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Scully Deserves So Much More Than Last Night’s X-Files Finale

Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny as Scully and Mulder in "My Struggle IV"

No one wants The X-Files to be awesome and successful as much as I do. The deep love I feel for so much of this show springs from a 25-year love affair with these characters, and I was willing to give season 11 a chance, despite the premiere’s rocky start.

We got 7+ excellent seasons back in the day, and I was hoping that, with 10 episodes to work with, season 11 would embody the things that made us all such big fans in the first place. While I liked most of season 11 quite a lot (as reflected by my recaps over at Legion of Leia), last night’s series finale came screeching into the picture and took a giant crap all over not only Special Agent Dana Scully, feminist icon and queen of the nerds, but also on Mulder and his quest for his personal truth. Since series creator Chris Carter both wrote and directed the finale, as he has for the other three mind-numbingly disjointed and dull “My Struggle” episodes, there is nowhere else to look but straight at him for this exercise in character assassination.

Given that, in the penultimate episode, Scully fell four stories down a building shaft into a huge pile of garbage, perhaps I should have seen this coming. After dealing with the aftermath of the Cigarette Smoking Man’s (CSM’s) declaration that he, and not Mulder, was William’s biological father as a result of medical rape in “My Struggle 3,” I was fully expecting that to turn out to be a huge lie. OK, maybe he messed around with the chip in her neck or injected her with something to enhance fertility (still flagrant violations of Scully’s body), but it was actually still unclear even after last night.

“My Struggle 4” was a jumble of Mulder running and shooting and driving around in his midlife crisis Mustang while Scully sat by the phone, distressed. No reason was given when she didn’t simply hop in the car next to Mulder like she’s done for her whole professional and personal life and gone to get her son. It certainly would have been in character for her to do so—she’s been taking matters into her own hands all season, with the exception of the last time we had to sit through a “My Struggle” installment.

Scully did nothing whatsoever in the very last episode we are ever going to see her in, and it is my opinion that this was an intentional move on Carter’s part. In October 2017, Gillian Anderson declared that this season was it for her and she would not be returning as Scully in the future. The finale was not filmed until late December and was unfinished in post-production until well into 2018. By writing so little for Scully to do in the finale, Carter makes good on my theory from January that he is downright bitter and jealous of Gillian’s power, popularity, and icon status—there is nothing in “My Struggle 4” to dispute this. Not only does Scully remain at home when she’d often run to the ends of the earth for Mulder in search of a means to save him, but two major plot points that involve her explicitly are reduced immeasurably: her discovery of her medical rape and her primary attitude toward William.

Skinner “tells” Scully that William was a CSM-induced experiment, but we don’t actually hear him say the words. All we get is “I have to tell you something that you don’t want to hear,” and then we cut away to Mulder for a few, then to William, and then we cut back to Scully in Skinner’s car, where nearly all sound has dropped away. All we hear is her distressed breathing and a buzzy silence. Her words are taken from her, as are Skinner’s, one of the only people she has ever been able to trust in her professional life, who is a quasi-father-figure to both her and Mulder.

The tradition of silencing women in literature, science, history, art, politics, and media is long and robust, just as Scully is robbed of her voice here. She never comments on her rape, nor will ever see her do so. To say that both myself and my fellow fans found this appalling and gross is an understatement. This is a woman who testified before Congress, who stands up to law enforcement questioning her competency on the regular, who refused to be Donne Pfaster or any other heinous bad guy’s victim, and who fights her superiors, her partner, and her family to pursue her goals and protect what she holds dear.

I am not surprised. But I am astounded that this is the path that Chris Carter is willing to be remembered for, that he would go to such lengths to rob Scully of her voice and her agency in an era of #MeToo, The Future Is Female, and We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere. We need Scully’s voice now more than ever.

Mulder’s arc in the finale is really not much better. He murders several henchmen and Mr. Y within the first few minutes, racking up more body count in the finale via shooting than in the last 25 years combined. He hangs up on Scully yet again, putting her in a position reminiscent of early seasons, when he was perfecting the “Mulder ditch” and would run off without her. It was a disservice to how Mulder’s evolved since he and Scully found their way back to each other this season.

The true character assassination occurs when, after finally catching up to Mulder with less than five minutes to go, Scully dismisses Mulder’s grief over just losing William. She says that William was never theirs, that he “wasn’t meant to be,” and then when Mulder says, “you were his mother!” she shakes her head no! What! Carter and the other writers had Scully talk of little else in these two new seasons, such is her self-flagellation over giving William up for adoption and missing his entire childhood and young adulthood … to write these lines for her is astounding and completely ridiculous.

