All right. There were a lot of feelings to sort through for this one. I’m still not sure I’ve sorted them through completely. I’m not sure I ever will.
I was thoroughly bummed out at the end of this episode. And, no. I don’t mean that I was an emotional wreck grieving the plight of Mulder and Scully. I mean I was disappointed, out of joint, and incurably grumpy.
I realize that doesn’t make sense on the surface, especially since the storytelling has undeniably improved this week. “My Struggle” (1×01) was an aging crackpot of an episode, talking loud and fast, writhing in labor and giving birth to wind. But it was a familiar wind, so supersized shenanigans though it was, I couldn’t help but feel the daffy draft as a gentle breeze, cerulean blue style. Yep. Chris Carter put the whammy on me.
The truth is, though, that I never held out much expectation for the premiere to begin with. Most of the bad habits The X-Files ever had were connected to the mythology, and those habits manifested in increasing frequency and strength the longer the show went on. The mythology was epic in its heyday, but it self destructed somewhere in Season 6 and, unlike Mulder, it never made it back from the grave. Nothing could be worse than the mythology of Season 9 and the nosedive nadir of “Provenance” (9×10) and “Providence” (9×11). If my obsession could survive those, it could survive anything.
I was always more of a Monster of the Week gal, anyway. So who cares, right? But what I didn’t realize was that while I had steeled myself against disappointment in terms of the overall six episode storyline, there were still hidden hopes that I didn’t know I had. Those hopes, as always, centered around Mulder and Scully.
Things start out well enough. Better than well, even. There are little things, like the acting and direction around Mulder and Scully being distinctly of a modern style, for better and worse. Some things can’t be helped and when it comes to acting especially, times have changed – Ironically, they’ve changed largely because of the influence of The X-Files and other shows born in that era. I certainly didn’t expect things to be exactly the same and in fact am rooting for the show to evolve. No, we were still good.
Then we get a few cracks about just how 90’s Mulder and Scully are and it’s sorta cute. Okay. And then the show reverses its position and tries to prove that we’re not in the 90’s anymore, Toto. I get it. You can stop namedropping current events. You’re relevant. I know.
Like I said. Little things. Things that didn’t really bother me in and of themselves, just things I noticed. What mattered was that Mulder and Scully were back in my life calmly discussing theoretical science while a cadaver chilled in the background. YES.
The cherry on top was Mulder breaking the rules and stealing evidence. “Rebel.” It was almost like old times. Almost. It was somewhat disguised by the chaos of urgency and exposition in “My Struggle”. But now I’m sure: Something’s missing between Mulder and Scully.
I know, I know. It’s William, you say. Their grief over William has come between them and there’s some tension what with the breakup, that’s all. The distance is supposed to be there!
Maybe that’s what I’m meant to be seeing, I don’t know. But this doesn’t read as tension to me. Tension is not disconnect. There was tension in “My Struggle”, but at the same time there wasn’t this distance between them. There was tension between Mulder and Scully loads of times in the series proper, and sometimes they were going in polar opposite directions personally and emotionally. Yet they were always connected.
This may sound blasphemous, but their chemistry is wanting. There’s a spark missing. Where’s the Mulder/Scully bubble that existed as early as Season 1? That little world between the two of them that they used to create subconsciously? Fear not, NoRoMos. It’s not MSR I’m talking about or looking for, it’s the bond that set the ship a sail.
It probably shouldn’t concern me as much as it does. However, while this is the second episode to air it was the fifth episode filmed. Fifth! And there are only six. Their game should be on point by now. The fact that I’m seeing so little chemistry in what is effectively the penultimate episode… yeah, I am concerned.
You’re never just anything to me, Scully.
You know, there was a time when Dana Scully never had to say a word. I could read her every nuance of emotion, her every changing thought in her eyes. Scully was aloof. Scully was reserved. Scully was composed. Scully was in control. But Scully was not inscrutable. And her mouth wasn’t immovable.
Move your mouth, Scully. You’re allowed. Then again, maybe Scully shouldn’t open her mouth because every time she does, the croak of a ninety-year-old ex-smoker comes out. This bothers me. I’m bothered.
And what do you mean, “My baby”???
