THE X-FILES returned for its ten-episode eleventh (and final, if Gillian Anderson has anything to say about it) season this past Wednesday. To say that the season premiere, penned by Chris Carter and titled “My Struggle III” was upsetting would, for some viewers, be an understatement. The biggest — and most justified — outcry stems from Carter’s decision to write yet another violation of Special Agent Dana Scully’s body into a series history already cluttered with repeated medical rapes; as the episode closed out, it was revealed that the Cigarette Smoking Man, not Fox Mulder, was responsible for impregnating Scully.
…and then Carter told Entertainment Weekly the following, making an already sickening situation even worse: “He didn’t rape Scully. He impregnated her with science.” As in, Carter still doesn’t understand — in 2018 — that forced penetration isn’t the only method of raping a woman or that maybe, just maybe, such a storyline shouldn’t be a go-to for shock value regardless. And that’s to say nothing of the implications of a man telling others what they should and shouldn’t feel about how female bodies are treated.
So, let’s take a look at THE X-FILES’ and Carter’s history with this subject and parse out exactly why visiting this particular “twist” on William’s origins is, perhaps, the worst violation of all.
When Dana Scully was abducted by Duane Barry in “Ascension,” the course of The X-Files’ resident skeptic’s life changed forever. After disappearing for months, with her partner Fox Mulder unable to find her, Scully was returned in “One Breath.” But not before she was the victim of repeated medical violations, none of which she even remembered. But as, throughout the course of the series, the Truth — always with a capital T in this universe — was revealed about Scully’s missing time, only one thing was for certain: Her very ability to make decisions about her own health, specifically her reproductive health, was ripped away from her by a group of men, hellbent on…
Well, it depends on which version of THE X-FILES mythology we’re going by.
But either way: Men violated Scully’s body, as well as other women’s. Repeatedly. And the trauma those bodies suffered resulted in everything from being returned in a comatose state, to an aggressive, 99% deadly form of cancer, to infertility.
The first time THE X-FILES hinted at what had been done to Scully was actually immediately before her return: In the closing moments of “3,” her body was shown in some sort of medical facility, and viewers (or at least this one) watched in some sort of stupefied horror as her abdomen went from perfectly flat to full with child in a split second.
…but then, when Scully was mysteriously returned in a comatose state, all of that was swept under the rug for the longest of times. Scully had no idea what had happened to her, but when she found a chip in her neck, she removed it — a move that is believed to have caused her cancer. (See as: A woman removed a foreign object from her body, which was put there by power-hungry men, and she was punished for that by giving her a terminal illness.)
Then, the angst of the cancer arc (possibly THE X-FILES’ absolute best) seemed to somehow diminish Fox Mulder’s discovery, in “Memento Mori,” of a cold storage container filled with his partner’s stolen ova. And as bad as the reveal of the existence of the Kurt Crawfords and their claim that the abducted women were their mothers might have been, the episode focused much more on developing one of television’s most beautiful and painful stories about illness than anything having to do with what was stolen.
(It also made the steadfast love between the series’ main characters pretty clear, but we won’t go into the showrunner’s repeated denials of that — not here, at least.)
Scully’s life was in jeopardy, after all, so who had the time, much less the emotional energy, to really puzzle over something as deeply serious as the implications of those grotesque fetuses — forced experiments — in Dr. Scanlon’s lab? How could viewers possibly worry about what it meant for abducted women, who for all anyone knew spent most of their time knocked out — and were certainly never in any fit state to consent to any sort of sexual activity, scientific or otherwise, whether conscious or not — to be the Crawfords’ mothers when Scully was fighting just to survive?
This would be a theme on THE X-FILES: Each time the very real and glaring evidence of Scully’s medical rape was revealed, something else “more important” was always at play; and the rape itself was brushed off, almost like how Carter brushed off female viewers’ claims of misogyny during his recent Reddit AMA. In his 2018 question and answer session, Carter did everything from implying that women were apt to like to rearrange furniture for no particular reason, to suggesting that a woman should only be treated as her male counterpart’s equal if she asked, to writing off questions of what message he was sending to female viewers with all of Scully’s problematic treatment by forcing the discussion back to his fictional world: “don’t take a job on the X-Files. You’ll be abducted like eight times, have chips implanted in you and who knows what else.”
