Don’t Give Up on My Struggle: Referencing Modern Television Fiction to Explain What’s Wrong with The X-Files and Why It’s Important That We Fix It
Once Upon A Time I watched Doctor Who. This was during my illness and I had to be very selective about how I spent my energy. I was captivated by the storyline of the Tenth Doctor and the portrayal of the characters of the Doctor and Rose Tyler by David Tennant and Billie Piper. The relaunch of the show in 2005 gave the Doctor feelings and personal motivation rather than being a benevolent old man giving humans a history lesson. The concept of a “normal life” as a human would consider was introduced with the Ninth Doctor, and this aspect was made romantic in the Tenth Doctor era. It was well paced and considered over a season, and ended with the characters being separated in a way the canon set up that they couldn’t be reunited (Doomsday) – parallel universes where travel between them would be catastrophic. If there was any chance these characters could be together, they would.
The second season of the Tenth Doctor had the Doctor moping, comparing his new travelling companion Martha Jones with Rose Tyler in an unfavourable way. It was awkward to watch this unrequited love story, as the Doctor is set up as heroic and I don’t see heroism in continually undermining someone’s abilities with comparison to an off screen character. The fourth season removed the unrequited love story with a best-friends-forever dynamic between the leads, and it was fun. The character of Donna Noble had her heart in the right place, and she knew what Rose Tyler meant to the Doctor. After three seasons of the Tenth Doctor talking about a normal life and Rose Tyler, it seemed to satisfy the narrative that Rose Tyler would be returning to the show, and then the Doctor would have a “normal life” with someone he loved. The first part was true. The second part went horribly wrong.
In Journey’s End, story elements were largely tied up, and characters important to the Tenth Doctor’s life made a cameo contribution to Saving The Day. This story included a mortal version of the Doctor being made due to an encounter with Donna Noble, a process that also made her part Time Lord. Previously, technology that allowed a consciousness to be stored and transferred between bodies had been introduced – a fob watch. I fully expected the alien Doctor to swap his consciousness into the human body, so he could live a short, happy human life with someone he loved and then die in this parallel universe off screen. This new-Doctor, now in an alien immortal (via regeneration) body, was the closest thing to a canon clean slate a new writing team could ever wish to have. Any fans that didn’t like the romance aspect to new Doctor Who could say goodbye to it, and people that did like it could be happy that the story was satisfied. I also expected Donna to be protected from her head exploding from Time Lord Knowledge with the excess information being stored in the fob watch. None of this happened.
What happened was character assassination. Rose Tyler let the Doctor she loved walk away, after she ripped a hole between universes to save the day. She does kiss this human Doctor, when she had previously demonstrated being a companion to the Ninth Doctor that it wasn’t his body but who he was inside that she loved. The Doctor is visibly pained that she kisses the other one, and he walks away. She looks back as if the kiss didn’t mean anything to her, but it’s too late. Donna Noble then has her memories taken from her without her consent under the pretence that it’s for her own good. The Doctor spends a further five episodes moping on his own in space before changing bodies. I was very happy to see him go.
In the context of the real world, David Tennant had taken a break from Doctor Who to play Hamlet in theatre. I happened to be in the audience when Doctor Who Co-Executive Producers Russell T Davies and Julie Gardner were also there. Meeting them was quite a highlight, having spent a bum and mind numbing four hours watching a character be miserable, contemplate life, push someone he loved away from him in a Quest he didn’t want, and then die. In hindsight, I think the writers took one look at how emo David Tennant could act, and decided it would be cool for the Doctor to do the same. This resulted in character assassination, badly paced plot, relying on the Big Bad to pop up to compensate for lack of plot and emotional development, lazy removal of characters when actors were leaving, fan service cameos. I think the crew knew something had gone wrong, and everyone bailed. Even the booklet to Murray Gold’s Soundtrack CD to the Specials was the sound of running, when the previous CDs for the show were poignant in description.
Enter Matt Smith as the Eleventh Doctor, and Steven Moffat as Head Writer. The show had previously set up that this new face was still the Doctor, so I struggled to reconcile this childish enthusiasm with what had gone before. I had no emotional investment in the show, as the Emotional Reset Button was in constant use. The plots became as convoluted as modern Sherlock (same writer), and money was offered to the altar of the Terry Nation estate for the Daleks. Something is only a surprise once. Success isn’t how many people watch an episode when it first airs – that’s anticipation. Success is how many people watch the repeat on BBC 3. At some point I realised a change of cast and crew couldn’t fix the problem, and casually I’ve watched Doctor Who slip into unimportance after the milestone of the 50th anniversary had propped up general interest.
