Ah, excellent! I’m glad you’re here, I’ve got someone I’d like you to meet – everyone, this is Special Agent Dana Scully. Dr. Scully, if you like.
Or, if you find yourself in any sort of peril, she’ll happily answer to ‘SCULLAAYYYYY’ as you bound towards her (the extra ‘AAAAYYY’s you add on let her know how imminent the peril is).
With the recent news that The X Files will soon be re-opened for six new episodes, I have gathered you all here to talk about how goddamn awesome this woman is and why I’m so thankful I got to know her growing up. Some of you reading this may already know her just as well as I do. I hope then that, like me, you enjoy reading about our mutual friend from another person’s perspective. I always love seeing her through someone else’s eyes, it helps me spot things I’ve taken for granted or forgotten about.
I have spent 19 years of my life watching The X Files; I know Mulder and Scully with the same easy intimacy that I know my family and closest friends. For me, a lot of being a fan is having that understanding that, just because you know something is fictional, doesn’t mean it’s not something absolutely real to you, with real-life impact on who you are and how you think about the world. Fictional characters help to round out our social circles and give us a practice area to consider other viewpoints on the world. At a point in my life where I had no real-life positive examples of how to navigate this whole womanhood thing, I had Buffy, I had Willow, but mostly I had Dana.
So here are some of the reasons that Scully will always be one of my favourite people:
1: She doesn’t hold back her opinions just because you won’t like them
Scully likes science. She likes tangible, measurable evidence. Things that can be confirmed or denied with confidence. She does not like conjecture. She does not like suggestions without proof. Suggest something ludicrous to her, wholly without anything substantive to back up said theory and you’re going to get shot the hell down. Put her in a courtroom, a field full of alien virus corn crops, or a haunted house; it doesn’t matter. If you’re fool enough to come at her with your notion only half-baked, you will be subjected to the eye roll of all eye rolls and sent back to the oven.
You can rely on Scully to tell you straight; that’s a character trait I’ve come to prize among my closest people. Someone who is unflinchingly honest and will tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear is someone to be treasured, always.
2: She doesn’t give a damn about looking pretty for you
Go back and look at any episode of the first two seasons. Go on, I’ll wait here.
How the hell does she get her hair to flip in that many directions at once. More importantly, why? Who thought a mac that bulky was a good idea on her short frame? What are all of those boxy pantsuits about?
I’ll tell you: she’s a working professional. And she looks like it. Compare Scully with any other female character from a TV procedural. Does she look polished? No. Does she look capable? Yes. Then when we hit season 3, she gets the famous Scully bob, and she darn well sticks with it. Because who the hell has time to toy about with different hairstyles when you’re at the center of a global government conspiracy? Especially considering you have to do the fieldwork and then conduct a full autopsy.
Scully so obviously inhabits a male-dominated workplace, but never plays up to it. She’s an incredibly beautiful woman, but while she never tries to hide or apologise for it, she also never flaunts it.
In no way do I want to diminish Scully by focussing on her looks, but I have to tell you that for me, seeing a woman who is good at her job, dressed simply and for herself? That was important when I was young. Everyone else on TV was so….perfect looking. Too polished to be relatable. The aspirational aspects of Scully as a character was never her hairstyle (although she is part of the reason I dye my hair red) or her outfits, but how she thought and how she was respected by her partner. Which brings me to point number 3…
3: Mulder is a hapless, hopeless buffoon that no one should have to deal with, but Scully helps bring out the best in him.
Let’s all address this honestly: Mulder is an idiot. You know it and I know it.
He’s arrogant, bullheaded and prone to getting shirty when things don’t go his way. He constantly litters wherever he is with sunflower seed shells, doesn’t think before doing, and basically needs constant adult supervision.
That’s before we bring into account his porn addiction and the fact that he lives like such a frat boy, he didn’t even own a bed until season 6. Truly, without Scully around, the man is a lost puppy.
