The X-Files is back and I just can’t keep calm about it! I’ve been watching since I was six years old, and have waited thirteen years for new episodes, but I know without doubt it will be worth the wait. This show and its characters have meant so much to me, and I know I’ll share the excitement with many other Philes when we see Mulder and Scully light up the dark places with their flashlights again on January 24. While we’re waiting, here are ten important things I learned from growing up watching The X-Files.
1. Don’t give up. Or the value of hope.
This is a theme on the show that runs from season one, all the way to the most recent movie, I Want To Believe, and I expect to see it in the new revival as well. No matter how much adversity Mulder and Scully face–and it’s a lot–ranging from loss of family members, kidnapping, threatening, disease, memory theft, near-death experiences, mind games, and Cigarette Smoking Man burning their life’s work to ash–they never, ever quit. Scully got close once, in the movie Fight the Future, when she had finally reached her limit of never having acquired any physical evidence to back up their claims. And her wavering almost made Mulder lose his faith too. But in the end of Fight the Future:
And at the end of the series:
Scully: Why would I accept defeat? Why would I accept it, if you won’t? Mulder, you say that you’ve failed, but you only fail if you give up. And I know you – you can’t give up. It’s what I saw in you when we first met. It’s what made me follow you… why I’d do it all over again.
Mulder: And look what it’s gotten you.
Scully: And what has it gotten you? Not your sister. Nothing that you’ve set out for. But you won’t give up, even now. You’ve always said that you want to believe. But believe in what Mulder? If this is the truth that you’ve been looking for, then what is left to believe in?
Mulder: I want to believe that… the dead are not lost to us. That they speak to us… as part of something greater than us – greater than any alien force. And if you and I are powerless now, I want to believe that if we listen, to what’s speaking, it can give us the power to save ourselves.
Scully: Then we believe the same thing.
Mulder: Maybe there’s hope.
And at the end of I want to Believe:
Mulder and Scully will never give up. They don’t have it in them. I don’t want to have it in me either.
2. The importance of wanting.
“I want to believe” means never accepting the futility of the quest. If Mulder loses his belief, his passion, he would give up. Those are the darkest points in the show–the moments where Mulder thinks he wants to believe too badly, and that he has believed lies, and that his willingness to believe has led to all the misfortune in his life. But Mulder is that guy who everyone thinks is crazy, and is completely right about the oncoming storm. There is a conspiracy, there are aliens, people are out to get him, and if he ever stopped believing that, we would all be doomed, because there would be no one left advocating for the human race.
Hope, drive, goals, something to live for, the idea that there must be something more than what we know–what’s the point of living without that feeling?
3. Science and faith are not mutually exclusive.
Mulder shows little to no interest in religion in the show. However, he does believe in the paranormal, in ghosts, in at least some type of afterlife. Scully, the skeptic scientist, was ironically raised to believe in God, and never takes off the gold cross she wears around her neck. She refuses to believe in anything paranormal without hard evidence, yet believes God is watching over her unquestioningly, and this has often helped her cope with the most difficult moments in her life. A few of those moments have even swayed Mulder to her way of thinking, especially in the last episode when he touches his thumb to Scully’s cross and then to her lips, and the two confess that they ultimately want to believe in the same things.
But one of the most interesting moments in the show comes at the end of “Redux II” in season 5. Desperately seeking a cure for Scully’s terminal cancer, they’ve tried everything from radiation therapy, to Cigarette Smoking Man’s magical computer chip placed under the skin of her neck. It is never revealed to the viewer what officially sends Scully’s cancer into remission, but what we do know for sure is that she doesn’t start getting better until she embraces her faith and starts praying for a miracle.
When it comes to science and faith, you can hold them both sacred. And it doesn’t hurt to believe in something divine.
4. Small victories matter, and they’re sometimes the only ones we get.
Through all of Mulder and Scully’s hard work in Fight the Future (and if you want to know exactly how much hard work, you need to watch the movie because I can’t possibly list it all here) all they are ultimately able to do is get the X-Files reopened:
Conrad Strughold: Oh, you look hot and miserable. Why have you traveled all this way?
Cigarette Smoking Man: We have business to discuss.
Conrad Strughold: You have regular channels.
Cigarette Smoking Man: This involves Mulder.
Conrad Strughold: Ah, that name. Again and again.
Cigarette Smoking Man: He’s seen more than he should.
Conrad Strughold: What has he seen? Of the whole, he has seen but pieces.
Cigarette Smoking Man: He’s determined now, reinvested.
