Season 10, Episode 1 - "My Struggle" and Season 10, Episode 2 - "Founder's Mutation"
David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Mitch Pileggi, William B. Davis, Annet Mahendru, Doug Savant, Christopher Logan
Regular airtime: Sunday, 10pm (premiere) and Mondays, 8pm (regular timeslot)
When the return of The X-Files was announced last year, longtime fans anticipated the revival with equal parts excitement and trepidation. They celebrated the return of a favorite series and its iconic characters, Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), yet couldn’t help but feel worried that it wouldn’t live up to what made the series so great. In many ways these first two episodes, “My Struggle” and “Founder’s Mutation”, confirm fears and surpass expectations.
“My Struggle” focuses on the larger mythology of the series, and is the weaker of the first two episodes. Unfortunately, as the mythology grew more labyrinthine and complicated during the first run of The X-Files, it became more convoluted than complex, and the final seasons of the show suffered for its increasingly confusing plot. The larger government conspiracies to cover up knowledge of alien life were at the heart of the mythology, particularly as it was originally linked to the mysterious disappearance of Mulder’s sister, Samantha, but as the seasons went on the conspiracy became an unwieldy mess, almost impossible to follow.
Where the first episode does succeed is in making the revival feel like The X-Files. The direction, Mark Snow’s score, and the interaction between Mulder and Scully all serve to bring the viewer back into a world that feels connected to the original run. As always, Scully is reluctantly drawn into Mulder’s obsessive search for the truth despite her own skepticism, but also in spite of her worry for his sanity. Their dynamic is established and familiar, yet their history is also much more front and center as they’re obviously no longer “together”, but still care a great deal about one another.
Mulder’s latest obsession is fueled by Tad O’Malley (Joel McHale), a conspiracy theorist talk show host intent on revealing the larger conspiracy of a government cover up and imminent takeover of America, post 9/11. O’Malley’s proof comes in the form of Sveta (Annet Mahendru), a young woman who claims to be a multiple abductee and the victim of a plot to steal the babies from her numerous alien pregnancies. As he convinces Mulder and Scully to meet Sveta, Mulder is immediately convinced of her story, while Scully requires testing and hard science to prove Sveta’s claims.
Though this is certainly not unfamiliar territory for The X-Files, the speed with which Mulder believes O’Malley and Sveta, to the exclusion of everything else he’s ever uncovered, is too convenient and probably a matter of the time limitations imposed by a six-episode run. Nevertheless, the episode quickly runs through Roswell flashbacks, the reveal of an actual ARV (alien replica vehicle) that can become invisible, shadowy meetings at night, and the unbelievable return of the Cigarette Smoking Man (William B. Davis), smoking through a tracheotomy, no less. For some it may seem to be too much, too fast and only serves to emphasize the failings of the mythology arc.
Conversely, “Founder’s Mutation” is a callback to some of the great monster-of-the-week episodes (though it’s not strictly a standalone) that The X-Files did consistently well throughout its original run. Opening on Dr. Sanjay (Christopher Logan) experiencing strange auditory sensitivity and pain, the episode quickly takes a turn as he’s driven to suicide at his mysterious, top-secret workplace. The particularly gruesome form of his death (a letter opener he himself drives into his brain through his ear canal) foreshadows the disturbing secret lab run by the Department of Defense to secretly study children with rare genetic mutations. The questions surrounding Dr. Sanjay’s death also lead the official reinstatement of Mulder and Scully as FBI partners answering directly to Assistant Director Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi), reestablishing another key dynamic in the series.
Uncovering the lab and its shadowy leader, Augustus Goldman (Doug Savant), leads Mulder and Scully to examine not only the real reasons behind the study of these children, but also to muse on their own son, William. William’s adoption as a baby was an attempt to protect him as he manifested certain abilities that point to alien biology. The children in Goldman’s lab have similar origins and display abilities of their own, requiring them to be locked away from the rest of the world. As Mulder and Scully contemplate their own individual versions of life with William as he grows up, both eventually envision some tragic or horrific scenario, clearly brought to the surface through their investigation of Goldman’s lab.
Though Scully’s pregnancy and the birth of William were sometimes narratively problematic in the show’s original run, Anderson’s performance and the larger sacrifice of his adoption serve to bring in a personal and emotional component that was often more effective than the mythology, even when they were intertwined. “Founder’s Mutation” is a perfect example of that balance that “My Struggle” failed to achieve. More than elaborate plots, the heart of The X-Files was always in the relationship Mulder and Scully and that’s why “Founder’s Mutation” was a much more successful outing.
Four episodes remain, some centered on the mythology and some monster-of-the-week, and hopefully they’ll continue to retain the essence of the series. While these first two episodes may forecast an uneven revival season, it’s a pleasure to have The X-Files—and that particular brand of X-Files humor—back on television, even if it’s only for a little while. Duchovny and Anderson have an undeniable chemistry that’s wonderful to see onscreen again, and the world of The X-Files, imperfect though it may sometimes be, is a welcome diversion from our real-world paranoias.