Be advised: this will go into detail about various plot elements of the episode, and there will be SPOILERS. Trust no one.
If you were worried after the first episode of this new, truncated season of The X-Files failed to deliver on the promise of new-yet-classic material from Chris Carter and co, this second episode, Founder's Mutation, goes some way to restoring confidence.
James Wong (who writes and directs) managed to imbue this one with a little more atmosphere and menace, largely freed from the exposition dump that Chris Carter apparently felt My Struggle was crying out for. Though we still got what might turn out to be standard for this season – the Previously On spliced with Mulder's narration about the show's concept with a little added mention of his and Scully's son William, who will become important later.
We open then in typical stand-alone show fashion with something going badly wrong for a character you can just tell won't live beyond the teaser. In this case, it's a Dr. Sonny Sanjay (Christopher Logan), who is suffering from a high-pitched whine that causes him great pain and distorts all the regular sounds around him. Soon, he's leaving a meeting of his fellow researchers, retreating to a secure server room, scrawling something on his hand and then ending his life with a liberal stab of a letter opener to the brain via his ear. Who can you possibly call to investigate this? Since this is The X-Files, you naturally get Mulder and Scully, who show up as a working unit again. Mulder has apparently found a suit shop in the time between the first episode and now, and they're in full flow, putting out theories and discovering things no one else can.
A security goon from the lab (played by Battlestar Galactica's Aaron Douglas, disappointing only in that he gets just this one scene) interrupts them and refuses to let them near the research, since it's all for the Department of Defence. But Mulder quietly swipes Sanjay's phone and after they pass a janitor – who is so conspicuously lingered upon, you just know he'll be important later, and might as well be wearing a sign reading "Vital To The Case" on his jumpsuit – they discover someone called Gupta in Sanjay's contacts. Gupta, as the ever-wise Scully points out, means security in Marathi, and that leads to Mulder meeting with the real Gupta, AKA Vik Sahay, best known for playing Lester in Chuck. He thinks Mulder is there for sex, and after an awkward moment in a secluded room (which has possibly the best line of the night with Gupta's "The truth is in here" while pointing to Mulder's heart), Mulder learns that Sanjay was living a double life in more ways than one.
It’s clear that the conspiracy arc is going to carry through at least a few of the stand-alone episodes.
Scully, meanwhile, has been conducting the autopsy of Dr. S (prepare to cross that scene off your bingo card, folks) and has discovered that he wrote "Founder's Mutation" on his hand. Oh, and Sanjay drove the letter opener straight into his brain's audio centre, leading the agents to speculate on the sound. Headed to Sanjay's secret second apartment, the agents nearly run over a guy crossing the street who – yes! – is the janitor again, though our seemingly keen duo don't pick up on that. At Sanjay's, they discover pictures of hospitalized children, all suffering from genetic abnormalities, and whom the researcher was trying to help. But their investigation of the living space is hampered by A) the police showing up, which leads to Mulder and Scully conducting the slowest search ever, considering the cops are on their way and B) Mulder doubled over in pain thanks to a similar high-pitched whine to the sound that troubled Sanjay.
But he recovers and soon the pair is back at the FBI for another old XF standby, the meeting with Walter Skinner. With someone named Murphy sitting in for the typical menacing stranger moment, we have Mulder once again name-checking Edward Snowden (has he somehow purchased sponsorship in all the episodes?) and Skinner craftily telling the agents that the case is closed while indicating they should continue. Oh Walter, you sly dog, you. It's hard to believe you're still just an Assistant Director after all this time.
Down in their minimalist but shinier X-Files office, the agents are watching security tape from the Nugenics (not the most subtle riff on Eugenics, but we'll allow it) building the night of Sanjay's stabby suicide. Noticing other weirdness, like birds flocking to the lawn of the facility, which Mulder attributes to them picking up on "infrasounds" that humans can't ordinarily hear, they decide it's time to meet the Big Cheese behind the place, the man they call the Founder. But he's not exactly open to a meet and greet, so Scully asks a nun at the hospital where she usually works to relay a message and set up a meeting. At the hospital, they also meet Agnes (Kacey Rohl), a young expectant mother part of a special programme sponsored by the good doctor, who is concerned about her child being abnormal. She won't say more, but takes Mulder's card, a sure sign that she'll either A) be useful later or B) turn up dead. We're betting on B. Sorry, Agnes.
