While Sunday’s opening episode of The X-Files‘ 10th season waded far into the depths of mythology, Monday night’s follow-up, “Founder’s Mutation”, looks at the emotional impact that mythology has had on Mulder and Scully, and the scars they still carry.
Read on for our recap but beware: here be spoilers.
As with the first episode of season ten, “Founder’s Mutation” opens with a brief overview of events, this time specifically focusing on Mulder and Scully’s son William who was given up for adoption for his own safety at the end of the show’s initial run.
Jumping into this week’s plot, we watch as a disheveled Dr Sanjay passes through high security on his way into work. Crossing the lobby he is nearly incapacitated by an ear-splitting shriek that apparently only he can hear. Sitting in a meeting, Sanjay is clearly focused in his own head as his colleague’s bicker over pronouncements from the company’s founder regarding their research. Slowly the shrieking builds up again. We see that blood vessels have burst in Sanjay’s eyes, and he turns to see hundreds of black birds massing outside the building. His colleague’s voices meld into a message to him: “Go now. Do it”. Sanjay breaks, running from the room and leaving his bewildered colleagues behind. At a desk and surrounded by banks of servers, Sanjay initiates a massive file transfer with his colleagues locked outside. The shrieking builds to a crescendo and we see him write something on his hand before forcing a letter opener right through his own skull.
For those not in the know, this episode was originally slated to air 5th in this new season rather than 2nd, which may help to explain the rather abrupt jump in the overall plotline. On Sunday night we left Mulder, Scully, and their awkward relationship in a parking garage making the hard decision to once again fight back against the evils they know exist, but when we catch up with them in episode two, they are already back together as partners on the x-files with no explanation or lead in.
The agents arrive at the crime scene, Scully already suggesting theories of a psychotic break. Mulder guesses that instead, Sanjay was trying to get to something on the room’s secured servers but Mulder is barred from examining the contents of the hard drive, since a company man claiming it is the property of the DoD. Mulder pushes to interview the company’s reclusive founder Dr. Goldman, to no avail, but manages to steal Sanjay’s phone, using the dead man’s fingerprint to unlock it before leaving the room. The agents quickly head for the exit, almost walking into a young janitor in their haste to exit the building. Scully is unimpressed with Mulder’s theft but informs Mulder that a contact listed in the phone as Gupta, one Sanjay called every night, is the Marathi word for “secret”.
Mulder meets “Gupta” at a bar and the two quickly head somewhere “more private” to talk, where it immediately becomes clear that both men have misunderstood the other’s intentions. Gupta lectures Mulder on letting go of his self-loathing, and Mulder has to break the bad news about Sanjay’s death. The men sit at the bar and talk over a drink, Gupta revealing that Sanjay led two separate lives. He had seemed unhappy lately and was concerned about “his kids”, a statement that baffles Mulder given that Sanjay had no children. Across town, Scully begins her autopsy, almost immediately discovering the word’s “Founder’s Mutation” scribbled across Sanjay’s hand. She calls Mulder to join her and together they speculate on the autopsy findings, specifically how Sanjay appeared to directly target the letter opener at his auditory cortex and the meaning of his message. Scully wonders if he is referring to the company’s founder.
The agents drive to Sanjay’s second apartment, Scully commenting on how sad she finds it the Sanjay felt compelled to keep his real life a secret. Pulling out, she almost hits a teenage boy who steadies himself on the hood of the car before running off. At Sanjay’s apartment, the classic X-Files flashlights are employed as the two look around and discover a wall covered in photos of children displaying horrific genetic mutations. They start looking around the apartment for more information but Mulder is floored by the same ringing noise that afflicted Sanjay. Scully speaks to the police who have arrived thanks to the agents triggering a silent alarm, and just as Sanjay heard his colleagues giving him orders, Mulder hears the words “find her” echoing inside his head.
