THE X-FILES 10×02 Debriefing: Never ‘just’ anything

Courtesy Fox

Is this an embarrassment of riches, or what? Not only are The X-Files back, but we get two episodes within 24 hours!

Tonight’s outing is classic X-Files, with human experiments and alien DNA and Mulder and Scully getting into a whole lot of trouble. Add in a dash of personal reflection on past choices, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for pretty riveting — and heart-wrenching — episode to follow up yesterday’s premiere.

With only six weeks to tell this particular story, the show is wasting no time to jump into the action, so let’s dive right in with our favorite agents back at the FBI and ruffling feathers.

Without a minute to spare, Mulder and Scully are waist-deep in their special-agent-reactivation, because they’ve got a new case! Dr. Sanjay at Nugenics, a corporation specializing in genetic research, appears to commit suicide in the lab, after hearing an ear-piercing (literally, as it turns out) noise that drives him mad. Our agents are called in to investigate purportedly because they have the security clearance necessary to access the crime scene, but they are quickly scuttled from any true police work when they are informed their credentials do not, in fact, grant them access to the information he died to protect. They may not have much to go on, but that doesn’t stop Mulder from stealthily stealing the victim’s phone while Scully distracts the head of security, because he’s old school. Ah, it’s just like old times!

Courtesy FOX

Courtesy FOX

Mulder notices a name that keeps recurring on the phone, “Gupta,” and arranges a meeting. (Dr. Sanjay and Gupta? I know Scully says the latter is a Baraati word for “secret,” but I admit my immediate word-association with those two names brought up the CNN host…) Scully might keep Mulder guessing after all these years with her own old-school, pre-Google ways, but that doesn’t mean the G-Man isn’t up for a little dirt-digging. More old-school investigating? Mulder meets Gupta (Chuck’s Vik Sahay, who was so brilliant in his complete change of demeanor I didn’t recognize him at first), who thinks this is a booty call. I never thought I’d see Mulder almost get a blow job on TV that wasn’t in a blooper reel, but apparently season 10 is the gift that keeps on giving.

Scully does some digging on her own, kicking it old-school herself in the autopsy lab, and discovers that Sanjay wrote “Founder’s Mutation” on the palm of his hand before he pierced his skull with the letter-opener, which is strange when paired with his claims of hearing a strange noise before his episode. She and Mulder decide to pay a visit to his apartment, where they find dozens of clinical photos of children with genetic mutations, indicating that he definitely was up to something. They realize that the cops are about to come sweep the home, when Mulder suddenly experiences the same piercing sound Sanjay did in the teaser, in a scene shot to highlight his terror; all he can hear amidst the screeching is “find her.” Talk about scary!

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

They get called into the principal’s office to talk about the case, but Skinner states that he can’t look at the files sitting on his table. (Scully’s confused, “… They’re right over there…” was the best.) Sanjay’s files are classified and property of the Department of Defense, so their investigation, such as it is, is officially over. The FBI turning a blind eye to government shenanigans? It is Old School night at this bar! The DOD agent scolds them about disseminating classified information publicly or internally, and he clearly has never seen this show, because that reproach is just a dare to these two, buddy. (Remember that time Mulder punched an auditor for less?)

Once the stooge leaves, Skinner gets right to business: “I assume you copied the files?” — sniff, Dad knows his kids so well, guys. I love that Skinner is now complicit in their shenanigans, because he just does not give a crap anymore. Mulder and Scully might be fighting for the Truth, but Skinner is fighting The Man — either way, it’s a lot of fun. “Welcome back, you two.” He might be gruff, but he’s got to be secretly filled with glee over this development. (Maybe he’s trying to parent-trap his favorite agents, too. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) He’s so over government bureaucracy that prevent them from doing their jobs, and it’s obvious how this journey has taken its toll on the Skinman, too. Actions have consequences, indeed, and Skinner’s might be stuck in a bland office in perpetuity.

Scully’s been busy, pulling up security footage from Nugenics and syncing it all to the time of Sanjay’s suicide, to find some sort of link between the events (like birds congregating) and Sanjay’s reaction. She also wants to know what it is that Mulder heard at his apartment, and failed to tell Skinner. (Because she’s worried the same fate might befall her partner.) Scully knows just how to get to this Dr. Goldman at Nugenics — through her very own hospital!

