Founder’s Mutation

Founder’s Mutation: 10X02

Touching and sad, in experiencing the stress of Mulder and Scully’s loss we find a great strength of the X-Files: how these two troubled people relate to each other and cope with the bitterness of existence. This episode deals with an elephant in the room, yes there are many. This tang is one of the greatest reasons to watch any television program, but it has long been exquisitely curated in the X-Files. This episode proves, if the previous did not, that this show has lost none of its potency with time.

Performance of the night goes to David Duchovny for one tiny expression at the very end of the episode. It jumped out at me as a bar-raising moment for him.

Rating: 8/10 for a baseline, could gain or lose points in the analysis.

Here endeth the spoiler-free overview. Below there be dragons.

Scene 1: good old fashioned gross

Right from the opening image, we know we’re watching the X-Files because we’re cringing and wondering if we should look away.

Sanjay shows up at work on the worst Monday in the history of Mondays.

I love the visceral feeling of this scene. The writers invite us into the scene by letting us experience the earsplitting, tooth-grinding tinnitus problem Sanjay suffers. Worst hangover ever?

Scene 2: That meeting.

We’ve all been to that meeting and had to sit across from that guy. Humdinger indeed.

Fully engaged… crows. CREEPY!!

Poor Sanjay!

Scene 3: Data is the key.

Oh no…

Not the letter opener. EWWWWWW!

And Sanjay ends his existence along with the terrible case of monster tinnitus. But only after doing something that looks like stealing data in a locked room with his coworkers begging him to let them in.

Another one bites the dust.

Scene 4: We are finished.

Mostly exposition in which we learn that this server hut keeps DOD secrets, the Founder is a really weird guy and Mulder steals evidence.

Unabashedly. Love that.

While the X-Files has procedural elements, as it always has, it’s writers have routinely reached far beyond that formula for some really great story telling. We shall see if they can meet the previous bar. A pit fall of most procedurals is that the audience has seen so many of them that they can figure out in which scene they meet the bad guy, which ruins everything.

The X-Files has in the past disobeyed the rules frequently enough, by using elements of continuous flow narratives and long standing story arcs, to avoid the doomsday banana peel writers of procedurals so often slip on: the reset button which allows a television program to have its episodes be seen in pretty much any order and still make sense because they are all self-contained. In short, nothing ever happens to the characters which would disrupt their lives significantly.

Not a problem the X-Files suffers from overmuch.

Scene 5: I’m old school. Pre-Google.

Delightful little glue scene: walk and talk, and cuddle.

How they managed to walk like that, touching each other and not tripping, I do not know, but I enjoyed it.

Mulder illegally searches the phone he illegally stole and Scully reminds us that knowledge used to come from study and memory, not Google.

Gupta: secret.

This scene works because of its humor. Again they are leaning on the long standing chemistry between our two agents to float an otherwise tiny piece of story.

Scene 6: Is that guy bothering you? Not yet.

Gupta.

Hilarious! Mulder unwittingly requests a blow-job in a brilliant misdirect.

I was totally clueless until Gupta grabbed Mulder’s fly and I busted up laughing.

Here I think I see a little of Hank Moody‘s nonchalance in a more mature Mulder. I can only see Fox Mulder of the 1990’s being a bit more uptight about such a miscommunication.

I really do think that Duchovny’s time spent with Moody has influenced his new take on Mulder. We’ll look for more evidence.

Scene 7: The long awaited autopsy scene.

Scully, it’s been too long since we last bonded over a corpse.

Seriously though, tough Scully’s slicing and dicing with humor and style provided me with some of my first inspirations toward my present line of work. She was an early role model.

By the way, her personal protective equipment, PPE, is insufficient…

Scene 8: Far better than an interrogation room.

Mulder shares a drink with Gupta and questions him about Sanjay.

This is a beautifully written interrogation because it doesn’t seem like one at all. In fact, if we didn’t know better, we might think that Mulder and Gupta know each other much better than they actually do. Mulder bonds with the guy over beer and commiserates over the loss of his friend all the while getting him to tell him crucial information. Two lives.

We’ve seen a million and one interrogations and lots of different techniques in other procedurals, and in the X-Files, and I am impressed with the freshness of this one.

Scene 9: Mulder, you’ve gotta see this.

Can anyone hear that?

