“You’re right, Mulder.” X-Files, Part 2

Back in May I posted some thoughts about Agents Scully and Mulder’s relationship throughout the first two seasons of X-Files and now I’m back to talk about it some more! And even though I’m well into season 6, I want to discuss some key things that happened in season 4.

1. Scully starts calling Mulder on his shit.

In the opening scene of episode 13, Scully does the unthinkable! While staring at Mulder’s name plate she inquires into why she doesn’t have a desk in their office. This is a question I’ve been asking ever since Scully refused to spy on Agent Mulder for the FBI, so it’s about damn time! Of course, in typical self-absorbed Mulder babble, Mulder responds, “I always assumed that was your area,” pointing to a corner. Scully replies, “Back there…” And smart-ass Mulder, a bit irritated and defensive, responds, “Okay, so we’ll have them send down another desk and there won’t be any room to move around here, but we can put them really close together. Face to face. Maybe we can play some Battleship.”

This is really important dialogue because we know the office is Mulder’s. Not because we think it’s fair, but because the show has always presented it to us this way. How many camera shots are there of the UFO poster that hangs behind Mulder’s desk and reads “I want to believe.” in every season or episode? And Mulder is always telling everyone that the x-files are his life’s work, his child, and no one cares about them as much as he does. And he’s mostly right, except hasn’t Scully proved that she cares, too? Hasn’t Scully put her ass on the line for Mulder and the x-files? Yet we see no part of her personality in the office space they share, demonstrating that in actuality, they do not share much. In fact, up to this point, Mulder still refuses to acknowledge any sacrifices Scully’s made for the x-files and doesn’t show much appreciation for her contributions to their work (or as he would say, his work) and insists on accusing her of abandoning him and not being interested enough even after she lets his desk comment slide.

Finally at her breaking point, Scully tells Mulder she isn’t going to do what he asks while he’s out of the office. She even starts throwing insults back and Mulder says, “So you’re refusing an assignment based on…” Scully quickly interrupts, “Refusing an assignment? Makes it sound like you’re my superior.” BAM! Another pivotal point! As I complained in my last X-Files post, Scully seems to follow Mulder around like a dog and so I’m glad she’s finally taking a stand. She is a good FBI agent and their partnership hasn’t been much of a partnership at all. Mulder doesn’t want to incorporate her into his life, he doesn’t want to share the x-files. Even when Scully asks Mulder where he’s going on vacation, he rejects her and answers, “Ironically enough it’s personal” right after she’s just shared some very personal information about her feelings with him. He clearly has some issues here, a lot of which seem to deal with abandonment and trust. However, this episode focuses on Scully and brings me to my next point.

2. Scully is portrayed as the unstable and desperate one.

In this very important conversation between Mulder and Scully in season 4, episode 13, Scully shares that she feels like she’s lost sight of herself, and irritatingly enough, the scene ends with Mulder telling her what to do. Referring to his upcoming vacation he says, “I hope to discover something about myself. Maybe you should do the same.” Double irritatingly, she decides to complete his assignment after all and admits “I did as told as always” during a phone conversation with Mulder who can’t even go on vacation without calling to check up on her.

Clearly distraught about this situation with Mulder and in an attempt to be her own person and have her own life, Scully decides to go on a date with some random dude who the night before got really drunk and decided to get a tattoo which he now regrets. Hmm, let me predict how this turns out!

The first thing we learn on their date is that Scully has daddy issues. She tells him,

“I’ve always gone around in this, uh, this circle. It usually starts when an authoritative or controlling figure comes into my life and part of me likes it, needs it, wants the approval, but then at a certain point along the way I just, you know…okay…umm…my father was a Navy captain. I worshiped – I worship the sea that he sailed on. And when I was 13 or so I went through this thing where I would sneak out of my parents house and smoke my mothers cigarettes and I did it because I knew that if he found out he would kill me and then, along the way, there are other fathers.”

Obviously, Mulder is one of these other fathers. Based on this admission, she seems to be going through what she might term the “rebellious” phase of her and Mulder’s relationship. Putting her problems with Mulder in this context seems to paint her as the confused one / the one with the problem and kind of seems to excuse Mulder’s actions. Bottom line: Mulder is a controlling disrespectful self-absorbed asshole! Yet Scully’s on a date with another man psychoanalyzing herself and racking her brain about her and Mulder’s relationship while Mulder’s in Memphis checking himself out in a pair of Elvis souvenir sunglasses.