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

You see, Goldman happens to conduct research at Our Lady of Perpetual Creepiness, and is also a big donor. So Scully fibs to Sister Mary that he’s under investigation — “Obamacare!” chimes Mulder, and I chuckle — and that they want to “spare him the indignity” of surprise when the cops roll through. (Scully’s learned so much about lying over the years!) When Sister Mary expresses concern about ruffling his feathers, Scully pulls the “please, for me?” card she perfected ages ago.  She agrees to relay a message, and Mulder asks her to ask about “Founder’s Mutation,” and off she goes.

As she leaves, a young woman attracts their attention, and begs them to help her escape the hospital. Agnes is a single, pregnant girl, and she’s in a program at the hospital that cares for homeless women like her, whose babies are deemed to have genetic abnormalities in the womb, and takes custody of them when they’re born. Agnes has decided she wants to keep her baby, no matter what they tell her, but she’s clearly too afraid to say it aloud, because as soon as Sister Mary returns, she clams up. Mulder slips her his card to contact him when she’s ready, and the nun informs them that Goldman will see them.

Mulder is a dog with a bone now; the fact that the shady doctor pays for the ward for homeless women, with ties to the DOD, is all kinds of fishy, and he muses it might be the next step in their experiments in eugenics that we learned about so long ago. Scully stops him, and wonders if (or projects that) this is just his way of admitting that he suspected this is what happened when she was pregnant with William. (I’m just going to ignore the “my baby” stuff from Scully — some writer habits die hard.) Does he really think she was just an incubator, like these women? “You are never ‘just’ anything to me, Scully.” Be still my heart, I don’t know if I can take this heartbreak.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

Yet they continue; Mulder confesses that he still thinks about William, but has had to put that behind him to keep going, while Scully confesses that she still hates herself for not being strong enough to stand by and protect her son all those years ago. It’s a punch in the gut to see these two verbalize what a lot of the audience wished they’d been able to see 15 years ago, but it also humanizes the characters all the more. Mulder reassures Scully that she did what was best to keep him safe, and that nobody knows who, or where, he is. (Five bucks says we might have second thoughts about that last bit by the season finale.) They have to keep believing in that, because it’s the only way they can survive.

What follows is more salt on the wound; Scully daydreams about what life would be like had she been able to raise her son like she’d longed for. Six-year-old William is adorable and so perfectly a mix of both of his parents, sweet and polite and talking about farts with his mom on his first day of school, and this is exactly who he’d be if Mulder and Scully retired to the suburbs back in 2001. Scully is as happy and open as we’ve ever seen her — which would also clue you in that this is a fantasy, if you didn’t know already.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

The dream quickly turns into a nightmare, where an older “Will” gets hurt, and eventually Scully finds him in his bedroom (in Mulder’s house), struck by the same kind of “black oil” phenomenon with which the boy in Fight The Future was afflicted. He’s sick and scared and begs his mom to help, and she can’t do anything — not unlike what happened to Emily, Scully’s other child. She snaps out of the reverie, the baby picture of William calling to her and stirring up all these feelings.

Next, the agents finally pay Goldman (Desperate Housewives’  Doug Savant, also unrecognizable) a visit at his facility, and actually get to see the children he’s been caring for through his research. They have a host of abnormalities — syndromes and tumors and skin mutations abound. “How long have you lived here, Adam?” “Forever,” a boy replies to Scully. The exchange tells you what you need to know about the sterility of the hospital, and Scully’s already-fraught nerves raise red flags about the validity of this research. The kids all live behind glass in their own cells, despite not being contagious; Goldman fears for the environmental factors impacting his study, and this is his way of eliminating them all, at the expense of the children’s freedom.

Scully voices her suspicions to Goldman, that the “key” (as Mulder reminded us last night) to his therapy is alien DNA, which is why the DOD is involved, and he scoffs that he thought she was the rational one of the pair. (This makes me wonder if Mulder and Scully have a public reputation in Washington — like everyone knows about them as “real” people as we do as fictional ones.) As she rightly points out, though, after he is called away by a disruptive patient, he never actually answers her question.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

Intriguing to both of them, said disruptive patient appeared to move objects with her mind during the altercation, and both of the agents take note. (Remember the old days, when Scully would have tried to science it away? She’s grown so much that this doesn’t even phase her anymore.) They have bigger fish to fry though, because Mulder gets a text indicating that something’s happened to Agnes, and they arrive at a crime scene to find her dead from being run over by a car. Her baby is nowhere to be found, and Scully’s autopsy reveals it was surgically removed. Mulder suspects that was done before she was killed, because it was the only proof that Agnes was ever part of the experiment.

