Monday, January 25, 2016

The X-Files: Founder's Mutation (S10/E2)

by JASmius

Rating: ** (out of four)

Written & directed by James Wong

Did we learn anything new about the new mytharc tonight?  Nope.  This was a "trees" episode to the mytharc's "forest," a case Mulder and Scully are either assigned or stumble upon that turns out to be connected to an aspect of the mytharc that the episode illustrates and nominally advances.  Which made Mulder's remark to Scully about "pulling on threads to see what unravels" very fourth-wall appropo.

The synopsis:

At the headquarters of Nugenics Technology, researcher Dr. Sanjay arrives to work hearing a mysterious high-pitched noise in his head. At a staff meeting, the noise becomes so deafening that he flees and locks himself inside the server room. The amplified sound of a security guard drilling through the lock becomes too much for Sanjay to bear; desperate to stop the noise, he shoves a letter opener through his eardrum, killing himself.

Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully investigate Sanjay's death. With no information being put forward by Nugenics, Mulder steals Sanjay's mobile phone and contacts the last person he called. At a Washington bar, Mulder meets a man named Gupta, who is revealed to be Sanjay's gay lover.

Which is a shame, because I was hoping Mr. Wong would have named him "Rajesh".

Gupta tells Mulder that Sanjay had been distant and expressed concern that his "kids" were dying. Meanwhile, during her autopsy, Scully finds the words "founder's mutation" written on Sanjay's palm – a reference to Dr. Augustus Goldman, a reclusive individual known as "The Founder." Upon searching Sanjay's apartment in Dupont Circle, the agents discover photographs of disfigured children. When police arrive, Mulder becomes overwhelmed by the noise.

As you were already deducing, this puzzle wasn't all that difficult to put together, and Wong didn't toss in any creative swerves.

Mulder and Scully are given a fake reprimand by FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner to placate the [Commissariat] of Defense, which has ties to Goldman and Nugenics.

Subtle.  So much so that they didn't even need Tad O'Malley to bludgeon us over the head with it.

Observing footage of birds which flocked near the Nugenics building at the time of Sanjay's death, Mulder theorizes that the noise is a frequency normally unheard by humans. The agents visit Scully's hospital to get in touch with Goldman, one of its financial supporters.

There's a plot convenience.

While there, they meet a young girl named Agnes, who expresses a desire to leave and claims her unborn child is abnormal.

And whom you knew would be dead before the final Act.  Which makes you wonder what that nun (Sister Mary) had to do with it, since she was the only hospital official who could possibly have been within earshot.

Outside, Mulder and Scully discuss the possibility that Goldman is experimenting on pregnant women for the project. They also reminisce about their son William, who remains in hiding. Later, Scully has a fantasy about living with William.

"Possibility"?  Try guarantee.  It couldn't have been any more obvious.  Which is why it should have been someone else.  And in the original series, it would have been.  But Chris Carter and his writers only have six episodes to introduce, advance, and resolve this updated mytharc, so they don't have the time to do it well.  Unless the idea is to use this mini-season as an on-ramp to a full one next fall or a third feature film, and if that's the case, the poor quality of its first two offerings don't bode well for its chances of success.

Mulder and Scully finally meet with Goldman, who purports to conduct research on children suffering from debilitating genetic conditions.

And whose transparent villainy was so vividly portrayed by Doug Savant (talk about stage names) that he might just as well have had horns and been wearing a blood-drenched butcher's smock.

During a tour of his facility, they witness a confrontation in which one of Goldman's patients causes objects to move on their own.


Soon afterward, they learn that Agnes has been struck and killed by a car, with her fetus mysteriously missing.

Told ya.

The agents next question Goldman's wife Jackie, who has been confined to an insane asylum.

The provider of the missing pieces of the puzzle.

Jackie recalls an incident where her infant daughter fell into a pool and breathed underwater. Realizing that Goldman experimented on her while pregnant, Jackie fled but wrecked her car. Under attack by the noise – her unborn child's attempt to communicate with her telepathically – Jackie cut her uterus open with a kitchen knife; the baby escaped and was assumed dead.

The baby was telepathic, but he was still a baby.  Unless he also had Magneto's powers and could instinctively fly by tapping into magnetic fields, how could he possibly have survived?  And since the piercing screech Dr. Sanjay and Mulder heard turned out to have nothing to do with birds and ultrasound waves or whatever, why was a flock drawn to the now-teenage boy in the next scene?

On their way out, Mulder makes a query to a janitor who is working at the hospital for a contractor.

Speak of the devil.

Through security footage....

You know, the "surveillance state" Mulder was denouncing to Skinner last night but came in handy for him and Scully pretty much throughout this episode.

Mulder and Scully discover that a janitor working at Nugenics reacted strangely at the same time as Sanjay's death. The agents drive to the remote home of the janitor, Kyle Gilligan, and are confronted by his adoptive mother. Mulder is once again besieged by the noise. Noticing a nearby flock of birds, Scully tracks down Kyle and forces him to stop. Upon being taken into custody, Kyle reveals that he killed Sanjay unintentionally and demands to meet his sister.

Obviously Kyle and his sister, Molly, should have been enrolled in Xavier's School For Gifted Youngsters.

It's like if Jean Gray had dyed her hair brunette and had a younger brother.

Kyle is taken to Goldman's lab, where he is presented with a girl who Goldman claims to be her sister. However, Kyle realizes she is a decoy and runs down the corridor, where he finds the irate patient from earlier – his real sister, Molly.

Given that he knows his kids are telepathic, why would Goldman try to fool his son and risk his telekinetic wrath?  Isn't this guy supposed to be intelligent?  But then finesse and diplomatic flim-flammery would have lent this character more than a single dimension - which, again, is all the episode had time for.

After speaking to each other telepathically, the siblings repel the agents and kill Goldman before escaping.

By making his head explode, a la Scanners.

By far, the most entertaining thing in this episode.  I'm guessing we'll see Kyle and Molly again before the mini-season is over.

The plot was even more constricted than it needed to be by the hamhanded insertion of fantasy sequences depicting first Scully and then Mulder imagining how their lives would have been different if they had kept and raised their son William.  Indeed, the plot was subservient to that theme as a stimulant for it, which tells me that we're going to become reacquainted with young Bill Scully as well before the six-installment run is complete.

In its own context, I can certainly understand and sympathize with Mulder and Scully's plight; the what-ifs and what-might-have-beens, the anguish that the life of danger and horror and conspiracy and all-around nastiness into which they thrust themselves (like twin hurricane eyes, but I digress) denied them any kind of normal life that would include having been able to get married and have a family.  I especially appreciated Mulder watching 2001: A Space Odyssey and making and launching model rockets with William, both the sort of geeky activities you'd picture him sharing with his son, down to the JFK moon mission speech.  It was very true to both characters.

And then Mr. Wong had to go and spoil the fantasy by not letting either Mulder or Scully be able to keep the reality of why they sent William away from intruding, Scully by seeing William turn into an alien creature and Mulder watching him get abducted just like his sister was.

I could almost say that this episode couldn't make up its mind between the mytharc "loose thread" and the larger theme it was designed to uphold.  Ironic that even with that unevenly executed dichotomy, there still wasn't enough of either to fully flesh out an entire hour.

Next: The token "creature feature".

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