Forget about the fact that seeing all of this on screen affects those female viewers in the real world, on levels that Carter, apparently, has never understood and will never understand.
If the sexual assault on Scully and her fellow abductees had ended with the Crawfords’ existence and the harvested ova, that would have been bad enough. But the hits just kept on coming.
Fox Mulder, devoted, loving man that he was, kept the existence of Scully’s ova secret “for her own good” when she was dying. Even when she was better, miraculously healed at the will of a man and with that man’s implant once again in her neck, it took Mulder quite some time to come clean. In fact, Scully would discover in season five’s “Christmas Carol” and “Emily” two-parter that she had a daughter (and who knows how many others) that had been kept from her, yet another experiment from the time that she had been missing. She was kidnapped; and her body was used, without her consent, to create this child. She had no idea about it — for years.
When Scully tried to adopt her own daughter, though, the courts didn’t want to allow it. A single woman with a demanding and dangerous job was, somehow, deemed unfit.
Forget about the fact that men also have demanding and dangerous jobs, but only women seem to constantly have their ability to “do it all” questioned as a result. Forget, too, that Scully believed herself to be “barren” — a vile word, which probably wouldn’t have been used to describe the woman quite so frequently, if at all, had more women been on staff — so Emily was, presumably, her only chance at motherhood.
Why should we care about giving a woman any measure of her reproductive rights or happiness back after she’s already been through so much, when we could just keep torturing her, right?
In the case of THE X-FILES, torturing women, Scully in particular, seems to be the main source of shock value and drama. Certainly, Scully’s abduction was a fitting way, within the series’ mythology, to handle Gillian Anderson’s pregnancy and explain her character’s disappearance. (I hate that “handle” is even a word that needs to be used here when it comes to Anderson’s choices about her own body, but here we are.) But, given the constant theme of reproductive manipulation and medical rape inherent in the resulting story, it almost seems as if the decades following the star’s maternity leave was, quite frankly, a punishment.
Of course, the series’ villains have never received any real punishments; and that, ever so slowly, will bring us to William’s creation and THE X-FILES’ biggest evil of all.
Emily ultimately died, leaving Scully to, yet again, believe that her potential to become a mother was non-existent. She couldn’t reproduce naturally, thanks to the conspirators’ assault on her body; and adoption was out of the question unless she quit her job, something she couldn’t possibly do…and shouldn’t have been asked to do.
Fast forward to the seventh season’s finale, “Requiem,” where Dana Scully learned that she was pregnant. But, of course, her “presumed” lover, Fox Mulder, was in the process of being abducted himself, just as she’d learned what should have been happy news. Instead, that news came at the worst possible time and was riddled with questions and fears, mysteries and deceit. Yet again, a woman — this time a fictional one — was being punished for becoming pregnant.
It took until THE X-FILES’ eighth season episode “Per Manum” for viewers to know that Scully had finally taken her reproductive rights back into her own hands; or she’d at least tried. Scully had her ova tested when Mulder finally told her about them, and when she learned that they may be viable, she chose her potential child’s father — Mulder — and began IVF treatments.
The IVF storyline was condensed into a single, conspiracy-laden episode and only told through flashbacks. Once again, the damage to Scully’s body autonomy was pushed aside as an afterthought. This time, though, it was to even worse results: Dana Scully’s actual shot at having a choice was written and directed by men, thrown into yet another action-packed mythology episode, and never revisited. Adding insult to injury, this repeatedly violated woman’s attempt at forging her own reproductive path ended in failure.
Mulder urged his partner and potential mother of his children not to give up on a miracle. Somehow, that miracle occurred; and Scully became the proud mother of baby William. That happy moment, one of Scully’s precious few, wasn’t earned until after she spent most of her pregnancy searching for answers: answers to where Mulder was and, thanks to her history, answers to her baby’s origins. “Per Manum” provided viewers with some possibilities for those origins, with images of women giving birth to mutilations with tails, but Special Agent Medical Doctor was supposed to have done all the requisite checking to make sure that her own son was normal.
