I’ve put down the wine. It’s all good. Tea now.
After the rollercoaster that was the season 1 finale, I wanted to take a moment to actually scribble some thoughts on the season in general. You’ll have noticed at this stage that, er, brevity is not my strong point when it comes to recaps, so I thought it’d make sense to do this separately before we bounce on into season 2.
So! I’m hooked. I expected to be, but I still didn’t see half of this coming. I won’t pretend to have even the slightest clue what’s going on yet, but I do feel quite bad for doubting Deep Throat’s motives (especially now he’s shuffled off this mortal coil), and I’m ridiculously pleased at how expansive and varied the mythology in this show is. The aliens storyline is a blistering unifying factor but the way the show presents our own world as laden with supernatural subterfuge is delicious – urban myths and forgotten legends peeping round every corner, where even suburban housing estates come with their own deep dark secrets and dangerous phenomena. It makes everything seem that little bit more magical and exciting, so much so that you have to wonder if the aliens are simply coming to Earth to get some damn good TV. They could park their craft in the sky and break out the space-popcorn just to watch these two wonderful humans chase their own tails through great hulking forests and cluttered basements.
I’m completely in love with both leads in this show, but my stars. Dana Scully. WHAT a character. I understood how much pop culture loved her and wondered how much the great Gillian Anderson herself had to do with that, but goshdarn if she isn’t beautifully written. She gets the most impressive arc of anyone in this entire season, acting as something of a conduit for the audience as we delve into this weird and wonderful world and come out questioning more and more of what we see around her. We’ve seen her go from the steadfast skeptic to someone grappling with encroaching belief, as each new and unexplainable revelation brings her closer to the unlikely point of view of her partner. I love how open-minded she is. She’s presented as someone strong, intelligent, thorough and analytical with buckets of integrity, but the characteristic that makes her stand out most is how willing she is to listen to other people. Even when she doesn’t agree with them, gently pointing out that “sometimes, looking for extreme possibilities blinds you to probable explanation right in front of you,” she respects their opinions and is even willing to work with them if it’ll get the job done. She is, like Mulder, mindful of the little people, but her approach is less about protecting them from the big bad machinations of government than showing them respect and compassion enough to get through whatever is afflicting them.
I find it rather telling that one of the strongest contenders for episode of the season deals almost exclusively with a personal odyssey of Scully’s. What makes “Beyond the Sea” so striking for me is how completely and utterly different it is to almost every other episode this season. In it, the roles of believer and skeptic are switched as she attempts to deal with what may be the darkest moment of her life thus far. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the one episode which fails to present a clear opinion as to whether the psychic abilities on display are real or not is the one where she questions herself most. It’s an uncharacteristically austere and detached episode, unfolding in a distinctly watchful and unsettling manner as if to reflect how deeply discommoded she is throughout. Her method for dealing with these unusual cases is upended by her bereavement and its links to Luther Boggs. She doesn’t know what to believe because there is no clear scientific explanation, and for once she can’t even discuss it with Mulder because he’s so ridiculously adamant that there’s nothing weird going on.
I still maintain that it would have taken far too much specific information delivered at just the right time to Boggs’ solitary jail cell for him to know so much about what was going on in her life. It may have been common knowledge that she was Mulder’s partner and someone could easily have discovered that her father died recently, but things like the Starbuck reference and humming of “Beyond the Sea” are extremely personal. Scully’s decision at the end of this episode ultimately comes from a place of emotion and sentiment, not clinical logic. She doesn’t go back to see Boggs because she understands that any message her father would have for her would be unknowable to anyone other than her or him, just as their relationship is unknowable to anyone other than her or him. It’s a satisfying resolution for her, but the episode itself stands apart. Where almost every other episode at least implicitly confirms or refutes the myth at hand, this one doesn’t, and this ambivalent standpoint would seem to reflect the fact that Scully, ultimately, doesn’t know what to believe.
