Mulder and Scully on The X-Files are the couple who literally made “shipping” a thing, and they finally got together after years of romantic tension. But now, the new X-Files revival, airing next year, is going to break them up again. We’ve known for a while that this was happening—but yesterday, Chris Carter gave his “explanation” for this development. And it is bullshit.
Here’s what Carter told The Hollywood Reporter:
We do it in an interesting way. We play with that relationship [in the event series]. We put some of the tension back in that was relieved by them being together. It added to the storytelling opportunities. It’s something that I came up with; I had been thinking about it. There was always talk of [breaking them up] if we did another movie.
Look, these are his characters, and his show. If he wants to do this, he can. He just shouldn’t.
If you are new to the X-Files, here’s a fun fact: that tension in the show lasted seven fucking years. Seven years, the fans watched these two emotionally stunted FBI agents—who clearly had nothing and no one in their lives more important than each other—without actually resolving anything. And when we finally actually got that long-awaited resolution? David Duchovny left the show.
There’s a reason two of the abbreviations most associated with X-Files fandom are MSR — Mulder Scully Romance — and UST — Unresolved Sexual Tension. People lost their minds over these two.
I’m not saying that every close relationship in fiction needs to end in a romantic relationship. But Mulder and Scully? This wasn’t fans reading too much into the text. They almost kissed in in the 1998 movie! AND THAT WAS YEARS BEFORE THEY ACTUALLY GOT TOGETHER ON THE SHOW. Even if you don’t ship these two, at a certain point, resolution becomes necessary to keep from ripping all your hair out in frustration.
Carter seems to think that putting these two characters together is the reason the later seasons of the show (and the second movie) faltered. It’s not.
In fact, the later seasons suffered from, among other things, the loss of the partnership, the fumbled reboot, a lack of creative standalone stories, and a mythology kudzu that had covered the whole thing. The only good thing about the later incarnations of The X-Files was the fact that Mulder and Scully were finally together. That should have been the model for everything in the last few seasons. Tie up the loose ends, and then do new and interesting things. Adding new agents to the mix does not count.
If anything, Carter’s quote about putting the tension back is terrifying because it seems to hint that they’re trying to recapture the early days of the show. Are they really so insecure about the show that this is the only option?
If there is one misapprehension I would like to set on fire and dance around burning corpse of, it’s the notion that putting characters together decreases the available stories you can tell. I Want to Believe was not a good movie, but the thing that did work was that being together did not magically transport Mulder and Scully into a happy rainbows-and-unicorns land, where they never fought about anything.
The thing a romantic consummation does add is a set of storytelling opportunities that are harder to execute. When Mulder and Scully weren’t together, the writers could include hints to the audience or not, at their leisure. Once you put characters into a romantic relationship, it doesn’t disappear. It doesn’t have to be the centerpiece of the story, but it does have to be accounted for. I’m sorry if that’s too hard or too much work, that’s the bed you made.
And if this is a reaction to not handling it well when the show ended? Well, that’s the bed you shat in. No more do-overs. You’re already bringing back the Lone Gunmen.
Speaking of do-overs: Remember Mulder and Scully’s magic baby? The one that they dropped off in Wyoming? Anyone want to address that, maybe? There’s an untapped storytelling opportunity for this couple.
Oh you do not. Next.
Here are the two ways this works out: either they get back together or they don’t. In the former situation, the characters take an unnecessary detour in their relationship, rather than actually progressing. And loyal fans get nothing new from them.
In the latter case, fuck off. The show is over twenty years old at this point, and a permanent breakup would be just a return to the emotional manipulation of fan investment that ... in all honesty, will probably work. Goddammit.
That’s the absolute worst part of all this. As an X-Files fan from literal childhood, I’m still excited that the show is coming back. I’ve liked all the news we’ve been getting — who’s coming back, Darin Morgan writing an episode called “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” the guest stars. Right up until Carter said all this, I was in a state of fan bliss. And I’m still going to watch all six episodes. But now I’m going to be all pissed about what could have been. But I guess that’s what fanfic is for.
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