The X-Files “Founder’s Mutation” Review (2016 Mini-Series Episode 2): Freak Out!

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In a bit of a bait-and-switch, the latest episode of “The X-Files,” entitled “Founder’s Mutation,” wasn’t really the “monster of the week”-style episode that was promised, but rather, more akin to something like Tod Browning’s classic “Freaks” or, more recently, “American Horror Story: Freak Show.” That is to say, these weren’t monsters we were dealing with, but innocent children that had fallen prey to alleged genetic abnormalities. But were they born with it, or was something much more nefarious going on? Well, it is “The X-Files,” so of course there was.

Cleverly tying into the somewhat-maligned premiere episode, this one benefitted enormously from the return of writer/director James Wong, who wrote some of the better episodes of the show’s original run, i.e. “Tooms,” “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man,” “Beyond the Sea,” et al. That “AHS” connection was no fluke (man), either- Wong serves as one of the executive producers on that show, and has written many episodes, including some during that aforementioned season, as well as having shepherded the “Final Destination” series, for which he also wrote and directed the first and third entries.

That wealth of experience served him well here, as the episode managed to thrill, chill, gross-out and still find time to tug at one’s heart-strings, sometimes even within the space of the same scene. If the premiere suffered somewhat from trying to stuff too much in, then this one was the first to truly feel like it would have been right at home within the original run of the series, which shows that the critics might have been a little too hasty in trashing the show as they did. Patience is a virtue, people- even for critics.

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Honestly, despite some minor quibbles, I really liked the premiere, and was genuinely glad to have one of my all-time favorite shows back. Given the reaction of some critics, you’d have thought they hadn’t seen a single episode of the show before. I mean, the whole notion of the government being the ones primarily responsible for the abductions on the show wasn’t a new one, if you were paying attention.

It was something that was present in its original run- notably with Scully herself, who was supposedly “abducted,” but in actuality, may have been implanted with alien DNA by humans, not aliens. So, the idea that “humans are the real Big Bad” didn’t “betray” the events of the original show at all- it just confirmed what many of us hardcore fans always suspected. Not to mention the fact that the premiere never denied that there were aliens- hell, it opens with one crashing onto the infamous Roswell site!

Ergo, there are indeed aliens, and a lot of what happened on the show’s original run remains intact, it’s just that some of it was false memories implanted by governmental types experimenting with alien technology, both on fellow humans and in terms of aircraft (i.e. the one Mulder saw in the hangar, if not necessarily the one that took out Sveta- though it probably was of government issue, as well).

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So, contrary to what some critics would have you believe, not everything that happened in the original run was rendered moot by the events of that first episode last Sunday. Quite the contrary- it just confirms what a lot of us already knew- and they would have, too, if they’d been paying attention. Do a little research, guys. I get that re-watching the entire series might have been asking a lot, but you could at least watch some key episodes or read up on things to refresh your memory a bit.

I was particularly disappointed to see some critics who I usually enjoy reading, once I’ve done my own reviews, come down hard on the show in a negative way, which is too bad. I mean, if you look at my own review, I wasn’t above pointing out the premiere’s flaws, without outright bashing it, which seemed to be the norm in a lot of the reviews I read. Yes, it was a bit clunky and exposition-heavy in places, but come on Mulder and Scully, together again! They got the band back together and you’re going to nit-pick about it? For shame.

The fact that it was rushed was a common complaint, but to me, it was more because they felt compelled to reiterate the basics for newbies than anything else, which is almost to be expected. With only six episodes to work with, it was kind of necessary evil, if you think about it. Besides, it got us to this second episode, which was a vast improvement in every way, so I say it was well-worth it.

I’m not even going to dignify those who bashed the episode for being too “left-leaning” and “bashing conservatives” via the Tad O’Malley character with a response, as it’s too ludicrous a claim to get into. Ditto those who made snarky remarks about how the leads have aged poorly, except to say: Seriously? THAT’S what you had a problem with? Ugh. Some people.