Mulder and Scully discuss the findings of Sanjay’s autopsy. What’s nice about this scene is that it demonstrate’s Scully’s character development and maturation. Mulder suggest that the auditory nerve can be stimulated without sound and effect only Sanjay -pure science fiction as far as I know- but Scully doesn’t blow him off or call him crazy.

There is a beautiful shot of Sanjay’s X-ray with Mulder and Scully framing his scull. Nice photography here.

She listens to his theories and waits for more evidence to emerge before jumping to conclusions. This is a big step for her.

Scene 10: Scully is driving.

Mulder did most of the driving back in the day. We haven’t seen him drive in the present day at all.

Appreciate the commentary on the senselessness of homophobia.

And Scully nearly runs down someone who jumps out in front of her and then runs off. Very little rattles this woman, most people, with a close call like that would be cursing or at the very least need a moment because almost hitting a person is a big deal!

Glue scene, thematic exposition. I believe the only purpose of this scene story wise was for Scully to nearly hit that kid.

Scene 11: Creature feature.

I appreciate that the X-Files long ago figured out how to film two people together with vastly divergent heights. Yes, Gillian Anderson wears heels, but even so, Duchovny is tall so getting them both in frame requires some ingenuity.

Mulder and Scully investigate Sanjay’s life until the cops show up and Mulder gets a tinnitus attack. He gets a message, just like Sanjay did. Find her. Help me find her.

Scully keeps the cops at bay.

Scene 12: Classic!

I am certain I am not the only fan to remember many scenes like this one in which Mulder, Scully and Skinner tiptoe through the tulips. Especially when trying to lie by telling the truth.

The jab about Edward Snowden is lovely!!

Except now… Skinner’s more obviously on their side.

Mulder thinks the government is experimenting on children. Yucky.

Skinner informs them that bureaucracy will ensure that it will take serval days for him to file their report through the proper channels.

Delightful.

Scene 13: Why isn’t Scully’s name on the door???

And where is her desk???

Seriously.

Scully interrogates Mulder about what happened in Sanjay’s apartment. She demands to know what Mulder is hiding. She knows him well enough by now to know he’s got theories he’s holding back.

He, however, now trusts her enough to care what she thinks: a lovely departure from the righteous and suspicious Mulder in the beginning of their partnership.

She shows him.

She’s worried Mulder might end up with an envelope opener to the brain. But she’s got guts. And she knows how to get to Goldman, the Founder.

This scene is charming because we get to lean on the richness of the past and all those long years of establishing trust to make this beautiful shorthand between them possible. We know what they are feeling and this dance isn’t new to them or us. We can sense the fatigue in them though. They are both frightened of the future, but they are no longer frightened of what lies between them.

Scene 14: Eve?

I can’t place the woman Scully interrogates about Goldman. Sister Mary is so familiar, but I do not know where I have seen her before. Do you?

Mulder’s quips never get old: Obamacare. Hee, hee.

This episode is demonstrating a nice balance that has settled in between Mulder and Scully. They share more equally their feelings, they exchange taking the lead and they are living a deep respect for the intellect of the other that took years to happen. Watching them sink back into this familiar pair of shoes with such comfort is wonderful to watch.

It is actually quite rare to have a relationship with another person that is so comfortable, so familiar, that both parties participate in all aspects without reservation or holding back. This is a beautiful illustration of such a relationship. This dynamic takes a huge amount of trust to even begin to develop, let alone survive.

Seeing a relationship like this on television is even more rare because after all, a functional relationship is a boring one outwardly, or so they claim, but this is proof that that is not at all the case.

I realize I just said Mulder and Scully have a functional relationship. Ok, so they aren’t currently a couple, but functional goes beyond what they may or may not be doing in the bedroom.

Most TV couples are just struggling to get together. That falling in love phase is captivating and therefore seems to get the most fictional bandwidth and any couple that is together seems to require some kind of threat to pull them apart in order to generate interest in the relationship again.

Here is proof that that isn’t necessary. The will they/won’t they dance we’ve all grown accustomed to is irrelevant here and still the dynamics between these partners is interesting. No artificial strife is necessary because the tensions provided by the outside world are enough.

I’ll say that again for good measure: the external tensions, the world surrounding their relationship, makes their outwardly boring interactions fascinating. Mulder and Scully are reacting to the world as a unit and what goes on between them is still interesting to watch because of the strength of their characters. We know these deep and complex characters very well so we can read into their body language.

