Aliens, creatures that go bump in the night, and government conspiracies: That’s what The X-Files was generally about. But legions of fans cared about something else even more than the show’s paranormal themes: The relationship between Mulder and Scully.
We’ve long talked about how Mulder and Scully’s bond is one of the most charming aspects of The X-Files — even some of the show’s most lackluster episodes during the first seven seasons have some redeeming moments, thanks to the characters’ interactions. Mulder and Scully’s banter was noticeable from the first episode itself — partly witty and sarcastic, while at other times genuine and emotional. And as the two characters took a journey together over the years, their actions and dialogue evolved, adding quite a bit of depth to a show that was just supposed to be about aliens and monsters.
Not surprisingly, fans grew attached to Mulder and Scully, and it wasn’t long before many become emotionally invested in the characters’ lives. There was something highly relatable and lovable about the duo — the truth-seeking, rash and sometimes gullible Fox Mulder and his partner, the cool, scientific and rational Dana Scully. It was also highly obvious that the two characters were pretty attractive, even under the dowdy business suits, gigantic reading glasses and early nineties hairstyles of the first couple of seasons. And thus, as time went on, fans grew deeply obsessed with the love lives of Mulder and Scully, with many fans rooting for the two characters to fall in love.
SHIPPERS, SHORT FOR ‘RELATIONSHIPPERS’
“To ship something means a person wants two characters to get together and/or shows support for two characters already together. The term ‘ship’ came from the X-Files fandom, when fanfics were written about Mulder and Scully. The fans then called themselves shippers.” — the top definition of “shipper” from UrbanDictionary.com
The term “shipper” is one widely used in all types of fandoms today, from books to TV shows. But the word’s origins can be traced back to X-Philes who wanted a way to describe their stance on Mulder and Scully’s relationship. Shippers believed that the two characters were in love and were always rooting for that moment where Mulder and Scully would finally kiss or acknowledge that they were a couple. They spent hours on the Internet talking about the characters’ undeniable UST (unresolved sexual tension) and often wrote fanfiction about the moments fans did not see acknowledged on screen for years.
There were of course, factions of shippers as the show went on — some believed in the characters’ love, but didn’t really want to see a lovelorn drama unfold on a show about conspiracies and weird creatures. So those shippers tended to hope for Mulder and Scully to get together at the show’s very end, calling themselves “finishippers.” (Sidenote: I was once a Mulder and Scully finishipper, before I eventually just decided to identify myself as a “noromo”.) Moonlighting was a show some of these shippers would rue over, referring to its decline as a cautionary tale of what happens when a show’s leads get together romantically. In these shippers’ hearts, Mulder and Scully’s love was just something to enjoy in fanfiction and offscreen — it just didn’t suit the show’s tone enough to have the two get together in an obvious fashion.
There were also shippers who considered themselves “intellishippers” to distinguish themselves from those fans who were perhaps a little too intense about proving the “true love” between Mulder and Scully. They believed a romance between Mulder and Scully was pretty logical in the long run and could talk about their theories without resorting to so-called “rabid” speak. And then there were the “darkside shippers” who preferred the company of the noromos for various reasons. (Another disclaimer, at one point I just simply called myself a “darkside finishipper.” I was 15 years old, which means I had no life, so I have no problem admitting this.) But as I have already hinted multiple times, shippers weren’t the only members of The X-Files community.
NOROMOS: THERE IS NO ROMANCE
“A person who prefers a platonic relationship between two characters, particularly Dana Scully and Fox Mulder on the X-Files.” — “noromo” from UrbanDictionary.com
While the vast majority of Philes probably fell into the shipper category in some form or the other, there were also those who simply did not want a romantic relationship to evolve between the two characters. Some thought like finishippers — they felt an explicit romance didn’t suit the show. Others found it refreshing to watch a friendship and business relationship between a male and female character that didn’t turn into the usual romances seen on TV. And some, frankly, really enjoyed taunting shippers — playing jokes on some of the more emotional ones on X-Files forums.
There were also some noromos who took things a little further, forming communities like MASHEO (Mulder and Scully Hate Each Other) where they worked very hard to prove exactly what the acronym stood for. This sort of thing was mostly a fun satirical activity for the less romantic Philes on the Internet, though perhaps there were a few folks who truly believed it. Though it wasn’t exclusively a noromo trait, these fans were the types most likely to write things like filks — song parodies that tended to make fun of Mulder and Scully, Chris Carter and just about anything affiliated with The X-Files. Noromos also generally got along very well with fans that wrote slash fiction, since those Philes were rooting for less traditional relationship pairings such as Mulder/Krycek or Mulder/Skinner.
THE TRUTH: HOW THE X-FILES HANDLED ROMANCE
In the end — spoiler alert — Mulder and Scully did get together, but it was generally done in a way that tried to respect all types of fans (even if many were generally disgruntled with the show’s storylines as it drew to a close). Of course, in true X-Files fashion, the eventual unveiling of the relationship dragged out a bit. There was the almost kiss ruined by a bee in The X-Files: Fight the Future, a moment that crushed the spirits of shippers everywhere. And then came the heavy teasing in episodes like “The Rain King” where it seemed that everyone but Mulder and Scully could see the potential for romance between the two characters.
It all changed in season seven, with Mulder and Scully openly kissing each other on New Year’s Eve and the infamous scene in “all things” that hinted that the two characters had slept together. Of course, the season ended with Scully announcing she was pregnant — the ultimate definitive proof (though noromos on the official The X-Files forums gleefully referred to the upcoming baby as “Meepmork,” joking about it being an alien baby).
But the Mulder and Scully relationship was never really depicted as a traditional relationship, even if it did make logical sense for an attractive man and woman with seemingly no other friends to fall in love with each other after spending all their time together. Mulder was no longer a regular character on the show after season seven and then there was just one more movie, I Want to Believe, where the characters were openly affectionate at times, but also too busy chasing down a strange case for the romance to play a primary role. It seemed that the show runners knew that even if Mulder and Scully got together, it could never be done in a particularly traditional fashion.
It may seem kind of odd now to think about X-Philes arguing and obsessing over the relationship of a couple of characters that never shared a typical onscreen romance. But ultimately it seems to be a testament to the writing and wonderful chemistry between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. Mulder and Scully added a particularly human element to a show that could have simply remained in the realm of B-grade horror programs. But it was a small, unassuming science fiction program that debuted on a barely established TV network that ultimately went on to determine how various fandoms discuss their stances on characters’ relationships to this day.