24 hours after looking dead, The X-Files is finally back

Well, we got our old X-Files back. Following a debut Sunday night that felt like a bad first date with an ex-girlfriend from 20 years ago, it would have been understandable to newbies if they “lost” the X-Files’ cell phone number and moved on.

Clearly, that would have been a mistake, as “Founder’s Mutation” felt like the mid-1990s when the show was surging. The episode added a tinge of heartstring pulling, opened up the series for more long-term implications, and did what the show does best: take wholly quixotic ideas and add enough pragmatism to make them engaging and creepy.

The second episode started out with a hallmark from The X-Files of yore, a “what the hell?” scene of a private company employee having a ringing noise in his head to the point where he jams a letter opener through his ear to kill himself. Meanwhile, he wrote some cryptic message on his hand that no one caught until Dana Scully was doing the autopsy and had to crack his fingers to read.

Fox Mulder returned to what felt like old Mulder, the rule-breaking FBI firebrand, jacking the cell phone of the deceased. The other major positive switch was the relationship betwixt Mulder and Scully, which was strangely contentious in the opening “My Struggle.” Mulder lobs a mea culpa early that shows there’s still a strong bond there, not an irreversible hatred that seemed forced one episode earlier. The chemistry between the two was back again.

But there still is a weird distance from the original series, especially with Walter Skinner (Mitch Pileggi) back as FBI assistant director. Last we saw him in season nine (“The Truth”), he was being ushered into an office by an alien-human hybrid infiltrating the government takeover.

Somehow, Skinner got his job back and with more clout than ever, but The X-Files has always taken things that make no sense, even by its own creation, and gotten you to forget about them until the writers can figure out what to do later. Sort of like those Twix commercials where something awkward is going on and jamming a Twix in your mouth to give yourself more time and think is the only response. The guess here? Skinner ends up being an alien or something rash to that effect.

“Founder’s Mutation” was not only able to revive the standalone storylines that helped make the show so popular to begin with, but gave a little of red meat tying back to the original series. The first episode tried desperately to repaint the narrative, but Mulder appeared unconvinced, referencing The Syndicate (the old group of shadowy government antagonists from the original series) and giving hope that the original hook is still out there.

Also, the episode astutely linked the emotional tug lying deep within Mulder and Scully and how they truly feel about giving up their son, William, for adoption. Both have scenes with a young boy, imagining how life would be if they just traveled the path most often taken, settling down and doing the white picket fence thing.

It was especially refreshing for Mulder, who often appears as a character with Teflon emotions. More than anything, though, it showed that Chris Carter and the fellas still have a few storylines that re-integrate deep, lasting emotional ties from Mulder and Scully to the old audience and a potential new one.

If there’s a criticism to be had, it’s that the casting at times makes poor choices. In an early scene, Skinner is giving Mulder and Scully their assignments while a Department of Defense employee is overseeing it to make sure nothing non-DOD approved goes on in the investigation. (Later, we find out that’s because the experimentation on children is being done with DOD funding.) It’s hard to believe that a young guy with a hipster beard is in a position to oversee that sort of operation and keep his thumb on the FBI. When in doubt, go old, distrusting looking guy for that role.

But all in all, there’s very little criticism to be had with the second episode. It’s almost like producers saw how terrible the first night was and made a response Monday morning — even though they didn’t.

“Founder’s Mutation” had all of the watershed features: the science fiction-horror element, mixed in with some shadowy government, tied neatly around the overall arc of the story, along with deep character reflection that could have an impact far beyond these six-episodes if needed.

The X-Files was, in a way, wise to bust out this revival on back-to-back nights. Other than a salty 24 hours when the premiere took an almost universal flogging, the next week will carry on with a much better episode leaving a good taste in viewers’ mouths. By giving the people what they want, the miniseries probably earned itself a few more dates with those who could have gone either way after Sunday’s premiere.