“Why did they assign me to you in the first place, Mulder? To debunk your work, to rein you in, to shut you down.” — Dana Scully
“But you saved me! As difficult and as frustrating as it’s been sometimes, your goddamned strict rationalism and science have saved me a thousand times over! You’ve kept me honest… you’ve made me a whole person. I owe you everything, Scully, and you owe me nothing.” — Fox Mulder
Welcome to the second of our five-part look at The X-Files: Fight the Future. Today, we examine the Mulder and Scully dynamic. It’s like the late nineties never died!
Radhika: Ah, Fight the Future. The movie where Philes rabidly wondered if we’d finally see Mulder and Scully kiss… or maybe even… “do it.” It sounds simplistic to put it into those terms, but let’s face it — even those of us who weren’t clamoring to see an on-screen relationship burgeon between the two — were well aware of the chemistry these characters shared from day one. But that chemistry was about more than just the unresolved sexual tension (or UST, for those of you remembering your fanfic keyword speak). It involved a bond, a special friendship, a stubborn devotion that we can all only wish to share with someone — friend or more — in our lifetimes.
While The X-Files’ main focus was on standalone monster stories and the inner workings of a vast global conspiracy involving extraterrestrial life, there’s no denying that Mulder and Scully were what kept fans coming back for more. Chris Carter and company hit gold by creating these characters and then casting an actor and actress who went on to breathe life into them in a most spectacular manner. Fans grew obsessive about the two, memorizing birthdays and badge numbers, knowing every habit of this fictional duo — from Mulder’s proclivity for dirty videos and sunflower seeds to Scully’s fondness of Moby Dick and skeptically raising her eyebrow. And what fans loved the most was the banter between the believer and the skeptic.
The Mulder and Scully we meet in Fight the Future are very much the Mulder and Scully we know and love, albeit with five years of working together and all kinds of emotional roller coasters behind them. They remain colleagues at heart, even when Scully’s ready to pack it all in and go back to medicine. In fact, Mulder draws Scully into some unofficial investigating by pointing out that he needs her expertise. And that bond as colleagues only strengthens as the film ends. When Mulder tells Scully she was right to want to quit the FBI, she says, “I’ll be a doctor, but my work is here with you now.”
But five years together also results in a level of familiarity that goes beyond the dynamic of mere coworkers. Sometimes they’re lighthearted, with Scully playing jokes that result in Mulder making his panic face, and Mulder insisting that he’s never been wrong while trying to figure out which direction to drive in. Other times, they fall into the patterns of a repressed romance — handholding, forehead kissing, and a painfully slow leadup to a kiss on the lips, foiled by a bee carrying a killer virus.
On one hand, nothing has changed between the two as far as a romantic or sexual partnership is concerned. On the other hand, a lot has changed. These two agents have come a long way since that time Dana Scully ran to her partner of a few days in a panic, disrobing to figure out what was going on with the marks on her skin. Whatever relationship they have is deeply embedded inside them, more than an attraction based on shallow dynamics. And no matter how many times one of them tries to push the other away, there is an acute understanding that they are their best when they’re with each other.
I understand that some of this makes Mulder and Scully sound terribly codependent — but as terrible the situations they find themselves in are, there is a level of codependency here that also does each of these agents some good. Mulder claims Scully has made him a whole person, and that may very well be true: How much more antisocial and loopy would he be had she never come along? Even Scully’s willing to admit that she would be unfulfilled without the X-Files, despite the challenges she has faced along the way because of them. There is no denying that their lives are intertwined for the long haul.
Max: I want to speak to what Radhika mentioned in her very eloquent section of this post about the level of familiarity as well as the notion that the two agents are at their best when they are with each other. Yes, there have been plenty of times where Mulder and Scully have put up a united front, where their feelings and objectives aligned toward a common goal, but in Fight the Future there is something quite special. Our heroes have never been this in sync before, it’s almost quite subliminal at times. Scully may be doubting if leaving medicine was worth all that we’ve seen her go through, but she recognizes when her partner needs her, even if it risks missing her OPR review and reassignment meeting.
Throughout the course of the series, Mulder has dragged Scully all over in pursuit of his outre theories and the chance to encounter some mythic bugaboo. For this, she was made to feel used and derided by colleagues. (Remember Colton’s treatment of her in “Squeeze“) She stood up for herself as both an agent and as a woman, and it is this assuredness and professionalism that has characterized all of her interactions with colleagues and superiors, but especially with her “Spooky” partner. Mulder, for all of his positive qualities, has taken his partner for granted at times, and his crusades for the truth dial up a latent self-centeredness that has blinded him in the past to Scully’s feelings and the massive effect that working with X-Files has had on her life.
To his credit, Mulder shows a wonderful sense of growth as a person in the film. While he was indeed desperate to hold onto the person who has become the grounding influence in his personal and professional lives, his recognition of her multifaceted value as a person is a giant step from his rather dismissive response to her query as to why she didn’t have her own desk in the basement office they called home at the Bureau. His feelings crystallize at the end of the film, when after saving her from the most precarious position she has ever been in, he implores her to take the initiative to leave him, as he says, “I’m not going to watch you die, Scully, because of some hollow personal cause of mine. Go be a doctor. Go be a doctor while you still can.” It’s quite pleasing to see, especially when his initial reaction to her assignment was barely hidden annoyance and a half-hearted accusation that she was sent to spy on him.
It is Scully’s strength as a person, her convictions, and her transformative experience working with Mulder on the X-Files that leads her to reject his plea to leave him behind. In the past, it has seemed like Scully has been stuck with Mulder because of some kind of inertia or the codependency that Radhika spoke to, but the words to her partner that close out Fight the Future reflect a conscious and considered choice to stay, independent of all the machinations that have colluded to make her life a more difficult one. Her path has brought her to this point, and her work is with Mulder and their investigations.
The extraterrestrial threat made itself known in the form a viral infection, and if there is one thing we know about Scully, it’s that her considerable talents as a doctor are invaluable. Her dog has been in this fight for quite some time: with her abduction, her cancer, her daughter. “If I quit now, they win,” she makes emphatically clear. The evidence is in the bee that stung her that she submits to the OPR board, much like the implant she turned over to Blevins all those years ago. The truth is in there, and out there.
And this is where we leave our dynamic duo, reinvested and committed to each other. There is a profound connection between them that transcends their status as partners and friends, and while there can be a certain thrill in the desire to see them hook up as a result of their strong feelings for each other, I think reducing the relationship to that level cheapens the richness and complexity that the writers, David, and Gillian have imbued in these characters. If it happens though, it happens. Just not in this film. That damn bee.