When we talk about shipping and fandom and Unresolved Sexual Tension, we cannot NOT mention the OG did-they/didn’t-they couple – Mulder and Scully. T pays loving homage to the show that started it all.
When I pitched this article at our blog’s inception, I said “I don’t know what I’m going to say [about The X Files], but I know I can say it at length.” (We recorded this fact, professionally, on our minutes document.) By the first week of January I had a thousand-odd words on the show. Then the first episode of the (second) revival season aired. Without spoilers – without, in fact, having watched it – I can confirm that it was horrible, retconned an act of violence against Scully, and was vindictive and unnecessary and frankly upsetting. Subsequent episodes have been better reviewed; I haven’t caught up yet.
The GOOD NEWS, though, is that, as an X Files authority (a self-appointed role, but one which, no doubt, my friends can attest to), I have decided that the Bad episode is No Longer Canon. To clear up any confusion, here’s a timely, comprehensive guide to What Is And Is Not Canon In The X Files Universe:
CANON: Mulder and Scully literally invented shipping. No, like, actually, this was the show that had the first significant split between fans who watched For The Plot, and insisted that a romance would undermine the show (also known as: Fools), and the ones who Wanted To Believe (also known as: Anyone With The Capacity To Comprehend Anything, Ever). Which is how you had the Mulder and Scully “relationshippers”… and then, later, shippers. Legacy, what is a legacy.
NOT CANON: Any godforsaken interview in which Chris Carter says that Mulder and Scully have no romantic dynamic.
CANON: Mulder and Scully also invented eye contact.
NOT CANON: The X Files is a serious show about aliens, the government, and the impact of scientific breakthroughs or whatever.
CANON: The show is lovingly lit by a single, inefficient candle.
CANON: This is how it begins. It’s early 2013. I’ve technically graduated university; classes are over and everyone’s gone home, and I’m in my hall room on vacation stay and “job-hunting”. What this means is that I’m sending several CVs out into the void, and dressing exclusively in pajamas, only dragging myself out of bed for twice-daily meals of chicken rice. It’s not exactly the worst of times, but it’s pretty damn close. One of these not-great days I decide, on an impulse that comes from somewhere I’ve never identified, to start The X Files. People talk about it on Tumblr all the time; I gather that it involves a lot of eye contact and slow-burn, which sounds right up my alley. I literally have nothing else to do.
CANON: I’ve never really been a part of fandom. The Internet made its way slowly into India; by the time I was using Livejournal at the “computer table” in my living room, I wasn’t doing much more than watching the occasional Jack/Kate ship video between episodes of LOST. I only got into Tumblr in my second year of uni, because our Communications & New Media module required us to write a paper on it (I had to make my mother follow me to get more likes). I used Tumblr to reblog gifs of my favourite shows, but I didn’t interact with fandom online – I understood how it worked, but as observer. So it took me by surprise when, aged twenty-two and a full decade late, I only took about a month to become deeply invested in “The X Files”. Like, fall-off-a-cliff fast: one minute I was like, oh, maybe this alien show will distract me from unemployment and despair, and the next minute I was buying X Files t-shirts off Society6 and teaching myself how to make gifs just because everyone needed to see Just How Close Mulder And Scully Get When Having Platonic Workplace Conversations.
CANON: The friends I made on Tumblr and Twitter because of this show, whom I now cannot imagine my life without. Years upon years of Christmas cards and capslock DMs exchanged. The cards that were addressed to me as “Tara Scully”.
CANON: I make my best friends watch the pilot, lying across my bedroom floor, eating takeout. I make my family and friends watch “Bad Blood” on my birthday. For a month, my mother watches an episode of Season 7 with me every night, idly commenting that she remembers some of the episodes from when they aired on TV.
CANON: The time I watch “The Big Sick” in the theatre with my family, and a row of heads swivels to look at me when Kumail’s ringtone goes off. The fact that hazelnut lattes are now my go-to fancy coffee order because I read a fic once where Mulder liked them and decided to give one a try.
CANON: This fic, hosted on a ridiculous site, in which Mulder and Scully are somehow influenced by… aliens? … to have vivid, tactile, fake memories of bangin’ each other. A literary masterpiece.
NOT CANON: Any fic tagged “unrequited”.
CANON: Every fan – and there is a significant, significant percentage – who came to terms with their sexuality because of Gillian Anderson (the gif below should serve as sufficient explanation). This impressive list includes Kate McKinnon and is thus objectively the best thing to have happened to pop culture.
CANON: “The Scully effect”, which encouraged a generation of young girls to take up careers in science and law enforcement. Thanks, Dana.
NOT CANON: The terrifying section of this fandom, as in every fandom, that ships the real-life actors to an invasive degree. Like, giving Gillian hate for dating someone who isn’t David.
HOWEVER, ADMITTEDLY, CANON: There is. History. It cannot be denied that were you to calmly, rationally look for evidence of a complex, obviously emotional dynamic between two people, you would…not return empty-handed.
CANON: SCULLY autocorrects to capslock on my phone. Mulder autocorrects to “milder”.
CANON: Scully’s hair is at its best in Season 4.
NOT CANON: Scully’s wig in the revival seasons.
CANON: This fantastic article on living your “year of Dana Scully” (on The Hairpin, RIP) which helped me realise that at 25 you are only in the first season of the TV show of your life. You don’t even have to have a good hairstyle for another four years! You don’t have to have your shit together! You might not even have a desk at your office yet! In my year of Dana Scully I visited New York, a dream held for so long it had begun to feel impossible, and watched Gillian Anderson in Streetcar. I wish she knew that about me.
CANON: Six years (!!!) on, I’ve learnt that The X Files – perhaps because of its decades-old status, or its sprawling collection of seasons and movies – is a fandom which has thrived, quite peaceably, in the disregard of canon. Not the angry rejection of it, necessarily – although of course there’s that – but in a blithe, companionable recognition that nobody is here for the incoherent illogic of the “Mytharc”, which subjects Scully to a spectrum of suffering she doesn’t deserve, or for the convoluted plot; we’re here, if you’ll excuse the cliche, for the friends we made along the way. The X Files catchphrases are “I want to believe” and “the truth is out there”, and I think perhaps the answer to both those statements is the same: it’s Mulder and Scully, and it’s each other.
(Header image from Amazon)