My first episode of The X-Files, which I discovered on an unassuming Wednesday night in my first ever dingy little ground floor flat in Perth, Western Australia, was The Host, coincidentally written by series creator, Chris Carter. My fascination with the show’s subject matter, and particularly with the characters, prompted a weekly ritual of unplugging my phone everytime 9 p.m. rolled around.
The ritual ensured that I will not be disturbed, and every episode thereafter was enjoyed alone. Season finales were often followed by 3 a.m. phone calls with the best friend, who was in the U.S, where she would recall the entire episode to me over the phone, and we would squee over the slightest interaction or look between Mulder and Scully, or angst over the dreaded “To be continued” that appeared on the screen every May.
Over the years, Mulder and Scully taught me about the value of deep friendship and platonic love. Don’t get me wrong, I shipped them hard. Unattainable as it may seem for us mere mortals, there was also something realistic and inherently idealistic about the depth of their love for each other, be it as friends or lovers.
And it was reassuring, at the time in the 90s when it was all about Sex and the City and Friends, that there was a show for someone like me, who wanted something more. Who, like Mulder, seemed to be searching for the truth. My truth.
Interestingly, my interest and participation in the show’s fandom led me to my career. Prior to The X-Files, attempting a PhD seemed far fetched and unattainable — almost like Mulder and Scully’s relationship in a way — but it not only led me to my PhD topic, and subsequently, the beginnings of my academic career, it also led me to a lot more friends than I thought myself capable of making.
The TV series ended in 2002. I moved on to enjoy other shows — I stuck through 9 seasons even if I became increasingly ambivalent about the direction of the show towards the final 2 seasons (even if they featured some awesome episodes!). But it was also with potent awareness that shows I gravitated towards bore some sort of relation to the show, be it via producers, writers or directors, or just a general look and feel of it. In a way, perhaps I was searching for Mulder and Scully repeatedly in those other shows.
So when the revival was announced last year, with the principal cast and majority of the writers and crew back for it, I greeted the news with abject joy. Nothing, however, prepared me for the reality of actually sitting down to watch the show live on TV again tonight. While I wasn’t physically in Australia, I was still geographically closer than I was if I had stayed in the UK, and as luck would have it, FOX TV in Asia was airing the revival within 12 hours of its original airing in the US. As with my ritual in what seemed like a lifetime ago, I put my mobile phone into flight mode. I still watched it alone, but instead of 3 a.m. phone calls, I texted Bethan who’s in the UK and checked my Twitter and FB feed during commercial breaks.
Times have changed; the ways in which we, as fans, can engage with the show has changed. Social media was still in its infancy when “I Want To Believe”, the follow-up to the show’s first feature film was released in 2008, but the ways in which the film was promoted then provided a turning point in my PhD research. With the revival, we are knee-deep in social media as fan-run sites like XFilesNews are legitimised by the producers to provide up-to-date coverage of the revival; often turning the tables as “official” media turn to fans for insider scoop. There’s a sense of being “together alone” in the fandom, with Twitter and Facebook feeds providing more immediacy to fan discussions than online forums and boards ever did.
What didn’t change for me, however, were the emotions, as I discovered when David Duchovny spoke the first line, as Gillian Anderson uttered her first (of many) exasperated “Mulder” (especially over the phone). When he hangs up on her; when he espouses his wild theories and she tries to drag him back from the brink; even when Skinner warned Mulder not to piss him off. When they look at each other, and the chemistry is still there even if Mulder and Scully appear more world-weary now. Or the realisation that, despite a separation, Mulder is still incredibly dependent on Scully; or perhaps it’s more appropriate to say that they are still strangely co-dependent on each other. The nostalgia hit thoroughly when Mark Snow’s haunting theme came on, and I realised the opening credits have not been changed at all (with the exception of finally adding Mitch Pileggi to the credits).
So this, as it dawns on me, is what falling in love all over again feels like. This has been the influence Chris Carter has had on me for the majority of my adult life. And after everything — the good and the bad — I discovered, at the end of the day, Mulder and Scully still mattered. Their relationship, platonic or otherwise, is still a touchstone for me, unattainable as it may seem. Mulder’s social awkwardness, his often uncompromising attitude on his beliefs, his tendency to push everyone away by being the weirdest and most prickly he can be (especially to outsiders) still resonates personally. When I first discovered The X-Files, it was the first show that assured me that being different and awkward was acceptable, wanting to be more than what other people expect of you was OK.
And it’s easy to be brought back to that emotional place, to feel like I’m falling in love all over again, with Mulder and Scully. To relive the angst, to feel the anguish and the resignation when Scully muttered “loneliness is a choice”, to be consumed by the truth, whatever it may be.