Conrad Strughold: He’s but one man. One man alone cannot fight the future.
Cigarette Smoking Man: Yesterday, I received this.
[hands him a telegram]
Conrad Strughold: [reads it, then drops it with a worried look] Oh…
[we see that it reads: “X-Files reopened. Stop. Please advise. Stop”]
This doesn’t seem like much, after you’ve rooted for them throughout the entire movie, but a small victory can lead to a big one later. The X-Files being reopened will lead to Mulder and Scully continuing to fight the good fight, uncover more truths, and most importantly, keep their faith alive.
They may never be vindicated, but that doesn’t mean the journey wasn’t worth while. The universe is vast and we are so small. We can only control what we do. And Mulder and Scully stand up and fight the good fight every time, no matter how often they fail. Small victories matter, and they’re sometimes the only ones we get.
5. Teamwork: because no one gets there alone.
One year for Scully’s birthday, Mulder gives her an Apollo key chain, and Scully has a nice, long, tear-filled, two-part episode to ponder its meaning. At the end, while Mulder and Scully look at the stars, she says:
“I was thinking about this gift that you gave me for my birthday. You never got to tell me why you gave it to me or what it means. But I think I know. I think that you appreciate that there are extraordinary men and women–extraordinary moments when history leaps forward on the backs of these individuals. What can be imagined, can be achieved. You must dare to dream, but it is no substitute for perseverance and hard work. And teamwork, because no one gets there alone. And while we commemorate the greatness of these events and the individuals who achieve them, we cannot forget the sacrifices of those who make these achievements and dreams possible.”
Mulder jokes that he just thought it was a cool key chain, but it really is a symbol for the hard work they put in with each other and for each other, and an expression of his gratitude that she is in his life.
In Fight the Future, Mulder tells Scully:
“I don’t know if I wanna do this alone. I don’t even know if I can.”
Mulder and Scully only trust each other, and can only count on each other. All you need is one person. But you at least need one. If you try to go it alone, you will eventually perish under the weight of the solitary journey. But with a good friend shouldering half the burden, anything is possible.
6. Friendship is just as important as romantic love.
Chris Carter kept us waiting for seven long years for the obvious love between Mulder and Scully to come through officially on screen. But even if they’d never had a physically romantic relationship, what they had–each other’s company–would have been enough.
Having someone to depend on, lean on, who is always there for you, makes all the other tragedy in their lives worth it.
7. What true love is.
Mulder and Scully’s relationship did finally evolve into a romantic one, and I think it’s the truest love I have ever seen on television or elsewhere. In the beginning, all their affection was shown through concern for one another, worry, jealousy, a hand-hold, a touch, a hug, a meaningful look, a poignant moment. There was zero kissing for seven years, but it was obvious there was love between them. As Chris Carter says, Mulder loves Scully, and Scully loves Mulder.
When Scully informs Mulder she has cancer in season 4, Mulder is forced to confront his feelings for his partner. He can’t live without her. Later, as Scully lies dying of cancer in her hospital bed, Mulder all but falls apart. He realizes how close he is to losing her, and cries at her bedside while she sleeps, holding her hand.
The tables are turned in season 7 when Mulder is the one in danger. After a horrifying ordeal with CSM tampering with his brain, and imagining living an entire other life of creature comforts without his quest, in which aliens end up destroying the earth, Scully saves Mulder in more ways than one. She physically gets him out of the operating room, but in his hallucination, she snaps him out of his metaphorical slumber demanding he “get up and fight the fight.” When he recovers he tells her: “The end of my world was unrecognizable and upside down. There was one thing that remained the same. You… were my friend, and you told me the truth. Even when the world was falling apart, you were my constant… my touchstone.”
Scully sacrifices a prominent career in medicine, her sister, and her health to follow Mulder on his quest. Mulder goes on an epic, dangerous journey multiple times to cure Scully’s inoperable brain cancer, and save her from alien experiments. He literally goes to the ends of the Earth for her in Fight the Future when he rescues her from Antarcica. Mulder and Scully are there for each other in the good times and bad, can always count on the other, and always feel safe, comforted, and loved in the other’s company. That is true love.
8. The underrated value of truth.
It’s rare in this life that we ever actually know what’s true. Greed rules, lies reign, dishonesty often prevails. Even if Mulder and Scully never made the truth known to the world (yet*) To have it just for themselves, to know it, is something they never stop searching for. At times, it may not seem important, but why should we just accept whatever we’re fed? Why not try to uncover it? When you really think about it, it starts to eat away at you, like it does Mulder.
