I didn’t watch the pilot episode of The X-Files when it aired on 19 September 1994 on BBC Two: the less mainstream of the two BBC (and four overall) terrestrial TV channels available to UK audiences at the time. I’m not sure how many people did watch it. But there were more than a few who had set their VCRs to record and watch later. My dad, never outdone by a television show, was one of these people. And so it was that some episodes – I can’t say how many – into the first season run, he handed me a stack of VHS tapes and said: “You have to watch this.” And thus, ever so simply, began my ongoing love affair with The X-Files.
As the 1990s ticked onwards, the western world began to experience a fin-de-siècle angst that manifested as a fascination with the mysterious and mystical, and The X-Files tapped into this zeitgeist, in turn spawning even further interest in the subject. Books and TV shows exploring the wonder of crop circles, UFOs, psychic powers, and dozens of other ‘unexplained’ phenomena became ubiquitous, and ‘true’ stories of alien abduction and encounters with the weird abounded. A plethora of X-Files copycat shows sprang up, with varying degrees of quality and success.
I swallowed all of it with delight, and more than a small sprinkling of scepticism. These things were fun, but none of them had what The X-Files had: Mulder and Scully. In its casting of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, and its witty writing full of flirtatious banter and dry humour, The X-Files had created characters who had true chemistry of a kind rarely seen on television. They were professional partners with complete faith in one another, standing by each other and providing a united front against the world, no matter what it might throw at them. Mulder and Scully were relationship goals (although, arguably, a little more sex might have been nice).
It’s easy to forget, all these years later, that it wasn’t just about the aliens. What I first invested in, as did so many of us, was Mulder’s heartbreak in his search for his lost sister: a childhood trauma that saw him devote his entire life to his crazed quest to find out what really happened to her. It’s what Scully invested in too. And it was easy to indulge his peculiarities and his obsession, because we could see how wounded he was. Scully was the flipside of the equation. We needed her to roll her eyes and ask ‘Really?’; we needed her to regularly talk Mulder down from his escalating rabidity, with her encyclopaedic knowledge of science, culture, and language. Even if, more often than not, Mulder was right all along.
But these weren’t just two people on a search for meaning. They were two figures – possibly the only two figures – that we could trust, inside a government that didn’t have our best interests at heart. Even if that government wasn’t our own, what Mulder and Scully represented was incontrovertible. They might work for The Man, but they weren’t The Man. They were on our side. Mulder and Scully were the fictional heroes that we needed in the run up to the millennium, elucidating (if not assuaging!) our fears and uncertainty over what it might bring. They might be the fictional heroes that we still need today.
Back at the start, I was definitely in Fox Mulder’s corner. Mulder had been proven right again and again, and like him, I wanted to believe that the truth was out there, I wanted to believe that there were strange and wondrous things yet to be discovered. How could I doubt the evidence, when Fox Mulder had seen it with his own eyes? But as time went on I began to come around to Scully’s point of view. She was, after all, a Scientist and a Medical Doctor, a woman who kicked arse and cut up corpses, who thought nothing of pulling out her gun and telling a dangerous and threatening man, “I can hurt you too”. Dana Scully was a smart, strong, unstoppable woman, in a world of men who were driven by selfishness and a desire for power, and it wasn’t just her red hair that glowed.
But Scully was more than just a strong woman to me. There’s no denying that Duchovny and Anderson are beautiful, and my multiple X-Files posters clearly weren’t just about the UFOs. At 19, it hadn’t occurred to me to question my sexuality, but if Fox Mulder confirmed for me that I liked men, then Dana Scully threw in the revelation that maybe I liked women too. Was it a coincidence that my first girlfriend after coming out as bi was a smart redhead? Perhaps…
Strangely – or perhaps not so strangely – in latter days The X-Files became the show that I would go to when I most needed comfort, on my worst days of chronic illness and despair. Mulder and Scully became my talisman against evil, fighting the monsters so that I didn’t have to. They made me feel safe, even if often they didn’t really change anything. They showed me what it was to keep going, even against the odds. They kept me fighting.
One of the attractions of a long-running TV show is that it continues to be there, solid and unyielding, even when everything real is falling apart around you. It’s not so much an escape from the real world, as an element of stability within it. Everyone knows that Mulder and Scully are fictional, but that doesn’t make them any less real.
I’m not sure that I can find the words to adequately explain what these characters have meant to me across the years, how my feelings for them have morphed from admiration and respect, through aspiration and desire, to affection and love. Yes – love. I love these characters. We all do. They are the adult equivalent of my childhood teddy bear, my cuddly rag doll. They are a safety net and a security blanket. They are parent and protector, lover and friend. They are the vessels into which we pour our desires and fears, and the conduit through which they are expressed.
There are many fans who would like to see a happy ending for Mulder and Scully, and perhaps, in some ways – if you’re not a sceptic – season 11 achieves this, sending Mulder and Scully off into the sunset together, with a new baby on the way. But this was never the ending that I wanted for them. I didn’t want them to end at all. I wanted them to go on forever, in the prime of their lives, endlessly investigating monsters and tracking down killers, flirting and fighting onwards into immortality. And perhaps that’s the point of the perpetual rewatch that many fans participate in, watching their loves on an endless loop, so that they never have to grow older, never have to retire, never have to die. Always returning to the beginning again, to watch, with wonder, as Mulder and Scully meet for the first time, in that beautiful basement office, and go off on their adventures, once more starting over on a journey that will never end.