“Old School.” Both Mulder and Scully talked about being “Old School” in Monday’s second of six new episodes of The X-Files. The Urban Dictionary defines “Old School” as “Anything that is from an earlier era and looked upon with high regard or respect,” for Mulder that’s palming a dead guy’s smart phone to get a lead, and for Scully that’s knowing that “Gupta” means “secret” in a Western India dialect without Google. Now that’s the X-Files we paid admission to see! The classic verbal fornication that people loved about Mulder and Scully was rusty, but intact in that one scene, but while “Founder’s Mutation” was more the X-Files we know, the show’s still showing the strain of reaching for past glory.
As I said last night, the season openers are never where The X-Files shines, it’s always where the show tries to paint itself into, or out of, a corner in terms of the mythology. Sunday night was all about updating the show’s paranoia twinge to be more befitting to the year 2016, and to undo the damage done by making Mulder and Scully a couple in the latter seasons. It was necessary work to get us back to the X-Files we know and love, and with episode two we get to play. Written and directed by James Wong, who with co-writer Glen Morgan authored some of the shows most pivotal hours like “E.B.E.” and “Home,” there was something about episode two that felt right. Or righter in any event.
We get the classic X-Files opening: nondescript office setting, nondescript man going about his day, but we know inherently that there’s a problem with him that two Tylenol and a lot of water can’t solve. When the man, seemingly driven mad by a sound only he can hear and the whispered voide asking him to “Find her,” drives a letter opener through his ear, newly re-instated Agents Mulder and Scully are called in to find out why. The hiccup is that the company has a contract to do work for the Department of Defense, which, despite the agents’ access, makes investigating the full and true cause of the man’s death difficult.
Here’s where we depart a little from the X-Files norm. Mulder believes that the top secret work being done by the company has a connection to the conspiracy theory verbal diarrhea he spouted in episode one, the worldwide co-ordination to make Americans too fat and dumb to realize they’re being taken over by aliens, or whatever. Is the show going to try and make the case of the week tie back to the conspiracy arc weekly? It’s a shrewd move given the limited episode number, but considering that I’m still not entirely sure what breakthrough Mulder had in “My Struggle” I could do without it. The thing is that Wong really didn’t need that angle to sell the inherent fright of the episode, the concern of every expectant parent that there’s something wrong with their baby, a genetic flaw that you were never aware of but can make the life of the child so very difficult.
Wong also uses the plight of children suffering horrible genetic deformities as a way to probe Mulder and Scully’s guilt over giving up their own son, William. It’s probably the most controversial aspect of the latter days of The X-Files, making Scully Mulder’s baby mama and implying young William was the sum and total of years of alien hybrid experiments, so addressing it directly in an especially schmaltzy way like having Mulder and Scully imagine what life with William might have been like, was a risky proposition. The gamble did yield something interesting though.
First, note the fact that William would be 15 years old now. Time flies, but the point is that wherever William is, and whoever he’s with, he’s coming into his own, not just as adult, but perhaps as a whatever-he-was-meant-to-be. That’s reflected in Scully’s vision, where she sees teenage William grow physically alien characteristics, and to a lesser extent in Mulder’s vision where he sees William be abducted, which he might be conflating with what happened to his sister, Samantha. It was also worth noting that in Mulder and Scully’s respective visions, they were interacting with William alone. There was no one big happy nuclear family, which was either because the two of them were dealing with their grief separately, or because Wong was making a comment that the relationship was doomed to failure. On the bright side, it was also heartening to see that the imaginary Mulder/Scully clan put an emphasis on science and education (and Kubrick).
As for the case itself, there was enough going on to make your skin crawl effectively. The scene where Jackie Goldman (Rebecca Wisocky) flashes back to delivering her own baby by C-section was X-Files at its gory best, but even the small moments, like Jackie being startled by her daughter smiling and breathing in the deep end of the pool, had an appropriate Children of the Corn vibe. The key to a great X-Files was always finding a way into the normal, how to turn corners of everyday life into places from where the extraordinary can spring. The most obviously example I can think of is “Tooms.” Can you look at a shopping mall escalator without thinking about about a 100-year-old, liver-eating serial killer getting shredded by it from underneath?
“Founder’s Mutation” did seem to try to pack too much into the hour though. It’s never explained why Augustus Goldman (played by Doug Savant, who I’ve always felt had a creepy X-Files villain inside him) is referred too in a reverential way as “The Founder” by his staff. Unanswered questions are common in X-Files, for instance I’m fine with the mysterious disappearance of Goldman’s kids at the end, but it seemed like the show was going somewhere with the idea of Steve Jobs-like CEO worship and didn’t get there. The door is also left open as to whether or not Goldman’s work and its secrecy is connected to the Conspiracy (with a capital ‘C’), but I did enjoy Skinner’s new laissez-faire attitude towards towing the FBI line. His remark about how it might take a couple of days for the paperwork to work its way through the system before shoving it in his desk was bureaucratically bad ass.
So with that The X-Files revival is two-thirds over. Next week, it will be Darin Morgan‘s highly-anticipated return with “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” and if the guy that wrote “Humbug”, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”, “War of the Coprophages”, and “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space'” can’t hit it out of the park, we may be doomed.