Her partner, on the other hand, is a whole belief system embodied in one man. Fox Mulder, or as he’s also known, “well, fuck.” I did NOT see this one coming. I’d probably absorbed a decent amount about him from pop culture as well but no one told me how sensitive and troubled and good he is. I am confounded by his goodness. I don’t know why I expected some smarmy holier-than-thou asshole (although he is a bit contrary in the pilot) other than to say that latter-day conspiracy theorists have co-opted the beautiful example set by this man and poisoned it to its core. I read something before, probably on Tumblr, which went something like “Question like Scully; feel like Mulder.” This is as accurate a summation of the two characters as we’re likely to get. In a male/female partnership, it’s incredibly satisfying to see that he is every inch the one driven by his emotions. He’s stunningly intelligent, observant and perceptive and sharp as a tack, but his feelings and instincts compel him so much more than his brain does. When dealing with victims, innocents, or just little people caught up in the furore of a case, he’s empathetic, understanding, and utterly devoid of cynicism and self-righteousness. He defends and vindicates his charges, shouting down his superiors when their oversights get people killed and refusing to be silent in the face of actual or implied threats. His efforts have earned him notoriety among his peers, with some deriding him for his eccentric beliefs and others lamenting what they perceive as a waste of precocious and outstanding potential. But as Rhett Butler once said, with enough courage you can do without a reputation, and Mulder seems to understand that actions are more important than words. He does have a tendency towards rash judgement and unorthodox behaviour (see “Fallen Angel” and “Deep Throat” most particularly in this regard) but fundamentally he just wants to keep people safe.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a partnership as beautiful and believable and organic as between these two. I swear, in most of my notes this season I’ve been reduced to just writing “THESE TWO” over and over whenever they interact or have a quiet moment. I’ve seen many great friendships and love stories over the years, but there’s something so intimate about these two even in their earliest moments. Mulder opens up to Scully about his childhood trauma early on, presumably to get it out of the way and shed some light on why he believes the things he does. He does it in a very flat, matter-of-fact way, but her reaction may not have been what he was expecting. As noted above, Scully just gets people. She does. Her medical background may be an important factor in this regard but her ability to listen and engage and take heart from people is gorgeous. This one anecdote is enough to open her up to him and his way of thinking, as she’s sensitive enough to realise that what he believes comes not from a pseudo-science or irrational perspective but a human one, and that this is the most powerful motivation of all. She may not get actual hard evidence that his beliefs aren’t completely outlandish until “E.B.E.” or “The Erlenmeyer Flask,” but she’s able to understand him a little bit more from the off, and trusts and respects his instincts. It’s heartening that in the same episode Mulder tells her not to go against orders and help him out lest she jeopardise her career, she’s just been firmly defending him to their immediate superiors. As early as “Squeeze,” “Conduit,” or even “Ice,” there’s a sense of deep and commanding mutual respect between them that anchors their relationship and hardens them against the perils they face. For his part, Mulder seems somewhat taken aback that she should listen to him, earnestly and willingly, and accept his words at face value without sighing and attempting to convince him of the logical explanation. He sees compassion and integrity in her, and in turn his conviction and concern is enough to convince her that there may be more to some of these cases than meets the eye.
I’m getting emosh now, so let’s talk about aliens. THEY’RE REAL. I mean, of course they are, but they’re real. And someday they’re going to bring Samantha back, and it’s going to be awful and wonderful all at once and that’s just it. I don’t trust this Cigarette-Smoking dude. He’s shady and duplicitous and his Amazon warehouse of alien artifacts needs to be blown wide open. On the other hand, Skinner is curiously endearing. He seemed so frazzled in his few brief scenes, like he couldn’t believe the nonsense he has to put up with at both ends of the command chain. Maybe at some stage he’ll just smash a phone and exclaim exasperatedly that he’s too old for this shit. I have an instinctive liking for him and I hope he gets a lot more screen time. I’m reliably informed a season 2 mytharc is on the way, which pleases me. I hope somewhere in the midst of all that we get to delve more deeply into both our leads’ backgrounds, especially Mulder, whose personal tragedy and difficult family life I’ve barely had a chance to touch on yet.
There are certainly aspects in which the show has aged (side-eye at “Fire” and “Gender Bender” here), but its presentation of its two leads is extremely progressive even by today’s standards and I want to know more about what makes them tick. The events of “The Erlenmeyer Flask” will bond them together yet more intricately, and I feel like Mulder’s going to need Scully more than ever given how much more deeply and personally he’ll feel that betrayal. Someday they’re gonna fall in love and save the world and blow this whole conspiracy right out of the water, right? Maybe Deep Throat will even come walking out of the mist like Jack’s smirking revenge, and everything will be good and just and lovely. I might be overreacting. All aboard for season 2.
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