Mulder’s voice isn’t much better. And both of them are noticeably lacking in energy. Somebody get them some Wheaties, stat, because things can’t continue like this. I know they’re older and I want them to act like it. They can’t be wide-eyed with wonder the way they were in the early seasons of the show. That would be disingenuous. But that’s no excuse for Mulder and Scully on Valium. They’re middle aged, they’re not aged.
Again, I hear perfectly reasonable voices telling me this is all because of William. They’re emotionally beaten. They’re tired, they’re worn. They’re grief-stricken and world-weary.
Yet the answer that they lost their baby can’t be the excuse for every problem. Their chemistry is lacking – they lost their baby. Scully’s face is frozen – they lost their baby. Their conversations are stilted and subdued – they lost their baby. It gets old fast, doesn’t it? If they’re here to fight then there has to be some fight left in them.
I’ve ranted and I’ve snarked, but in all honesty I’m 80% sure that this discomfiture is a temporary state of affairs. And while I don’t think William should be a blanket excuse, this is an episode about William and it’s Mulder and Scully’s long overdue chance to mourn him.
In fact, the fantasy sequences prove to me that the Mulder and Scully I know and love are still alive somewhere in their own souls. Scully’s still Scully in her head! She even has her voice back! And you know what? Both of their individual scenes with imaginary William were more powerful than all of their scenes so far together.
These daydreams aren’t just fantasies about what life would have been like with William. They’re also their worst nightmares given a voice. Both Mulder and Scully long for their individual relationships with their child, and at the same time, they suspect that William was never theirs at all. Not really. It’s the same fear that torments Scully in “Per Manum” (8×8), that something was wrong with her pregnancy and her child from the beginning. But these are fears that should have been put to rest long ago.
These scenes, beautiful as they are, resolve nothing. They’re exercises in emotion. Mulder and Scully still don’t know whether or not they owe the birth of William to a sinister science, despite the fact that that question was answered in Season 9. (In case you were wondering, Season 9 no longer exists.) And they have absolutely no idea where William is or what’s happening to him, a question that I suspect will be revisited later in the season.
If these poignant daydreams accomplish anything, however, they succeed in amplifying my not so latent frustration over the William storyline. I know the world of The X-Files isn’t exactly family friendly, but I don’t think I’ve crumbled my cracker when I say I can easily imagine Mulder and Scully as parents… good parents. That’s why despite the weakness of “Existence” (8×21), its final scene felt right as a potential series finale.
For Mulder especially, who had spent the entire series trying to make sense of the loss of his sister and the destruction of his family, to find through his quest the family he had lost, to find something he was willing to leave the X-Files behind for, to find the very meaning he had been searching for in the X-Files, that was a great evolution for his character. In many ways, I think Mulder needed fatherhood more than Scully needed motherhood, despite the fact that the focus has forever been on “Scully’s baby”, even here where Scully still refers to William as her own. Yet, as sweet as Scully’s scenes with her imaginary son were, Mulder’s were gut-wrenching. That was exactly how I’d always imagined he’d be as William’s dad. And now I’m emotional all over again. Thank you, everyone. Thank you soooo much.
And thank you for making me more sure than ever that “William” (9×17), the adoption, and the entire plot surrounding Mulder and Scully’s son was the worst sin The X-Files ever committed. I know it would have been harder to write our leads crusading against epic alien invasions with a baby in tow (Colonization with The Mulders), but good things don’t come easy. And you know what? The epic alien invasion never happened, which only adds insult to unmitigated injury.
Scully is already a bad mother shut-your-mouth. But if she had been fighting for her home, her family and her baby, she would have been a BEAST. It could have been done. It should have been done. It has been done… in my head.
As you can see, the William issue doesn’t make me sad so much as it makes me resentful and indignant. I can’t cry over it. I’m too annoyed to cry.
Mulder and Scully don’t seem to have moved on either. This episode was not a catharsis. It was not a release like “Closure” (7×11). This was a glossy 8×10 of sadness and guilt put in a pretty picture frame and hung on a wall for all to see. If an angst party was the point, they have proven it. They have partied the house down.