Before Scully came along and made him prove his lunatic theories, he was locked in a deadend basement job, ‘chasing after monsters with a butterfly net’. She helps him gain real traction in his crusade to uncover alien conspiracies by forcing him to look for the evidence that the conspirators are so fearful of being uncovered. She helps him become a real threat to them, instead of just some kook only listened to by other kooks. Her work on The X Files gives them its validity, grounding it in science and ruling out all of the impossible explanations, making it easier to see the improbabilities that would make others dismiss her and Mulder’s work, are in fact the truth.
4. Scully is no one’s Watson.
The engine that powers the appeal of The X Files is their dynamic. She gives him space to be ridiculous, he gives her space to roll her eyes at him. It’s a dynamic built on the foundations of Holmes and Watson, with his fantastical leaps of correlation that no one else seems to be able to make and her strong medical background.
But unlike conversations between Holmes and Watson, with Mulder and Scully they’re both listening, and they both get to talk. The strongest episodes are the ones where you need both characters’ perspectives working in tandem in order to get to what’s really going down.
No other fan will argue with me when I say that season 3 is the sweet spot for this, and a great example would be Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose. Watch how they both build on the other’s theory, batting their argument back and forth until the case is solved through a combination of Scully’s instincts about serial killer behaviour patterns and Mulder’s openness to the paranormal driving force behind the killer’s motives. This is what defines The X Files for me – two contradictory characters working in harmony to catch the monsters.
At the start of the series, Scully is introduced as our window into Mulder’s world and puts up with a hell of a lot of short-tempered explaining from him as she gets up to speed. In the weaker episodes, she’s relegated to sidekick or nag by the plot, but through strength of character still comes through as vital and likeable.
But as the show progresses, in the face of evidence she hadn’t been exposed to before, Scully re-evaluates, opens up a little more to the extreme possibilities her partner thrives on, just as he’s benefitting from applying a bit more skepticism learnt from her. They change each other for the better, equals as much as they are two sides of the same coin. As soon as Scully stops being written as the sidekick, the show finds its groove and thrives, becoming one of the strongest sci fi TV shows ever made. Seriously, season 3 is where it’s at. Ask any Phile.
6: The Scully Effect.
We can see such an emphasis on encouraging women into STEM careers these days and it’s beautiful to see. But what you might not know about is the provable phenomenon known as The Scully Effect, as the character inspired a sizeable increase in women seeking out medical or scientific careers.
Anderson: “…We got a lot of letters all the time, and I was told quite frequently by girls who were going into the medical world or the science world or the FBI world or other worlds that I reigned, that they were pursuing those pursuits because of the character of Scully. And I said, ‘Yay!’”
Duchovny:“I believe that a lot of men, because of me….”
Anderson: “Threw pencils at ceilings?Ate sunflower seeds? Hid themselves in basements? Got into porn?” (source: 20th Anniversary X Files Reunion Panel, San Diego Comic Con 2013)
So that’s my Scully. She’s the ultimate strong female character, because she’s not just a Strong Female Character – you could switch her profession and take away her FBI training, reduce her physical capabilities and she’d still be formidable because of that beautiful brain and withering scorn.
She doesn’t soften herself for your comfort, or put a gentle spin on what she’s saying. She’ll tell you straight and she has your back. I’ve watched her navigate the deaths of loved ones, personal illness, kidnapping, abduction, old boyfriends, one night stands, that Flukeman thing, sterility, motherhood, adoption, invisible men and her partner singing the Shaft theme tune to her whilst stoned out of his mind. And she did it all with a grace and humour that I still aspire to.
I can’t wait for the next six episodes, to see what she’s going to have to roll her eyes at next.
Remind me again Scully: Why can’t it be the work of leprechauns working in an underground mafia, exactly?
….I’ll go look at some actual evidence, then. Good talk.
Riven is a dancer but not, unfortunately, in possession of magical properties. Usually up to coffee-fuelled mischiefs, you can follow her on theGeeked tumblr or check out her custom painted Nerf guns over atBuckley’s Boomsticks