Back at FBI HQ, Scully and Mulder report to Skinner who is now sharing his office with a representative of the DoD who refuses to allow Skinner to even see the contents of the files recovered from Sanjay’s apartment. Characteristically obtuse, Mulder informs Skinner of the contents – medical records of the children on the wall – and states that they want to investigate the connections, but Skinner shuts the case down given the loss of access to the files. The DoD man leaves, threatening severe repercussions if either agent talks which Mulder takes with his usual level of charm.
As soon as the door is closed, Skinner checks that he is correct in his assumption that Mulder already copied the files. He is. The three discuss their theories on the case, and Skinner casually mentions that thanks to inefficient bureaucracy, the case file they’ve submitted may take days to process, shoving it with a virtual wink to the very bottom of a desk drawer and welcoming the agents back. Down in the basement, which has undergone a remarkable makeover since the previous episode, Scully investigates surveillance footage from the facility where Sanjay died. She presses Mulder for details on what happened at the apartment, which he grudgingly gives her. Mulder spots the birds outside the building and theories that they arrived because of infrasounds, “sounds inaudible to the human ear” but which can cause worms to come to the surface. Scully expresses her concern for Mulder’s safety but he laughs it off before Scully admits she may have a way to speak to the company’s founder.
Scully takes Mulder to the hospital where she works and she speaks to Sister Mary, who praises Dr. Goldman and agrees to relay a message. While they wait, Mulder & Scully meet Agnes, a pregnant teenage girl whose unborn baby has abnormalities and who begs them to take her with them and out of the hospital. Agnes appears scared of Sister Mary, but Mulder slips her his card out of sight. He discovers that the young girls in the facility are homeless & often involved with drugs or alcohol and immediately begins to speculate that the whole facility is part of The Project, using the young women as incubators.
Outside, Scully is upset and asks Mulder if he believes she too was a part of the Project when she had William, whether she was “just an incubator”. “You’re never ‘just’ anything to me Scully,” Mulder assures her, allowing the gates to open. The pair stand together and talk about their son, Scully admitting her guilt and self-hatred at having missed every single one of his 15 years. “What if he’s out there somewhere, like one of the kids on Sanjay’s wall?” she asks.
In a rose-toned, soft-focus sequence set in an imagined, alternative universe, we watch as Scully walks William to his first day of school. Seconds later we watch him, now older, run out of school as the bell rings – Scully yelling after him to “be home in time for dinner”. The wind blows and Scully runs to an ambulance as William, now even older, is wheeled into an ambulance after breaking his arm. “Mom!” a voice calls, and Scully turns from the stretcher to walk down the corridor of a house and into William’s bedroom where she finds him looking into a mirror, black alien eyes staring out from his face. We cut back with a jolt to the real world where Scully sits alone at a desk breathing heavily. She opens a drawer and removes a baby photo.
The following day Mulder and Scully meet Dr. Goldman at his facility. Goldman explains, somewhat pompously, that his work revolves around “trying to save children” and the agents are treated to a tour in which they see room after room, each one containing a child afflicted with a disfiguring disease. Scully speaks to one of the children through an intercom and voices her concern that each child is kept in a sealed room, something Goldman puts down to eliminating environmental factors from his research. He claims that all the diseases have a key in common, something Scully guesses to be alien DNA.
Goldman scoffs but suddenly a teenage girl makes an escape attempt. Goldman uses the incident to excuse himself & the agents are shown out. They soon discover that Agnes has been killed in a hit and run accident, her baby removed from her womb. Scully doubts that the baby survived but Mulder guesses that the baby was an alien-human hybrid, and possibly capable of surviving the trauma. The two begin to speculate down highly X-Men territories, discussing a Founder’s Mutation that would cause the “next step in evolution”. Scully refers to a real study published in Nature Communications, pointing out that most European men could trace their lineage to just three individuals. Mulder reveals that Goldman’s wife was convicted of murdering her unborn baby, however, the body was never found.