Doctor Who did inspire a prose muse. At first this was fan fiction, where I would fill in the emotional beats between scenes. People complimented it was one of the best minute by minute accounts of their interactions, both physically and emotionally, and true to character. I only realised last week that my writing style had come from The X-Files. I didn’t read a lot of fanfiction because I didn’t want to wade through people’s porn fantasies using the characters as physical descriptions, which has meant I’ve missed out on people who wrote true to character stories, even if the plot was AU. I did plot complete stories, and one crossover story with Stargate Atlantis, but these have never been written because of my illness. Both of these shows have characters where actors have great chemistry, and believe in the love story being told – Billie Piper and David Tennant, and Torri Higginson and Joe Flannigan respectively. In both shows, the writers wouldn’t let the characters be happy together.
Being a writer of original fiction, I know the impact characters have on readers. I have a lovely email from someone who read The Photographer’s Closet. The story at one point involves contemporary gay characters dressed as TV characters walking in public holding hands, rather than in the safety and confines of a convention. The email said they emulated that as a way of coming out to their friend who also cosplayed but they didn’t have the money to go to conventions. Somewhere out there, my tiny story brought happiness to someone’s life by setting a positive example to follow.
Gay people in particular have faced a reality where their options are suicide for lack of acceptance, or dying from HIV. There’s a company called Dreamspinner’s Press that only publishes happy endings for gay characters, as they need fiction to tell them to believe in a better life by showing it’s possible.
I also know how to pace story elements, how not to leave loose ends, that having a timeline, character and mythology notes are vital reference – I know what my characters are up to in gaps between books. Having a team of proof readers can point things out that I’d written intuitively but needed someone else to bring to my attention to develop or resolve, physically or emotionally. Plotting on its own is for computers, and intuitive fumbling is for dreams – the two combined is what makes compelling stories; head and heart. I proof read other people’s work, too. We are respectful to our author voices, and any critique is meant as help as we want the story to be the best version of itself that it can be.
As I’m an annual attendee to the UK Gay Fiction Meet, I’ve seen first-hand that every aspect of fiction is important. The writers, readers, reviewers, photographers, cover designers, audio recorders, editors, and publishers. As a movement under a gay umbrella, which has changed publishing using the digital format, what we do is defining what comes after us. We’re very conscientious about making sure everyone feels equal, valued and respected, whatever they bring to the community and production of fiction. Writers are also readers, and writers can’t write for a living if there aren’t readers for their work. Similarly, TV shows can’t exist without an audience. There’s no them and us in the new world.
Women in TV Fiction
Looking back, the 1990s was an excellent time to be a female TV character. There was Scully in The X-Files, Xena and Gabrielle in Xena: Warrior Princess, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The latter ran its course successfully. The middle one is coming back to be fully open in the lesbian love between the leads, as that could only be subtext at the time. The first, the only one of contemporary setting, created The Scully Effect, where women went into science, medicine and law enforcement because a fictional character had. (As much as I would love for people to say, “When I grow up I want to slay vampires” or “When I grow up I want to be a traveller in Ancient Greece”.)
Women in TV fiction now suffer The Trinity Syndrome, where they start off as complex people with purpose, and then fade to hollow shells to serve plot points, if they are lucky. Some regress further to the 1980s where they are sexual prizes for male heroic rescue. If you’re familiar with the Harry Potter books and films and the inclusion of the “Nineteen Years Later” chapter, you may be dismayed that for all the society changing and personal trauma the principal characters went through, apparently all that mattered was that they got married and created an emotionally void lineage.
The Environmental Scientist in me can see patterns and connections in real life, as well as fiction. Combine this TV portrayal trend with the gendering of toys, and the exclusion of lead female characters from action figure merchandising (Star Wars: The Force Awakens). Combine it with Fifty Shades of Grey being presented as a romance when it has all the red flags that warrant a police call for abuse. Combine it with me hearing about Marvel’s Jessica Jones by every media outlet talking about how fabulous David Tennant is as an actor, when the show comprises mainly women in numbers, character development and screen time. For The X-Files revival, Gillian Anderson was offered half of what David Duchovny had been for reprising their roles. The world is sliding back into patriarchy and not equality, and keeping marriage and the gender roles within it.
