If we are to consider the sixth season of The X-Files to be the year the show comes to terms with the Mulder-Scully Romance, the subsequent Season 7 could be seen as the year their relationship grows up.
The seventh season of The X-Files is generally considered the series on autopilot. Until the 2016 revival, it is the final year of the show featuring the traditional Mulder and Scully investigative dynamic. David Duchovny, embroiled in lawsuits with Fox and series creator Chris Carter, seeking a movie career and perhaps a little fatigued with the grind of a television series, heavily reduced his role in the series over the subsequent final two seasons of the classic X-Files era. The eighth season, while a dramatic shot in the arm for the series, transforms their romance into one of tragedy and longing, as Scully deals with Mulder missing, then genuinely deceased, and finally detached from the crusade he was on for their years investigating together.
For many fans of the MSR, Season 7 is where the show comes to a stop until at least the second movie, I Want to Believe, in 2007. It was, for some time, considered to be the natural end point for the show, following the fairly traditional genre series format of the network era. Seven seasons, shows having reached enough episodes for syndication and future profit margins, would naturally come to a conclusion, but The X-Files was no traditional series. Though arguably past its peak in terms of the popular consciousness, Carter’s show remained a zeitgeist capturing phenomenon of the decade that would close during the series’ seventh year, and there was impetus in many places for it to continue. Yet after Season 7, The X-Files was never quite the same as the historic, now iconic Mulder and Scully dynamic disappeared from screens.
After all, popular culture has been waiting for Mulder and Scully to hook up for years. Carter is keenly aware of this fact; there is a reason that The X-Files: Fight the Future is as much relationship drama as conspiracy thriller. With the possibility that the show might actually end, Carter is allowed to offer those fans some closure without writing himself into a position where he would have to actually follow through on it.
The seventh season is, in many ways, a leisurely stroll through the greatest hits of The X-Files in terms of the stories that are told, and the relationship between these two characters reflects that. While there are format breaking episodes, it is less overtly comical or intentionally gimmick based and colourful than the previous year. Season 6 had a playful flavour, especially across the first half of the season, which tracked with the series’ dawning realisation that Mulder and Scully were in love beyond the platonic sense, with episodes such as ‘Triangle’ or ‘How the Ghosts Stole Christmas’ or ‘The Rain King’ showing different facets of this awareness. When the relationship was clouded by intense feelings of jealousy and restrained passion, the latter half of that year breeds episodes with more problematic and complicated aspects such as Scully’s jealousy in ‘Alpha’, ‘Milagro’ or the arrival of love rival Diana Fowley in the mix fully through episodes such as ‘One Son’ or latterly the season finale ‘Biogenesis’, where a continued sexual relationship between them is heavily suggested.
As the seventh year arrives, the passion and intensity of Mulder and Scully’s burgeoning, as yet unconsummated romance, begins to evolve into something deeper. The ‘Biogenesis’ trilogy concludes with a mind-bending, deeply mythic piece in ‘The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati’, whereby Mulder—placed inside government technology as genetic material is removed from him—dreams the kind of adult, traditional picket fence life he and Scully never imagined they would have. In ‘Dreamland’ in the previous year, driving toward the infamous Area 51, Scully talks about how their work keeps them continuously on the road. “Driving hundreds if not thousands of miles through neighborhoods and cities and towns where people are raising families and buying homes and playing with their kids and their dogs, and… in short, living their lives. While we – we – we just keep driving. Don’t you ever just want to stop? Get out of the damn car? Settle down and live something approaching a normal life?” Mulder ostensibly seems to reject this notion at that point, sailing the winds of Fight the Future and a renewed vigour to expose the alien conspirators plotting against humanity, but by ‘Amor Fati’ a change has come.
‘One Son’ is perhaps the catalyst for this. The conspirators are destroyed. Mulder actually elects to forsake his quest to bring them down on the eve of apocalypse to, at Diana’s behest, save him and Scully from the end of the world. Only a dim hope, reaffirmed in ‘Biogenesis’, of finding his long-vanished sister Samantha, maintains Mulder’s passion, but it is visibly waning. He already gave into the end of the world. In ‘Amor Fati’, via the dream space of “all men who are owned by the world”, as the Cigarette-Smoking Man puts it, he moves into acceptance of a life he would never before have countenanced. He takes the hand of the Devil, his father, the Smoking Man, after his mother Teena visits him and then walks away. She dies soon after in ‘Sein Und Zeit’, off screen, Mulder never having a final moment with a mother who eternally remained distant and mysterious as a parent, a keeper of lore and secrets in much the same way as the woman he chooses, in the dream, to build a life with: Diana.
