The X-Files has never deserved Dana Scully.
Like most of television’s iconic heroines of the ‘90s, Scully was conceived by a man: Chris Carter, the creator and showrunner of The X-Files since 1993. That Scully was able to permeate pop culture as one of its leading feminist icons is a testament to Gillian Anderson’s magnificently nuanced performance as the perennially beleaguered FBI Agent. After all, the only people who’ve ever had any input in the growth of the character have been men. Of the 208 episodes that have aired thus far, only nine women have written for the show.
One of those women was Anderson, whose season seven episode “All Things” was also directed by her. The episode has been criticized as being awfully heavy-handed, and all over the place when it comes to Scully’s rationalism over the course of the series. I find it interesting now, in the context of a show that has ultimately not paid much attention to Scully as a character beyond a vessel for alien espionage, the deceptions of men, and a Penelope Pitstop.
When the series returned last year, The X-Files had to answer the question: Why does this show still exist in 2016? As it turns out, it had no answer. Perhaps it was the halcyon days of disbelief that Donald Trump would become president or before the inundation of fake news truly upset the election cycle and our national psyche, but the show never seemed to find its footing outside the ‘90s. The conspiracy theory elements seemed exhausted. It was obvious the same writing staff from the ‘90s was handling the scripts because outdated storylines ended up transphobic and Islamophobic, and once again, Scully had nothing to do but be a victim and sob over her missing son. Even the reboot’s best episode, “Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster,” goes to almost comical lengths to make Scully a pratfalling secondary character in the episode so Mulder can save the day.
In the new season, the focus has returned to Mulder and Scully’s son, William. The hunt for him is on and the world is on the precipice of oblivion. Somehow, the series feels slightly more invigorated than its last return, but the same problems persist. Scully still feels like a secondary character in a Machiavellian game between men. Perhaps the show doesn’t even see her as a lead, I mean, they did try to pay her half of co-star David Duchovny’s salary for the reboot.
Anderson also called out the writing staff on Twitter when it was revealed that no women would be writing or directing the 10-episode eleventh season, which was soon course-corrected with two female-written scripts and two female-directed episodes. The first five episodes screened for critics feature none of those, however, and going by the twists Carter has thrown into the series’ ever-convoluted conspiracy this time around, there might not be much those women can do to salvage its treatment of Scully.
To say that the information we find out in the premiere is troubling—not just in this political climate, but in terms of Scully’s agency as a character—would be a vast understatement. It’s a horrific turn of events that’s treated matter-of-factly and then swept under the rug as the show returns to its monster-of-the-week episodes. These standalones have always been the series’ bread and butter, but in an era of bingeable television, does The X-Files’ method of introducing a conspiracy thread and then dropping it for multiple one-off episodes still make sense?
Once again, The X-Files fails to truly make a case for its existence but at this point, if you’re a fan, you’ve decided if you’re along for the ride or not. There are some thrilling moments in this season for sure, but if you’ve ever hoped that The X-Files would evolve into the type of show that treats Scully with as much respect as Mulder, it’s time to give up that fantasy.
God bless Anderson’s performance though. At least she knows that Scully is a deity.