Each privately takes time to look at photos of William as a baby and wonder about what might have been. “He’d be 15 years old now, and I’ve missed every year of his life,” Scully says regretfully.
Viewers are given a sudden glimpse into Scully’s mothering fantasies: She takes William to school, tells him to be home in time for dinner, and comforts him after he breaks a bone. Her day-dream reaches a dark conclusion revealing her fears: her son’s face morphs into the visage of a more alien-like being. Though Mulder acts like William’s absence doesn’t get to him, he has parenting fantasies of his own: Introducing William to “2001: A Space Odyssey” and launching rockets in the backyard. Mulder also has a lurking fear: that William would be taken from him in the same manner as his sister Samantha when they were children.
“Founder’s Mutation” brought back a lot of the feel of the original show. The agents are finally back in the thick of action, facing threats from the Department of Defense and the wrath of superhuman patients. “This is dangerous,” Scully warns Mulder, who replies with a smirk, “When has that ever stopped us before?”
In spite of the familiar investigative storytelling, the show is still getting its footing. In one uncomfortable scene one of Mulder’s contacts goes for his belt before going on a diatribe about releasing one’s own inner repression. This needless waste of runtime that didn’t contribute to the story as a whole and could have been better spent developing more plot-related issues. The transition from the real world to Scully’s motherhood fantasies is jolting and should have been set up with visual cues such as those that prepared Mulder’s sequence. “The X-Files” has always been a dark show, but the graphic imagery in “Founder’s Mutation” was extreme. This is explainable by the direction of James Wong, who wrote some of the show’s most grotesque episodes, including “Squeeze,” “Tooms,” and “Home,” in addition to projects beyond the X-Files such as “American Horror Story” and two “Final Destination” movies. Mulder himself best sums up the graphic nature of “Founder’s Mutation”: “I blacked out after Goldman’s eyes popped out of his sockets. Believe me, you can’t unsee that.”
Coming Up: “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster”
The Fox teaser for tonight’s episode of the X-Files revival hinted at a more light-hearted tone than the last two, and critics confirm that “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” will take the comic approach. Entertainment Weekly calls it “a wild, playful, brain-twisting, heart-pulling, and above all adventurous episode of television” and adds that it “feels like The X-Files you remember. Duchovny and Anderson both seem more relaxed, finally rediscovering their old zip-zap chemistry.”
“The X-Files” is no stranger to comedy. Some of the show’s most entertaining moments came from episodes that poked fun of its own themes. Mulder and Scully’s different perspectives are sometimes humorously contracted (“Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space,’ ‘Bad Blood’) and their adventures sometimes put them in absurdly bizarre situations such as when a monster dances at a Cher concert at the end of a black-and-white tribute to classic monster cinema and comics (“The Post-Modern Prometheus”), when Mulder reads a vampire his Miranda rights in an RV before locking him in a coffin (“Bad Blood”), and when the two agents are caught in the middle of an episode of “Cops” (“X-Cops”). Darrin Franich of Entertainment Weekly promises that “Were-Monster” is a monster of the week episode that satirizes monsters of the week.
In tonight’s episode, Scully says, “I forgot how much fun these cases could be.” Let’s hope viewers get to rediscover that, too.