Bringing TV Shows Back
Having had a long absence from the TV show that defined my teenage years because of my health, I am grateful that I missed The X-Files season 8 and season 9 the first time round, and the 2008 film I Want to Believe. I wouldn’t be writing this now if I’d watched in real time what I’ve since seen in the Doctor Who relaunch and the resurgence of patriarchy in other shows. I get to look at The X Files as an intuitive teenager (I just got stuff back then that now I have the words to express to others), an environmental scientist, a photographer, and a fiction writer.
Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files, seems to have a mind like mine. He can see patterns in life, and incorporates them into his writing. But I’m intrigued that he didn’t (seem to) look at other writer’s work when the show was brought back. The biggest anticipated return of a series is Star Wars in 1999. While nothing could live up to 30 years anticipation, now it’s history it can’t stand up to any kind of scrutiny. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace is a warning to all writers and show revivals of what happens when something is left in blind faith to the original creator. We all need proof readers.
Other shows have come back, with less anticipation, and there’s a question as to why fans are asking for more. In most cases, they want to relive the magic of how they first experienced the show, and the simplest way to achieve this is to rewatch what has already happened. There is no need for Babylon 5 to come back, as it satisfied its narrative for plot and characters. The only thing missing from Babylon 5 was a kiss between Talia and Ivanova because lesbians on TV had to be subtext in the 1990s, and this kiss was realised between the actresses in conventions. Fanfic, fandom and conventions can happily fill the missing beats when the whole is mostly satisfied.
What about writers wanting to bring shows back? Somewhere out there, there may be writers that have given up on character and plot continuity, and just do it for the money. I want to believe most writers won’t throw away all the time they invested making these characters and plots for the money. I want to believe they will prefer taking happy memories of the difference their fiction legacy made to their audience over bits of paper with ink on it (or numbers on a screen).
Firefly was satisfied with the Serenity film, and it had that because of compelling character interactions and magical cast chemistry. My observation is that people watch TV because of characters rather than mythology. Babylon 5 spin off Crusade and feature episodes failed because while it operated within the same universe, the cast was markedly different and lacked the chemistry. Chris Carter’s Millennium failed as we couldn’t relate to Frank Black in this paranoid paranormal world. Xena: Warrior Princess succeeded as a spin off from Hercules as there was interest in her as a character, who originally was intended to be killed off. Angel was successful from Buffy The Vampire Slayer as his story was interesting to the audience. In the latter two cases, characters were naturally introduced to a show and we got to know them. These days, writers try and tell us to like characters rather than showing us why in their experiences. I don’t know about you, but I give bitch, please faces to people that tell me what to do in real life. Having had to be very selective in how to spend limited energy for over a decade, I don’t have time for TV that does the same.
Modern TV and the Digital Age
The world is a very different place now to the 1990s. I went from watching The X-Files videos on my 14” cathode tube, just-about-stereo bedroom TV, to a 40” digital flat screen, surround sound, DVD via Blu-player. Lifting my cup of tea runs the risk of it disappearing into a character’s nostril with the two person close ups. A series set in symbolic shadow to represent the truth in glimpses of light suddenly has detailed definition of facial nuances and audible sighs. I was intuitively captivated by the emotional play between Mulder and Scully as a teenager, that now as a photographer I can additionally appreciate in framing and lighting. The cinematography has aged well, and emotions never age to a human audience.
The TV show that has succeeded at modern technology is Game of Thrones. Personally, the series is low on acting chemistry, low on emotional investment, slow on plot, and big on visualisation. It’s very pretty to look at, and pornographic in places, when I look up from scrolling through social media on my tablet. But I can look at photographs to gain the same effect. Somewhere in film and TV, looking pretty in HD became more important than caring about characters and narrative. The alternative universe reboot of Star Trek also demonstrates this. “Look! It’s exactly the same plot and scene replication as the original movies, but in high gloss recording with lens flares!”
I realised that The X-Files couldn’t be made for TV today as a new series. Digital technology has made the world a visual place with instant and forgettable gratification. We don’t pick up the phone and talk to each other anymore – we text a few words, and these seen characters have replaced seeing a real person’s reaction in their physique and their voice. Touching another human being happens via a screen protector. We spend more time looking at fiction than at each other. We can scroll news feeds and have our busy lives quickly hit a like icon to say we read it, without engaging any meaningful feedback or conversation. Don’t like a TV show? Now there are hundreds of channels to flick through, rather than four. The Internet also makes information instantly available. Being tucked away in a basement slowly piecing newspaper cuttings and in person interviews have now been scanned and podcasted for the world when it’s needed. Digital media as it’s mainly used is the anti X-Files – instant information, but no meaningful connection.