In this space, faces past and present reaffirm these decisions. Deep Throat, his grandfatherly Ben Kenobi, is the kindly old father figure who lives just down the street in the perfect community Mulder imagines, an extension of the life he mocked in fake domesticity with Scully in ‘Arcadia’. “You’ve suffered enough. Now you should enjoy your life,” he tells Mulder, who frames himself as the lost boy, lost ever since his sister vanished (who also, now, reappears in the perfect life, alive and well), giving up on his quest. Diana serves as the final catalyst; the temptress and Mata Hari turned both motherly and wifely figure, who even chastises him for the selfishness and privilege of the crusade he has been on as a man alone, living like a student, without the role of adulthood. “You’ve been a child… with only the responsibility of a child to your own dreams and fantasies but you won’t know the true joy of responsibility until you plant your feet in the world… and become a father”. Here is the first significant thematic line in the sand toward where Mulder and Scully’s relationship heads: parenthood.
The events of Amor Fati give Mulder an in-universe reason to recalibrate the people & priorities in his life. Retrospectively galvanised by his mortality he confronts his demons & resolves to open up to Scully emotionally. Everything Old is New Again.
This is a great observation and describes very much the end of ‘Amor Fati’, as Scully shakes Mulder from his dream state, an even faker perfect life than Arcadia, and one built on Biblical temptation, and quantifies their security and establishment as a unit beyond friendship. “You are my constant. My touchstone” Mulder tells her. “And you are mine” Scully returns. Diana is gone, vindicated somewhat as the woman who loved Mulder and died for him, and Mulder & Scully’s path is cleared for them to take their next adult steps toward togetherness.
Season 7’s steadier, measured and at times more meditative nature seems designed to allow Mulder & Scully to glide softly into an adult life where they move past the fast paced, all consuming intensity and excitement of their life as FBI partners. The conspiracy is almost non-existent across the entire season. Their families barely appear. They are together and the narrative, and individual stories, seem designed to pull them both toward a version of the life Mulder dreamed of in ‘Amor Fati’. They share a first kiss, appropriately, at the end of the 1990s in ‘Millennium’, on New Year’s Eve, which ostensibly is a celebratory kiss for the new year but clearly means more. “The world didn’t end” Mulder says and Scully understands. They have either ignored or not realised their sexual chemistry for many years and after it becomes apparent in Fight the Future, and they spend Season 6 coming to truly realise it, in Season 7 they quietly accept its inevitability.
‘Rush’ actively reminds them their youth is a thing of the past, about how they are perceived now as what we would come to call late ‘Boomers’, and they seem perturbed at the notion they were hot “back in the day”. Scully experiences many points across the run of the show where she feels a yearning for motherhood but in ‘The Goldberg Variation’, she bonds with the sick young boy Ritchie & feels a continued kinship with children. ‘Orison’, through framed as a dark meditation on good vs evil, says to Scully “don’t look any further”. Mulder is advised in ‘Chimera’ by Ellen Adderly “Don’t miss out on home and family, Mr. Mulder” as she plays the role of both wife and mother when he, uncharacteristically, stays with an all-American family unit while on a case (appropriately they are secretly dysfunctional).
Across the season, Mulder and Scully are being consistently pulled away from the forces and priorities that drove them on for years. Mulder first loses his mother and then in ‘Closure’ learns the unexpected and heartbreaking truth about Samantha, that she died as a child and passed into a spiritual realm, but it removes the last emotional and psychological motivator to continue the life he previously had loved. “I’m fine. I’m free” he emotionally tells Scully at the end of that episode. On the face of it, he means free of the pain in never knowing his sister’s fate, but also he is free to embrace the possibility of a new life, a life free of his burden. A life with Scully.
Mulder’s personal journey toward emotional adulthood is clearer than Scully’s own ongoing awakening of her feelings not just toward Mulder but the truths in which he believes. Across the seventh season, she flirts with a greater acceptance of extreme possibilities than ever before. She is playful in ‘The Amazing Maleeni’ as Mulder tries to impress her with magic tricks. She actually guesses that Henry Weems in ‘The Goldberg Variation’ “just got lucky”. In ‘Theef’, she encourages Mulder to “always keep me guessing” as he is at points surprised by how she tackles the case in hand. There is a growing sense that the closer Scully grows to believing in the paranormal (and given by the eighth season she effectively *does* believe in extra-terrestrial life, or some form of it), the easier she is able to accept the possibility of Mulder as a romantic as opposed to simply fraternal soulmate.
Yet she remains pulled toward the kind of older, controlling men who have dominated her life since the thrall the patrician William Scully placed her under as a military brat. We have seen this across the entirety of the show but it acutely rendered toward the latter half of Season 7 the closer she grows to accepting Mulder as a partner. ‘En Ami’, retroactively in the revival framed as a deeply problematic episode of the entire series, is nonetheless as much of a trial and temptation for Scully as ‘Amor Fati’ was for Mulder. The Smoking Man positions himself as a trickster God, a benefactor who comes down from high to tempt Scully not into the perfect family life as he offered Mulder but rather her Holy Grail: scientific proof of alien life in the form of an ultimate poultice, a cure for all human disease. ‘Amor Fati’ sees Mulder’s latent, regressed adulthood exploited for the Smoking Man’s gain. ‘En Ami’ preys on Scully’s sexuality, femininity and longing for acceptance.