We can also read the term “fathers” to mean patriarchy. The government and military are traditionally / historically male dominated spaces and even though it seems like X-Files is trying to bring some discussion of gender into the plot, the show doesn’t really seem to be challenging any assumptions and if anything, feeds into stereotypes for the reasons I’ve stated above. In fact, you’ll notice that the title of this post is “You’re right, Mulder” because in the end, he always is and Scully is forced to admit this not only to him, but more importantly to herself, over and over – even though he doesn’t trust her, even though he gives her shit, and even when he doesn’t believe in himself.

As for dating and romantic relationships, Scully is made to seem desperate for this kind of companionship because she can’t get it from who she wants – Mulder. In this particular episode, she is paired with some guy who has such low self-esteem that he becomes a woman killer. (Okay, technically the red ink in his tattoo is infected with some sort of parasite that makes him psychotic, but it’s important to note that the tattoo artist does say, “Tattoo reflect on body what lies in person’s soul.”) So naturally, after they fuck, he tries to kill her and need I remind you that this isn’t the first time Agent Scully’s been physically violated. She was abducted and had her uterus fucked with, leaving her barren, and a chip implanted in her body which gives her fatal cancer when removed. And even after another near death experience, Mulder insensitively says to her, “Congratulations on making a personal appearance in the x-files for the second time.” Then, assuming Scully went and got herself into this mess because of her fight with him, Mulder asks, “All this because I didn’t get you a desk?” She replies, “Not everything is about you, Mulder” and as much as I applaud this response as an attempt to knock Mulder off his high horse, based on Scully’s character development in the series, I just don’t believe it’s true. It is about Mulder, it is about the patriarchy, and Scully’s struggle to confront it, to truly challenge it, and so far, her inability to transcend it.

Then there is the fact that the series teases Scully into thinking Mulder wants to take their relationship to the next level and surprise, surprise! she bites. In episode 20 of season 4 a shape shifter disguises himself as Mulder in hopes of getting lucky with Scully. He seems to do the one thing Scully wishes the real Mulder would do – He seduces her by talking with her, listening to her, and generally being sensitive to her. He says,

“We never really, uh, talk much, do we?”
“What do you mean, like really talk? No, no we don’t, Mulder.”
“Well, what’s stopping us?”

After that, Scully opens up some about her teenage years and the two are shown laughing and having a great time. She says,

“I’m seeing a whole new side of you Mulder.”
“Is that a good thing?”
“I like it.”

And as he’s about to kiss her, the real Mulder bursts through the door. The events are never really discussed, but the shape shifter, Eddie, does tell Mulder he’s a loser and as is predictable Scully behavior, she assures him that he’s not. And to my chagrin, this is not even the only episode they try to fuck with her emotions. In season 6, episode 4 Mulder and a man in black who works at the Area 51 base switch bodies. Again, the fake Mulder tries to seduce Scully, except this time she’s not buying it and it’s actually kind of sad. Sad that Scully thinks “Oh, Mulder wants to be intimate with me. There’s no way this is Mulder!”

All these romantic rendezvous gone bad make Scully look emotionally unstable and pathetic, while Mulder’s love life is for the most part non-existent and thus, unjudged (well, there is that one episode [season 2, episode 7] when Scully has been abducted and is missing and Mulder sleeps with a vampire wanna-be). In fact, in episode 20 of season 4 we find out that Mulder is a patron of 900 numbers and even though some might think that makes him look pathetic (including the shape shifter, Eddie), I disagree. For one, 900 numbers, along with any other kind of porn, seem to be acceptable forms of “relief” for men. Why can’t Scully indulge in porn? Why is she the one who has to get emotionally violated with every sexual / romantic encounter? Again, the X-Files seems to play heavily into gender stereotypes which paint women as being weaker / more susceptible than men. It’s definitely hinted at that Mulder might have a romantic interest in Scully, but his actions aren’t as “destructive” as hers. And since Mulder obviously has his own emotional issues, what does that imply about Scully’s pining for him?

* * *

For me, season 4 is an important season in the X-Files series – a climax of sorts in terms of Scully’s character development. Although I am still not happy with Scully’s character, some of the issues that have been of concern to me throughout past seasons started to be addressed. As I mentioned earlier, I’m partway through season 6 and unfortunately the show seems to have regressed some. I had high hopes after the season 4 finale when Scully says to Mulder, “They gave me this disease to make you believe,” but instead of reflecting on his treatment of Scully he is just grumpy and mopey about being deceived by the government and actually seems to treat her worse (guilt?). At least for now, the writers seem to have abandoned any critical discussion of the two agents’ relationship. T.B.C.!