The X-Files Pre-Revival
The X-Files changed the world. Not just TV, but the real world. It was the first online fandom, where you could share passion about fiction to a global community, and appreciate every aspect of the show’s creation. People inspired by the fiction created their own stories. People who knew the show was important but couldn’t figure out why reached out to others and were met in the middle. It created the Scully Effect of empowering women. But after an absence, how could it come back?
I’ve recently discovered an internal demise happened. It was fabulous for the first six seasons. The plot made sense, and we saw two complex lead characters develop together and as individuals on screen (this is where shows that try and emulate the show fail, as they start the relationship too intimately for belief and/or base it on selfish sexual gain). For the first time, a woman was portrayed as rational, and a man as intuitive, which is against stereotype. They had families. They had work. It was real. It was in contemporary real time. It was intimate. The actors have magical chemistry, and had eye conversations as well as forehead communication (ask Maori about sharing life breath). On their own, these characters as people would get annoying very quickly. But together, they were stronger. They complimented each other. Mulder, who is a very damaged individual in search of making sense of his past, needs Scully. Scully doesn’t need Mulder, but she is a lot happier when she’s with him. He leads her to situations where she can try and make a difference; that’s her aim in life.
The first five seasons build up to the 1998 film, which essentially explains everything we already knew. Mulder’s life purpose shifted from his search for the truth of his past, to his present with Scully when she’s taken from him. This switch is represented in two minutes of screen time of the hallway scene outside Mulder’s apartment. Scully is about to walk away from work she no longer finds fulfilling, as the X-Files are temporarily closed and this was why they were partners. There’s also the personal aspect that Diana Fowley introduced in season 5 of believing what Mulder believed rather than believing in Mulder himself – Scully does the latter. Mulder’s self-absorbed quest for the truth blinded him to this, until she says she’s going to save people as a doctor elsewhere and starts walking. He knows if she reaches the elevator, she’s gone for good. Mulder has a very vulnerable outpouring of respect for how important Scully is to his work and to him personally, and uses the words “You’ve made me a whole person. I owe you everything”. Scully’s failed attempt at verbal rationalisation about this intuitive emotional display leads them to a hug of her returning to them, and a near kiss. This is a kiss of respect, as anyone with eyes can see the platonic soulmate nature of their relationship. It gets hijacked by a bee sting. This bee is evidence of the ‘truth’ of a government conspiracy, and Mulder completely ignores it in favour of soothing her sting wound with his fingers. (As a photography note, the fact Scully is laid on an orange honeycomb patterned floor after being stung by a bee is genius.)
At no point in the remainder of the film does he stop to collect evidence of alien life, even though he handles it many times in rescuing Scully in Antarctica. He does pause to pick up Scully’s cross, as while he doesn’t believe in religion, he knows it’s important to her. He even takes socks to dress her. During the emotional landing point of the near-kiss as mouth to mouth resuscitation, where they are surrounded by aliens about to rip them to shreds, they have all the time in the world to smile and joke with each other. When the alien peril subsides and Mulder collapses, Scully is motivated to protect him from the elements, thinking how precious this man is as symbolically he’s travelled to the end of the world to save her. When back on terra firma, Mulder tries to protect Scully from his “hollow personal cause” by supporting her leaving, but she is now fully invested in the work and in them, a vaccine to save people against the apocalypse.
Season 6 is much lighter in tone, literally as filming moved to somewhere with regular sunshine, and the characters are very secure with each other. Despite all that they have lost, they are happy because they believe in and benefit from each other. The show functioned from this dynamic. Mulder’s intuition led the way, his empathy told him it needed changing, and Scully’s rationalism and compassion to help people completed it. This wasn’t romance. This was far more important than that.
The slide started in season 7, when new mythology plot points were introduced that conflicted with the initial arc, God concepts were introduced and ignored. In season 8, Mulder’s absence was written off as an off-screen brain condition that never gets explanation when he returns. His PTSD from being abducted gets no screen time to emotional play out, when Scully’s in season 2 was integral to the mythology and character development with her cancer in season 4. The ordeal left her infertile, so the season 7 cliff hanger of Scully’s pregnancy was a pleasant surprise. I don’t think anyone ever believed Mulder wasn’t the father, as we never see Scully with any other man. It makes narrative sense that two people with such selfless love and respect for each other would choose to create a life together, especially in the face of the futility of the apocalypse. What a brave and beautiful thing for Scully to do, to dare to believe in and choose to create a better future. In choosing Mulder, she completes his progression from looking back at a broken family he never wanted to be in, to creating one in the present to experience love.
