With the turbulent “My Struggle” still fresh in the mind, with its strained, erratic political paranoia and watered-down narrative curiosity, The X-Files reboot picks up quite a lot of speed in “Founder’s Mutation.” The episode begins in a building panic, as a young scientist seems unable to shake the piercing, dissonant sound in his head, until he goes searching for the source of the horrible ringing with a sharp instrument and ends up killing himself.
There’s talk of a character known simply as “The Founder” (Melrose Place‘s Doug Savant) as the young man goes mad, and even more talk of this elusive overseer when Mulder and Scully come to investigate the strange suicide. It’s the identity and the dark goals of this shady character that drives “Founder’s Mutation,” along with the rebuilding of a relationship between the agents and longtime FBI director Skinner, but it’s the comfort and familiarity that longtime X-FIles writer-director James Wong brings to the proceedings that really gives the episode its unmistakable zip.
As a work of science fiction, the episode works in a rote mode: a mysterious scientific genius is treating and seemingly conducting experiments on children with very rare mutations and diseases; there’s also a sense that he’s performing experiments on the kids in the womb, and may be responsible for some of the pregnancies. When the whole story is laid out clearly, there’s nothing quite remarkable about any of it, but Wong’s script builds up and reveals the nuances of the tale with graceful expertise. He’s been with these characters many times before, and we can feel that both in the way he writes them and how they are placed in each scene or sequence. There’s a particularly great scene where our agents interrogate the Founder’s ex-wife (Rebecca Wisocky), a jaded, seemingly crazed woman, and Wisocky expertly unfurls key parts of the plot in tiny bits, anchored to clear personal pain, as the agents vacillate between disbelief, fascination, and duty.
Still, as I mentioned, the story itself is not particularly interesting – the revelation of where the sound is coming from doesn’t quite match the visceral horror or shock of the opening suicide nor, for that matter, the Founder’s other, more secretive clients. There are scenes, however, that recall the nuanced, inspired pulp of the show’s original run, including those fleeting moments between the Founder and the agents. What’s missing, primarily, is the sense of place that made the original run so endlessly interesting – Mulder and Scully were exploring America as a hive of oddities as much as they were finding the source of said strange occurrences and people of uncanny powers.
In capturing these creatures and phenomenon in the most mundane urban and suburban places, as well as the dankest, darkest corners of the cities, The X-Files hinted at similar goals as David Lynch‘s classic Blue Velvet: to reveal the inevitable peculiarities and terrors that are barely repressed by the complacent facade of society. In comparison, “Founder’s Mutation” feels more like a strong episode of one of The X-Files‘ major scions, Fringe, where the wildness of the weird is simply accepted as part of the gears of the world, rather than the thing that we, and many, many others, are often trying to keep inside, under lock and key.
Rating: ★★★ Good