Even if the writers don’t think so
By Tia Lewis & Thelonia Saunders
Even those who cringe at the acronym “OTP” (ourselves included) can’t deny it—the romance between FBI Agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) in The X-Files harnesses an impressive chemistry. It goes beyond character, dialogue, and the actors themselves to become the very foundation of what makes the show great and, well, believable. For many who revel in the age of mid-90s sci-fi television trash, The X-Files has always been a tasty mix of the classic TV crime drama and science fiction-fantasy. A successful executive gamble, The X-Files has tackled its circuitous plot with gusto, covering perhaps every urban legend and mythology on earth, and has still found the time to fill an extraterrestrial storyline with Snowden-level government conspiracy theories. Despite its complexity, the dedication to the bizarre, and the nod to the American people’s distrust for their government, it’s Mulder and Scully’s ever-evolving relationship that undeniably holds the show together. But what happens when the beloved show is revived, and its writer does not know where else to go with the (spoiler alert) captivating romance he has created? Well, he splits them up, of course!
In case you’ve been living in a different galaxy, here’s a little background. The X-Files is a franchise that began as a TV show on the Fox Network and ran from 1993 to 2001 with nine seasons, 202 episodes, and two movies. It has been revived for a six-episode miniseries due to air next year, much to the unexpected bewilderment of many longtime fans. To add to that bewilderment was Fox’s announcement that in the revival, Mulder and Scully will have split up and essentially become estranged, despite the fact that they appeared happily and romantically involved in the 2008 film, The X-Files: I Want to Believe. It seems that the long will-they-won’t-they plot line was just too good for Carter to give up—or maybe, he just does not know how to continue writing an interesting, secure relationship between two characters. Of course, he isn’t the first writer to take back the obvious conclusion he’d so slowly built up. TV shows do this all the time, splitting up clearly “end game” couples to regain tension: take Nick and Jess in New Girl, or Blaine and Kurt in Glee. However, some shows commit to the relationships they create, and choose to advance them instead, like Leslie and Ben in Parks and Recreation and Mindy and Danny in The Mindy Project. So what’s your excuse, Chris Carter? When the majority of your fan base and even the actors on your show are rooting for the romance you’ve created, why tear apart the world’s most lovable alien-hunting FBI agents?
Perhaps he doesn’t need to explain. Maybe it’s just who he is. Despite being the creator and frequent writer for the show, Carter has a longstanding history of being at odds with its fans. He has even inspired the trope of the “The Chris Carter effect,” which TV Tropes states is when “the fans decide that the writing team will never resolve its plots, [and] then… will probably stop following the work.” While some creators of popular shows, like Carter, love throwing in twists and turns to keep their viewers on edge, there is a fine line between being interactive with an audience and just plain pissing them off. Pretty Little Liars is a great example of this—the show is full of unexpected cliffhangers and plot twists, but fans’ comments on the show’s Facebook page and throughout social media make it clear that they see the show as trying too hard to be complicated, at the expense of it actually being good. (But we digress.)
“Carter is a perfect example of why readers, viewers, and media consumers should not worry about the intent of the author, because it is the actual, created effect of a work that portrays its real truth.”
“The Chris Carter effect” obviously has not stopped the fans—one need only check the fan reaction to the short previews of the revival—but there is definitely an underlying animosity between the fans and Chris Carter, which existed long before he split up Mulder and Scully. For that, we can see two reasons. For one, there is the overly complicated, incredibly convoluted “government conspiracy plot” that made much of the mythos of The X-Files seem to keep building and building with little to no payoff. In fact, most of the answers given along this plotline only served to raise more questions. In the name of a “plot twist” they would sometimes straight-up contradict earlier revelations so the viewers’ whiplash would prevent them from questioning the narrative gaslighting. While the theme of a government conspiracy plot is intriguing, Carter’s execution of it turned a potentially poignant and relevant discussion into an inconsistent mess. Secondly, Carter seems morally contracted to hold out on any resolution of that aforementioned will-they-won’t-they tension between the two main leads, making sure as little actual finality as possible is achieved canonically. This is an uncreative trend Carter has continued to push into the revival with his decision to break up the two, for reasons that likely revolve around a need to add tension. As noted previously, plenty of other shows prove that a plot can continue to move and develop with the main couple together and advancing through life in a positive romantic relationship. Just because Carter can’t write it doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
What’s really interesting about Carter’s clumsy destruction of a relationship he (perhaps accidentally) did a great job building is how absolutely no one seems to agree with him about it. Both the actors involved and the fans themselves have decided that certain romantic milestones between Mulder and Scully must have occurred at some point off-screen, because Carter refuses to give them the simple moments they deserve. If anything, Carter is a perfect example of why readers, viewers, and media consumers should not worry about the intent of the author, because it is the actual, created effect of a work that portrays its real truth.
Take the New York Comic Con X-Files interviews from pinnacle of journalism, BuzzFeed. When asked to guess when Mulder and Scully first fell in love, Carter answered that he “didn’t believe it was love at first sight.”
“He accused her of being sent to spy on him, so I don’t think he fell for her exactly at that [first] moment,” Carter said. “I think he fell in love with her through the course of the beginning of the show.”
Unsurprisingly, the other interviewees disagreed. Kumail Nanjiani, a comedian and X-Files super fan who will be featured in the revival, said with certainty, “Their chemistry in the first scene is so undeniable. It’s a love affair from the beginning.”
Actor Mitch Pileggi, who plays FBI Assistant Director Skinner on the show, had a similar answer, saying simply, “The first time he looked into that face.”
It’s not that it’s impossible to have a harmonious relationship between creators and fan bases—the weird, if family-like, atmosphere achieved between the Hannibal fans and production team is a testament to that. It’s that The X-Files has felt for so long to be the actors (and, by extension, their characters) versus Chris Carter. The chemistry between Mulder and Scully—with more credit to actors Duchovny and Anderson than to Carter—has always been the main driving force for what makes the show work. Their genuine relationship, whether it be as friends or as a couple, has consistently pulled the ridiculous alien, conspiracy, and urban legend plots into a sphere of tolerability, so it seems foolish for Carter to fiddle with the one thing that keeps viewers and fans hooked—especially after he built it up for years with little reward. Because let’s face it: if you’ve ever watched an episode of the show, you know that as fun as a monster mystery episode is to watch, it’s not Sasquatch that has us glued to the screen. It’s how Mulder and Scully deal with Sasquatch.
Heading into 2016 and the return of The X-Files, we must remember that no matter what goes down, whether the two are married, divorced, or ultimately end up separated, it’s all going to be okay.
And whatever happens, remember, there is always fan fiction.