After they leave, Mulder and Scully have a discussion about their own child, William, who fans will recall was born and then given up for adoption late in the original series. They're worried he might have been an experiment and this leads Scully to a fantasy sequence where she imagines William at different times of his life. Going to school... getting into a scrape... discovering he has an alien face. You know, the usual kids' stuff. Back in the real world, a soulful and sad Scully looks at a picture of her baby son. It's a lovely little scene and perfectly played by Gillian Anderson.
Finally able to meet the mysterious Dr. Augustus Goldman (Doug Savant), who has begrudgingly agreed to a tour, the agents are introduced to a group of children suffering with their own abnormalities, all in specially sealed treatment rooms. It's a spooky sequence, and all credit to the make-up team for portraying the kids with grace and sensitivity. Also in the hospital is a young woman named Molly, who we only glimpse getting into a fight with her carers. Will she be important later. Look, it's one of those episodes, so you know the answer to that.
Meanwhile, Mulder gets a message... Agnes is, yes, no longer among the living. Turns out she ran from the hospital and was involved with a hit and run. So far, so tragic, but there's no sign of her baby. Things start to ramp up as Mulder and Scully discover that Dr. Goldman has a dark secret of his own: his wife Jackie (Rebecca Wisocky) was committed to an asylum, accused of killing her own child. But when our dutiful duo do talk to her, they get side of the story, but not before she's randomly thrown an apple at a nearby cat. Turns out, she had a daughter named Molly (surprise!) who once fell in the family pool but was seemingly able to breathe under water. Worried for her unborn son, she slashes Augustus with a knife and makes a break for it in her car. Colliding with a deer, the car crashes, and an injured Jackie crawls out, injured, and hears the terrible whine... Which she realises is her son talking to her from the womb. She slices her belly open and lets him out. The make-up effects were a little less effective this time around, but still gruesome.
Soon, Mulder and Scully are putting the pieces together... They re-check the footage and notice the janitor from the facility doubling over in a nearby room at the time of Sanjay's death. They go to find him, and run into his mother Rebecca (Amanda Burke), who is trying to protect him, convince he's mentally challenged. But another blast of the whining sound affects Mulder and Scully dashes to find the lad, Kyle Gilligan (Jonathan Whitesell). She convinces him to come with them (at gunpoint) and they head to Dr. Goldman's lab, where Kyle is finally reunited with his grown sister Molly (Megan Peta Hill) and the siblings finally show their true powers, breaking the glass of Molly's room and throwing everyone else around like puppets with their telekinesis. Dr. Goldman fares even worse, with, as Mulder later says, his eyes popping out of his head as intense pressure slowly kills him. Tenacious D would approve of those mind bullets, son.
Soon, Skinner has shown up with a tactical team, but Kyle and Molly have vanished, probably headed to Xavier's School For Gifted Youngsters to learn how to harness their powers. But Mulder has swiped the blood sample that Dr. Goldman took from Kyle, so they have something to trace. The Department of Defence has otherwise covered it all up and we're just left to see Mulder's own little fantasy moments with William, chilling on the couch watching 2001, launching model rockets and then seeing his son get abducted. It's probably Duchovny's best work on the new series to date, giving him the chance to skip his usually sleepy performance as everyone's favorite laconic FBI agent.
So, an improved episode that actually managed to balance some laughter and real emotion with the needs of the plot. Plus, while the middle four episodes were talked up as monster-of-the-week stand-alones, it's clear that the conspiracy arc (in this case, the genetic modification of the human race by sinister elite governmental types) is going to carry through at least a few of them. The concept was ripe for some of the series' trademark gruesome moments and while it wasn't exactly up there with the greats, it provided more pure fun that the first episode's exposition slog. There are signs of life! And next time, Darin Morgan is back with one of his comedy jobs, so our expectations are rising.
Read our celebration of all things X-Files here.