So instead of theory-building in the basement, he’s now on Scully’s turf in her office — apparently at another part of the FBI. It’s just like the good old days, except with less skepticism and more open discussion of the ramifications of the “founder’s mutation” of this new breed of human on the species. Scully’s quoting science journals and Mulder’s bringing up past cases, and I’m giddy. Could a perfect alien-human hybrid have finally been born? (I suspect yes, and that we all know who he is, but we’ve got some time to kill.)

Also curious, Goldman’s wife Jackie (Rebecca Wisocky) is currently locked up in a psych ward herself, accused of having killed their unborn son. She was committed by her husband, who she loathes. She recounts a story of finding her two year old daughter Molly in their pool, convinced she must have been dead from drowning, only to find her at the bottom breathing. While others believed it to be a miracle, she knew it meant her husband had been experimenting on her as an embryo, and that it meant further harm to the child in her womb at the time.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

So she ran, fearing for their lives, only to crash her car on the way out of town. That’s when she experienced the same sound Sanjay and Mulder did, and she “knew” it was coming from her son inside her, begging to be released. So she cut herself open on the side of the road, and out crawled the infant. He was never found, and thus Jackie was accused of murdering him in her psychosis. But she hasn’t gone a day without thinking of him ever since — a feeling Scully admits she knows all too well, because a mother never forgets.

This is the new Scully, who isn’t afraid to work off a hunch: her medical training tells her Jackie is delusional, but her gut tells her differently. Mulder agrees, and theorizes that the baby who spoke to Jackie might just now be the young man who somehow spoke to Sanjay and himself, and a passing janitor suddenly gives him a brainwave. After reviewing the security footage, he realizes the janitor present at Sanjay’s lab the night he died had some sort of reaction at the same time as the doctor, and off the agents go to find him.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

You could say the meeting doesn’t go well. His mother is not forthcoming, because he’s “simple” and also a minor, but a congregation of birds (like in the videos) freaks her out, and they figure out that that means Kyle is nearby. Also a good indicator? Mulder has a fit again, which makes Scully haul some ass, gun waving, to find the boy doing this to her partner. A standoff ensues in the barn, and Scully takes him into custody, though he’s clearly just as scared about what is happening as he is. He just wants to find his sister, Molly, and Scully knows who has her — Goldman.

They take Kyle to him for a “checkup” — but really just to see his reaction and get some information. Mentioning Molly rattles him, but he agrees to let Kyle meet Molly. Only, when he takes Kyle to her, the boy quickly figures out that the patient is an impostor, and not his sister. However, down the hallway, he finds his real sister, and together with their super secret not-quite-twin power, they shatter all the glass in the ward (along with knocking out Mulder and Scully) to escape out of the hospital — but not before killing their evil father with their minds.

HBIC Dana Scully / Courtesy Fox

HBIC Dana Scully / Courtesy Fox

Another day, another time Skinner has to come save Mulder and Scully with a SWAT team. Obviously there’s no trace of the Goldman kids anymore — or so Skinner thinks. Mulder’s got other plans, though, because just as in the opening, he managed to steal the vial of Kyle’s blood that his father extracted before the big showdown, and now they have something to test. FBI training at its best, folks!

The family entanglements lead Mulder to have his own daydreams, though, one where he got to introduce William to 2001: A Space Odyssey over popcorn and explain what a “momamith” is, while beautifully reassuring him that he can form his own ideas about monoliths when he’s grown up (and touchingly kissing the top of his head). Then they’re building rockets in the backyard even though “space is hard” and are nerds quoting JFK to each other. “I’m gonna go up there someday,” William happily exclaims, and maybe no one should tell him that several members of his family might already have.

Again, this is exactly who they would have been if things had gone to plan, but this is The X-Files, and they never do. But parallels are everything in this show, and just like Scully’s nightmare earlier, Mulder next imagines William being taken into the night exactly like how Samantha was when he was a kid, and real-time Mulder staring at his son’s picture proves that there are scars that never, ever heal.

… And you thought I was finished?