By THE X-FILES’ eighth season finale, “Existence,” Scully had found her Truth: William was her son. Hers and Mulder’s. “The Truth we both know,” or, really, the Truth we all knew. The proud parents spent mere dayswith their son before Mulder had to leave, thanks to some sort of fuzzy mythology about his life being in danger if he stayed; and then it was back to more trauma. Again, David Duchovny’s absence was explained in a way that was, within THE X-FILES’ mythology, logical…His character just wasn’t punished to nearly the extent that Anderson’s was as a result.
William’s life was constantly in danger, as people from both sides of the increasingly convoluted alien conspiracy either wanted him dead or wanted to use him for their own designs. Scully spent quite a lot of the series’ ninth season running around, screaming, “my baby” like some sort of male-gazey image of an overly emotional, deranged even, post-childbirth woman. Much like the specific treatment of the IVF plot, that’s something that would, quite likely, have been handled better if written by women. At this point, it’s no wonder that Gillian Anderson appears to have forgotten much of THE X-FILES, aside from the hilarious “Bad Blood.” If I were her, all of the constant “barren” and “my baby” episodes would simply run together; and I’d want, desperately, to forget this entire history of my character’s reproductive trauma, too.
But back to baby William.
In “William,” Scully made the decision to give up her son and have him hidden so thoroughly that she’d never find him. Clearly, a trained FBI agent who knew of the potential danger to her only living child (that she knew of!) was incapable of protecting him; but complete strangers? Sure. That’d make sense.
The woman who’d lost her right to reproductive choice — on many levels — throughout THE X-FILES felt forced into making this decision; and it wasn’t a decision that any woman who has gone through the trauma of repeated failed IVF attempts and infertility treatments would ever believably make. At least not with much, much more explaining…which never came. It was bad enough that she had to choose between her baby and his father by sending Mulder away earlier in the season (and, based on the setup in “My Struggle III,” she may be asked to make that same awful choice again). Losing William completely, after already making such a huge sacrifice, however, was superfluous at best.
That inadequately-explained decision has haunted Scully for her child’s whole life. There was a mention of it in what should have been the series finale, season nine’s “The Truth.” It came back up again in THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE, and it was a constant theme in the tenth season.
That brings us to 2018 and “My Struggle III.”
Scully urged Mulder that he needed to find their son — theirs — after she’d had numerous brain attacks, which she believed to be visions of the world’s end, courtesy of William himself. After all of these years, Scully still believed fully that William was Mulder’s son. So did THE X-FILES’ fanbase.
…but as the episode closed, CGB Spender smirked as he told Walter Skinner that he was William’s true father. “Blah, blah, scientifically impregnated.” Excuse me while I scientifically vomit. Add Monica Reyes’ continued position as Spender’s cigarette holder and claim that he seemed a little bit in love with Scully, and even scientific vomit just isn’t enough. (Shoutout to Reyes, who doesn’t deserve this, by the way. Also, another insult to injury: Dana Scully can’t have a single female friend. Nope. Mulder has the Lone Gunmen, so that whole “dangerous job” argument doesn’t hold up here, either.)
Comments in defense of this twist, made purely for shock value and holding absolutely zero entertainment value, ask why it should “suddenly” be so upsetting to THE X-FILES’ viewers. We’d all seen the massive history of medical rape on the series to-date, so why should anyone be surprised, much less screaming in outrage?
I mean, why are women “suddenly” coming forward with claims of sexual abuse and harassment behind the scenes? Why have we “suddenly” stopped tolerating this treatment? Why are people like Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. “suddenly” being punished?
Oh, wait. Claims have been there basically forever; but the past several months have simply “suddenly” created enough of women’s roars to get something done. Not surprisingly, Chris Carter himself was accused of sexual harassment in 1996. His response to this serious accusation, much like in his response to claims of misogyny AMA, was to attack and write off the woman making the claim.
So, to ask why this is “suddenly” a problematic plot device would be blind at best.
