Kicking off with a mysterious death and some admirably tasteless shocks, the new season is picking up although William, Scullys son, remains annoying
I havent known pleasure for quite some time
The second, much improved episode of the X-Files reboot after last nights mildly appalling agglomeration of false starts begins on a perfectly series-appropriate note, which is to say a gruesome death by invisible means. The first thing after the last-on recap we see in the latest hour, Founders Mutation, is Dr Sanjay, a harried-looking scientist guy with some broken blood vessels in his eye. He departs this plane of existence five minutes in by dint of a none-too-comfortable-looking letter opener in the ear, apparently self-inflicted. Its good to be back.
The episode then follows a lot of the conventions of an old-fashioned detective movie: postmortem investigation of the subjects secret life, and then the larger conspiracy obscuring its most important elements. Sanjay tells his work buddy on the way in that he hasnt known pleasure for quite some time but that appears to be only partly true: hes in the closet, and his hook-up buddy is codenamed Gupta, which we are told is marathi for secret. (Sanjay and his boyfriend Gupta, though? Could the scientists surname not have been Patel or something?)
Thus begins the investigation, a touch abruptly, since theres a lot of connective tissue missing between the first two episodes. At the end of My Struggle, were told that the X-Files have been reopened in the final shot, but by the next day (although who knows how long in TV time) Mulder and Scully have been reinstated completely and are waving badges around and arguing with officious Department of Defense guys trying to abridge their investigation in the name of security clearance.
But frankly, this is what I signed up for: Scully does an autopsy, Mulder steals a cell phone (and then argues with Scully about whether hes invading Sanjays privacy or not) and the two walk around a dark apartment with their Maglites out instead of turning on the lights. Much is right with the world.
The death which isnt exactly a murder is the fault of a teenage kid with superpowers whos trying to find his twin sister; because this is The X-Files shes of course held in a sterile windowless laboratory by an evil scientist working for the DoD with dozens of other children, a lot of them with deformities.
This feels like the right place to point out that the episode is written and directed by James Wong, not merely a TV vet going back to 21 Jump Street and one of the better writers on the original X-Files (he co-wrote the classic episode Tooms with Glen Morgan, among many others), but also the director of the popular Final Destination horror movie franchise. The X-Files isnt exactly a horror series, but it isnt exactly not a horror series, either.
The central gimmick of the episode that theres a character who remains largely unseen until the last few minutes who causes crazy, in Sanjays case terminal headaches as he uses his ESP is visualized in a very clever and simple way: as the victim (first Sanjay, then Mulder) writhes in pain, the other people in the room appear to be saying what the off-screen mutant is trying to communicate to him, in Mulders case, the words Find her. Its something a horror director would come up with, and its very effective.
The most important thing to remember is that I love you
And it would all have been fine if we didnt start getting flashbacks of Mulder and Scullys kid, William, far and away the least interesting thing that ever happened in the final few seasons of the shows original run. I guess the kid has alien DNA, too, since it was revealed in episode one that Scully has.
In practice it seems to mean that the kid turns into a monster during his teenage years, which I call par for the course. The flashbacks, though, are ridiculous, forced, and adulterate what was for about 25-minutes a pretty compelling monster-of-the-week story. (I infinitely preferred the monster-of-the-week episodes of The X-Files to the grander conspiracy episodes.) If you are a person capable of taking the latter seriously and had some kind of emotional investment in William, I apologize for this and all future recaps of the X-Files, because I hate him so, so much.
Anderson has an unbearably syrupy scene with William (whether flashback or dream, it looks like it was inserted very late in post-production indeed) in which she tells him as he heads off to school that the most important thing to remember is that I love you, because thats a thing Scully apparently says easily and with none of her trademark iciness when William is in the frame; Gillian Anderson is a wonderful actor but its hard to play completely against your character. Theres a better flashback with Mulder that includes some freaking out over Williams terrifying physical changes, but both reek distinctly of having been shoehorned by Carter into an otherwise interesting episode.
We choose to go to the moon
Because this is The X-Files, things dont get less complicated, but they do get back on track, sort of. With everybody talking about The Founder Mulder and Scully finally finagle a meeting with him hes Dr Goldman (Doug Savant, a blast from the 90s all by himself many nostalgia-seekers will remember him as Melrose Places Matt Fielding), a creepy dude with creepy obsessions involved in a creepy baby-stealing plot.
Said plot may or may not (prediction: it will) involve Scullys own weird immaculate conception of William, but Wong uses it to create some genuinely disturbing moments including a DIY abortion scene that leaps boldly across the bounds of good taste; he also directs a scene of superpowered twins reuniting at the end of the episode thats straight out of an X-Men movie and well worth putting up with the missteps.
And look, if you really like William, theres a genuinely sweet scene between him and Mulder at the end of the episode in which the two launch a model rocket and Mulder quotes JFKs we choose to go to the moon speech to him … and a shocking revelation about what happened to him, if you think that a show repeatedly revealing that everyone on it was abducted by aliens (or, I guess, using alien technology, if were buying Carters retcon from last episode) is shocking.
Part of the trouble with this reboot is that The X-Files predates serialization and Netflix bingeing, so its possible to see all the shows flaws in stark relief. As I say, the show kind of perfected a sort of horror mini-movie style of TV, and its a little disappointing to see it mired in nonsense while its trying to reinvigorate that form. There are very, very few dramas Black Mirror, maybe, and a couple of others trying to do anything but serialisation at the moment. I have high hopes for next weeks episode, which colleagues tell me is the best of the bunch so far.
Read more: <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2016/jan/25/the-x-files-episode-two-recap-autopsy-and-aliens">http://www.theguardian.com/us</a>