In the second episode of the tenth season of The X-Files, THIS IS PRETTY MUCH EVERYTHING THAT I WANTED. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch The X-Files.
Trigger Warning: For talk of consent, nonconsensual medical procedures, ableism, homophobia.
There are so many things here that I love, y’all. And I can’t believe that in the year of our lord 2016, James Wong found a way to make the William storyline REALLY FUCKING GOOD.
I’m going to start with the first surprise in “Founder’s Mutation.” I’m not gonna say that the history of The X-Files is full of positive representation of those in the LGBT community. We’ve got the nightmare that is “Gender Bender” and the married gay couple in I Want to Believe. I think the portrayal of Steve and Edy is powerful and deeply flawed, too. (For what it’s worth, it meant a lot to me back in 2000 to see an openly gay couple deemed worthy of protection.) So, after the gag in the opening of this show played out, I worried that we’d be getting a little bit more of the same. What if Gupta’s character existed only for the punchline and nothing else?
Thankfully, he doesn’t, and despite being slightly embarrassed by misinterpreting Gupta’s words, Mulder treats Gupta like a person who deserved to be treated as one. It may seem like a small thing, but Mulder could have easily left that room and never told Gupta of Sanjay’s death. Instead, he gives Gupta the closure he needs because Gupta may be the only person who truly knew Sanjay. Now, I don’t want to portray Mulder as the savior to Gupta or anything like that. I’m just pleased that we’ve got TWO gay/queer Indian men IN ONE EPISODE. Neither is identical to one another. Even though Sanjay dies, there’s still Gupta. One is in the closet, the other is much more open about his sexuality. Why is this important? Because James Wong’s script avoids tokenism. If there were just one Indian character here, I’d argue that this was tokenism. But by casting more than one member of a group, we don’t get the same effect, you know?
I have no problem speaking ill of seasons eight and nine, and the William mythology spread across those seasons is confusing, mystifying, and baffling most of the time. I never bothered to do much research into what the writers were intending to do with this plot, and thus, I spent years resenting all the time wasted on it. My key problem with it was that William existed more as a plot device, not as any attempt to explore Mulder and Scully as parents. William was a source of friction and conflict, and even when Scully had to give him up, I never felt like anyone ever let her react to it. “William” was a sad episode, but what did this mean to Dana Scully? What affect did it have on her? Why wouldn’t the events in “Provenance” and “Providence” convince her to give up William for adoption?
These questions were never truly answered by The X-Files, and as someone who became frustrated with the show after Mulder left in season 8, I think that “Founder’s Mutation” provides me with the kind of closure I wish I had. (Seriously, seasons 8 and 9 annoyed me so much that, at the time of airing, I only caught about ten episodes total after the season eight premiere.) Why is that? Because this episode is primarily concerned with the humans who are part of the plot. Like with Gupta’s story, Scully and Mulder do not exist here solely to move the plot along. When they work on a case that is explicitly about genetically modified children, they cannot help but think of William. What if William is in a lab like Augustus Goldman’s? What if he is out in the world, exhibiting strange signs of paranormal ability, and his parents have no idea how to deal with it? (I suspect that’s not the case, given that “William” showed us that the kid lost his weird telekinesis.)
But “Founder’s Mutation” is at its strongest when it examines the emotional impact of Goldman’s search. Indeed, The X-Files is a story about one man’s obsessive search for the truth, and we can see that exact same journey here, though horribly perverted. Goldman does not view all of the children in his care as children; they are just means to an end. And similarly, it’s only Sanjay out of everyone at this company who views these same patients as humans who deserve care and love. What does everyone else see them as?
Numbers. Data. Results. That’s it.
Thus, I think Wong’s script deliberately gives us a version of Mulder and Scully’s life with William as a way to address what was left unaddressed for so long. Both of them fantasize about what life would have been like if William was still in their lives, and I think both sequences are fascinating studies of each character. Both of them imagine lives that are rewarding, that are devoid of the sort of paranoid conspiracies that consume them now, and yet, each person inevitably ends their fantasy in the same way. The world of aliens and monsters is all-consuming, and it’s what consumes William in the end, too. Truthfully, even if they got back William now, their lives couldn’t ever exist in this fantasy world. This is what they’ve chosen.
That anxiety is all over “Founder’s Mutation,” and I know that’s why this is one of the stronger The X-Files episodes, period. It’s certainly a massive improvement over “My Struggle,” and it’s a brilliant combination between this season’s arc and a monster-of-the-week. Even when you factor in Agnes and Jackie, this is still a story about people being treated as objects, not as humans. Jackie’s child was an experiment, but she chose to free him. (WHAT A HORRIFYING SEQUENCE, HOLY SHIT.) Agnes was desperate to discover the truth and be treated respectfully, but in the end, Goldman treated just as terribly as he had all the people in his life. Thus, his death is some tiny bit of justice for the people he’s manipulated and hurt over the years, and I’m glad that Kyle and Molly get to be free for the first time in their lives.
The video for “Founder’s Mutation” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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