Sunday, January 31, 2016

X-Files: "They're All Mythology Episodes"

Mulder and Scully talk with nun 
played by XF vet Christine Willes

Recently Mike Clelland (author of The Messengers, which you should pick up as soon as you're done with this) and the good fellows at the Sync Book Press reported on the second episode of season 10 of The X-Files, "Founder's Mutation", written and directed by TenThirteen founding father James Wong. 

Both were struck by the use of footage from Escape from the Planet of the Apes and 2001: A Space Odyssey at key points in the story. 

The Sync Booksters also noted that the new X-Files premiered during the week of a rare planetary alignment

Of course, TenThirteen devoted entire episodes to planetary alignments (X-Files' 'Syzygy' and Millennium's 'Force Majeure'), which is an incredibly esoteric plot point when you stop and think about it.

What Mike and the Syncsters didn't realize is how much of 'Founder's Mutation' was taken straight out of the X-Files canon itself, right down to the Apes and Kubrick tributes.

In fact, 'Syzygy' originally called for all the TVs in town to be stuck showing a loop of A Clockwork Orange during the planetary alignment but the producers were unable to secure the rights and had to use some old Keystone Cops video at the last minute. 

'Founder's Mutation' was aired as a standalone but is in fact the most mythological kind of X-File, not only tying to the series' Mytharc, but also to the mythology of The X-Files itself. Nearly every beat is a direct reference to an earlier episode, but in a way that clues in hardcore fans what is coming up in the episode and possibly, the rest of the miniseries as well.


This is for people who've seen the episode and I'll try to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but if you haven't seen the episode and don't want it spoiled, stop reading now. Come back after you've seen it.

The opening shot has a distressed scientist submitting to an iris scan at "Newgenics," what we see is an obvious descendant of Zeus Genetics from Season 8, since they are taken the work that Zeus were doing to the next level (that is, working with hybrid children instead of infants).

Those who made it to Season Nine will recognize that this is exactly how 'Nothing Important Happened Today, Part 2' opened. This is an important signifier, since that too was about genetic experimentation with alien DNA. 

Mulder and Scully's investigation (which has Mulder stealing evidence, a la 'Nisei' and 'Kill Switch') will lead them to an informant and a humorous misunderstanding in a men's room. What's the in-joke here? 

Mulder's bathroom encounter with "Deep Throat" 
all the way back in the first series episode after the pilot. Get it? 

During their investigation, Mulder is affected by a high-pitched sound that Scully can't hear. This of course, ties directly back to 'Biogenesis', which led to Scully's encounter with the X-Files' equivalent of the Monolith, the Godships, in this case the one on the beach in Africa.

Mulder and Scully then encounter a pregnant girl in a hospital, presumably carrying an alien-human hybrid. This plotline harks back to any number of episodes such as 'Emily' and 'Per Manum', but is also more pointedly reminiscent of Mulder and Scully's encounter with Peggy O'Dell, all the way back in the pilot episode. That connection will become concretized later on in the story.

The Apes extract gives us our first curveball, the first signal that the story is about to change gear. It harks back to 'Closure', the episode when Mulder discovered what finally came of Samantha, the object of the great grail quest of the original series.  

Soon we're inside Scully's head, seeing as she imagines a life with her lost child. The visual here so closely syncs up with the scene from 'The End', where she walks with Gibson Praise (the living proof of the alien origin of humanity) that we can't help but speculate that we will discover something equally profound about William.

But William was actually Scully's second child. There was also the ill-fated (and now forgotten) Emily, who was a product of the kind of genetic experimentation we're seeing here in 'Founder's Mutation.' 

We even see a replay of the scene from 'All Souls' in 'Founder's' where Scully looks forlornly at a snapshot of her lost child.

"Mom, what's happening to me?" Then there was this scene, that put a knife in this father's heart. And of course, the great X-Files alien giveaway, in the eyes. 

We see in 'Founder's' that Newgenics is having the same kinds of problems that Zeus Genetics had, though they've gotten past the embryonic stage. But they are clearly doing the same kind of work.

We also meet "Adam", who seems to visually hark back to Gibson Praise after the Syndicate got their hands on him. Hmm, I wonder if Wong is trying to draw an unconscious connection to AI wunderkind Adam Gibson...

The connection is made even stronger with actor Doug Savant (playing a Dr. Goldman) heavily made up to look not at all unlike Dr. Lev, the mastermind behind Zeus.  

The agents discover the girl from the hospital has been killed in a hit and run accident and that her baby has been taken from her womb. 

This of course goes back again to Peggy O'Dell, the girl in the hospital from the pilot episode, who was similarly living proof of the phenomenon Mulder and Scully were investigating. In this case what is missing here is 9 minutes of her life. 

The agents track down Goldman's ex-wife who tells them a harrowing story of how she found her daughter in a swimming pool, breathing underwater. This scene is a beat-for-beat replay of a scene from 'Badlaa', for reasons I'm not entirely sure of. Maybe because Wong simply thought it was cool.

