Actually… X-Files is all about Dana Scully

Join Adam as he takes what you thought you knew about pop culture and entertainment, but actually…

Actually… Dana Scully is the main character of X-Files

The latest season of X-Files returns to Fox this Wednesday, and with it, a return to the mystery and allure that captivated audiences for the past ten seasons. While the in’s and out’s of what exactly the cigarette smoking man was after and who side was Krycek was really on can be debated, one aspect above all others has been misinterpreted since the pilot episode and remains a grave miscarriage of appreciation.

It can be argued, as they are partners in the Federal Bureau of Investigation, that Dana Scully and Fox Mulder are the co-leads in the seminal FOX television series that came to define a portion of the nineties. While that sounds nice and diplomatic, it is far from the truth- which, remember, is out there. It has typically been David Duchovny who gets top billing on promotional material as well as on-screen credits. He was paid more than Gillian Anderson despite their equal time on screen, not even counting the tail-end of seasons where Gillian’s Scully was left lighting candles for her wayward missing partner. When Duchovny groused about filming in Vancouver despite its amiable nature toward production requests and lowered cost of filming, they did not hesitate in ceding to his contractual demands by uprooting the entire series to film in the much more expensive Los Angeles.

All this, and we haven’t even scratched the narrative surface, which sees Mulder hit the ground running as the driving force behind much of the X-Files investigations. The focus of the clandestine malevolent forces steered by the mysterious cigarette smoking man, who was also Mulder’s father (I think) gives Mulder an even deeper Luke Skywalker/Darth Vader importance to the plot, underscoring a “sins of the father” motif that ran throughout the series. Hell, it was his search for his allegedly abducted sister, Samantha, that was the prime fuel which drove the man’s intense convictions, and in turn, compelling plot beats. All this said, it can easily be assumed that Duchovny’s Mulder is the lead character and the focus of the series as a whole, but actually…

Consider who we as an audience meet first in that initial pilot episode, a young FBI recruit, Dana Scully. It is through her that the audience is told not only of the existence of the X-Files, but also its methods, aims, and the suspicion surrounding the interagency. She is a cipher for the audience, asking the questions we first had. It is through her eyes we experience the cases that they tackle as she is the one to provide the conclusive case logs, summarizing the episode not only in her own words, but through her perspective as well. This effectively frames not only the episodes, but the series as a whole, chiefly through Dana Scully’s eyes, rather than that of her partner.

Moreover, it is Scully who is also tasked with reporting to the higher ups after an assignment reaches a sense of finality. It is her opinion and conclusions that the superior agents seek, establishing her as the voice, not only of reason, but of authority between the pair.

It is undeniable that Mulder’s crusade for truth and the search for his sister drove his ambitions, not only in joining the FBI, but in what cases the pair would take, but this is precedent that establishes the setup for the series, not the driving motivators during it. Even the Syndicate’s pact with the black oil alien species, which ties in Mulder’s family, precedes the series. It can be argued that the driving focus that leads the series in its present timeline rests squarely on Scully’s shoulders; primarily her own abduction and cancer diagnosis.

Hybridization of human beings with alien life forms is a crucial aspect of the series, one that centers on Scully and not Mulder. It was her womb that was sought after as prime realty for an incubator for the protogenesis of a new life form. From this end goal is derived her abduction, her illness, the implant she finds embedded in her neck, as well as her continued attention from the Syndicate.

After carrying baby William to term, she effectively takes on a biblical Mary analogue with her son born of quasi-mystical nature and, though a certain lens, a being born both of human being and of an ineffable spiritual/cosmic origin; effectively making her the mother of a potential Jesus figure, who himself was a hybridization of man and god. While little is known of what the new series will focus on, initial trailer commercials implicitly focus on Scully demanding to know why “they” are after her son. Considering that they already had to give up their son for his own security many years prior and that the clandestine forces are still in search of him, we can all but assume his importance to the over-arching narrative as well as Scully’s connection therein.

In all of this Mulder remains a loyal but ultimately ancillary character in this regard; a Joseph that cares for Mary but is not himself a significant factor in Jesus’s birth or life thereafter. But let’s get away from a potentially treacherous religious argument and focus simply on the heart of the series. Mulder infamously “wants to believe”. It is a common misnomer that what he wants to believe is in the existence of aliens. This is false. He is an inherent believer from the outset. It is stated in the pilot episode (or the one immediately following, it’s been a while) that this statement is in relation to his desire to believe that his sister is still alive, a survival predicated and tied to her assumed abduction.

The question of faith is much more effectively tied to Scully. She, again tied to the audience, is a natural skeptic, a woman both of science and of faith. Her scientific leanings force her to investigate the claims and cases they cover with a much more thorough and exacting nature than her partner who is almost naïve in this regard.

Similarly, it is her Catholic upbringing that offers a much deeper and rewarding pathos, as she must wrestle with what she has seen with her own eyes since joining the X-Files and what she has been raised to believe. For her, she  conversely “wants to believe” what she was raised on because it is the warm wool pulled over her eyes, securing her in a much safer world where ghosts, aliens, and fluke worms do not exist. It is her own crusade that sees her struggle with these opposing aspects. Despite what she “wants to believe” she pushes back against these comforts and comes to terms with the much larger, scarier world she finds herself in.

This pull/push dynamic is, at its heart, the existential and philosophical thesis and primary focus of the series. Mulder’s crusade and his interactions with the Syndicate are merely the facilitation of Scully’s much more significant and profound experience and character progression. From this, it is clear that the truth that is out there is not that Fox Mulder is the focus of X-Files, but that actually… Dana Scully is.

And also, she’s a stone cold bad ass. But we already knew that.


  • Content Strategist, novelist and prolific roustabout who drinks entirely too much coffee. You can find him on Twitter @therealadamdodd

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