These basic scenes where they confront the world have all the romance anyone could want without any mushy stuff. The writers are willing to give us some emotional substance beyond the basics with these two. Getting a look at a mature relationship on TV is rare. And when we do see an old couple on TV it is more often depicted in farce than function. The X-Files is giving us a look inside what happens to a deep and mature love bond between two people. This is very special.

What does trust really look like?

How many people in their real lives ever succeed in trusting another person on the level that Mulder and Scully trust each other and treat one another as true partners? This working dynamic of equality is seldom seen anywhere.

While this is conjecture on my part, I suspect that many people see at most one or two relationships of this nature in their lifetimes. I suspect also that there are those who think such a relationship is purely the work of fiction.

It is not.

Scully succeeds in getting a meeting with Goldman. Mulder and Scully receive and SOS call from a patient and Sister Mary says something quite offensive to Mulder.

Men and their lies. Desire is the Devil’s pitch fork. Duchovny is in the running for performance of the night for his reaction shot to this verbal jab.

Planet of the Apes is playing in the background. Yikes!!! Talk about a thematic photobomb. How crafty!

Scene 15: Pull the thread

You’re never just anything to me, Scully.

This scene is so naked, so raw.

These two aren’t big splashy emotional people and this scene packs a punch. This style of drama reminds me very much of a  British style. Again, understatement. I love this tool. I think this is good for the audience because we are not distracted by tears, screaming, foot stomping, hair pulling or other typical overblown Hollywoodesque melodrama. The understatement clearly conveys the emotion but gives the audience room to emote for themselves rather than being subsumed by bombastic hyperbole.

Props to Anderson for delivery, an elegant scene. At the heart of the matter lies William.

Scully confronts Mulder about his theory and questions whether William is such an experiment.

My only objection to this scene is Mulder’s statement of having had to put William behind him. That too me sounds cold and unlikely to be true for Mulder.

Scene 16: Scully’s daydream

Psychologically astute telling of a daydream. Scully begins by giving herself moments she missed in William’s life that were wonderful. But the sequence grows darker and darker as she catastrophizes. Catastrophizing is a frequent byproduct of anxiety and thoughts are pulled toward problem solving and fears as if gravity were involved. An evolutionary imperative? Problem solvers survive better after all.

In any case, this daydream impresses me in all kinds of ways. Scully has confidence that she would have been a good parent and she imagines that for herself. First in the easy ways by showing herself loving her child and expressing it as she wishes she could. But she also has confidence that she could handle some of the tougher aspects of parenthood, like medical mishaps. That makes sense that she would imagine a situation she could handle based on her skill set. But then, catastrophe strikes and Scully finds herself face to face with her worst fears and in a situation way out of her depth to handle as a parent.

I find it interesting that Scully imagines herself alone with William rather than parenting together with Mulder. That is telling.

Note: the hallway looks just like the hallway in Mulder’s old apartment building. Also, the hyper saturation worked just well enough to tell us we were not in reality in the very beginning before we see William.

Scene 17: The Rational One

He didn’t answer my question.

The elusive Founder gives a show and tell walk and talk.

Apparently he has been keeping kids like zoo animals. Not cool.

Scene 18: Hit and Run

The patient we met earlier got hit by a car and “the baby’s gone.”

Scene 19: Surgically removed.

Agnes died of car, status of the fetus remains unknown.

Every new species begins with a founder’s mutation. Evolution!

Ah ha… back to the hybridization of humans with aliens.

Oh, and Goldman’s wife? Thrown in the nut house for infanticide, body never found.

Scene 20: The nut house

Mrs. Goldman doesn’t like cats. And isn’t nuts.

Augustus Goldman experimented on his own kids. What a schmuck.

A mother never forgets. What a painful scene for these two parents. We get to see that Mulder is as deeply affected by William’s loss as Scully though he deflects his pain into compassion for his partner. What a lovely glance he gives her.

Scene 21: Putting it together

Scully believes Mrs. Goldman and Mulder thinks maybe he’s had an encounter with her baby, who isn’t a baby anymore.

I notice that Mulder has resumed his previous habit of guiding Scully when they walk. I wonder if he even realizes he did that. Mulder, not Duchovny. From the previous episode and the last movie, I gather that Scully left Mulder and that Mulder wants her back. That begs the question of if Scully realized what he was doing. She didn’t react to it but my guess is that this is habituation for her. This is normal for an interaction between these two and so she doesn’t perceive it as out of bounds or intrusive.