And, quite frankly, given the wild inconsistencies that Spender’s claim creates in THE X-FILES history, it’s not only a foul situation but also poorly written. Even if one were to agree that, though heinous, these acts against Scully served some narrative purpose in the series’ original run, the eleventh season’s “big reveal” is completely unjustifiable. Not only should revealing that a woman’s only chance at reproductive choice has never actually been her choice at all, lumped upon decades of Dana Scully’s repeated sexual violations, be a bridge too far; but the timeline just doesn’t add up.
If Spender truly impregnated Scully in season seven’s “En Ami,” then with the sixteen-month jump before “Hollywood A.D.” and more time after that until Scully’s pregnancy test came back positive in “Requiem,” all of Carter’s “advanced science” would surely look like failed garbage if it took that long for a woman to actually conceive. Or was Scully abducted and injected on more occasions over that time period, occasions that were never even hinted at, which presents an even more troubling possibility?
Add in the months upon months of time between that and the “Essence/Existence” story for William’s actual birth; and Dana Scully would have been in a forced, “scientific” (but not rape!) pregnancy for over two years. Lumping yet more insult on top of injury, the brilliant scientist, who was so talented that she rewrote Einstein, was completely oblivious for all of that time; and she was, evidently, also too stupid to either do or properly evaluate the necessary DNA testing to prove that her beloved (let’s skip the platonic bullshit from here on out) was actually the father of her child.
Either we are to believe that, despite her fears and doubts, Scully never tested William’s DNA…or, we’re to assume that she was not up to the task of realizing that Fox Mulder’s shared DNA was not enough of a match to prove that he was William’s father. The third option is that Mulder’s DNA was used to create William, but his creepy biological father was involved in the creation, as well — so, Fox Mulder was, in his own way, medically raped, too. He was given a son that he may or may not have wanted (we’re going with may, but even so)…in a procedure to which he did not consent.
Let that sink in. We’ve now raped both of our leading characters, all while proving the brilliant, “strong female character,” who is credited with having inspired ’90s women (and plenty of others since then) to go into STEM, to be an idiot.
The fact that male writers, Chris Carter and the rest of THE X-FILES’ writing staff in particular, have used the violation of women’s bodies in order to advance their stories is bad enough. Tossing in a rewrite for the sheer hell of it (no, I don’t believe this was planned way back when), just to add some more drama to the fire and, dare I say, even punish “the shippers” who were “heard” before the series’ eleventh season, is the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. One of THE X-FILES’ sweetest moments was tainted by a lie, and the most definitive proof of the Mulder-Scully relationship of all was…well. It was something.
Maybe if Scully had known who the baby’s daddy was, she would have made different choices; maybe she wouldn’t have. Maybe, even, she’d at least hate herself a little bit less for whatever choice she did make. But again, her right to choose was taken away, so who knows?
No, Mr. Carter, the message isn’t simply “don’t work on The X-Files because you’ll be abducted and medically raped.” It’s “we don’t respect women. We don’t hear the voices coming forward to say ‘me too’ and ‘no more.’ And if we do hear them, we simply don’t care.”
The real world dictates that we take the good with the bad and make a decision based off of it. For THE X-FILES to have been the source of so much good, not the least of which was giving Gillian Anderson the chance to shine, we still have to look under the surface of what was, ostensibly, a series that was “good for feminism,” what with Scully’s status as Mulder’s “equal” and all. And, quite frankly, the bad says that the “good for feminism” image was a lie, meant to cover up the undeniable Truth: This is a series that makes light of the fact that it’s using medical rape, the destruction of a woman’s right to choose, and even the disrespect of claiming a woman to be an equal in the greatest of senses, yet slapping her in the face with minor disrespects like the lack of a desk or a name on the wall.
So, maybe the real X-File is the mystery of how, even with all of the violation and horror, we continue to love THE X-FILES. Because we do. Many of us just do.
For at least this viewer, it comes down to exactly one thing: Forget Carter’s recent mythology changes and all of his characters’ lies, and simply focus on the purest facts. Anderson and Duchovny’s chemistry was what carried this series in its original run; it saved an otherwise weak tenth season; and it will, through the magic than only Mulder and Scully’s unique story of love can produce, even save THE X-FILES this final time around.
How the actors’ magic works, I’ll never know. But here we are.