Dana Scully deserves to be right: The flaw at the heart of The X-Files

There’s a huge problem at the centre of how past and future X-Files stories have operated. The central premise of the show is that two FBI agents, you know their names, have to go into the field to investigate strange occurrences. The conflict between the characters is that one is a sceptic and the other is a believer. Despite the variety of weirdness in X-Files it is essentially a buddy cop procedural. The huge problem is that the sceptic never gets to be right.

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Obviously the sceptic I am referring to is Agent Dana Scully. She is one of the greatest TV characters of all time, let alone one of the greatest female and/or genre show characters. Scully is rational and clear headed. She wants the theories to suit the facts. Even when accepting a meta-physical premise she still looks for consistencies and patterns. She’s no fundamentalist atheist because she will accept meta-physical and alien forces when they challenge her. It’s important to have female characters appear this way. Generally speaking the rational and intellectual person in any genre is a man of a certain age and race. In real life the modern online ‘sceptic community’ is very hostile towards women. Thus Dana Scully is an important character for all those reasons.

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So why is she always wrong? One could just say it is a function of the premise of the show: FBI agents investigate the paranormal and the alien. Thus the person that doesn’t initially believe in that stuff will always be proven wrong. However, is that really how this show has to explore its premise? As it is a procedural there should be some tension as to the mystery being the strange happenings. In a Whodunnit or Howdunnit or Whydunnit the tensions are clear. Where is the narrative tension behind a paranormal mystery if we know the paranormal force is going to be exactly what it appears to be? The alien is an alien and the monster in the wood is a monster in the wood. Obviously there are a few exceptions to this approach in X-Files.

Instead let’s imagine a different show. Let’s imagine in every investigation that there are multiple possibilities. You could have it still be a paranormal force. You could have it being a hoax or a misunderstanding (think Jonathan Creek). The characters could find out the reasoning behind something, or they could not find out. They could let the audience know, but not the characters. Or the show could leave it completely ambiguous for everyone.

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Dana Scully is a sceptic with a faith in the Christian God. She’s very rational, but struggles with making friends and is very lonely and misunderstood. Fox Mulder is a believer. He is somewhat irrational even if incredibly intelligent. He clearly doesn’t sleep and spends too much time on the internet. He’s simultaneously very paranoid yet very gullible and trusting. The X-Files explored all these qualities of Mulder and Scully as strengths and flaws in every episode. However, the tension of who was right or wrong was never really present. Mulder was usually always right. Scully was always wrong. Even though she was always wrong her investigative approach was never flawed.

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Imagine a show where they both bring their biases to the fray (just like the audience) and it’s up in the air who is right or wrong. They’d be forced to question everything they know on a weekly basis, as would the audience. The solution (or lack of) to the mysteries would regularly shake them to their core.

 

The X-Files is back, for better or worse. The world has changed. We’ve seen that the powerful men behind the scenes aren’t all that smart or omnipotent (in spite of new surveillance powers bringing them near), but we’ve also seen how easily the threats to human stability can change and evolve. Threats aren’t always nations anymore. The modern internet sceptic communities and conspiracy communities are very different. The Western world has had multiple sudden and huge political upheavals over the last few years.

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How would Dana and Mulder react to these changes? The world is uncertain in a way it wasn’t during the original X-Files run. Why not reflect this uncertainty at least in the function of procedural plots? Let every character and audience member have a chance to be right, wrong or unsure. At the very least, let Dana Scully be right sometimes. She deserves better.

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