Scene 22: It’s always the janitor.

Mulder proves his theory.

Scene 23: Where is he?

Mulder gets a little aggressive in his interrogation techniques and Kyle objects.

What I love about this is that Scully runs off to solve the problem herself gun raised. Often in TV-land women don’t get to go solve the problem alone, be the hero, save the -what’s the masculine of damsel?- in distress.

Scene 24: Whatever you’re doing, stop right there.

Scully and a gun is always nice.

Scene 25: Mulder tosses the kid in the back.

Way to push Mulder’s buttons. I just want to find my sister…

Yes, Molly from the hospital. And Scully knows who knows.

Gotta love Scully in charge and on a mission.

Scene 25: I’m going to let you meet Molly.

Goldman examines Kyle. It’s unclear to me at this point if Mulder and Scully told him, or if he already knows, that Kyle is his son.

Scene 26: You’re not my sister

Nice action scene in which Kyle murders his father, shares telepathy with his sister and tosses Mulder and Scully around like rag dolls.

Scene 27: the cavalry

They’re gone. We no longer have jurisdiction.

And Mulder stole evidence!!

Scene 28: 2001 A Space Odyssey

Mulder has his own daydream about William. It is for this scene that Duchovny gets performance of the night. That look he gives William as they discuss the monolith is tender and he sold the heck out of this montage.

This daydream shares the same true to life and true to character elements as Scully’s. And, like hers, Mulder doesn’t dream about parenting with her, but about parenting alone. His catastrophe is predictably having William wrenched from him in an abduction.

Note, the hallway with the dark wood door, like the hallway in his old apartment building, is the same as in Scully’s daydream. This could have been done for convenience and expense, why build two sets if it isn’t necessary, or it could be purposeful illustrating that while neither parent figured in the other’s daydream in person, they are present out of frame.

With this closing we know that the coldness I perceived earlier when Mulder said he had had put William behind him was more likely a defense mechanism. Mulder clearly still feels as deeply about William as Scully does.

Fin.

Rating of 8/10 stands: this episode does follow the unfortunately visible procedural framework, which lost it two points. I guess I really am not a fan of procedurals… I kept trying to find any other reason for those two points worth of not-quite-perfect for this episode or to decide it deserved a better score, but ultimately being able to see the formula, the skeletal framework which underlies a piece of writing is a huge distraction and the reason procedurals fail to get top grades, or even my attention most of the time.

It isn’t that all procedurals are terrible television, clearly I don’t feel that way or I wouldn’t have loved the X-Files during its first run and just as much now. I also watch Castle and enjoy that very much. The trouble is that using the procedural framework is a lazy way out of innovative storytelling which I find personally obnoxious. Even worse, over the past three decades or so I have been fed so many procedurals that I can most of the time spot the moment when we are introduced to the bad guy/person of interest which ruins the mystery. Who-dun-it is such a tired old theme anyway. There are so many ways to tell a story so there is no excuse to use recycled, rehashed structure.

That said, character development didn’t halt for the sake of the case they were working on. A touching episode with lots to love. The polish and care that went into this episode shows from writing, to performance, to photography. Procedural or not, Founder’s Mutation remains a top notch piece of television.

Particularly to be appreciated about this episode is the blatant political stance on homosexuality. The X-Files just depicted being gay as normal. It’s about time. Brilliantly, Mulder demonstrates that he isn’t at all threatened by his close encounter with Gupta and then proceeds to have a beer with him in a gay bar. Mulder isn’t worried at all about someone seeing him sharing a drink with another man in a gay bar. He’s not uncomfortable. Gupta’s just a guy to him, a guy who lost his friend/significant other. This is such a marker of societal progress that I hesitated to point it out because it should be normal, all TV should be this relaxed on the subject. This should not be note worthy at all. But, I decided to pay this compliment to the X-Files because its history stretches back to a time when these scenes would have been unimaginable on public television.  I am proud of the X-Files for choosing the side of love and human dignity. Way to be on the right side of history.

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I also write reviews and other articles for Once Upon A Time and Mozart in the Jungle. In addition, I’m studying Once fans. If you’re already a Once fan, you can read about the project here. You can also check out my Once related Gratitude Project.

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