We have a nickname for Federal Agent Fox Mulder in our household and it’s Daddy Patriarchy! Although he has a “queer” perspective (an undying belief in and strong bias toward the paranormal) and is as critical (if not more) of the government as he is of the more “traditional” kinds of criminals in his cases, the dynamic with his partner, Agent Scully, often positions him as the authority.
Scully is the rational, objective part of the duo – examining evidence and exploring all possible scenarios. She basically follows Mulder around from case to case trying to put holes in his seemingly irrational theories. I don’t think I have to explain why this puppy dog act is offensive to women – especially to Scully who is every bit as qualified to do her job as Mulder. In the beginning of the series, he seems to entertain her company only because she has been assigned to work with him. Throughout the plot, their relationship does develop and he grows to genuinely care about her, however, I do not believe he comes to respect her as a professional. Even in an episode where Scully truly believes something paranormal is going on (episode 13, season 1), he writes her off and states that she may be too personally involved with the case and is thus, not looking at the evidence objectively. For one, Mulder’s entire career is fueled by his own subjective experience (check out episode 4, season 1 where we find out he believes his sister was abducted by aliens when they were children) and two, Scully is always respectful of his work as an FBI agent regardless of her own personal opinion.
In that particular episode, there is also a scene where Scully says to Mulder, “I thought that you’d be pleased that I opened myself to extreme possibilities”, pretty much begging him to trust her like she trusts him in every other case they work on together. He responds, “Open yourself up to extreme possibilities only when it’s the truth.” As a man, Mulder doesn’t have to do anything to earn Scully’s respect and trust, yet Scully is patronized when she suggests a theory he doesn’t believe is true – a perfect example of his hypocrisy. By treating her this way, he is making it crystal clear that he’s the one in charge, he’s the one who calls the shots, and if it’s paranormal, he’ll tell you and not the other way around (In fact, at the end of the episode, the two do a switch and he finally believes her, but she no longer believes herself, putting him back in the right and her in denial).
Not only did I find the scene disturbing for the above reasons, but also because Scully is made to seem desperate for a man’s approval. This is really the first time she’s succumbed to paranormal possibilities and it feels as if she’s abandoned her typical restraints and wants Mulder to be proud of her since she now understands him more and is able to open her mind to alternative forms of knowledge. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but I (so far) fail to see the same kind of vulnerability and growth in Mulder’s character. Even when he is called on some of his shit, Scully is always there to comfort him and reinforce his patriarchal authority. The sheer fact that she tolerates most of his shit is evidence enough and doesn’t force him to be self-reflective. Even though Scully is generally a strong independent woman, this is something she does that makes me cringe.
In conclusion, I just wish Mulder’s character was more critical of himself and his actions. No matter what happens or how much he fucks something up, it’s always okay because he’s following his heart and thus, doing the right thing. As much as he feels Scully and others are close-minded to his theories and approaches, his lack of respect for ideas other than his own and “my way or the highway” mentality really messes up anything good he has going for him in terms of unorthodox yet effective ways to look at and solve cases that don’t fit neatly into a little box. There’s a lot more that can be said about the dynamics of Scully and Mulder’s relationship, and I admit I’m not all the way through the series (I’m approaching the end of season 2), but maybe there is hope.
In episode 20 of season 2, the agents are investigating a series of murders in a town inhabited by sideshow / circus performers. At the end of the episode, one of the townspeople is talking with Scully about how 21st century genetic engineering is eradicating all the “freaks of nature”. He says, “I’ve seen the future and the future looks just like him”, pointing to Mulder who is standing on some steps in a conquerer type position with his hands on his hips stoically overlooking the town. “Imagine, going through your whole life looking like that. That’s why it’s left up to the self made freaks like me…to remind people.” Scully replies, “Remind people of what?” and he responds, “Nature abhors normality. You can’t go very long without creating a mutant.” Perhaps part of what the writers are suggesting is that for all the good he does by being critical of our society’s institutions and open to alternative forms of knowledge, Mulder’s character still needs social critique to keep his privilege in perspective. I guess I’ll just have to keep watching. More to come!