6 responses to ““You’re right, Mulder.” X-Files, Part 2

  1. Great post! I believe it is also in season four that the conflict between Scully’s brother and Mulder is introduced. Scully’s brother is a Naval officer, just like her father. He sees Mulder as a rival and basically they fight over Scully’s attention, and about what is best for her, mostly ignoring that she can figure that out for herself. As part of the same story arc, Scully’s family tries to force her back into the church, ambushing her with a priest during a family dinner who interrogates her about her lack of faith.

    This implies Scully comes from a conservative, religious, military family. One must wonder how much was her becoming an FBI agent was a rebellion against the gender stereotypes reinforced by such an environment. Or a compromise – rebelling against a gender role while committing herself to institutions which propagate the same patriarchal values.

    In this light, her relationship, or at least her emotional commitment to, Mulder can be seen as a rebellion against patriarchy. But much like her decision to enter the FBI, it is a compromise substituting one father for another. Arguably though, rejecting the conservative values of her family for values of her own choosing is a step in a positive direction.

    In defense of Mulder: both Mulder and Scully are portrayed as “nerds” who have sacrificed their social life for their professional and intellectual pursuits. Both Mulder and Scully are supposed to be the fantasy for “nerds” of both genders. Mulder is someone that never goes on dates, believes in aliens (or at least government conspiracies about aliens), and enjoys pornography. Mulder’s refusal of Scully’s very subtle come ons could be attributable to his own insecurities about women and fear of abandonment due to the abduction of his sister, an event he feels guilty for and powerless over even years later. Over compensation for these fears could also responsible for his notorious ego and professional over-achievement. Mulder has to rescue Scully over and over again since he can never rescue his sister. Scully is to Mulder’s sister as Mulder is to Scully’s father.

    These psychodynamics explain the success of the show which quite frankly had confused writing and a flat visual look.

  2. Good points. I forgot about the interactions Mulder has with Scully’s brother and the family dinner with the priest. And perfect sum-up: “Scully is to Mulder’s sister as Mulder is to Scully’s father.” But Mulder still has yet to address or work through a lot of his issues.

  3. Pingback: Episode 17: The X-Files – I Want to Believe (2008) | The Whorer

  4. Geez, how did I miss this?!

    And I love. this. post!

    I honestly don’t know where to begin.

    It’s been awhile (years actually) since I’ve binged watched The X-Files so my critical analysis of it is a tad rusty.

    Considering your points, on the surface, they both seemed to be very convoluted characters. Scully’s “fathers” and her relationship to them never sat comfortably with me, probably because I sympathized in a way with her struggle with her own comfort with it.

    Good, bad, indifferent, I appreciate that Scully and the writers at the very least brought about these deeper meanings behind gender normative behavior, patriarchy, and institutional spaces.

    X-phile fandom undisputably have lauded Scully for who she was professionally. Not too many points for examination of her as a woman (and a woman within her patriarchal spaces) were considered during the height of my participation in this subculture. In addition, Mulder was too charming and good-looking to pick a part and MSR (and fatefully fan-fiction) was a distraction from the very issues you’re bringing up. I’m guilty of this too but a big part of that is just youth and lack of understanding in my pre- liberal arts ventures.

    I’ll have to come back to this with more thought.

    And hey, I would LOOOVE to hear your thoughts on the first film.

    • thanks, ashlee!

      i have a rather lengthy history with the x-files. i literally grew up watching it and it was something my family always watched together. then in college i watched it and talked about it all the time because my best friend is an x-files fanatic and we both have a fascination with the paranormal. so the last time i interacted with the series was probably in 2006. fast-forward to last winter / spring (2012) and i discovered it was on netflix instant queue and decided to watch it from beginning to end, including movies.

      now up until this point, much like you, i hadn’t been very critical of it and i pretty much went into this viewing experience thinking scully was awesome and more generally that the show was, too. this was also right after i got out of grad school where i studied nothing but critical theories. the first thing i actually noticed was how bad the writing was. then i started to notice all the things you just read and it inspired me to write this blog “series” and then to do a podcast on the last film. it really pissed me off more than any tv show or movie should. i mean, i have complicated relationships with a lot of media from my childhood, especially from my teenage years, but this re-watch really got under my skin! i was just disgusted.

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