The irony is that in skirting around the issue made the show into a soap opera, and created awkward conversation continuity, a weird baby shower with women who seemed to be after a free wine party, an impossible time frame for conception and Mulder (who is temporarily unemployed) being uncharacteristically distant when Scully needs physical support. I can see Mulder doesn’t remember his contribution to this miracle for a while after his abduction. But even if it wasn’t his, he would still be there for her during her pregnancy, birth and afterwards – remember he went to the end of the world to make sure she was safe, and he believes in her happiness over being sacrificed to a cause.
If things had been different, Mulder, Scully and Child could have left the series at the end of season 8. Doggett had been established as a character, as had Reyes, and we could have had The X-Files with new leads to make sense of the new mythology. It’s not what happened.
The character assassination continued at the start of season 9. Mulder has remembered his contribution, so it makes no sense that he leaves for the whole season. It also makes no character sense that Scully would give up her child. If it’s alien, she is uniquely qualified to protect it. If it’s not alien, then there’s no need to give it up. Remember, this is a show that hid an actress’ real pregnancy, so it was a conscious choice to create William. This is ill-considered writing that as with Doctor Who kills shows with uncharacteristic behaviour and forced plot points against narrative. The pretence was that the creators wanted a movie franchise, and a baby would slow that down. Mulder and Scully didn’t have to take the baby with them while fighting the future– he had a grandma that could babysit.
I Want to Believe in Something More Than This
Season 9 finished on a cinematically nice scene, emulating one from the Pilot episode where Mulder and Scully talk in a motel room. They have quite literally lost everything – Mulder is considered a fugitive with a death penalty over his head from the military, and has no family and a futile belief the future. This is not an emotionally good point to launch a movie franchise from. In keeping Mulder and Scully in season 9, the creators have made the show about them exploring the wider world rather than being led by other characters (as much as a four person Mulder/Scully/Doggett/Reyes fighting the good fight would have been cool). Yet, this scene still holds a glimmer of hope. Mulder says he wants to believe in a better future, that the dead (symbolising what’s been lost) can teach them how to save themselves from the same fate. Scully says the same thing, and Mulder rightly notes her faith about learning from the dead comes from Jesus by touching her cross.
I watched the 2008 film before season 8 and 9. On the information that Scully was pregnant and Mulder abducted, I assumed their child had died from a birth defect and that Mulder had reason to pursue his sister again following his return. This is why Scully is trying to save everyone else from the pain of outliving their children, and why Mulder has PTSD he’s trying to keep Scully from, having been abducted like those close to him. Obviously, this is not true. Nothing about this film makes sense in The X-Files world. If I take out the words Mulder and Scully, I’m looking at a detective film about ex-FBI agents who have lost a child to a genetic condition, and a guy who has his sister kidnapped during childhood. She’s saving children with rare conditions, and he’s looking for his sister, or at least saving other kidnapped women. But the FBI doesn’t call this guy to say “Hey, kidnapped women – might be your sister!” They say “You’re embarrassing but temporarily useful.” Supposedly he’s been living in isolation, but he’s not surprised to see her and knows she’s a Doctor, and have many flat conversations in person, missed phone calls and physical touches that don’t mean anything. They seem to be stuck in a miserable holding pattern that neither wants to leave. It’s as bleak as the snowy weather.
She brings the case to him thinking it will do him good, then decides she wants him back in the house as it’s not good for him. She gets irrational when a female FBI agent goes to touch his face after he’s shaved his beard, yet gets defensive when someone suggests they are married. She says sorry so many times it sounds like she’s apologising for existing. The FBI only ask for the guy, yet the woman comes along to headquarters, even though she tells people she’s left that work behind her. He says he’s only half the team, but they never work together – only in parallel with a set of coincidences, including an Internet search printout. She performs brain surgery from an Internet printout without consent of the church who fund the procedures. A principle character dies from the case, and there is no pause for the significance of losing an agent in the search for another, or about the FBI agent dynamic with her surviving partner who had belittled her. In the face of a fatality, he goes ALONE to find the killer in the middle of nowhere. The cause of all these deaths is someone who needs yet another new body, and surgery is performed in extremely unhygienic conditions. It’s a wonder he hasn’t died from infection, and is it really a life worth living? After assaulting someone to save the guy’s life, the woman goes to perform life-saving surgery on the missing agent, and tells someone else to go look after him. The film ends with people who can kiss but not make eye contact or a heartfelt smile. After the credits, a Nineteen Years Later scene is stuck on where the characters have run away from life to a tropical island, and wave goodbye to the audience. I fully expected a shark to appear for them to jump over.