Or maybe because that story was also about the terrible human consequences of scientific irresponsibility....

UPDATE: Kimon from your X-Files Mytharc one-stop shopping resource Eat the Corn reminds us that the hybrids could breath underwater, as we saw all the way back in 'The Erlenmeyer Flask', an episode Carter noted as key the other night on Midnight in the Desert. Great catch, Kimon!

This is extremely clever. We get a visual cue that the super-powered alien-hybrid is using his powers when flocks of ravens appear. We saw a similar effect in an episode in the seventh season called 'Chimera'. What's does chimera mean?

It means an "artificially produced individual having tissues of several species." Ahh...

As Mulder and Scully close in on their subject- the biological son of Dr. Goldman- we see him again succumb to that high-pitched noise. Here we see a replay of Mulder's collapse in 'Demons', when he was under the influence of the mind-control of 
Dr. Goldstein

None of this is happenstance; Wong is clearly drawing on the show's history to reflect its new reality back on itself.  

Dr. Goldman is later attacked by his son, who makes his eyeballs explode. Why is this important?

A similar fate befell the Nephilim in 'All Souls', who were the offspring of human women and "fallen angels," or whatever that was actually supposed to be in the POV/unreliable narrator world of The X-Files (I'm betting not actual angels).

Then Mulder has his own William idyll, which takes all the way back to 'The Sixth Extinction: Amor Fati', which was very much The X-Files take on the "white room" sequence of 2001: A Space Odyssey, with the Godship very much standing in in every conceivable way for the Monolith.

I do have to wonder about the "space is hard" failed rocket bit. Interesting...

Throughout Mulder's dreams within dreams in that episode (which again, just absolutely slay me) we see Mulder and William (yes, it's William) build the Godship out of sand. This was the kind of off-kilter poetry that an Ivy League English major could bring to the table.

So it only makes sense that he and William would be watching the original model (well, not exactly-
 I would strongly argue that Kubrick is riffing on Quatermass and the Pit in 2001 every bit as much as Carter + Co. did). 

The William scenes are all incredibly poignant. And here we see Mulder's idyll broken by a replay of the abduction scene from 'Little Grey Men'.

And remarkably, the episode ends exactly as 'Conduit' did. Mulder, shattered, staring alone at the snapshot of the lost child.

Now, let me just say this about William. He was originally conceived (no pun intended) at the end of the sixth season as the grand finale of the Mulder-Scully storyline, the writers (predominantly Carter, Spotnitz and Shiban) believing that both David and Gillian were leaving at the end of Season Eight. However, for reasons entirely her own Gillian decided to stay on for Season Nine, which scuttled a lot of plans. In many ways the writers were in a no-win situation. 

William had to be in danger because that was the world he was brought in to. But putting an infant in jeopardy can only take you so far. David didn't want to "play Superman's father" as he put it, so a sensible reason to write William off- Scully was putting him up for anonymous adoption was drawn up. She couldn't disappear with him because she had the implant in her neck and could be tracked everywhere she went (which is how all the supersoldiers found her in Georgia).

Obviously what James Wong is doing here is remaking William as the new Grail Quest, the new Samantha. The archetypal Lost Child, the Harpocrates to her Persephone.

More importantly, this may all tie into what is happening with this new turn in the Mythology. Chris Carter is on record as saying ALL X-Files episodes are Mythology episodes, since all the paranormal phenomena depicted in the show is the result of humanity's alien genetic heritage. 

Now what 'Founder's Mutation' is suggesting - rather strongly- that characters like Eugene Tooms and Leonard Betts may in fact be the result of direct DNA manipulation from these clandestine laboratories. 

We know that many of the "monsters of the week" were in fact engineered beings, whether you're talking about the Eves or the Flukeman or the sleepless soldiers or the various creations of the Post-Modern Prometheus.

This is not unprecedented in the TenThirteen Universe. The series finale of Millennium (which had Chris Carter's verbal fingerprints all over it) explained why there were so many serial killers in its universe- the Roosters faction of the Group had been programming them in order to create a problem/reaction/solution situation to increase their own power and influence.

This is a startlingly ambitious move for a short-season reboot like this and if you looked closely there was a visual cue that seems to point towards tomorrow night's episode, which will mark yet another shift in tone ('Founder's' and 'My Struggle' were so divergent in style and tone as to be totally different animals). 

But there seems to a thruline at work here, something more serious to ponder as we see stories every day in the news of scientists meddling with forces of nature they can't possibly understand.
In its way, 'Founder's Mutation' is sounding an alarm we heard more explicitly the episode before. It's worth noting that Carter moved this episode in the running order from 4th in the series to second. Despite the change in tone, we're hearing the same message of forces beyond our control having too much power over our lives. 

The only problem is that its message seems to have gone over the head of the same critics who went out of their way to attack its predecessor.