Scully and Mulder visit Mrs. Goldman, whose husband keeps her locked in a hospital for the insane. Mulder convinces her to open up about her daughter, and in a flashback, we see two-year-old Molly breathing underwater in the family swimming pool. Mrs. Goldman speculates that her daughter’s abilities were the result of her husband experimenting, and – nine months pregnant at the time – reveals she decided to run, even though she knew the government would never let her escape with her son whom she had already guessed was yet another experiment.
In another flashback, Mrs. Goldman explains that in her panic to flee she crashed her car and, lying in the wreckage, heard the same ear-splitting noise Mulder heard before. She realised the sound was her baby communicating. Using a knife, she cut open her stomach to “let him out” and woke up later in the hospital charged with his murder. She never saw her son. Mulder wonders if Mrs. Goldman’s son, now a teenager, has been communicating with him. He makes one of his spectacular leaps and realises that a janitor was close by to Sanjay at the time of his death, a janitor that also worked at the hospital – a teenage high school dropout named Kyle.
The agents drive out to Kyle’s home where his mother blocks them from speaking with him. Mulder guesses that the woman isn’t Kyle’s real mother and two get into a heated confrontation which ends suddenly when hundreds of birds descend. Mulder collapses in pain as the ringing sound assaults him and Scully runs to confront Kyle in the barn. The agents take Kyle with them and he reveals that Sanjay’s death was an accident, he is simply trying to find his sister.
They visit Dr. Goldman, keeping Kyle’s identity a secret, and Kyle is introduced to a girl Goldman claims is Molly. However, Kyle quickly realises that Goldman is tricking him and runs further into the hospital where he finds his real sister. The two realise they can communicate telepathically, and then everything goes Marvel. Kyle and Molly use their powers to shatter the glass of Molly’s room/cell and incapacitate Dr. Goldman. Molly goes all Scarlet Witch, psychically throwing Mulder and Scully across the room while Kyle kills his father. Later, the DoD takes control of the facility and Skinner is ordered to keep “his people” back. He informs the agents that there is no trace of either Kyle or Molly, but Mulder secretly shows Scully a vial of Kyle’s blood that he was able to steal.
But “Founder’s Mutation” leaves the real heartbreak until the very end. Mulder imagines himself as a father, first introducing William to The Planet of The Apes. Then, in a scene reminiscent of Supernatural‘s Fourth of July fireworks, we watch another imagined moment from the soft-focus parallel universe as he and a young William build bottle rockets in their yard and recite President Kennedy’s “We choose to go to the moon” speech together.
It’s cheesy, yes, but beautifully done. Yet even in this imaginary world, the pain is never far behind and a scream of “Dad!” rips through the tranquility. Mulder runs into William’s room, only to find his son being abducted just as his sister Samantha was all those decades ago. The light fades to reveal Mulder, also sat alone in his home, staring forlornly at the same baby photo we saw Scully clutching earlier.
In terms of diversity, “Founder’s Mutation” does a better job than “My Struggle”, introducing a pair of men who are both gay and also ethnic minorities. Sadly this good work is slightly undone by both the death of one of these characters, and the revelation of their sexual orientation being turned into the episode’s “funny” moment thanks to the incident in the bathroom. It’s also sad to note that many of the named female characters in this episode are rendered powerless (as with Mrs Goldman & Agnes) while the white men fill the positions of power. However in some ways, I am willing to forgive this point. The X-Files has always built its narrative around a corrupt group of white men desperately clinging to power, a microcosm of our own world, and while these men remain in their lofty positions we see them challenged – and even destroyed – by the very people they are trying to manipulate. Maybe there’s hope?
Sophie is a staff writer at X-Files.News where you can find all the latest news about The X-Files, and the latest news from the show’s cast and crew.
Top Image: Mulder & Scully in “Founder’s Mutation” © 20th Century Fox/1013 Productions