Scully has grieved over William for years, but tells Mulder that he doesn’t have to … because she’s pregnant with their second child. The concept of parental love is obviously foreign to Carter (who has no children), and the fact that he thinks a message passed on to Scully from Skinner, who heard it from a notorious liar, would cause her to dismiss not only her son but her partner/lover’s grief over their son’s apparent death is forehead-smackingly, eye-rollingly unacceptable. In short, Scully would never.

Not to mention, do you not think that Scully, doctor and surgeon, wouldn’t jump into the water and drag William to shore to save him? Especially when he got out of a body bag in “Ghouli” after faking his own death once already, waltzing out of the hospital under Scully’s nose? And do you think that William, little criminal shit he might be, wouldn’t be happy to know that his parents cared about him and would do anything to protect him? He just said earlier how tired he was of running, of being so alone. I’m adopted. Trust me, he wouldn’t run from these people who would move heaven and earth for him.

Lest you think this is just me, an unrepentant feminist who cares too much about a show that reshaped the television landscape, EW’s Darren Franich reviewed the finale (hilariously and accurately grading it a Z+) and wrote, “You felt Scully’s role was reduced somehow, that she was sometimes just there to worry about William. In ‘My Struggle IV,’ Scully and Mulder hear that their son is in danger. Mulder springs into action, and Scully … waits patiently by the phone.” Franich also notes that Scully was “suddenly not caring about the only plot point she’s cared about this season”—William. Similarly, Vanity Fair’s Yohana Desta wonders forlornly, “Is This How Dana Scully’s Journey Really Ends?” as she writes that for Scully, this “certainly was not a badass conclusion that allowed Scully to ride off into the sunset on a wave of cool.” Far from it—there was no riding, no sunset, and definitely no cool. Only the menfolk are allowed to drive, shoot, be cool, and make decisions in the world of Carter’s “Struggles.”

The complex and emotional quest we’ve been on with Scully and Mulder did not deserve this non-ending, and Scully in particular showed none of the traits that have made her into a fierce feminist icon. I feel that this is beyond intentional. Carter is so mad that Scully took on a life of her own, growing beyond her original character and shaking up the status quo, that he can’t help but take her down a peg every time he gets the chance. In Plus One, the only non-“Struggle” episode he wrote (but didn’t direct) this season, he has another character telling Scully that she’s all dried up and useless—because women are obviously measured by their fertility and youth.

Carter even had Scully, in a patently absurd piece of dialogue, ask Mulder if he thought of her as old. That plus medical rape, robbing her of her son, rendering her silent in the face of her rape reveal, and having her do nothing in both the premiere and finale smacks of complete and total misogyny. Gillian Anderson is wildly popular on stage and screen, selling out theaters in London and New York, writing books, and in possession of an intense and dedicated fanbase with more than twice the amount of Twitter followers than the official Fox X-Files account. Jealousy ain’t pretty, and Carter’s green-eyed monster is openly on display at this point.

All of X-Files Twitter took to their feeds last night to thank Gillian and David Duchovny for what they’ve given us, but also express their anger at the finale and their desire to never see any more X-Files ever again. I hope Fox is listening. I don’t want to see any more, which is a strong statement for me to make on a personal level. Let Scully and Mulder live in peace at last, and keep your damn hands off their second child. I hope that Gillian knows that we see her, we see what has been done to her and to Scully, and we aren’t sitting still for it.

I appreciate her coming back one last time, if only to remind us of how much further we need to go and how pervasive misogyny means that even Scully needs to keep fighting the good fight every day. The generation of women that Scully empowered is now able to call out her creator, who lived long enough to become the villain in his own story. I take comfort in that Carter can never take the spirit of Dana Scully away from us, that she and Mulder have grown so far beyond him that they inspire us all to continue shining a light into dark places, searching for our truths.

(image: Shane Harvey/FOX)

Amy Imhoff is a digital content expert who specializes in genre fandom, pop culture, and feminist issues. She is a featured author, convention panelist, and podcaster, particularly on Star Trek and The X-Files. Amy wears many hats in the writing world, from literature professor to technology research consultant. She loves to travel, enjoys all things British, and wants to save the planet while wearing cute shoes. Amy is based outside NYC, where she lives with her husband and two silly cats. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @lightstar1013.

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