X-Files Without Its Heart
What will become of The X-Files without Mulder? I have two answers, one tactical, one strategic.
On the level of each individual episode, there's no reason Scully and Doggett can't be just as entertaining as Mulder and Scully were. Doggett represents a side of the Bureau we don't often see: the no-nonsense ex-Marines who make up a large proportion of the FBI's foot soldiers. Scully, a scientist, knows more about a lot of technical subjects that are vital to solving their cases, but Doggett probably understands crime, criminals and the men above them in the FBI hierarchy, whom they must manipulate to get results, better than Scully does. He might well think of her as an ivory-tower academic, unready for the real world; the fact that he doesn't do that makes him a more interesting character, a little more mature than the "wimmen an' perfessers got no bidness in lawnforcement" type who has become such a cliche already. Not every cop finds it easy to defer to a woman or a college type in areas of their expertise; Doggett does. He might well become quite interesting, especially as the contradictions between his military single-mindedness and the loopy nature of the X-Files' cases become apparent.
Then, too, he's now the skeptic to Scully's believer, and oh, how Mulder must be loving that from whatever alien Hell he's roasting in.
On the single-show level, it's more about the plot, anyway; the characters' chemistry doesn't shine there as much as in the arc episodes, which are virtually plotless and depend on the characters to carry the hour. One caveat: Mulder's dry humor and quirky personal life were priceless assets to any given single episode. All he had to do was deliver one or two witty lines, or one or two off-the-wall theories (right or wrong) to turn a monster of the week episode into something better. Neither Scully nor Doggett have that comic spark, nor do they seem likely to develop one. Pity.
That's the tactical answer: yes, there can continue to be fine shows without Mulder. They haven't shown us a deathless gem yet, but hey, it's early days yet. The strategic question is: can The X-Files still work considered as a whole series, not just a bunch of stand-alones?
I am not being snide when I say that on that level, X-Files hasn't worked since about Season Two, so there's nothing there for Doggett to screw up. The long-running Samantha and Conspiracy arcs lent a wonderful air of portent and gravity to the arc episodes, hinting of dark, vast, mysterious depths dimly suggested by Mulder's flashlight beam, until it became obvious, around the third or fourth year, that they weren't going anywhere. Like the similar quest of Dale Cooper on Twin Peaks, Mulder's quest was doomed, because the creators of the show didn't know what the answer was, and were making it up as they went along, until they'd thrown so many random balls in the air that no conceivable explanation would work any more.
That was a terrible disappointment to this particular fan, but it shouldn't color our appreciation of every aspect of the show. Many of he stand-alone episodes were gems, even on repeated viewing. And the development of Mulder and Scully's relationship over the years was excellent, for all its understatement until the oddly rushed first kiss in the X-Files movie. The show failed to produce an epic quest-mystery, but did these other, perhaps more important, things very well indeed.
Would X-Files have been such a hit without Mulder right from Day One? I think there's a chance it would have -- the premise and the air of paranoid depth are strong draws even without Mulder, or Mulder/Scully as my fangirl friends might say. And if it could have worked then, why not now?
I miss Mulder. No question. But because the producers don't seem to want to go back down the blind alley of a failed conspiracy arc, without Mulder, we might just be in for one of the better seasons of The X-Files yet. That is, if Mulder himself and his fate don't become the new "conspiracy arc" to be referred to but never solved every four or five episodes.
I'm just going to come out and say it. I want Mulder back. If someone had given me the choice of which of the two series leads to lose this season...well, it wouldn't have been David Duchovny.
Don't get me wrong, I love Scully, and I love Gillian Anderson. I think she's a great actress, one of the best on television. While I've sometimes been aggravated at how the character has been written in recent seasons, there's been less gratuitous victimization and more demonstrations of her strength and fortitude than the majority of women on science fiction series. This show would never have attracted its following without her.
And I like Doggett and Robert Patrick. I've enjoyed the character and his interaction with Scully a lot more than I expected to, right from the beginning. It's obvious Patrick wants to be there, his scenes crackle with energy and intelligence, and Anderson seems sharper, more in-the-moment with him. The show really has seemed stymied the last couple of seasons, like the writers couldn't figure out where to go with the arc or the old characters, so having someone new to write for has sparked the stories. I have no complaints with anything inherent in the structure of a Scully-Doggett X-Files. Yet, I haven't been smiling much, either.
As he's written and performed by Duchovny, Mulder has a keen intelligence, a warped sense of humor and a near-pathological devotion that has been the driving force of this series. Steve is right -- the mythology arc hasn't held together for years now -- but Duchovny managed to make some of the most ludicrous plot developments work because he made them emotionally believable. Anderson's a champion at suffering and weeping, but Duchovny conveys as much emotion with a twist of his mouth and a lift of his eyebrow. The pained sarcasm of his performances hinted that Mulder has known all along that he lives in a world that can never make sense. Of course, none of us can unravel the conspiracy, because it's bigger than the little men consorting with aliens; there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in any philosophy, and a lot of them are pretty disturbing.
Mulder and Scully may be partners on the X-Files, and she may have suffered greatly in recent years for them, but he's the one who from the outset had a deep personal connection to the paranormal. The X-Files are his life's passion; until recently, they've only been her job. It's not clear now whether the work itself or only Mulder has become Scully's passion, but even if the search for extraterrestrial life means a great deal to her now, she's never going to be a spokesperson for the paranormal. I'm never going to believe she has Mulder's drive to track down monsters in sewers or mutants in subways. Yet, the writers are already suggesting she's making the X-Files office her own.
Don't get me wrong about something else. I'm not in love with Mulder. I often haven't liked the way he's treated Scully and other earnest if short-sighted colleagues, who simply haven't been exposed to his methodology, nor most of his experiences. I enjoy Mulder's sense of humor and his sense of the absurd, but that's not why I watch the series.
Neither is the Mulder/Scully relationship, though I think the topic needs to be addressed head-on, after all this time, rather than the teasing dance that has become frustrating and tiresome since the Fight the Future kiss. Some viewers may remain unconvinced that a romantic relationship between Mulder and Scully would be in the best interest of the show or either of the characters, but someone is going to have to show us why not -- what is the emotional core of the series, with so many family members lost or dead, so much corruption exposed, so much suffering survived, if not that?
Would The X-Files have been a hit without Mulder? I think not. It's possible that some other actor with the quirky charm of Duchovny could have made it fly, but I can't think whom. Can the show survive without him? I don't know. During the weeks when his absence was central to the storyline, it had a new kind of energy, a feeling of rushing toward resolution, but now that the agents are back to chasing the usual ghosts and demons, it's just not as much fun. I expect it to hang on, because the quality of the acting, writing and directing are still far above Freakylinks, but will it be beloved?
Not by me.
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