Monday, January 25, 2016

The X Files "My Struggle" & "Founder's Mutation" Review

“My Struggle”

A Chris Carter mythology episode began the tenth season of The X Files. Well, that’s an audible heavy sigh.

Some have waited eight years (or fourteen years) for something new from The X Files. Fans wanted another movie. Kumail Nanjiani, the voice of The X Files fandom, and also a successful actor, comedian, and podcaster, wanted a movie. He and the fans, instead, received a new mini-season helped by the nostalgia craze gripping popular culture. We’re less than one month from the premiere of Netflix’s bad idea, Fuller House, and if you look around the rest of popular culture you will see that everything old is new again. I waited 5 or 6 months for new episodes. “Waited” is a poor word to describe it. I knew new X Files episodes would air in 2016. If I finished the series without any new X Files to come, I would have been contentedly indifferent about it. I chose to watch the series because Tim Minear and David Greenwalt began their careers under Carter’s maniacal eye. I preferred to watch their episodes in context of the series. Thus began a year-plus of watching The X Files. Knowing the series would continue in January 2016 motivated me to continue watching during parts of the series where, otherwise, I’d stop.

“My Struggle” began a new mythology, which seemed less new mythology than it did mythology I either thought existed or imagined. None of Mulder’s wild epiphanies in the episode took me unawares. I never understood the mythology clearly, though. Joel McHale’s Tad O’Malley (shades of Cary Elwes’ bland as Greek yogurt Brad Folmder) delivered the crowning monologue of the series which tied in current American issues with geopolitical issues into the existing man-made alien conspiracy. My friend Diddy liked to tell me, while I watched the series, about fan frustration with the series’ later seasons, “It’s hard to pay off a conspiracy.” I probably severely botched his eloquent remark about the problem of the conspiracy as a be-all-end-all of the series. The gist of Tad’s monologue: the elitist men want to take over the world.

Mulder, depressed for years after the second movie, lost Scully because of his depression. It’s a raw wound for both. Scully thought he wanted her to see him with Sveta. A.D. Skinner brought them together after Tad asked to meet them. A whirlwind of clunky exposition followed. Sveta might as well been named Plot/Exposition Device. She read Scully’s mind, which told new viewers about Scully’s failed marriage and about their son, William. Mulder delivered a speech to the audience about his history with The X Files. I expected the voiceover to become a scene in which a crazed bearded Mulder telling a group of kids at the park about the alien conspiracy while he fed geese. Chris Carter should’ve went at the story without any of the exposition niceties. FOX would never allow that, because network executives feels it necessary to continue holding the viewers’ hands despite the transformative TV landscape. The mission statement scene of the show—Mulder reminding Scully of what he sacrificed for The X Files and why he needs to prove this NEW conspiracy—seemed half-assed by David Duchovony as if he went through the motions for the scene because the scene went through the motions of the series. Fans know, Chris Carter, what The X Files meant to Mulder and how it affected Dana.

The critics tweeted together like a ravenous pack of sugar gliders near the end of TCA to let people know “My Struggle” was a terrible episode. Thanks, TV critics. “My Struggle” isn’t a terrible episode. The X Files barely made a terrible episode in nine seasons (the exception is the Kathy Griffin episode, and I didn’t like the Chris Carter directed video game episode much). Carter had to reintroduce the characters, their motivations (he had to give Dana motivation for returning to the X files) the mythology, and the series for a potentially new audience (I’d bet a can of nickels on no one deciding to give this X Files show a chance, on a whim, after the NFC title game). It’s easier to tweet that the episode’s terrible than it is to do that. Carter did not help himself by writing a mythology episode. The mythology negatively affects the episode. Carter wrote the characters around the mythology. I mean he started with the mythology instead of with the characters. I have a sense of where they are in their lives, but I think upcoming episodes will support the characters much more than they’ll support the mythology. And, of course, one could argue the mythology’s so much a part of the Mulder character, and to an extent the Scully character, but it’d be better if they were investigating something completely different.

“Founder’s Mutation”

TV critics did not like “Founder’s Mutation” either. In their barrage of negative X Files tweets, TV critics described the episode as ‘not terrible, but bad’ which improves upon the terrible “My Struggle.” Is “Founder’s Mutation” a not terrible but bad episode? It’s not great. Perhaps the brevity of the season overstuffed the episode. Chris Carter and his writers used to write 22-26 episodes per season. Season 10 has only six episodes. Anyway, it began as a seemingly stand-alone episode, but it became more and more about their lost William. The inciting incident of the episode—a suicide—led Mulder and Scully to investigate a center of research for children afflicted with rare genetic disorders. The Founder, Dr. Goldman, experimented on children. (Dr. Goldman and his research returns Mulder and Scully to Scully’s own pregnancy.) Scully directly asked The Founder whether or not he used alien DNA in his experiments. The doctor declined to answer.

Dana imagined a life with William. She took him to school. She nursed him after he broke his arm. She worried about him as all mothers worry about their children, and she worried he became half-alien when he hit puberty. William-as-a-puberty-alien made me laugh. Likewise, Mulder, at the end of the episode, imagined life with William. They watched 2001: A Space Odyssey. Mulder wondered how his son would continue his search for extraterrestrial life and the truth. They set off rockets. William declared he’d “go up there” one day.” Mulder then had a nightmarish imagining of his aliens abducting his son. Between their personal daydreams of raising William is the question of whether or not they did the right thing for him. Dana gave him up to protect him. Mulder barely saw him (because Duchovony was a part-timer and barely interested in the series). They’re sadder and regretful without him. The last image of the episode is of Mulder sitting alone in his kitchen staring at a picture of baby William. In a dreamland he could’ve lived a happy, peaceful life with Dana and William.

The case of the week ties Mulder/Dana/William with Goldman/Goldman’s wife/their kids. The children have alien DNA. The son caused the disruptive, piercing, sharp noise—his way of communicating ‘find her’ about his sister to Sanjay. Their father kept her as an experiment. Her brother freed her, as their mother cut into her uterus to free him. The case of the week story’s not totally coherent. It suffered from the high number of beats of the episode and the reduced runtime of episodes. TV runs 3-4 shorter now than it did when The X Files ended. The teenage character appeared three times early in the episode. He disappeared midway until Mulder saw a custodial work in the hospital hallway and remembered the other custodial worker. He returned. Mulder grasped that he could not control his ability, which is a tropey, but interesting, character thing to explore; but then he’s a typical terrible teenage character, and he disappears again after killing his father.

“Founder’s Mutation” was an okay/average episode of The X Files. A person’s enjoyment of the episode may entirely hinge on his or his feelings about William.

Through two episodes, I’d say—and I’ll write—The X Files is as X Files as ever.

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Originally, I titled the blog Jacob's Foot after the giant foot that Jacob inhabited in LOST. That ended. It became TV With The Foot in 2010. I wrote about a lot of TV.