The second installment of the X-Files reboot feels true to the surreal, more dramatically gripping quality of the original series. It’s certainly distinct from the much-derided first episode, which was heavy on backstory and stagey monologues. Episode 2, “Founder’s Mutation,” comes courtesy of co-writer/director James Wong, a veteran X-Files creative partially responsible for some of the series’ greatest episodes, including its closest step toward outright horror, the banned “Home,” and the outlandish, sometimes hilarious “Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man.” Episode 2 of Season 10 has some horror-film-like qualities: There are bleeding eyes and ears, and crows flocking ominously to the telekinetic call of creepy children.
But perhaps the episode’s most disconcerting element is its most inexplicable: the integration of dreamlike images of Mulder and Scully interacting with their son William.
Don’t call them flashbacks. According to all previous evidence — and Scully’s own testimony in this episode in conversation with Mulder — Anderson put the child up for adoption as a baby. This is shown in Episode 16 of the show’s ninth season, “William.” Yet in “Founder’s Mutation,” we see images of Mulder and Scully, separately, bringing up William as a pre-teenage boy. Scully walks him to school, as he quips about how he’s going to behave himself and not fart; Mulder explains evolution and helps his son build a rocket.
Ultimately, though, both characters’ shapeshifting memories end badly. Scully finds William in his bedroom, his face mutated into a gruesome, E.T.-like visage. In Mulder’s, he walks into his bedroom with William hovering in a glowing beam of light over his bed — apparently mid-abduction.
The scenes are not prefaced with any evidence of Mulder and Scully going into a reverie or dream state. There is nothing pointing toward these being either imaginings or real memories. There is no way to justify them, logically, as being factual, not only because The X-Files chronology doesn’t really permit that, but also because the two histories shown seem contradictory. Mulder and Scully are raising the child in different houses, with different alien-related fates befalling William at the end of each memory. There’s the very slim possibility that they are portraying some separated-parents upbringing, but by the looks of it, they are mutually exclusive alternate history stories.
As the memories fade, we see Mulder and Scully sitting in their respective homes, woefully eying the same wallet-sized baby photo of William. The most logical and most disappointing explanation for these scenes is that they are evidence that the two agents have regret about abandoning their son — that they are simply imagining what might have been. The scenes could just be a playground for Wong, Carter, and the team to show that Mulder and Scully still want to find William, and discover what his alien genetic makeup might mean for his future. The episode focuses on the destructive abilities of children with presumably alien-derived mutations; these sequences, perhaps, are just Mulder and Scully’s nightmares of possible tragic fates that could befall William.
So what are the weirder possibilities? Perhaps William or some other being with telekinetic abilities is implanting these visions. Perhaps this is establishing a thread, or clues, that will be revisited in future episodes. Alternatively, perhaps Carter will surprise us with a side of the story where both Mulder and Scully — unbeknown to one another and William’s adopted parents the Van De Kemps — found a way to visit with their son. None of this is very plausible — though the former seems more promising than the latter idea. Still, one can’t help but hope that these images come from a freakier, more narratively significant place than Mulder and Scully’s subconscious.