UK TV review: The X-Files Season 10 (2016), Episode 2 (The Founder’s Mutation)
Same old dialogue5
James R | On 15, Feb 2016
Warning: This contains mild spoilers.
“He didn’t answer my question,” observes Mulder in Episode 2 of The X-Files, after quizzing a sinister-looking man in a hospital. It’s the same thing that many people may be saying to themselves this week, as this second chapter in the new revival – despite airing in the US one night after the first – doesn’t really resolve any of the loose ends of the premiere.
“So what else is knew?” you might ask. But in the case of these all-new X-Files, quite a bit, if you buy into Mulder’s latest conspiracy theory from last week. To refresh, pretty much everything in the first nine seasons of The X-Files wasn’t really aliens at all, but one big government cover-up to distract Mulder and Scully from the real truth: that an elite Syndicate were already using alien technology to further their own position in the world. And, you know, be evil and stuff.
It’s one heck of a premise, taking us right back to the enjoyably daft days of the 1990s – even if the conspiracy nut dial was turned a little too high. The Founder’s Mutation, Episode 2, is something of a step forward, then, as we return to more of a case-of-the-week format. But it’s also a step back, as the routine investigative structure gives us more chance to notice the flaws still present 20 odd years down the line. Specifically, dialogue. The scriptwriting on the old episodes hasn’t always gotten better with age, but here, it’s miles worse, as Mulder and Scully say things to each that no human ever would.
“Mulder, you gotta see this,” exclaims Gillian Anderson over the phone, without explaining anything – the kind of suspenseful statement that worked perfectly well several decades ago, but now, doesn’t quite hold water. Even better, though, is David Duchovny, who slides back into Mulder’s blank, monotonous delivery with an eerily brilliant consistency.
“Ultimately hearing is just nerve impulses interpreted by the brian,” he comments, as they discuss their latest case. “What if those same impulses could be generated without actual vibrations striking the eardrum?” He pauses. “Anyway…”
To say The X-Files has duff dialogue is like saying a potato can’t swim: it’s pretty darn obvious. But the problem here is that the episode enjoys stating the obvious a little too much.
“Ever think about William?” asks Scully, during one poignant scene. “Of course I do, but I feel like I had to put that behind me,” replies Mulder, a little too bluntly and explicitly. (His nod to Edward Snowden halfway through another conversation is just as clunky.)
Duchovny and Anderson, though, are well versed in this non-realistic language and they help the theme of parenthood to be explored with some real emotional depth – not just in terms of separation from one’s family, but in terms of evolution. That’s where the title comes from: the founder’s mutation is the first step in the formation of a new species. So when a dead body turns up in a genetics lab, alarm bells ring for our FBI agents, and not just because the company is connected to the Department of Defense.
The duo’s research takes us from hidden relationships to downright imperceptible trauma – our introductory victim cannot stop hearing a high-pitched noise in his ears, something that drives him to a gory end. (Think Drive, the old episode with Bryan Cranston, but with fewer cars and more office stationery.)
The series once again turns up the messy dial to 11, with the sequences involving the piercing whistle edited and shot in a way that genuinely leaves you rattled. That, plus the familiar rhythms of an old-school detective story, keep you engaged, even if the words coming out of our characters’ mouths occasionally distract from the mystery. By the time we reach a surprisingly cathartic conclusion, though, the underlying theory that these paranormal occurrences are the work of terrestrials rather than extra-terrestrials brings a horrific through-line to this new strain of mythology – something that’s reinforced by flashback sequences that deftly sum up our leads’ tragic loss (often without speaking). Is William out there? What would he be doing now, if they hadn’t given him up for adoption? And what could he be like, given they did?
Those are the questions that intrigue more than the leftover narrative threads. A brief glimpse of Escape From the Planet of the Apes, itself about a concealed birth, is a nuanced touch that (combined with a satisfyingly moral pay-off) balances out the unsubtle dialogue and frustrating story arc. The result is uneven, but engaging enough to keep fans coming back for more. If Episode 1 of Fox’s revival was the founder’s mutation, pointing the show in a new direction, Episode 2 proves that some things never change.
Season 10 of The X-Files (2016) is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a Prime membership or a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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