Whether to science, skepticism or latent lesbianism, any X Files fan will tell you: Dana Scully was a gateway drug. For nearly a decade, Scully – played note perfect by the brilliant Gillian Anderson – dominated our screens, handing over a weekly dose of medical jargon, repressed emotion and a nearly laughable amount of disbelief – a quality which manifested itself in the form of a raised eyebrow so high that it will go down in history. (I learned to raise my eyebrow by watching Scully. That is a fact.)
Upon the premiere of The X Files in 1992, viewers were quickly introduced to Scully, a still bright-eyed and bushy tailed special agent who had changed tracks after med school – very much against her father’s wishes – to join the FBI, where she felt she could better distinguish herself. Once there, she was assigned to partner with the government eccentric Fox Mulder, a once well-respected criminal profiler who’d gone rogue since becoming more and more obsessed with his sister’s abduction many years prior and who was now sequestered to a basement office full of filing cabinets and newspaper clippings about aliens.
Unflappable from the start, Scully’s demeanor upon meeting Mulder for the first time was one of the What the hell did I get myself into? variety. Admittedly assigned to spy on Mulder’s activities and debunk his work, it was clear that she felt not only game for the challenge but almost annoyed by the perceived ease of the task. After all, this is a woman who re-wrote Einstein as part of her undergrad thesis. Proving a government conspiracy theorist with a strong belief in aliens wrong? Small potatoes. (X Files in joke!)
Of course, things were anything but simple. By season two, Scully was kidnapped for the first time by Duane Barry and subsequently taken by a covert military operation who were working with aliens. Gone for months, she was finally returned, only to later discover that she has had a metal chip implanted in her neck as a sort of tracking device following her abduction. After removing it, she developed a nasopharengeal mass – an inoperable cancerous tumour between her sinus and cerebrum – and battled the illness despite a grim prognosis. Eventually, she was saved by Mulder, who was able to secure another chip which was then reimplanted into her skin.
Among the endless list of Scully’s other trials & tribulations: Being drugged and kidnapped by the mentally ill Gerry Schnauz, who duct-taped her to an old dental chair and pumped her full of Twilight Sleep in preparation for performing a transorbital lobotomy while speaking to her in German; Being declared infertile, only to discover that she has a child in the form of Emily, a young girl who was made as an experiment from Scully’s DNA without her knowing and who later dies; Becoming the subject of obsession for fetishist killer Donnie Pfaster, who returns years later after leaving prison to finish what he started in a terrifying ordeal which culminates in Scully shooting him at point blank range to save herself; Losing her sister Melissa, who is accidentally shot by hitmen who were actually out to kill Scully; Being abducted again and taken to Antarctica, where she was placed in some liquid sludge with a tube down her throat aboard an alien vessel; Finally falling pregnant with William, only to have to give him away. Oh, and of course, losing Mulder on several occasions, sometimes with no hope of ever seeing him again.
While many, including myself, cursed creator Chris Carter for consistently inflicting the most terrible situations on Scully – and he did face his share of anti-feminist criticism – she did, for all intents and purposes, just keep going. While most anyone else would have given up early on, Scully somehow managed to soldier on, relentlessly pursuing the quest she once discredited and yet eventually found herself so embroiled in that it became her own. She tirelessly interviewed witnesses and victims, performed all-night autopsies, chased down the bad guys; she fought, in every sense, for what she believed was right.
While Scully’s emotional repression was near legendary in its own right, it was simply impossible to ignore the true motivations behind the quality that many of her peers (and, to a degree, even Mulder) were confounded by. For Scully, self-sufficiency was not only a desirable trait but a necessary one that she held in the highest regard. To show vulnerability was to open herself to the possibility of being underminded or undone, was to be perceived as weak in a life that had consistently proven just how bad things could get even if you were on your guard all the time.
And yet, no one could say that Scully was cold or unfeeling. Set her her ways? Sure. If you were looking for overt displays of unabashed emotion, you would no doubt be disappointed. However, if you were looking for loyalty at all costs, someone who would break rules for you, risk her career and put it all on the line to protect you, you’d have found the right woman. Scully was, without question, the type of person you’d want on your side when all the cards were dealt and on the table. With Scully, you’d always win.
The most visible struggle between head and heart we saw was Scully’s reconciliation of her Catholic faith – which she had held on to since her childhood – with what she later came to know about the truth of the world, not only its humanly evils but of more metaphysical questions and, of course, the existence of extra-terrestrial life. Scully’s stubborn resistance in letting go of many of the beliefs she’d clung to for decades was frustrating, inspiring and most of all, truthful.
In Scully, the many contradictions inherent to being a living, breathing human intersected and were hashed out in honest ways, though they were not always peaceful. Her life with Mulder carried with it incredible danger and robbed her of a gift many of us take for granted – time. The pace at which things happened to and around her left little opportunity to ponder the deeper philosophical questions in life and forced Scully to simply act and react without hesitance. As such, she quickly became a character that, while sometimes difficult to understand, easily earned your curiosity, admiration and ultimately, your respect.