And so my resentment roosts in an episode that is otherwise decent. It’s not great television but it’s a distinct improvement over last week. The case itself is only moderately interesting and the resolution even less so, but the theme of it ties in perfectly to the William storyline and consequently, “Founder’s Mutation” is an emotional continuation of the premiere. Now I understand why they moved this episode up from when it was originally scheduled to air. Per “My Struggle”, Mulder and Scully got back in this paranormal rat race in order to investigate the genetic manipulation of humans with alien DNA, a horror that hits all too close to home for them. This episode connects their work in the paranormal to the mythology at large as well as to their individual lives and their relationship. They have ample reason to be back on the X-Files.
Now if they would just get back that old Black Magic…
Then again, it occurs to me that diamonds are born under pressure. Since I’ve already exposed myself as a heretic, before I close I’ll add some wood to my own flames. It’s quite possible that the intensity of the Mulder and Scully relationship was directly tied to the intensity of the circumstances Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny found themselves in. They were young, relatively inexperienced actors who were hungry for work. They were on a show that wasn’t just a hit, it was a cultural phenomenon. They spent nearly nine months a year, sometimes eighteen hours a day, being Mulder and Scully. Gillian has even said (somewhat facetiously?) that she spent more of her 20’s as Scully than as herself. On top of that, the show itself became progressively more intense plot-wise, and their characters progressively more isolated together.
It’s no secret that under those high pressure circumstances, David and Gillian didn’t always get along. But they always managed to perform like their lives depended on it. Maybe they did. And maybe… though this is pure speculation on my part… maybe that tension drove them into a place where they had to be Mulder and Scully in order to git-r-done. Because on screen, they would go into a mental and emotional place between the two of them where they became just the two of them. And all the way up to the series finale, these characters and their relationship flowed from them like it was second nature.
Now we’re down to six episodes from up to twenty-four. Now everyone’s in a great place emotionally and relationally. And our leads only see each other every once in a while. In summary, it’s quite possible that our favorite duo will never be the same outside of the extreme possibility of circumstance that created them.
I’m at peace with that… I think? Or am I pouting because I wanted this MOTW to feel like old times? It kinda, sorta, almost did there for a minute. I know we can’t go back again and we shouldn’t. Consciously, I don’t want to. It wouldn’t be believable or even healthy. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t keenly feel the bitter in the bittersweetness of “Founder’s Mutation”.
Kyle Gilligan. Kyle “Gilligan”. GILLIGAN.
Skinner’s beard is everything to me right now. It’s the unsung hero of the episode.
Closely followed by Scully’s 9ft. legs in Mulder’s office. Dang, our cast is hot.
Help me, Darin Morgan. You’re my only hope. #GreatWhiteHope
It’s good seeing them in Skinner’s office again, though it’s almost jarring how easily Skinner accepts their crazy theories now.
The new, modern office is right, but it’s going to take a little getting used to. Meanwhile, the F.B.I. must be flush with cash.
The new “I Want to Believe” poster in the back corner… I guess we’ll hear that story soon.
I’m sorry. I was watching The X-Files when the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver showed up. Did I cross fandom beams?
And now that I think of it, this episode would fit well in the X-Men universe.
The scene in the bar was an excuse for some much needed humor. It didn’t end up being relevant to the plot.
To me, this feels more like modern TV does The X-Files than The X-Files does modern TV. Yes, Virginia, there is a difference.
I don’t just hate that she says, “my baby,” I hate the way she says it. I keep hearing it on repeat. Anybody got a letter opener?
Why does Scully stand outside the school just to say hi and bye?
There are echoes of Mulder’s brain pains in “Demons” (4×23) here and of the victims’ symptoms in “Drive” (6×2). There’s also a government conspiracy behind the genetic manipulation of babies in vitro as early as “Eve” (1×10).
Scully takes Kyle into custody a little too easily considering his powers. And Mulder recovers the pain without showing any signs of having been in any.
What are the odds that Kyle Gilligan would get a job working as a janitor at the same mental hospital that his mother was institutionalized at?
Scully: I’m a doctor. You can tell me anything.
Mommy Gilligan: Bad things happen when the birds gather.
Scully: This is dangerous.
Mulder: When has that ever stopped us before?
Mulder: All we can do, Scully, is pull the thread and see what unravels.