Dana Scully and The Untold Feminism of The X-Files by Gari Hart

dana scully

When anyone thinks about the science fiction, suspense television show The X-Files, the thought immediately colligates with its most recognizable character, FBI Special Agent Fox Mulder. Agent Mulder focused his time and energy on the so-called “X-files,” Federal investigations that could not be explained by conventional logic and purported paranormal activity. At the beginning of the pilot episode Mulder is given a partner, a supposed helper called FBI Special Agent Dana Scully. The shorthand is Mulder and Scully spent nine seasons and two movies chasing after phantoms and aliens together, with Mulder always identified as the lead character. Which on the surface makes sense; all the explorations stem from Mulder’s obsession. Yet, if you step back for a panoramic view, Dana Scully is not just a side kick. She is in fact the lead character, making The X-Files more than another science fiction program targeted at a predominately male demographic. The X-Files provides an advocacy for feminism in Sci-Fi using Agent Dana Scully as the pivotal character. Essentially, it is her journey that viewers are following along with. Over the course of the series, Fox Mulder’s beliefs remain consistent with where they started. He is a flat-line, a foundation. Elements associated with storytelling – change, progress, and investment – come primarily from Dana Scully.

Anything significant to Mulder’s character development occurs before the show beings, most notably his belief in his sister Samantha’s abduction by extraterrestrials. From beginning to end, few things change in Agent Mulder that would allow the series to move along. Consider this: Dana Scully was an FBI Agent with a background in Medical Science. It was her astute knowledge in the field that received her nomination to be partnered with Agent Mulder, to provide scientific method and evidence, if any, to the Bureau’s X-files. At the time of her assignment Scully was a common skeptic. Like most everyone else at the FBI, she only knew of Fox Mulder by reputation, both for his brilliant work in the Behavioral Science Unit and for his “Spooky” tendencies. So, from the very beginning – in fact even before we are introduced to Mulder – Scully is the changing and developing factor in the story. The day Dana Scully is assigned to a section of the Bureau she never offered serious thought to before is another typical day for Agent Mulder. From that point on, Scully is the one exposed to new viewpoints on the subject of unexplained phenomenon, and in turn is the one who leads viewers into bizarre scenarios. These episodes/cases are not triggering any new emotional reaction for Mulder, especially to the degree they are for Agent Scully. The once ridiculous claims of UFOs and folklores come alive now cannot be simply laughed away for her.

As mentioned above, Agent Scully was originally assigned to the X-files in order to provide whatever scientific evidence possible. Her Division Chief Director hoped her assessments would discredit the X-files so the FBI could shut them down permanently. Several episodes end with Scully typing up a report on that particular case/episode, which she is expected to submit back to a team of Directors at the Bureau. In these reports Scully details whether each case has any scientific validity, whether it should be left opened or be closed, if it remains unexplained or if there is a plausible theory she supports. Ultimately, the X-files lay in balance of Dana Scully’s professional opinion. If there is going to be any progress, it has to come with Scully’s approval. Of course, in all said episodes Scully judges that the evidence is inconclusive – there would not be much of a show if case after case were closed and disproved. Regardless of how many investigations Dana Scully official claims to be falsely considered paranormal off screen, it means that as enthusiastic and devoted Agent Mulder is to these cases, the effect he has on their outcome, as far as the FBI is concerned, is slim to nihil. Mulder does take it upon himself to investigate on his own, with or without permission to make advancing discoveries, but it is Scully’s assessments that allow for him to pursue his leads in the first place. Otherwise the X-files would be shut down and Mulder would be reassigned.

Towards the start of the second season, Dana Scully was abducted and experimented on; an event which had revenant aftermath. Over the next few seasons she finds a mysterious microchip implanted in her neck, develops a rare and resilient form of cancer, discovers she has been cataloged by a shadow government, and suffers the loss of her sister Melissa when assassins mistakenly terminated her instead of Dana. These circumstances give Agent Scully a more personal investment in the X-files than when she originally was assigned to them. Fox Mulder is notorious for using the line “I want to believe,” displaying that he already has decided he thinks there is a truth being concealed. Following the death of her sister, Dana Scully was heard to say “I’ve heard the truth, Mulder. Now what I want are the answers.” Even though Agent Scully remains an open-minded skeptic regarding paranormal explanations, her trust in the Federal Government has been rattled and she suspects what Mulder believes, that there is a massive cover up of something damaging to the public. This is another way Scully leads the audience to an endpoint: Don’t believe everything you’re told.

Certainly Agent Mulder’s contributions to the story arch cannot be derided. As stated above, he is the foundation for The X-Files. But, the truth is without the intervention of Agent Scully his investigations would have wandered in an endless circle, and the X-files would have undoubtedly been abruptly closed down. Scully’s presence allowed the show to move beyond its contained environment and to push forward. Does Agent Scully exhibit the value of feminism exhaustively over science fiction? I want to believe.

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Gari Hart

Gari Hart is a Chicago based writer, sometimes musician, partial artist, and infrequent actor. Follow him on Twitter.