The take home message of this movie? It doesn’t matter what your body is, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. But apart from Billy Connelly’s performance as a paedophile seeking reason for why he did bad things to children and if God can forgive him, the film is hollow. It’s only Mulder and Scully in name, and they have been inserted into a soap opera world. Soap operas can’t give actors narratives to satisfy, as things are done to characters to keep them in perpetual misery. Family members and past events will pop up without warning to cause angst that has no build up or final resolution. Actors can’t give such characters strong emotional nuances as it may contradict a future issue the writers arbitrarily insert for cheap drama. Soap operas never end. I’m yet to know anyone who watches soap operas who makes a difference to the world or their life. It’s as if they look at these characters in contemporary setting and think either “the characters are miserable so I must be miserable” or “I’m not going to improve my life because these characters suffer more than I do”.
The X-Files is not a soap opera, as much as the writers are trying to insert meaningless drama. (Why do TV writers have issues with their characters being happy?) For most of the film I thought Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny had lost faith or interest in their characters; that the original run was forged by the fact the two leads were either being Mulder and Scully, or asleep, for a decade when asked to work eighteen hour days for nine months a year. No series before or since has asked two people to do that for so long; it’s either been shorter or the workload is distributed over an ensemble. But there’s a scene where Skinner comforts Mulder by dressing him in his jacket against the cold. Mulder’s smile is warm, and Skinner’s embrace protective and fatherly, which Mulder happily falls into in his drugged state. It speaks volumes when a principle character has more connection with a cameo than another lead. It shows the writers are keeping characters apart without plot or character justification. Symbolically, this is Scully touching Mulder’s face with gloved hands. Since when did The X-Files tell us that physical contact between men and women is wrong?
Mulder’s stubble length has always been a useful indicator of Scully’s peril level. Full beard tells me Scully has Trinity Syndrome. This is a character that changed the real world by resisting patriarchy, only to succumb to it later in life in her own world. The message from this is that it doesn’t matter how much enthusiasm you have when you’re young, you can’t change the world. You’ll do as you’re told. You’ll work for other people who don’t appreciate you rather than alongside people who respect you. You’ll cry alone. You’ll never make a connection with other people as you don’t think you deserve to be happy due to guilt about past choices. Physical contact is restricted to romance and selfish sex, and you should limit yourself by what other people think. Getting old means giving up. This is not The X-Files.
The 2008 film shows us that the series is not suited to long absences as it’s told in contemporary real time. We saw Mulder and Scully go through abduction, cancer, death, exhumation, experimentation as it happened, the emotional fallout from that, and what they were going to do now. The show’s success has always been that it felt real. We were shown not told. A six year gap required exposition, but we didn’t get any. We have no idea why Mulder and Scully aren’t looking for a vaccine to save humanity, or seek out their child if Mulder’s intuition tells him it’s in danger. We have no idea why they are separate alone rather than together alone*, as no other meaningful relationships are introduced to either character. Apart from Skinner and Scully’s Mom, no-one else has a clue what these people have experienced. They always go to each other first, as they know the other person gets it, and together they can make a difference.
*I don’t mean living together. The show has established when posing as a married couple that they would kill each other with lifestyle choice incompatibilities (or at the very least a bullet through the shoulder for leaving clothes on the bathroom floor). There’s also a comment after Mulder’s return in season 8 that his apartment is different – because Scully cleaned it. I like the idea that my personal space for self-expression can be a whole house/apartment rather than half a bed.
The X-Files Revival
If someone studied the proportions of The X-Files as time spent on mythology, funny episodes, social commentary, shady informants, family moments, Skinner interactions, season finale cliff hangers and opening monologues, then translated that into six episodes, that’s what season X looks like. Apparently, nothing has changed in eight years (remember what changed in the first eight years).Even Skinner hasn’t had a promotion from Assistant Director in a quarter century. The 2012 apocalypse has been snagged in red tape, with no gradual introduction for Mulder’s intuition to pick up on in his laptop Internet searches. The audience is still unable to engage with the narrative because this isn’t the real world the show has always needed to be for its impact, and the characters are still soap operatic in lamenting about an off-screen character without being pro-active in ending their distance from living fully.