One of the reasons Scully is attracted to Mulder is arguably his loneliness as an individual, his need for a combination of surrogate wife, mother and emotional partner, and the Smoking Man recognises this and plays on it. “I’m a lonely man, Dana” he tells Scully as he effects tries to seduce her into helping him. Their dinner is one of the most intimate settings Scully allows herself ever to experience in the show. She even wears the slinky black number he leaves for her. Why? Why after her unerring anxiety that the Smoking Man might have taken advantage of and drugged her does she wear the dress that she would otherwise have worn for a romantic meal with Mulder? Is she, in some way, attracted to what the Smoking Man represents as a man, not as a person? Season 7 fully places him as a failed Luciferian agent, tortured perhaps by his own demons, but he knows exactly how to push her emotional buttons.
Scully is never really able to contextualise this with Mulder either. It’s always been this way. She has always been drawn to either older extensions of Mulder’s intensity or troubled, brooding reflections of driven men. Jack Willis in ‘Lazarus’, Ed Jerse in ‘Never Again’, Philip Padgett in ‘Milagro’. The Smoking Man’s psychoanalysing of Scully in ‘En Ami’ is uncomfortable, to a degree, because it feels like Chris Carter wrestling with how he contextualises the inevitability of the MSR’s consummation. “You’re drawn to powerful men but you fear their power. You keep your guard up, a wall around your heart. How else do you explain that fearless devotion to a man obsessed, and, yet, a life alone? You’d die for Mulder but you won’t allow yourself to love him”. Much like Scully’s unfortunate strains of jealousy in Season 6 which feels the consequence of male writing, this rings true of Scully in ‘En Ami’. There is a suggestion that Scully can only be whole if she accepts romantic feelings for the man driving forward her life.
Gillian Anderson perhaps works to add depth to this exploration of Scully’s feelings as regards the man she loves in ‘all things’, written and directed by the actor (the only credit she has in this regard in her career), a frequently maligned episode for a relatively ham-fisted take on Buddhist enlightenment, but which provides the encapsulation of Scully’s repeated romantic interest in powerful men through her old flame, and college professor, Daniel Waterston. We learn here that she was once the ‘Other Woman’ trope that Diana was positioned as in relation to Mulder and Scully; as a younger woman she was the cause of the destruction of a lengthy marriage which negatively affected Daniel’s daughter Maggie, a woman of her own age. “Do you have any idea the hell you created in our lives?”.
There is a sense Scully didn’t entirely appreciate this, even if she walked away from Daniel and toward her career in the FBI. ‘all things’ suggests there was a cosmic sense of destiny around Scully’s path and that her faith, away from God or science, is ultimately imbued in Mulder. Whether it reduces Scully’s character to a woman who can only find peace and contentment through a man, as opposed to Mulder finding the same thing by letting go of his traumatic childhood, is open to interpretation, but it does perhaps suggest that Scully is only ready to truly embrace Mulder as an emotional and sexual companion once she has truly banished the self-destructive attraction to the older, dominant figure that began in many ways with Daniel. He remains ready to give up his entire life to be with Scully even now. “I’m not the same person, Daniel. I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t seen you again.” she admits.
‘all things’ also, of course, shows what appears to be the sexual consummation of their relationship, as Scully dresses and leaves Mulder’s bedroom after what looks like a night of passion, but at this stage the details and context remain opaque. While maddening to fans who want to see the passion, even the sex scene, it works for The X-Files from a storytelling perspective. Mulder and Scully are both interior people, in their own different ways, who trust and have platonically loved one another for a long time, but it takes external experiences with figures from their pasts, and their presents, to make them realise the time has come for them to not just be together but stop the car and get out. “There so much more you need to do with your life. There’s so much more than this.” Mulder tells Scully in ‘Requiem’, the season finale, and he is talking for both of them.
Looking at Season 7 in this context, while at the time fans were pained at the idea this would be the last season of the traditional Mulder and Scully dynamic before Season 8 reinvents the series in a multitude of ways, there is a skilfully woven thematic core underpinning the development of their relationship, from simple attraction and care through to an acceptance of union, companionship and a natural end to their lives as intrepid agents. They even seem embarrassed when, in ‘Hollywood A. D.’, Hollywood make a big budget action movie version of their lives in which Garry Shandling and Tea Leoni (Duchovny’s real life wife at the time) play versions of them who passionately make out on screen. It simplifies their relationship and shows that what some MSR fans might have wanted to see would have been emptier than the contemplative, measured nature of how they move from partners to lovers. “We’re always running. We’re always chasing the next big thing. Why don’t you ever just stay still?” Scully asks Mulder in ‘all things’.
Season 7 revels in such stillness. It matures with two central characters who have grown out of the life we have seen them live, and have done so together.