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Back to the episode. The main plotline delved into the shady doctor known as “The Founder” – who actually insisted people call him that. What is he, the cousin of “The Maestro” from “Seinfeld”? Get over yourself. Whatever the case, he claimed to be seeking to aid those children who had been born with genetic anomalies, keeping them locked up in a “safe” place to be studied and hopefully “cured” of their abnormalities.

Sounds all well and good, except, as it turned out, the not-so-good doctor, aka Augustus Goldman (Doug Savant, “Desperate Housewives”), had actually been implanting women with alien DNA in vitro- you know, just to see what might happen- including his own kids. Yikes!

When his wife (Rebecca Wisocky, “Devious Maids”) figured out was he was up to, she bolted, only to get into a car wreck and, in one of the more grisly moments in the show’s entire history, cut out the baby, which subsequently crawled free and escaped, eventually finding a place with an adoptive mother. I don’t know about you, but I won’t soon forget the sight of that tiny baby hand reaching out of the slit in its pregnant mother’s stomach to be freed. Eep!

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The mental-searing images didn’t stop there, either. As gruesome as the opening scene with the guy plunging a letter opener into his ear canal was- not to mention Scully pulling it out later on- few things could prepare a viewer for the house of horrors that was the Founder’s hospital digs. Not a pretty sight, to be sure. The great thing about it, though, was Wong’s brilliant ploy to make the viewer not only repulsed at what they were seeing, but even more so with the man who had done it to them.

After all, lest we forget, these were innocent children that were stuck with these horrible deformities that they wouldn’t have had otherwise if this real-life monster hadn’t caused it. That’s pretty heartbreaking. Thus, his ultimate fate was well-deserved, as one of his children, the now-grown Kyle (Jonathan Whitesell, “The 100”) returned to him, under the guise of being tested, with the aid of Mulder and Scully, but in actuality was looking for his sister Molly (Megan Peta Hill, “Supernatural”).

When Goldman tried to fake him out with an imposter, he found Molly anyway, helped to break her out, and promptly caused “The Founder” to bleed from the eyes and ears before apparently causing his eyes to explode and kill him outright- the one thing that did happen off-camera, as it turns out. I guess eye explosions are the one thing Wong couldn’t get away with on network TV.

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Be that as it may, there was certainly no shortage of nightmare fuel to be had on this one, but I really did love the way Wong managed to gross you out and still make you feel bad for all concerned, save, of course, “The Founder.” The takeaway from all this is that Scully herself was almost certainly on the receiving end of another “Founder”-type her own self, as was the late Sveta. Until she and Mulder track whoever did it down, they won’t know exactly what was done to her, except in vague terms. Obviously, it can’t be good.

It might also mean that William, the baby in question, who would now be 15, according to the show, might well possess some powers of his own, much like Kyle and Molly, if not some outright genetic abnormalities in the vein of some of the poor kids we saw over the course of the episode.

Only time will tell, but I suspect we’ll find out before the end of the latest run of the show, at least to a certain degree. Or maybe they’ll just hint at it. Hard to say, with only four more episodes to go, but the good thing is, we’ll find out soon enough.

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All in all, it was a nifty episode, with a lot to recommend about it, and very little to complain about this time around. It tied into the established plot in a cool way, the effects were top-notch and occasionally cringe-inducing, and yet, there was real heart beneath the surface of all the gore and grindhouse sights and sounds. (I half-expected to see a cameo from “Basket Case” bundle of joy Belial!) It was yet another winner from Wong, and I wouldn’t have expected anything less.

Next week brings a bona fide monster-of-the-week episode from no less an expert than Darin Morgan, who wrote some of my all-time fave episodes of the show, including the Emmy award-winning “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose,” as well as “Humbug,” which also revolved around so-called “freaks,” coincidentally; and the superlative “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space’” (easily one of the most fun eps of the show ever) and “War of the Coprophages” (who can forget Dr. Bambi- and Scully’s reaction to her?). Can’t wait.

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Join me next week for that one, and thanks for reading! Feel free to comment below, whether you agree or disagree with my assessment of the episode- all input is most welcome. See you next week, and remember, the truth is out there…even if you have to look harder for it, insofar as some critics are concerned.