Agent Monica Reyes (In defense of Mulder): “What is the point of all of this? To destroy a man who seeks the truth or to destroy the truth so no man can seek it?”
Fox Mulder: “I’d like to congratulate you. On succeeding where so many before you have failed. A bullet between the eyes would’ve been preferable to this charade. I’ve learned to pretend over the past 9 years. Pretend that my victories mattered only to realize that no one was keeping score’. To realize that liars do not fear the truth if there are enough liars. That the devil is just one man with a plan, but evil, true evil is a collaboration of men which is what we have here today. If I am a guilty man, my crime is in daring to believe, that the truth will out and that no one lie can live forever. I believe it still. Much as you try to bury it, the truth is out there. Greater than your lies the truth wants to be known. You will know it. It’ll come to you, as it’s come to me, faster than the speed of light. You may believe yourselves rid of your headache now, and maybe you are, but you’ve only done it by cutting off your own heads.”
The truth wants to be known. And it deserves to, for the vindication of those seeking it everywhere.
9. Self Confidence.
Don’t care what anyone thinks of you. Mulder certainly doesn’t:
“I’m the key figure in an ongoing government charade, the plot to conceal the truth about the existence of extraterrestrials. It’s a global conspiracy, actually, with key players in the highest levels of power, that reaches down into the lives of every man, woman, and child on this planet, so, of course, no one believes me. I’m an annoyance to my superiors, a joke to my peers. They call me Spooky. Spooky Mulder, whose sister was abducted by aliens when he was just a kid and who now chases after little green men with a badge and a gun, shouting to the heavens or to anyone who will listen that the fix is in, that the sky is falling and when it hits it’s gonna be the shit-storm of all time.”
This show teaches you to be confident in yourself no matter what anyone else thinks. It doesn’t matter if the whole world thinks you’re crazy. Be you, believe what you believe in, and one day, even if it takes decades, you will prove everyone wrong. And even if not, you lived your life in a way that was true to you, and that’s enough.
Furthermore, you never have to compromise who you are. See my previous post on Dana Scully: https://alyssawaugh.com/2015/03/24/kick-ass-women-of-scifi-fantasy-dana-scully/
10. Do what’s right.
This is something every character on the show struggles with. For some, like Skinner, the decision is made more difficult by threats and precarious situations. Krycek can never decide what side he’s really on, but in the end, is usually just out for himself. Even Kersh has a moral epiphany in the series finale, and saves Mulder, doing “what he should have done a long time ago.” Mulder and Scully, will fight to do it every time, no matter the cost. That cost is usually the highest–the loss of family members, health, respectability, your life’s work, your sanity. But they never give up. They keep at it because they believe in what they do, and that bringing about justice is always right.
Even if you become an annoyance to your superiors and a joke to your peers, stand up for what you believe in, like Mulder does. The world will always need people like Mulder. Mulder not only stands up for the little guy, but represents him. This is why I love the Max storyline. Even though it’s short, Max is one of my favorite characters. Max’s story ends tragically, but that’s why we need Mulder to live on–so that Max and others like him will never be forgotten. Mulder is the only one who believes their stories, or cares about their plight. Mulder represents the Maxes of the world: The losers, the nerds, the geeks, the weirdos, the uncool, unpretty, and unbelieved–people who are never heard, people who when heard are called crazy, those beaten down by life at every turn, losing friends, family, and respectability, while acquiring diseases and alien tortures. Max is that weird guy, with the glasses and crazy hair that everyone always made fun of, only to die a horrible death without ever being vindicated. We need Mulder and Scully investigating that death, making sure it wasn’t for nothing, or at the very least, that the one thing Max has at the end, is that someone knows the truth. Mulder is the voice of the voiceless.
I want to shed new light on Scully’s quote from earlier:
“And while we commemorate the greatness of these events and the individuals who achieve them, we cannot forget the sacrifices of those who make these achievements and dreams possible.”
We can not forget the Maxes. If we do, nothing in our own journeys will be meaningful or right.
Mulder keeps Max’s hat on the coat rack in the X-Files office as a constant reminder to keep fighting for the truth.
These were just 10 of so many poignant moments on the show. There are so many valuable truths to be discovered in the writing of The X-Files, and I discover more each time I delve back in. What are some things you learned from the show? Share your favorite moments below. Until the revival episodes air, I’ll miss it so.
Can you believe it’s been over 20 years?
X-Philes–We never stop believing 🙂