RIP, Dana Scully

Don’t worry. The title isn’t a spoiler. I have no idea if Chris Carter intends to kill off Dana Scully on the eleventh season of The X-Files.

I mean, Gillian Anderson has gone on record as saying that this season will indeed be her final performance as the beleaguered FBI agent, so if she is murdered in the finale, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise. And it’s not as if Carter built an empire out of mercilessly raking the brilliant doctor and brave agent over the coals or anything. Did you see the “twist” of the most recent episode? But more on that later.

At the show’s peak, Dana Scully was one of television’s strongest female protagonists, and a law enforcement professional clearly inspired by Jodie Foster’s take on Clarice Starling in Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs. This was a woman holding her own in a man’s world. She was a skeptic and the voice of reason (a role generally reserved for male characters), and appeared to be the antidote to the sexy damsels-in-distress from the procedurals of the seventies and eighties. As is somewhat famous in The X-Files lore:

“The casting for Scully caused a conflict between Carter and the Fox network. Carter had chosen 24-year-old Gillian Anderson, who Carter felt was perfect for the role. Of her audition, Carter said, “she came in and read the part with a seriousness and intensity that I knew the Scully character had to have and I knew […] she was the right person for the part”. However, Fox executives had wanted a more glamorous “bombshell” for the part, hoping that this would lead to the series involving a romantic element. “

Dana Scully was competent. She approached her job with a no-nonsense attitude. Her outfits in those early years were sensible and restrained. Romance was never an element that played a huge role in her life, and even in those instances where she had to be saved from some terrifying monster-of-the-week, she still held her own and would eventually rescue David Duchovny’s Agent Fox Mulder. This push-pull power dynamic and gender role reversal helped to fuel the show’s massive popularity.

But much as with the show’s endless and labyrinthine mythology, it appears that Carter was pulling a fast one on us. The truth was never really out there because there was no truth — just a series of convenient cliffhangers piled atop one another.

(To be fair, the series was one of the first in its era to really popularize serialized storytelling and mytharcs (preceded by Twin Peaks, and followed closely by Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and the factors of television production and reception were very different in the early nineties. Shows were parcelled out infrequently, and with numerous re-runs dotting the schedule. Viewership was more casual, and aside from the primitive internet message boards that popped up midway through the show’s run, the fanbase wasn’t as meticulous or demanding.)

Still, in retrospect and even with all of that in mind, the treatment of Dana Scully was careless. What started as a fairly innovative approach to constructing a female protagonist gave way to some of the worst tropes imaginable and a lot of lazy storytelling. It’s like their writers room (composed entirely of men, by the way) would choose the character’s fate by spinning a “STEREOTYPICAL FEMALE CHARACTER” wheel. Over the course of those first nine seasons, she:

  • Was abducted by aliens.
  • Developed a rare and fatal cancer.
  • Found out the alien abduction made her barren.
  • Got an alien chip implanted to cure her cancer.
  • Discovered a young girl had been created from her stolen ova, only to lose her.
  • Fell in love with Mulder, and then lost him multiple times (including finding him dead).
  • Got miraculously pregnant.
  • Gave birth to a miracle baby, but was forced to give him up for adoption.
  • Reunited with Mulder and gave up her life to go on the lam.

The show even toyed with her characterization, shifting her from skeptic to believer and back depending on the needs of individual scripts and the availability of Duchovny. Scully’s identity became tied to and defined by the male characters around her, whether though motherhood, as a damsel-in-distress, or as a love interest.

And, as is noted in the list above, the series continually built plots around invading and toying with her body. She could never be fully empowered because she was constantly being *physically* terrorized by the men around her. Whereas the show would have the government taunt Mulder and play all sorts of psychological cat-and-mouse games, they would kidnap Scully and operate on her reproductive organs. I mean, it’s not like any of these shady types were knocking Mulder unconscious and stealing his sperm. Scully’s value was always tied to her fertility and ability to conceive, and so it was constant sexualized violence filtered through the guise of “experimentation.” She was their plaything.

Well, on the season premiere of the newest season, the show decided to go to this well once again. Aside from retconning a development that saw Mulder infected with a fatal pathogen (a rare instance of the male protagonist having his physical body violated), it revealed that – SPOILER – the baby conceived seventeen years ago was not actually the product of a tryst between Mulder and Scully, as had been believed.

No, the biological father is the Cigarette Smoking Man, the show’s biggest Big Bad, who had drugged her during a trip and impregnated her offscreen. The exact dialogue exchange:

“You impregnated her?”

“With science, Mr. Skinner. Alien science.”

What the ever-living fuck? NO. NO. This is not… NO. Let’s just pretend this isn’t being released in the middle of the #MeToo movement, and that awareness of sexual assault isn’t at an all-time high. Let’s even pretend that this isn’t 2018 and that the rebooted series isn’t a shadow of its former self, with Carter’s once-charming pseudo-science and pothead conspiracy spinning revealed to be dangerous and uneducated opinions about everything from vaccinations to global warming.

Even ignoring all of that, this is still the laziest fucking bullshit storytelling ever. It transforms Scully’s son into the product of a rape. It undoes a key emotional link between Mulder and Scully (in the interest of needlessly prolonging the “will-they-won’t-they-oh-they-did-offscreen-wait-no-they-didn’t” of their relationship, no doubt). It further reveals that Carter is a bad storyteller, that he sold one good idea to a network that turned into a lucrative cash cow, and that his propensity for expository dialogue and ridiculous plot twists is even more glaring in the age of peak television.

But most importantly, it violates Scully yet again. It retroactively makes her a victim of rape, and doesn’t even treat this with any of the weight it deserves. And even if the series somehow backtracks on this decision (which it likely won’t), it will only find some other way to violate or humiliate her further. I can only assume at this point in the series and with Anderson’s recent public statements, this will probably mean being offed in a particular undignified way in the finale, leaving Mulder to pull a full Chris Nolan and avenge his dead girlfriend in the countless rebooted seasons to come.

And so I get why Anderson is done with all of this. Enough.

RIP, Dana Scully. You were fucking awesome despite the goons who made you.


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