To say this episode impressed me is an understatement. (I mean, look at the size of this recap already.) It was just so quintessentially X in all the most delicious ways possible, and harkened to the show’s glory years. From the creepy “Eve”-esque siblings, to the human experiments of the mytharc, to the emotional turmoil of any of the kid-centric episodes, the old X-Files DNA was stamped all over “Founder’s Mutation.”

Last night, I wondered if the slow-ish start to Mulder and Scully being Mulder-and-Scully might have been on purpose, and I’m beginning to think it may have been. The characters are easing into their metamorphosis back into their true special agent selves, and you can see that slow-burning fire behind their eyes. And there’s nothing like a case tying into their personal lives to kick that into high gear. The banter was back in spades, and I laughed out loud more than once during their repartee. It’s so good to be back!

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

One aspect that astounds me is how natural the characters’ evolutions have been. The original series was occasionally frustrating because due to the skeptic-vs-believer nature of the dynamic, Scully was never allowed to admit she’d seen some weird stuff that could be out of this world, while Mulder was sometimes dismissive of rational explanations. Yet now, we can see how they’ve kind of met in the middle: Scully is absolutely a scientist, but she’s seen enough that she knows that aliens aren’t bogus and are a sought-after commodity in certain nefarious circles, while Mulder is all about her medical expertise (in her office!) to explain said extraterrestrial phenomena. How are these two not running the world already? They seem to have it all figured out.

The William undercurrent was so palpable that it permeated nearly every angle of this case — the child raised elsewhere for his own protection, the government interested genetically-mutant children with special powers, the absolute fear of mothers who just want to raise their children, and the unspeakable loss when they’re unable to do so. The writers may have kept beating Mulder and Scully with a stick, here, but there was a reason for it.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

We never really got to see them grieve William’s loss, either apart or together. We saw the anguish that went into Scully’s decision (sort of), but once it was done, the show was rushing to the finish line and had no time to properly deal with it. We never witnessed Mulder’s pain beyond a line — in fact, we only ever had one scene of Mulder as a father (to newborn William) to cling to. So I was fascinated by seeing how each of them handled their grief, and how those separate fantasies kind of dovetailed into their shared loss.

Scully’s what-if was heartbreaking in all its normalcy — first day of school jitters and suburban-mom “be home for dinner!” cries and all, but you also know that the accident and disease scenarios go hand-in-hand with these dreams she must have replayed thousands of times in the last 15 years. Scully was never going to be the typical PTA mom, which is why watching her imagining herself as one was so devastating. On the other hand, Mulder’s own sequence perfectly summed up his world view, too — that we are not alone, but that each person has to draw their own conclusions about what it all means. Of course that’s what Mulder would instil in his child. I found it especially interesting to watch Mulder’s fantasy precisely because we never got to see him be a parent (the way we did Scully), and it speaks volumes about the hole in his heart that his son left, too.

Courtesy Fox

Courtesy Fox

While it was also curious that neither character’s dreams involved the other, I don’t know that it necessarily speaks to their current relationship status. Rather, I think it’s more about how they were each individually handling their memories and their guilt, because they experienced the situation in very different ways — Scully directly, vs. Mulder from afar until it was too late. The reality is that they were both all alone at the time, and maybe that’s why these painful trips are lonesome, too. (Or perhaps it’s because if they were together back then, William could still be with them.)

If the show is truly continuing this thread in the coming weeks, I am going to be one deliriously happy fan. (If you thought this recap is long, you ain’t seen nothing yet.) The emotional arcs may have mostly happened between the lines 20 years ago, but now they are the story, and may be some of the best yet.

Other odds and ends:

There were so many great lines tonight — like I said, BANTER, but here are two of my favorite exchanges:

  • Gupta: The truth is in here. [points to Mulder’s heart]
    Mulder: Yeah, I’ve heard something like that.
  • Mulder, king of bad puns and dad jokes: I blacked out after I saw Goldman’s eyes pop out of their sockets. Believe me, you can’t un-see that.

How did you like “Founder’s Mutation”?


All photos courtesy FoxFlash

 

 

Nels

Nels knew how to operate a TV remote control before she knew how to talk. As a result, she has spent an inordinate amount of time pretending she actually lives on a soundstage. When she isn’t watching whichever show is currently capturing her heart, she is writing about how said show is currently capturing her heart. She loves pie.

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