Why my love for Dana Scully is immortal
In the era when X-Files episodes still aired on Sunday nights, my mom, going by her married name of Betty Victoria Scully, would sometimes get hit on for seemingly no reason. Situations that called for checking ID (Six Flags Over Texas, using a credit card at the mall, renting a movie at Blockbuster) often elicited an exchange between a guy and my mother that went something like:
Guy: Scully, it’s me!
My mother: Excuse me…what?
Guy: Not an X-Files fan?
My mother: Umm, no.
Thus, my context for The X-Files became firmly and solely rooted in watching my mom roll her eyes at men. When I became old enough to acquire various forms of identification (a library card and a choir patch) I, too, got the occasional Scully reference — even though the show was long over by then. I didn’t know what anyone was talking about and I had no interest in anything labeled as science fiction; I thought space was cool, and I had my own conspiracy theories about Y2K, but overall it was a genre that seemed unaccessible. The closest things to science fiction that I entertained at the time were magazine horoscopes, Lisa Frank alien notebooks, and Disney’s Zenon: the Zequel. When I finally Googled pictures of Dana Scully one afternoon (using an ethernet cord in my freshman year dorm room) I didn’t quite understand what I was seeing – just a beautiful woman in a pantsuit I was jealous of.
In my early 20s, when I was feeling restless one night and wanted to watch a new show with my boyfriend, I discovered The X-Files was on Netflix. I disregarded it at first, like a work email, because I was just looking for something quick to watch — I didn’t need that much distraction, and didn’t think I had a good reason to binge-watch a show. But then my boyfriend broke up with me and I had a nervous breakdown, so I returned to Netflix and remembered my discovery. I was hooked.
After my desktop became completely cluttered by screenshots of Mulder and Scully, I started a Tumblr to collect my favorite scenes, which were mostly comprised of Scully scowling at Mulder. Personally, I liked to call her Agent Scowly. Watching her in action — her science, her logic, and at the same time, her vulnerability — quickly rendered her my hero in shoulder pads. She made me feel like I could start taking myself seriously, even during a time when I wanted to die alone in my room. She replaced Blair Waldorf as my favorite female protagonist on a TV show, and I think that was a good thing (even though I will always love Blair Waldorf).
In the final scene of the second X-Files movie released in 2008, I Want to Believe, Mulder kisses Scully goodbye as she gets into her car, preparing to leave him for good — something I always secretly hoped she would do. When I learned of the show’s projected revival, I found it hard to believe that Scully would really return to the X-Files after she clearly had moved on to a new job working in a hospital.
Even after the first episode in the new season, “My Struggle,” I didn’t quite buy this version of Scully that seemed to suddenly return to the darkness. I suspected she always knew she had alien D.N.A., but I felt that even knowing that fact would not have shaken her resolve to leave it all behind. Despite being so often subject to the whims of a lunatic in the original seasons, she never compromised her science. Mulder, though charming and handsome, calls to mind distinct images of ex-boyfriends, sifting through basement records and raving about Bob Dylan and William S. Burroughs — not unlike raving about aliens. Why would Scully come back to such a boys’ club when she’d already made a reasonable escape?
The revival series began to answer this in the second episode, “Founder’s Mutation,” when Mulder and Scully ponder the fate of their estranged son, William. This was perhaps the only plausible reason for which I could see Scully returning, and more than anything, I wanted to see her absolved on that front — Mulder too, for that matter, because for all his faults, this is something he obviously cares about. I don’t think domesticity is something Scully ever particularly longed for, but being a mother certainly was, and that was made clear on several occasions from early on in the original series. I’m glad it was revisited again in the revival.
The one question I most wanted to see answered this season was the question involving Scully’s theorized immortality. I think I already believed she was immortal from the original pilot episode; the moment she strides in wearing the chicest ladies’ mix-n-match pantsuit I have ever seen, you just know she has a special power, and I feel that power, too, on the days I decide to dress up like my favorite F.B.I. agent. The fact of her being literally, actually immortal, though, never occurred to me until I reached season 3, episode 4, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.” Fans of the series all remember what Mr. Bruckman says to skeptical Scully when she asks how she will die: you don’t. While she definitely didn’t take this seriously, everyone else did.
The revival season calls back to this fan theory in episode 3, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster” when Scully herself says to Mulder, “You forget. I’m immortal.” As if she finally allowed herself to believe the truth about herself. The series finale offers the ultimate theory of Scully’s immortality: the world, including Mulder, might crumble around her in absurdity, while she alone survives with the miracle of science. The possibility of a future — of William — hovers above her unblinking green eyes, cutting out in a single beam of light.
The X-Files is the only show I have watched nine entire seasons of without quietly becoming disenchanted by the end (ahem, True Blood), a show that at once bridges the gap between being earnest and absurd, and even between being very bad and very good. Even in moments with the show at its worst (in my opinion, seasons 8 and 9, and the second movie) I could never get enough of the Mulder/Scully dynamic. The reaction to the season 10 finale also proves that literally no one will ever get enough. Obviously, it would be great if Fox gave us another season, but I also hope for Scully’s sake that we don’t get one. It’s enough for me to know that she’s immortal; I already believed that anyway.