Scully is still in paediatrics trying to heal genetic abnormalities in children. My inner-writer on 10×01 told me that this is Scully looking for her child through her work. I expected it to appear in her clinic at the end of the episode – her worst fear that her child had genetic abnormalities and that being part-Mulder, coincidence brought it back to her, in time (or perhaps trigger) for the apocalypse escalation. I thought we’d have a moment on Scully’s guilt about her worst fear that she’d made the wrong choice to give it up, and then Scully’s rationalism and compassion would kick in and she’d make the choice to make something positive come from it. Mulder would have a moment of coincidence that he lost his sister when he was twelve, and now a teenager has come into his life that needs his help – narratively he would heal his inner teenager by being the parent he needed when he was a child. Its genetic importance would be key to saving people, including his father (symbolically, Mulder needing a new family) from the apocalypse, and we’d explore issues about children being roped into world saving through Mulder and Scully’s interactions with it and each other. This is not what happened.
Season finale cliff hangers have no place in current TV. Audiences have grown accustomed to narrative landing points in fiction, particularly with long series Babylon 5 and Harry Potter in film. The real world offers empty promises from politicians stringing us along around election time in order to get our vote, and empty promises of future changed behaviour in personal relationships eventually causes us to walk away in self-respect. I imagine a lot of people have walked away from The X-Files with the cliff hanger. How do you spend an entire season talking about an off screen character and not have them turn up? Why has Scully not thought to sequence her own DNA with her history, having been sequencing other people’s DNA for fourteen years? Since when can you synthesise a new vaccine in a few hours that can cure everyone? Why has Mulder not killed Old Smokey so he can’t be a pervert to Scully for eternity? Why didn’t Scully administer Mulder the vaccine after seeking him, to give him more of a chance of survival? If you really believed it was the end of the world, wouldn’t you tell those you love that you’re grateful for the happy and meaningful moments you had together?
The Hero’s Journey
A Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell is a book that has noticed a universal pattern in story telling over millennia. This is paraphrased by Mastin Kipp: Usually in twelve parts, a character goes through a transformation cycle of birth-death-rebirth. At the start of all great stories, the hero is shown in her “ordinary world” – her regular life. But this ordinary world is interrupted by a “call to adventure” in which the hero is called into some sort of frightening but exciting journey. What follows are tests, trials, and ordeals. The hero meets all kinds of enemies and allies as she progresses towards the greatest trial of all: her own death. And after death she is reborn with new insight, which brings her to the truth of her own heart. With this new understand the hero once again faces death – and in doing so, saves her family or country from certain destruction. After this heroic deed, she then must share this new insight with her home community. The journey is not complete unless it is shared with others.
For a long time, I knew Mulder and Scully were special, but couldn’t find the words to express why to myself or anyone else. It’s like trying to spell a word with a feeling. Their connection transcends explanation. It comes from a dual aspect of head and heart – the rational and the intuitive. Part of the reason we find Mulder and Scully so captivating is that they are contemporary heroes, told in real time. They could be anybody that we bump into in the twenty first century, as their reaction to what life does to them is portrayed with depth and continuity. The narrative goes from a passive “Why does this keep happening to me?” and the seeming futility to prevent an apocalypse to a pro-active “This is what I’m going to do to have a better life.”
Mulder’s journey is a call to fix his broken family history. Eventually he stops looking back at a distant memory and creates a new family. Symbolically, you can see the moment in 8 x 15 DeadAlive where Mulder literally comes back from death and chooses his heart. First he jokes “Who are you? Did anyone miss me?” He has empathy for Scully’s emotional ordeal – when she asks “Do you know what you’ve been through?” he says “Only what I see in your face.” He silently mouths I love you.
Scully’s journey is about patriarchy oppressing her sexuality. You never see Scully have a romantic or sexual relationship with anyone, for the reason given during the season 9 finale trial – one of the panellists (a white male) undermines all her credibility as a scientist with empirical evidence because she had a love child with Mulder (marriage is a way to control female fertility with property lineage). She chooses to create a child to show the world she’s in control of her life.
Mulder and Scully have satisfied their respective heart journeys with their child. This might be a new era of story-telling of dual heroes. Mulder isn’t just an ally to Scully’s hero journey, and neither is Scully just an ally to Mulder’s hero journey. This is what we mean when we say we want Mulder and Scully together. It’s got nothing to do with romance. All we need to do now is get their child back and save the world by sharing all they have learned through The X-Files. This is why the show had to return – the hero journey is incomplete.
Bridge Between Worlds
I wonder what kind of Christmas the Grim Reaper had last year to be calling up so many creative souls to go on to the next adventure. Alan Rickman is the one that has impacted me the most, as he died on my late Dad’s birthday from the same condition at the same age. I instantly re-watched the Harry Potter series and Dogma. This is his legacy. This visual media is an immortal reminder of his existence and what he chose to do with his life. Fiction outlives its creators. Once this was just books, but now we associate real people – actors – with characters because of visual media. I like Alan Rickman’s story of having a career change late in life because of social funding to become an actor. I like the character narrative of Severus Snape in Harry Potter. I laugh loudly at the scene in Dogma when as the Voice of God he pulls down his trousers to show a character he’s as anatomically equipped as a Ken doll.
Any actor that plays the Doctor in Doctor Who knows that is how their eulogy will start. David Tennant – the biggest Doctor Who fanboy on the planet who got his dream role – now seems ill at ease with being associated with it in interviews. I think part of that is that he can’t fix the past mistake of the show in his hero narrative. The character shied away from his heart, and then died, the way Hamlet did. He’s said in interviews that his house is a shrine to that work as his children are curious to know how mom and dad met (on the show). I wonder if those children are going to grow up following the example on the screen of their ‘parents’, or if there’s a real life hero for them to be inspired by. Children follow their parents’ example, not their advice. We emulate what we see, not necessarily what we’re told. One day, those children will only have their parents’ work as a reminder of how they talked, moved, and what they did with their lives.
This is the most Meta thing I may ever say: Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny have also become inspirational heroes because of Mulder and Scully. They were called as actors to make The X-Files, went through a lot of trials with the work load at the time, and the media attention about their personal life together since. These things happened to them, and they may have thought “Why me?” about all of it. But something has changed for the better. They have found their hearts, and now they don’t care what people think about how they know each other. They are simply enjoying being alive at the same time. They don’t have the words to explain it to themselves or to others, but nor do they need to. It’s interesting that they decided to bring the show back, rather than being told to come back. This is the pro-active aspect of the journey. But what have they got to share with the community? How are they going to save the world?
Because Mulder and Scully are portrayed as contemporaries in real time, how they behave as individuals towards each other is a blue print for us to emulate. The audience, especially teenagers who grew up in the 1990s when the show first aired, have fictional parents on which to base their approach to being human in today’s world. They taught us many things: long coats are cool, satin pyjamas are cool, it’s fine to live on your own to express your individuality, nudity is not consent, do work that you love, regularly re-evaluate your life to see if your heart is still in it, let relationships develop naturally, be respectful, don’t care what other people think about you, make eye contact, it’s safe to be vulnerable, it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to laugh, you have feelings, you have a voice, lying in bed isn’t inherently sexual, physical contact is comforting, listening isn’t the same as agreeing, tell people what you’re going through, marriage is unnecessary, trust your intuition, listen to your empathy, be rational, be compassionate, know that people believe in you, know that you matter because you exist as a unique individual, know that you can change your life.
As the love children of The X-Files, we embody all their characteristics and integrate duality. Patriarchy is about binary and separation. Mulder and Scully signal the end of patriarchal control, because you can’t control people who are secure within themselves, who are prepared to do what feels right rather than stagnate in fear or disconnection. Courage isn’t a feeling, it’s an action. You feel the fear and do it anyway. This is about the miracle of Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny’s transcendental connection in how they make Mulder and Scully real. We can feel the love between the characters. We truly believe in them.
Mulder and Scully need us. We owe them everything. My fear is that the actors will have their careers tainted if we don’t save The X-Files from the writers with the awful dialogue, pacing, open shots, non-moving plot and characters. They are the faces of the show, and because the show has changed the world, it will probably be the first line of their eulogies. But the narrative isn’t complete, and if we don’t save it, the world won’t be right. We have the chance to give Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny a complete hero’s journey with their work. Their legacy will be a source material to inspire people to be the best version of themselves, to be the hero in their own life.
Don’t give up.